Sunday, September 29, 2013

On Heroics

"And yet their wills did not yield, and they struggled on"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

It is raining as I write this, waiting to greet October in a few days.  The month of September has flown by crazily, mostly due to the fact that I've gotten involved in many different activities or projects I'm attempting to get off the ground.  It's funny that now that the summer is slowly saying farewell and I am getting busier, I decide to come back and to blog once again.

Towards the end of the summer especially, one thought has continued to be on my mind: heroes.  I make quips about fixing the tears in my Spidey suit, or battling the Lizard under the sewers of my township.  In the last month, I started making crossover references (for example, Carnage that is somehow emitting Scarecrow's Fear Toxin pheromones).  Despite all the jokes/references that I make, I have really started to think about what makes a hero, and what characteristics they tend to possess, and I wanted to blog about it and dive into what this means in terms of life and stories and D&D.  So throughout this blog, you will see me referring to myself as 'hero', which basically is short for superhero.  Think in terms of Peter Parker.

While I was sad that I was unable to attend GenCon this year, I wouldn't have traded my August 17th for anything.  It has become a day that stands out clearly in my mind, and I am still wondering about the future outcomes it holds.  I was able to help out somebody else who needed it, and from there lit a fire of continuing to try and do so.  In short, a heroic quality, though I prefer not to be called heroic about it.  I just want to continue helping.  So while I know there were awesome things going down at GenCon, I know that my time was definitely well spent staying home this year.

The first heroic lesson I started learning that day was patience.  Honestly, I felt like I was learning patience a while back, but I feel like I'm learning it even more now.  Sometimes we are forced to wait.  I've turned the patience thing over and over again in my mind, and the theme is seen all over the place in terms of literature and stories.  Luke Skywalker had to be patient and learn to use the Force.  When he didn't, and rushed to confront Vader, he lost his hand and was badly shaken.  Peter Parker has always had to put his own life and his own desires on hold in order to help the greater good.  Samwise Gamgee patiently stuck it out with Frodo, having no idea if he would ever make it back.  Taran, from The Black Cauldron, patiently learned many lessons while growing up and adventuring.  Basically, patience is a trait we see in all sorts of heroes.

In terms of D&D and gaming, I think heroes learn patience by not being rewarding or accomplishing their goals.  The lessons from life can always be applied to characters, but it seems to be easier being a D&D hero and slaying skeletons and exploring dungeons than being patient in the real world for whatever goal one is chasing.  However, as Yoda once said, it is important to focus on the moment, not always be looking to what has yet to happen.  It takes practice, but it is a skill that adds more to life and makes you appreciate that which is around you.

Another huge trait that has been on my mind is that of sacrifice.  I'm going to be honest and say that sacrifice isn't a trait that most people understand at all, mostly because they are never aware of who is sacrificing something for them.  

There are always moments in literature, movies, etc, where the hero has to stop and contemplate if people really need saving.  Humanity is selfish, greedy and unappreciative.  Why bother saving them?  Why bother putting their happiness before the hero's own?

I think there is only one real answer to such a question, and that can basically be summed to love.  It takes a powerful hero to love a stranger and to give up something for a person unknown and unworthy of it.  In Narnia, Aslan lays down his life for Edmund, though the boy has acted selfishly and cruelly the entire time.  In the new Superman remake, Man of Steel, Kal-El willingly fights for the entire population of Earth, despite his own inner struggles and fear of being rejected.

Sacrifice has been a powerful thought and emotion in my own life these last six months.  It's a very personal thing, laying down everything for another, or delaying your own happiness for that of another's well being.

In terms of D&D stories, heroes need to be presented with choices.  Do they reclaim their ship and let the dragon destroy the village?  Or do they confront the dragon, save the village, yet lose their ship to the bottom of the ocean?  

I hope some of these thoughts on heroics bring new inspiration to the character stories being told in campaigns.  In terms of real life, I encourage everybody to go out of their way this week and to do something kind for somebody else.  Send a random text message.  Make a stranger laugh.  Buy Taco Bell and hand it out to somebody random.  These simple acts of kindness will make you the random hero that appears in an instance, and is gone in a flash.

As always, leave your comments below and follow me on Twitter @artificeralf

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


"I've been burning in water and drowning in flame"
-Under the Rose, HIM

It's been a very busy and very rewarding summer; however, the warmer weather is slowly saying its final farewells as we move into beautiful autumn.  I'm a huge fan of fall, especially towards the end of October.  Night runs become spookier, especially because my mind always tends to wander with thoughts of zombies, werewolves, vampires, and a few other supernatural horrors.  The leaves make interesting noises as the wind whispers through them, and the stars and the moon seem to shine brighter.  Or maybe it's just me.

This summer brought a lot of growth opportunities and changes, one of the most important ones being that a lot of my friends moved away to start careers or tackle other school opportunities.  Everybody seems to be reaching that point in life.  Indeed, I'm somewhat at the same point.  Most of my D&D stuff has been slowly packed up as I prepare for my next step in life.  Never fear though, my miniatures and most of my maps and tiles are still where I can use them.  It's mostly the books and things that are getting boxed up.

Back at the end of July/beginning of August, I finally got around to opening the Dire Tombs Dungeon Tiles I purchased back in May-ish.  Fact of the matter was, I had to real reason to open them and start designing dungeons up until that point.  My D&D experiences were providing feedback (as evidenced by my recent playtesting credits in 'Murder in Baldur's Gate'), so I wasn't being super creative.  

I lucked out at July/August by getting some down time and the opportunity to take over the kitchen table for a few days, so I did.  I grabbed both sets of Dire Tombs, as well as the Dungeon Tiles Master Set and my copies of Cathedrals of Chaos.  While they don't all match the Egyptian-themed Dire Tombs, I figured there were enough flavorful reasons for mixing and matching, so I went at it.  I was not disappointed.

I knew that when the characters Niz and Vivianne meet up again, there will be some sort of other island adventure.  I plan on introducing elements of the Elemental Chaos, as well as a new dungeon to explore (the reasons why the characters will go there are still up in the air, but I plan on one of them having to do with Vivianne's father).  However, I tried to come up with an interesting twist: the characters would know the entire layout of the dungeon before exploring it, either through scrying magic or a map.

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The Temple of Drowning
Part of the reason I decided to do this was that I am slightly lazy and would rather lay out all the tiles and put the plastic sheet over them to keep them down.  I feel that covering up a dungeon with paper is somewhat silly, since the players can tell where the edge of the map is and use a little personal knowledge of where they should go.  By showing them the entire map, they have free reign and can speculate, but only by exploring will they really understand what lies ahead.

I spoke to Sara (Vivianne's alter ego) and asked her to give me some ideas about this new dungeon.  I gave her a few guiding points with what I was thinking, and let her go from there.  Here's what she came up with:
  • The place was once known as the Temple of Drowning.  It was a shrine dedicated to the element of water.  Water pools and tunnels were everywhere.
  • Something horrible took place there, leaving it full of ash and fire.  
  • Sailors around the Genkar Isle avoid it, now referring to it as 'Bleached Bones'
  • Rumors of a great treasure hidden there still persist to this day
On my end, I already know what the treasure is (a marid held prisoner in a mundane device).  Yes, for some of this inspiration, I used my favorite Disney movie, Aladdin.  I believe I talked about this a few times in a previous blog post.

So while we have a beginning, a middle, and an end to this dungeon, I had to flesh out what happened there.  Since I wanted to give the adventure more of an Elemental twist, I decided somehow cultists had attacked it.  Fire cultists.  That would explain the ash and burning.

At this point, I reached a tough conundrum.  I could make these enemies cultists of Imix, but that seemed kind of like a tried and true villain.  I was looking for something new and interesting.  Something to flesh out the campaign world (which still has no overall name) and make it ours again.

Enter Robyn, an old friend who had been part of the world back when it was just looseleaf drawings and notebook narratives.  At one point, we talked about creating the deities for our world.  It didn't really happen, but the idea stuck in my head last summer, and I thought that some sort of fire deity should be named Nybor (Robyn spelled backwards).  It was nickname some people had given her, and it just sounds like a fire name, doesn't it?  So with a little brainstorming, I figured that Nybor is some new elemental force trying to gain power in the world.  While her origins and her motives are a mystery even to me, I have a few details about her followers:
  • They typically tattoo themselves with red and black markings
  • She has recruited all sorts of followers, from succubi and devils to the basic fire elementals and pyromancers
  • She is a being of passion, not just burning things for the sake of burning them.  Her desires and ambitions are what make her a force to be reckoned with
The tattoo ideas came from Star Wars, as I figured using Darth Maul and Darth Talon miniatures for some of her elite NPC followers would make awesome reoccurring adversaries.


However, as I don't have miniatures to represent those followers (yet), I turned to another miniature I have wanted to use for a long time to be Nybor's follower in the Temple of Drowning: the succubus.

In reality, the succubus was a great choice.  As an immortal monster, it makes sense for the Temple to have been destroyed a long time ago and to still have the main adversary sticking around.  I came up with the idea that Nybor's followers attacked the temple to steal the marid (and force it to cast Wish for them).  However, due to the nature of their attack, and the wards that protect the marid, they have yet to uncover it, all these years later.  So the succubus, named Aadrixil, continues to return to the temple to check in with her servants and to see if any progress has been made.

Aadrixil's servants include the charred remains of those that perished in her initial assault, as well as her skeletal tiefling lieutenant.  I'm also super excited to use the two horned devil miniatures I got from my two sets of Tyranny of Goblins Dungeon Command.

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Throughout the temple, I've placed lava pits and fire.  In one corner of the temple, a few water pools remain, as well as a few of the water guardians that Aadrixil has not bothered to purge.  All in all, I think the entire place will be an enjoyable one to explore and will create some interesting questions for future sessions.  Who is Nybor?  What is she really after?  I also don't plan on letting Aadrixil get killed off super quickly either.  While it's commonly said to not get attached to your villains, I believe that you can't let them get taken down super easily either.

And that, in a short summary, is the newest project I've been working on/thinking about as of late.  As always, I welcome any and all suggestions.  I've also been thinking a lot about what it means to be a hero.  Love, sacrifice, selflessness, and all that good stuff.  However, I think that is a blog post I will save for another time.  For now, enjoy the Temple of Drowning and the mysterious force that is Nybor.

Comments can always be left below, or you can follow me @artificeralf on Twitter.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back Again

"The Sarlaac found me somewhat indigestible, Solo" - Boba Fett

I sat down today to think about why my blog has had a lack of posts the last few months.  And then it hit me: my D&D experience lately has been mostly playtesting and providing feedback on things I can't share.  So instead of trying to write, I just stopped writing, though I didn't stop thinking.

My name is finally in a printed product, which was kind of a small goal of mine since The Trinket Lord got published online last August.  You can see my name in the credits for "Murder in Baldur's Gate" (at the bottom of the Playtester names).

I finally finished up my Vellyn primer and sent it the group of players who seemed most interested.  As the last playtest packet comes out in the next week or so, we will have a character creation session, and from there we will try and get a game session in on weekend a month or so.  At least, that's the plan for now.  The group consists of people who are completing their second degree, so we're all pretty busy with all the other things life is throwing our way.

Aside from Vellyn, I plan on taking a break from DMing and letting my brother take over for a little while.  He's somewhat drow obsessed, so I expect to be fighting a lot of spiders and dark elves.  I even offered to buy the Urban Underdark tiles for him to build some new dungeons and such, but he told me he would just rather use the various poster maps I have in my collection.  Fine by me, but I thought I was being generous offering to buy new stuff!  If anything, I'm eager to see where the adventure will lead, especially since last time my brother DM'ed, we ended up fighting orcs that were being manipulated by drow....

I'm also working on my next pitch for when the submissions window opens.  Since my acceptance of The Trinket Lord in April 2012, I've gotten no other bites.  I've probably had 15 pitch rejections since then, but in all honesty, that's just the nature of the business and it will make getting my next article all the more meaningful.  As of right now, it's looking like I will just have one pitch I will be throwing out for the D&D Team to devour and decide if it's right or wrong for what they're looking for.

In closing, I share with you all a random piece of advice: find the perfect set of D&D dice for somebody and surprise them with a gift.  You will make their day.  Honest.  Then enjoy it.

Leave your comments below or follow me on Twitter @artificeralf