Going Down

Today is the fifth Monday of January, almost certainly no one’s favorite day of the year.  I’ve been trying to shake the doldrums of winter.  Lots of rainy and sunless days. Work has been busy and my increasing load of meetings and random tasks means less time to focus on writing software. Michelle went back up to school yesterday, so the nest is empty once again.

Guess what, I’m in a D&D campaign again!  Our last one ended over a year ago when Michelle went off to college.  Last week out of the blue my friend Mark H. up in the Adirondacks asked me if I wanted to join his group.  So I came up with a few ideas for characters, all of them different kinds of fighter/magic-user combinations.  One was Fingongolfinger, an elvish fighter/wizard, an attempt to re-create the classic elf type from the original D&D game.  Fights with a sword and longbow, and casts spells like fireball and lightning bolt.  But the party already had and elvish wizard.  The second was Hiro Ünliikli, a Dragonborn barbarian/sorcerer. This would’ve been pretty wild and weird, but the party already had Teifling, which was weird enough.

The one they liked the best was Grimli Son of Groin, a dwarvish cleric whose deity is Thor.  He fights with a magic warhammer and axe and shield, and has spells like spiritual weapon, and other spell to boost his and party’s fight ability, endurance, and resistance.  He started at level seven and the DM gave him a bunch of cool magic items.  I’m very stoked.

We had our first session last week, over zoom, and I met the party, Mark’s friends, and the whole thing was fun and easygoing. They’ve been playing long enough to have their own tone and rhythm and in-jokes.  I came at a time when they were choosing where to go for the next major adventure, so there was alot of roleplaying and backstory, but no actual combat.  

Only problem is the group meets on Wednesdays, which is the night of my rehearsal jazz group. As luck would have it that was cancelled last week and again this week.  I’ve been thinking of leaving anyway since the group isn’t all that good.  It’s more like going to the gym for sax playing and improvisation over real book tunes than anything else.  But I kinda wanna find a new and better group to replace it.  I’ve been thinking of signing up for a jazz workshop in the city to maybe meet some new and better players.

Happily Spacecats, which rehearses on Thursday, is still fun and creative and sounding better than ever.  My new song Los Gatos de Cosmos, is developing nicely.  But I feel like we need to find some gigs.

In other news, they finally got some snow upstate, so on Saturday we went skiing for the first time this season.  Good to spend time outside doing something physical and get away from staring at the computer screen.  If you recall I took seven years off from skiing, and started again two seasons ago.  At the time I bought new boots and demoed skis on the mountain.  Last year we went skiing three times, up from one the year before.  This year we’re hoping to beat that.

I demoed skis last year but didn’t like them that much.  They were a little short, and while they were very maneuverable, they weren’t so fast on the straightaways.  This year the skis I got are longer, they’re stiffer and lighter than my old skis, and very controllable on different conditions, ice, powder, etc.  But they’re actually close to the length of my old ones.  I’m thinking maybe 5cm shorter would be perfect.

Anyway it was a great day skiing, and we did sixteen runs, which is good amount more then our first trip last year, when we did ten runs.  Michelle is way faster then Jeannie and me now, and just zips right down the mountain. Jeannie and I are thinking of taking a weekend up to the Adirondacks of Vermont or something in a few weeks. 

I Got a Feeling the Bills Are Going to the Super Bowl

A brave new year is underway. So far the winter has been pretty mild, if not exactly warm. Even as the chaos of the world continues to writhe around us, one surprising good thing is the Buffalo Bills are back! It’s been twenty-five years or something since they won a playoff game, and now they’re gonna be in the AFC championship! As a fan back in the day of Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith, I gotta say this is pretty fun and exciting.

One thing I accomplished in 2020 was to work my way thru the entire book Patterns for Jazz by Jerry Coker et. al. on saxophone. It took me about three years to do it in high school, and I must say my facility has leveled up. I’m now starting to work thru to book on piano, and am immediately encountering little tricky things I never thought of before, like how to cross over fingerings when going up a half-step after every riff. Meanwhile in soxphoneland I rediscovered a book called The Bebop Bible by Les Wise. It’s an encyclopedia of jazz riffs for major, dominant, minor, ii-V-II, etc., organized by starting tone. Should keep me busy for a while.

I also went up in weights on my workout toward the end of last year. Winter is usually the hardest time of year for working out cuz the cold makes you sluggish and more susceptible to injury. But so far so good. The last few winters have been pretty rough, so here’s hoping I can ride it out thru to springtime.

Our Friday night D&D campaign had a particularly exciting night this week. Michelle got me the book Tales From the Yawning Portal for my birthday last summer. It’s collection of all-time great D&D modules from the game’s entire history, and includes classics like the Giants’ Saga and The Tomb of Horrors. Since the fall we’ve been playing the Forge of Fury, in which the party explores a once-abandoned Dwarven Mine, which is now overrun with orcs, troglodytes, evil Drow Dwarves, dwarvish and orcish undead, animated armor and other strange Dwarven craftwork, and other assorted nasties. The module has a great pacing to it as each level flows into the next and the level of danger and isolation increase. Also, Michelle got all her cousins new dice for Christmas, themed to their characters, and I bought a pack for myself, all sparkly and cool colors.

This week they reached the very bottom of the dungeon, where a young Black Dragon dwells in an cave with a subterranean lake. It was one of the best combats ever. It began with the dragon killing half the party in the first six seconds, first with a bite attack (natural 20!) on Phil’s character Philbert, a Druid doing advanced scouting underwater with a Cloak of the Manta Ray, and then a breath attack on everyone else. Michelle plays the Cleric Thea and luckily was able to heal everyone. A few rounds went by where the dragon swooped in close to bite and claw, and everyone unleashed everything they had for spells and weapons attack. Lou, playing the Dwarven fighter Luca, jumped onto the dragon, hacked it with his great axe, fell into the lake, swam to shore, scaled a cliff wall and jumped onto it again. He delivered the killing blow just as the dragon used its breath weapon a second time, killing everyone in the line of fire (actually acid). The dead dragon crashed into a cliff wall just past the party’s position, causing further mayhem. The only other surviving member was Phil, who was still in the water. He was able to climb up the bank and heal Thea, who then cast Mass Cure Wounds to restore the party. Epic fun! Next week they’ll try and get out the hoard of treasure out in the middle of the lake. Who knows what nasties they’ll encounter when they get there…

In addition to D&D, other gaming, watching LotR appendices and now football on TV, Michelle has been really getting into baking. She got a cookbook of deserts for Christmas and has been making coffee cake, pumpkin break, cookies and other yummies. Much as this interferes with my new year’s resolution to diet and lose some weight, I find it hard to object.

And finally, I started a new job a couple weeks ago. Suddenly I’m busy all the time and have to plan ahead to get around to minor random tasks. So far it seems good and the people seem pretty cool and and decent. It’s a small company, only six or so engineers and half of them are doing stuff like hardware and industrial design, which is fascinating and a whole ‘nuther area of expertise.

The company makes electronic musical instruments and they hired me to create a media hub which can connect to all the devices and their companion apps and people can share musical content. Right in my wheelhouse. Also the first time I’ve started a fully green-field, all new technology stack with completely free reign in many years. So right now it’s basic requirements gathering and system design.

They do seem to really like meetings, including agile and all the overhead that goes with it: daily progress reports, sprint planning, backlog grooming and all that. It occurs to me that I’ve gone fifteen months of working without having to go to a single meeting that wastes my time, as I don’t use agile in my other projects. I’m wondering if I can help them get better at this, to be lighter and not conflate the map with the territory so much. Of course projects need to be managed one way or another, and alot of it is good, helping me get to know the people and the situation faster than I would otherwise. This week I plan to spin up a web server and start prototyping.

Sea of Time

What is it now, week ten? Even less has happened than last time I updated my blog. The kids are almost done with school. Spring and the nice weather have finally arrived. I got sick, got better. Not the plague, thanks for asking.

I’ve been trying to get in shape for spring. In my regular home workout I’ve gone up in weight on both dumbbells and bench press, and have added some new leg exercises. I’ve also gone out biking a few times, which is refreshing and lots of fun. I haven’t gone to the Nature Study Woods yet because the trails there are narrow so it may be hard to keep distance form other people. Instead I’ve been going around the neighborhood streets, which is still a good workout cuz it’s pretty hilly all over. I’ve gotten as far as downtown Bronxville and back. I haven’t been on my skates yet this spring because my street is so laden with potholes it’s useless. I need to find a nice smooth place to skate.

I spent Saturday catching up on yardwork that I’d normally do in April, and spent some time out in the sunshine. I took the Mustang out for the second time this season too. I suppose we ought to wash the cars at some point, but we’re literally not driving anywhere. Last time I put gas in the tank was in February.

In the recoding studio I’m well into mixing my songs, getting pretty close to done. I’m at the listening back and tweaking phase. Tonight I went in to EQ the bass on one of my tracks, but I ended up EQing the guitar instead, scooping out alot of low and accentuating the high treble. Suddenly the bass has alot more space and everything is clearer.

I’m thinking about what songs to do next. Whatever I pick, there’s going to be a phase of laying down basic tracks, working out keys, tempos and song structures, and programming the drum parts before I can get into actually tracking and arranging. It’s Raining Frogs is the new working title of the next song up. It’s a long and complicated song so this phase will take some time and effort. I liked working on two songs in parallel this time around, so I think I’m gonna keep that going and pick another song or two. I have a few half written rock/pop songs that I could develop, but I’m holding out hope that eventually the quarantine will end my nascent new rock group will return, and then I’ll have some material to use for that.

So my other idea is to polish off some of my jazz demos and work them up into some kind of computer jazz thing, like I did with Sun of the Son. I have three originals completely worked up from the jazz group that we never recorded and probably never will. I have two more from our set that I want to rework with a new approach, and I two or three others that have the core idea and they could jam out any number of ways. I think I might do the first three of these. I have a feeling they’ll go down pretty quickly.

Oh, and my Charlie Parker Omnibook in Bb arrived, so I’m woodshedding Donna Lee and Confirmation, trying to work out when I should go up the octave. An the Patterns book I’m to pattern 98 and they’ve finally introduced dominant 7th chords.

Lastly, spinning of from Jeannie’s weekend Zoom call with her family, I’ve started a new weekly D&D campaign with Michelle and Lou and most of my nieces and nephews. This time the campaign includes Denis’s kids Carrie and Anna, who are 15 and 11 and really having fun. We’re doing the whole thing online now. TSR has a web site that automates character sheets including spells, HP, XP, weapons and attacks, really everything, and that’s super helpful. I haven’t yet found good mapping software so for now we’re using the whiteboard built into Zoom.

We’re playing the classic module Keep on the Borderlands, adapted for 5th edition, and with some extra monsters, and trying to give a bit of a plot beyond hack and slash with a backstory and some hidden magic items among the treasure. The party is pretty and very diverse. There are alot of Elves, some Druids, Witches and Sorcerers, plus a Barbarian (Katy), a Monk (Michelle) and a Rogue (Addie). Lou, as is his way, is a Dwarven fighter. It’s a pretty sprawling dungeon, but that’s a good thing cuz we could be stuck inside a long time.

Feelin’ Alright

Well the season of darkness and cold is closing in upon us. The end of the year, the end of the decade. Lots of changes are happening, and more coming soon. I’ve been trying finish off a bunch of old things, and move forward with a some new things. Rolling with the changes, the dude abides.

One nice thing is that the gang all got together Thanksgiving weekend to play D&D. This time Michelle is DM’ing, and wrote an original dungeon for us to play, in which a local prince was kidnapped by a gang of orcs and ogres and the party went off to rescue him in some caves in the hills. It was definitely a success and we all had alot of fun, and the plan is to play again over Christmas break.

About half the party continued with the characters from my campaign and the rest created new ones. Lou and Valerie are still a pair of Dwarves, one a fighter and on a Paladin, both lawful good, so that makes for lots of melee might and some interesting roleplay. Katie is now kleptomaniac Hobbit Druid, and Phil is some kind of Gnome prankster, while Addie is a demo-ogre Barbarian, lots mayhem and fun. Michelle had a really cool cleric, an acolyte of Thor, who even had a magic hammer, and another, a halfling thief, who converted to Posidenism so she could wield a magic trident.

I thought of taking over one of these, but instead I brought back one of my previous characters, Hiro, a half-Elf Sorcerer/Monk. The idea with this combination was that he’d be a potent innate spellcaster, while his monk training would let him attack with a staff and open-handed strikes: a formidable fighter without needed swords or armor, which hinder the use of magic. In our old campaign he was a very high-level character, but I had to wind him all the way back to 6th level. This makes him third level in each of his classes. Not powerful enough for massive fists-of-fury kung fu attacks, nor advanced enough for third level spells like Fireball and Lightning Bolt. And Michelle would not allow me to bring in a really powerful staff from my previous campaign, so he didn’t have much in the way of magic weapons. In fact he’s not at all a badass, and after a couple encounters that consisted of getting seriously wounded and running away, I had to figure out a new way to play the character. It turned out my best option alot the time was throwing stars!

As far as the recording project goes, I must admit I’ve been hung up on getting together the cover art for the release of Sun of the Son. I did in fact find an old cassette of the original version, but the art is a halftone screen print an well nigh unusable. So now I’m just meditating on the question of what direction to take, waiting for an image to suggest itself. Maybe I could use some photos of some origami dragons or something.

Nevertheless I’m going ahead starting in on some new recordings. I’m have a set of half-developed originals I’m gonna save to see if I can develop them with the new group, if it gets off the ground. I have a set of players who are all into the idea of doing an originals project. Now it’s a matter of finding a day when everyone can get together.

So for now I’m circling back to do a couple covers from my past, both dating from around the same time as Sun.

One is the Story Lies, one of my favorite songs written by Martin. He’s done a couple versions of it, one with sax and one without. Mine is gonna take the sax version even further and make it funkier and clavinet-oriented. For now I’ve just been studying the song, learning the correct chords and form, and to sing and play it at the same time without having to think about it. They chord changes are really frickin’ cool I must say, with a rather killer-sounding unusual modulation as the backbone of the song. I’m thinking of figuring out the guitar part, just so I can have some of that heavy crunchiness. At Martin’s writing used alot of patterns that he’d shift around the fretboard in clever ways, while taking advantage of open strings. He might have even showed me once. Plus I’ll get a chance to use my new stomp box.

The other song is Who Speaks on Your Behalf by The Cheshire Cat, a great band out of Buffalo from back in the day. This one is a fairly complicated prog-pop number with heavy synthesizer riffs, and bombastic drumming by Ryan Boyle. I’ll probably change around the instrumentation to be closer to my current favored palette while keeping in mind the spirit of the original. Again I’m at the point where I’m learning to sing and play it. This one is a little more work.

In other news, the jazz group Haven Street has a gig coming up at Hayfields Cafe in North Salem on Fri Dec 20 at 7pm. Sort of a dinner gig. So in addition to our usual set of mostly originals sprinkled with a few covers, we’ve worked up a bunch of Christmas songs. This has been tons of fun, taking songs that everyone knows and making them our own by changing the groove and the harmonies. Probably my favorite is We Three Kings, done sort of in the style of John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things.

The Black Pearl

Well summer is ending and fall is coming. The kids are all back to school, and today for the first time the weather dropped down into the 60s after being pretty much solidly in the 90’s for the last three months. We ended the summer with a trip to Ocean City. We used to do this every year but haven’t been in a few years, so it was nice to go back. It’s not the same now that the kids are older. Lizzy wasn’t there at all, and the amusement park and water park isn’t really a thing anymore. Still we had a good time, swam in the ocean, walked down the boardwalk, had a couple nice dinners and hiked around Assateague National Seashore.

One bit of business left from the summer we finished up this weekend was the D&D adventure. The module is the classic The Isle of Dread, adapted to 5th edition rules. If you recall we started it on the cruise back in July. By the end of the cruise the party had reached the entrance to the dungeon on an island in a lake in a volcanic crater on a mountaintop in a jungle on an island in the far reaches of the tropical ocean. It was the setting for the final climatic chapter. We played on session in August in which the part cleared out the cannibals living in the upper level of the ancient temple and found some treasure and secret door leading to the hidden chambers underneath. It was here that the final session began.

The macguffin for the entire quest was a giant black pearl. The lower level of the dungeon was filled shoulder-deep with water, so the players knew they were getting close. They happened upon a giant flooded chamber in the temple inhabited by sharks, but were forced to turn back. A little while later they opened a secret door which drained the water from most of the corridors. They were able to return to the shark room and now stand at the top of a stairway in water up to their knees or so. The sharks attacked but the players could fight back. Meanwhile on the other side of the room the party spotted a giant oyster, which must surely hold the pearl.

Abby, a halfling rogue, attempted to scale the walls to reach the terrace with the oyster, but unfortunately failed her dexterity check and splashed into the pool. Meanwhile the sharks turned out to be tough opponents, and even standing on stairs the party was fighting at a disadvantage. They threw everything they had at the sharks: hammers, axes, maces and magic, slings and arrows. Interestingly the two front-line combatants for this melee were Lou, playing Carmine the Invincible, a dwarven fighter whose main weapon is an axe, and Michelle, playing a cleric acolyte of Thor, who usually wields a hammer but for this encounter was trying out a newfound +2 mace. No swords. Michelle has studied the rulebooks and figured out how to maximize her spells and special combat abilities, and is already pretty formidable at second level.

It took a few rounds but Michelle had killed one shark and Lou had reduced the other to a single hit point. Meanwhile Abby had swum to the giant oyster and attempted to snatch the pearl but ended up getting trapped inside the oyster and was presently trying to stab her way out with a pair of daggers. That same round, as luck would have it, both Lou and Michelle rolled a 1 on their attack, and so had to make a dexterity check or fall off the stairs into the depths of the pool. Both failed their check fell in, and both were wearing metal armor, so they couldn’t swim except at a great handicap. Lou was then attacked by the shark and reduced to zero hit points. Katie and Valerie dove into the water to attempt to rescue their drowning companions.

This left Philip, the party’s wizard, as the sole front-line warrior. He had used up all is spells and his daggers were lying in the bottom of the pool. His only remaining weapon was a triangle. Now normally a triangle is really a musical instrument, but I figured the situation was desperate and anyway it’s made of metal, so I’d allow him to attack with it for 1-2 points of damage. So Philip dives in and clocks the shark right between the eyes, finally killing the monster! Soon after Abby succeeds in escaping the oyster with the pearl. Wow, what a great combat.

I had thought about all kinds of nastiness or twists of fate the could befall the party on the home voyage, some event to launch then into the next adventure, but I sensed everyone was eager to see the story come to its resolution. So I was nice and they returned without further incident to the very harbor town seaside pub in which the quest began, again sitting face to face with the aged and grizzled pirate Rory Barbarosa. He kept his word and paid them handsomely for the pearl, and let them keep the rest of the treasure and magic items they gained.

Now Michelle wants to DM, and wants to create her own module, so we’ll see how that goes. She’s got to do a bunch of reading and design if she wants to go that way. I’ll probably end up helping her. Hopefully we’ll be ready to play sometime this fall. I’ll need a character to play. I’m thinking of using Barbara Barbarosa, a.k.a. Babs. She was an NPC in the campaign, Rory’s daughter and the captain of the ship the party sailed to Isle of Dread, recently converted by Michelle to the cult of Thor.

Cruisin’ Part II

Rejoining the party mid-adventure…

The one and only port of call was Bermuda, famous for its triangles. The consensus among our group seemed to be that there was not much to fear since we were only going to the very corner of the Bermuda Triangle. It was deemed unlikely we’d all die in a shipwreck after crashing into a flaming iceberg of fire or sucked into a vortex of the spacetime continuum. That was until I pointed out that the corners of any triangle are the sharpest part, and therefore the most dangerous. Everyone grew concerned. Luckily there no supernatural mishaps or anomalies. Still I’m glad we convinced Lizzy to not bring a ouija board with her.

In addition to the voyage itself taking about twenty times as long as by airplane, the logistics of getting on and off the boat every time were cumbersome. The port was on the extreme end of a long hook of land, which meant either a long bus or ferry ride to anything at all, and that meant queueing up with thousands of our new closest friends for limited service. Our first stop was the famous Crystal Cavern. It took us three hours to get there, even though the island is only twenty miles long. The whole trip was lovely and scenic so we didn’t really mind. The cave itself was a cool experience. It had a very blue (when lit up) underground lake. Still, after that we switched to taxicabs.

We decided to go one of the famous pink sand beaches. We found a very nice beach called Horseshoe Beach. And shaw’nuff the sand was actually kinda pink. The beach was sheltered from main ocean by a row of rocks like giant teeth out in the bay. Next to the main beach was a smaller beach like a tide pool. The whole scene was very beautiful, with the blue water, the sunshine, the waves, the rocks, the cliffs and the caves. Right next to the beach was a bar and restaurant, so we took a break and got some fruity rum drinks. Lizzy made a point of telling me this we the first time she and her friends had been to a bar while being of legal drinking age, so I bought them all a round. We stayed at the beach and the bar the rest of the afternoon and into evening. It was alot like actually being at a resort.

Late that night, after dinner, Jeannie and I walked around the village near the port. The next day we only had a half day on the island, so we stuck close to port. There was an old fort that was also a museum, so we checked that out and learned alot about the history of the island, the British navy, pirates, shipwrecks and of course triangles.

The trip home was much like the trip out. I must say the food was very good.

We resumed our D&D campaign on the at-sea day the trip back. The party wound their way thru the jungle toward the central plateau of the Isle of Dread. Along the way they encountered a treehouse village of some kind of flying-monkey-squirrel type creature. A melee ensued. The party was outnumbered but they escaped when Michelle used a Thunder Clap spell to repulse them.

A bit later they were scrambling down a mountain side toward a rope bridge crossing a chasm in order to reach the plateau, when suddenly a pair of giant lizards appeared. As luck would Abby was collecting toy rubber lizards given as prizes from the ship’s videogame arcade, and they were just the right size to use with the lego minifigs I brought along to use as tokens for the party. Because they were on a hillside I made a rule that if any player rolls 1 in a combat action they must make a dexterity check or slide down the mountainside some distance. (I don’t know if it’s a house rule of mine, because I’ve played so many version of D&D over the years, and in any event I like the keep the focus on fun and adventuring rather than rule minutia, but I like to play that just as a 20 is a critical hit, a 1 is a critical miss and is always followed by a roll to see if there is some tragic or hilarious consequence.)

So anyway, Carmine the Invincible is single handedly taking on one of the lizards (remember this is a party of first-level characters again 3 hit-dice monsters). Meanwhile the rest of the party is confronting the other one. Abby has the idea she wants to make friends with all the creatures she meets, so even though it attacks, she repeatedly attempts to charm, grapple, lasso or otherwise subdue it. Soon the whole party joins in. At one point Michelle makes a lasso and tries to toss it to Valerie, only to roll a 1 and go tumbling down the hillside. In any event they eventually subdue the lizard and name it Lizzy after her cousin. Abby, a halfling, is able to ride it as mount. I awarded them double experience for that encounter. What I didn’t tell them is every day, and whenever there’s a new combat, the lizard has a chance of running away or turning on the party!

That session was so much fun that everyone asked if we could do another one that evening after dinner, the last night of the cruise. By the end the party reached the central plateau, seen and even fended off a few giant dinosaurs, and reached a village in the middle of the plateau on the shores of a high lake in a dormant volcanic crater. On an island in the middle of the lake is the Forbidden Temple with the evil priest and undead army, and the final phase of the adventure. We left on a cliff hanger, and now it looks like the campaign will continue over the rest of the summer and maybe into the fall. I figure it’ll take two or maybe three sessions to complete. This is good news as far as I’m concerned, and Michelle too. When this adventure is done she wants to DM.

Cruisin’ Part I

Five of the last five bands I’ve seen live have had a trombone player. The latest group was Panic! at the Disco at Nassau Colosseum. I’ve never seen them before but have been a fan for a while. It worked out well cuz my daughter wanted to go see them with her cousins, so I went with my sister-in-law. Modern pop music has been getting back into my head for a while now, driven mainly by the fact that my kids are now old enough to have interesting taste in music and are turning me on to new bands. From the first time I heard them a few years ago P!atD stood apart due their over-the-top manic sensibilities and Brendan Urie’s incredible talent as a singer and a showman.

The show did not disappoint. In addition to the core band of guitar, bass and drums, he had a string section and a horn section, for a total of ten musicians on stage. Plus alot of tracks were piped in so the mix sounded very much like the record. Man, Brendon has a incredible range! Alot of his songs start off comfortable for me and go way to high! Like Freddy Mercury he mostly just sings but likes to sit down at a piano sometimes. The highlight of the show for me was Brendon actually had a grand piano on a flying saucer and rode from high above the mixing board station back to the stage. The rig give Keith Emerson’s famous upside-down rotating piano a run for it’s money. The other highlight was toward the end of the show P!atD played Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It sounded pretty much completely live, although I’ll be they piped in some reinforcement on the vocal harmonies.

The next day we all went on cruise to the Caribbean, all the siblings and nieces on Jeannie’s side of the family, and of course Jeannie’s parents. I’d been on a cruise once before (not to the Caribbean) and found being trapped on a boat with basically nothing to do not very much fun. Unlimited food and drink gets boring by the second day or so, and there’s usually little to no access to musical instruments or that kind of thing, not to mention the tiny cabins and low ceilings. So this time I planned ahead. I started a D&D campaign.

Playing Dungeons and Dragons was actually Michelle’s idea. We had a family D&D campaign a few years ago but the two of us were the only ones really interested, so it kinda petered out. Michelle recently got the 5th edition rules and has been trying to get an adventure going with her friends from school. Then she told me her cousin Abby wanted to play. Then Abby’s sisters and brother wanted in too, and their dad Lou. Lou and I were in a party together back in the early ’90’s. Apparently they all watched Stranger Things and now D&D is popular among high school kids. Who knew?

So suddenly there was a party of six players, with me as DM. Of the group, Michelle, Lou and I were experienced players. I read up on the 5th edition rules and picked a module. The module was one of mine from when I was in high school: The Isle of Dread. This was so old it was written under the “Advanced” rules. But it fit thematically because the adventure was about traveling to a faraway island. We rolled up characters the weekend before. The party consists of a human Cleric (Michelle) whose god is Thor, a halfling Rouge (Abby), and Elvish Wizard (Phil), an Elvish Druid (Val), a human Ranger (Katie), and a Dwarven fighter Carmine the Invincible (Lou).

Another things I did to make the voyage tolerable was to go to the gym in the mornings. The boat actually had a pretty nice gym, including free weights and a bench press set up with a rack so the weights wouldn’t fall all over the place in storm. I must say lifting weights on rocking boat provided and extra level of challenge. Also I watched the last half of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood with Michelle in the evenings. Totally mind blowing. Who would’ve guessed that Selim was a humonculus?

Anyway, I honestly had no idea how the D&D would go but I did what I could and hoped for the best. It turned out great. Our first session was on the first whole day at sea. And we basically played the whole afternoon. Everyone was into it, and eager to get into character and learn the riles and play and have fun. We were in a big lounge in the stern of the ship with view of the ocean on three sides, in a cluster of chairs and couches, coffee tables and end table.

The campaign started with the characters meeting for the first time at a tavern in some medieval seaport, listening to an old pirate tell a tall tail of treasure and danger on some haunted island far away in the sea, in order to recruit a crew of adventurers. The party escaped the tavern as a brawl erupted, found a ship and set sail. They reached the island and met the natives of a local village, then trekked off into the jungle in search of the lost temple. Soon enough they had their first encounter with a phalanx of undead skeletons. Then the real excitement began…

D&D Campaign Notes – The Saga of the Orphan Witches

Back in the day when we used to play D&D online my friend Nick set up a pretty comprehensive wiki that included character information, maps, and campaign notes. For a while he even recorded audio of our sessions and made them available as podcasts. I’m not doing that, but I am keeping campaign notes. Tonight was the first night we played in a while, and it’s nice to go back and see the story unfold. So here are my notes so far. I’m continuing to flesh out the world, but it’s funny because at the beginning I had all these big plans for backstory and stuff, but now that we’re into it I’m at the point where I have what I need in my head and I pretty much wing it from session to session.

The World:

Europe in the Dark Ages, historically and geographically grounded (So I don’t have to make very many maps) with a fantastic D&D twist.

The Players:

Joy Holly (Mich): H W; orphan witch, good with potions
Emma (Eliz): H W; orphan witch, good with scrolls. E&M are like sisters
Zoë (Jne): H R; rogue w/ a heart of gold (CG)

NPC’s (so far):

Grimli Redshirt: D F, LN; stout and dour, grey beard red hood
Glumli Redshirt: Dw F, LG; quiet and brave, black beard blue hood
Chumli Redshirt: Dw F 1, NG; round and jolly, red beard green hood
Perrywinkle: Half-elf Druid 2-3, NG; acolyte of Ehlona, the Unicorn goddess

The Back Story:

Emma and Joy are orphan witches, being raised in an orphanage for young witches. One night the orphanage is burned down by an angry mob. The girls are out on their own in a cruel, cold world. But they can get buy on their wits, some magic, and some help from their friends.

Each young witch has a magic amulet, one in the shape of a sun, the other a moon. The two fit together. Although they don’t know it, they are related, the last survivors of a once powerful house of Wizards that was split in two by jealous infighting and powerful dark magic. The girls were hidden away as infants, and its their destiny to reunite the family and restore the rule of good magic to the kingdom.

But that’s a long way off. Right now they have survival on their minds.

Campaign Sessions:

10/29/11 – Joy and Emma are driven from home, the witches’ orphanage by an angry mob with torches and pitchforks. The orphanage’s headmistress, Anniella is captured. Joy and Emma run away. They meet up with Zoë and get out of town. After a couple of days on the run they encounter a merchant’s party coming back from the Keep on the Borderlands, to the northeast. The party hears tales of treasure and adventure and decides to venture out to the Keep.

11/5/11 – Party encounters 4 goblins on the road the keep. Killed three, 4th ran away. First combat.

12/27/12 – Party arrives at KotBL. Meets company of Dwarves – Grimli Redshirt, son of Groin, and his kin Glumii and Chumli. Spends a night at the Inn of the Drunken Duck. Sets out for the Caves of Chaos the following morning. Arrive at the caves in the late afternoon. Decide its too late to go a-dungeoning and spend the night camping nearby. Return to caves the following morning. Enter cave “D”.

1/21/12 – Party enters cave D. Encounter wandering Goblins – killed all six. All three Dwarves wounded in combat. Chumi drinks his potion of healing, Grimli too. End session with Gri: 13hp, Glu: 7hp, Chu: 6hp. Treasure: 24 sp, 5 sacks of food (12 person/days worth). Goblins from areas 17 and 18 heard the melee and will rush out to attack next turn.

Party Roles: J – treasure, L – initiative, M – maps

1/28/12 – Encountered and defeated Goblins from room 17 and 18 (6 each), plus the Ogre from 22. One Goblin from 17 escaped. Used up 6 more potions of Cure Light Wounds, only two remain. Treasure found: 250 GP on dead Ogre, 17 SP & 33 CP on Goblins, magic dagger, magic short sword. Party current HP: Grimli: 16, Glumli: 10. Characters awarded 1050 xp; everyone goes up a level.

2/18/12 – Explored Ogre lair, discovered treasure incl. gold, a keg of brandy, some cheeses, and a scroll w/ 3 spells. Encountered and defeated 10 goblins in room 19. Women and children ran away. 30 sp. 250 XP @.

2/25/12 – Hid treasure in Ogre cave. Zoe scouted ahead, encountered 4 Goblin storeroom guards; killed them. Encountered and killed Goblin chieftain and 3 bodyguards. Let the women and children go. HP: Zoe 4, Grimli 20, Chumli 3. Treasure: 18 gp, 2 pp, 36 ep, 284 sp, 321 cp, silver cup (90 gp), tapestry 900 gp. Returned to Ogre cave. Met the Elves Perrywinkle and Elvis (and a pony). 250 XP @.

4/14/12 – Went back with Elves to their camp. Elvis taught Emma and Joy some new spells, and identified the spells on the scroll (Burning Hands, Flaming Sphere and Fireball). In the middle of the night, Otterbears try and steal their cheese, party fends them off. The next morning Glumli and Elvis go off, but Periwinkle joins the party. They take the pony and treasure back to the Keep. Party returns to the Caves of Chaos, and enter cave “A”. Chumi and Emma fall in a pit and six Kobolds appear.

Party On

Our D&D campaign has really hit its stride lately. Our duo of Orphan Witches, Joy and Emma, accompanied by Zoe, a rogue with a heart of gold, arrived at the Keep on the Borderlands and joined forces with a trio of Dwarves (because Dwarves always travel in groups whose count is a prime number). They are Grimli, son of Groin, and his kinsfolk Glumli and Chumli, of the Redshirt clan. I added them to the party since they were light on fighters, and playing NPC’s it gives me a chance to fight on the side of the good guys and provide some (grim, Dwarvish) counsel to the players. I’m having fun with the NPC’s, and am planning on having them come and go as need warrants, to help the party on various stages of their quest. The party still needs a healer, since they’ve already used up most of their stock of healing potion after the first major combat. I’m going to provide some kind of Elvish Druid I think, maybe named Elvis.

In any even the combat went really well, with Zoe mixing it up in melee combat, Lizzy summoning a dire spider and Michelle wielding both acid and frost, and even stepping up to slay a goblin with her dagger.

I’m playing under 3.5 rules, and so far it’s worked fine just substituting the 3.5 version of the monsters in the Monster Manual for the ones in the. We’ve been fighting alot of Orcs and Goblins of lately, which is confusing for me as DM because I’m also reading the Lord of the Rings on the train these days (more on that in a separate post), and in Tolkien’s world “orc” is the Elvish word for “goblin”, from the orcish word “urak” which is what they call themselves. Meanwhile in Gygax’s world, Orcs and Goblins are two distinct creatures.

Also, we’ve now got proper minis for the party and a host of monster. We’re using lego minifigs, which are a bit larger than your standard mini, so I’m thinking of redrawing our battlemap at an inch and quarter per five foot square rather than an inch.

Game On

This last weekend we started our D&D campaign in earnest, with actual adventuring. Still a lot of backstory to fill and NPC’s and world to flesh out, but I think we can do that as we go. This session we did our first actual combat, with our part of two witches and a rogue being waylaid by four goblins on the road. It turned out to be a pretty exciting and well-matched melee, with our heroes killing three of their foes in the end and chasing of the last one. I’m reading the player handbook on the train these days, and only after the session did I review the section on combat, so I see there are a few things I didn’t do correctly, but I’ll get there next time. I kinda winged it thru Lizzy’s Summon Monster I spell, and I forgot that a character can run to double-double their movement rate. Ah well.

My other train reading these days is The Hobbit. I reread LotR a few years back just before the movies came out, but I don’t think I’ve read the Hobbit since high school. I’m happy to say it still holds up, and even thought I remember the story, the telling is full of surprises. The writing style is just great. Witty, gripping and evocative all at once. The nature of magic is much more subtle and nuanced than say Harry Potter. Plus it’s given me a lot of ideas for little things to work into my campaign. I’m also surprised at what a quick read it is because I remember LotR being, well, epic. I started it on Thursday and will finish it tomorrow. My last book before this was a biography of Thelonious Monk, which took over a month.