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

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

An Ode to Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy has had great impact over the years. It’s stories have made a difference in my life, for certain, and could be labeled as the source of my inspiration in writing and the fantasy genre in general.

I have long loved the fantasy genre of fiction. Whether books, movies, or video games, I find myself pulled into worlds of mystery and magic. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, The Wheel of Time is one of my all-time favorite series in the genre (and of all time, for that matter). As a kid, I watched and enjoyed movies such as Legend, Star Wars, Labyrinth, and Willow. I can quote many lines from The Princess Bride (I consider it fantasy, even though there is little “magic”). But I never really grasped the genre until I played a little game called (ironically) Final Fantasy.

Admittedly, it has been a while since I picked up a Final Fantasy title. Aside from dabbling in some of the offshoots (Final Fantasy Tactics) or using the characters included in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, I have not really played any of the games much. I have a couple of the classics on Steam, yet I haven’t really dived into them yet. Actually, I haven’t really picked up a Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy IX on the original Playstation. I guess a big part of it is that the series seems to have slipped away from what I loved back in the glory days.

It’s not that I hate the Playstation Final Fantasies. When FF VII was released, I marveled at the FMVs that carried the story along. I enjoyed FF VIII despite its challenge. I actually liked FF IX the most of the Playstation FFs even though I never finished it (largely due to life and circumstance). But there was something missing in those entries that I could not just get. Perhaps that is why those iterations don’t really resonate with me like the earlier entries in the series.

One of the biggest moments that everyone sites from Final Fantasy VII [SPOILER WARNING from here on out] was when Aeris was killed by Sephiroth. I admit that I was shocked at that moment too, but I think I was more mad than anything. I spent so much time leveling up and powering up the character for her to be gone not even half way through the game. The emotional resonance just was not there as strong for me.

Those who site Aerith’s Death as the most impactful obviously did not live through the sacrifice of Palom And Porom who turned themselves to stone to save the party. Sure, they were restored at the end, but it still stung when it happened. Then there was the moment when Celes, stranded all alone after the world broke, threw herself from a cliff in desperation because all hope was seemingly gone. And while she did so, a version of the song she sang at the opera played sorrowfully in the background, adding to the raw emotion of the scene. It was a masterpiece.

No, nothing beats the glory days of the SNES Final Fantasies. I stand by that statement! Final Fantasy IV and VI (2 and 3 as I remember them) were the real games that got me into the genre of fantasy and, also, inspired me to become a writer. From the moment that the airships are flying across the screen, the story of Final Fantasy IV pulled me in and never let go. Sure, it had some moments of cheesiness, but often that cheesiness added to the narrative in a delightful way (I’m looking at you, “Spoony Bard”). It was an epic battle of Good vs Evil with characters coming and going that elevate it to the Lord of the Rings of video games. It was amazing what could be accomplished with 16-bit sprites.

If Final Fantasy IV was the video game equivalent of LotR, then Final Fantasy VI could easily be equated to Game of Thrones. I mentioned before the scene where one of the main characters attempts suicide. But that is just one of many impactful scenes. The number of impactful, sorrowful, or just plain emotional scenes could fill a book. It was story telling at its finest.

Despite the more steampunk setting, FF VI had the pivotal impact that drove home my desires for my future. I just didn’t know how to get there at the time. Since that game, the phoenix has resonated with me. I feel it is because of the scene where Locke (who I always assumed as myself when playing) attempted to raise his lost love through the power of the phoenix. Now, I have a tattoo of a phoenix on my back. Perhaps it is because no matter what hardships I go through, I keep rising back up to face new challenges.

Whatever the case, Final Fantasy has clearly had a great impact on me and my life. I will always remember the trips I took along the way. Whether it was flying to the moon or taking an airship into the earth and dealing with Dwarves or defying a tyrant by “riding” a castle into the sand or spending a night at the opera, the fondness of those memories will carry on forever.

With that said, I have been working on a project over the last few weeks that would bring my own game to life. Utilizing the program RPG Maker MZ (a tool designed for making games similar to Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest). It is a game dedicated and for my daughter, Savannah. As of this moment, I am about halfway through the outline for the story, and I have found many scenes and elements that are reminiscent of those old Final Fantasy stories. The theme of crystals has popped up in my story and I have quite a few little homages to the series. I find it fitting.

In the days and weeks to come, I would like to share some of the development of this game, and eventually, when I complete it, share it to the world. While the story is more lighthearted and a bit tongue-in-cheek (it IS for a soon-to-be 6-year-old), some deeper elements are seeping in. That is OK. I would be happy if it grows with her. Ultimately, I hope that, years from now, it causes the same feelings for her that I feel for those classic Final Fantasy titles.

Conclusion I’m far from the first person to point out the irony of the use of the word “final” in the title. Not just because the games are still being made, but because of how long even the earlier ones have endured. For me, it was not final, but a beginning.

Update: I’m Still around

A quick update on my status, what I’m currently working on, and my future projects.

I wanted to check in and give an update on my status. I know it has been a while since my last post. The past month has been pretty crazy. After dealing with my diabetes diagnosis, of which I am managing quite well, several other elements have kept me away.

The first, dealing with my diabetes, is that my vision has been out of whack for a bit. While I have been near-sighted for most of my life, the past month has seen a flip-flop of my vision as I have been working to get my blood-sugar under control. It seems to be settling back to normal (mostly), but it made it difficult to focus (no pun intended) on my writing.

At the end of May, I had family come to town for my niece’s graduation. It was a great time and I really enjoyed seeing my mother, sister, and her children and to have my entire family together for the first time in a few years. Especially when we all got together for Maria’s pizza. For those of you familiar with the Baltimore area, that is the Maria’s on Taylor Avenue. We grew up with that pizza and it has become a tradition within our family.

Anyway, some of my freetime has been taken up with getting back into certain games. That started while I was recovering from my hospital visit and my daughter wanted somebody to build her a house in Minecraft. So I did and now I have been sucked back into that game. The recent update adding copper didn’t help. Between that and Miitopia, I have had some needed bonding time with my daughter.

That brings me to my current project. My main computer had problems and I had to reinstall Windows. During the process, I was reinstalling my programs and tools. One of those tools, RPG Maker MV – a program that allows users to make games similar to classic Japanese Role Playing Games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, has also sucked me in. I’ve dabbled with it before but have never completed making a game.

With my daughter’s recent interest and enjoyment of games like Minecraft and Miitopia, and to celebrate her rapid advancement in reading, I started working on a game for her that I hope to have done by her 6th birthday in September. I’m still in the planning phase, writing the story outline and gathering together my resources.

It is an exciting endeavor as it is helping to activate my creative juices and start them flowing. It can be overwhelming to think that her birthday is only a few months away and I am working alone on this project. Even if I only get a single “Act” completed in time, that would be satisfying.

I will try to post updates. And hopefully, I will be able to transition into getting back into my book and finishing that. It may be the encouragement I need to do so. To help, I may ask for assistance in testing, but I am still a way off for that.

Geek Dad

The love between a father and daughter can be a strong one. When you share a joy, it only makes it that much better.

Among the greatest joys in my life is raising my daughter. From the moment she was born, by bond with her was forged and has continued to grow. As she has gotten older, she has developed quite the personality. She is now five years old (she’ll be six in September), and despite some frustrations, I can’t love her any more.

One of the greatest bonds that we have is our love of many things that fall in the “geek” domain. She has turned into quite the gamer already. She’s even beaten me a couple times at Mario Kart 8. Her last birthday was even Super Mario themed. Heck, she wanted me to build a “Super Mario World” (complete with Question Mark Blocks that we could jump up and hit and flag poles we could slide down) in our backyard, but that was a bit out of my budget (and expertise).

When she was younger, I often put her to bed saying “sweet dreams of unicorns, butterflies, and rainbows.” She loves unicorns now. She is my princess (I don’t care if that is cliché). She’s no delicate princess. She is a tomboy through and through. She’ll wear a princess dress and swing a sword around with a snarl on her face that would put Rocky Balboa to shame.

I’ve done my best to foster her love of “geekdom.” We watched many shows on Nick Jr and Disney Jr that had fantastical elements. Some of our favorites have always been Shimmer and Shine, Wallykazam!, Nella the Princess Knight… just to name a few. I bought books such as The ABC’s of D&D and The 123s of D&D by Ivan Van Norman, and Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke. If you have seen some of my previous posts, I have even gotten her into tabletop RPGs via Amazing Tales.

Going forward, I hope to encourage her further (while I still have some influence). From Harry Potter to Willow, The Lord of the Rings to The Wheel of Time, and The Legend of Zelda to Dungeons & Dragons, I look forward to many adventures with her. Maybe one day her path may veer away from the world of Geeks and, if it does, I am OK with that. But perhaps the bonds that we share now will carry on her love and enjoyment and be more of a legacy than any book I may publish.

Worse comes to worse, maybe I can get her future brother/sister to take up the mantle.

Gaming with My Daughter: Part 2

This is from the second gaming session with my daughter playing Amazing Tales.

A couple of days ago, Savannah and I continued our “quest” in Amazing Tales. Returning with news of the “Nightmare Army” on the move to invade the Dream Kingdom, Savannah’s Princess Victoria and her faithful knight, Sir Meowsalot, head home to inform the king and queen. Immediately, the kingdom is set into motion and the army sent out to slow the advance of the invaders. The Princess is given a task of being diplomat and seeking the aid of neighboring groups. The first stop, the Dwarves of the northern mountains.

They set out and reach the foothills of the mountains. As they traverse the path, they reach a fork, one going up the nearest mountain, and the other path curving behind a bend. They take the path going up. Near the top, a lone goblin wizard stops them. He demands that they leave his mountain. They explain their task, to enlist the dwarves in aiding in the fight against the Nightmare Army. The goblin, who admits he was once a part of the Nightmare army, only having been kicked out, gives the princess an amulet to aid against the army and sends them back to the other path which leads to the dwarves.

On the other path, they go into a cave that goes deep into the mountain. They reach a large chamber filled with stalagmites with an exit at the far end. As they make their way across the chamber, they are ambushed by a group of goblins (not associated with the wizard from earlier). They fight off a few and quickly make their way to the other side. After tripping up a few goblins, they make it out of the chamber and continue their journey. Eventually, they come to a big door.

The princess knocks and a dwarf answers, asking their purpose. They explain the situation and are taken to the king where they detail what is happening. The jolly king of the dwarves, King Brushelbutt, is happy to help and send his dwarves to help and provides an escort and emmisary to the princess.

Gaming with my Daughter: Part 1

This is the adventure that my daughter and I have been playing through. I originally posted this on social media and I figured that this could be a running feature on my blog. So here is the first part…

My 5-year-old daughter, Savannah, has been begging me to play Amazing Tales with her. If you are not familiar, it is a roleplaying game made with young children in mind. We played before (a space setting) but that did not get too far, though I did see some enjoyment on her behalf.

This time around, we decided to go with a “magical kingdom” (typical fantasy) kingdom. Between us, we set the stage for an adventure. She named the kingdom “Dream Kingdom” and decided to play as a Princess sorceress. Her companion is a cat knight named Sir Meowsalot (her pick of a name). I kind of based him somewhere between Puss-in-boots and Khajiit (from TES).

The start of the adventure began with Princess Victoria and Sir Meowsalot walking through a forest near the Capital (Aluria). Soon a fairy named Tuella came and begged for help from the princess.  Tuella led them to her fairy grove and explained that the bee fairies were attempting to take over the forest. They are led by a strange man known as Buzz Master.

They reach the grove just as a swarm of bee fairies are attacking.  After conjuring a wind that misfires and scatters the grove fairies, Princess Victoria conjures another wind that collects up the attacking bee fairies and sends them off into the forest.

They make their way deeper into the forest to challenge Buzz Master. Along the way, they are ambushed by three forest trolls.  The princess thumps the first troll with her staff, Sir Meowsalot evades the second troll (causing it to become off balance) and engages the third with his sword.  Princess V casts a bright light which catches the first troll and turns it to stone. The third troll disarms Sir M, but Sir M uses his claws in as scratch fury against the troll.  Princess V uses a magic sword to slice the second troll in half before it can recover. However, it then regenerates into 2 trolls.

At the advice of Tuella, she conjures a magic bow and shoots arrows of fire at the two trolls as they are still regenerating. Sir M uses his speed and reflexes and grabs a branch and lights it using the burning trolls and retrieves his sword. He sets the remaining troll of fire, ending the threat.

They make their way to an opening with a giant oak. The oak has a humungous hive that is the home of the bee fairies.  Princess V casts a spell that protects the group from bees (but not the bee fairies). Buzz Master drops from the hive and uncurls to reveal himself to be a man with yellow and black robes. He has a staff and a quarterstaff. The bees begin to swarm but are repelled by the protection spell.  The bee fairies attack and Princess Victoria thwarts them again with her wind magic.

In response, Buzz Master slams the staff into the ground, creating an anti-magic field in the area. He attacks the pair and they engage him. They go a couple rounds and make no headway. What is worse is the bee fairies have returned and encircle them. Sir Meow takes the moment to charge at the staff while Princess V keeps the Buzz Master busy. He uses his sword to break the staff, breaking the anti-magic field. Princess V uses her magic to create her bow and shoots the bolt of fire right into the Buzz Master.  This breaks his control over the Bee fairies and restores order to the forest.  They are rewarded with honey and promise that honey will now flow through the kingdom.

On their way back to the palace, a squirrel gives a message to Princess Victoria (she can talk to animals). The Nightmare Army is marching to invade the Dream Kingdom.

(What Have I started???)

To be continued…