Dungeons and Dragons: Altitis, Writing an Adventure, and More

So Dungeons and Dragons has pretty much taken over my life.

The official logo for Dungeons and Dragons, fifth editionWhen last we discussed this, my initial campaign had shut down, but another DM had stepped up to run a new one. This campaign is now our focus. It’s a more sandboxy and episodic affair, as opposed to the linear official campaigns.

I’ve been playing a Tiefling Way of Shadows monk who multi-classed into bard for one level for a little extra flavour and versatility. It’s become a very crowded game, though not everyone shows up every week. We also have another monk (an Aarakocra who moonlights as an exotic dancer), a Halfing fighter, an Aasimar paladin (with glorious hair), a Kenku rogue (who’s delightful), a Grung bard using homebrewed racials, and a human wizard.

Like I said. Crowded.

Our general strategy tends to be for my Tiefling and his Aasimar BFF to charge into the middle of things, start smashing everything in sight, and hope for the best. It mostly works, most of the time. There was that one time I got swallowed whole by a giant worm and our other monk had to cut me out of its stomach…

Meanwhile, another member of our social circle has started DMing some games of his own, using Adventurer’s League rules. He has a very tight schedule, so it’s more of a once in a blue moon thing than a regular campaign. We’ve only played one session so far.

In that, I’ve been playing as a Drow sorcerer, who is loosely based on my ranger from Neverwinter. I wanted to play a pure spellcaster for a while, and I’ve always liked the wild magic angle of sorcerers.

My ranger and her sellsword companion in NeverwinterWhereas my other characters so far have tended to be hybrid/supports, this time I’m just going for a maximum “burn the world down” damage build.

It’s a nice opportunity to explore another new character. While I feel that there is a lot of difference between tabletop RPGs and video games, one common thread I have found is that I’m still a hopeless altoholic. I’m constantly coming up with new character concepts, and there’s not enough time to play them all.

In addition to the three characters I’ve played so far, I have fairly fleshed out concepts for two more. One is a ranger that I intend to play in a one-off session using the Eberron setting next week, and the other is a Shadar-kai druid. I discovered the Circle of Twilight specialization, which uses dark magic to hunt undead, and fell in love, and given the anti-undead attitudes of the Shadar-kai and their master the Raven Queen, it all just sort of fell together.

The end result is what I’ll call a “death druid” sent to enforce the cycle of nature, similar to Diablo’s necromancers. I’m very passionate about the idea. Unfortunately, Circle of Twilight is from Unearthed Arcana, and therefore not legal for Adventurer’s League; otherwise I would have used it for the new campaign.

I’ve also found myself missing my original character (the High Elf paladin), so I brought her back for a cameo in the current campaign, with the possibility of maybe switching to her full time.

Art from the Dungeons and Dragons game Neverwinter depicting an Elf very much like my own paladinOur DM wanted me to write an adventure for the campaign for a while, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and wrote an adventure around the paladin.¬†Because I’m still not a total expert on D&D mechanics and didn’t want to have too great an advantage over other players, I only wrote the story for this adventure. Our DM handled the mechanical design.

It’s a bit of a vanity project, but the others seem to be enjoying the story so far, and it’s giving me the opportunity for some great roleplay moments.

Since this campaign isn’t quite as high-power as the old one I wasn’t able to just be a paladin who’s also an arcane archer. Instead, I tweaked paladin mechanics a bit to make them work from range.

Instead of Divine Smite, I now have Divine Arrow, which is pretty much the same thing, except it works from range and rolls D6s instead of D8s for damage, to compensate for the advantage of being ranged.

I also rewrote Channel Divinity. It still gives me one of two utility effects per short rest, but instead of the usual Oath of the Ancients powers, I picked two of the arcane archer spells: Seeking Arrow and Beguiling Arrow.

I’m still weighing whether to switch to the paladin or stick with my monk. For the most part, I do think I prefer the paladin, especially when it comes to game mechanics. I’m glad I tried melee, but I think I prefer ranged when it comes to D&D, and I like having so much healing and support abilities.

Now all we need is a dungeon...However, I do really like how the monk fits into the party and the relationships he’s formed within it, like his roguish history with our Kenku and his buddy cop bromance with the Aasimar.

Also, D&D races don’t seem to be very well-balanced, and Tieflings seem to be just plain better than Elves. Hellish Rebuke in particular is an amazingly strong racial ability, at least at current levels.

Ugh. Decisions are hard.

My indecisiveness aside, I’m really enjoying diving into Dungeons and Dragons. I love building characters and exploring the stories, and getting to share it with my friends is a really positive experience. Our D&D sessions are becoming the highlight of my week.

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Making Memories

Recently I read an interesting post by Bhagpuss of Inventory Full. He starts out talking about WvW in Guild Wars 2 and ends up veering hard into the realm of existentialism (and if that doesn’t convince you to give his blog a try, I don’t know what would).

My avatar silhouetted against the moon in the dearly departed LandmarkIt touches on a topic that comes up often in gaming circles. It gets phrased different ways, but fundamentally, the question is, “Are we wasting our lives by playing video games?”

Bhagpuss’ answer to that appears to be a hard no. Many feel similarly — that if you enjoy yourself, it’s not time wasted, no matter how impermanent and abstract video games may be.

As someone who has spent what is by almost any standard an unhealthy amount of my life playing video games (and engaging in other pastimes), I have a more complex view of things. I don’t regret all of the time I’ve spent gaming, but I do regret some of it, and I’m trying to get better at focusing on games that I’m not likely to regret playing.

These days my criteria for whether a game is worth my time is, “Will this make a good memory?”

A large part of the reason I stopped playing Heroes of the Storm regularly is that I realized I’d been playing it almost daily for about two years, and had almost no memories of the game. It’s not that I wasn’t having fun. Most of the time I was.

But that game never really made me feel anything. It didn’t make me think. I didn’t meet any friends in-game, and I didn’t learn anything valuable. All those matches just faded into a blur of bad Raynors and dropping Blizzards on team fights. It meant nothing.

Playing as Alexstrasza the Dragon-Queen in Heroes of the StormI don’t necessarily regret ever playing Heroes in the first place, but I regret that I wasted so much of my life on it.

By comparison, I sunk hundreds of hours into The Secret World, and I’m overflowing with positive memories of that game. There was the time I spent an afternoon translating Caesar ciphers, there was spending Christmas Eve with Moiren, there was Joelzilla, there was soloing The Girl Who Kicked the Vampire’s Nest for the first time, there was wandering the streets of Kingsmouth and listening to the seagulls…

I could go on and on. Almost every moment spent in TSW, I was stimulated intellectually and emotionally. I treasure all of the memories I made in that game, and I don’t regret a single second I spent playing it.

And really I think this philosophy is something you can apply to any aspect of life. “Will this make a good memory?”

A few weeks ago, I went to a Chvrches concert. It was a fantastic show, and I had a great time, but what really makes it worthwhile for me is the way I’ll be able to revisit that night in my memory for years to come. Any time I listen to Forever now, if I close my eyes, I’m back in my seat at the Danforth Music Hall, seeing Lauren dance across the stage.

It even applies to life goals. Lately I’ve been going through a lot of changes in my life and thinking hard about what I want for myself and my future — what success means to me, and what I really want to do with my life.

Celebrating Christmas Eve with Moiren and friends in The Secret WorldI think a lot of it can be boiled down to the idea that I want to make happy memories for people. That’s why I write: I want to tell stories that uplift and inspire people, that will linger with them in a positive way the same way Lord of the Rings is still inspiring me after twenty years.

I’ve also been making it a goal lately to try to be more helpful and supportive to the people who mean the most to me. Again, I want to leave people with positive memories. I want to make an impact for the better.

I think that, really, is the closest thing to immortality any of us can ever hope to achieve. When our days come to an end, the only thing we really leave behind is the memories we’ve made with other people, and the lives we’ve touched.

Returning to the original topic, I think something can still be a waste of time even if you enjoy it. But if it leaves you with a happy memory that you can continue to enjoy for years to come, then that time is never wasted, no matter how frivolous or ephemeral an activity might seem to the outsider observer.