When we last looked in on our heroes, they were on one side of a door through which they could hear the muted sounds of conversation. Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?
We shall because that’s the point of this post.
The hunter was concerned that the door might squeak when opened, but it was well made enough that it swung open without a sound. On the other side was a large cavern, half filled with water, half filled with stolen treasure, and half filled with a dragon. The other half was filled with the dragon rider who was apparently trying to hide behind a transparent rock on the off chance that someone opened the non-squeaky door on the other side of the room.
True to her maiden name, Tinda “Jenkins” Spellsinger barreled past the ranger and barbarian and burst into the room, finger-guns blazing. Unfortunately her aim was off and her double Eldrich Blasts only scored the cavern ceiling. Smelling the shit on the fan, the barbarian rushed in and closed the gap between the party and the dragon rider who was really positive that he had been hidden from view, guys! despite the fact that he was so obviously not. Never one to be left behind, the warlock stepped into the cavern and took up a safe but observable position right in the cone of poison breath that the dragon unleashed after patiently awaiting his turn. The warlock was instantly gasping for breath and, finding none, expired like a two-month-old carton of milk, while the bard developed a really nasty case of asthma which guaranteed that she’d not be running any marathons any time soon.
Using his Shit Is Gettin’ Real senses, the ranger asked the monk to hold his beer as he stepped into the cavern. The faint strains of Wild West gunslinger showdown music could be heard from elsewhere in the cavern, despite the fact that the party had killed or freed everyone else in the complex. Maybe it was someone’s alarm clock. Regardless, the timing couldn’t have been better: the ranger unleashed a punishing barrage of physical and magical whupass upon the wounded dragon, felling the beast in a world record breaking six seconds. As the smoke wafted from his bow, the ranger tugged down the brim of the Stetson he mysteriously acquired and leaned up against the wall, arms crossed, while the rest of the party reverted to clean-up.
Seeing his dragon companion fall so quickly, the rider whipped out his own dual Eldrich Blasts at the barbarian, hitting him squarely, before attempting to disengage by diving into the nearby pool. The monk, not wanting to the low-scoring member of the party this round, energized himself and bolted across the cavern to chase the escaping cultist into the murky water. Unsurprisingly, the barbarian decided that swimming was fun, and also jumped in, although being one of the least perceptive members of the crew, he got lost easily as the monk kept close on the heels of the dragon rider. Through a secret tunnel they swam, eventually emerging into the cavern where the initial encounter had taken place. It was there that the monk cornered a severely wounded cultist when the barbarian finally found his way out of the pool. Still under the effects of Rage, the barbarian wasted no time (or words, or, you know, thought) in smashing the cultist’s head into the ground…and when I say “smashing” I mean literally smashing, like with a maul, and, like, with flying brains and stuff.
After an awkward moment standing around the corpse with the January Jack-O-Lantern head for a while, the party opted to take what little they could carry from the dragon’s treasure hoard, adding it to their Chest of Undisclosed Treasure From A Previous Session, and eight bottles of some Seriously Kick Ass Booze that they had found previously, and made their way out of the Misty Forest and back to Waterdeep.
Their arrival at the city was fortuitous, as it seemed that the cult situation had escalated in their absence. The city was on lockdown, and the normal citizen hustle was reduced by several magnitudes of bustle. The party was quickly ushered up to the council chambers where they relayed the news of their encounter with the dragon and its rider to Delaan and Algarthas. At the mention of the rider’s name, however, Algarthas grew pale and quickly left the room. Delaan informed the party that the rider they had encountered — Neronvain — was Algarthas’s half-brother, and the estranged son of the council’s King Melandrach.
Lady Silverhand was quick to bring the party up to speed on what had transpired. The draakhorn had been sounding almost continuously for the past few days, and streams of chromatic dragons could be seen heading to the Well of Dragons from every corner of the region. To make matters worse, scouts from all over report that cult forces had broken off their raids and were returning to the Well with haste. The council has no choice but to consider the cult’s plans to be entering their final phase, which meant that the council was out of time: they had to begin deploying their forces to meet the threat of the Dragon Cult.
She had one more task for the party: infiltrate the Well of Dragons and do whatever they could to disrupt the plans of the cult in any way possible to weaken their offensive and stop their ritual. The party had proven themselves capable time after time, having won over the various personalities that made up the Council of Waterdeep. They didn’t agree on much very often, but the council had come to the unanimous agreement that the Adventure Co. Brand Adventure Company was the Sword Coast’s best and only hope at stopping this threat (because of course they are…it’s their story).
There was one loose end: informing Melandrach of the death of his wayward son Neronvain. The warlock, bard, and ranger tactfully explained the situation to an incredulous Elven king, offered their condolences, and watched as the trembling elder was lead from the room by his surviving son.
+ + +
It’s been a few weeks since we have been able to convene, due to holidays and various Mishaps of Real Life. Thankfully we weren’t in a really complex story because apparently I need to work on my note-taking skills.
This was a notable session for a few reasons:
First, the fucking hunter one-shotted a dragon. A seriously wounded dragon, but still a core threat to the people of the Sword Coast. What surprised me was the fact that the ranger had apparently been holding out on this Skill Chain of Badassery. Obviously not something to use against rank and file minions, but the “firepower” had traditionally been concentrated in the hands of the multi-strike monk and the berserker barbarian, so who knew we had devastating artillery in the group?
Second, the dogged persistence of the monk in chasing down Neronvain. I see the reasoning behind it — this guy might have a dragon mask, so there’s no way they were going to let him get away — but there was always a chance. Neronvain ducked into a concealed tunnel while under water, but the monk was able to keep his eyes on him. Liberal use of Ki points to initiate Dash, coupled with several Attacks of Opportunity and a blistering string of critical rolls decimated the cultist as he tried to run. I admit that my hope was that Neronvain would escape because having him alive and bringing this news to Melandrach would have severely different consequences than what we’re dealing with now. Of course, Neronvain’s death, I think, was a surprise to everyone since it was handled as an in-character situation involving a raging barbarian who could only see killing his enemies as the way to end the encounter, regardless of how incapacitated his enemies were.
Third, the score sheet. I’m not going to say much else about it right now, but I had thought the council affinity tracking would vary far more than it is. I am interested in completing this module mainly so I can write the whole post-mortem about it.
The party had just gotten through teaching some forest spiders the meaning of NOPE when they happened upon an idyllic waterfall suspiciously out of place on the edge of the spider’s domain. The raven, their guide to wherever the dragon and its rider were supposedly camped out. landed on an old tree by the edge of the waterfall’s pool. This was apparently the end of the road.
The pool itself was less that idyllic; there was a green cast to it, and a rolling green haze clung to the surface. As the party investigated, a green dragon exploded out from behind the waterfall and unleashed its poisonous breath, catching a few of the party members in its Cone of Death(tm) before wheeling around and plunging through the waterfall again.
Following the dragon, the party found themselves in a cavern system that opened into a rather large amphitheater. The dragon was here, clinging to the ceiling and awaiting the party’s entrance. As the group descended into the cavern, other enemies joined the battle: cultists from the north, elves from the south, and ettins from the west.
The dragon managed to score another hit with its breath weapon while the party tried to thin the heard while also wounding the dragon. The warlock polymorphed into a Tyrannosaurus rex (yes, seriously) and managed to bite a cultist in half. The ettins and the cultists were dealt with, and when sufficiently wounded, the dragon gathered up a cultist who appeared to be the dragon rider and the two plunged into a deep green pool that occupied the back-end of the cavern. With no sense of carrying on the fight, the elves laid down their weapons and surrendered.
Turns out the elves were collected from various villages as insurance that none of their surviving kin would warn others of their cult’s presence. The party extracted whatever information they could from the elves about the rest of the cavern and allowed them to leave.
A quick search of most of the caves revealed that the place was now deserted, with it’s occupants either dead, fled, or escaped. A hasty investigation of a finely appointed room earned the ranger an acid trap in the face, while the barbarian managed to dodge a point dart trap by smashing the lock of a chest in the room.
A secret door behind a tapestry lead to a small prayer room where the party discovered a journal written in elvish. Beyond that, another door was found in the opposite wall, behind which could be heard a low rumbling and a low volume conversation in elvish.
+ + +
Pardon the basic rundown; this was a two session event that happened over three weeks, so the original engagement is kind of fuzzy.
Galin the elf offered his raven to the party to lead them to the lair of the green dragon and its rider that he had been meeting with. Along the way the party was granted a blessing from a druid in the woods, which the warlock refused. This blessing made the members immune to the dragon’s frightful presence but also covered up their presence from the dragons spies in the wood. Because the warlock did not accept the blessing, the party was exposed to prying eyes, and the dragon was lying in wait just behind the waterfall curtain.
The module wanted a lot of death to be thrown at the party, but I cut it down for two reasons: first, I didn’t think that so many enemies would result in any kind of fair fight, and second, I didn’t want to have to deal with (no kidding), something like 20-25 NPCs on the combat tracker. As it stood, this event took two sessions, and we’d probably still be in the middle of it had we kept the compliment that the module suggested.
Some interesting elements from last night’s session, though:
A few weeks ago, we created That Gaming Forum community on a new social network called Imzy. I thought I’d written about this earlier, but I checked and…I guess not.
Imzy is a “nicer” social network. It’s got more stringent rules in place than “those other guys who shall remain
We had a Twitterburst conversation that left a group of us feeling that, once again, Twitter is not the place to go for group discussion. A bunch of us tried working through Pages on Facebook (to keep our gaming stuff and personal stuff divided), but that ended up being too much work, maintaining a double-life that way. Sadly, Google Plus ended up being a bust; Google doesn’t seem to know what to do with it, doesn’t promote it much, and keeps rearranging the furniture in an attempt to capture some fung shui that will make people think better of it. We’ve got a few Discord servers, but not everyone likes Discord, and although there’s a bunch of “by gamers, for gamers” networks out there like Player.me and Anook, they didn’t even register (although I prefer Anook out of the two examples, I can’t access it from work, which is why it didn’t register when thinking about a new home for our discussions).
So we ended up on Imzy because I’d heard about it a while back, signed up for it, and then promptly forgot about it until I remembered about it when we decided that our current schemes weren’t working out.
How is this working for us? Pretty well, I guess. We started out with a few members — people involved in the initial Twitterburst — and I thought that was great. People were actually willing to give this a shot, which made me happy. Imzy is a good platform, but is under active development and feedback is welcome, so it’s not the most robust or logical platform in its current state, though it is most certainly usable. In a short amount of time, we gained a lot of members — we got notified at 100, and 500 members. As of the writing of this post, our community That Gaming Forum is at 757 members?!
That’s a nice number! But how many people are using our community on Imzy?
According to the cool dashboard that leaders have access to, we’re getting an average of about 60 “activities” each day…which I assume is a measurement of how many people are looking at our group, whether it’s directly or alongside other groups that they belong to.
Imzy doesn’t have an in-depth metrics view yet, but scrolling back through our posts, it seems that we’re getting a respectable few posts each day. Weekends may tend to be slower as people go about other business, as we see in general blogging circles. Of those posts, there are about five people who make up the overwhelming bulk of participants of new material (I’m not surprised by who they are since they seem to be the ones who have been willing to adopt these new crazy schemes we come up with). We get a few additional people who comment, but not too many over and above those core five folks.
Obviously for a community of 757 people, having about 10 or fewer people actively participating is kind of sad…On paper. But I don’t feel any kind of sadness about it. We’re getting a rough average of 60 views per day, with a few posts per day made by a handful of people…fact: there are more people apparently viewing this community on a regular basis than there are viewing this very blog on a regular basis!
From a personal perspective, that’s good stuff! But this isn’t about me, of course; it’s about getting people together who like to talk about similar stuff — video games and general geekery — without being hobbled by character restrictions, worrying about mixing business (family stuff) with pleasure (gaming and such), or about having our platform pulled out from under us…again. Naturally, we’d like to see this community grow. While the numbers are certainly mind-blowing, what we really look forward to is people willing to post new content, start new discussions, and to draw new members in by (respectfully) talking about things of community interest. We started this community so we could talk in ways that blog comments or existing social media structures never really and fully allowed us to do, and we’d love to see more folks giving our community a shot.
I played a stupid amount of Atlas Reactor this weekend. For a game that I once dismissed as a gimmicky esports wannabe, I think I can safely say that it’s my current go-to game.
Atlas Reactor is a “synchronous” multiplayer arena-based 5v5 PvP game. In today’s atmosphere of fast-paced competitive action games like Overwatch or League of Legends, Atlas Reactor is more of a philosophical treatise punctuated by a spastic burst of flailing around, followed by some intense reflection.
See, you have a roster of “freelancers” to choose from. Selections follow the standard “free to try” model which rotates every cycle, are available for individual purchase, or can be purchased in bulk. Each freelancer has four standard abilities, one ultimate ability, and three one-shot-per-match abilities. There’s also modifiers that can be unlocked and applied to each primary ability for customization.
Gameplay is broken into four phases of activity: Prep, Dash, Blast, and Move. Prep phase handles certain buffs, as well as laying down traps if you have them. Dash handles certain abilities that allow for quick, short movement or teleportation. Blast is the main action phase and handles most attacking. Move is…movement. You can choose one main ability that triggers during prep or blast or dash phase; you don’t get one prep, one dash, and one blast choice so you’re forced to pick what you think is best for the round. There are some free actions for certain freelancers which can be added to one of those rounds, and there are three one-use-per-match free abilities that can be used which include self-buffs and healing.
You have 15 seconds to make your decision, which is where the strategy comes into play. You have to choose a course of action based not on what you see, but what you anticipate. For example, throwing down a trap during the Prep phase (which happens first) will assume certain circumstances before those circumstances play out (i.e. anticipating that someone will move through the trapped area). In another example, choosing an ability that triggers during the Blast phase — like a melee or ranged attack — would end up hitting dead space if the target picked an ability that triggered during the Dash phase and moved them to another place on the map. You have to be quick, assess the situation, make assumptions, and make a choice before the round timer runs out, or else you forfeit your actions that round. Once everyone has locked in their choices, the action plays out according to some kind of internal initiative (which can be augmented by certain abilities), so not only do you have to consider phase, but you also have to consider the possibility that a target might die or take an action that will negate your action before your choice is triggered.
When I first looked at Atlas Reactor, I was overwhelmed by the GOGOGO of decision making. My spirit animal is the noble sloth, which means I rarely do anything quickly, so 15 seconds to get my actions locked in invoked panic. I put it on the “not for me” shelf until recently when a bunch of people in my timelines started talking about it. Most of us aren’t of the competitive stripe, but Atlas Reactor has an ace up its sleeve for people like us: progression versus bots.
Unlike most other PvP-centric games, Atlas Reactor‘s vs bots mode is a fully realized option for progression. You can join up with friends (and get an XP boost!), strangers (and get an XP boost by deploying “GG” tokens), or AI team members to take on AI bots on the other side. You can tweak the difficulty of the enemy from one to four (maybe five?) stars, with more stars ramping up the difficulty. Then you pick your freelancer and go to town. You can even complete daily activities and “season” goals in vs bots mode once you reach certain account levels.
This is a godsend for people like me for a few reasons. First, I’m not competitive. I don’t appreciate people who pin their egos on a video game screaming at me to “git gud” by their standards. I play to enjoy myself, which vs bots mode allows me to do. Second, it allows me to do something I don’t normally do: obsess over the performance of my character. Normally I’m only concerned with “bigger numbers replacing smaller numbers” in games, but this time I need to know what my freelancer can do and when the best time is to do it. Because there are only a few seconds to make a decision — which might include an action, a free action, and a movement, all in a very specific order which has bearing on other decisions, both mine and those of my enemies and team members — I can’t spend time hovering over the abilities in the match to read and decide. Thankfully, having only a handful of abilities means that I don’t have to memorize tables of stats and results, and vs bots mode allows me to take a new freelancer for a spin, relatively consequence-free. It also allows me to work on “git gud”, although against AI and not against superior players which doesn’t always translate 1:1, but that’s OK. Being able to earn XP is the best perk, though, since there are daily missions to unlock, and season tasks. Over the weekend I made it to level 5, unlocked both daily missions and season missions, and even accidentally joined a public vs bots group which was actually a pleasant experience.
Atlas Reactor is free to play with rotating freelancers each cycle. If you’re interested in trying it out, you can sign up and download the game through Trion’s Glyph front-end.
As much as I like MMOs, and RPGs, I really love sim games. There’s no pressure to perform, they allow for creative expression (most of the time), and there’s a real sense of satisfaction that pure progression-based games can’t possibly offer. On the downside, it’s easy to be willing to get lost in a sim, meaning that anything less than 30 minutes spent in the game is going to hardly be worthwhile.
I was pleased to see Planet Coaster arrive on the scene. I’d never played a Rollercoaster Tycoon game to a point where I’d say I was a fan, but A) building stuff, and B) it’s made by Frontier, creators of Elite Dangerous, so now that their catalog is book-ended in such a bizarre manner, I can sleep easy.
As with Tycoon games, you have to build and maintain a theme park. That means you get to build rollercoasters, but also bathrooms. I bought the Thrillseeker Edition which included beta access (although the game launches this week) and tried a few modes this weekend. There’s a campaign mode which has you taking over established parks and trying to hit milestones, and there’s also a sandbox mode where you’re given unlimited money and a wide open, empty space to build a park.
Naturally, I gravitated towards the latter, because who wants a second-hand park?
And that’s really as far as I got before I realized that I have no idea how to build a theme park. I’m not a theme park kind of guy. I don’t like rollercoasters, and I rarely ride any rides in general. However, the cool thing is that my entrance is a fully customized building made from walls and windows and roof tiles and decorations. There are a few pre-made buildings included for things like refreshment stands, rides, and even full-blown coasters, but there’s really nothing like the feeling of constructing your own, sitting back, and saying “meh, it’s just OK”, especially when you look through the Steam Workshop at some of the things other people are building. But take heart! You can totally download those things and make your park as awesome on the screen as it is in your head.
At $44.99 (for the Thrillseeker edition with beta access) or $40.95 for the base edition (which will increase to the $44.99 price when it launches), you can’t really go wrong. The amount of options inherent in being able to build vast swaths of your own park — buildings, terrain sculpting and landscaping, and of course the rollercoasters — makes it a pure steal at that price point, so if you like sim games and want to move beyond neighborhoods, then Planet Coaster is a no-brainer.
A while back, I published a post entitled (unfortunately) “Ghost in the WTF”, which was a quick overview of leaked photos of the major cast from the upcoming Ghost in the Shell live action movie. I was not entirely kind and in many ways, it’s a regretful post that I might consider sweeping under the rug if it weren’t for the fact that I’m sure someone read it and might call me out on its conspicuous absence in light of this post.
I’m never one to proactively shit on entertainment; it’s entertainment. It’s supposed to be consumed for enjoyment, but the Internet’s crass feedback loops often times run on self-satisfaction of being thought of as a “critical thinker”, which is why we have shot by shot breakdowns of advertising materials and why people mistake “complaints” and cynicism for “critical analysis”. I prefer to enjoy my entertainment in the spirit in which it was offered, and not enter into negotiations with such things as if I’m owed everything in the catalog of my wildest dreams. Naturally, that’s going to be really difficult when we start talking about something like Ghost in the Shell, which is without a doubt my Star Wars, my Firefly, and my favorite fiction possibly of all time. When the cast pictures were leaked — stills, and not very good ones — I had no context except the catalog of the series with which I was familiar and found the materials lacking. Lacking what? Lacking the exactitude of established art; drawn art, sure, but the drawn art was GitS, right? I jumped the gun and assumed what I saw was everything I would see, and made some knee-jerk decisions.
As of this writing, I have watched the above trailer three times. I will watch it several more times, because while I might prefer not to throw entertainment under the bus, I won’t sit still when I see something that excites me. This trailer has moved me well beyond excitement, and here’s why:
Like I said, the stills of the cast, in poor lighting, on grainy film scanned or photographed and published online, didn’t “do it” for me because there was nothing that lent itself to reality. There was no motion or conversation. They were just people standing awkwardly for some kind of photoshoot in the real world, dressed up as characters.
The trailer gives us context. We see Scarlett Johansson move and fight as speak in character. We see Pilou Asbæk as Batou with his cybernetics (and briefly without). We get an out-of-context glimpse of Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki. These are now the characters inhabiting the world of Ghost in the Shell, which is really the only way we can fully judge the final result.
Above all else, the tone of the trailer is what nailed it for me. It’s also the most difficult thing to describe. If you’re not familiar with GitS, then talk about the “feel” of the trailer isn’t going to mean anything to you; it’ll just be a bunch of weird scenes of some Blade Runner like ripoff, Johansson in an almost-naked bodysuit, and people shooting other people behind a slow-mo revision of a Depeche Mode song from the 80’s.
The GitS movie (the original) is about a future in which cybernetics have become commonplace and almost necessary in order to keep up with society. It’s about a government police force applied to special situations like terrorism and kidnapping. It was about a high-tech future that was just a little beyond our current and relatively low-tech present, such that the two can exist side by side without someone bringing up the dichotomy in a “gee whiz” fashion every ten minutes. There was a lot of shooting, a lot of explosions, and a lot of action.
But it wasn’t an action movie. It was a philosophical movie. It seems trite in text, but it dealt with the concepts of humanity in a world dependent on technology, especially when the dependence revolves around the idea of consciousness — the “ghost” — inhabiting a technological construct — the “shell” — and without the traditionally human biology, is a consciousness actually a living thing. The anime movie favored the philosophy when it came to the presentation, the cinematography, and the soundtrack. It plays more like an arthouse film than a traditionally Western action movie with all of its explosions, soaring orchestra, and witty one-liners. The movie is designed to haunt viewers visually, audibly, and mentally.
Although the trailer isn’t a full-length movie, the trailer gave me the same impressions. A scene doesn’t have to make sense at the time. It doesn’t need to beat us over the head with symbolism. Symbolism can be made clear in context, but directors often overdo it on the context because a lot of audiences can’t be assumed to “get” subtlety. GitS has always presented the plot almost entirely from the point of view of the character’s reality without dropping hints here and there about what X means or how Y is relevant to the plot. These characters inhabit a world unlike our own, and they don’t have time to wink and nod and explain how it’s different. They’ll leave that to you to suss out as you go, and if you don’t get it all the first time, watch it again. And again. And again. When you finally put the pieces together, the only thing you can do is sit back and think, “damn”.
The trailer did leave a few questions, though. For example, the sum of the scenes in the movie suggest that this is not a re-telling of the original animated movie. There’re several scenes in the trailer which are obviously from the animated movie — the Major’s swan-dive from the building, her brutal thermoplastic camouflaged uppercut to the thug in the slums, her and Batou on a boat — but there are also scenes which appear to be very similar to scenes from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (GitS: SAC) and the GitS: SAC Second Gig series, such as the tea-room of dignitaries and robotic geisha assassins.
The one thing that the trailer implies, but which neither the movie nor the series ever really focused on, was the actual origin story of Major Kusinagi. I think this is one of the IP’s strengths, and I’d be saddened a little if the movie turned out to be mostly an origin story for a single character, mainly because we’re neck-deep in origin stories (thanks, Marvel!), and GitS has always been about more cerebral topics than one person’s inner monologue about where they came from. Plus, the Major’s origins have always been one of the best ongoing mysteries of the franchise. I wouldn’t want to see it answered in 90 minutes when several dozen hours over the course of almost 20 years haven’t bothered to bring that story to the fore. If they were to wipe away that mystery, then any subsequent films (assuming there are any being considered) would be poorer for it.
After posting, I did a little walkabout and collected some additional information from around the web (actually from the fact that GitS is trending on Facebook) and have a few other things I want to add to this post.
First, there’s this:
This is a press recorded screengrab of a video presentation made during a concert featuring the title music from the original anime. The video itself is a live-action/CGI rendition of the intro to the anime. If you compare this to the official trailer, you see the same shot where the synthetic shell flies apart from the Major’s newly formed cybernetic body, leading us to believe that this sequence will actually be in the movie.
Yahoo was kind enough to enumerate “What is Ghost in the Shell? 47 things we learned from set“. I won’t rehash all 47, except to say that the article confirms that this is not a remake of the anime movie, but combines scenes from the movie and the Stand Alone Complex series…specifically 2nd Gig. The main antagonist of the new movie is ID’d as Kuze, who was the antagonist from that season of the series. 2nd Gig focused on a refugee crisis and the terrorist organization the Individual Eleven, so it looks like the movie might be following that storyline very closely.
In addition, 2nd Gig was the series that came closest to providing the Major with a backstory in the episode Kusingai’s Labyrinth.
The party opted to spend the night in the forest. They had just witnessed someone — suspected to be Galin the village warden — awaiting a rendezvous with what could possibly be a dragon, only to leave disappointed when no one showed up. Hedging their bets that a meeting might still happen, the party split into two groups and camped in the dark recesses of the massive trees of the Misty Forest.
Daybreak. No unusual activity that night, except for the incessant hooting of an owl somewhere in the boughs of the trees. Making their way back into the village, the party took Galin aside and violently confronted him about his nocturnal activities. Despite trying to keep a low profile away from the preparing throng of villagers, Galin’s bird Kalthan became agitated and drew the attention of those nearby. Galin refused to admit to any wrongdoing until the ranger made mention of his wife, whom the warden had seen killed right before him during the cult raid. He then told of how he begged the dragon-rider for his life in that moment of weakness, promising anything to be spared. The rider tasked Galin with providing information on other villages, and then the cult departed as quickly and mysteriously as it had arrived. The warlock of the party seemed intent on ensuring that Galin suffered for his betrayal, but Galin gave them one more bit of information: Kalthan had been enchanted by the rider to carry a message between them whenever Galin wanted to meet. He didn’t know where the raven went when he flew, but he always flew towards the southeast.
As the villagers departed their ruined home, the party set out to the southeast, accompanied by the raven. Galin gave them the code word that would send him off, in case they needed the assurance that they were headed in the right direction.
After a few hours in the woods, the party heard a sudden crack and a call for help. They found an elven elder who had become pinned beneath a massive tree-trunk, and was calling for the party to assisst her. As the group got into position to heft the trunk, the tree moved on its own, freeing the elf who stood up and brushed herself off. She thanked the party and congratualted them on being kind souls, and offered them each a garland of flowers. Everyone took one, except for the warlock, but the woman didn’t push the issue before she transformed into an owl and flew off into the woods. The ranger cast Detect Magic on the wreaths and found that they contained a blessing of bravery.
At dusk, the warlock stumbled through the woods and suddenly felt something on his face. Upon investigation, he could find nothing there to remove. Then the same thing happened to the ranger, and then to other members of the party. Calling for an immediate halt, the ranger lit a torch and raised it high. As he did so, small tendrils of fire curled away from the flame as if something was set alight. Spiderwebs.
The warlock pulled no punches, and launched a fireball into the forest canopy. The flaming missile seared through a thick net of webbing, and the sounds of canopy inhabitants could be heard from all around. The party quickly found themselves surrounded by several giant spiders and their ettercap keepers, although the forest creatures weren’t much of a match for the group in the end.
+ + +
This was an interesting session. The party seemed to have a whole lot of options in front of them. Originally they wanted to stay in the woods to see if the dragon would show up, then they wanted to use the raven to summon the dragon to the meeting spot where it could be ambushed, but in the end, they opted to track the dragon to its lair — hopefully — using the raven as a compass.
I think it’s fairly obvious how the module plays out, since the party ran into the druid, and that the encounter with the spiders was on deck and waiting for the players as they march through the forest. Of course, (META-ALERT!) using the raven to lure the dragon and its rider to the forest clearing would have worked…it would have possibly shortened the chapter significantly, but where’s the fun in that.
The Family was down at Lowes this weekend because we’re finally getting around to using the spare room upstairs, and by “using the spare room” I mean “remembering it exists and we really should clean it out and paint it and use it for something other than a random item graveyard.” The use in question: crafting room. My daughter is slowly (oh so slowly) getting her feet wet with cosplay and is looking for a permanent place for the sewing machine. My wife has a bunch of random craft things — jewelry making, Cricut paper cutting, et al. — which is ensconced in the basement, but I’m in the basement trying to realize my vision of turning it into a home theater, and last time I looked there was no “crafting nook” at the local cineplex. So the crafting stuff is going upstairs, once the spare room has been cleaned and painted. Hence the trip to Lowes; for paint.
While there, I snuck over to the lightbulb section because its time to come clean: I’m newly obsessed with LED bulbs. Now that they’ve come down in price I can seriously start looking at them. We have two outside the front door, and they burn like the noonday sun. I like it, but I think the neighbors object. Anyway, while ogling the bulbs, I noticed something called the OSRAM Lightify Smart Home RGBW Lighting Strips.
We’ve had a problem since we moved into this house: we’re the second owners, and the first owners who had it built cheaped out on pretty much everything. The owner fancied himself a handyman, and he finished the basement himself, added a three season porch on top of the raised porch (without drywalling, adding electrical, or staining the porch first), and started a fourth basement in the basement before they had to beat cheeks and find another home for some reason. Much to our chagrin, the kitchen has some really crappy lighting, especially around the counter area. The best case scenario would be to get some cannister lights installed in the ceiling, but I value my life and wouldn’t dare try such a feat myself, and we’re not financially flush enough to hire someone to do it. Seeing this lighting strip, however, ticked two boxes for me. One, they would work great under the cabinets and over the counter, and two…home automation!
See, back in our previous house, I wired the place up with X10 gear. And I mean wired: I replaced the light switches and power sockets with addressable X10 switches and power sockets, and I ran a server in the basement that I could access remotely (this was before smartphones, so be more impressed). This was great because I could turn the outside lights on if we’d forgotten to do so and weren’t home at night, and could turn the Christmas tree on and off before getting out of or after getting into bed. I felt like a god with the power over electricity in my house, although this was the era of X10 which, if you were alive and Internet-enabled back then, you remember as being some of the first and most prevalent ads ever to rock a popover browser window. The remote control was a square box with a lot of ungainly buttons, but it worked, and after many years without it in this house, I missed it.
The RGBW lights worked like a champ. They’re nice and bright, and a single strip is long enough to cover one stretch of the counter where we do the most work. There was a problem, though: the set we bought wasn’t enough to use the “home automation” aspect of the
toy tool. For that, we needed another piece of gear, the Hub.
This afternoon I snagged the hub-and-bulb kit because it was only $10 more than the hub alone, and a single bulb was actually $14. I raced home and plugged the hub into a wall socket — any wall socket — and downloaded the smartphone app to get the party started.
This would actually turn out to be a party thrown by someone who’d never seen a party. First, the app wanted me to scan the QR code on the back of the hub because that registered the serial number of the device. Then I had to make an account. I got an error, but the account went through. I had to switch my phone’s network to the private network of the hub, and then use my phone as a handshake between the hub and my home network (“hub, this is network, network, this is hub”). This took a few tries because I have a wifi extender that I have apparently forgotten the password for, and then the hub and the network wouldn’t talk once I got the right wifi SSID set up. I called the app some bad names, and it decided to cooperate, so chalk one up for foul language.
Next, before I could start lighting things up (literally), I had to upgrade the firmware on both the hub and the light strip. The strip itself has a small wifi receiver, but it’s invisible to everything except the official Lightify hub, and the hub said everyone needed some new clothes. Another nightmare involving a phone reboot, more harsh language, and some time spent on the Xbox later, I managed to get everything registered and ready to go.
Where did this go, exactly, you might ask. Well, the light strip doesn’t have a switch. That’s OK because the point of this system is that it’s entirely modular. They sell switches that you can stick anywhere, so I could get a dedicated switch and put it next to the stove, for example, and control these lights. Right now, though, I can only turn the lights on and off from the smartphone. Not ideal, but not a deal breaker either. Although it’s not really useful for the kitchen, this lighting strip can modulate it’s color through the app. There’re several different built-in lighting schemes I can apply automatically, which got me thinking…but I’ll cover that later. The strip is dimmable, and when I turn it off it doesn’t just snap off; it dims itself to darkness. Pretty sexy! I can also set schedules, so I set the counter light to turn on at 5PM and turn off at 10PM, just in case we need it. It’s a small-watt user, so I don’t anticipate it being a massive energy hog.
The bulb ended up in a lamp in the basement, because why not? This also needed a firmware update, but is only dimmable and does not change color, although there are bulbs in this series that do.
Overall, I give the idea an A+. The construction of the equipment also gets an A+. The software on the smartphone gets a resounding D because it’s a piece of crap. The fact that I got it working at all saved it from an F-. The good news is that these satellite items aren’t proprietary, and there are other “hubs” that I could get that would work just as well, and even better if the apps to control them are better.
So, thinking about it at work today, I realized that now that I have this hammer of home automation lighting, everything in the house looks like a nail. I have Big Plans to work in the home theater area in the basement, and these strip lights are the perfect low-light, walkway style runner lights you see in more professional theaters. That they dim is a massive plus, as we can “dim the house lights” before the movies start. If I were into overkill, I could get the RGBW bulbs and put them around the house and when we have, say, a Christmas party, I could change things up to red and green and probably destroy retinas as a result. Maybe not such a good idea. But I could!