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The Vine Dragon Cometh

The Vine Dragon Cometh

finally got back to Guild Wars 2 this weekend, driven by a desire to complete my Living Story ahead of the release of Heart of Thorns. Since GW2 is one of my capped games, I feel a need to keep up with it*, especially since the expansion will be building upon the situations presented in this second season (and the first, I suppose, but I skipped that out of apathy and confusion).

I managed to plow through three of the five remaining episodes, leaving only two to complete. I have to say, they’ve proven to be a pretty good challenge, and I spent a good chunk of time screaming at the monitor. I ended yesterday tracking down the Master of Peace, and was frustrated by the mechanics in that area. But I’m also impressed with the designs that I’ve encountered. There have been a few puzzle-battles in these episodes, and they’ve had some interesting solutions. I could have easily have looked them up on the web and saved myself some grief, but of course that consider that cheating, both in the lazy sense, and in the experience sense: I feel better about learning them through trial and error than I ever could had I simply steamrolled them like minor annoyances.

Speaking of minor annoyances, I also spent a good amount of time clearing out my bank space while on layover in Divinity’s Reach. Specifically, my crafting materials. On Saturday, I thought I’d actually make a go of working on my crafting, only to find that I couldn’t make a damn thing because A) I lacked materials, and B) my skills weren’t high enough.

Crafting in GW2 is one of the worst systems I’ve seen; worse even than the push-button travesty that passes for trade skilling in other MMOs. I’m normally interested in crafting, but the gathering mechanics plain old suck. If the sum of a zone’s quests are considered “grinding”, then collecting materials through “click and animate” repetition is certainly a new circle of hell. While I can philosophically appreciate GW2‘s attempt to provide advancement though experimentation when crafting, having to craft crap just to consume crap seems to double the amount of time it takes to progress, at the expense of doubling the resources. Regardless, it’s far too tedious for me, especially when I know I could be doing something else that’s at least mildly interesting. Maybe once I complete the living story, I’ll go back to the lower level areas and farm materials. More than likely I’ll just buy stuff from the AH, considering I sold most of my high level materials for more gold than I can use at this point.

 

* In writing that sentence, I thought that it was a bit weird. I’ve got capped characters now in GW2Star Trek Online, and World of Warcraft, but GW2 is the only one I feel compelled to play because of it. I think it’s because my GW2 cap was earned, whereas with STO I was able to level through the offline duty officer system, and WoW came about thanks to the boost-to-90 that came with Warlords of Draenor. I don’t value those capped characters any less, per se, but I also don’t feel that I’ve gotten to know them as well as I know my GW2 character, who’s been through the entire story — dungeons included.

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Stag Party; Cult of Personality

Stag Party; Cult of Personality

Stag Party

After last week’s encounter with a rampaging horde of….mushrooms…the party and it’s caravan moved northward on their way to Waterdeep.

They must have hit a time-pothole because the days just flew by, and before they knew it, a tenday had passed without incident. But since this is a game and not a calendar simulator, that meant something had to go down this session.

Thankfully, it wasn’t anything too bizarre. Just a herd of deer on a nearby hill. But because it’s a fantasy game and not, like, Monopoly, there had to be something weird about this herd: a single, majestic stag with a pelt like gold, and antlers like shiny, tax-bracket-busting platinum. This glorious beast caused the caravan to grind to a halt as everyone had to rubberneck, but several members of the column decided that driving rickety carts up and down the coast in shitty conditions was, well, shit, when they could retire in a castle purchased through the sale of that sweet, sweet deerskin.

Several of the other caravan members, however, warned these would-be Schwarzeneggers that such a creature was not for humans to possess. Surely this was a creature of legend, possibly the house pet of a powerful god or goddess, and you know how they can get when you piss them off. And if you didn’t know how they could get, killing their favored animal would be one way to find out. This seemed to make sense for most of the hunters, but there are always those few assholes who just can’t see past the dollar-signs floating in front of their eyes, and so three of them ignored the pleas and set off towards the hill.

The party seemed a bit torn. At first, they were unconcerned, siding with the sandwich-board-wearing crowd that this kind of animal was not one to be trifled with, and those hunters would certainly get what they deserved. But in the interest of stopping those jerks from bringing celestial ruin to their caravan, sprinkled with a sense that “if this is happening, then the DM probably wants us to do something with it”, they opted to tail the hunters into the forest to see if they couldn’t throw them off the trail of the stag.

Turns out “caravan member” doesn’t come with a Mensa membership, because the hunters quickly lost track of the stag, and the three of them thought it wise to split up to cover more ground. Not wanting to split the party, Our Heroes started their own sleuthing using their Wisdom (Survival) skills to track the creature through the thick woods. After getting lost just one time (man, we really need to start with the dice shaming, because the elven tracker rolled a 1 at this point), the trail lead the party to an ivy-covered ruin in the middle of the woods.

With the shafts of sunlight falling down through the trees, leaves swaying gently in the wind overhead, the players ID’d the ruins as belonging to an elven goddess of nature. Like, duh. Miraculously, everyone made their stealth rolls except for the bard (as the monk put it, “because you never stop talking”). No matter: her monologues didn’t seem to cause any undue alert as they rounded the corner of the crumbling wall to find the stag standing there, bathed in sunlight, all majestic as fuck.

“Klkh89uklnblkberiusysoppwjew,” it said. There was probably an Emoji in there somewhere, but no one in the party could understand what the stag was saying, and holy crap the stag was talking! probably threw them off as well. With an air of ungulate exasperation, the stag changed languages to Elven, which everyone but the bard understood (how’s that for irony!). Unfortunately, the creature seemed to be babbling, talking about how the party was on the right path, they should follow the river of gold, and that the road ahead was filled with sorrow and bloodshed. All was not lost in translation, however, because before their eyes appeared an intricately carved longbow, strung with silver string. As the party drooled, the stag pranced away with one parting shot: “Not all will survive…”

Back at the caravan, the party found the three hunters had returned, empty handed but not without totally bullshit stories about how they were this close to nabbing that stag. As if.

Cult of Personality

The party rolled on in silence (again, another time-pothole) for a few more days, straight into a standing rainstorm that made the road muddy and treacherous. Beneath the darkened sky, the party heard the sharp snap of a wagon axle breaking, and saw the shadow of a cart tumble off the road and into a shallow ditch, it’s Crates & Barrels ™ spilling across the ground.

As some members of the caravan moved to help, they were rebuffed by the cart owners. “We got this,” they said, suspiciously turning help away. The party  looked ahead and instantly understood: it was one of the cult’s carts that had tumbled into the ravine. The cultists weren’t actually well regarded into the column. They didn’t interact with anyone, kept a guarded buffer around their carts, and never ate or camped near anyone else in the caravan. Those who offered to help were actually kind of glad that they were denied, because fuck those guys, but they were also pissed because this was delaying the entire group’s progress. And it was raining.

The original party was wary about getting close to the cult wagons because since they had recognized one of the cult members as being from the camp outside of Greenest, they were concerned that they themselves would be recognized. They enlisted their new pal the warlock to head up to the front of the column to see if there was anything he could see. Being the perceptive type, the warlock spotted a small parcel that had spilled out of the crates. This parcel, wrapped in an oiled rag, shone in the meager light, and looked like solid gold jewelry.

Using his powers of Charisma (Persuasion), the warlock convinced the cultists that they really should enlist some help because they’re pissing off the entire column, and they all need to get moving again. They begrudgingly agreed, and positioned the warlock at the back of the cart to help push it up the slippery incline. Now, being a native of Waterdeep, the warlock knew a thing or two about a thing or two, and one of those two things was Dexterity (Sleight of Hand). Covering his actions as a slip of the hand on the rain-slick cart, he thrust his hand under the tarp and pulled back a small, silken pouch which he dropped into a secret pocket in his voluminous sleeves.

After getting the cart back on the road and leaving the cultists to fix their axle, the warlock examined his purloined treasure: four decent sized onyx stones, valued at around 50g each. He wasn’t sure what their game was, but these yahoos weren’t just run-of-the-mill cart jockeys hauling sweatshop jeans to Waterdeep-Mart. He brought these items to the attention of the party, and the ranger took him and the cleric aside to give them the rundown: those people in the cart he had just helped were Dragon Cultists, and they (the party) had been hired to track them, find out who they were delivering to, and what they were going to do with the cargo. The end result was that the warlock and the cleric were officially absorbed into the party and taught the secret handshake, and given the secret decoder ring.

The cultists, never the popular crowd, was even less popular now, having delayed the caravan by several hours, refusing help that would have sped up the recovery, and for being dicks in general.

*   *   *

There’s a wealth of potential options to pad the time while the party travels to Waterdeep. Not all of the options are required, or even suggested. The trip is supposed to take two months of carting, and I guess the balance for me is to make the trip feel like it’s taking time, but not to send the players running away out of boredom.

I picked the stag hunt option for this week because it awarded a magic weapon (a +1 longbow, for the ranger who might be reading this). Actual item rewards have been very hard to come by in this module, which I personally think is OK. After decades of MMOs dropping loot like clouds drop rain, making items — and magic items specifically — more of a rare occurrence sounds like a more believable scenario than if they’re just hanging from trees like fruit.

Of course we had to do the cult in distress suggestion from the module because reasons that will become apparent later on. I do like how the module is offering these different scenario options, but isn’t making direct connections between the possible elements, but which can be connected into a coherent side-story with a little creative arrangement. As always, I feel that I’m struggling to keep the game engaging, and I’m finding that making stuff up on the fly is difficult for me (the official stuff sounds good, but when I have to ad-lib, it sounds like a third grader is making shit up). Having these “heeeyyy…that fits well with what happened last chapter!” revelations helps me pre-plan the direction that these one-off encounters take. The question is: is the party taking notes, and will the remember the cause to the upcoming effects to make this kind of planning worthwhile?

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Eulogy For An Xbox 360

Eulogy For An Xbox 360

My 360 was a legendary workhorse. It’d seen it’s share of battles, having been re-built after it’d taken a RROD to the knee a few times. But it kept on though long tours of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and survived countless skirmishes in various Halo games. I still remember the day I bought my first 360 — my wife had been away on vacation for a week with her sister — and I bought the Xbox with one game: Kameo, for some reason. It was a console that my wife even used, having played more hours of A Kingdom for Kieflings than any sane human should subject themselves to.

Over the years it’s status diminished in the house. I acquired an Xbox 360 Slim not too long ago, to supplement the original Xbox 360 Phat when Microsoft added the account portability. TV time was scarce in my house back then, and having another Xbox on another TV in the house meant I could use it more frequently, but the older box didn’t have wifi, so it sat alongside the “watching” TV while the Slim went to the “gaming” TV.

But the time came when the next generation arrived. Everyone I knew was going with PS4 this generation. I needed to find a way to afford a new PS4. Trading in my unused stuff was the best option, but no one wanted to pay top dollar for an aged Xbox Phat, so I released the Slim and a bunch of games and accessories and came home with a new PS4.

The writing was on the wall. There were still games being released for the 360, but…why? I had a next generation machine to play next generation games on, like Destiny and The Elder Scrolls Online. All my friends were on PSN, I’d let my nephew take all of our Rock Band gear with him to college, and I’d completed all the Halo games, sometimes multiple times. The Xbox sat neglected in the corner.

It recently came to my attention that Microsoft was offering a bounty: $100 off a new Xbox One if you traded in an Xbox 360 (or PS3). I laughed at this: there’s no way they’d want my Xbox 360. It was ancient. It was refurbished. It’s Ethernet port had failed. The best it could hope for was to end up at a yard sale for some 8 year old whose parent’s didn’t know any better. At worst, a landfill someday. But I couldn’t just consign this old soldier to that kind of fate. I owed it to him to give him one last chance to do good, so I crammed him into an uncomfortable box with his cables and a lone controller, and drove down to the Microsoft Store in Salem to see if they’d honor my 360.

I watched as the sales guy removed the 360 from it’s box and plugged it into a waiting TV so he could check it’s functionality. I silently hoped he wouldn’t be checking the network connectivity which I knew would invalidate the mission. But he declared everything was in order. My old Xbox 360 came through, once last time.

I don’t look at my new Xbox One and think of it as a replacement; it’s a succession. With the newly announced backwards compatibility that’s truer than ever. In this day and age, when there’s so many different platforms vying for time, I don’t think I’ll ever actually be able to give a console the same attention that my string of previous Xbox machines received, making my last 360 a machine worthy of respect. I’m keeping as a memorial the dust-ring where the old 360 spent it’s last days. Considering how often I dust around the house, my Last Xbox 360 will never be forgotten.

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Early Access Should Die In A Fire

Early Access Should Die In A Fire

Yes, that’s link-bait headlining at it’s finest. No, I am not ashamed, because I’ve been thinking about EA recently and the more logical weight I put behind it, the less appealing it sounds.

Of course I’m guilty of buying into early access, so this isn’t  some high-and-mighty commandment or some born-again fire-and-brimstone sermon. From day one, I’ve been honest with myself about what EA means to me and to the producers of the projects I’ve supported, but I’ve done so with the understanding that there is no guarantee in early access or crowdfunding. I’ve looked at EA much like I look at Kickstarter: it’s an investment, and with any investment there’s a chance you could lose your shirt and have nothing to show for it.

But recent discussions and events surrounding early access (and Kickstarter projects for that matter) have started to turn me off of the practice of EA. Not the purpose, just the practice. Here’s why.

Over on Google Plus, Rog Dolos had posted about his thoughts on early access. In his post, Rog talks about how the purpose has merit — allowing developers to interact closely with their audience — but also that games in certain genres benefit best from being finished, and how they tend to lose a lot of their impact when played piecemeal. I feel the same way, in that I might be interested in 100% of a game that’s 25% done, but there’s not enough there to keep me playing until there’s 50% done, or 75% done. After become satiated with the 25% that’s complete, I might not return until it’s 100% done, but there’s also a good chance that (me being me) I might never return.

I ran across an interesting quote from the guy behind the @Steam_Spy statistic scraping account, talking about some interesting trends that can be gleaned from looking at publicly available Steam numbers:

Every game still has only one launch event and if you’re going to release it in Early Access that date will [be it].

With EA, players get to have interactions with the developers so that they can feel that they’re the “fifth Beatle”, thereby investing more than just money, and developers get an attentive testing group, and financial backing. Done right, this can be quite the boon for developers who are able to keep one hand on the wheel and one hand massaging the community. As an example of a company who does this well (so far), look at Wildcard, creators of ARK: Survival Evolved. Their EA launch day was terrible, but they quickly turned it around and earned back the trust of their players and have sold enough to earn over $10 million dollars in revenue.

Being one of those people who picked up A:SE on launch day — and I specifically say “launch day” because I wholeheartedly believe in that quote above — I played for a week, but haven’t been back since. Why? It’s because of the sentiment Rog expressed and that I support: what’s present in EA is nice if it works, but it’s never going to be enough to keep the fires burning though until the end. I can either enjoy what’s there for as long as possible, which isn’t going to be very long, or I can put it on the shelf and wait until it’s “done”. Or I can just not jump on the EA bandwagon.

The problem is, what is considered to be “done” in this era of the Internet and Steam-delivered overnight patches? Developers may have a design document with checkboxes they use to determine when a game is “feature complete”, but it’s an arbitrary line from the consumer point of view. One day it’s EA, the next it’s “done”. Look at Heroes of the Storm. It was in “beta” for the longest time, but there were keys in the wild for anyone who wanted one. When they announced a launch date of early June 2015, it was a shrug; the game had been available and accessible for so long that insinuating that it needed an “official” launch date was pretty much a non-event just to say it was out of “beta”. There are mental ramifications, though, and I suspect that has more to do with our silently agreed upon acceptance of what “released” means than any idea of being released as being the product’s finish line.

And what about games that can’t manage to summit Mount Deliverance? Too many gamers reserve a special circle of hell for “broken promises” and “lies and dishonesty”, thinking that every overreaching project or development team that underestimated their scope had deceit in their heart from day one. Just today, it was announced that Windborne would be closing down development, despite having been a staple in my wishlist on Steam for over a year. I thought that the developer framed a decent explanation, and I’m certainly in no position to refute what they say, but sadly, that can’t be said for some people who are commenting with venom:

If the [Early Access] community was a bank you now would been bankrupt, because we would make a massive class action against you, we would go to our lawyers to get back our money, because when you decided to stop developing the game you broke the contract. You did not go bankrupt, you still have the money, you are just a bunch of thief, liars, trolls and assholes.

It’s a chance that developers take, asking for money before a project is complete, with no idea if they’ll be able to complete the project to their — or the community’s — satisfaction. As someone who’s not comfortable taking chances with my financial future on the scale that indie development requires, I can’t fathom the mindset that people have that leads them down this path. Personally, it doesn’t seem worth the risk, but I’m happy for those who manage to make it work. I’m also saddened and angered by people who project their regret at having partaken of EA onto the developers without absolute proof of their accusations.

What’s the alternative? As much as I’m sure no one wants to hear it, maybe traditional publishing shouldn’t be replaced with crowdfunding methods. The rise of crowdfunding through KS and EA campaigns was due to a backlash against corporate bean-counters getting in the way of a developer’s ability to make a really fantastic product by only green-lighting known quantities like franchise shooters, or by forcing a shift in focus to an nascent mirage like mobile. Look through Steam’s front page and you’ll see a dearth of EA titles crowding out all but the AAA projects. It’s getting harder and harder to surface games that aren’t EA, and I believe that it’s indoctrinating people into believing EA to be just another step in the process we need to endure. Traditional publishing isn’t a panacea: they cancel projects just like indies and smaller studios do, and they sure as hell generate their share of ill-will, but they’ve got track records and enough successful properties that today’s failure is overwritten with tomorrow’s successes. At the very least, cutting down on EA and KS projects would thin the herd.

The ramifications for the industry and the community of continuing to support EA are just too great, in my opinion. I’ve got an average track record when it comes to KS and EA titles I’ve purchased. Some have come through, like Shadowrun  Chronicles and Wasteland 2, while some have gone belly-up in a spectacular fashion, such as Greed Monger. I’m still waiting for a few, like Meriweather: An American Epic, which was one of the very first projects I contributed to through Kickstarter over two years ago. Sometimes I get my money’s worth, but other times I’m throwing money into a hole with no return. Technically, no return is expected; the only thing I do expect is the worst, so I’m never let down…only pleasantly surprised when a project comes through.

I don’t think the gaming community knows how to invest wisely. I know I sure don’t, but I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of a segment of the population that susceptible to a really good PR campaign. In the real investment world, backers have a wealth of information that they can research to help them make a decision. We don’t really have that in the games space. Sometimes we can focus on the track records of developers, if they’ve made games before (like Brian Fargo and Chris Roberts, believe it or not). Having been able to “get stuff done” in the past is about the only criteria we have for judging the viability of project, and sometimes that’s not enough. Game consumers lack the kind of information that we need to make “informed” decisions, which is made worse by the fact that there’s no way that developers can actually provide that kind of information. In short, it’s a crap shoot for everyone.

It’s become en vogue for indies and smaller studios to turn to EA and other crowdfunding, offering a back-stage pass in exchange for cash up front, but after the ink dries, all bets are technically off. Not every failure is a bait-and-switch, despite consumer’s angry assertions to the contrary; sometimes, things don’t work out, no matter how hard you work to try and ensure they do. We as a community, by and large, aren’t able to absorb this, either financially or emotionally, yet we seem powerless, unable, or unwilling to stop supporting EA because we feel that it involves us as part of the industry we love, feel that it “helps the little guy stand up to the big guys”, or simply feeds our entitlement culture by giving us what we want, as soon as we decide we want it. Even though it would remove an avenue for the scores of indie and smaller studios, I think we need to stop supporting EA and crowdfunding efforts, at least until we can come up with some method for better investment decision making on the part of the consumer, and to somehow help indie, small studios, and neophyte developers plan and execute in a way that mitigates the potential for failure as much as possible, if at all possible.

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No Room At The Inn/Dark Side of the Shroom

No Room At The Inn/Dark Side of the Shroom

I had missed the last Adventure Co recap, so we have a double-decker sandwich of shenanigans this week.

No Room At The Inn

The party had been on the road with their caravan for several uneventful days. Keeping a watchful eye on the cult members ahead of them proved to be no great hardship: the cultists obviously don’t want to blow their cover, and tended to keep a low profile while traveling, always segregating themselves from the rest of the travelers at night, and not making any unusual moves such as trying to convince the rest of the travelers to accepting Tiamat as their personal lord and destroyer.

It was a dark and stormy night. Literally. The weather was horrific, with driving rains, whipping wind, and lightning thrown in because it’s a fantasy setting and there’s always lighting to signal the ominous. The first major non-dirt resting place the party came across was the Black Stag Inn, an unimaginative yet entirely rolled-upon-from-the-DM-guide named roadhouse that catered to medieval truckers heading up and down the Sword Coast. The party’s employer demanded they hustle buns in before the rest of the crowd and secure good rooms while she fawned over her horses.

The inn was quite spacious… and quite empty, save for a party of four well dressed men occupying a table on the far side of the common room. The party attempted to gain lodging, but the barkeep informed them that all the rooms had been booked, including the common room. This brought forth a round of giggles from the men in the corner, which only escalated to murmured digs at the players as they attempted to bribe and threaten the innkeeper into renting them some rooms.

Having enough of the dandy’s bullshit, the players pulled up a table (a whole table) next to them, and the two groups began a battle of wits. Having left his wits in his other scabbard, the ranger sought to intimidate the quartet with a well-placed throwing knife to the wall behind one man’s head. Eventually everyone ran out of snark and sarcasm, weapons were drawn, and at the end only one of the smartass men was left standing (kneeling, actually, as he was pretty wounded). He offered the contents of his coin purse in exchange for his life.

Dark Side of the Shroom

When the dust had cleared the players noticed that the rest of the caravan had filtered into the inn, but had kept their distance from the fracas. The merchants were ill equipped to participate, and their retainers weren’t getting paid to start fights in the places where they’d hope to lay their heads.

Two guards from another cart approached the players, however, curious about what was going on: one a cleric, the other a warlock. The cleric freely plied her trade and patched up the wounded party while the warlock joined the party in standing over the wounded enemy like a state road crew around a pothole.

Upon examination of the previously-alive bodies on the ground, the warlock noticed a familiar tattoo on the necks of the dead men: a small, single dagger which he was able to identify as being the mark of assassins in the employ of a minor crime syndicate in Waterdeep, the Northrain family.

The injured man’s pleas went unanswered, and insult was added to injury as the ranger threw him onto a table, while the warlock questioned him about his involvement with the Northrains. All they could get out of him was an admission that he and his party were returning to Waterdeep after having completed a job in Baldur’s Gate. With nothing else to offer, the warlock attempted to end the man using Chill Touch, but only managed to send him into shock.

While the party questioned the dying man, the caravan members rushed to reserve their rooms, leaving nothing for the party except an exasperated innkeeper who was wishing he only had to deal with the four douchebags who at least paid enough to rent the entire inn.

The next morning, the party was awoken by the caravan travelers coming downstairs for breakfast, and the sounds of concern and amazement at those who were getting ready to leave the inn. Outside, for as far as the eye could see, was a blanket of tiny, cork-sized purple mushrooms. Fearing the sudden appearance of the fungi as “not a good thing”, and helped out by the cleric who was suddenly a devotee of a previously unknown mycotic sect that relied heavily on offering tithing suggestions, none of the caravan members wanted to leave the inn.

Adding insult to the innkeeper’s injury, the party opted to trash some furniture to throw out into the mushroom patch. The result was a large puff of black spores. Mr Nature the Ranger identified this particular species as being highly poisonous, causing the caravan members to go into lock-down quarantine mode. The cleric, flexing her medicinal muscle, refuted his assessment, telling people that she has absolutely no knowledge of any poisonous mushroom like this. Just to be safe, the caravan members got away from the doors and windows.

Like any good gamer who’s played his or her fair share of zombie infection games, the party opted to wrap their faces in wet cloth in order to venture to the stable to check on the horses. They were in an absolute panic (the horses, not the party), having stomped all of the mushrooms in their pens to a pile of unrecognizable paste. The spores clung to their manes, and the warlock was only able to calm two nearby animals enough to attempt to lead them out of the stable and into the security of the inn.

One problem. Well, two. First, the innkeeper refused to let horses into the inn. He’s weird like that. Second, the horses were covered with the spores. A small contingent of caravan members who were near the doors and windows when the party tried to shove the horses into the common room started freaking out. Then panicking. Then screaming, and covering their ears, and bashing their heads against the wall. They claimed to have heard screaming from outside. They said that the mushrooms were screaming.

One of the caravan members had an idea: with masks on, what if they just smashed a path through the inn parking lot until they were clear of the infestation. It was so crazy, it might just work! At least, that’s what some of the other caravan members thought, and several of them took up brooms, sticks, scythes, and other implements to sweep the fungi out of the way. Sometimes, the simple answers really are the best.

The caravan members who were trippin’ were loaded into other carts, the horses were hitched, and the group beat cheeks to the road, where eventually the mushrooms stopped being a thing to be concerned about

Except for the innkeeper, who was left with a bunch of broken furniture, a drained keg, and a front yard full of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Needless to say, the party won’t be welcome back there any time soon.

*   *   *

This was one of several road-side events that are included as “optional” in the Hoard of the Dragon Queen module, offered to break up the monotony of what’s supposed to be a two month trip up the coast. The inn and the mushroom infestation were two different events, but the circumstances — the rain driving the party to the inn, and the mushrooms appearing due to the deluge — were a natural fit.

We welcomed two new members to the Adventure Co Brand Adventure Company last night, @Sarindre (the cleric) and @Elfueygo (the warlock). For dropping into the story with only a cursory overview, they did an excellent job in dealing with the mushrooms, and with the party’s shenanigans!

We also made the switch from Roll20.net to Fantasy Grounds. We had used FG in the past for our very first Adventure Co Brand Adventure (“Keep on the Borderlands”), but it had some quality control issues that sent us to Roll20. Now Roll20 has been acting up, and we had gotten word that it was acting up worse when the participant size reached seven people (which we planned on having, but our dwarf’s home was invaded by family and she couldn’t make it). I think that FG’s 5E support has caused them to pay particular attention to getting things right, and the app seems much more solid this time around. Everyone showed up early to create their characters using the PHB module, but there wasn’t a lot of need to use the mechanics that FG provides. Next time the party encounters combat, however, will be the real test.

There’s still several more optional road-side events we can try, and some necessary story elements that need to be thrown in there in order to advance the plot. I don’t think we’ll be dragging this aspect out longer than necessary though. As fun as these diverse opportunities are for everyone to showcase different playstyles and stretch the imagination, there’s a plot here, and we’ll need to get back on track at some point. Due to our real lives turning this weekly event into a bi-monthly event, we’re way behind, but we are half-way through HotDQ module, so it’s all down hill from here (maybe literally). Hopefully with an expanded party, we’ll be able to return our original, weekly schedule more reliably going forward.

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