I have to admit I’m somewhat excited about this. As a DM who has run 5th edition D&D since the beginning around 2014, while I do like the game, I feel it has run short of options and could use a new coat of paint. I’ve been slapping new paint on it for a while already, and it works well enough. 5e is simplistic in that adding or modifying rules doesn’t really unbalance it much (if at all) so you can house rule to your devious heart’s desire. But lots of people don’t want to take the time, or players themselves don’t trust someone’s house rules unless there is an official codified book they can turn to for answers and clarification.
From Enworld Publishing and Enworld, one of the world’s most popular websites for Dungeons & Dragons the past 20 years, Morrus and his team have been busy crafting Level Up with extensive feedback from gamers and playtesters. When released summer of 2021 it will be fully backwards compatible with original 5e (O5e) so you should be able to have a regular fighter and LU fighter side by side in the same party and not have any trouble.
CHANGES & UPDATES
There are far too many to list in this blog, but refer to the publisher’s page for a full rundown of changes A5e is bringing to the game. A few highlights include:
A detailed exploration system that utilizes a new Supply mechanic, so that PC supplies dwindle as they explore the lonely and forgotten moors and roads of their world.
Combat Maneuvers – to give martial fighting characters a wide range of options similar to spellcasters.
Knacks – which are akin to mini-feats that characters acquire as they level up.
Monster Legend & Lore, Signs and Behavior; traits the PCs can notice or learn or observe about a monster prior to meeting it or during an encounter.
And much more. That’s really just a very brief notation on things that Level Up will be addressing. So, if you are a DM or Player who has wanted your 5e game to be a little more complex, a little more challenging and a little more detailed, A5e might be right up your alley.
Here’s a blast from the past. Going through an old attic box I randomly picked up Master of Ravenloft, and since Curse of Strahd is the 5e campaign I’m currently running, it seemed quite the coincidink. Or…it as FATE would have it. Which seems much more appropriate to Ravenloft. I posted the other day too about the new Ravenloft campaign setting from WotC, so this is just Barovia-lovin’ left and right.
I actually don’t remember reading this one. I’m sure I did, but the details escape me. I recall the earlier D&D Endless Quest books with more clarity, like Return to Brookmere and Dungeon of Dread. I do think I’m going to give Master of Ravenloft a looksee though. I wonder how it compares to the module itself – I6 – or if it is a fairly watered down version. Flipping through I noticed an entry about the fabled Sunsword, and my 7th level PCs just newly acquired the lightsaber from the Amber Temple (after a terrifying trip through its halls).
Well, of course the Choose Your Own Adventure is watered down. You play a lone paladin named Jeren Sureblade (snicker-snicker, Really, Jean?) who is determined to face the Lord of Ravenloft and prevail. Which, we know is absolutely impossible in just about any edition of Dungeons & Dragons unless you’re a super high level warrior or cleric decked out with more magic items than in Demogorgon’s treasure vault.
WELL, , looking at the inserted character sheet (AD&D gamebooks had character stats, unlike the simpler Endless Quest books) Mr. Sureblade is a 15th level friggin’ paladin. So ok, he’s badass. In D&D that’s damn near demi-god status. He’s also got a Rod of Lordly Might in his back pocket, not a shabby weapon at all, no not at all.
This makes me wonder how a 15th level paladin in 5th edition D&D would fare against Count Strahd von Zarovich with the Sunsword and a Rod of Lordly Might and no backup. Would he stand a fighting chance? Could he actually KILL the vampire? In a straight up fight, in a closed environment with no escape – yes. Yes he could. But a smart and clever Strahd has many escape routes, many contingency plans, and many, many, many allies to cover his escape. Ideally anyway.
My party hasn’t reached Castle Ravenloft yet. They did meet Strahd once at a very formal and entertaining dinner where the vampire told them some of his dark history. The PCs were treated well enough, and in a way they gained a deeper understanding of their foe, and a small amount of sympathy. But not too much. They still want him dead, if for no other reason than that they can’t leave Barovia until his grip on the demi-plane of dread is released.
But that final confrontation is coming. It is well nigh, bustling at the horizon like dark storm clouds. Can they defeat the devil of Barovia and find their way home, or will their souls be forever tormented in the Mists of Ravenloft?
Even before the Covid pandemic hit the US officially in March 2020, I had been planning to shift my gaming routine from the tabletop to virtual online. I had a good gaming group and a great game room for physical play, but I had friends out of town where that wasn’t a viable option, and given the leaps and bounds VTTs had taken over the years, it seemed a no-brainer to engage the new technology. Despite my reluctance to learn a new skill and software. And that was really the main obstacle: I love gaming in person, have done it for decades, and I did NOT want to learn an entirely new suite of abilities in order to facilitate the same thing. Plus, I had a hefty amount of money invested in miniatures and models and maps for use at the table. Moving the operation online would invalidate all of that.
Now, at the time I was running Lost Mine of Phandelver. Well, running it for the second time; the first was at the beginning of 5e, but now I ran it for a new group of players, and it was better the second go around. They had even made it all way to the titular Lost Mine and weren’t too far from meeting the Black Spider when – you know. Pandemic happened and everything shut down. Pretty much permanently. Well, for the next 12+ months anyway. I don’t think any of us really saw that coming and just how long the isolation would last.
Anyhoo, my point of all this is that I had to make a drastic shift from in-person to online games practically overnight. I had a few gamers help me out who had prior experience with Roll20, so that was our go-to system. I even purchased Fantasy Grounds, but for some reason that VTT didn’t click in my mind as well as Roll20 did. I think it works fine for online gaming, and the automation is better than Roll20, but I just couldn’t get past the system’s quirks.
The first small campaign I ran was Forge of Fury from the 5e Tales of the Yawning Portal. This was just supposed to be a practice run and not an in-depth campaign, and at first that’s how it went. And yeah, the first two sessions were rough. I didn’t know how to navigate Roll20, the layers and lighting effects gave me an infernal headache, and I honestly didn’t think I was smart enough to wrap my brain around thing. It was depressing. I had lost access to my favorite hobby! Or rather, I now had a pale imitation of my favorite hobby.
Well, I had a better time the second or third session, but during the interim between games I practiced Roll20 about 4 hours a day. I wanted to run this game seamlessly, and I wanted to record it in such a way as I did my old in person games; snapping shots with a camera to edit and upload. I eventually installed a program called Sharex that allowed me to instantly screen grab whatever I needed with the touch of a button, and that let me tell the stories I wanted to much easier. In fact, once I got used to “covering” a 2D map, it was much easier to snap a screen than it was to take photographs of the physical game board. Of course, the 2D maps don’t have the wonderful 3D physicality of the game table, but they have something the table can’t remotely match: dynamic lighting.
I’ve read on forums that some people don’t care about dynamic lighting, or think it is overrated. To each their own of course. Some people also hate gaming with miniatures, and I think you mofo’s are crazy. Miniatures are awesome (but more about that another post). Dynamic lighting let me do things at the virtual game table I couldn’t replicate in person. I could have shadows and darkvision and realistic torches and lanterns and it could all be done visually and not require the player’s imagination.
Was this easy to accomplish in Roll20? Hell no. It took a lot of practice to work out the kinks, but the end result was very satisfying. I think any of the VTT’s that utilize advanced lighting code will have their own quirks to work through.
So 2020 ended up with me diving into the deep end of Roll20 online play, subscribing to the Pro account and tinkering with codes and API and all that jazz. I will never understand coding but I admire those of you that do. Roll20 needs an overhaul in my opinion, and I’ve only been using it for over a year. Too much of the cool stuff is hard to access and harder to manipulate. But when it works it works pretty well.
On a side note, I have heard that Foundry is an excellent new VTT and although I have it, I haven’t mucked with the mechanics too much yet. I’m sure that will change.
The point of this post those is the transformation that took place the more I ran online games. I liked them. I REALLY liked them. And the more we played every week – multiple times week after week – my appreciation of the medium grew. Access to maps, tokens and props were all available at a few clicks of the mouse. I used to painstakingly print maps and cut and tape them together, roll them up and transport them to my destination. With online play, that’s all a thing of a past, and now I could indulge in fantastic color maps for mundane encounters with no combat needed whatsoever.
I still love gaming in person, but the perks and convenience of playing online can’t be ignored. I’ve had as much fun from the DM side of the screen as I ever did before. I still play with maps and props and miniatures and sound effects and voices and acting. None of that has changed. We don’t use cameras to see each other (that’s a downside) but the benefits of online play in the modern age are still fantastic.
I don’t think I will be giving it up anytime soon.
I hate writing slumps. I absolutely 100% hate them. I don’t understand them for one thing, and I can’t see them coming until they’re already here, and I can’t see them going until they’re already gone. Does that make sense? Maybe not, it’s still early in the morning and this is stream of consciousness typing away with a caffeine buzz. Anyway, I’ve not been writing much recently in my preferred manner of “stories or novels” although I have plenty to do. Lots of stories, and maybe that’s part of the problem, the enormity of a project freezes me to inactivity rather than invigorating me to action. And maybe it has to do with my frame of mind and attitude and emotional well-being. Sometimes negative thoughts like to torture me on a regular basis.
So that has left me with the enormous problem of how to fill my time with creative outlets so I don’t go kinda batty. Roleplaying games and creating stories and rules for those are one outlet, but I’ve spent so many years doing that, and while I know from experience that it is a massive time filler, and fun, ultimately very few people actually care. I feel like my time and energy would be better suited to entertaining thousands or millions of people instead of just five or ten.
But back to my original premise – What To Write About When You’re Not Writing? Well, there’s blogging like this, which is a borderline form of journaling + venting + bitching. I guess if I actually had a fan base interested in this page it would be fun to read their feedback and answer comments, hell, I could make a career of doing just that and love it. I could try and peck away at a story, but I know it just wouldn’t go anywhere. My brain is filled with something like dirty cotton candy and the creative ideas just don’t flow. I mean that special kind of FLOW, you writers out there know the Flow, when you’re so in the zone and time falls away and you’re working on something massively difficult but FUN and you know you’re doing it well. Very little in the world is more satisfying than that except for great sex. Or great drugs. I guess the endorphin rush is the end result and what people crave, but there’s healthy vs. unhealthy ways of achieving it.
So What To Write About When You’re Not Writing? That sounds like the title of a Self Help book,I have to admit. Maybe I’ll write it one day! You, know, instead of just blogging about writing it.
This could become a series of blog posts. This topic. What to write about when you’re not writing, just so I can BE writing and have something to write about. Self fulfilling prophecy or something like that. Anyway, I’m still poking along with a number of different stories and projects. Poking is an apt word because it denotes “slowness” and “lack of forward progression.” I wish my word choice there included “light speed” or “raging” or “spectacularly” but I’m going to stick with poking for right now. Next week maybe I’ll have another update and I can insert a more interesting word.
I’m always curious about where writing inspiration comes from. You see many successful authors churn out ludicrous amounts of material every year, year after year after year. Don’t they ever get writer’s block for months at time like all of us others? Maybe not.
I’m reminded of an article called “BLOCKED” from The New Yorker that I read one time about the famous poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge when he was going through a period of horrible writer’s block:
Yesterday was my Birth Day,” Coleridge wrote in his notebook in 1804, when he was thirty-two. “So completely has a whole year passed, with scarcely the fruits of a month.—O Sorrow and Shame. . . . I have done nothing!” It was true. Most of the poems for which he is remembered were written when he was in his mid-twenties. After that, any ambitious writing project inspired in him what he called “an indefinite indescribable Terror,” and he wasted much of the rest of his life on opium addiction. How could he have done this? Why didn’t he pull himself together? A friend asked him the same question. “You bid me rouse myself,” he replied. “Go, bid a man paralytic in both arms rub them briskly together, and that will cure him. Alas! (he would reply) that I cannot move my arms is my complaint.”
Now, that’s some depressing crap right there.
In fact, the first time I read that article I think I was about the exact same age as Coleridge – 32. Anyway, the whole Article, “Blocked”, is an excellent essay on the phenomenon of writer’s block. But my point here is not necessarily “block” as “writer’s slump” where you have to push through invisible walls that slow or impede your output rather than being solid, impenetrable obstacles. Would Coleridge have fared better if he had internet access and a blog? I don’t know. Maybe.
And seriously, I’ve wondered at times if I’m a reincarnation of Coleridge, if one believes in such things. Obviously I do, but I’m not trying to convince or change anyone’s mind about anything. Choose to believe whatever you want, but to quote a super wise man, the Buddah:
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
But a quick internet search turns this up as well (click on the picture):
YEAH, on second thought, Samuel Taylor Coleridge would have had a f****** blast with the Internet.
I’ll try to tag to the previous WtWAWYNW entries for consistency and easier reference. My “Whatawowinew”. Or however you want to pronounce that weird acronym. So I put it on my other blog but I want to mentioned it here too – I’ve been looking over the 7th edition Call of Cthulhu rules and I’m really liking them. Now gaming can be escapism or a creative outlet or a waste of time or a fun social gathering, sometimes all at once. It really depends on how much time you invest in it. And what it ultimately means to your emotional well being. That said, the nature of Call of Cthulhu is by default one of ghastly horror, grisly doom, and confronting indescribable entities from other dimensions that want to feast on your soul. So fun stuff. Regardless, it is an immensely cool world to play in, one that I have delved into many times over the years, swam around in its yuckiness and eventually climbed back out and showered (metaphorically). The new 7th edition of the game promises more of the same, and it looks really fun to play, and now in full horrific color to boot.
There’s a new adventure out for it as well, Horror on the Orient Express, no less than a 9 lb. boxed set that could club someone to death it’s so heavy. If I WERE to run Cthulhu again, this is the adventure I would pick up. It looks to be chock full of handouts, clues, a timeline, and more convoluted red herrings than you could possibly imagine. And red herrings in Call of Cthulhu are fun. Instead of THIS thing driving your character insane, it might THIS completely unrelated thing instead. Which brings me back to the point I brought up earlier – what does gaming mean to me? Is it pure escapism, a way to waste time instead of doing something more productive, or is it a built-in creative outlet or is it a dedicated social mechanism for getting together with friends? I guess for me it’s all of the above. It’s definitely a form of storytelling, cooperate storytelling, but from experience, it can ultimately be a waste of time pumping that much creative juice into a project that only about 5 other people on the world will care about.
That kind of creative devotion can write entire novels and crap like that, which ya know, can be a career and make you money, both of which are really neato things. So ultimately, like anything else, moderation is the key. Finding a balance between how much time you invest in a hobby like this is important. Too little and the game suffers from lack of preparation; too much and you’re investing all your time into something that not many people will care about; just right is just right, the Sweet Spot. That horrible, horrible, terrifying and madness-inducing sweet spot of Sanity-draining terror that the game is famous for. I love it.
“Goddess cupped Her breath in aery hand and I, lone Ocean, swelled and swam below that breath of God on- high, and I, the Ocean, met Her mid-sky, reaching up to sweetly meet it, our palms touching, to briskly greet it…
….and through this effort… I was Wave.
I was Waveand felt the call of Moon!
Of white-capped rollerson shore soon, and how I loved that lush liquidity, this ancient rite of pure lucidity, pausing at the shore’s crashing edge, and then I burst upon that sandbar hedge, a roaring force of my own momentum,
pouring forth to a new dimension…
….and through this effort…
I was Surf.
I became many, manyfrothing bubbles and we were urgent, tossing troubles of sand and shells and salt and tide. We all danced together on this ride
under Moon, giving birth on this living, loving Earth.
We bubbles eventually lay there dreaming knowing nothing, we had no meaning.
What was left of me dissolved like foam,
sank into sand, sank down alone
but then water crashed harsh o’er me
pulled me back, back to the sea,
back to the ocean, exposing beach, distanced from my watery reach.
Then Moon smiled again and I rolled into Wave.
Goddess cupped Her breath, I swelled, I swayed,
amid aery mist, cloud and wind,
and then I fell, I begin again.”
I found this on Imgur today, just a random posting from someone. I don’t know what it is, or who did it, or what it is even about, but it tells a story, the kind of story I would personally like to RETELL and find out how it got to this point.
So, I am in the process of editing the sequel to Wisp; the title is Puck the Pathwinder. The original draft of this story was written 2 years ago, the same as the others in the trilogy. The original Wisp story was only 3000 words, really just intended as a children’s book, but my editor at Dragon Scale encouraged me to expand it to meet the lengths of the two sequels, which were much longer. Well, long as far as middle grade books go, not long in terms of an adult fantasy novel.
Wisp Book 1 turned out longer than expected, and now the sequels are expanding some too as the story grows in new directions. I’m not so much “writing” these stories as just unearthing them, and I don’t really know how much content is there until I get all the dirt cleared off, metaphorically speaking.
Now, I always liked the first Wisp story, don’t get me wrong, but it was originally intended as a standalone book. The concept for the sequels of Puck and Nobb didn’t come until later, and now I have had to go back and rewrite Book 1 to mesh better with Books 2 & 3 so they are a cohesive trilogy. Book 2 and Book 3 were already conjoined at the hip, so that wasn’t so much of a problem.
But adding so much content to Book 1 has created a natural overflow of characters and plot into Book 2, and this will also spill into Book 3. If you have read Book 1, I can say that all of the boglin characters are completely new. The scene with the ogre is greatly expanded, and the ending of the book is different.
As a single story over a three book arc, I think it functions pretty well. The sequels get darker and more action oriented, but that’s just I myself would like to read, and I guess as a writer, I have to write what entertains myself first and just hopes it works for others too!