Let’s write a Dungeons & Dragons campaign

OK D&D fam. Let’s write a Dungeons & Dragons campaign together. It features an awakened beaver named Mr. Chompers, so you know you want to keep reading. Here we go.

I run a D&D Club for kids. I’m three years in at this point. It’s great fun, and I’ve just started the six-week Fall I session.

Last campaign, the party came across an NPC called Mr. Chompers,* an awakened beaver who was selling things out of his roadside cart. The kids loved Mr. Chompers and he briefly joined the party. At one point, the kids wanted to inspect his cart and I had them find a small box containing a lock of hair. When pressed, Mr. Chompers said he got it from the young boy who cast the spell that awakened him. The beaver wants to find the boy and the hair is the only clue he has, so he keeps it in hopes that somehow, someday it might help him find the magical boy. The campaign continued, Mr. Chompers went away, and that was that. 

Mr. Chompers

Since my favorite thing to do is take a minor NPC or throw-away situation from one campaign and make it the thrust of another, I’m focusing on Mr. Chompers’ story. 

In short, the boy wants the hair back. 

I struggled with “why” all week, and when that happens I look at base assumptions and go from there. First, I assume the hair came from the boy’s head. Next, I assume it’s the boy’s own hair. What if neither of those things are true? 

What if the boy has moved on from beavers, chipmunks and other harmless woodland creatures, and is now awakening dangerous beasts to do his bidding? These animals like their awakened state, and the boy keeps them subservient by threatening to take it away. Perhaps he can only awaken a member of a certain species if he has a lock of its hair. He only had one sample of hair from [beast x], his ultimate goal, and that damn beaver stole it. 

Last week, session one, the kids built their new tavern only to have it partially blown up with “goblin fire,” an especially incendiary explosive that goblins in the region produce. This will prompt the party to raid the nearby goblin encampment and slay several, I assume, until they confront the leader about the attack and the goblin fire. That NPC will say something along the lines of “We already gave you all we have.” They realize the goblins aren’t the bad guys (after killing several oops) and we’re off to the races. 

I mean, as bored as I am with “BBEG needs [x] to [complete ritual],” it seems to fit here. What do you think? Any tweaks? 

*All of this was made up on-the-fly. The party was traveling from Point A to Point B, and I wanted them to have a roadside encounter. I decided on a traveling vendor and just to make it fun, I made him a beaver. These players never trust anyone, so of course they wanted to stealthily examine his cart. A high roll meant I had to come up with something so I created a “long, slender box that’s clearly been tucked away from the items that are for sale.” What’s in the box? I don’t know, a lock of hair. Why does the beaver have hair in a box? Er, because he took it from the person who awaked him, who was…a young boy. The boy ran away, the beaver kept the hair.

The DM’ing lesson here is trust yourself. Make up anything, be brave, just start talking. Whatever comes out of your mouth is awesome and the party will love it. Lean into it. My players had so much fun with Mr. Chompers — A dumb little NPC I pulled out of my backside — that he’s a big part of a campaign now. Trust yourself, just start talking, and lean into it. You’ll have a blast.

Haunted house and Japanese folklore

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I’m so late on this but my spooky Halloween read is Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw. Two couples in their 20’s, all of them amateur ghost hunters, fly to Japan as two of them are getting married. Sparing no expense, they rent a colossal mansion as part of the festivities. A mansion with a dark history.

The legend tells of a bride who long ago was meant to be married at the mansion, only to be left at the alter. In her grief, she demanded to be buried alive in the house’s foundation, so that she could keep it standing until her love returned. A macabre tradition was born. Once a year, a girl is buried within the house to keep the lonely bride company.

Of course it’s more than a quick haunted house book. The relationships among the two couples are complicated. Our narrator, Cat, recently left an in-patient facility for mental health concerns.

At 125 pages it gets right to the creepy action and you can read it in a sitting or two. It’s good and creepy, and perfect for these cold nights.

One painting, three times

Ugh, I should have stopped at the sketch.

Tonight I’ve been painting along with Peter Sheeler, an artist whose YouTube channel I admire. I quite liked this painting of an old farm house and the telephone pole.* I made three renditions: two 4.5″ by 11″ and one 3.5″ by 2.5″. I like the small one best, and that’s probably because the small format lets me get away with using a small amount of detail.

Part of the problem with the larger example is a bit of impatience on my part. I didn’t wait for the grass to fully dry so I got some unwanted blooms at the bottom edge of the fence. The rest, I think, comes down to technique.

I don’t know what to do with the grass to make it look believable. I tried to layer some colors but it just looks splotchy. Likewise the leaves on the trees are a hot mess.

I do like the tree’s shadow on the ground and of course the telephone wires, but those are done with marker, of course.

But, I keep at it. I do wish I had an teacher over my shoulder providing real-time instruction and specific things to practice. Picking up techniques in bits and pieces from YouTube kinda makes my head spin a little bit.

*I’m becoming slightly obsessed with painting telephone poles.

Octopus Nest: an all-time favorite short story

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“The Octopus Nest” by Sophie Hannah, from her collection of short stories entitled “The Fantastic Book of Everyone’s Secrets,” is one of my all-time favorite shorts. I won’t spoil anything as you should go into this completely cold, save the opening paragraph. Tell me this doesn’t pull you right in:

It was the night I had hoped never to see: the front door wide open, Becky, our sitter, leaning out into the darkness as if straining to break free of the doorway’s bright rectangle, her eyes wide with urgency. When she saw our car, she ran out into the drive, then stopped suddenly, arms at her sides, looking at the pavement. Wondering what she would say to us, how she would say it.

OK, wow. Grab it.

My Bookshop storefront is live

Want to buy books online and support indie booksellers at the same time? What if you could do that, support this site AND thumb your nose at that space-faring billionaire all at once? I have good news for you, dear reader. You can.

I’m trilled to be a Bookshop.org Affiliate. Bookshop.org lets you shop for books from home while providing financial support to independent bookstores and people who love them, like me. Specifically, for each book sold through my Bookshop Storefront, Bookshop.org pays me a 10% commission, and gives a matching 10% to independent bookstores.

You-know-who is the Empire. We are the Rebel Alliance.

I’ll continually add books that I’ve read, reviewed, and enjoyed. Buy a copy for yourself, your book-loving friends, or even use my storefront as a jumping-off point whenever you go shopping for a great read (just bookmark this right here).

I’ll keep reading, reviewing, and recommending great books. You keep adding to your library, and together we’ll help keep those great indie shops afloat. Check it out right here. And may the Force be with you.

Childhood is a window that closes at 18

Leaving for college tomorrow.

Childhood is a window that closes at 18. At this moment I feel Grace’s window has met the sash and the lock has been flipped. The girl whose diaper I changed is gone. The kid with whom I read Harry Potter, made dumb jokes, drove to ballet lessons and Girl Scout meetings, went sledding and experienced so many other things now exists only in photos.

I love who she has become, but I’ll always miss who she was.

Watercolor: loose natural landscape

I’ve been following along with several watercolor tutorials on Domestika and they’re very, very good. So far I’ve done one on creating a travel journal with artist Alicia Aradilla. That course’s final project kicked my butt but I’m going to try it again.

I also completed two courses with artist Daniel “Pito” Campos whose loose style I really like. Specifically, Natural Landscapes in Watercolor and Urban Landscapes in Watercolor. Below is my progress on the former’s final project.

Pito paints in layers, or “stains” as he calls them, and it’s fun to see a painting go from a very rough pencil sketch to the “mess” that always is the first layer to the gradual emergence of details in subsequent layers. I’ve picked up many techniques and tips I’ll use on future projects. Someday I’ll be brave enough to paint a photo of my own without guidance, but I’m not there yet.

My jar of beeswax

As a first-year beekeeper I get to enjoy the adventure of keeping honey bees, of learning about them, caring for them, and seeing their day-to-day lives up close. Meanwhile are two things I don’t get, and they’re kinda biggies.

Honey and beeswax.

Back in May I started out with five frames of bees, which house 10,000 individuals. Today, that number has grown to about 15 frames, or about 30,000 bees.* You might assume that 30K bees can produce a lot of honey and wax, and you’re right. But since this colony is still establishing itself, they’re going to need all of it to get through the winter. In other words, no excess for me.

I can, however, take “burr comb.” In fact, I should.

Bees store pollen, nectar, honey, eggs and larvae in honeycomb, which they build with beeswax. A new colony like mine spends a lot of time and effort building honeycomb from scratch, and they need every bit to support their growing numbers (in the peak of summer, the queen can lay up to 1,000 eggs per day). They’re meant to build the comb on the frames, which you can think of like hanging file folders in a filing cabinet. Every now and then, however, they get a little overly ambitions and build comb on *top* of the file folder, or frame, and that’s called burr comb.

I don’t want them to do that for a few reasons. It can make the hive difficult to inspect, become a real mess and prevent me from closing up the hive properly. So I always scrape it off and put it into my jar, which you see here.

Soon I’ll melt this down, get the impurities out, make sure it’s good and clean and then let it solidify into natural beeswax, which I can then use to make candles, lip balm, all sorts of interesting things. I hope to collect some more before the season ends, and of course I’ll show you what I make and how I make it. Wish me luck!

*Do you know what honey bees are really good at? Making more bees.

Murder on campus: For Your Own Good, my next book

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Having just finished All’s Well by Mona Awad (my review here) and A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman (my review here), my next read is For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing.

Published in July of 2021 this book has been popping up on YouTube and elsewhere for a while now. So when I saw it on the “featured” table in my local bookstore, I snatched it up. From the jacket:

Teddy Crutcher has won Teacher of the Year at the prestigious Belmont Academy, home to the best and brightest.

He says his wife couldn’t be more proud—though no one has seen her in a while.

Teddy really can’t be bothered with a few mysterious deaths on campus that’re looking more and more like murder or the student digging a little too deep into Teddy’s personal life. His main focus is pushing these kids to their full academic potential.  

All he wants is for his colleagues—and the endlessly meddlesome parents—to stay out of his way. If not, well, they’ll get what they deserve.

It’s really too bad that sometimes excellence can come at such a high cost.

Murder on campus? Yes please.

Earlier tonight I noticed something. I’ve been on a bender with thrillers in an academic setting all summer. So far I’ve read:

All thrillers, all set in a school. I guess I have a type?