When Is A Cultist Not A Cultist?

In the aftermath of the cultist attack in the back alleys of Waterdeep, the party had concerns about the one cultist who got away. He had been shooting fireballs from a balcony, but quickly ducked into the building and was never seen again after that.

The party broke into the building which had housed this enemy and found a dusty old apothecary’s shop. A set of recent footprints lead through the building and out the door, but the only other sign they could find was  discarded purple robe outside the shop.

Searching the bodies of the other cultists revealed something interesting: none of the corpses had anything about them that verified their cult membership. They had the purple robes, but they were of theatrical quality — unadorned, plain, and flimsy. What the party did discover, however, was that each of the bodies was sporting a small, pinky-nail sized tattoo on their neck at the hairline: a series of small and crude daggers.

Unsure of the meaning of the situation, the party convinced (financially convinced) a cart owner to help them bring the corpses back to the council house where their Harper ally Leosin met them and heard their tale. He had the bodies brought to the manor house’s cold storage room for later investigation. A chance meeting with the representative from Silverymoon, Taern Hornblade, validated the party’s concerns that this encounter might not have been random, but it didn’t seem to be cult-related either.

There wasn’t a lot of time to investigate further because the party had a meeting with Brawnanvil to discuss Elia’s request regarding her ancestor. He listened to the party, and although he knew about the dragon-skin armor, he couldn’t deliver it to them: he didn’t know where the owner had gone.

Brawnanvil seemed like a dwarf at the end of his rope. The party’s request didn’t seem to phase him — not like the 1/3 of the treasure horde promised to the dragons — but he was obviously feeling the weight of something. He told the party that Mithril Hall was his main concern and that his responsibilities to his kingdom clashed with his responsibilities as their representative. The Hall’s population was dwindling, which made committing an army to this united cause amounted to suicide for his people. He was torn between his duty to the Council and protecting what remained of his kingdom.

In the end, the party met Brawnanvil half-way. There was no way he would apologize to Elia for the entirety of dwarven history regarding the dragon moots; it was not his place, nor was he particularly sorry about it in any way. But the party’s argument that the dragon’s cooperation meant that maybe Mithril Hall didn’t have to be a front-line force, and that providing to the dragons what was negotiated would be a way to ensure that. Brawnanvil agreed to meet with Elia, in private, to issue a personal apology for what happened to her kin, which was all he was able to do.

+   +   +

I had prepared more content for this week than we actually got to. I didn’t plan on the players spending as much time trying to track down the cultist as they did, which turned out to be one of those classical DM conundrums: go with the flow, or branch out.

In a fit of confusion, I opted to branch out, which may come back to bite me in the ass later on. Still, I’m pleased that I had a sudden epiphany, even though it came to me as I was trying to avoid giving the players too easy an out later on down the line. Theoretically — and this is meta-gaming talk, Adventure Co members — this thread could lead to an interesting side module if we didn’t have a pesky dragon cult invasion that required the bulk of our attention.

Speaking of which, we narrowly avoided ditching the cult invasion in favor of a trip to the old dwarven city of Gauntlgrym. See, Brawnanvil knew of the dwarf who killed Elia’s kin, but he knows him because he left Mithril Hall with Bruenor, the fabled not-quite-so-dead-anymore king who took an expedition to the abandoned city long, long ago. If there wasn’t more pressing content to get through, the party could have easily gone on another side mission to see if they couldn’t find this guy. The problem is Gauntlgrym isn’t just a dwarven city; it’s the D&D equivalent to the Mines of Moria, and also a gateway to the Underdark — and all that entails. A trip down there would be a whole campaign in itself, and while there’s a certain level of excitement about that, now is not the time.

Still, I think we got a lot done. There was a lot of discovery, and everyone seemed really focused on the tasks at hand.

Blackstar Logistic Unlimited is Hiring


I am happy to announce the incorporation of Blackstar Logistics Unlimited, a Star Citizen organization.

Who We Are

Well, right now? Me and one other guy. We’ll get another guy once he gets around to getting around to joining.

A few years ago, a group of my friends and I actually sat down and agreed on an MMO to play. You have no idea how monumental this was. We have several folks who are veteran MMOers, some who have turned to other games, and some who were never really into MMOs at all. We somehow gathered everyone together — six of us in all — and started playing…EVE Online?

Yes, we picked probably the best worst MMO out of all of the options available. The learning curve is a 25-degree angle. The community is several bridges short of a roof over their heads, and its reputation as a spreadsheet in space seems anathema to this group which usually favored shooters.

But we had a Good Time, until of course, some ass-hats ruined it for us at almost every turn. I think there’s still some vestige of interest there among several of the original members, however, because no one we’ve talked to about Star Citizen has actually and unequivocally said no

What We Do

Sandbox space sims seem to bring out the crazies. EVE‘s the template, but Elite Dangerous has them as well. These people’s main avenue of enjoyment is making sure other people don’t get any enjoyment because these trolls are sad and pathetic shells that never received the warm spark of humanity.

In light of that, I wanted our group to focus on doing Good Things for Other Players. I was inspired by the EVE University corporation in EVE Online, and by the Fuel Rats in Elite Dangerous. The former accepts new players into their ranks in order to teach them the ropes, and the later rescues stranded pilots who have jumped far beyond their fuel range.

Blackstar’s IC mandate is to provide resources for other players. Yes, that means we mine, salvage, and sell the items to other players, but we also hope to rent out ourselves and our ships for transporting cargo. Trading and transporting are going to be massive in Star Citizen, where cargo is actual physical objects and not just line-items in the tabular view of a UI window. You’ll need to load and unload crates from ships if you want to move items, which makes having a ship with a lot of cargo space an important asset.


I know what you’re thinking: that’s a set up for a real shit-show, right? Who’s going to trust anyone to trust anyone to move their property around in a sandbox environment? Either people will think we’ll steal their stuff, or we’ll get jumped, ourselves shot, our ships hijacked, and a whole lot of harassing messages in our inbox to the tune of “Nah nah nah pttttthhhh”.

Well, I’m a firm believer that “the world is what you make it”, so with what I hope will be careful vetting, we’ll try our hand at the Rent-A-Transport business.

Of course, we’ll also do other things that become available in the game, but the idea is that we’ll be doing them as a group.

How We Do It

The thing is, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, however, is that we need more people in order to be able to do it.

This is uncharted territory for me: being a group leader. I’ve never had much luck at joining other people’s groups, and while I’ve been honest (I think) about my own shortcomings that contribute to this fact — like my reluctance to insert myself into other people’s cliques — I’ve also believed that a lot of “like a family” groups out there fall far short of the mark themselves by not making recruitment an ongoing effort part of their behavior. I’ve always believed that if a new member seems to be hanging back, then the group that claims to be “like a family” should be reaching out to see what they can do to help…few if any ever do. Recruitment doesn’t stop at writing up a post and accepting someone into the group. It’s an ongoing process that ensures that every member feels like a member and not someone who’s struggling among strangers.

So I now get to put my money where my mouth is, and that’s a bit terrifying because my part in not having fit into an existing group — my introverted side — is going to get thrown right out the window. As the organizer of this…organization…it’s my role to ensure that the Manifesto is adhered to by all members, and not just by the one who wrote it (read: me). It’s the culture we’re trying to sell to potential members, and if they show up because they like the advertisement, we owe it to them to live up to their expectations, even when that means we have to bend over backward to accommodate them

(Sadly, our system ID is “BLUD”. I had originally designed it to be BLU, but that was taken. I could have gone with BSLU, but I didn’t think of that until it was too late to change it).

CitizenCon 2016

I haven’t watched the Star Citizen fan-fest CitizenCon videos in their entirety, but I did catch the bulk of Chris Robert’s post-event keynote (is it a keynote if it happens at the end of the event? Postscript? I don’t know). This was really the “meat and potatoes” portion of the whole thing, I suspect, because it focused mainly on two elements: the roadmap for 3.6 – 4.0 of the alpha, and a brand new video showcasing actual gameplay from space to ground.


Star Citizen’s 2.5 release was a Big Deal since it introduced a more comprehensive experience for the “shared universe”. Arena Commander and Star Marine — the starship and FPS dueling simulators, respectively — had been running for a while, but path 2.5 brought in an expanded Port Olisar, more ships to fly, more places to fly them to, and more reasons to fly. Although the rewards don’t remain in perpetuity, you can take missions in 2.5 and get yourself some cash from repairing downed communication satellites, blowing up wanted criminals, and collecting information from a derelict station. 2.5 was the first time I actually, really gave the game a shot, and it’s the update that finally hooked me. Although the game still has a ways to go (especially in terms of optimization), this little active slice showed me that the long wait was worthwhile, and any further delay isn’t a delay, but honest to goodness work being done to make good on as many promises a possible.

2.6 is going to bring more improvements to Star Marine, including two new maps featuring two squad sets. I’ve never looked into Star Marine, although I probably should at this point. Star Citizen isn’t just a space-sim; it’s an end-to-end universal experience that will allow you — and probably in some cases require you — to get in a ship, fly and land on some remote planet or station, and explore on foot. You’re going to need to shoot NPCs and other players as a matter of course, so any head-start will certainly be worthwhile.

3.0 was showcased in the Gamescom presentation, but the specifics were laid out at CitizenCon: trading, cargo transport, piracy and smuggling, mercenary activities, and bounty hunting. Admittedly, I’m not super keen on the last few, but trading and cargo transport are massive. RSI’s “Around the Verse” 3.5 video talks about the cargo system in development, and it’s more than just an inventory screen, as you might hope from a game featuring ships with massive cargo holds. Check out this segment on cargo:

3.1 is going to bring mining and refining to the game, allowing players to go out to retrieve raw materials, and turn them into usable resources. It also will include refueling (in space, I assume, since you can refuel and re-arm in the game already) and escort missions. It will also include quantum interdiction, which is basically the act of pulling someone out of warp travel, mostly for the purposes of blowing them up or stealing from them.

3.2 is an interesting update: repair and salvage. Salvaging is something that always sounds great on paper, but ends up being rather lame in practice. In order to have a real salvaging system, a game needs to either allow players to salvage from other players, or to have an almost impossible amount of NPC wreckage lying about in orbit or on planets in high enough quantities that makes it worthwhile for players to believe they have a chance at finding something. In the end “salvaging” might just mean “collect stuff from ships you blow up”, but I’m hoping that it’s much, much more than that, but since we’ll have the cargo system in place, I’m hoping that the idea is that you’ll need to essentially move goods from the point of salvage to your own ship, a time consuming and potentially dangerous process.

3.3 threw me for a loop, because it mentioned farming. Star Citizen is a game of interstellar flight and fight, and I had never heard of farming in the SC context. I guess that it makes sense, in some ways, as a kind of crafting system to make resources for sale, but it seems like a pretty stark contrast to the rest of the game. Also in this update is a rescue system, which sounds like it’ll allow players to “jump start” other ships (refueling was already mentioned, so I assume this is for situations far more dire than just running out of gas).

And in the far distance, 4.0 which will allow for travel outside of the Stanton system. It will also bring with it exploration and discovery, as well as science and research to give you something to do with the refined materials and crops we’ve been no doubt collecting all this time. There was no mention of anything beyond 4.0, although I doubt 4.0 signals the “end” of development. And, of course, no timelines were mentioned. I suspect that based on the progress they seem to be making these days, 4.0 might be aiming for the end of 2017 or the first quarter of 2018, but that’s nothing more than my uneducated speculation.

Each update also brings with it new ships and vehicles, whether they’re variants on existing ships, or concept ships making their debut. Most of the ships that seem to be in the pipeline are the larger or more specialized ships, so it’ll be quite exciting to see these “exotic” vehicles making their way into the game.

From Space to Wreckage

Thankfully, RSI didn’t let us down and leave without a new video. I’ll embed it here, and I urge you to watch it before you continue reading, and hopefully you’ll better understand my enthusiasm.

I was simulcasting this with a friend, who rightfully noticed that the into looked suspiciously pre-rendered, and I agree. There’s a nice orchestral bit, not a hell of a lot going on, and then some sudden transition to a Constellation-class Aquila that makes the whole thing look like it was made before the presentation. However, the segment right before this one (if you scrub back) talks all about their artist-driven procedurally generated worlds and how they used their tools to build worlds like the one in the video above, so while the planet was no doubt prepared ahead of time, we shouldn’t argue about the semantics of the word “procedurally”, since most people get it wrong anyway.

For those who can’t spare the bandwidth to watch the video — although you should at some point, to get the Full Impact — the video starts off in the Connie, tracking down a distress beacon. The player at the controls finds a place to land and then brings out the Ursa, a six-wheeled ATV that’s the hallmark of the Aquila. On the way to the beacon, the player is attacked by — let’s be honest — sandpeople who have set an ambush point that destroys the Ursa. The player takes out the nomads and finds that the beacon was meant to draw in unsuspecting victims, but it’s still a real beacon that leads to additional beacons. The player steals one of the nomad’s Dragonflies which are — let’s be honest — speederbikes that can be obtained in the game, and heads off to the next beacon. This one leads the player to the crash of a Javelin-class destroyer which is crawling with more nomads. This scenario is particularly noteworthy for three main reasons: first, the skeleton of the ship is a real ship and not just a specially constructed placeable. If you strip a Javelin model of its armor plating, what you’d get is what’s lying in the sand (this was covered in another “Around the Verse” videos). Second, we get to see the scale of the Javelin compared to the nomads who are patrolling it. Third and most spectacularly, the sandstorm in back (seen in the YouTube still) is real.

The player takes out a few nomads using a sniper rifle, a stealth takedown with a knife, and a sidearm. After weathering the storm that passes overhead, he tries to find a way out of the wreckage, but notices several more nomads approaching on their Dragonflies…but that’s not the worst of it, so I encourage you to watch the video if you haven’t already.

Games I’d Really Like To Play

Usually, not playing a game falls into a pretty logical bucket, such as “I don’t own it and can’t afford to buy it right now” or “it’s on a platform I don’t own” or “I was savaged by wolves and am in a full body cast”. Very rarely does the excuse “my own dumb self is getting in the way” come up, but it’s not totally off the table as a reason.

Sometimes I stare off into space (usually when I should be doing something more constructive) and think of the cool games I’d really like to play, but don’t, and why not. Here’s a few!

Mechwarrior Online

This one comes up a lot because I love Battletech a lot. I played the original tabletop game, the games PC, the games on consoles, and then there was nothing until MWO (the ill-fated web-based Battletech adaptation notwithstanding), so you’d think I’d be all over whatever I could get until the official Battletech tactical game drops sometime…next year?

Nah, mainly because of that pesky Other People thing. MWO is like EVE Online in the sense that the mechanics favor those who really dig into the guts of building out your death-machine. That tends to lead to “good” and “bad” builds, or at least “very specific and powerful builds” and “did you really just take something off the shelf?” builds. People really like to rely on what works are aren’t super-tolerant of experimental or “learning curve” game play, and I’m just not good enough to qualify for people’s nice list in games like these.

Civilization Anything

Civ is well respected, but I’ve never really gotten into them. My initial turns are usually spent passing as I wait for things to get built and explorers to explore. Of course, being a strategy game, I have a deep interest in games like Civ that are positioned for mass-market appeal while still retaining the hardcore investment. Problem is, I don’t have the time to invest these days, so several consecutive turns of doing little but hitting the spacebar makes me question my sanity.


When Skyforge launched, it clicked with me for some reason. It was an action RPG, which I don’t usually go for, but I liked it so much I decided to get their premium pass…and thus began my descent into hell.

I somehow ended up with two accounts, and my progress was on the account which didn’t purchase the premium pass. I tried to get their customer service to switch it, but there were long drawn out bouts of silence followed by vague questions and vaguer responses. After about a month — during which time my premium benefits were rolling — things were finally ironed out, but I had little interest in spending money with My.com.

Still, I went back to play just a few months ago, and had as much fun as I’d ever had. Skyforge is a game I’d really like to play, but I’m not sure if their CS problems were launch-time woes or systemic and ongoing. Meanwhile, I just reinstalled. I ended up with eight 14-day premium passes and one 3 day pass, so I can take advantage of the loot boost when I think I’ll actually have time to devote to it.

Black Desert Online

Man, I was gung-ho for this one, if you remember. I spent the time researching the mechanics, and writing  up what I’d hoped would be well received guides (despite the fact that others with more resources and better discipline were writing better guides, faster). I got — and still get — many hits on those posts, but as time wore on, the allure of BDO kind of faded when I felt I’d milked what I could from the resources I had, and needed to strike out to get more in order to expand.

That’s the name of the game, but not how I’d gotten into the swing of playing. I really loved BDO’s complexity and first-world non-combat gameplay, but when I had to go back to normal questing, I lost interest.

Any MMO, Really

MMOs will always be near and dear to my heart, and most games listed here are “_MO” anyway. Many people look at MMOs as having very narrow gameplay requirements — you need to min/max, internalize the mechanics, gear up, raid, and most of all, play with other people. Fact is, I’ve always loved MMOs for their always-on, persistent nature, that things keep on keeping on while you’re sleeping. The world doesn’t always change, but you know there’s activity going on. The need for carrots for retention also keep the game expanding for years, well beyond what we can expect from any single player game. There’s always the possibility of making a home in an MMO…if you’ve got the support network.

That’s been my critical failure in the MMO realm, and why my love of the genre is also a hate-relationship. My gaming friends and I are all pretty much alike in that we’re creatures of experience who value a lot of broad opportunities over a specific and narrow ecosystem. We are ships that pass in the night, playing different games at different times, or even if we’re playing the same game at the same time, contrived barriers keep us apart — servers, factions, time-zones, previous commitments, and so on. Playing with people has never been my forte, and I seem to have fallen in with a specific crowd for whom commitment to game and group is on the same level as mine. I’m not the type to butt into someone’s established group, and few groups seem as welcoming to new folks as their recruitment pamphlets would lead us to believe.

No matter what the game, though, I’ll keep trying to find the time, the push, or the reason to maybe give it one more shot. Things change, people change — including me and what I’m able to deal with.

Hot Interstellar Commerce Action

Because Star Citizen is moving along slowly, I’ve gone back to Elite Dangerous to get my space simulation quota filled.

So far, I’ve only been taking missions for item transfer. The mission board offers all kinds of wonderful work, but my focus has been on the “here’s some items we want delivered to another station in another system” kind of jobs for a few reasons. First and foremost, they’re easy. I just have to accept the mission. Second, there’s no additional work on my part because the items that need to be moved are placed in my cargo hold. With a Lakon Type-6, I have 100 “units” I can take, which means I can usually take more than one mission — assuming they’re all in the same area. Third, there is a penalty for not completing the mission, but it’s relatively small: usually a few thousand credits. The only risk to not completing the mission (since the time is usually exorbitant, like 24 hours real time) is getting blown up.

My current most profitable routes start in Kamocan, at Littrow Gateway, which is my de facto home base because it’s where my ships are parked. I’m eagerly awaiting the next update where we can get our ships delivered to other stations, because as much as Littrow Gateway is nice, I’m kind of in the armpit of the galaxy and might like to move somewhere closer to the action. The latest round of missions have me transporting items to Shou Gu Wu (my bad, not the actual system name, but it’s something like that), which is two jumps away with a full cargo hold, one jump if I’ve only got limited goods to move. The thing I’ve noticed, though, is that I’m almost guaranteed to have one mission change objectives on me mid-stream. This means that the destination of at least one set of items is going to require me to either bring them somewhere new, move them to their location faster, or in a bizarre twist, explode a named NPC. That last one usually means said NPC is going to come after me, which is a problem considering I don’t have any weapons on my ship in order to conserve mass and power. That means I have to submit to interdiction in order to get my frame-shift drive recharged faster, continuously hammer the afterburners, and bob and weave using my thrusters until I can activate the FSD. So far I’ve gotten blown up once, but since then I’ve upgraded my thrusters to make me faster, and fixed my controls so I can actually use afterburners.

I’m thinking of moving closer to the Pleiades, because that seems to be where the bulk of alien encounters are happening. Right now (as of this writing), there’s a community goal in Maia that I wouldn’t be able to reach in time, but considering that this region seems to be the epicenter of whatever is going to go down once the aliens make an actual appearance, it might be worthwhile to get out there and get a front row seat for the carnage. But Maia and other systems are quite a ways away from where I am now, which means I’d need to dedicate a lot of time to getting out there, and it would only be worth it if I could get my other ship out there as well.