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.

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

COBRA KAI SEASON IV Review, Recap, and Reaction

My reaction and review of Cobra Kai season 4… SPOILERS AHEAD!

In 2021, there were three things that I was looking forward to. My second daughter was the first. The second was the premiere of Amazon Prime’s The Wheel of Time. The third was the 4th season of Cobra Kai, now completely in the hands of Netflix. My daughter’s birth went well, though there were some minor hiccups. I’ve been enjoying watching her grow over the course of the past few months. The Wheel of Time was a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed seeing the characters and settings come to life on screen, but I am a little worried about going forward with the changes and directions they went with. Cobra Kai, which edged into 2021 with a premier on December 31st, blew me away.

Jay, from a reaction video channel that I like to watch, Jay and Adam’s pReviewed, had the perfect summary: That the show has no business being as good as it is. It’s true! It should have been a campy nostalgia-fest that was quickly forgotten. But instead, what we got was a show that not only had the nostalgia, but heart, action, and humor. I suppose that could have been foreseen, given the showrunners… the same guys that brought us Hot Tub Time Machine. A movie that should have been totally cheese, but actually worked.

Students from Miyago-do and Eagle Fang are lined up as Daniel and Johnny are preparing to give their joint instruction.
Miyago-do and Eagle Fang lined up and ready to BEGIN

What we got with Cobra Kai is a show that carries the story forward and through different perspectives. It gives more dimensions to some of the lesser defined characters in the original trilogy. The first season paralleled the first movie, but still gave us something new. The second season brought us new characters and changed the game. The long wait for the 3rd season while the show changed platforms turned out to be well worth it. That had some epic moments and ended with the makings of the alliance we have all been waiting for. The 4th season did not drop the ball.

There were many story arcs throughout the season. As I dive into it, I am going to look at various plotlines and how they developed through the season. Then I will look at the final two episodes and the outcome of the long-awaited tournament. If you have not watched the season, stop reading now, watch it, then come back for the analysis. After this point, “Thar be Spoilers!”

DANNY and JOHNNY

The final scene of season 3 was exciting, with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) standing side-by-side, having combined their students. As exciting as that was, inevitably, they would clash in their training. It was cringeworthy watching the two senseis clash as they attempted to train their students. The second episode where they train each other in their prospective styles was a delight. I was awash with delight when Johnny responded to Daniel with, “No be there!” following Daniel’s hockey fight.

While sparring, Johnny assumes the crane kick pose to Daniel's dismay.
“Back at ya!” Johnny performing the Crane Kick pose.

It made sense that they would switch students to train in the other styles. However, it was disheartening, and also not too surprising, when the two eventually split up. I couldn’t help to be a bit frustrated with Daniel’s stubbornness. I also felt sorry for Johnny and understood his fears watching Miguel taking to LaRusso’s guidance. As the season went on, it was great to see that they did happen to influence each other as bits of their opposing training came out.

KREESE and SILVER

When I originally saw Karate Kid part 3, I hated Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith). He was annoying and an over-the-top villain. In recent years, I came to like that about his character, and I liked how Cobra Kai explained this by referencing him being high on cocaine throughout the 80s. Having “cleaned up,” he was reluctant to get back in it with John Kreese (Martin Kove). However, Kreese, master manipulator that he is, was able to get under his skin and pull him back into the game.

Still, it became clear that their alliance was shakier than expected. Often, Kreese would give Silver that glare as if he knew that his former partner was up to something. Throughout the season, there were signs that he may have regretted bringing Silver back into the fold. This culminated when Terry took Kreese to the old dojo and ambushed Johnny.

MIGUEL and SAM

Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) and Samantha (Mary Mouser) were pivotal characters of this season. While they were not as active in the first couple of episodes, their purpose at that point was to keep their respective sensei on the path of unity. As the season progressed, their focus came to their relationships with their sensei and how the other one was affecting them. For Miguel, his ease in adapting the Miyagi-Do style was vital in showing Johnny’s jealousy. He already lost Robby, now he felt like he was losing Miguel.

Daniel and Miguel performing kata
Cobra Kai. (L to R) Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso, Xolo Maridueña as Miguel Diaz in Cobra Kai. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

Of course, Johnny’s efforts to be a father figure to Miguel causes the latter pain as seen in episode 7. Miguel returns from the prom to find Johnny drunk after being beaten by a crazed Terry Silver. They begin to connect and in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes, Miguel goes from pure joy to utter heartbreak after Johnny begins to confess that he wants to be a father to him, but then calls him Robby. This was one of the best acted scenes and you could feel Miguel’s pain as his face shifted so quickly.

For Sam, her relationship with her father became strained as she began to adopt Johnny’s philosophies. This was somewhat to her detriment as she honestly became a little too harsh, especially when it came to instigating Tory. However, it did allow her to bring a new strength that she was lacking with Miyagi-Do alone. Of course, this caused riffs with her father whose stubbornness led him to believe that HIS way was the ONLY way.

ROBBY and TORY (and AMANDA)

Robby (Tanner Buchanan) and Tory (Peyton List) had interesting arcs, both together and separate, throughout the season. It was interesting to see them going from distrustful of each other to close and romantically involved as the season progressed. I felt that their relationship was fitting, and they seemed like a good match. For Robby himself, he was disciplined and a powerhouse. The first episode where he challenges the class to hit him, then proceeds to take the group out before finally taking that hit from Tory, he goes from a disrespected delinquent to a leader and example for Cobra Kai. He even takes a student under his wing, though he later learns that he was not ready for that task.

Tory comes out in costume at a children's party.
Tory’s side gig… children’s party entertainer

Tory’s personal arc truly shined throughout the season. More of her homelife is divulged, especially after a visit from her aunt. This opens the door for more sympathy toward her, especially for Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) who is learning the truth about her and is seeing reflections of herself when she was a teenager. Had that background been kept under wraps, then perhaps it would have felt deserving the treatment that Sam was giving her at the kids’ party and later on. However, having that knowledge really made Sam out to be a bit of a jerk in the process.

DEMETRI and HAWK (ELI)

That brings us to the Binary Brothers. Having reconciled at the end of season 3, Eli (Jacob Bertrand) and Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo) went through a lot over the course of the show. They started out as best friends. However, when Eli joined Cobra Kai and took on the moniker of Hawk, they soon became thorns in each other’s side. Season 3 saw some of the worst of Hawk’s personality. However, also saw him waver in his actions. This brought the two back together in the season finale.

Demetri is tied up in punishment as a human punching bag for his fellow students.
Demetri’s punishment… as a human punching bag.

Going into season 4, despite having reconnected with Demetri, who has become quite formidable himself, Eli was struggling to fit in with both Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang. He quickly corrected that by building the bridge that helped to unite the two dojos. I loved when he went in with the plans to build the sparring deck. This put him back on even footing with his peers until he was ambushed by Cobra Kai and “lost” his Hawk identity. Like Samson, he felt that his strength had gone once his mohawk was gone. Enter Demetri and Moon (Hannah Kepple) to build his confidence back up in time for his character to reach his pinnacle.

ANTHONY and KENNY

Breaking out this season were the characters of Anthony LaRusso (Griffin Santopietro) and newcomer Kenny Payne (Dallas Young). I have to say; I enjoyed watching Anthony take a larger role this season and become more involved in the storyline. He was annoying in the earlier seasons (with his best moment being his “confrontation” with Johnny in season 1). In this season, we got to see a dark side where he was the aggressor in bullying the new kid. It soon becomes obvious that his “friends” encouraged his antics and that he seems to regret his actions.

Kenny walks through the halls of his new school in humiliation after being bullied by his classmates.
The new guy… Kenny

Of course, peer pressure being what it is, he continues to let his classmates push him into tormenting Kenny, who he sees as a rival. This leads Kenny, brother of Shawn (Okea Eme-Akwari), who spent time in Juvey with Robby, to seek out Cobra Kai. Over time, we see the pendulum shift as Kenny and Anthony switch roles by the end of the season. Even when Anthony tries to make amends, the damage is already done now that Kreese and Silver have their fangs in Kenny. Something that would not have happened if not for Anthony antagonizing the kid.

On a side note, this storyline led to a surprise cameo by Julia Macchio, Ralph’s daughter. She played the role of Vanessa, Cousin Louie’s (Bret Ernst) younger sister. She is a therapist who helps Daniel and Amanda get an understanding of Anthony’s bullying behavior. Amanda also refers to her as “Marisa Tomei Jr.” given her mannerisms, which were very close to Mona Lisa Vito, the character portrayed by Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny (another film featuring Ralph Macchio).

Julia Macchio makes a guest appearance as Cousin Louie's sister and a licensed therapist to help the LaRusso's deal with Anthony
In the Family

CAMEOS (UNDERWOOD, AISHA, and STINGRAY)

Speaking of cameos… I must mention the appearance of Carrie Underwood at the tournament. I am not a fan (though I have no animosity towards her) but it was nice to see some celebrities (outside of the franchise) making appearances. And I liked the fact that she was singing a Survivor song.

More importantly to the show was the appearance of two alums from previous seasons. First, Aisha (Nichole Brown) was a nice callback. It was a good moment for Sam to reconnect with her and for the audience to get a glimpse of where she ended up.

Then there was Raymond, aka Stingray (Paul Walter Hauser). While his character could get quite annoying, he still provided some comic relief, especially at some tense moments. Still, his appearance this season proved to be intense. I felt sorry for him when Kreese outright rejected him. But I must admit seeing his ultimate fate in episode 8 when he ran into Terry Silver was heartbreaking.

THE TOURNAMENT

Then it all came down to episodes 9 & 10 in the tournament. The showrunners really upped the game with the tournament, compared to season 1 and the original movies. The events of the tournament spanned over an episode and a half and featured many great moments. Episode 9 started out with the introductions of the main dojos competing. I am assuming that other dojos were announced in similar fashion – in universe – but they just highlighted the main three that we are concerned about.

The students of both dojos peek out at as Daniel and Johnny are confronted by Kreese and Silver.
The students at “Miyagi-Fang” take in the situation.

After the introductions, we get started with the skills competition which included kata, board-breaking, and weapon demonstrations. The students put on an amazing display. My heart sank a bit when Eli failed to break the final board in his skills entry. Then you had Mitch (Aedin Mincks) who dropped the ball (or, more specifically, bo staff) during his demonstration, followed by embarrassingly running off the stage. The competition ended with Cobra Kai taking the lead. This led into the appearance by Carrie Underwood which was interlaced with the first rounds of main male and female division fights. On a note, it feels like the skills and women’s division additions to the tournament is something that should have happened 20 years ago (at least).

The last part of the episode took us to the quarterfinals. Cobra Kai had Robby, Tory, Kenny, and Kyler (Joe Seo) reach the finals. Miyagi-do made a showing with Hawk, Sam, and Demetri. Lastly, Miguel and newcomer Devon (Oona O’Brien) held on for Eagle Fang. It was great seeing Eli get his confidence back (with assistance from Moon) and shut down Kyler. It really brought his character around full circle. His Binary Brother, Demetri, really made a showing. He certainly came far since this show started.

The tournament went on and ended with a match between Miguel and Eli. Both were apprehensive about facing their friend, and both were encouraged by their respective sensei to leave that behind for the moment and win. It starts out well as Eli and Miguel shake as they get set to start their match. Then as they were fighting, Miguel launched himself up to do a special move and his back cracked.

Episode 10 opened with the sounds of a heart-monitor in the background as the camera pans across a plethora of CT scans in a hospital room. This is a testament to the writers as I believed (and so did pretty much every reaction video I have watched since) that it was Miguel. Then it is revealed that the person in the hospital bed is Stingray. He is unresponsive and listed as a John Doe, giving the impression that he was dumped somewhere without ID and unconscious after his beating.

Then cut to Miguel back at the tournament being looked over by the event medic. It turned out that his injury is just a sprain and not as bad as it looked, still, his return was questionable. A pep-talk by Johnny fails and leads to Miguel NOT returning in his allotted time, thus forfeiting the match, and advancing Eli to the finals.

While we wait for Miguel, we are treated to the match between Robby and Demetri. While the outcome of this match was expected, I liked a moment when Demetri waves Robby toward him in a “bring it” fashion. Unfortunately for “Meat,” he loses the match. However, I must give kudos to the character for his progression from his whiny origins.

Then we have a confrontation between Anthony and Kenny. Anthony attempts to apologize to Kenny for the way that he has treated him, but the damage is already done. Kenny is unforgiving and begins to attack Anthony in the locker room. Robby walks in and intervenes but is taken aback by how Kenny has morphed from a scared kid to a vengeful brute.

This leads to the first finals match between Robby and Eli. The match is quite well, with each scoring a point and otherwise blocking each other’s attack. The time limit is reached, and they go into Sudden Death overtime. Robby, who’s Gi was opened during the match, strips it off. This prompts Eli to do the same, exposing his hawk tattoo. To this, I have to say that I love the hawk sound effect that is inserted.

They continue their battle. Just as it looks like Robby is going to win, he is distracted when he sees Kenny yelling to “Finish him.” This throws him off balance and allows Eli to escape and turn the tables. Finally, Eli scores the winning blow, crowning him the new champion. I loved this and felt that it was the perfect cap to Eli’s redemption story.

In the intermission between the final matches, we have a moment that resolves one of the major plot points of this whole season. Daniel asks Johnny for his help and to stand in the corner with him for Sam’s match. They apologize to each other, finding value in each other’s teachings, and agree to team up. Daniel even (begrudgingly) refers to their union as “Miyagi Fang.” This is a clear nod to the fans who came up with this term immediately after the third season concluded.

The girl’s final begins with Tory and Sam, each getting motivated by their respective senseis. As they begin, Sam quickly scores the first point using a technique that Johnny taught her. The match goes on and Tory soon gets an edge, eventually bringing the score to a 2-2 tie. When she stepped out of bound after being hit and the ref called “no point,” I started getting suspicious. That suspicion was furthered when he told her to elbow Sam again after her first elbow got her a warning. The final blow was bittersweet as Tory landed the hit and won the match.

ENDING SCENES

Tory showed remorse for her actions during the tournament, with apologizing for the elbow to the face as a reactionary accident. It was also a turning point in her character to see her ask Sam if she was alright after her victory, before being dragged off by her teammates. The ultimate blow to her character was when she walked in and overheard Terry Silver talking to the ref and thanking him for his “service” while ensuring that his bank account will be bigger the next day.

Anthony LaRusso faking it for his friends as he squares up against Kenny.
Cobra Kai. Griffin Santopietro as Anthony LaRusso in Cobra Kai. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

With Tory’s victory, Cobra Kai secured the overall championship of the tournament. Considering the deal struck between Kreese and Johnny and Daniel, this does not bode well for their future. However, that seems to be the least on Johnny’s mind as a trip to the Cobra Kai dojo that he opened, now shut down and, for lease, leads to a touching moment between him and Robby. They finally embrace and appear to be on the mends in their relationship. However, Johnny is also hit by the news that Miguel has skipped town and is heading to Mexico to find his own father.

Meanwhile, Terry and Kreese are celebrating the victory at the tournament when Terry pulls the carpet out from under his partner. With Stingray in the hospital, it is revealed that Terry struck a deal with Stingray where he will allow him to be a part of Cobra Kai if he fingers Kreese as the person who assaulted him. It is an interesting web that is weaved.

The final scene is with Daniel. Having returned home with his family in defeat, he is seen as Miyagi’s grave. He is going over the events and his feelings as he stares at the gravestone. It appears that he is NOT going to shut down Miyagi-do when he states that he cannot honor an agreement made with men who have no honor. As he finishes his speech, the camera pans around to show Chozen standing in the background listening to Daniel’s plee. When Danny asks Chozen for help, he responds with a simple “Yosh!” (After a quick internet search, the word is actually “Yoshi,” but the “i” is silent in this case).

FUTURE SPECULATION AND PREDICTIONS

            There is a lot to unwrap in the final moments of the season. From Miguel heading off to Mexico City in search of his father to Tory’s championship and later revelation that she may not have wholly earned it to Chozen showing up to help Daniel. For the former, that will make for an exciting arch. It is clear that Johnny is going after him and very likely that Robbie will join his father. What could come out of it is anybody’s guess. It could go any way for each person involved.

The LaRusso's, the Diaz' and Johnny gather together for a prom night photo.
Prom Night Photo

When it comes to Tory, it comes to wonder what she is going to do with her knowledge. As her hard shell has been beginning to crack this season, it would not surprise me if she goes to the Larusso’s over what she heard. She wanted a legitimate win and even if there is a chance that it was unearned, that will ruin her whole glory over the victory. With that, there is hope that the rivalry between her and Sam will begin to fizzle.

As far as Daniel’s storyline, I don’t see him giving up Miyagi-do. It was even hinted that he could not honor an agreement with dishonorable people during his talk with Chozen. And with Eli becoming the new Champion, Miyago-do won’t just collapse. It will be interesting to see how that develops.

That leaves Eagle Fang. If Miyagi-do does not close, it would seem possible for Eagle Fang to stick around too. However, with the absence of both the star pupil and the sensei, who will lead them? The remnants could filter into Miyagi-do until Johnny returns. How will the “Most Badass Girl in the Valley” fit in with this change? I think she would certainly utilize what training she could get out of it. But her spirit is more in line with Johnny.

Captain Hook with Terry Silver's face and Mr. Smee with Stingray's face. A prediction of their future?
Captain Silver and Mr. Stingray

Finally, we have Cobra Kai itself. Now with one head gone, Terry is the King. Kreese is now a wildcard with it being hard to predict how he will respond. He certainly will not forgive his former partner. Will he be willing to side with his former rivals in order to payback his betrayers? Stingray is set up to be the Smee to Terry Silver’s Captain Hook. Being the bumbling, loyal sidekick to the arch-villain will fit Stingrays role and allow him to continue to be a bit of a comic relief. However, how long will it last? Will he have a change of heart and be the linchpin that brings down Cobra Kai once and for all?

Conclusion

One thing is for sure, as exciting as this season was, I am looking forward to season 5 more than ever. Still, I feel that this was the best season yet. It just seems that each season just gets better and better. For a show that was set up to be a cool throwback to an 80s classic, it really has taken on a life of its own. And I am enjoying every minute of it. Perhaps there are some things to nitpick about it, but they are rather minor to the full narrative and the little details scattered throughout. I’m ready for more!

Links

EXCITING NEWS: New Arrivals and Progress Update – S. J.Serio (sjserio.com)

Cobra Kai – Season 4 Eps 1 Reaction – YouTube