Reflections of a Mute Dungeon Master

In considering telling this story, I was looking into whether to put it on this blog or over on my gaming blog (which I use mostly for campaign notes in our home game). Understanding that many people that would read it on this one will have no connection to me in the gaming world, and likely have no idea about the community and pastime of Dungeons and Dragons. But when have I ever shied away from scaring the normals?

GHC-mapSo this weekend was Gamehole Con. A “new” gaming convention in Wisconsin. (It is in it’s third year of operation.) And for my money, one of the best run events I have been at. Any problems we experienced had nothing to do with the convention. Like when a DM had a car breakdown on his multiple-state drive to get there. Nothing the convention could do about that. So we dealt with it.

If the worst problem you are facing is that your events were sold out (as Adventurers League was all day Saturday and Sunday), then count it a good day.

In an effort for full disclosure, that really wasn’t the worst problem we had. Technically one of the DMs lost his voice as he was still recovering from being sick. I jumped in and ran his next slot for him so that he could drink some tea and rest his voice. So by the end of the night I was losing my voice. It was a vicious circle that hit a good number of us. Even one of the players at my table had lost his voice. Not “con crud™” but definitely not the optimal situation.

final-countdownOf course there were the instances of awesome. Like watching DMs jump in to help cover slots where they could. Not everyone can just wing it. But those that could were backed up by those willing to jump into slots that they could run. The “winging it” didn’t end there either. I watched one DM run a mod as a single player adventure to make sure the one person who showed up with a ticket to his game Friday night had fun. I even ran two players (both playing non-combative characters) through a challenging module to make sure they got their event in and had a good time.

Sunday, as we were all reeling from the lack of sleep, nursing raspy voices, I found evidence of the reason I not only volunteer at events, but often run more than I play (I played one 2 hour slot this past weekend). One of my players from a previous day bought me coffee for all the hours and work I put in to make their games go off. Another bought tea for me (and her husband as he was the previously mentioned player who lost his voice) so that we could make it through the last game of the weekend. And yet another came back for Sunday with the infamous “crit or shit” die from the Studio 6d6 booth even though he saw the horrible luck I was having with mine.

I also watched as a player took his Players Handbook around asking for the DMs that ran a particularly good game for him to sign his book. It was somewhere between the last day of high school and being a celebrity. It was also the first book I’ve signed where my son has signed it as well. In fact I think he was the player when I gave my name and DCI number at the beginning of the session for their logs said, “Oh, are you related to Nick?” (A running gag in my family, and the topic of another blog.

owlbear-gaggleI also picked up a first for the convention in their first plushie. Other than food, it and their first adventure (signed and numbered by Ed Greenwood) were the only purchases I was able to make. In hindsight, I probably would have tried to fit in a demo and probable purchase of Three Pillars the ghost investigating card game from Scare TV. I am a fan of some of the ghost investigation shows, so it would have been a natural fit. Not to mention there was a promo card in our con bag offering Gamehole Con as a location. And after 30 hours of DMing (not to mention several of printing and prepping adventures on the fly), I felt like I was haunting the venue.

There were some interesting highlights from my games as well.

  • A group of 4 players. Two guys and a husband and wife. The wife was playing a male drow and her husband a female drow. The characters were brother and sister as opposed to spouses. The other two guys were drow as well, one female and one male. (I accused them of trying to break my brain at 8 in the morning.)
  • That night, for the final slot, they were back at my table only now the remaining male drow was female. I had my first character in a game that was a transgendered drow rogue.
  • The Carnival. My mod I ran on the fly (read through it in about 15 minutes), was a carnival gone wrong. The table had 3 brand new players, including one kid who was probably around 10 years old – plus or minus. So I couldn’t go full American Horror Story. But it was pretty close. I even had one character trying to protect the villain as she had gained an infatuation with the ringmaster through a developed insanity effect. (Gotta love season 3 mods!)
  • One of the Critter Community players jumped in on the one mod we were running with banshee in it. He was the player at the table to take the “token” which made him the primary target in the final fight. Dropped him and the cleric to 0 hit points with the banshee scream. Had I not been so tired, I might have consoled him with, “At least the door wasn’t locked.” (Inside joke for fans of Critical Role.)

Storytelling 101: Keeping it 100

After the impromptu story yesterday, I felt the jolt of November starting up. It used to get me looking to the fields on the way into work, clutching at the key pocket in my jeans to see if the spare round for my rifle was stashed there or not. These days its more about coffee, talking stories with NaNos (or WriMos… everyone has a different name for it) and storytelling.

keep-it-100_percent-tee-design1If I am going to “keep it 100” (see The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore), since my Aladdin died, I have been off in my writing. I made it to 50k last year, but I don’t feel it was anything I could use. As for this year, I have had a slow start to finishing up a middle grade story I’ve been throwing stones at since late spring. This November I want to not only hit the 50k but produce 50k of workable story. Something I can sell, produce, or at least print.

The going belief is that if you can exist without telling stories you’re not a writer. So does that mean I’m not a writer? I don’t think so. My storytelling outlet has been gaming this year. Role Playing is like storytelling without all the writing and editing. Well, some of the writing. Players get away with little to no writing.

To explain, allow me to tell a story. Several years ago (like seven or eight), some guys were talking in my building. Right outside my office. “Dude, I’m bringing D&D back!” (Said sarcastically, of course.) I stick my head out to ask if it went somewhere. They kind of chuckled at me and commented on how I was probably that guy at work that still played D&D.

“I haven’t played D&D for years,” I said. Of course when I was telling that to my gaming group that Sunday they looked at me rather confused. Understandable as we were setting up the D&D game for the week. Even more so  when I informed them I didn’t lie at work.

“I don’t play D&D. I’m the DM. I run it… you guys get to play.”

Being the DM is like leading a group storytelling exercise. I throw things out there, the characters react to them, and we all tell a story together. It was one of the things that lead me to wanting to become a writer in high school. Granted there were more impactful motivations that fit the traditional model, but gaming was part of it.

This past week the show Critical Role (on the Geek & Sundry Twitch channel) lost one of its actors. Not entirely sure why he had to leave the show, but he did. It made me think of all the changes my groups have gone through over the years. The gaming group from the above story only had two players in it that are still in my game. Of course one of them is my son, so that is nearly a given. Though the other player has his 13 year old daughter playing with us now.

For those young writers in training and the older ones alike. My strongest piece of advice is to Keep in 100. Own your weird and flaunt it proudly. Most of the genre writers I know have some serious eccentricities to them. And frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why charity? And why cancer?

There was a video call for stories on Stephen Amell’s Facebook page. It was part of the 2nd anniversary of the Fuck Cancer campaign. I apologize in advance if you were looking for the “family friendly” version of the story, but that doesn’t exist. At least not for me.

Cancer has taken a lot from me. Mostly personal, and somewhat sharp in nature. Also, it has been throughout my life. It started just after I was born. It didn’t take my mother from us, but it did take any further siblings from my sister and I. Not that I knew any better, I was a baby when it happened. I can’t imagine what it put my parents through.

In July a few years back it took my father-in-law from us. Indirectly, as he already had a heart condition, but the cancer was getting worse and no doubt weakened him. My wife is the kind of person that remembers those dates. Every July was rough for her.

aladdinAbout a year and a half ago (also in July), cancer hit home again. This time it took our dog Aladdin. I know it seems odd to include him in this list, but he was my companion and our family’s protector and mascot for fifteen years. At sixteen years old, he was older than the twelve years that breed averages. And now I’m the kind of person that remembers those dates. July 17th, 2014. The first time I had to call and ask a doctor to euthanize my dog. I didn’t make the appointment for my childhood dog.

Losing him wasn’t just a direct hit for me, but it also screwed up my writing for at least a year. I felt like I lost something more than just a friend. So I gave to gain something back. I gave food to a dog shelter. We adopted a rescue dog from that same shelter. One that really needed a specific kind of home that we could provide. No young kids, and no other pets. And time. Additionally, we gave to cancer charities. Kids cancer, research, individual families dealing with the trials of cancer. All of it.

Last Christmas, during the first Sinceriously campaign I bought the original fuck cancer shirt for the family. My wife, son and I all have one. When the second one came around I bought in again. As I have for similar charities, such as the Extra Life campaign we just went through.

What does the Fuck Cancer Campaign mean to me? It is me telling cancer I have had enough. I have several friends and yet another family member dealing with cancer. Frankly, you can’t have them. Not if my donations and those of my friends and family have anything to say about it. It may only be a shirt here and a marathon there individually, but if enough of us stand up and say “No More”, it will be a deafening roar.

Prepping for November

Between reviews, writing, a new puppy and the day job website relaunching on a new service (which NEVER goes as well as they say it will), I have been out of the loop for a while. I’ve also been having problems bouncing back from the slump I hit over a year ago. I hadn’t factored how much the loss of my old man puppy would hit me. Now, I am looking to swing hard at this NaNoWriMo. Which means breaking the routine I have inadvertently set up at home.

This past week I brought home flowers from shopping for my wife. She asked me why and I told here there were a couple of reasons. First and foremost was that one simply does not get a Sweetests Day present for one lady in the house and not the other. It’s simply not done. (More on that later.) Additionally (and more to her liking) was that with about 10 days until her office Halloween party I figured the flowers would be good and wilted and just right for their party. Her department at work does Halloween in a huge way. I don’t get our Walking Dead string lights back until November.

naptime-gingerTo speak towards the questions that are out there… yes, we are strange people. Our Halloween decorations are our Christmas decorations. Which makes this time of year awesome for the woman in my Sunday gaming group with the fear of zombies. Also, yes… I did buy a Sweetests Day present for Ginger, our fox terrier rescue. To be fair, it was a set of scalloped foam stairs to make it less stressful for her to get up on the couch. (She has a knee joint problem she was born with.)

While they work great, I did find out I bought them a bit too big. Which means we put them up by the bed (we have a rather tall European pillow top mattress), and decided to get a smaller set of the same ones for the couch.

What does this have to do with NaNoWriMo? Everything. Because hopefully a present to make her days easier will keep her from getting cross with me for being out so much. Halloween weekend I am going to a Milwaukee area game con for a day, NaNoWriMo midnight that night, and then write-ins that Sunday. The next weekend I am running 12 hours or more of D&D each day at Gamehole Con. In addition to my 2k in words. Tesla Con is two weeks later. Between that will be our donation weekend push for NaNoWriMo. Then Thanksgiving. We’ll end with the wrap party in early December.

Keep in mind the Day Job™ is still there. As are my reviews. And the Sunday game group. (I have already told the Adventurers League guys I will not be running a table that month.)

franz-kafka-quotes-sayings-non-writing-writer-insanityWhat is the lesson to learn here? Especially for those new to NaNoWriMo? (Besides insanity being a benefit sometimes…) Time management is everything. This is a one month challenge. Out of college (for more years than I care to remember) I worked 80-90 hour work weeks between two full time jobs. My day off was Sunday going in to the bagel shop I managed in the morning until around 11am before driving off to my D&D game with a friend who was renting the other half of our duplex. It kept me sane. Well, sane-adjacent.

Can everyone do this schedule for the month? Probably not. But pushing the limits is what showed me that I was capable of doing it. Were I a corporate goon, I would likely be spouting off some leadership training nonsense like “work smarter, not harder.” But thankfully I am not. I will tell you thought to challenge yourself this coming month. Its the only way you can truly surprise yourself with what you are capable of.

See you all at the word wars, Halloween Night… midnight… central time zone.

Extra Life Marathon for Charity

D&D for Charity

This is the only marathon I really am able to do now, isn’t it? Also, this is a way to show the strength of the gaming community. Let’s face it, everyone can use good press once in a while. Not to mention cancer, children and pet related charities are my go-to’s. In the recent future I have gone from losing friends and family to cancer, to losing my dog to it. So this one is important to me.

Pegasus Games will be hosting our games this year. When available, we will be giving out certs for items given out in game. And the DMs will be running events as they have 4-7 players ready to sit down and roll. And if players are interested, we may do some of the long play or casual events through Adventurers League.

Each DM will be running events they are able to (have prepared for), mine will be going along the following list:
DDEX 2-4 Mayhem in the Earthspur Mines (L5-10)
DDEX 2-3 The Drowned Tower (L5-10)
DDEX 2-5 Flames of Kythorn (L1-4)

DDEX 2-8 Foulness Beneath Mulmaster (L1-4)

I could likely do others, and may based on interest. Additionally, if at least 5 people donate to get a seat running Out of the Abyss from the book for the entire day (minus meal breaks), I will do that. It is very sandbox in its design and is AL legal.

Donation Levels

  • a seat at a 4 hour block table: $5
  • a full day seat for Out of the Abyss $15 (we may run a little later than 8pm)
  • reroll an attack roll, skill check or saving throw (must take the new number) $1
  • standard healing (2d4+2): $1
  • make a weapon deal magical damage for the course of a fight: $2

Where to Donate

Donations can be entered on my Extra Life account. You can specify what they are for in your comments, or simply donate a set amount and use that as your “reserve pool” for the weekend. We will take donations on site as well.
You can also donate in support of the DMs that will be running events this weekend for the charity. If you are interested in running something, please let me know.

Reflections of the Full Week

Last night we were discussing the budget diet. An epiphany came in the form of even though our portions were fine, we felt more hungry. There are likely a couple of reasons for that…

I think we as individuals were getting to used to eating more than we might need in a given day. I know I was drinking more coffee than I needed nearly every day. I’d grown used to getting lunch at the food window in the stadium or at the corner market most days. If I was tired on the way home I might stop at a drive through or the BBQ place near our house. And ice cream at the end of the night usually sounded like a good idea.

why-the-treatsTaking one day as an example, I had a bowl of Honey Nut O’s (generic) with milk for breakfast (about 20 cents), a peanut butter sandwich with a banana for lunch (about 35 cents), and spinach risotto with black bean bake for dinner (around $1.50 at the portions I dished out. Which left me with just under $2 to put towards a different day, or to use for coffee beyond my allowance in the morning. At the end of the night though, I did choose to add another 10 cents to my spending for some more Honey Nut O’s while watching TV. (To be fair, someone insisted I share a couple.)

I looked at my coffee drinking and tried to figure out how I might incorporate it into my budget. I can use our french press without having to buy filters, which means for about 25 cents I can make the amount of coffee I get in the mornings if I go without cream. So between 25 to 40 cents a day for my morning coffee. Take a look at the $2.05 budget for the sample day, and this is totally possible. Especially on days when I don’t have meat. Were I inclined to do so (and I might be next week), I could reduce the daily budget to $3.60 a day and still get my coffee in the drive through. Since this isn’t fully about the money, I can pay for the convenience and deduct it from my total.

I also feel there is a psychology to it. We know we are eating off of less money than we used to spend on coffee so the subconscious message is we will be hungry. Additionally, when you’re looking at price per serving, you dish yourself out specifically one serving. Which in most cases means we eat less. Not that much less, but that lends into the perception of being denied something.

So I started this to gain a view of the possibilities to live off of that number. Additionally I was looking at if one could eat healthy off of those numbers. What I am finding is that if I can change my point of view, that will not only impact my budget, but also lead me to a healthier diet.

Though I’d still add the kale back into the risotto instead of the spinach.

First Week Musings

First and foremost, I think this is kind of a “soft opening” for my SNAP Challenge. I haven’t had the time to prep for it due to the surprise GenCon trip with Studio 6d6. Also, I forgot our camping trip this weekend with Saturday spent at the Bristol Ren Faire. While I could probably keep it in the $4 budget at the campsite, at the Ren Faire that would be impossible. I’d dehydrate and collapse long after my $4 was gone. Without eating.

I have found a couple of tricks though. Ones worth sharing. Also some pitfalls, which are also worth sharing…

Your New Best Friend

Eggs. Seriously, if you want protein and cannot spare the budget for meat these are your go to. I sprayed down a cupcake pan with baking spray and put an egg in each spot to bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or so. (I went by sight on them and was pretty close to spot on.) Each one cost about 26 to 28 cents. Baked are a bit healthier than fried and can be stored for easy transport. I brought one with my lunch today.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

IMG_0550One of my go-to dishes is a kale and/or asparagus risotto. It takes a while to make, but it is good, filling, and a slightly impressive dish to serve. The problem was the cost of not only the rice, but the herbs (fresh basil and parsley), the kale, and the broth. So my goal was to device a cheaper version of this dish. And what I came up with is about $1 for a lunch serving and $1.50 for a dinner serving.

Spinach Risotto

  • 1.5 cups of arborio rice
  • 32 oz box of chicken broth
  • about 6 oz fresh spinach (2/3rds of a bag)
  • olive oil
  • Italian spices (basil, oregano, dried onion, etc)

I use a mixed blend of spices from an Italian grocery in Racine. A large container usually lasts me a year, about our rate of visiting the place. Olive oil is standard fare from the grocery, nothing fancy.

With the olive oil covering the bottom of your sauce pan on medium heat, throw in the rice until translucent. Toss the spinach on top just before done and cover the saucepan with the cover. Once done, mix with your wooden spoon and throw in some of the broth. Just enough to slightly cover the rice. Cover again for a minute or two to stew the spinach. Keep adding broth and slowly mixing with the wooden spoon. Once a stew like consistency, add some more broth until it is all absorbed. The spices can be added at any time – I add them with the oil to saturate the flavors through the dish.

Notes: I did keep the cost down as the spinach was on sale this week – $1.33 per bag. I also discovered a cheaper bulk bag of the rice that cut the cost by at least 35% for the whole batch. That went a long way to keeping a $1.00 lunch cost. Also, to make this a fully vegetarian/vegan meal, switch out the chicken broth with vegetable broth.

What I Would Change

If there was no budget to consider, I would add in the fresh basil (about a $1.50 hike to the whole batch) and switch out to kale (about another $1 or slightly more to the batch). Additionally (as we are from Wisconsin), I usually add some cheese to it as well. Without the cheese, some salt may be needed for the dish. And finally, meat. Either to the risotto, or served with it instead of the egg.

What I Have Found

This may be an indication of my pre-challenge diet, but I find myself snacking on bananas (13 cents each for my current bunch) and the like because I’m hungry. Also it helps meet my concerns on the amount of fruits and vegetables I am eating. I do have a couple more recipes that I am altering up this week/weekend to address these as well.

The part that really struck me though was the drinking. I have been drinking more water. I have also used a Crystal Lite drink mix in a squirt bottle that runs about 12 cents per 8 oz drink. How much smaller would my meal plan be if I had to purchase ground coffee beans to brew my own coffee? Or pay for the creamer? I set a caveat that my morning coffee would not be included in the budget. My reduced price drink at the drive through is $3.26 after tax. (A trienta iced coffee with cream.) I did go a couple days without it, but had to buy a soda/tea due to the drag effect.

I am not playing around with going cold turkey, because coffee is one of the stages in staving off a migraine before it settles in fully. Between the allergy medication, Advil Liquigels and coffee, without these I would be having a lot of problems this week.

Just in the food reduction (and coffee limitation to 1 per morning), I can see how difficult this budget is to continue under. And why people resort to ramen packets and processed mac & cheese for meals. Eating healthy within these limits is tough. And it definitely limits the amount of meat in your diet.