Tag: Dungeons & Dragons (page 2 of 2)

Songs of Cornell: Just Getting Started

There really wasn’t anything Cornell Starblossom liked more than a lively tavern at night.

Night was when everybody shook of the day’s responsibilities, relaxed, and loosened their laces, especially their purse strings. The half-elf was adept enough with bandore and thelarr to maintain a decent enough lifestyle with just a few hours of song every night. What really got him attention — and tips — was his voice. Unlike the instrumental skills, honed by years of study at the College of Fochlucan, he’d been born with a melodious voice with good range and solid timbre. He’d trained that too, to be sure. From participating in hymns to Sune with his mother, to literally singing for his supper all up and down the Sword Coast, he’d built the stamina, clarity, and expressiveness to handle a night’s worth of song, much to the delight of patrons and approval of tavern owners.

He sang songs of pure love, loves lost and regained, learning to love one’s own self. He sang ballads of heroes long gone and the battles of mighty nations. He sang of dragons, dire portents, and powerful magic. Most of all, he sang to the individuals in the tavern, rubbing elbows with men and sitting beside ladies, all the while keeping a fine hat in view for the depositing of coin.

It was getting late at the Clover Wall Roadhouse when Cornell wrapped up his encore. He felt tired, but satisfied. After recent ordeals, he was glad to have time to simply ply his trade and get to know the locals, especially those in high standing. The blacksmith in particular had been of interest to him, in terms of acquiring better means of protecting himself. Having done that, he resolved to spend the next tenday involved in nothing but good song, good food, and pleasurable company.

He was thinking about the feisty redhead who’d invited him to her chambers in a few hours as he counted the night’s coin. Just enough for his upscale rooms and meals to last him until tomorrow night. He leaned back with a smile. He had no taxes to pay, no lands to manage, no manor to worry over. Just him, his music, and the road. It was freedom, and he valued it highly.

“Oi. Knife-ears.”

He blinked, slowly, and looked up at the source of the voice. It was a burly, smelly human, beefy hands in fists. A thinner, weasel-faced human stood behind the first, sneering at Cornell.

“Gentlemen.” Cornell’s voice came out in his easy drawl, an affect picked up from his youth in Daggerford and time on the road. “Got some feedback on th’ set? I’m always lookin’ t’ improve.”

“We bet good money on you in the arena, flower-muncher. We want it back.”

Ah. So these two were from the Redplumes. Or, at least, had supported the Redplumes in their assault and kidnapping of innocents along the road. Especially non-humans. Cornell’s smile faded just a touch, remembering the roar of the crowd, the frothing of the quipper-infested waters…

“Ain’t my fault you bet on th’ wrong odds.” He paused. “Were they good odds that we were gonna bite it? I shoulda placed a bet on us, myself. Might’ve been able to help you kind gents.”

The beefy one slammed his fist into the table. “We will have coin, or we will have blood!”

“Oi.” This was the barkeep, wiping down his bar, looking up from tending to his last few customers. “Keep it down or get out. No fighting in my place.”

Cornell gave the barkeep a nod and a smile, and got to his feet. “You heard th’ man, gentlemen. Care t’ step outside?”

The two humans shared a vicious grin and moved to the door. Cornell handed the barkeep his coin — “for my rooms and board ’til tomorrow night” — and followed, running his fingers over the feather in his hat before putting it on his head. He thought about the rapier hanging from the left side of his belt, and the new crossbow on the right. It was his bandore that he hefted onto his left shoulder, however. As he walked to the door, he did a quick check of the tuning of the strings, plucking one or two to get the notes just right.

As soon as they were outside, he saw Weasel-face pulling out a pair of crossbows not unlike Cornell’s new acquisition: built for a single hand, quick to reload, deadly with good aim. Ham-fist’s weapon of choice was a hammer with a long haft and a heavy-looking head. They grinned. Ham-fist opened his mouth to speak.

Cornell looked squarely at Weasel-face and gave the bandore a quick riff.

this may hurt a little but it’s something you’ll get used to

The discordant melody and minor chord made Weasel-face’s eyes go wide. Screaming in panic, the man dropped his crossbows to clutch his head in pain, and turned to run as fast as he could. Ham-fist whirled to yell an imprecation, and that’s when Cornell drew his crossbow, aimed, and shot the human in the back of the thigh.

Howling, Ham-fist went down.

Cornell walked over, hanging the crossbow from his belt, and drawing his rapier. He placed the tip of the blade under Ham-fist’s chin, and lifted the human’s face towards his.

“I’m no killer, nor am I thief,” he said, his voice grave and even. “But I am a Harper agent.” Cornell lowered his instrument to the ground gently and opened the left side of his jacket, showing the badge he wore underneath. “An’ you are a threat t’ the common folk, or at least those who ain’t like you.” He put a little pressure on the rapier, a tiny bead of blood appearing on the man’s white skin. “I suggest you grab your friend an’ leave. Don’t let me see you here again. Remember: we’re watching you, racist.”

Ham-fist nodded, or at least did so as well as he could with a rapier at his throat. Cornell smiled, stepping back, and sheathing his weapon. Ham-fist stumbled to his feet and jogged after Weasel-face.

Cornell took a deep breath, and let it out again. While he had no taxes or land, he did have his responsibilities. It was the Harpers who had sponsored his entry into Fochlucan, kept his mother safe, and appraised his father, an elf wizard and adventurer in his own right, of Cornell’s progress. And there was the whole empathy-for-the-common-folk thing. Growing up half-elven wasn’t easy, especially in areas in the North of the Sword Coast mostly dominated by mainline humans. He could empathize with so many of them. It was part of the reason why stories of the Harpers had always appealed to him, and why he now wore their emblem.

He adjusted his hat and headed back for the Roadhouse, bandore on his shoulder. The night, much like his journey across Faerûn in search of story, song, and worthy causes, was just getting started.

Mondays are for making art.

Dungeons & Dragons copyright Wizards of the Coast.

500 Words on World-Building

I’m very much looking forward to introducing more people to Dungeons & Dragons. The published materials for that purpose within the Starter Set are quite fine, but even moreso than the content within the books, I appreciate the flexibility of it. It’s been a while since I’ve put together a world into which others will be introducing characters with their own motivations, drives, fears, and goals. I want to flex those muscles again.

As much as I like the Forgotten Realms setting, what’s the harm in creating what might be considered a parallel world on the Prime Material Plane? Similar, but different in many ways. Same maps, different names. Similar factions, different motivations. A history all its own that resonates with the high points of established materials. If nothing else, it’s a great exercise in world-building.

Even when set in the modern era on Earth, authors tend to create their own worlds when they set out to tell a new story. Look at Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Seanan McGuire’s October Day, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards, Lev Grossman’s the Magicians — the list goes on. I know that these are all fantasy examples, but considering this pontification is rooted my D&D ambitions, they’re what come to mind for me. I’m sure you can think of your own.

Speaking of D&D, there’s been quite a bit written about the Starter Set called Lost Mines of Phandelver. For my part, my desire is not just to integrate it into a slightly different world of my own creation, but also deepen and flesh out the characters within the adventure. Even within a D&D campaign, I’m not terribly fond of one-dimensional characters, be they cackling villains or glorified vending machines. These are, for the most part, people; people have thoughts and feelings, they have hopes and dreams, they make mistakes. To me, it’s important to convey those things and demonstrate that the protagonist (or in this case, the player character) are not alone in the world in terms of beings with agency and identity.

Not long ago, I began running an adventure for some friends at a neighbor’s house. Upon a cursory reading, I got a notion for how the local innkeep behaved and what his relationships were like. On the fly, as the players interacted with him, I created the character’s partner and began role-playing their interactions in front of the players. It was just a little flavor, a bit of color splashed into the black and white text of the pages in front of me. And it went over incredibly well.

I can’t overstate the importance of taking just a little time to flesh out parts of your world, whatever you’re creating it for and however you’re creating it. Tolkien and Martin might at times get carried away with descriptors, but would we care so much about their tales and their many characters without those passages, that depth? Their worlds persist because of the way they were built. Don’t you want the same for yours?

On Fridays I write 500 words.

D&D Matters

I’m really glad I started playing Dungeons & Dragons again.

It’s taken me the better part of a year to feel comfortable going out-of-doors again. I was walking around like a man with my skin peeled off, and the fresh air and particulates of the outside world stung like a son-of-a-bitch. I had to take that time, in a place of safety and solitude, to reacquaint myself with myself. Take a good long look in the mirror. Start fixing some shit. Get better.

Then I started going out to watch soccer matches again, and I made a friend.

She noticed my d20 ring, a souvenir of days gone by that has only the meaning I’ve given it. No other associations, no bad memories. Just a spinning random number generator for rolling skill checks in the real world. We got to talking about D&D. And she mentioned a game she was in on Monday nights. Without knowing what I was doing or why, I jumped at the chance.

Then I got nervous.

You see, I might have gone a bit too far the other way in correcting myself. I was a little hyper-vigilant. I had trouble trusting my instincts. Here was a smart, lovely, challenging person who saw in me enough value and goodness to invite me into another part of her life, and I was asking myself a bunch of questions — do I have the right reasons for doing this? Am I going to be an invasive presence? Will I get along with everyone? Should I be scared?

In order: yes, no, yes, and no.

My partner told me so. A few times. I can be a little thick-headed; it’s an aspect of myself I’ve had since I was young. Still, the answers were conveyed to me in love, even if they had to be repeated. I finally quieted the head weasels, drew up my character, and headed downtown. My head was on a bit of a swivel before I got into the Raygun Lounge. I didn’t know how my Paladin of Bahamut would go over with these new people.

I guess the best way to put it “like gangbusters.”

He had to leave the party at one point because a fellow party member made, in his opinion, a monumentally bad and immoral decision. So I reintroduced one of my favorite characters, a dark elf necromancer, to the party. Again, he was a big hit. Sure, he was the complete opposite of my paladin in personality and motivation, but therein lies the challenge. And since my life isn’t exactly on hardmode, being the sort of white male of education and relative means that often serves as a poster child for the Patriarchy, I tend to game that way. See also my pacifist/stealth run of Deus Ex Human Revolution’s Director’s Cut that is my current PC gaming ‘project’.

Long story short: I was worried over nothing.

With everything going on, within and without, it’s been difficult to fully engage with my writing brain. Certain parts of myself have lain somewhat dormant while getting better, engaging in self-care and self-correction, and generally being an isolationist hermit have dominated my time. Being with others and collaborating in telling a story about people making bad choices has started reawakening my own storytelling synapses. If nothing else, it’s underscored my need to shift my career path away from banging out code for a living to making words happen. That’s been mostly what I’ve been looking for when I’m on LinkedIn looking for a new job that has nothing to do with start-ups — I am unsuited for such a life. Perhaps I’m just too old at this point.

Anyway. Dungeons & Dragons.

The classic role-playing game matters to me because it hits all of the right buttons. It’s escapism. It’s storytelling. It’s interacting with other humans, revealing parts of oneself in a safe environment and bouncing off of one another and the Dungeon Master in delightful and intriguing ways. It’s taking chances. It’s putting on a performance in the ‘theatre of the mind’ just because you can.

I want to start my own group, and guide people through the bones of a story I construct, and watch them flesh everything out and make it a living, breathing thing that we all enjoy.

Storytelling matters. Collaboration matters. People, their dreams, their imaginations, their fears, their potential and ambition and passion — all of that matters.

All of that comes together in Dungeons & Dragons.

That’s why it matters.

Tuesdays are for telling my story.

Art courtesy Wizards of the Coast

Theorycrafting

Courtesy Riot Games, Art by Akonstad

In this blogging space I’ve talked about writing and gaming in tandem. I’ve tried to give each a fair amount of time, but I’ve never really examined the connection between the two. Other than the overactive imagination, I think a big part of my inclination towards these activities is my tendency towards theorycrafting.

I haven’t been playing Magic: the Gathering that often in the last couple of weeks, mostly due to the hours I’m spending at the office lately. But I do love deck construction. I like seeing the cards available to a particular set or format and trying to find ways of putting an effective threat together, especially if it’s in a way that’s been unexplored. They don’t always work, of course, but that’s part of the appeal of experimentation: taking a chance to see what happens. I try to plan as many contingencies as I can before the game even starts.

The same could be said for the way I approach League of Legends. I spend some time looking over the abilities, statistics and build orders of various champions, toying with different sequences and combinations. When Nautilus was released a few weeks ago, I found his art, story and kit so appealing I picked him up and started toying with builds immediately. In fact, I’m still doing so, in order to find that balance between taking punishment and dishing it out. I may go more in-depth at another time as to why doing so in this game feels more satisfying to me than, say, StarCraft 2, but like my Magic decks, crafting and tweaking a champion’s progression long before I fire up the game is rewarding, especially when I manage to help the team win.

Part of this may be due to my experiences as a Dungeon Master. I delve into rulebooks and supplementary material, draw up maps, lay out stats and even stories for the NPCs and so on. I used to lay out elaborate and somewhat linear stories to lead my players down, but I realized quickly players want elbow room and freedom to choose for themselves. While this undermined my desire to tell a specific story somewhat, it also allowed me to plan more of those contingencies I like to ponder. DMs and players share these stories in equal measure, after all, there’s no reason for one side of the screen to hog all the fun.

This thread does carry through to my writing. It’s been said that writers are either ‘plotters’ who plan things out before pen hits papers (or fingers hit keyboard), ‘pantsers’ who fly by the seat of their pants, or a combination of the two. You can read more about the distinction here. For my part, I’m definitely more of a plotter than a pantser, with a great deal of time devoted to outlines, character sketches, expansion on background elements, and research relevant to the story. The problem with all of this theorycrafting, though, is that getting wrapped up in it can take time away from the actual writing that needs to happen. Then again, I know that if I don’t take the time to figure out where I’m going in the first place, I will hit a wall and sit looking at it for just as long.

Do you indulge in theorycrafting? Or do you jump right into things?

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