Dealing With Loss

Recently, a friend of mine passed away. Within that friend group, if you had asked any of us who would likely die first everyone would have said him (even him). But even so, it still came as a shock. Just out of nowhere, someone I saw almost weekly is just gone. Forever. The remainder of the group got together for our normal weekly gathering and had a remembrance for him. But I was struck by the difference in how I reacted to the news compared to everyone else. So I thought I would write about that.

Not The First Time

This is not the first time I have lost someone close to me. Over the years I have lost all of my grandparents, some of them rather suddenly. But… I didn’t feel the lose very strongly. Part of me knew, they were gone, I would never see them again, and I should be sad. But I didn’t cry, I wasn’t sad, I just carried on with life. I don’t know why that is how I reacted, but it is. Did I disassociate from the problem? Maybe. That is how I would describe how I felt at the time.

In addition to losing grandparents I have also lost several pets. The first was my dog. We got her when she was just a puppy and I was still in early grade school. I grew up with that dog. And then, one day, just before we were set to go on vacation for a weekend, something happened. We were in the garage and she yelped in pain. When we got to her seconds latter, her back legs no longer worked. As best we can tell our 13+ year old dog had a stroke or aneurism or something that lost her the ability to move her back legs. One stay at the Vet latter and a confirmation that she would not get better… and we had her put to sleep.

I do not remember much around this time, I remember choosing not to go back and watch her going to sleep for the last time. I am told I cried over the loss. Typing this out I can feel the tears threatening to come out, so I believe it. All this to say, I know I can be affected by loss, but for some reason I am not a lot of the time.

This Time

This time, it was just a normal day. Was in the middle of something when I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. But when I finished up and looked again I realized who the call was from and called them back. Upon getting the news of our friend’s death my immediate response was a short stunned silence, then a “Oh. FUCK.”

I was sent reeling for a little bit, but then my mind shifted a bit. Rather than the grief one might expect, my mind started going over how schedules might change. What to do with certain character interactions in our ongoing game. Just all these analytical angles of the situation. Honestly it got to the point where I was starting to wonder if something was wrong with me.

Then we had our remembrance gathering. Most of the other people were very emotional or had emotional stories of hearing the news. And I just… didn’t. Guess I was the rock. For a while I wondered if something was wrong with my response. But writing all this out has helped me get through some things. And how much I got choked up upon starting this… Nothing “wrong” with me. I just process my grief in an atypical way.

Creating Dungeons Revisted

So, back here again. With my campaign having started I figured I would write about making dungeons. Firstly for my own benefit in getting my thoughts straight. Secondly because other people might find it useful or interesting. And thirdly because I now have actually made a full dungeon rather than the simple one shot “dungeons” I made previously.

Step 1: Theme

The first step in making a dungeon (or adventure) is to figure out a theme. Taking my first dungeon for example, I actually started by designing an encounter. The encounter was based on the idea of constructs that blended into the environment (living statues, animated items, etc.). When I started expanding the idea into a full dungeon I needed a unifying theme. At first I went with “constructs” but there simply were not enough constructs (of an appropriate difficulty) to populate the dungeon. So I got creative, and re-flavored some things into constructs. But that only took me so far.

I needed a theme change. And then it hit me: Museum. The constructs make sense there as displays and guards both. And it opened me up to a few other things I could use. Now I had some elementals rooming a laboratory that some archeologists… found, and brought back. A few sentient constructs were hard to justify, until they were trapped in the museum by some unseen curator.

Step 2: Populating the Dungeon

As you might have surmised, these steps are not as sequential as I would like. But the idea still stands. After you know what your dungeon is about, you need things to go in it. The first part of this step is figuring out the encounters the players will face. In my case the flow of the dungeon would go something like this:
1. An initial encounter upon entering the museum.
2. Learning they need a pair of keys to open a large door.
3. Going on one of two branching paths. With at least one encounter along the way.
4. Puzzle to get the key. (With possible combat encounter if they “cheat” the puzzle)
5. Repeat for other side.
6. Final encounter in the treasure room.

So I needed an initial encounter (already made). Two encounters for each branch (four in total). An encounter for “cheating” on the puzzle (repeatable between the two puzzles). And a final encounter (also already made).

How I did it

And I got to work. The three of the four branch encounters where fairly simple, with the final one taking the longest to figure out. The “punishment” encounter was tricky, but a small reskin of an existing monster got me where I wanted to be. And we were almost done. Until I had one more idea.

Even with two puzzles this dungeon felt a little combat heavy, so I added a non-combat encounter. It is a creature from non-official sources that I just love the idea of: the “treasure weasel”. It presents itself as an unsolvable problem with the promise of treasure at the end. This way the adventures will keep trying to get the loot, but get more frustrated as time goes on. And that is the point, in lore these creatures feed on frustration. But once sated, these creatures also gladly give up the treasure they are guarding. Putting this back in the main hall, that they have to pass through several times, makes it unavoidable. And I have all the encounters for my dungeon.

Step 3: Set Dressing

This is the step I am still worst at. I need a description for each room and the kinds of things they find in there. So far I have gotten away with improv skills of “making it up as I go along”, but I need to think this stuff out more in the future. Some of the descriptions I have given were:
“Impossibly swirling marble walls, as if the marble was sculpted from clay”
“Benches made of copper”
“A stone slab bench made from an impossible fusion of obsidian and ivory”
And “Giant stone doors designed to rise into the ceiling”
So I think I am doing alright in the improv department… but I would rather not rely on it too much if I can avoi9d it.

Player Backstories as the DM

Recently my Dungeons and Dragons group had a “Session Zero” for my upcoming campaign. We set some ground rules for the game (off limits topics, basic play loop, house rules) and started character creation. And with characters come backstories. Backstories that I have to read, approve, and figure out how they fit into the world we are all crafting.

Step1: Compiling Stories

So, of course, the first step in this process is for my players to come up with stories for their characters. But that does not mean I am totally uninvolved. As players begin crafting their stories they sometimes run the drafts past me. And as I read them I give suggestions on how to mold them. On rare occasion I have to tell my players no, but usually I try to use improv rules when making my suggestions. Not a hard no, but a “have you considered…?” or a “What if we tried it like this?”

On the one occasion I needed to squash a player’s story I did try to salvage as much of it as I could. But the player had a case of what I call “main character syndrome”. This is where their story is so big and bombastic, so large and important, that it overshadows everything else. And like the main character in most stories, the entire story becomes about resolving their conflict.

As I said, I tried to salvage important bits and pieces of their idea. Introduce elements of uncertainty so that I could play with a few things behind the scene, but ultimately that idea was scrapped. When they came back with a second idea, I at first balked at the mechanics their story implied, but then shared a similar (but simpler) story I had used in the past and they loved it. And so they still get to be the main character of their story, but not of the story.

Step 2: How do These Fit Together?

The next thing I asked my players to do, once they had their backstories decided, was to establish at least one positive connection with another player character. This way these characters are not complete strangers when they first meet, at least some of them know each other.

My work on this step is seeing how any extra characters from my player’s backstories can fit into the world I have made. Most don’t need an immediate answer but a few are going to be in the main community and so I need to figure out how to integrate them.

Step 3: Figure Out What Threads I Can Pull

Once I have all the backstories (or even just backstory elements that aren’t going to change) I begin figuring out how to weave them into stories. I have been running one shots within the setting and have been dropping hints for at least one (and a half now) character’s backstories. Another character has an easy way to introduce character elements (I just have to decide what they mean).

What I am saying is that Step 3 is where I get to have fun figuring out how to torture my players with the tools they gave me. And how to reward them for making good stories.

The Advice to “Kill Your Darlings”

“Kill your darlings” is a bit of writing advice heard rather often in writing. In short it means to be willing to destroy elements of your have worked hard to create. To be willing to discard even your most cherished creations. This does not mean that you will get rid of those elements, but you must be willing to do so. This is because otherwise we can be blind to the problems that our “darlings” create in relation to the whole project.

So, why do I bring this up? Simple. “Kill your darlings” applies to much more than writing.

Programming Darlings

Early on in my project I created the randomized levels. With that I of course created the controls. A drop down window for difficulty and simple “New Level” button. But I also added a “Custom” difficulty that allowed the player to input their own target number. This, the “Custom” setting, was my “darling”. It has stuck around for far longer than it should have. I have for quite some time that the dropdown menu would need to be changed. But doing that would necessitate a significant rework of the “custom” setting, and so I put it off.

But eventually, I recognized that the “custom” difficulty setting had outlived its usefulness. And so, I removed it. And in doing so, removed the last thing holding me back from removing the dropdown menu and converting it into a spinner design.

In any creative endeavor, from writing to programming, to painting, and beyond, one must be willing to remove our favorite parts of a project. All in service of making a greater whole.

Baldur’s Gate 3 Controversy

Around a month ago Baldur’s Gate 3 got its full release. Before that it had been in “early access” for a few years. With its full release a few things have cropped up around the game. Most of those things are comparisons to the rest of the so called AAA games industry. The main thing being said is that Baldur’s Gate 3 is, or should be, the new standard that AAA games are held to… and a bit of backlash against that idea.

So lets talk about what is being said, and what I think is actually being expected.

What is Being Said

So, as I said the feedback from consumers can more or less be summed up as “Baldur’s Gate 3 should be the new industry standard”. This has garnered some backlash from more established gaming companies. They complain that making a game of the length, complexity, and polish seen in Baldur’s Gate 3 is near impossible. And I can kind of see where they are coming from.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is the type of game that can take 100+ hours for a single play through, with lots and LOTS of potential for re-playability. From character customization, to multiple ways of handling situations, to full on branching story lines. It is obvious a lot of work went into this game. And all that work is a bit of a risk. A game of this length and complexity is easy to get wrong. And so, publicly traded, risk adverse companies can’t/don’t want to take that risk.

What was Actually Meant

Having said all that, there is a disconnect between what is being discussed and what was meant originally. I believe that what was actually meant by “Baldur’s Gate 3 should be the new industry standard” is not its length, complexity, or even polish. What was meant was the state the game launched in. On launch the game worked. Were there bugs? Of course there were bugs, in a game this big they are unavoidable. But they are being addressed at an astoundingly rapid pace. So what was it that was so good about Baldur’s Gate 3?

A few things. First and foremost, assuming your computer could run it, it simply worked. Few if any game breaking or ruining bugs/crashes. No major graphical glitches. A few performance issues in the late game, but those have/are being addressed in patches. This can not be said of all (or even most) AAA games now. SO many come out in terrible states that are borderline unplayable (if not outright unplayable due to things like crashing).

Secondly, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a complete game on release. No on release story DLC. No pay to progress faster mechanics. Not even a cash shop of any kind, not even for cosmetics. Many so called AAA games now a days try and nickle and dime their players via micro transactions (some of which are not so “micro”). I do not care if a company charges for cosmetic items that do not affect gameplay. But I do care if a company holds game play elements hostage behind a pay wall, when I have already purchased the game. The only way Baldur’s Gate 3 does this is an optional “Premium Edition” that includes a few cosmetic items. And it is not pushed or even available in game.

Smoke and Mirrors

But this disconnect between what was meant and what is being discussed is intentional. The games industry is desperately afraid of being called on their BS. They insist that things are the way they are because they need to be. But then Baldur’s Gate 3 comes along and disproves that notion. So the big names in the games industry need to reframe the narrative. Rather than the reasonable things that were meant, they framed the discussion as “unreasonable consumers wanting the sun and moon”. When really we just want finished games that work on launch and not to be charged extra for a good experience.

Final Preperations

The Dungeons and Dragons campaign I am in is about to come to a close. 2-4 more weeks of games for this campaign (DM says 1-2 but when do things go as the DM plans?). Then it will be my turn. My campaign should officially begin in less than a month. What do I have left to do?

Session Zero Prep

There are a few last things for me to put together for the session zero that will kick off my stint as DM. First is a questionnaire. The questionnaire will be about what topics the players are comfortable encountering. These will range from slap stick comedy, to romance plots, to much darker topics. I don’t have plans to use most if any of the things going onto the questionnaire, but it is much better to know where the lines are well ahead of time.

The next step of session zero is to help my players make their characters. This step has already begun. Some of my players are throwing character ideas and backstories at me so we can work on them.

Populating the World

I know where my players are going and what they are doing, but I have a sparse few NPCs for them to interact with. I have the main quest giver, his wife, an idea for a pudgy shop keep, and a fun bar keep. But I don’t have much else. So I am going to have to make more characters.

And of course, I am going to have to design some dungeons and other encounters for my players. I have a few early encounters for my players, but I need to flesh out the layout of the actual dungeons.


Finally, we come to how we are going to play the game. I have a play mat that can be drawn on… but it takes some work to erase a given map to make a new one. So, I am reconsidering the idea of using Roll20 to run my game. The main problem being getting maps. But that is a relatively easy to solve problem. Even if I have to make the grid maps myself.

Changes: Visual, Functional, and Programmed

Changes are happening in my game. Lots of those changes are minor UI layout tweaks that are uninteresting to talk about. Bit of experimenting, little movements to make big differences, that type of things. But I have been making some more substantial changes too.

First Biggish Change

For the pre-made levels mode, there is a visual indicator of if you have previously completed a level before and if you have solved the level optimally. At first the indicator was a big “X”, but that had always been a placeholder. Next I tried a star shape to go with the twinkling star effect I put in the background, but that didn’t mesh as well as I had hopped. Then I settled on a circle that was filled with a dot when the appropriate condition was true. But recently an idea was suggested that I should have tried much sooner.

The idea was simple: Just have the word disappear and appear as needed. Having the entire word showing up and disappearing will draw the user’s eye, showing the change. I may add a few subtle effects to the appearing (very subtle animations to help draw the eye), but just goes to show that I should always strive to follow the K.I.S.S. principle. Keep It Simple Stupid.

Upcoming Change

The next change will take a bit more untangling and reworking than the last one. I am reworking the difficulty select for the randomized puzzles. Currently it is a drop down with the options of: easy, medium, hard, or custom. The rework is three fold.

First and foremost I am changing the dropdown to a spinner design. Originally I didn’t know what platform I would be releasing on, but now I have narrowed down to a mobile release. I light of that, I am trying to eliminate dropdown boxes wherever feasible, to avoid people fat fingering the wrong option.

Next is to remove the “custom” difficulty option. I liked the option at the start, but in light of various design decisions I have made, I have decided to scrap it. Which leads to the third change.

Up to this point when you selected a easy, medium, or hard difficulty puzzle it would give you a puzzle with a preset number of moves needed to complete it. This change is to add a small randomized element. So instead of always giving a puzzle that needed 4 moves to complete an easy puzzle will need between 3-5 moves to complete. This will be reflected in the Target # the player can see, so they know how many moves they are expected to make.

Beyond All That

Those are the immediate changes I am making to my game. But some other things are in the pipeline that I have planned. But I can’t talk about everything all at once. Besides, if this project has taught me 1 thing it is this: Plans need to be fluid and you can’t stubbornly hold onto one idea.

Designing a New One Shot

As the current Dungeons and Dragons campaign I am playing in draws closer and closer to an end, my campaign draws closer to its beginning. But before that happens, a few weeks may come when we don’t have enough players to progress the story. In those cases, we have generally run one-shot adventures. This works out great as it also gives me some experience as the Dungeon Master. Only one problem, what do I put in the adventure?

Seed Idea

Given the nature of the campaign I want to run I have plenty of ideas I can turn into adventures. One of the big problems is that a lot of those ideas have restrictions that prevent them form easily becoming one-shots. Some of the ideas are character specific (If I have a character that meets X requirement this dungeon will be good) or perhaps the idea will simply take too long to tell a good story for a one-shot. Whatever the case, I have to be specific with the base idea I grow into my one-shot.

Then I remembered an idea I have been throwing around for a while. This idea actually had some of the opposite problems. It didn’t easily fit into a campaign, but a quick “one and done” session? Works great. Honestly, the only reservation I have with using this idea is if I should keep it for a Halloween special. It does have a few creepy parts to it, plus plenty of zombies and such.

Ideas. Thoughts. And Wild Imaginings.

I have many thoughts on what I can do for my upcoming Dungeons and Dragon’s campaign, so I figured I would write some of them down. Some of these are almost certainly going to happen. Others?… Who knows?

Almost Certain Ideas


I may have mentioned in a previous post that I have created a group of dragons for my campaign. This group considers the island to be too dangerous to be left in mortal hands unsupervised. As such, at least one magic item the party retrieves will be deemed “too dangerous” by the dragons. As a result, one of the dragons is dispatched to retrieve the item. This encounter can play out in one of several ways. Diplomatically, as the dragon does not seek to harm the players they will be willing to trade. Chase, the party may try to flee, and based on what magic items/spells they have this may be an actual option. Fight, if they players are reckless and don’t hear out the dragon they may attack. Whatever they do, they will become aware of this secondary faction and may have gained a new ally or enemy.


One of the dungeons I have in my back pocket was born of two simple ideas. First, I want a relatively low level encounter with a creature that has a lair. For those unfamiliar, some creatures can permeate an area with so much magic as to make it their own. This alters the terrain and adds some potentially nasty effects to deal with. The other idea was as follows: Didn’t Europeans in olden times mistake Rhinos for Unicorns? That might make a fun encounter. So the primary hunt is for an evil Unicorn, with all of the positive traits of a Unicorn flipped to negative. But also in the encounter I want the party to see a shape in the distance, and if they don’t roll well enough mistake it for a unicorn. But it is in fact a couple rhinos charging them at full speed.


At several points in the campaign I am going to have something attack the adventure’s town. In one case it will be a “Trojan Horse” monster, an outer shell designed only to breach/bypass the walls so those inside the creation can get in the town and wreck stuff. The Player’s objectives will be to mitigate damage and then help deal with any aftermath. But another time, the threat perceived will very much be real. What is the thing? The terrifying Tarrasque? A mighty demon? A horde of chittering abominations? I am uncertain what the party will be facing, but it will certainly be out of their weight class… at least if they faced it alone. But whatever it is, it is attacking an entire town of adventures, so the party will have plenty of back up.

Less Certain Ideas

Now for something completly diffrent

One of my early ideas for a “dungeon” was for the party to be transported to a manor. Complete with guests, servants, and all the amenities expected of such a place. BUT, someone has been murdered, and suddenly the party is in a murder mystery. They must solve the mystery and apprehend the killer if they wish to acquire the magic item at the center of this dungeon. But are these people even real?


Another idea is for the party to enter the dungeon and be forced to go through some portal/teleportation circle/contrived conveyance one at a time. And once they are on the other side, they discover that at least one of them has been replaced with an imposter. The imposter is a perfect replica with all the abilities and memories of the person they replaced. And at first they may not even realize they are the imposter. How will the party find the fake? Will they need to rescue the displaced party member? Is there even a fake in the first place or have they been lied to? I have no idea how I would pull this all off, but I would love to do it.

Creating Characters

Back for some more Dungeons and Dragons campaign design talk. This time about how I have crafted what characters I have already, and how I plan to go about making more.

Starting With the Beginning

The first character I created for this setting was a result of a simple question: How do the players know where to go? Giant island, randomly spawning dungeons, unmapped (possibly changing) terrain, they need some kind of guide. This is when pulled from a backstory I had written for a past character of mine. This character had come from a clan that studied magic, believing that no magic had inherent morality. So, this new character had two traits: guides the party and studies all magic regardless of “risks”. Obviously I needed them to be a Wizard. Of elven ancestry because of the clan (more background, don’t worry about it). And I needed him to be in a position of authority. And so I had my first character.

You may be asking “what is this character’s name?” A reasonable question, to which I reply “Does it matter?” Because honestly, does it actually matter what the character’s name is at this point? At some point, sure, he needs a name. But at the point of populating a location the character’s individual names don’t matter that much.

Fleshing things out

So I have a character to drive the main plot forward, what now? First was to develop this character a little with a second character, namely his wife. Where my elven wizard was very intelligent I wanted his “other half” to be very wise. Given the wizard’s family his partner would have to be some flavor of spell caster or magical being. Then I had a character build idea that just fit everything I needed from this character and just slotted that in. And so Wroxi was born.

Wroxi is a Fairy Druid/Monk, this fits all the requirements. Spell caster? Check. Magical being? Check. Wisdom being a prominent stat? Check. Now I may hear some of you saying “Why does she have a name already and not the Wizard?” Quite simply because I played this character in a one-shot and she needed a name. I ended up liking the name and stuck with it.

But from here things get a bit harder.

Everyone Else

While I have a few ideas for other characters I don’t have much in the way of fleshed out characters. Mostly I have roles to fill and the outline of a character to fill some of them. Some of these character ideas include: a bearish barkeep that is almost exactly what he appears to be. A jovial fat man of a merchant that is almost certainly hiding something. A roaming goblin that is just trying to get by. And a group of dragons trying to make sure the adventures don’t unleash anything too dangerous. A few more positions need to be filled, but I don’t even have an outline of what will take that spot: civilian leadership, defense force leadership, other adventuring parties.