The Chain Made Whole

When I previously mentioned the end of Balic Rising, I alluded to the fact that the loss of three out of five players wasn’t the entire story behind my decision to close the door on that campaign. I had more than three people who weren’t in the game that wanted to be if a spot opened up – we absolutely could have kept going.

The reasons I decided to stop, then, was mainly that I didn’t want to run a Dark Sun game any longer. Which is sort of a strange thing to say, on my gaming blog that started as a Dark Sun blog, with its Dark Sun-themed title. And it’s nothing against DS4e – I said it was an excellent product, and I absolutely meant it.

The problem is that Dark Sun -both mechanically and thematically – is not good for beginners. It led to a set of circumstances in which I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the game I was running.

None of my five players in the Balic Rising campaign had played 4th edition before, and I hadn’t run it previously. One had never played D&D before, one hadn’t played since the 90’s, one since the early 2000’s, and two had previously played once before.

Thematically, I love Dark Sun because it breaks all of the familiar fantasy tropes. It inverts expectations, and leaves you stunned by how strange and alien things are. But when you’re busy trying to learn the fundamentals of how the game system works, you don’t necessarily notice those expectations being suborned. And if you’re brand-new, you don’t realize that tropes are being broken because you’re not invested in those concepts.

The end result was that I kept throwing stuff out to amaze, and it didn’t, and I found that frustrating. Not because of a problem with my players, or the source material – but because I chose to use the wrong source material with the wrong audience. Dark Sun was always for experienced D&D groups back in the day, and I’d say it still is in the modern edition.

Mechanically, meanwhile, the problem was that there’s a lot of extra stuff. Psionics function differently that other classes, which made learning more complicated for a couple of our players. Character themes add an additional layer of complexity that is awesome – but not for someone who’s still learning the basics.

So, when I decided to end the campaign I knew two things – I wanted to run another one and that it wasn’t going to be Dark Sun. I was also so buried that I didn’t want to have to do much in the way of work, because I just didn’t have the time to put into it. So I decided to go simple – I’d run Keep on the Shadowfell, set in the Nentir Vale (the “default” D&D setting).

Based on the size of it, I expected to finish school before needing to develop any additional material for my group, buying me time while also giving me something to do. That’s not exactly how things worked out – the later addition of a sixth party member meant I had to rejigger things to maintain challenge and keep the party progressing – but mostly things went according to plan.

The party is now on the cusp of hitting level 7, and things have been going really well. I’m looking forward to discussing some of the things I’ve been doing in the campaign – both in terms of storytelling and design.


State of the City-State

352 days. That’s the length of the delay between my most recent post on this blog, and the one before it. While not the longest lapse in blog updates I’ve ever seen, it’s still pretty significant – especially since that last post was me explaining how I intended to put my nose back to the grindstone after a 74 day lapse.

So, what happened? I’m going to gloss over it quickly because I don’t want to get hung up on what’s already happened – I’d rather focus on what’s going to happening from here on out.

So firstly, I was previously buried under schoolwork and regular work – and any extra time was being squeezed into actually managing, writing, and preparing for my weekly campaign, Balic Rising. That left me with very little time for blogging about it.

The second was that my then-girlfriend (who I’ve mentioned previously) and I split up in January. It was the opposite of good times, and blogging was pretty low on my priority list for quite awhile.

Thirdly, was the end of the Balic Rising campaign – including my ex, we lost two other members (one to a new, conflicting work schedule and my brother who moved out of province). With the party’s roster dropping from five to two, it was decided that scrapping the entire venture made more sense than trying to keep going mid-campaign.

There were other reasons for that decision too, that I’ll probably get into in a future post.

Now, present day: I’m finished with school, my work situation is much better (no more weekends or midnight shifts for me), giving me a fair amount of free time. I’m running a new campaign, The Chain Made Whole, which I kick-started sometime in January (or maybe early February).

I’m looking forward to getting back to blogging – I plan on updating once or twice a week, from here on out.

Good to be back. Sorry for my long absence, to anyone out there still listening.

D&D4E, Dark Sun

Balic Rising: Cast of Characters

On a scale of “I suck” to “I suck” it probably surprises none of you to learn that I suck.

My last blog post was on the 26th of August – 74 days ago.

Like I said – I suck.

Now then, on to business. I left-off halfway through a review of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting. I wish I could say “and tomorrow I’ll be finishing it up” but that would be a lie. So let me man the fuck up and give you all the facts:

  1. I just started a new job two weeks ago.
  2. I’m buried up to my neck in school work.
  3. I’m back home and even after two months, which affords me all kinds of opportunities to reconnect with old friends.
  4. I’m running a weekly DS4e campaign entitled Balic Rising.
  5. Right now, all of those things are just flat-out more important to me than blogging.

So there it is. Which begs the question of the future of The City-State of Balic. I got an e-mail from old friend Glen saying we should get back to work on FuckedWorld (he’s been crazy busy since changing jobs himself), and I wholeheartedly agree. But I’m done trying to pretend my life is the same as it was when I lived in the Arctic Circle – blogging is no longer the most fun way to spend my hours. To that end, I plan on discussing the Balic Rising campaign here. If Glen and I resume our FuckedWorld-ery, it’ll go up here too. Everything else? Is on an indefinite hold.

Except that half-finished Dark Sun Campaign Setting review. I’m going to finish it right here: it was awesome, the end!

Now let me introduce you to the party. Consisting of my girlfriend, brother, and three best friends, none of these folks have played 4th Edition before. At least one of them hasn’t played Dungeons & Dragons ever before and another one hasn’t played in over a decade. And the principal rule at our table: it’s just a game. I’m running adventures and telling a story, true – but I have had to accept that fun is more important than “realism” (a stupid concept when you rationally consider trying to make a fantasy setting “real”). That means some of these characters are somewhat silly. Some of them are very silly. I humbly suggest you get over it – I had to.

Alright. The party. Here we go – I’m going to do this alphabetically, for simplicity’s sake.

First up we have Anachia Ri, a tiefling battlemind with the noble adept character theme. Using the wild battlemind build presented in the DSCS, she wears scale armor, wields an executioner’s axe, and favors attacks that either push enemies back or knock them prone. A former student at Balic’s premier psionic academy, the Cerebran, Anachia left the school under circumstances that are somewhat vague (she may have dropped out, she may have been kicked out, we’re not entirely sure). Played by my girlfriend (who’s brand-new to D&D), I find it extremely amusing she’s playing a class that can glare you into a coma if you piss her off. So, you know, art imitating life.

Next is Ara’Darashee, elf ranger, and her not-long-for-this-world dagorran companion Esta’Imra. Played by one of my closest friends (and one of my current housemates), we don’t know much about Ara’Darashee’s past or personality yet, but I’m looking forward to digging into it as the campaign moves along. As I mentioned above, all my players are new to 4th Edition and Ara’Darashee is a good example of a character in the process of evolving to match her player’s interests. From level one to level two, she’s changed gears from beast mastery to archery specialization (thus the comment about poor, poor Esta’Imra – whose horrifying eventual fate will be the subject of a future blog post), likewise changing character themes from the melee-oriented gladiator to the poison-based Athasian minstrel theme.

Third in the lineup is Doctor Rockzo – yes, named after that Doctor Rockzo – played by another close friend and former co-worker. Doctor Rockzo is a dwarf summoner druid with the primal guardian character theme. Specifically, Doctor Rockzo is able to summon the mighty and powerful spirit of Carl Weathers the Goat – a goat who follows doctor Rockzo all the time, but has no statistical relevance except when summoned. Oh, and Carl is addicted to cocaine, so Doctor Rockzo doesn’t so much “summon” his goat, as throw a fistful of blow at the ground, which Carl Weathers snorts and then – being all “coked out” – the goat is ready to fight.

Yes, I am aware that there are no goats or cocaine on Athas. But Rockzo has fun with it, and makes it entertaining. He also likes to use his wild shape power to take a goat form of his own so him and Carl can get “intimate.” Yes, it’s going to be that kind of campaign. No, I won’t be offended if you choose to stop reading now.

Played by my brother, we come to Omega Doom – whose name changes every week to a different ridiculous movie character. Given how fluid the minds and personalities of half-giants are, though, I suppose it makes a certain sort of sense. A half-giant barbarian gladiator with a love of axes and SMASH!!! Omega Doom is brutal and merciless. He also drinks a lot, is the dumbest member of the party, and may or may not be attracted to all sexes, species and animals. Suffice to say that there are some jokes going around about Omega and Carl. Once again – I won’t be offended if you depart this blog in disgust. We don’t know much about this character’s past yet either – for the time being I’m happy to let my players focus on learning the game, and work out the story elements later on down the road.

Finally we have Zem, formally styled Zem the VI, played by my other housemate and real-life husband of Ara’Darashee. A dragonborn warlord with the noble adept character theme, Zem also attended the Cerebran – and may very well have been a freshman when Anachia Ri was being “cordially invited to depart our esteemed halls of learning, you base trollop!” He likely served his time in the Balican legions as a junior officer, which would technically have made him part of Andropinis’ templar bureaucracy – though not a “capital-T” Templar, invested with the sorcerer-king’s arcane might. Zem typically enters battle bearing a flail and shield, though later he’ll swap his flail for a longsword as well as develop a growing affection for javelins.

It’s an interesting party, and we’ve been having a lot of fun – with five sessions already under our belt, they’ve hit level two, grown comfortable with their abilities, learned to work together tactically, and (thusfar) murdered 41 living creatures. Next time, I’ll cover our first two sessions, comprising the mini-adventure Sand Raiders.