When the Dungeons & Dragons session ends

Sometimes when I’ve finished a session of Dungeons & Dragons Kids Club and the kids are gone and I’m sitting here in the quiet room, I’ll take a moment and reflect on the past two hours.

Everyone laughed and had a great time.

Everyone contributed to an ongoing story.

Everyone felt unified and connected.

Everyone in the room used their imaginations, their creativity, their senses of humor and their life experiences to solve a puzzle, unravel a mystery and resolve a problem.

We all walk away with a shared history. The experiences that happened in our imaginations simultaneously over the last two hours will be remembered and retold, as if these characters are people we actually know. In a way, they are. What a unique experience this is. I will play this game for as long as I live.

Dungeons and Dragons: Subvert and satisfy player expectations

As some of you may know, I run a pair of Dungeons & Dragons clubs for kids. It is tremendously fun. The current six-week session ends this weekend, and marks the first time I’ve used a completely original campaign. All told, it was about 12 hours of story and adventure. I’m quite looking forward to the conclusion as (I hope) it will completely subvert and satisfy my players’ expectations. Here’s what’s going on.

For session one, I took a little inspiration from Matt Colville, who, in one of his videos, talked about throwing the big bad at the players in the opening scene of session one, before they could do anything but cower in fear. I did that and it was great fun. They PCs were enjoying their time in a tavern (naturally) when this imposing, robed figure entered, flanked by two lesser robbed figures (I like for my baddies to have lieutenants to taunt and aggravate the PCs) and did all sorts of nasty stuff before making a quick exit.

As I expected, the players did nothing but wait for it to end. “That thing will kill us instantly,” one of them said.

Yes. Yes it would have.

That experience angered and frustrated them, and gave them a “bad guy” to despise. He was quite unpleasant to some of the tavern patrons with whom our heroes were having pleasant interactions, and they did not like that. Now each PC was personally invested in vengeance.

Hook in place.

To make a long campaign short, the players eventually learn that a local mage is intent on becoming a lich, and is gathering souls for the process of transformation. He has several lieutenants doing the dirty work for him, including the Master of Crows, the Master of Locusts and the Master of Coin — all dealt with in one way or another at this point. The trail eventually led to the mage’s tower, where the players find themselves this week.

Once they battle their way to the top of the structure (and deal with the yet unknown Master of Books) they will find the figure they met in scene one, as well as a feeble gnome, dressed in mage’s robes, utterly inert in his throne as a Will O’ The Wisp encircles his head.*

In D&D 5e, Wills are nasty things that subsist on the potent emotions induced by horror, panic, and death. They revel in luring people away from safety, bewildering them, and finally leading them into deadly danger, so they may feast on their desperate emotions.

I decided to have a Will as the real big bad for two reasons. First, it’s a little more interesting as a climax than, “we expect to find an evil mage intent on become a lich, and we do.” Second, there are two strong camps in my group of nine kids: the slayers and the savers.

One group wants to slay bad guys. They like weapons, they like combat, they like being the heroes of the battlefield.

The other group prefers diplomacy. They’ll fight if they have to but they view battle as a last resort. Failure, actually. Discussion failed, so it came to blows. Now blood will be drawn. In fact, the aforementioned Master of Locusts is now a member of the party.

My finale should satisfy both factions. They’ll have an obvious baddie to kill, and a clear victim to save. I’m quite looking forward to their reaction upon finally seeing Brovac the Lost, the decrepit, doddering gnome that he is. I’m sure they’ll want to slay the Wisp — I had each of them experience whispers and dreams promising them glory every now and then throughout the campaign — as well as the original robbed figure. But I’m not sure what they’ll do with Brovac. Yes, he’s a victim but he did collect a lot of innocent souls. Like, a lot. 

Hopefully I’ll subvert and meet player expectations in a way that leaves them happy. But honestly I don’t know, and that’s why I love cooperative story telling so much.

*Thanks to our friend Johnny Tolkien of the inspiration.

Loving my Bullet Journal

I started using a Bullet Journal in September, 2019 and today it’s indispensable. Ryder Carroll’s vision for “…a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system” hits all of my buttons: Convenient, flexible, accommodating (more on that later), hand-written and personal. Here’s why I’ll be bringing my Bullet Journal (or “Bujo” for short) into 2020.

Hardware

All you need to adopt the Bullet Journal system is a notebook and a pen. Any notebook and any pen will do. I bought the officially branded Leuchtturm 1917 because, as my daughter would say, I’m so extra. But that’s not necessary. You could get a pocket-sized, spiral bound from the grocery store for two bucks and it will work perfectly. Just number the pages and you’re off.

The system

The Bullet Journal system has the user apply a series of symbols to a list of items (reminiscent of Patrick Rhone’s Dash/Plus System). For example, a “.” signifies an action item, while a “-” indicates reference material that is important but requires no action (Ryder calls these “notes”). Other markings include circles to identify events and an asterisk to highlight important information.

As information comes into your life, you quickly capture it via brief text and the appropriate symbol. The system calls this “rapid logging” and I like it quite a bit. For me, it’s proven to be a speedy way to record meaningful information quickly.

There’s more to the system, but not much. It’s rather bare bones and that’s a big part of the appeal. There’s a “future log” that offers a quick overview of future responsibilities, as well as a formal way to move unfinished tasks over to the next day, next week or next month, which Ryder calls migration.

Collections are similar to projects, in that it’s a way to keep all relevant information together.

You can dive into all of that here but I want to talk about the one feature that really makes this work for me: the index.

The Index

At the start of each journal, set aside several pages for what will become your index. You’ll fill it in as you go.

Really, Dave? You’re this excited about a table of contents?

Oh, yes. This is the way.

When you create a new entry on a page that you’ll want to refer to in the future, write down that page’s title and page number in the index. For example, I’ve got “Mazda Collection” on page 8, and October on page 22. Now, if I need some information on the Mazda, I turn right to page 8. That’s great, but we’re just getting started.

In the image at the right, you’ll see “Jaclyn Collection” says “13, 45.” That collection starts on page 13 and continues on page 45. If you turned to page 13 and looked at the “13” in the lower right-hand corner, you’d see a small “45” written next to it. Likewise, page 45 has a small “13” written in.

“But Dave, why do you have 32 pages between the start and conclusion of that collection?” That’s the whole beauty of this! If I want to start a collection on page 13, then doodle unicorns for nine pages, then do a mind dump on two more pages, then take notes during a meeting and finally list my favorite songs before resuming the Jaclyn collection, I can. No more treating pages like precious objects. No more guessing how many pages I’ll need for something…maybe I’ll need four pages for this? Five? Who knows, who cares. Doesn’t matter.

Best of all, not more flipping around to find anything. Jaclyn collection: Boom, page 13. Unicorn doodles: boom, page 14. Meeting notes, page 21. Mind dump, 23. It’s all in the index.

A bullet journal is rigid and free-flowing at once. It’s Type A and ADHD. It’s a reliable tool and a fun toy. If you’re a minimalist, you’re all set. If you’re the artsy type, go to town.

I love this thing. It’s always with me and it gives me a real sense of confidence that I have what I need and that things aren’t falling through the cracks. I even went and got a fancy Nock case for it (SO EXTRA).

Welcome, 2020. I’m ready with my Bujo.

Blogging is harder than I remember

Now that I’m trying to wean myself from Facebook and get back to blogging, I’m noticing the big differences between publishing between those two platforms. For me, the most pronounced is immediacy.

As we all know, it’s ludicrously easy to publish to Facebook or Twitter. It takes only seconds and if you’ve got a connected smartphone, can be done from nearly anywhere.

With a blog, it’s different. Sure I can install the WordPress app on my phone, but even that can’t compare to the ease of publishing to social. When I have a thought I can summarize it in a few words, hit publish and read replies, all within minutes.

Writing to the blog is much more intentional. I’ve got to set time aside, which takes a little effort. Even harder is resisting the supreme ease of pushing something out to social and saving it for when I have time to sit with my computer.

As I said, this is a process that will take time. It’s more of an effort to blog but I hope it will be worth it.