COVER REVEAL: The Monsters Within

A Quick announcement and reveal of the cover of my book.

It has been a long time coming and I can finally reveal the cover for my book, The Monsters Within. The cover design was by Rebeccacovers who I met through Fiverr.

The full cover follows, along with the back cover blurb.

The world has recovered from a plague that decimated the global population thanks to the efforts of the United Global Coalition (UGC). Now acting as the government, the UGC has set up isolated metros around the world. One of the largest metros is Capital Metro. It is the center of the North American Region.

Brett Hardin is a citizen of that metro. He lives his life dedicated to two ideals, supporting the UGC and protecting his family. When those ideals collide, what path will he choose?

Jenna Parks is an operative for a group of rebels that inhabit the Wildlands, the open areas between the metros. She is in the city to meet with her superiors for an important mission. She is about to find out that her mission is about to become personal and reveal horrors that she couldn’t fathom.

Back Cover Blurb – The Monsters Within

As of right now, I have intentions of launching my book around mid-December. That may be delayed to between January and March of next year. Look for that announcement in the coming weeks, along with preorder information.

Also, I am announcing that I will be taking part in NaNoWriMo this year. I am working on the story for that (I don’t have much time left until it starts).

Spread the word.

First Time Dungeon Master – The Journey Continues

With one dungeon complete, it is time for a rest, a trip to town, and the start of a new leg of the adventure.

Introduction

With two sessions in the bag, my time as a Dungeon Master in Dungeons & Dragons was coming together. The nervousness was decreasing as I began to get more comfortable in the role. Still, there was quite a bit of chaos behind the DM screen. My game prep was taking the majority of my free time between sessions. Part of that was due to massive projects designed to make Dungeon Mastering easier on me. Another part was taking the time to learn tools I would use. The goal was to reduce that prep time and allow the sessions to run smoother. A test for that would be the next leg of the journey. The characters would soon be arriving in a town with much role-playing and investigation ahead of them.

NOTE: SPOILERS ahead for the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure! You have been warned.

Heading to Town

Rest and Regroup

Before the next session, I had some work to complete. I revamped my excel spreadsheets and tables, creating encounter sheets (with initiative order, key player and enemy stats, conditions, etc.), better character and monster tags, homemade weapon and magic cards, and other such short cuts for running a session. I also wanted to improve my maps.

Ready to Roll

The maps I had were sheets of grids that I printed out from Campaign Cartographer 3 from Profantasy. I couldn’t find good battle maps that I liked in that program and struggled to make my own, so I printed out the grid paper and drew them based on the maps in the adventure booklet. It worked but was a bit much. I looked at other mapping tools out there and finally settled on a program called Dungeon Fog. I recreated the map of the next dungeon in adventure (at least, the next likely dungeon), and printed it out to scale for miniatures. I then cut out each “room” and glued them to a poster board. Finally, I cut out the poster boards to each room, and I had nice, tiled maps that I could lay down for visualization. I was proud of this endeavor.

When we began the next session, the group rested, following the endeavor in the cave. They learned from the NPC Sildar a few more details, such as a castle where their patron, Gundren was taken to, though not the whereabouts of that castle. They gathered the supplies, including the supplies recovered from the cave, and set out the following day. By midafternoon, they were riding into the town of Phandalin.

The Town of Phandalin

When the adventurers roll their wagon into Phandalin, they are greeted with curious stares by the local people. Ruins of the city that once surround the region could be seen while a few newer buildings formed the core structure of the revived town. They settle the provisions for Gundren, see Sildar off to the inn, and turn the lost provisions over to the proprietor of the Lion Shield Coster. One mistake I made was I described the proprietor of the Miner’s Exchange, Halia Thornton, as a dwarven female, though the adventure describes her as a human. I went with it though, and the players seemed to enjoy it.

As they made their way from location to location, they learned of a few potential quests. Those quests included a trip to see a banshee and make a trade with her, orcs causing trouble on the Triboar Trail to the west, a missing wizard from Sildar’s guild, and most immediately, a group of bandits that have taken over the town.

While meeting with one villager, a local priestess who tends the shrine in the town square, they are accosted by four men wearing dirty red cloaks. They are members of the bandit group known as the Redbrands. They battle the group in the town square and determine that they must deal with the bandits. Several townsfolk request aide in dealing with the bandits. Sildar points out to Xavier that he is a noble without a home and the town is without a noble furthering the incentive.

Into the Hideout

            They seek out a halfling boy who they learned found a cave nearby. The boy directs them to the cave entrance where he saw some Redbrands exiting. They follow the directions and locate the cave entrance. Following the tunnel, they come to a large cavern with a crevasse running through. As they pass through, they feel odd intrusions on their mind, but it is not strong. They quickly make their way to the first side tunnel. That tunnel leads to two doors. Behind the first one, they hear the sounds of gruff goblin voices and laughter, along with the sniveling sound of a smaller goblin. They enter the room to find several bugbears tormenting a goblin. The goblin faints right away at the sight of them.

            The players had a brief exchange with the bugbears trying to convince them that they were new recruits of the Redbrands and had not received their cloaks yet. The leader of bugbears, Mosk, was buying it, but one of the other bugbears became suspicious. In the end, initiatives were rolled and recorded, and we had to end our session there (quite the cliffhanger).

Scouring the Hideout

The Fainting Goblin

Unfortunately, life got in the way due to kids’ birthday parties (including my oldest daughter’s) and late summer colds (including me). Finally, we were able to reconvene, and it was go-time.

I prepared the encounter ahead of time and we were able to jump right into the action following the “previously on” recap. The party made quick work of the bugbears, taking out two of them and with ease and the only remaining one fled in terror (especially after watching his buddy cleaved in half by Xavier’s axe). They woke up the goblin, Droop, who was grateful to the party and vowed to serve them for saving him from his tormentors. After Gary the Goblin’s sacrifice, they took to him, and he provided information about the hideout. Namely that a wizard led the rebrands and a monster inhabited the cavern.

Partial map of Redbrand Hideout with miniatures
Running into bugbears in Redbrand Hideout.

Drunken Brawl

They proceeded to the next room where they found several Redbrands around a table in the common room playing at dice and drunk as could be. The party filed in like they belonged, and Xavier attempted to get into the dice game. One of the drunken Redbrands kept mocking Xavier and soon a fight broke out. DM’s note, I gave the players advantage in this fight and the Redbrands disadvantage due to their inebriated state. Despite that, the encounter did last a little longer than expected due to dice roles They finally did leave the drunken fools splayed around the room.

The Chase

The group proceeded out the next door which opened to a corridor that led back to the main cavern and had a door across from the one they exited. They chose to enter this door to find a room, only occupied by a single rat, filled with tubes and vials. The noise of somebody scuffling around could be heard from an adjacent room. Xavier and Araqwyn went through to investigate while Suzah and Zam stayed behind to search the first room. The warrior and cleric found a living quarters, now empty and saw a section of wall cracked open to a hidden chamber.

They ran through in time to see a shadow at the upper end of the secret corridor disappearing through a door. Araqwyn called to the others, and they followed the figure. When they reached the exit, the entered a storeroom that opened to the main cavern. Araqwyn caught sight of the figure running through the cavern. By this time, Suzah and Zam, followed by Droop, backtracked out of the room into the earlier tunnel that led to the cavern. When they reached it, Suzah spotted the figure and launched a crossbow bolt at him, striking him in the leg.

Redbrand Hideout

As the party started closing in from both sides of the crevasse, the man was calling for help. Xavier felt an intrusion into his mind bringing up his fears and Suzah rounded a stone column to find a monster standing before her, a Nothic (Note, for a miniature, we used the Beholder to represent the Nothic). For those that don’t know, the Nothic is a creature with a single eye and it insane. It communicates telepathically. Due to tiredness from working the night before, I mis-roleplayed the creature and forgot to include its insane cackling.

In any case, the party continued to subdue the man that attempted to escape. Finally, finding that the Nothic wasn’t going to outright help him, he surrendered. When they questioned the man, Glasstaff, about the missing Wizard from the Lord’s Alliance, Iarno, he told them that the wizard was dead. After some prying, he revealed that he was, in fact, Iarno. This revelation shocked the party. They promised the Nothic some food, pointing him to the remnants of the Redbrands in the common room.

Conclusion

            This is where we ended the session. It is also the last session that we played. From here on out, I will post the results of each session as we play. We have not set our next date, but it is tentatively next Sunday (this Sunday was taken up by my youngest daughter’s first birthday). In any case, I have been having fun with our sessions as we play through. If anybody has any comments for feedback they would like to share, please feel free to do so below. I would love to hear from you all. Future session recaps will try to include more insights into my experience as a DM. Until we meet again, raise those swords and roll those dice.

Links

ProFantasy Software – Map Making for Games

Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3) RPG and fantasy map making software (profantasy.com)

DUNGEONFOG | Free RPG Battle map editor for D&D / Dungeonfog

Thank You Australia for a Cartoon Blue Dog Named Bandit

A cartoon dog named Bandit is a dad’s best friend.

My youngest daughter will be 1 year old tomorrow (as of the time of writing this). Over the past few months, I have become acquainted with a family of dogs that seem to be taking the world by storm. At first, I hardly gave the show, Bluey, any thought. It was another cartoon show for kids. Between Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, Doc McStuffins, and a slew of other cartoons and programs, I was getting used to these shows and they became good background noise for my daughter as she was in her early development.

In the earlier months, once my daughter was starting to sit up, I would put her in her playpen with some toys and the TV on. I’d put on a show either on cable or through streaming. Some of my favorites were Wallykazam and Shimmer and Shine. This would allow me to go about taking care of business (doing the dishes, folding laundry, etc.). One of the shows her mother put on was Bluey.

I found that she seemed to enjoy that show. Especially the opening music. The first few notes of that little jam would start playing and she would look at the TV and get a big smile. It was adorable. Then something happened.

I would sit with her and watch it while giving her a bottle or feeding her breakfast or lunch. And I started paying attention to the show. I quickly found a fondness for the dad of the family, Bandit. I loved how he interacted with his kids (and his family in general). It was heartwarming. They came up with all sorts of imaginative games to play and it was wonderful. Often, the episodes ended with a scene that just reaches in and grabs you by the soul. Some of the episodes go as far as to deal with issues such as death and loss.

I never expected a cartoon character to become a role model of a dad. I am far from a perfect dad. My schedule makes it hard to get the best moments. I work overnight, take care of my youngest in the morning while my oldest goes off to school, then I sleep during the afternoon and evening. Sometimes it can leave me exhausted and short tempered. My oldest barely sees me (outside of me walking her to school in the morning).

When I watch this show, I see something special. A dad that makes it work. If I can achieve even a fraction of what this cartoon dog does in connecting with his children, I know that I will have a solid relationship with my girls for a long time.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=219313990017529

So, thank you, Australia, for bringing Bluey (and especially Bandit) to the world. Thank you for showing us that it is ok to take a step back and appreciate what we have and to enjoy the moment.

My 1st time Running a Dungeons and Dragons Game.

After days of preparations, the first step of a journey begins for four adventurers. May the dice fall in their favor (please… it’s been rough so far).

Introduction

 I’ve talked about my history with Dungeons and Dragons. If you missed it, check it out. It might provide better understanding of where I am coming from as we dive into this campaign. Following, I get into planning out the adventure and starting the game with my players. It took a couple of sessions to get through the first dungeon. With so many “newbs” (including me as Dungeon Master), it takes us a while to get the engine going. But what it comes down to is the enjoyment of the game that matters.

As the adventure is a published adventure from Wizards of the Coast, there will be spoilers later in this post, so be warned.

The Dungeon Master

Planning the Game

The first thing I did was locate my starter set for D&D 5e. The included materials included the adventure I was going to run (Lost Mine of Phandelver) and the pre-made characters. I then took to YouTube and began looking up videos about running the game and especially those dedicated to the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure. I loaded up my Watch Later playlist with videos from The DM Lair, The Dungeon Coach, Dungeon Dudes, Kristen’s Epic Adventures, Ginny Di, Bob World Builder, and a slew of other videos and content. I sought out guidance on Twitter, Facebook Groups, and searches on Reddit. Of particular help, they often directed me to Game Night Blog for a lot of resources.

Playing D&D
It’s Game TIme!

I began creating excel files to organize and track my game, anything that I could think of to help me with organizing and streamlining my first game. Workbooks of charts, lists, tables, homemade cards and character tabs, all filled in my excel file. I downloaded many resources from the Gaming Night Blog, including a Forgotten Realms Sword Coast overview and rules summary to provide to my players. Each player had a folder containing handouts.

I had each player sign up on D&D Beyond and create their characters there. Only one player selected one of the pre-made characters that I inputted. That was Jeff who chose a Human Fighter (Noble) named Xavier. Though he did reduce the conceitedness of the character as described in the background. His wife, Angie, created a Half-Elf Cleric named Araqwyn (acolyte of the goddess Lliira). Perhaps my first mistake as a DM was that I did not express any limitations in regard to classes or races. When it came time for my fiancée (who is mostly unfamiliar with D&D) to create a character, she chose to go with a Fire Genasi. I was hesitant to agree, wanting to stick to the standard races and classes, but she was insistent at that point. So, I agreed and made her character a rogue with a “soldier” background. I helped her in writing the backstory of the character. We also had some issues when it came to her name, but we settled on Suzah.

Finally, we needed at least one more player to round out the party. Some may say that my next move was my second mistake (and biggest so far) as a DM. Lacking additional players, I created a DMPC. A Human Wizard named Zam. I heard all the arguments against doing this and that it would be better to adjust the encounters or add hirelings or other NPC add-ons. However, I decided to give it a go and to reduce the chance that he would take over the party, I gave him a bit of a shy, awkward personality so that he would be the last choice to be a leader.

Half-elf female cleric, Araqwyn Tunebringer
Araqwyn Tunebringer – Halfelf Cleric (played by Angie)

So, in recap, we had Xavier (Human Fighter, NG), Araqwyn (Half-elf Cleric, CG), Suzah (Fire Genasi Rogue, N), and Zam (Human Wizard, NG). With the party assembled, it was time to get started.

Our First Session

WARNING: After this point, I will go into the adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver, included in the Starter Set. While I may make some changes over the course of the campaign to fit our game, there will be SPOILERS ahead. Proceed with caution.

The Lost Mine of Phandelver book starts off with the characters on a wagon heading to the town of Phandalin, having already met with their patron, Gundren. I decided to start with each character being brought into a back room at an inn in Neverwinter where they awaited their host. Sildar stood in the corner as each character was brought in and seated at a table. This was a chance for the characters to introduce each other and left an heir of mystery as to what was going on. Eventually, Gundren entered and said that he wanted them to escort his wagon of supplies (currently being loaded) to the town of Phandalin.

Gundren and Sildar left the group to get an advanced start to the town and the party rested for the day after checking on the progress of the supplies being loaded. At this point, they pick up where the adventure begins in the book. After a couple days of journeying, the group comes across the scene of two dead horses along the road. They discovered goblins waiting in ambush and fought with them. Soon, three of the goblins were dead and one had surrendered, but the wizard Zam was badly hurt.

Xavier Griffin – Human Fighter (played by Jeff)

The party rested and interrogated the goblin while Zam was healed by their cleric. The goblin (affectionately called Gary Goblin) told them that he would lead them to their hideout. The party rogue, Suzah, rolled a 1 while searching for traps at a place indicated by the goblin and was caught in a snare. With more harm to her pride than anything, the group cut her down and they continued along their way past a pit trap and eventually to the entrance to a cave.

Across a small stream that trickled out from the cave entrance, two goblins lounged in a thicket. They were taken out quickly through tactical moves of the party. Suzah snuck across the stream and climbed some nearby trees where she spotted the goblins. She signaled to the rest who maneuvered into place to launch their attack. Suzah took her shot and eliminated one of the goblins immediately. The other tried to run for the cave but was swiftly taken down.

Suzah – Fire Genasi Rogue (played by Lexy)

Inside the cave, the sounds of wolves could be heard from a side chamber. They skipped past that chamber, having learned that the wolves were chained inside, and moved further into the cave. Gary Goblin warned the party of a lookout on a bridge up ahead. As the group reached a side tunnel, a rush of water came roaring toward them. Suzan and Zam made it into the tunnel unharmed. However, Araqwyn, Xavier, and Gary Goblin were swept back to the mouth of the cave, the goblin was left unconscious. So Araqwyn and Xavier left the goblin in the thicket to rest while they returned to the cave.

Araqwyn and Xavier returned to the cave and caught up with the others. They ventured further until they heard goblin voices coming from a room. Groans of a non-goblin could also be heard coming from the chamber.

Before they could continue, we realized what time it was and had to call the adventure there for the day. I knew that during the course of the session, I blundered a few times. It didn’t really matter. My players expressed delight over playing the game. They laughed at the missteps of their characters, like Suzah getting caught in the snare and when her player (my fiancée, Lexy) later suggested throwing the goblin into the chamber with the wolves.

Overall, they had a fun time and so did I. I winged a lot of my decisions (and I think they turned out for the better if I had taken the time to look up the rules and played them out properly). I was starting to understand what it was like to be a Dungeon Master. The maps I had of the cave were hand drawn and I only had one miniature (one I had used for a sorcerer a while back). To help, I substituted in some Lego figures that they players used, instead. The players really enjoyed the visual aspect of the maps and figures.

Zam Longbrook – Human Wizard (played by Sal)

Throughout the next week we would talk about the session. Before we meat the next week, they had ordered dice, miniatures for their characters (and Suzah’s as well… I was using the sorcerer to represent Zam), as well as some goblins. It was great to see how they were getting into the game.

Problems with Goblins

Saving Sildar

The first session was at our friends’ house. My father watched our youngest and we took our oldest daughter over to play with their son while we played our game. The second session, we invited them over to our place. It turned out to be a little more hectic with our dogs and youngest daughter. She did nap for a good portion of the time, but she was certainly a distraction, especially for Lexy who kept getting pulled away. It was a lesson learned, however.

A few D&D Miniatures.
Araqwyn and Xavier (miniatures)

When we got back into the game, a quick peak revealed a number of goblins surrounding a fire pit and one on a ledge above. As an attempt to give the edge to the low level players, I had Zam cast sleep, which knocked out all of the goblins around the fire. Suzah fired a shot that went wide (another natural one) and hit a makeshift shelf behind the goblin that contained potions (which crashed down and were wasted). The goblin grabbed the prisoner, Sildar and put a knife to his throat, threatening him. Xavier went out to negotiate with the goblin.

The goblin, Yeemik, knows that there is more than just Xavier lurking in the tunnel. He offers a deal that the human would be let go if they kill the hideout leader, Klarg, for him. However, the group doesn’t buy it. Suzah takes another shot, this time striking the goblin, forcing him to let go of Sildar and knocking him back to the cavern wall. Xavier follows up with a javelin that bursts Yeemik’s head like a balloon. By this time, the other goblins are waking up.

After a harrowing battle, the party finally puts down the goblins in the chamber. They take a short rest, reviving Sildar, and move back along the corridor. They reach the bridge and see the goblin on top looking toward the cave entrance. Suzah takes him out swiftly and they move along. When they reach the room with a pool (originally two pools, but one was already released), they find two goblins and make quick work of them.

Finding the Bugbear

At a short tunnel leading to another chamber, they hear the ramblings of a crazed bugbear. Determining that he is Klarg, the leader of this group of goblins. The party moves quickly. Araqwyn strikes with a bolt of light which barely phases the bugbear. The party fully engages, learning that goblins also lurk in the chamber and attack the group along with a wolf. They make quick work of one goblin and the wolf and wear down Klarg.

Map of the cave hideout for the Cragmaw Goblins
Cragmaw Hideout (1st dungeon for LMoP)

Finally, a noise alerts all in the room to a lone goblin charging at Klarg with a small knife. He manages to stab the bugbear, but not before Klarg grabs him and twist his neck, discarding poor Gary Goblin aside. Klarg is hurt by this point and the group finish him off, leaving him sitting in an upright position. When an arrow comes from the darkness, Zam casts a light there to reveal a goblin archer. Startled by being revealed, the goblin retreats to a hole in the back of the cavern. He tries to climb down but slips (Nat 1) and falls into the kennel below, breaking his neck and being jumped on by the wolves.

To end the second session, they receive their rewards of the treasure and find some provisions stolen from supply trains to the town. Before ending for the day, they look in the kennel, the wolves now content and full of goblin, where they examine a pile of hay to find two wolf cubs, one gray and one black. This is where the adventure ends for the second session.

As stated before, some lessons were learned during this session for both me (as the DM) and the players alike. Still, the general consensus was that the group had fun. We were starting to find our grove as a D&D group.

Conclusion

That ended the first leg of the journey. Next time we will take a look at sessions three and four where the group goes to Phandalin and seeks to right a wrong in the town.  Check back and see how the adventure unfolds.

Links

Reflections on Dungeons and Dragons – S. J.Serio (sjserio.com)

The DM Lair – YouTube

The Dungeon Coach – YouTube

Dungeon Dudes – YouTube

Kristen’s Epic Adventures – YouTube

Ginny Di – YouTube

Bob World Builder – YouTube

Lost Mine of Phandelver Campaign Resources – Game Night Blog

Some Tools (software, websites, and apps) I Use:

D&D Beyond – An official digital toolset for Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) Fifth Edition (5e) (dndbeyond.com)

ePic Character Generator | Overhead Games

DUNGEONFOG | Free RPG Battle map editor for D&D / Dungeonfog

Fantasy name generators. Names for all your fantasy characters.

Reflections on Dungeons and Dragons

How I became acquainted with Dungeons and Dragons and the road to becoming a Dungeon Master.

Introduction

            For those that have been following me, my life has been fairly busy lately. I haven’t even been keeping up with this blog because my primary focus has been working on my book and getting it ready for publication. Much of the rest of my days have been dedicated to raising my two daughters (one just entering 1st grade and the other about to turn a year old) while working a full-time job. It hasn’t been easy. So when I was approached about not only playing, but running a D&D campaign, I had some reservations.

            It’s not that I didn’t want to. When would I have the time? And I’ve never run a game before. That is an enormous commitment.  But after some time, I considered it. And I thought, what the heck. Afterall, I have barely had any time for recreation lately. Outside of the occasional movie or TV show binge, most of my recreation was limited to a coloring app on my phone. I have barely played any video games as of late outside the occasional Mario Kart or Switch Sports.

Polyhedral dice spread out over a map and book

            So, where to begin? Well, I suppose at the beginning, when D&D first entered my life. So that is what follows. I will go over my history with Dungeons and Dragons (and roleplaying games in general) so that you may better understand where I am coming from. Then, in a separate blog, I will go over my experience setting up the game and how our first sessions unfolded (at the time of this writing, we have already had about 4 sessions under our belts). Once I am caught up, I will attempt to update after each new session as we continue our journey through The Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure. It has been a fun ride so far.

My Brief History with D&D     

Early Awareness

I grew up in the 80s. However, I did not have any actual contact with Dungeons & Dragons at that time. My earliest memories were of the cartoon that aired on Saturday Mornings. And my brother had a game called Electronic Dungeons & Dragons. The game featured an electronic board with wall pieces and several pewter characters. The objective was to navigate the dungeon and find the dragon’s treasure without disturbing the dragon. It was neat, but that was the extent of my knowledge of the game. This was also during the time of the satanic panic and I don’t know how the full game would have been accepted in my family or among my peers. I didn’t really know much more about it at the time.

Dungeons and Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game
Dungeons and Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game

First Play

When I started high school, I started getting into deeper video games than the ones I grew up with. Among them were games like Dragon Warrior (Quest), Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, and similar games. Little did I know that many of those games found roots in Dungeons and Dragons. After high school, I joined the Navy and when I was in my training school in San Diego (before the base shut down), I finally had my first chance to play the table-top game that had alluded me earlier in life.

I don’t have many memories of that first game. I don’t even think I got very far in it. But soon, I was introduced to other TTRPG’s, particularly, Vampire the Masquerade. That was an interesting variation that left the medieval fantasy setting behind for a modern horror setting. That game was expanded by a slew of other connected games, like Werewolf the Apocalypse, which came to be known as the World of Darkness (WoD). My friends and I, at one point, even set out to make our own Role-Playing Game featuring the WoD game system but in the setting of the Highlander franchise. Unfortunately, we never did complete that endeavor. But I was hooked.

Rulebook for Vampire: The Masquerade Tabletop Role-Playing Game
Vampire: The Masquerade Rulebook

After my Navy Training School, I would eventually leave my friends behind and go on to my first command, the USS Mount Whitney out of Norfolk, Virginia. I had my Magic: The Gathering card collection that I played but didn’t get back into D&D and was even introduced to a TTRPG based on comic books and superheroes. It was also at this time that I was introduced to The Elder Scrolls in the form of Daggerfall on the PC. This was like playing D&D on the computer for me and satisfied that itch.

Cover art of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall computer game
Cover art of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall computer game

Then I met my friends, Matt, Dave, and Mike. We played a variation of the traditional TTRPG known as Palladium: Fantasy Role-Playing Game. Some of my fondest memories came with those group of guys.

Maintaining Familiarity

 After I left the Navy, I was alone. I had a bunch of source books that I had collected over time, but no one to play them with. It was at this time that my interest in writing began. I had made several attempts at creating fantasy worlds of my own, but often got bogged down in the world building. But I became more aware of the world of Dungeons and Dragons in the process. I played the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights games on my PC. I also got the books for 3rd edition of D&D when they were released.

After a few years, I went back into the Navy. Eventually, I would find myself on the USS Enterprise. While I never found a gaming group during that time, I did find the novels. Particularly, the novels of R.A. Salvatore. Over time, I would get familiar with the Forgotten Realms, particularly the Sword Coast and Icewind Dale. I also explored several other novels by Salvatore outside of the D&D world. While I was out of the game, I maintained a familiarity that would pull me back years later.

Covers for the first 6 books of the Legend of Drizzt series of books.
Covers for the first 6 books of the Legend of Drizzt series of books.

Back in the Game

Playing again

Around the birth of my first daughter, I decided to use my benefits from my time serving in the U.S. Navy. In particular, the Montgomery G.I. Bill. I started attending school with the objective of finally getting a degree. First, I attended Community College, then, after gaining my Associates Degree, I moved on to university. It was during that time that I started getting the itch to play D&D again.

With my daughter getting older, I was able to squeeze in some time aside to pursuit this endeavor. Utilizing modern conveniences like message boards, social media, and apps, as well as gaming store bulletin boards, I finally found a group to game with. They invited me in. They were in the midst of a game (not D&D but similar… for the life of me, I can’t remember the name) and I joined in on a couple sessions. When that completed, we looked at other options. First, one started a homebrew game of City of Mist, a superhero-based game.

Cover Art for City of Mist Tabletop Role-Playing Game
Cover Art for City of Mist Tabletop Role-Playing Game

This is where the bug really started hitting me. I created a character, an orphan technomancer, and an elaborate backstory (along with a related character, my character’s younger sister who featured heavily in his backstory). Then, the dynamics of the group began changing. Due to the group growing, it split up. That game moved to another day which I couldn’t accommodate at the time. So, I joined a game of 7th Sea, an interesting game world that covered an Age of Discovery like time period with regions that were mirrors to real Earth of that time (with magical elements). After a few sessions of that, the game fizzled out and I got the opportunity to join a D&D game.

Historically, with D&D and other fantasy RPG’s, I played a thief, rogue, or ranger class of character. However, I felt the urge to try something new. So, I went with a Sorcerer. That campaign was odd as our characters were pulled into the past during a time when the world was ruled by Dragons. It was certainly an interesting campaign and not what I was expecting. But I enjoyed it. That campaign lasted for several months and ended with a conclusion after we completed the goal. We even got a bit of an epilogue that satisfied our characters.

Life Gets in the Way

That campaign ended in early 2019. It would be my last year attending Towson University. I was taking a class that would see the genesis of my first novel in the form of a short story. Then tragedy struck. My stepmother passed away that spring. The repercussions of which affected the end of my semester. On top of that, my GI Bill ran out and after that semester, I was unable to resume school. The changes that came led to me putting aside my recreational pursuits.

My primary goal was finding a full-time job. In an effort to get my writing career going, I published my short story, The Hedge Maze, on Amazon. If anything, it was to get my name out there. With no benefits from the GI Bill coming in and a family to support, I settled with one job which I hated, then finally another job working at a hospital as a patient transporter. Little did I know what was about to happen shortly after I started that job.

The closest that I came to playing any Role-Playing Game was a game I found aimed at young children called Amazing Tales. I “ran” a game for my 7-year-old daughter, but time was a major hurdle, especially with my schedule. Still, it was a fun game and it did peak her interest. Hopefully, I’ll be able to return to it with her sometime once my schedule becomes a little more regular.

A New Opportunity Knocks

Fast forward to the present, I still work at the hospital, but in a different position. As I mentioned, I had been working on getting my novel ready for publishing and earlier this year, I started my publishing company. Between working a full-time job, writing and editing my novel, getting my company up and running (still a major work in progress), and raising two daughters (one of which is still under a year old as of the time of writing this), it has been quite a busy year.

The friends that approached are the parents of one of my oldest daughter’s friends from school. My fiancée and I would often talk to them while we were dropping off or picking up our daughter at school. We invited them over for her 6th birthday last year and even entertained them at our house a couple of times for dinner and video game fun. We’d often talk about video games and TV shows. The mother, Angie, showed interest in playing D&D after watching shows like Stranger Things. Her husband, Jeff, had played before, but it had been a really long time and he had thought he would never play again. Despite my initial hesitation, I soon was really excited with the opportunity to play.

Stranger Things Logo
Stranger Things Logo

Conclusion

As you can see, my road to this point has been long and a bit bumpy. In my next post, I will dive into prepping up for my first ever game as a Dungeon Master and take a dive into the first session. It has been a crazy experience so far and I look forward to furthering the adventure. Hopefully, you will join me for the ride. Oh, and feel free to offer reactions, insights, and suggestions as the journey continues.

Links

Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game | Board Game | BoardGameGeek

Vampire: The Masquerade – Wikipedia

World of Darkness – Wikipedia

Magic: The Gathering – Wikipedia

The Elder Scrolls – Wikipedia

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall – Wikipedia

Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game – Wikipedia

Baldur’s Gate – Wikipedia

Neverwinter Nights – Wikipedia

N.Y. Times Bestselling Author R. A. Salvatore (rasalvatore.com)

Forgotten Realms – Wikipedia

Cinematic Modern Fantasy Tabletop RPG (TTRPG) – City of Mist

7th Sea – Chaosium Inc.

The Hedge Maze – Kindle edition by Serio, Salvatore. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.Stranger Things – Wikipedia

Cobra Kai Season 5 Review (Spoiler Free)

The latest season of Cobra Kai has dropped on Netflix, and I have been anticipating it since season 4 ended. This is my overall impressions and review of Season 5.

A little over 9 months ago, just as the year was starting, Cobra Kai season 4 premiered. It brought back one of the most infamous villains in the form of Terry Silver. I have to admit, when Karate Kid 3 was released, I wasn’t as much of a fan as the earlier movies. However, the story and characters, especially the over-the-top Silver, grew on me over time. So, it was a delight to see his return to the series and watch him develop from a reluctant man who was trying to forget his past to the ultra-villain we all remember him for.

            Now Cobra Kai is back with Season 5 with Kreese in jail and Terry having full reigns as the ultimate villain. It picks right up where season 4 left off (maybe a few days after) and sets up a wild ride that makes Season 2’s “Cruel Summer” look like a picnic at the beach.

I did not get a chance to watch the season before they released it. I am not mad about that. I have yet to be established as a super fan. But many of the super fans were able to and posted their (spoiler-free) reviews ahead of the show’s premiere. Some were dedicated to the Cobra Kai and Miyagiverse franchise. Others were more general in content but include Cobra Kai as among their most anticipated shows. One thing that I noted was that many, especially the more general fans, seemed to be a little let down with the first half while praising the second half of the season. Pacing issues, quick cuts, and a dragging storyline seemed to be the common factor concerning the first half of the season.

As for me, it pulled me into the story right from the start. The entire season was a rollercoaster of emotions. I did not feel that the earlier episodes dragged along or were otherwise boring or anything. Nothing like some of the complaints that I have seen. Much of the first half was taking care of individual storylines and moving the characters into place for the second half of the season. Personally, I was happy with that.

What we know from the end of season 4 is that Miguel is on his way to Mexico and Johnny told Carmen that he would go after him. Tory is conflicted after her win, then subsequently overhearing Terry and the ref talking about the bribe money. Eli “Hawk” is the new champion of a presumably closing dojo. Kreese is on his way to jail thanks to a setup by Terry with the help of Stingray. And Daniel has called in reinforcements in the form of his formal rival, Chozen Toguchi.

Season 5 takes those story threads and begins weaving a tale of intrigue, heartbreak, and betrayal, with healthy doses of humor sprinkled in throughout. Along the way, various characters have moments where they shine. With the abundance of characters, some do get kind of lost in the shuffle. They make appearances here and there and throw out a line of dialogue or two. But other characters really shine as the season carries on.

This season also felt the most intense for me. There was one point near the end that I couldn’t really react to what was going on screen because I felt so tense and worried that something bad was about to happen. Only in repeat views of those episodes could I truly appreciate them and the moments that I just glossed over previously. Of course, part of that tension came because I was partially spoiled by one event through a screenshot I came across before I could watch the episode.

Final Thoughts

In the end, I loved the season. It is easily among the best TV and a front runner for my favorite season of Cobra Kai (so far). The excitement, the nostalgia, the humor, and the drama all come together to deliver a viewing experience that I didn’t know I needed five years ago. I am glad that I have come along for this ride. If you haven’t checked out the show yet, do so. Whether you are familiar with the movies or not, I can assure you that it is a wild ride. Strap in and get ready to hold onto your heart.            

Thanks for reading this. Look for my full, in depth look at the season coming soon. Also, I plan on bringing a few other features covering my hobbies that I have been involved in lately, some exciting things on the horizon that I am looking forward to, as well as updates to my novel and future projects that should be coming down the pipe in the next year or so.

Novel Progress and the State of My Blog

Introduction

I have been very busy as of late. Between raising two children, working a full-time job, and working on my book, I have had little time to work on my blog. Things are really picking up as I head for the finish line with my book and get my publishing company, Infinite Worlds LLC, up and running. That said, I thought I would take some time out to give another update on the status of my novel (that’s right; I said “novel” … I’m upgrading it from a novella. More on that in a moment) and the status of my website and business. Plus, I am putting out a call for volunteers. There is a lot to get to… so let’s get started.

Novel Progress    

Editing Stage

As I mentioned, I upgraded my book from a novella to a novel. The feedback I received from my editor was quite insightful and spurred me to add some chapters to the book. Along with the additional chapters, I have been going through and rewriting all the chapters one by one, sometimes changing them quite a bit. Some reasons for the changes are because of the new chapters; information and characters that are now introduced earlier, updates, expansions, and changes to the world building, etc.

Where my initial manuscript came to about 29,000 words, the rewrite is on par to break 50,000. Light for the genre of science fiction, but still beefy. Because of that, I likely not include the short story that I intended to but save it for an anthology down the road. I haven’t decided yet whether that anthology would be just my own works or whether I would accept submissions by other authors to include. That is something that I want to do, so if you are interested in publishing a short story, please contact me. Pu the subject line “Writing” or “Short Story.”

So far, I like the changes that I have been making and feel that it is fleshing the story out nicely. I look forward to how it is received when all is said and done.

Release Target

I have planned my target release to be by the end of summer. That is looking less likely, as I have a lot left to do. I now think that I could get it out by mid-October. Since the book has horror elements, I figure that would be a suitable target thematically. I would like to have at least a couple months during this year where my book is on the shelf. Of course, I will update as soon as I firm that up.

Road to Release

That said, I have some tentative plans going forward regarding the preparations for release. I am in the middle of the first edit phase. With the expansion of the story, I am currently working in the middle of the story. I hope to complete this current draft by sometime next week. I was targeting the end of this week, but that is not likely anymore.

Once that is done, I will go back and do some touch up before resubmitting to the editors. By the way, I am using bluepenbooks.com for my editing needs, and they have been very helpful. Anyway, if all goes well, the editing process should be completed by the end of August as I estimate.

The cover art is still pending. I have an artist picked out, but I know she has been very busy lately with other matters. I will be checking in with her soon. Hopefully, I can release the cover art by August.

I also plan for August to be the month where I start ramping up my premarketing. A sample chapter or two should be released around that time and I will likely start taking preorders.

Future Plans

New Directions

So, last month, I ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise some money. Unfortunately, it was a bust. Things as they are, it is understandable. I mean, I am no Brandon Sanderson. So, I have been thinking of ways that I can increase my brand.

I realize that I am behind in the times. I started this blog a little over a year ago. I know… blogs are so 2003. I must get with the times. I am brainstorming ideas for a YouTube channel… several, actually. They won’t completely replace my blog. I’ll still post from time to time. Not to mention I will use my blog to promote my channels. But they will be a way to increase my brand.

One channel will be geared toward a younger audience. That is because it will feature my daughter. She has long been wanting to do YouTube. When she is playing I always here her saying “Please remember to like and subscribe.” Before the naysayers interject, I understand what that will mean. That is why I will be with her. It will be a daddy/daughter channel. I’m still working on what we will actually do on that channel. Maybe some educational activities, general discussions, and other fun stuff.

She has developed an interest in countries and geography recently, so I thought… maybe I can introduce her to Civilization over summer break. I will record game sessions and post them. It would be interesting to see how she takes to the game and a great educational moment.

Another channel would be my main channel. That would me more of a “PG-13” (maybe up to lower “R” audience level). Not that it would be a lot of cussing or explicit or anything. But it may deal with more mature content and discussions geared for older audiences. It is where I will promote my books and the like which can have some themes geared to older readers. Anyway, I haven’t worked it all out, it is still in the preplanning stages.

As I said, it will not replace my blog. I am a writer, after all. But it will supplement it and is a way for growing my audience.

Website Redesign

That said, with my debut novel on its way to publication, I will have to focus on the business side of being an author. Not just my publishing business, but also my author brand itself. That would include a redesign of this website. I will have to prep for my novel info site and there is just a lot to do.

New Fundraiser

Of course, with all of this going on, that requires money. As I mentioned, my Kickstarter failed. I’m still new to all of this, so while I am disappointed, I am not surprised. Still, I realized that a big part of it is that I don’t have as much of a base. I am not giving up, however. Part of the above changes are geared to generating incentives for people to donate. Since my novel is still in production, I am unable to share too much regarding it currently. I need other means to generate revenue. So, I will be starting a Patreon and rerunning my Kickstarter Campaign. More details will be coming. If anybody has any suggestions as to what I can offer as rewards and other incentives, please reach out to me (or comment below). If you email me, for the subject line, put “Incentives.”

Calls for Volunteer

Help Wanted!

So, that leads me to the big ask! I am placing the call out for volunteers. If anybody is willing to lend a hand in any way, I would be more than grateful. Email me with the subject line “Volunteer.” If you are interested in investing and/or “partnering up”, that is even better. (Subject line: Invest). I am currently wearing so many hats between the business and my writing, not to mention my personal life, that it is becoming overwhelming. But I am committed to seeing this through.

If you have any of the following skills, I will certainly want to hear from you. (For the subject line, put “Volunteer: ‘Relevant Skill’”):

  • Business Management
  • Marketing
  • Social Media Manager
  • Website design and maintenance
  • Art
  • Fundraising
  • Graphic Design
  • Creative Assistant (basically, somebody to help me with parsing information from my books, alpha and beta reading, and general administrative tasks related to the book)

There are likely other areas that I could use help on, but those are the major areas. There are perks to volunteering. If you are a beginner in any of these areas, it will be a bullet that you can add to your resume. But more than that, it could be the chance to start in a business from the ground up. If you are starting out or changing things up, this could be a chance to start your path for success.

Potential Future

When I can start hiring for my business (and maybe author brand) I will look at any volunteers first. Those first roles will eventually take on executive positions as the company grows.

Authors who offer their help might also get the invitation to write in any world that I create, especially if you contribute to them. My goal for my publishing company, Infinite Worlds, is to create an independent publisher that is a hub for creativity. To connect authors and artists, and other creative types so that the process of publishing your work is much easier.

In either case, if you are willing to play the long game, roads will open to allow great things for all involved.

Conclusion

Exciting things are on the horizon. I can’t wait to get my book into the hands of the public. I hope to hear from some of you soon, especially if you are hoping to join my team. This is a pivotal time in the writing and publishing industry. Doors are opening, but we have to have the courage to go through. Let’s go through together.

Links

Home | Infinite Worlds (infiniteworldspub.com)

Blue Pen – Editing & Book Design (bluepenbooks.com)

Premiere Novella from S.J. Serio by Salvatore Serio — Kickstarter

Civilization® VI – The Official Site

Contact and Social Media

Email – serious77@sjserio.com

Facebook – Salvatore Serio | Facebook

Twitter – S. J. Serio (You can call me Sal) (@GetSerious77) / Twitter

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/serious1977

LinkedIn – Sal Serio | LinkedIn

TikTok – Salvatore Serio (@sjserio) TikTok | Watch Salvatore Serio’s Newest TikTok Videos

My Kickstarter is Launching

Finally, after a small delay, my Kickstarter is ready to launch.

This is a quick announcement that I am launching my Kickstarter for my book, The Monsters Within. Check it out and if you can, any support would be appreciated.

BACKGROUND

Set about 150 years in the future, it is a world that has been taken over by a global government. A plague sent people into urban areas and as a result, society has transformed. The United Global Coalition (UGC) now works to protect its citizens and keep any threats outside of the city boundaries. As cells of resistance to the UGC grow, a new threat emerges that could spell trouble for all sides.

Through the book, we follow Brett Hardin, a citizen in Capital City Metro, who performs his job loyally and does his best for his family. When those two interests come into conflict, Brett begins to question his place in society and does what he can to protect his family.  

Links

Premiere Novella from S.J. Serio by Salvatore Serio — Kickstarter

Book and Business Update

A quick update on the status of my book and some other things…

Introduction

 The past month has definitely been busy. I have had a lot on my plate. Personal and family life aside (that has been quite active as well), many wheels have been turning as things move forward. With that said, let’s get into it.

Infinite Worlds, LLC (a book publisher)

First, if you missed my last post, I have founded my own publishing company. Infinite Worlds is in the beginning stages of life. For now, it will be a vehicle for publishing my own works. However, I plan on opening it up to others as an option as well. Basically, if you are going the route of self-publishing, but don’t want to deal with all the hassles of the actual publishing part, I want Infinite Worlds to be that option. The protection, “prestige,” and help of having a publisher, without the foot-dragging and control of a traditional publisher or the scamming and thievery of a vanity publisher.

I would also like to expand it beyond just novels. Graphic novels, children’s books, and even supplements like role-playing games would be ideal. Also, I wouldn’t mind delving into other media, such as independent video games. I have a few ideas for some.

My Book Status

Of course, it all starts with my debut book. Currently, it is in the hands of editors. I just got the development feedback, so I will probably be busy in the coming weeks completing the edits. If all goes well, I hope to have it launched by the end of summer. I will update on the progress as regularly as I can. With that in mind, I do plan on setting up a newsletter. I also hope to have a sample chapter or two posted online within the next couple of months. Things are really moving and I am getting excited. Still, there is a long road ahead.

I am also in the planning stages of my next works. The outline for the sequel for my debut novel has begun to take form. I have also been working on some worldbuilding for future projects and series I intend to release.

Fundraising

With that in mind, I am working on a fundraiser to help get things done. I am finding out that it is costing a lot of money. From editing, to cover art, to formatting, there are a lot of factors that go into it and much of it requires money. Therefore, I am starting a Kickstarter to help get it in gear. It should go live within about a week or so. The tier rewards are being worked out. I have little to offer at this time, but I am only targeting about $4,000. I mean, I don’t expect anywhere near Brandon Sanderson numbers. Basic expenses are what I’m looking to cover. Anything extra will probably go towards marketing and my business, which will give me some capital to expedite publishing the works of others who are interested.

Lastly, if anybody would like to volunteer, contact me at serious77@sjserio.com. I have a lot on my plate and could use some help in certain areas so that I can focus on certain things. This mostly applies to friends and family who may want to lend a hand.

Conclusion

In the end, it looks like I will be very busy in the coming months as well. I am excited… and nervous. Regardless, big things are coming.

Links

Infinite Worlds – Home | Infinite Worlds (infiniteworldspub.com)

Kickstarter Campaign – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1005671473/premiere-novella-from-sj-serio

Brandon Sanderson – Surprise! Four Secret Novels by Brandon Sanderson by Dragonsteel Entertainment — Kickstarter