Nov 26 2020

Shady’s Solo Adventure Continues

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Picking up right where we left off

The Dragonfly was a more imposing ship than its name implied. A three-masted frigate, it dwarfed Shady’s own Moonlit Horizon and outgunned it by half. On the dock below teamsters came and went, loading the ship with stores. Shady sauntered casually among them, looking from crate to crate as any curious mariner might; but there was no sign of any munitions to be found.

“Shade-Of-the-Candle!” came a voice from above. “What are you doing poking your nose around my ship?” Shady looked up, smirking. Captain Ainsworth peered down at her with good-natured suspicion.

“Keeping an eye on the competition, what does it look like?” Shady replied. “It’s lean times for us little guys who don’t have the Lady Patrician’s ear.”

“We don’t have to be competitors,” Ainsworth said. “Come on up and sign articles, I could use an escort on this trip.”

“Ha! And have to hear you calling yourself ‘Commodore’? Not likely,” said Shady.

“More fool you,” Ainsworth replied. “Turning away easy money.”

“If it was so easy you wouldn’t want an escort,” said Shady. “What’s the journey?” (SHADY PERSUASION DC 15: 15)

“It’s not for the ears of the world to hear,” said Captain Ainsworth. “C’mon up, we’ll talk over a drink, I could use a break.”

(FATE QUESTION: Does Ainsworth intend to tell Shady the truth? NO)

A quick bound up the gangway and to the sterncastle of the Dragonfly led Shady into Ainsworth’s cabin. It was larger than Shady’s equivalent on the Moonlit Horizon, with a large table that doubled for holding large maps or hosting shipboard dinners. Currently it was covered with charts and logbooks, which Ainsworth was already covering by the time Shady stepped in. “There’s a bit of that crazy slime ale from Winnowing Reach if it suits you,” Ainsworth said. “Otherwise, help yourself to a bit of port.”

“Oh hell no,” said Shady, laughing. “Why do you even have that stuff?”

“Sometimes I want to impress visitors,” said Ainsworth. “I’ll stick with the port, myself.”

Shady chuckled as she poured the drinks; Ainsworth gestured for her to sit. “So what’s this journey of yours, then?” she said.

“Mostly precious ore and gemstones to Dragonwatch Keep,” Ainsworth said. “It’s a short trip, but if word’s got to pirates somehow…”

(SHADY INSIGHT DC 16: 17. She already knew he was lying because she saw the manifest; what she wants to figure out is why. EVENT MEANING ROLL: Why is Ainsworth (and the L.P.) keeping it secret from Shady? 23/23, “Judge/Balance”. It sounds like they’re worried that this shipment might tip the balance of power in the region. FATE QUESTION: Did the L.P. order Ainsworth to keep it secret because he was the only one she trusted? YES. That 23/23 is close enough to a double digit roll that we need a random event! Heck, what are the chances of two d100 rolls coming up the same twice? EVENT FOCUS ROLL: PC Negative. I think it’s time for Shady to open her big mouth.)

“Gemstones my ass!” Shady spat, slamming her drink glass down on the table. “Don’t LIE to me, Ainsworth! What’s really going on? Those are no gemstones you’re loading into your hold.” The Captain of the Dragonfly narrowed his eyes, but said nothing at this outburst. Shady glared at him for a long moment.

“Fine,” she finally said. “Nothing to say, huh?”

“I have my orders,” said Ainsworth. “If you want to stop being ‘one of the little guys,’ you’re going to have to learn what that means, Shade-Of-the-Candle. You’re sharp as a razor and you’ve got a good nose for the wind, but neither of those are any good without discipline. What does it matter what’s in my hold? If you wanted a piece of this job, you’d be expected to follow orders regardless of whatever it might be.”

(SHADY WISDOM SAVE DC 13: 9. She’s been goaded into saying more than she means to!)

Shady rose to her feet, coming nose-to-nose with Ainsworth. “I could deliver munitions to Dragonwatch Keep as well as anybody, and faster too. You might have more guns, but I’m way better for a chase and you know it. I don’t see why the Lady Patrician shouldn’t know it too.”

(FATE QUESTION: Will Ainsworth try to keep Shady prisoner so she doesn’t reveal the secret? EXCEPTIONAL NO.)

Ainsworth looked pained. “There’s no way you should know what’s in that shipment, Shady,” he said. “Somebody’s got loose lips.”

“And YOU should get better at covering your tracks, Dryden,” said Shady. “But I don’t give a damn about your munitions. I want to know why you’re getting jobs, and I’m not.”

“It’s not like that,” said Ainsworth. “You’re not being singled out. Even Kia, Sterling, and Adric don’t know. It was just going to be an ordinary job before… things got complicated.”

Shady’s brow furrowed. “What THINGS?”

Ainsworth shook his head. “Don’t want me to lie to you, Shady? Then don’t ask me questions I can’t answer.” He strode to the cabin door and opened it. “Go on, get out. Head back to your ship. In fact, you might want to take it to some other port for a while. Zan-Xadar maybe, or Oriab. If word gets to the Lady Patrician that you’ve been spying—”


“Well what else do you call it?”

“I call it trying to get a straight answer.”

Ainsworth looked away, pointedly holding the door open. “Go, Shady. There’s nothing more to discuss.”

“No,” said Shady. “I guess there’s not.”

Lady Patrician
Dragonwatch Keep
Captain Dryden Ainsworth
Wharfmaster Fean Wavecrest
Kia (Captain of the Recluse)
Sterling (Captain of the Silver Corsair)
Adric (Captain of the Blue Fin)


Steal the alchemist’s fire
The privateers’ rivalry
The L.P.’s intrigues
Ainsworth’s botched security vs. Shady’s spying
What are the complications?

Next Scene: Now you’ve made Shady curious. But first, some meta-work…

Nov 25 2020

A Very Short Solo Adventure ¬.¬

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Shady On the Attack!

In response to my Playing Shady Instead of Writing Her post, RebelSqurl gifted me with a copy of the Mythic Game Master Emulator and a few other similar items, with a brief description of how he’s basically been using it to run solo adventures with his own characters. So, having today off, I dug into it, combining it with some of the random adventure generation tables in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and a few notions of my own to create a “random Shade-Of-the-Candle adventure generator.”

Learning the system and getting comfortable with it took most of the day, but I developed a very intriguing story premise by taking a few seed words, asking a few pointed Fate Questions, and then creating the first scene which I played out using Shady’s D&D character sheet. Now that I’ve got a feel for it, I’m looking forward to “running” Shady through the rest of this adventure, and discovering the story as I go!

For your entertainment, here’s what I came up with, so far. If the final product comes out well (and I think it just might), I’ll go ahead and write it as a full-fledged story.


Step One: Create Setup

Generated Keywords: pirate, Dragonwatch Keep, pursuit of energy

Shady has found out about a shipment of materials used to make alchemist’s fire on its way to Dragonwatch Keep, and would love to get her claws on it, whether to sell it in Everkeep or to keep it for the Moonlit Horizon.

FATE QUESTION: Did the Lady Patrician point Shady toward this?
RESULT: “Exceptional No.” The Lady Patrician has agents working against the capture of the shipment!

FATE QUESTION: Is the Lady Patrician’s agent somebody Shady knows?
RESULT: “Exceptional Yes.” It’s somebody that Shady’s close to.

FATE QUESTION: Does Shady know that the agent works for the L.P.?

FATE QUESTION: Are they lovers?

FATE QUESTION: Is the agent another privateer?
RESULT: “Exceptional yes.” It’s the L.P.’s best!

Step Two: Generate Lists

Lady Patrician
Dragonwatch Keep
The Privateer


Steal the alchemist’s fire
The privateers’ rivalry
The L.P.’s intrigues

Step Three: Create and Resolve Scenes

Opening Scene

A person of interest (the Harbormaster) sends Shady on the adventure
MODIFIED: Shady learns about the shipment by finagling a look at the Harbormaster’s log

“C’mon, Fean,” said Shade-Of-the-Candle. “There has GOT to be something. I’ve got a ship and crew both just baking in the sun and not a cargo in sight. Did Everkeep suddenly fall off the trade routes?”

Fean Wavecrest, the imposing, gray-skinned wharfmaster of Everkeep, blinked down at her impassively. “You don’t usually ship cargo,” he said. “And when you do bring it into the town, I always assume that it came from some other ship first.”

The tabaxi scowled. “Are you calling me a pirate?” she snarled. “The Moonlit Horizon is a licensed privateer. You’ve seen the letters of marque, signed by the Lady Patrician herself.”

“What the Moonlit Horizon may or may not be, there are no cargoes for her. Now move along, I have work to do.”

“How can you possibly have work to do if there are no cargoes in port?” Shady demanded.

“There are repairs, new ships to build, customs to levy, and hundreds of laborers to keep in line,” replied the goliath.

(SHADY INSIGHT DC 10: 2. She believes it. But she has another idea.) “The Dragonfly is prepping for a voyage,” she said. “How is it Ainsworth has a cargo and I don’t? I know he’s not on commission.”

“Captain Ainsworth has a private arrangement, you’d have to take it up with him.”

“But he had to put down something for your log.”

“He did. And your eyes will never see it.”

“Oh, c’moooon, Fean. Have I ever been anything but good to you? Give us a hint.” (SHADY PERSUASION DC 16: 17)

The goliath sighed. “I’m not getting you out from underfoot without throwing you a bone, am I?”

Shady grinned. “You bet your stoney butt you’re not.”

“Fine.” The goliath picked up his logbook, making a big show of holding up the logbook as if he were looking up something else, in a manner that Shady couldn’t help but see one of the pages. “What time is the tide today? Ah yes. Surely it must be soon. Why, it’s nearly upon us, isn’t it? I have it written down here.”

Shady’s eyes quickly scanned the page, until she came to the desired row. “Dragonfly, frigate out of Everkeep, Captain Dryden Ainsworth. Cargo: Munitions. Destination: Dragonwatch Keep. Leaving: Evening tide, 22 July 1704 N.K.” Shady’s eyes widened. Munitions could mean anything from cannonballs to empty muskets, but a shipment like that meant there was money involved.

Money that Shade-Of-the-Candle was not collecting.

Not yet.

She smirked up at the goliath wharfmaster, who quickly slapped the logbook shut. “Right,” he said. “I’m going now. I wonder if I might find a few loose coins just lying around on my desk when I get back.”

Shady grinned, already spreading a bit of gold on the desk before making for the door. “You just might, at that,” she said.

Lady Patrician
Dragonwatch Keep
Captain Dryden Ainsworth
Wharfmaster Fean Wavecrest


Steal the alchemist’s fire
The privateers’ rivalry
The L.P.’s intrigues

Shady sneaking aboard (or snooping around) the Dragonfly to learn more about the shipment

Nov 23 2020

On Iko, and Why She Isn’t Working

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Shiny Chariot, one of Iko's Inspirations

So Plotline started a D&D game, running Dragon of Icespire Peak. Being a fool, I made a non-tabaxi character in the form of Iko, a half-elf (eladrin) draconic bloodline sorcerer, whose main gimmick is teleporting around blasting stuff. Her main inspiration was “Tracer from Overwatch meets Akko from Little Witch Academia,” a talented-but-troublesome would-be wizard who has a tendency to break stuff and make stupid mistakes, but manages to pull through in the end. In combat, the idea is that she would pop in, annoy baddies into tilting or chasing her around, and then pop out again, which is the Tracer angle.

In play, it has not worked. Like, even a little.

Roleplay wise, she’s a big snooze. Sirfox’s paladin dominates any social interaction scenes, to the point that even Iko’s draconic heritage doesn’t cut the mustard with dragons. In combat, she’s a damp squib, very rarely even landing a hit when she does finally manage to get into position, and even more rarely being a hit that the badguys notice. I end up spending the whole session in audience mode and frustrated.

It’s an odd place to be in. Obsidian had the whole freaking universe revolve around her, to the point that I finally had to stop playing her because I felt like it was hurting the group. Shade-Of-the-Candle is dynamic and moves scenes forward, is usually at least competent in a fight, and can be situationally devastating. To have a character just be a non-performer the way Iko has been has left me kinda nonplussed.

Some of the problem, I think, is that I just don’t enjoy wizards. My own personal power fantasy, fueled by a life of being clumsy and overweight since childhood, is to actually be able to run and jump and punch evil in the face with a body that doesn’t suck. Things like flying or shooting fire out of my hands, just don’t resonate with me. It’s also part of my general distaste for flashy magic and high-level superheroes. I can enjoy them in small doses, but they’re not where my heart is. But when you combine that with a build that also doesn’t work, and a character dynamic that ALSO also doesn’t work, and you’ve got a character that just isn’t pushing my buttons.

So as the group takes a break for December and we start looking at where things might go in the future, I’m thinking about what to do about Iko. I think she’s going to have to be retired and replaced with something else, but what? I don’t want to just clone Shady and drop her into Plots’s game, for several reasons. But I do want to get back to a character that I’ll find more interesting and will hopefully be more effective.

First, I think I need to just admit that non-tabaxi characters make me snooze and make it a tabaxi. Second, they need a personality that will make things happen. If this campaign has had one sticking point, it’s that we’ve spent a lot of time dithering and looking for the plot, instead of creating one. So the character needs an agenda. And finally, they need to be a martial type and a build that can actually be effective at the table. To keep them from just being a Shady clone, I’m looking at monk, ranger, or fighter. The personality is being a little harder to find, because I haven’t worked out an idea that speaks to me yet. My first idea was a Van Helsing-ish “monster slayer,” sort of “What if the assassins from Assassin’s Creed had the mission of killing dragons instead of authoritarians?” I’m not sure I could make that sustainably interesting, tho, and it’s not really a character that would work well in a group context.

Whoever it is, needs to be a mover and shaker and a coffee achiever, because Iko’s passivity is leaving me dejected.

-The Gneech

Nov 10 2020

Playing Shady Instead of Writing Her

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Shady, lookin' to gank some mooks.

It’s been a long time since I had a character just take over my brain the way Shade-Of-the-Candle has. Even Tiffany Tiger, who had a tendency to be doodled on any pizza box or napkin left lying within reach of me, didn’t just live in my head rent free 24/7 the way my piratey murdercat does. Certainly Tiffany never drove me to stay up until 4 a.m. trying to mod the hell out of Skyrim to create some semblance of her, just for starters.

But while I have written stories about Shady, and intend to do so again (with some big-name collaborators, if I can finally get to a stable place in my life again in order to take on a large project), that’s not really the experience I want. What I want, is to PLAY Shady. I want to vicariously experience her life in real time, reacting to her challenges the way she would, processing her triumphs and her heartbreaks as she does.

Shady’s lived a rich and full life in (modded) Skyrim, with a whole found family (she calls Inigo “Mr. Khajiit” and Ma’kara “Mrs. Khajiit,” even if legally she’s only married to one of them) and an impressive career as a renowned treasure hunter and a leader in the Empire’s war against the Thalmor.

Shady drove me to play the heck out of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, all the while doing my best to pretend that the stubbly blonde human male on the screen was actually my scrawny alley cat—because the story and gameplay of AC4 fit very well with both Shady’s motivations and her M.O.

Best of all, of course, is playing Shady in InkBlitz’s D&D campaign, and in many ways that’s what I think of as the “real” Shady. But Blitzy can’t spend his whole life running D&D just for me (and I wouldn’t want him to), which leads me to spend a lot of time staring at Shady’s character sheet and wanting to mess with it just to feel like I’m playing, somehow.

Gentle reader, I have spent SO much time staring at that character sheet. You can’t even know. -.- I’ve come up with different projected character builds, adjusted various stats up and down, even subjected poor Blitzy to multiple drafts of proposed house rules that would make her mechanically closer to my vision of how she operates.

This past weekend, as I was poking away at this build for the umpty-billionth time, I found myself wondering why I was spending my time doing that, instead of actually creating something. Why AREN’T I writing stories about Shady? Why aren’t I drawing her, instead of obsessing AGAIN over whether she should have INT 10 or 8 so that she can afford CHA 14 or 16?

The answer I finally came up with, is discovery. I want to “discover” Shady’s life, not create it. If I write the story, I know how it’s going to go by definition, because I’m the one who made it up. When I play Shady in a game, I don’t know what’s coming any more than Shady does, so when a dragon comes and blasts her boat to oblivion, I’m just as “oh shit oh shit” about it as she is. When Shady finds a wounded khajiit by the side of the road and ends up falling in love, I’m just as verklempt as Shady is.

But it’s not getting me anywhere. All that time I’ve spent noodling around with stat blocks could have been spent finishing a dozen WIPs, or writing new stories of my own that don’t require me to get “close enough” to what I want. So I’m going to try to do that. How I find the discovery element, I’m not sure. Use some kind of random generator as a story prompt? Grab the synopsis of some book I’ve never read and toss it at Shady? Dunno. But I do need to do SOMETHING more productive, I think.

Nov 02 2020

GeekQuery – Reskinning in D&D

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Reskinning in D&D is the fine art of taking something that acts the way you want, and making it look the way you want. It’s good for DMs, it’s good for players, and it opens up whole new worlds of possibility!

The only thing it can’t do is fix sound issues. ¬.¬



TEMPO FURSUIT made by SpiritPanda Costumes:

The Gneech:


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Oct 20 2020

Massive Damage in D&D

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Conan Double Header, art by Mahmud Asrar and Matthew Wilson

A player in my Tomb of Annihilation game has a bugbear barbarian (bugbearian?), who has one purpose: kill stuff. He’s tricked out to attack as many times as possible for as much damage as possible and be useless for anything else other than foraging and carrying stuff. Every fight he just turns on frenzy and reckless attack and flings himself at the monsters, then seems a little deflated when they all die too fast.

Which, y’know, is fine. They’re crawling around a jungle full of zombies, dinosaurs, and zombie dinosaurs. This is somebody you definitely want around in a situation like that.

Meanwhile, a player in my Storm King’s Thunder game has an elf paladin who leaps out of airships onto the backs of cloud giants, pouring multiple smites onto each attack, while another player’s rogue has nearly single-shotted more boss fights than I can keep track of.

Long story short, these characters do a TON of damage, and other than the rogue, can take as good as they give. Other characters in the group certainly participate, but these are the ones who blow up badguys, and these are the ones, when I’m choosing monsters for encounters, I have to take into account. Something that can make the bugbearian actually stop yawning and pay attention, will one-punch the halfling wizard. If I want something to have at least one round and preferably two, it needs to have hit points to spare.

I don’t begrudge these characters their victories, but I do worry about their domination of the spotlight. Other players at the table who are not so tricked out may begin to wonder “Why am I here?” Especially if they either don’t have the system mastery to take full advantage of their character’s abilities, have opted for flavorful-but-suboptimal abilities, or in the case of one player, just keep having bad dice nights. (I feel your pain, Blitzy!)

My general solution for this is to go for multiple monsters rather than single bosses, and to vary my environments as much as possible. Usually I’ll try to include one or two big bruisers as the baseline, a wildcard spellcaster or terrain effect, and then throw in as many smaller support troops as needed to keep things exciting. The Usual Suspects almost always make a beeline for the big scary things, but the rest of the party still has something to do dealing with either the wildcard or the troops. I don’t generally fudge die rolls at the table—especially in Roll20, where I have the monster attack rolls and damage visible to the group chat—but I may alter monster tactics on the fly, on the grounds that fog of war may cause confusion or distraction in battle. Very rarely, I will decide a monster has “one more hit point” so they can live one more round—the DM equivalent of spending a point of inspiration. ;)

But more often than that, I just pre-buff the monsters from their stats in the book, especially named foes. Since the book defaults to monsters having “exactly average” hp, for a baddie I want to be a little more durable I’ll give them 75% of their maximum or so. One fun thing I’ve taken to doing is “rolling monster hit points with advantage.” For instance, if a creature has 10d8 hit dice, I’ll roll 20d8 and drop the ten lowest.

This tends to result in encounters that, on paper, seem crazy, but at the table, work out. In my last session, the party of six 4th-level characters faced off against a pair of girallons (CR 4 each) and six “girallon whelps” (CR 1/2 apes reskinned) on a bridge over a waterfall—which should have been a “deadly” encounter going by the math. They got a bit chewed up, and had to use some of their resources, but it was eminently survivable. The actual girallons didn’t last very long against the bugbearian. Again, the monsters weren’t necessarily following the most optimized tactics—I tried to play them as instinctive feral beasts. If I’d been metagaming “to win” I would have had them mostly ignore the bugbearian and swarm the wizard and pummel her, then swarm the rogue and pummel him, then fling the warlock and the druid off the bridge, and so on.

Does this make me a softie? I don’t think so. I’ve run fights where the monsters were both smart and intent on killing the characters. What I’d like to think is this makes me impartial: I played the monsters according to their mindset. Unfortunately, the CR system just looks at the math and doesn’t account for roleplaying the monsters or having a crazy party comp. (Really, how could it?) This has meant that I have to stop thinking of CR 4 as “a balanced fight for a 4th level party” and start thinking of it as “this is about the ceiling for how tough any single monster in the fight should be.”

-The Gneech

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