Tuesday, November 24, 2009

So I'm a junkie, right?

And I've been clean now for six months, as I explained in my last post. But I'm really starting to jones for the stuff, you know? I keep thinking about it, and it's almost like I can taste it. But I'm good—I stay clean. I'm not going back.

Sure, maybe I visit my dealer's web site once every couple of days. At least it's not every day. And maybe I listen to my dealer's soundtrack while I'm working. So what?

Then today I get an email from my dealer. "Your account has been selected to receive 7 free days of game time. Come back! Come back!"

It's a good thing I'm on a tight deadline right now. But I have a feeling that once that deadline is past, I'm going to spend 7 days reminding myself of all the reasons why I don't like this particular drug...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

World of Warcrack

Just for kicks, I went and looked at my billing records for World of Warcraft. I played (or at least paid) from 12/25/04 through July of 2006, or about 19 months straight. Then I took three months off. Started again on 11/25/06, played for about 11 months, then took two months off. Started again on 12/31/07, played for 6 months, then took another two months off. Started again on 9/8/08 (right after my birthday), played for 8 months, and now it's been six months since I played.

Yeah, I'm jonesing. So what?

Thursday, November 12, 2009


In the comments to my last post, Metz asked about seeing some of the stats for the WoW monsters I've been playing with. So, just for kicks, here are a handful of different murlocs, of the sort found around Lake Teronis in Ashenvale.

As D&D monsters go, these are intentionally dirt-simple. They have one or two powers, which often very closely mimic powers possessed by the monsters in WoW. They're designed to play fast and easy. I wish, in retrospect, I'd done something to make them interact better with each other, but hey . . . they're murlocs. :)

Have fun!

Saltspittle Muckdweller Level 7 Artillery
Medium natural humanoid, murloc XP 300
Initiative +7 Senses Perception +5
HP 61; Bloodied 30
AC 19; Fortitude 19; Reflex 20; Will 18
Speed 8, swim 8
m Spear (at-will; standard) • Weapon
+14 vs AC; 1d8 + 4 damage.
r Spear (at-will; standard) • Weapon
Ranged 10; +14 vs AC; 3d6 + 4 damage and the target is slowed (save ends).
Alignment Unaligned Languages Murloc
Str 16 (+6) Dex 19 (+7) Wis 14 (+5)
Con 13 (+4) Int 8 (+2) Cha 10 (+3)

Saltspittle Oracle Level 7 Artillery (Leader)
Medium natural humanoid, murloc XP 300
Initiative +6 Senses Perception +7
HP 61; Bloodied 30
AC 19; Fortitude 19; Reflex 19; Will 20
Speed 8, swim 8
m Staff (at-will; standard) • Weapon
+14 vs AC; 1d8 + 4 damage.
r Shock (at-will; standard) • Lightning
Ranged 10; +12 vs Reflex; 3d6 + 4 lightning damage.
R Healing Wave (recharge 6; standard) • Healing
Ranged 5; the target can spend a healing surge.
Alignment Unaligned Languages Murloc
Str 16 (+6) Dex 16 (+6) Wis 18 (+7)
Con 13 (+4) Int 8 (+2) Cha 13 (+4)

Saltspittle Puddlejumper Level 7 Skirmisher
Medium natural humanoid, murloc XP 300
Initiative +9 Senses Perception +5
HP 77; Bloodied 38
AC 21; Fortitude 19; Reflex 20; Will 18
Speed 8, swim 8
m Spear (at-will; standard) • Weapon
+12 vs AC; 2d6 + 4 damage.
Rushing Charge
When charging, the puddlejumper's speed is 10 and it deals +1d6 damage.
Alignment Unaligned Languages Murloc
Str 16 (+6) Dex 19 (+7) Wis 14 (+5)
Con 13 (+4) Int 8 (+2) Cha 10 (+3)

Saltspittle Warrior Level 7 Soldier
Medium natural humanoid, murloc XP 300

Initiative +8 Senses Perception +5
HP 77; Bloodied 38
AC 23; Fortitude 20; Reflex 19; Will 18
Speed 8, swim 8
m Sword (at-will; standard) • Weapon
+14 vs AC; 2d6 + 4 damage and the target is marked until the end of the warrior's next turn.
M Sunder Armor (recharge 4 5 6; standard)
+14 vs AC; 3d10 + 4 damage and the target takes a -2 penalty to AC (save ends).
M Shield Bash (at-will; opportunity) • Weapon
+14 vs AC; 1d8 + 4 damage and the target is dazed until the end of the warrior's next turn.
Alignment Unaligned Languages Murloc
Str 19 (+7) Dex 16 (+6) Wis 14 (+5)
Con 13 (+4) Int 8 (+2) Cha 10 (+3)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I'm still off the WoW habit, but...

I let my World of Warcraft subscription lapse in May. This might be the longest I've gone without playing it since I started, come to think of it, which could explain the cravings.

In addition to the cravings for the actual computer game, which I keep denying because it turns out there's a lot about that experience I just don't enjoy, the cravings have been manifesting recently as desires to play D&D in the world of WoW. I think it's a cool world, and there's a part of me—a rather large part, it turns out—that would love to play a night elf warrior in a tabletop experience where I'm not button-mashing, where my actions make a difference in the world, where there's a DM to adjudicate my doing whatever I want to, and all those other things that make tabletop gaming superior, in my estimation, to computer gaming. In fact, there's a lot of it that feels like the best of both worlds: I can have the tabletop experience I enjoy while also playing the soundtracks to the game and making abundant use of visual aids and quest design from the computer game.

So I've spent some time with the D&D Monster Builder, statting up monsters from the game in D&D terms. I've spent a lot of time on WoW fan sites like thottbot and wowhead and wowwiki, culling information about the world and its inhabitants and "translating" it into D&D content, from quests to monsters to storylines.

When I was at GenCon, I bought a couple of WoW mini singles: a couple of nagas, a voidwalker, and a timberling who made an appearance in my Greenbrier campaign a couple of weeks ago, as a myconid sovereign. They were $1 each, so I felt that was a pretty good investment for monsters that would be Large in the game anyway. Doesn't help much for gnomes and night elves and other Medium critters, but they're pretty cool additions to my minis collection.

So then today I got an idea. Using the 3D models of WoW mobs available on wowhead, I took snapshots of a bunch of monsters, front and back, printed them on cardstock, and turned them into stand-up figures, much like the Cardboard Heroes of old. Look:

That's a bunch of murlocs on the left, some nagas on the right (I decided to make them Large after trying them both Large and Medium), and satyrs in the front.


On the right, a demon and its cultists. Center, an abomination and three forsaken. Left, a worgen. And in the back are two orcs and two tauren.

Still more!

These are the woodsy folk: a couple of furbolgs (I decided to make them Medium after trying them Large) on the left, a bunch of night elves toward the right (with a son of Cenarius and a dryad at far right), Gnarl the ancient in the back, and two draenei and a human (Delgren the Purifier) behind the furbolgs.

I focused on creatures and characters to be found in Ashenvale, since that's where I've been putting most of my attention. It's aesthetically one of the most appealing zones to me, which almost makes up for its almost utter lack of good storylines. And Blackfathom Deeps is one of the only instances I've done, pathetically enough.

So then it occurred to me that the work I did might be useful to other people. Want to print the WoW minis I made? Visit this page and download the PDFs, and print them onto card stock. Want to make your own, visit the same page and download the photoshop files, delete (or hide) the layers showing the WoW monsters, and add your own images.

Caveats: I'm more or less happy with the Larges, but they don't stand up if you make the base too narrow. What I ended up doing was not cutting through the page margin at the top of the page, so I got a wider base on them.

I'm really not happy with the Huges. They take up a row of three squares, rather than a box of nine squares. And it's just possible that all the Huges I did ought to be Large anyway. Thoughts on making effective Huge monsters in this format would be welcome, but it's possible that a flat counter is just better. I suppose one could get all fancy and make an X-shaped figure with four views of the monster... oh, geez, now I'm going to have to try that.

Have fun!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dragon War interview

Check out my interview on Marty's Book Nook!

Early feedback is awesome:
Just watched Book Nook. You, sir, are a giant goofball. I approve. —@AsmodeusLore
High praise, indeed! Just go watch it. Then read the book!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My GenCon schedule

2:00 D&D World of Eberron seminar
10:00 Signing in Author Alley
12:00 Bringing Your Concept to Life panel (IIGoH)
2:00 Wizards booth
4:00 D&D World of Forgotten Realms seminar
6:00 Top 5 Best Gaming Products panel (IIGoH)
8:00 ENnies Ceremony
10:00 I Want to Be a Dungeon Master seminar
12:00 D&D 4th Edition Extravaganza seminar
4:00 Wizards booth
1:00 Religion, Fantasy, and Roleplaying talk (IIGoH)
IIGoH is short for Industry Insider Guest of Honor, a role I'm proud to be playing again this year.

Hope to see you in Indy!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A pair of random thoughts

First, in case you missed it on Twitter or Facebook, I did an interview last week with local public radio station KUOW (94.9). It's supposed to air at 12:26 tomorrow afternoon, and a couple of times over the next week, but you can listen to it now on the web.

I got thinking later about one of the things I said in the interview, and I realized that for a number of books that I've worked on, the funny little chapters are my favorites. To wit:

  • The one I mentioned in the interview was the chapter in Deities & Demigods that presented Taiia (the god of a monotheistic religion from Aquela), Elishar and Toldoth (the dualistic religion practiced by my last 1st Edition AD&D character), and the dwarven mystery cult of Dennari (from the Roman campaign).
  • The chapter of Oriental Adventures where I talked about using dwarves as the Crab clan of Rokugan (and elves as the Crane) and talked just a bit about using Asian cultures other than China and Japan as sources.
  • In Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, the chapter with the three fanes you can use to weaken Strahd.

I don't know what it is about those three chapters that I like so much, but somehow they feel like some of my most distinctive contributions to the D&D game. They're quirky and unique. They're me.

The dog food test

I read this, talking about Google's Chrome OS, last night:

In short, will Chrome OS pass the dog food test: is it something Google’s own engineers will want to use?

I’m skeptical about the prospects of any new system or product that isn’t intended for use by the people creating it. Gmail, for example, is the best web mail system because it was designed to be used not just by “typical” users but by expert users, including the engineers at Google who made it. The iPhone is simple enough to appeal to almost anyone, but guess which phone the people who created it use?

Make something intended not for your own use, but for use by dummies, and you’ll usually wind up creating something dumb. The future of computing probably is in the direction of thin clients connecting to network services for storage and software, but my hunch is that Chrome OS is too thin.

It struck me because it dovetailed directly with a conversation I'd had the day before about D&D 4e. Some people think that we designed the game for World of Warcraft players, or for kids, or for stupid people. We didn't. We designed it for us—and by "us," I mean not just the people inside this department who are lucky enough to play more D&D than just about anybody in the world, but also people like us: People who love the game and want the best gaming experience possible. People who had a great time playing 3rd edition but grew increasingly frustrated with its mechanics. People who still enjoy the tabletop experience of sitting down, face to face, with your friends and spending a couple of hours lost in fantasy.

From my perspective, it was incredibly successful. I'm playing more D&D than I ever have in my life—five regular campaigns, plus frequent games with my son (and sometimes my wife). I'm having more fun while playing, too. And I still hunger for more—I want to get the old band back together and return to the glory days of the Imperium Romanum campaign (back in the SPQR!). From what I've seen, a whole lot of people feel the same way.

Some people don't. Well, that has to be OK. No edition of D&D has pleased everybody. Some people still consider 2nd Edition a blight on the purity of the original AD&D, and some think it's been all downhill since "Advanced" first got appended to the name of the game. Fourth Edition can't please everybody, either. So play the edition of the game that makes you happy.

But, for crying out loud, play the game. I have no patience for armchair generals who stir up the so-called edition wars without ever actually playing any edition of D&D. Play the game the way you want it, and lay off the people who don't like the game you're playing. But play. The D&D kitchen table is big enough for all of us.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Night Below conversion, part 1

As you might have seen me mention on Twitter, today I started running the classic (1995) 2nd Edition AD&D superadventure Night Below for a party of three 3rd-level PCs, consisting of my wife's paladin, my bard, and a character my son made, of a class we've been working on designing for fun. So it's a little weird to be adapting it for only 3 PCs, when the original adventure is intended for four to eight ("the higher number is better").

I started this project because gaming with my son, ever since I brought home Dungeon Delve, has consisted of a string of 3-encounter "delves" with very little plot or story, and I'm getting a little tired of that experience. To be clear, gaming with my son is in addition to five regular campaigns that have a lot more plot, story, and character stuff going on, so it's not like I'm starving for it in general. I just wanted this experience that we share as a family to be little richer, and get him more accustomed to a more traditional style of play.

On the other hand, I didn't want to have to do a lot of work to create another campaign of my own. I'm running my Greenbrier campaign (the one I write about for my Dungeoncraft column) on Fridays at lunch, and that's about all that I have time to prep for. Especially if I start writing another novel any time soon. So I really wanted to pull a superadventure off the shelf, do some tweaking as necessary, and play the heck out of it. I thought Night Below was a pretty strong candidate for that. It might still be, if I can get past this one hump.

One of the things I really like about Night Below is the way it interacts with 4th Edition's quest rules. Just in the little bit we played today, I handed my players three Post-It notes with quests on them:
  • Major Quest: Deliver Gordrenn's chest of arcane ritual components to Tauster in Thurmaster. Level 3 (450 XP). Tauster arranges to pay the PCs 110 gp (treasure parcel 9 for 3rd-level PCs).
  • Major Quest: Find Jelenneth. I haven't actually set a level for this one yet, because the PCs won't complete it until Book 3 of the adventure, when they'll probably be in the paragon tier. Tauster has promised them 150 gp, which by that time will be pocket change.
  • Minor Quest: Deliver Tauster's letter to Kuiper. Level 3 (150 XP). Tauster pays them 30 gp for this easy little delivery job, which I'll shave from another parcel.
The adventure as written has a lot of little quest hooks like this, which should eventually lead to a situation where the players have a bunch of things they could pursue, and they get to decide which quest to work on next.

The problem is that the quest to find Jelenneth seems urgent, which makes the players not interested in other matters. Kuiper suggests that they look for Jelenneth along Hog Creek—but the scene in the inn made it seem like she left abruptly. She didn't tell her sweetie that she was leaving and heading back to Thurmaster. Tauster clearly didn't instruct her to gather herbs along Hog Creek. Why would anyone accept Kuiper's suggestion of searching for her there?

I think this is a surmountable problem. I think the next time we play, I'll have Kuiper sit down with the characters and say, "Look. You're probably right that Jelenneth was abducted—especially given what happened to you guys on your way into the area. Let's have a look around Hog Creek, if only because whoever took her might have come that way, especially if they're hiding out in the forest somewhere."

Then they can run into Oleanna, who has an urgent problem of her own to deal with. With enough urgent problems on their quest log (as it were), perhaps it won't seem so terrible that they have no leads on finding Jelenneth. After all, they've got a werebear to help, orcs to deal with, and more of these kidnapping bandits.

The first encounter in the adventure, "Capture Them Alive!" was easy to put together:
Encounter Level 4 (XP 524)
4 human rabble (level 2 minion, MM 162)
2 human bandits, armed with bows (1d10 damage, instead of 1d4+3 for the dagger) (level 2 skirmisher, MM 162)
Carlanis, human guard (level 3 soldier, MM 162)

If they had captured a prisoner, I was prepared to give them another minor quest to bring him to justice in Milborne.

My son was getting antsy after all the talk in Milborne, so I threw a "random" encounter at them between Milborne and Thurmaster (despite the adventure's instructions, "The PCs should not have any random hostile encounters during their trip to Thurmaster.") It was another simple encounter:
Level 3 Encounter (XP 450)
6 goblin cutters (level 1 minion, MM 136)
Goblin blackblade (level 1 lurker, MM 136)
Bugbear warrior (level 5 brute, MM 135)

I've started to sketch out a campaign arc, based on the tables of contents in the three books of the adventure. Here's what it looks like so far:
Capture Them Alive! PCs are attacked by bandits on their way to Thurmaster. Level 3.
Milborne and Beyond Learn of disappeared apprentice. Goblin attack on the way to Thurmaster.
Lured Into Darkness Four mini-adventures:
—Creeping Along Hog Brook: Kuiper and Oleanne help the PCs to fight orcs and capture the werebear. I've built Kuiper and Oleanne as simple supporting characters using some new rules coming out this fall, so I'll plan these encounters as if we had 5 PCs. I think that means the orc encounter is 10 orc drudges (level 4 minion) and one orc berserker (level 4 brute), which is not quite a level 3 encounter for 5 PCs. Oleanne leaves before the werebear fight, which I think will just be a cave bear (level 6 elite brute).
— Mystery of the New Mire: The PCs investigate the New Mire and deal with the Goblins of the Ring. There's a lot of goblins in there, but I want to try to encourage a diplomatic solution. I'm guessing the PCs will hit 4th level around this time.
— Peril on the River: Carry cargo on the river to Thurmaster, fight bandits. Tough encounter. Ranchefus will be a priest of Torog.
— A Kidnapping on the Moors: Search for missing pilgrims on Howler’s Moor. I might use a couple of shadow hounds (level 6 skirmisher) in place of the pack of death dogs in the original adventure, or I might stat up death dogs, depending on how creative I feel at the time.
Gazetteer of Haranshire Side adventures TBD. My goal here will be to fill out the PCs' quest log, so that after the werebear incident the characters just have a ton of leads to pursue and quests to fulfill.
Ruins in the Thornwood PCs fight the kidnappers at Broken Spire Keep. I think I'll be aiming to have the PCs at 5th level by this time. (The original adventure wanted them at 3rd by now.)
Evil Below the Mines PCs fight more kidnappers at Garlstone Mines. We'll be aiming for 6th level here (the original says they should be 4th).
The Orcs Below the World PCs fight orcs at the gateway to the Underdark. Aim for level 7 for meaty orc encounters.
Into the Deep Dark Talk to deep gnomes. Another thing I like about this adventure: "Do not play these deep gnomes as jokey figures of fun. They are emphatically not 'tinker gnomes' or the more frivolous kind generally."
The Gnome Lands The PCs have the opportunity to kill some trolls (level 9 brute), so it'd be good if they're level 8 by now. As written, these caves have 4 to 8 trolls each! 4e encounter design should make this interesting. There are also some troglodytes, which happily occupy a similar level range (6 to 8).
Perils of the Long Path Three mini-dungeons:
—Grell Nest: Grells are level 7 and 11 in the MM, which lets me build level 8 or 9 encounters using both.
—Monsters at War: This area pits quaggoths against hook horrors (level 13). I know someone at the office has written up quaggoths, so I'll look into what they did and what level they're pegged at. There's a rakshasa in charge of the hook horrors, which might be a level 15 warrior—otherwise I'll have to craft a lower-level rakshasa than the ones in the MM.
—The Smooth Caverns: Ropers (level 14 elite), xorn (level 9 or 16 skirmisher), and crystal oozes (not done in 4e yet). This is getting pretty high-level, and I might need to skip this section.
—Caves of the Slime Lord: Home of the weird, weird monsters, from piercers and lurkers to invisible stalkers and crystal oozes. Some assembly required.
Scales Before the Rockseers Two cavern areas:
—Caverns of the Reptiles: Home to a behir (in MM2 at levels 8, 14, and 24) and a shadow dragon (in adventure P3 at levels 8, 14, and 20, and in Draconomicon at 24). Looks like these two are evenly matched whatever level the PCs have reached by this time.
—The Halls of the Rockseers: Rather than introduce a new subrace of subterranean elves, I'm going to make the rockseers a distinct fey race that's elf-like without being elves. At least, that's the current plan. I guess I could just make them ordinary elves who happen to live deep underground (which is also my plan for the deep gnomes), but I'd be a little sad to lose their ability to meld into stone. Fun skill challenge material here.
The Derro at War I haven't decided yet whether to reinvent derro for 4e or just use the duergar from MM2, which include a number of examples at levels 11–14. There's a purple worm, a level 16 solo, which will be tough for 3 PCs.
The City of the Glass Pool The home of the kuo-toa (level 12 to 16).
The Deepest Darkness The PCs regroup, consult with various allies, and make ready to descend to the Sunless Sea.
Exploring the Great Cavern More derro. Fire giants (level 18). A group of demons led by a marilith (level 24 elite)—oh, that's going to need some work, since alu-fiends aren't in the game and succubi are devils now. Renegade illithids (level 14–18) and fomorians (level 16–22).
Isles in the Sunless Sea More little mini-dungeons, with a human wizard, a bunch of undead, the pyramid of the ixzan, and some miscellaneous beasties. Some monster design required here.
Great Shaboath City of the aboleth! Aboleths are level 17–18, so that's our target for the end of the campaign.

I have just suddenly run out of steam. More later.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


GenCon 2002: A bunch of friends sit down to play some D&D. We make up some hasty, 9th-level characters and then play. I don't remember who DMed—maybe Steve Schubert? I only remember some of the players. But I have the character, because for some reason I entered it into the character storage CGI script I wrote for my old website. Inspired by the T-shirt distributed with the announcement of 3rd Edition, I decided to make a half-orc barbarian/sorcerer. Because the shirt said I could.

Thuk II was a chaotic good half-orc barbarian 3/sorcerer 6. Str 16, Dex 12, Con 14, Int 6, Wis 10, Cha 16. He had 54 hp, AC 21, Fort +7, Ref +4, and Will +6. He wielded a +2 greataxe, wore a +2 mithral shirt, +2 ring of protection, +2 amulet of natural armor, and +2 cloak of Charisma. Raging (once per day) gave him Str 20, Con 18, Will +8, AC 19. His skills were Intimidate +9, Listen +6, and Concentration +8, and he had Weapon Focus (greataxe), Power Attack, Blind-Fight, and Combat Casting as feats. His personality I summed up in a quotation: "Thuk smash!"

His spells per day: 6 level 0, 7 level 1, 6 level 2, and 4 level 3. He knew (1st level) true strike, shocking grasp, burning hands, magic missile; (2nd level) blur, bull's strength; and (3rd level) haste.

Thuk I, who died early in the adventure, was a barbarian 2/sorcerer 7. I changed the distribution of levels so that I could get a second attack each round.

That's perhaps the weirdest irony—I wanted Thuk to be a melee guy who ran up and smashed monsters, enhancing his ability to do so with his sorcerer spells. That's why I chose the spells I did. But the system encouraged me to give him more sorcerer levels than barbarian levels, because I got more bang out of those bucks (more spells). Even in his revised form, Thuk was not a particularly strong character. I was fighting upstream to get a high Charisma (my save DCs started at 13), and my Strength was lower than it would have been as a straight barbarian. 

Now, I've been thinking for a long time, and particularly since we were intently working on Player's Handbook 2, that a half-orc barbarian/sorcerer in 4th Edition would be pretty awesome. So the other night, for kicks, I revisited Thuk.

The new Thuk is a good half-orc barbarian 9 with the Arcane Prodigy (sorcerer multiclass) feat. Str 18, Con 12, Dex 16, Int 8, Wis 11, Cha 18. He has 75 hp, AC 23, Fort 22, Ref 20, and Will 20. He wields a +2 berserker greataxe, wears +2 bloodcut hide armor, and a +2 amulet of health. His trained skills are Athletics +13, Intimidate +15, and Perception +9, and he has Weapon Focus (axes), Power Attack, Arcane Prodigy, Novice Power, and Acolyte Power as feats. His personality can still be summed up as "Thuk smash!"

Here's his powers: (at-will) howling strike, pressing strike, (encounter) furious assault, roar of triumph, vault the fallen, flame spiral, curtain of steel, (daily) rage strike, macetail's rage, vengeful storm rage, white tiger rage, (utility) combat sprint, swift escape. His weapon attacks are +12 and deal a base 1d12+6, while his sorcerer attack is +8, with a +4 damage bonus.

When he hits 10th level, he'll take Adept Power and swap out one of his barbarian rages for a sorcerer daily. 

He doesn't have as much overt magic going on, but there's a lot more happening in his barbarian powers than just his basic attacks. His one sorcerer attack (flame spiral) is a close burst, so I don't need to worry about opportunity attacks—I just burninate the guys next to me. No Charisma penalty means my ability scores are better (even without the cloak of Charisma), and the barbarian has some good uses for that high Charisma score as well. 

This is a character I might actually like to play...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My life, post-trilogy

So it's been just over two months since I sent Dragon War off to my editor for the last time. How is my life different, now that I have all this extra time?

The sad answer is that, mostly, I'm sleeping more. I guess that's actually not so sad, probably good for my health and mood. But instead of setting my alarm for 6:10 every morning, I set it for 7:10. For a while I thought I'd soon start getting up early again and do something productive with that time—go into work earlier, exercise, something. That hasn't happened.

Since the early morning was my primary writing time, that's about all that's really different. Except now I read on the bus in the morning, instead of continuing my writing. So I've read a fair amount in those two months:
  • Practical Demonkeeping, by Christopher Moore
  • The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • The Glass Books of the Dream-Eaters, by Gordon Dahlquist
  • The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L. Carter
  • The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem, by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan
  • Perdido Street Station, by China Mi√©ville
That's been fun.

Then last week, two months to the day after I finished Dragon War, I woke up and started thinking about a new novel idea. I'm not going to talk about it at all, but it's still percolating in my brain. Work is getting really busy, so it might be a while before I have a lot of time to think more about it. But I think I have a good year or so to get the book written.

In other news, apparently you should follow me on Twitter. At least, that's the message I gleaned from this post on wired.com. I come right after Steve Wozniak. How cool is that?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I've been searching for this word for a long time, and I finally found it. It's the opposite of onomotopoeia—it's a word that sounds nothing at all like what it means. My textbook example is "pulchritude." I think "gibbous" might also go on the list, as tonight's moon is what got me thinking about it again.

Unlike many fancy Latin-bred words that I learned from the writing of the late Gary Gygax, I know pulchritude because of the unusual choice of Gian Carlo Menotti to replace the credo in his mass with a verse from Augustine's Confessions, making it the Missa "O Pulchritudo". It's a lovely piece, performed with pulchritude by the William Ferris Chorale in the only digital recording I'm aware of. William Ferris Chorale - Menotti & Vierne

Friday, March 27, 2009

Player's Handbook 2

This is from USA Today's list of the top 150 books this week:

And the Wall Street Journal's nonfiction list:

Monday, March 23, 2009

An open letter to sweetdragon.livejournal.com

Stumbled upon this post regarding a young woman's budding interest in D&D. I'm not going to go through the rigamarole I'd have to in order to post a reply directly, so I'm posting here to vent my spleen, as it were, in regard to the following comment:
I now find myself downloading the 4th Edition Player's Handbook (Yeah. Downloaded. Fuck you; those things are expensive.)
Dear Sweetdragon,

I'm really glad to hear that you've been enjoying playing D&D, and particularly that you're engrossed enough in it to create such an extensive backstory for your character.

But I'm deeply saddened that you don't think that enjoyment is worth your money.

I worked for three years with a team of the best game designers in the world to produce the game you're downloading. I'm more proud of my name on the front cover of the 4th Edition D&D Player's Handbook than I am of any other book I've worked on. Oh, but maybe you haven't seen the front cover?

The book retails for $35. I spent about that much taking my family to dinner and the $3 movie theater on Saturday night. Sometimes I spend it on just dinner. Two full-priced movie tickets plus popcorn and drinks will put you back about that much. It seems to be the going rate for maybe two hours of entertainment. Or I guess you could almost buy two DVDs, and have four hours of movies you can watch whenever you want to.

Or you can buy the D&D Player's Handbook and play D&D with it for the rest of your life. How many hours of enjoyment is that illegal PDF going to give you? You don't think it's worth your money?

OK, times are tough and money's tight for a lot of people. But look. You can buy a legal copy of that PDF from RPGNow for just $25. Or you can get the book from Amazon for only $23, or get the three core books as a gift set for $66.

I hope Talia has many grand adventures and manages to overcome the evil within her and attain the holiness she seeks.

And I hope you do the right thing and stop stealing my work.

James Wyatt

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Fantasizing about vacation

For a couple of weeks now, I've been thinking about taking a vacation—a real vacation. Most of the time I've taken off from work in last couple of years has been time I needed to catch up on writing the various books in the Draconic Prophecies trilogy. I started writing Storm Dragon in June of 2006, so they have been consuming my life for a while now. I've been dreaming about going to the beach somewhere and doing nothing at all for like a week.

Then Amy points out that I can't do nothing at all for more than like three days, tops, before I start going batty.

Earlier this week, I was thinking that I'm not really a workaholic. I mean, I work a lot. But not compulsively, you know? I work a lot because I have a lot to do. As soon as I don't have a lot to do, I won't work as much any more, right?

Well, here's how I've spent the roughly 34 hours since I finished Dragon War:
  • Went to lunch with the family, browsed Best Buy (bought a video game for my son), had dessert at Cold Stone Creamery.
  • Took Amy on a date—Thai food for dinner, a brief stop at Barnes & Noble where I picked up a fairly mindless read (Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore), then Inkheart at what has apparently recently turned into a second-run theater near my office.
  • Read the whole book I bought last night.
  • Played some of the Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels game we bought yesterday, as well as some Mario Kart and some Wii Play.
  • Went to Ikea and bought a dresser, then cleaned our bedroom and put away all our clothes.
  • Slept about 11-1/2 hours last night, with some interruptions.
Now I'm getting antsy. Shouldn't I be, you know, frantically writing to try to get something done?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. I'm still behind at work, and I should be working this weekend to catch up. So the question is, will I get my work computer tomorrow so I can do that, or will I force myself to relax for one more day before plunging into another long work week?

But unfortunately, I think this proves that even three days is optimistic, and maybe I am just a little compulsive about work.

But for now, bed and another book.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dragon War is finished!

The final draft of Dragon War, the third book in my Draconic Prophecies trilogy, is done and off to the editor!

114,528 words of dragony goodness.

And I am off to celebrate! :)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The 12345 Party: I think everybody should have a party celebrating their twelve-thousandth-three-hundred-and-forty-fifth day of existence. By my figuring, it happens when you’re 33.82 years old, which you should be able to fudge as necessary.

Me, I’m just looking forward to my 23456 Party when I’m 64 and a quarter.
I remember thinking that it would be fun to have a third-of-a-century birthday party. It would have been on January 7, 2002. It is particularly strange for me to realize that I was contemplating this seven years ago, when I had only been at Wizards for 2 years.

Excuse me? Where has the last decade gone?

In other news:
This means that when we go to Jeremy's house to play D&D on Saturday, we'll have one PH2 for me and my sorcerer, one for Amy and her deva invoker, and one for my son and his deva swordmage. I guess maybe that's one more than we really need.


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Too busy to breathe...

At work: Trying to finish work on DMG2 and help wrap up design on PH3, fill holes in other books, and . . . oh yeah, be a manager.

At home: Revising Dragon War. Word count is pretty meaningless at this point. I have finished 38 chapters of 43 in the first draft. Unfortunately, in writing the first draft I was so ready to be done by the time I got to this point that I zoomed right through and left a lot of loose ends dangling. So now I have to do some significant writing, not just revising, and I'm down to the last week before my drop-dead deadline. Gah!

And today we drove to Port Angeles to pick up a dresser Amy found on Craig's List. Lovely terrain, but a very long day.

Good gaming lately: Mike Mearls mentioned on Facebook that he watched me fail about 15 of maybe 18 saving throws I rolled during our lunchtime game on Thursday. Thursday night we played 2/3 of the way from a side trek from Dungeon Delve. Friday the characters in the Greenbrier campaign fought some dolgrims and mad slashers, a warped goblin mindwrecker, and a darkmantle, while the Brier Haunt whispered to Oskar that this was the place to use the ritual scroll that Havrakhad gave him back in the village...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sasha Bilton on Swords & Sorcery D&D

In Pelgrane Press's See Page XX webzine this month, there's a fun little article by Sasha Bilton outlining some changes you could make to a 4e D&D campaign to get at a Swords & Sorcery feel, similar to what I've been talking about for a while now. Aside from the oversight of talking about how no healers are available if you prohibit clerics and paladins and then going on to talk about how the warlord fits great, it's a worthwhile read. I particularly like the idea of turning orcs and hobgoblins (and other humanoid monsters) into tribes or nationalities of humans.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Another turn behind the DM screen...

After two days pretty much wasted by the flu, my son decided tonight that he wanted to run another D&D adventure. I had brought home a bunch of new minis, a set of the new Dungeon Tiles (Caves of Carnage), and the Dungeon Delve book, and I guess that got him in the mood. So I sat him down with Dungeon Delve and the DMG while I started some laundry, made myself some dinner, and did a few other things around the house.

He decided that he wouldn't use anything from Dungeon Delve—he wanted to make his own adventure tonight. So he created a Delve of his own: three encounters, ramping up in difficulty, with the ultimate goal (inspired by reading the Quests section of the DMG) of rescuing the village magistrate, who'd been kidnapped and held for ransom. I helped him build the encounters (which involved scaling a number of monsters down to 1st level—he wanted to use a shadar-kai chainfighter and an iron cobra and . . .), but the adventure was really his design.

At last he, Amy, and I all sat down to play. We used the characters we created last week for Jeremy's game (about which more in a moment), including my son playing his character as well as running all the monsters. And it was fun! We all had a great time, playing for maybe an hour and a half.

He was so thrilled. He kept saying things like, "I'm DMing!" and "I want to run a regular campaign!" I was tickled pink. And kept drilling him on math as he tracked the shadar-kai chainfighter's 88 hit points (we turned it from a level 6 to a level 3 elite). Good times.

* * * * *

We are all playing in a new campaign started up by Jeremy Crawford. We played one session last Saturday, and we're missing another tomorrow. (Amy refuses to play D&D on Valentine's Day . . .) Our characters:

• Jaeric (me), male half-elf sorcerer. Actually half-eladrin. 
• Riva (Amy), female deva invoker.
• Chava (son), female deva swordmage.

Here's the background I wrote up for Jaeric:

Jaeric is the eldest son of the human thane of Llandaer and an eladrin princess (Meriele) who died when he was very young. From birth (a birth accompanied by mysterious omens), Jaeric was regarded as a strange child beyond what one would expect from his fey blood—he never cried, and it soon became apparent that he saw things that no one else (even his mother) could see. His father regarded this as a personal betrayal on the part of his mother, and when his mother died, some folk whispered that his father was responsible. Soon after his mother's death, the thane took a new human wife and promptly sired a respectable heir, Jaeric's half-brother.

When his father remarried, Jaeric was sent to live with the druids at the Grove of the Dhunail. They laid him on the Dhunail (a sacred stone) to heal him, but his condition did not improve. The druids took to saying that his madness was a divine gift, not an ailment, and they secured fey tutors to help him learn to control the magic that seemed to flow uncontrolled through his body (beginning when he reached puberty).

Recently, Jaeric's father died and his half-brother became thane of Llandaer. Before his father's death, his living in Tira had been basically a caretaking situation, but with his half-brother's ascension it's clear that Jaeric is an exile from Llandaer, not welcome home.

Chana and Riva don't have quite that much background worked out. And I think it's probably best if I avoid saying too much about them until PH2 is officially out there.

* * * * *

In other games:

Baredd, male human paladin (in Bill's Thursday night game), has reached 11th level and chosen the Champion of Order paragon path. We've basically been playing through the adventure series, but we skipped H3 (because I co-authored it). We're pursuing Skalmad into the Feywild (in P1) right now. I missed last night's game because of the aforementioned flu situation.

Baredd is a devotee of Erathis. His background notes that he grew up in a distant town built among the ruins of the ancient capital of the long-fallen empire. His head full of dreams of civilization's greatest glories, he came to the town of Haven hoping to help rebuild the Havenguard (the town watch) and eventually grow the town into the seat of a new kingdom. 

* * * * *

Adrin, male elf rogue (in Andy's monthly game), is 5th level. We're playing through the Scales of War adventure path. I missed the last session of that game, too, so I haven't played since about Christmas and it's a bit of a blur . . .

Near the start of the campaign, Andy asked four questions about each of our characters. Here are the questions and my answers:

1) Where are you from?
I'm from Tiri Kitor, in the Witch—in the forest to the west.

2) Why are you in Brindol?
I came to Brindol primarily out of curiosity and gregariousness—I like being around people, interacting with different people, and a small village of elves and eladrin isn't sufficient company.

3) How are you connected to at least one other character in the group?
Galidas (Brian Larabee) and I met in Tiri Kitor and decided to journey to Brindol together.

4) What interesting secret would your character prefer that others not know about him just yet?
While everything I've said about my reasons for coming to Brindol is true, it's not the whole story. The immediate impetus for my departure was an encounter I had in the Witchwood, an experience of some kind of fey being of enormous power, ancient wisdom, and primal hunger. It scared the sh** out of me, and resulted in my fey pact (via the Pact Initiate feat). I used to love to walk in the woods alone, but I won't do it ever again (which is part of the reason I was so glad to hook up with Galidas). I'm not quite sure what my pact consists of, and I'm terrified of what this fey being is going to ask in exchange for the power it gave me. Not that I particularly think it's going to be sinister or awful, just that I don't like the feeling it gives me of having a greater purpose or destiny. I have nightmares about the experience just about every night.

After a couple more sessions (after we finished a detour into the Treasure of Talon Pass adventure), Andy asked some more questions:

1) What rumors have you heard?
Travelers through the more remote parts of the Witchwood have told tales of an enormous beast wandering through the forest. Nobody has given a clear description of the thing, except to say that it's gigantic and dark. Common themes: Shaggy appearance, the forest seems darker just before it's spotted, response of people and animals alike is to run in terror at the sight of it.

2) Who is your character's best friend, closest confidante, or most trusted ally? What does he do, where does he live, and why do you have such a close relationship?
I have an uncle named Haran, a hunter who lives among the other elves in the Witchwood. I spent a lot of time with him while I was growing up, and he taught me a lot about the forest. He is the only person I have told about my experience with the creature in the forest, and his reaction—of utter terror and shunning—is what really drove me away from home. I don't feel that I can go back to him any more.

Adrin died in a nasty fight with some kruthiks before we reached Talon Pass. The nearest place for my one surviving comrade to bring the bodies for resurrection was Tiri Kitor, which was about the last place I would have wanted to go. Andy informed me that when I came back to life, something came with me, and he asked me to describe what it was. I said:

The spirit, or an echo, of a powerful eladrin of winter and decay. It's not committed to evil, but it is utterly uncaring, amoral, and borderline cruel. I don't know whether it's connected to the being I encountered in the forest, but I suspect that it hitched a ride back to the world on my spirit because of my connection to that being. It doesn't speak to me (at least not yet), but its influence is clearly showing on me.

* * * * *

Saman, male human fighter (in Mike's lunchtime game), is also 5th level now. The strange bastard sword (apparently carved from a single piece of metal) that he found after a disastrous military raid has just awakened into a powerful (+2) sword with elemental power. This happened when I slid it into a sword-sized hole in an altar of elemental evil beneath the moat house (yes, that moat house). I can use it as an arcane implement (which will help my otherwise pretty lame attacks with thunder wave and burning hands), and its daily power lets me use one of four elemental-themed effects each round at the start of my turn. I don't have all the details here at home with me, and I haven't had a chance to use it yet. But it's quite cool.

* * * * *

And my fifth current game is the one I'm running. I wrote a bit about the first session in my most recent Dungeoncraft column (link for D&D Insider subscribers only, sorry), and I won't muddy the waters by writing too much about it here.

So what explains this lengthy post about all my D&D games? Partly it's that I'm having such a great time gaming these days, and just loving the fact that I have five games going on—plus the occasional game with my son! In a month's time, I could play D&D as many as 17 times, just counting my regular games. Add in playtest sessions, games with the family, and other random events, and I call it a happy gaming life.

I guess the other reason is that some folks were talking at work today about the bizarre and random accusation that 4th Edition somehow prevents players and DMs from telling stories in the game any more. It's a charge I just can't understand, and I think this post explains why. I actually believe the opposite: compared to 3rd edition, at least, I spend more of my game preparation time (for the campaign I run) thinking about the story of my campaign, and much less hashing out stat blocks for the villains and monsters I plan to run. 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Well, this is encouraging

Perhaps I can downgrade my digital life and still keep the domain name I've had for ten years. You'll find this page at http://blog.aquela.com now. I'll be working to transition my email to gmail over the next couple of days, hopefully without any change of email address, and then it seems I can get out of Earthlink web hosting entirely without disrupting my life too much. Good news.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

What's up with James?

The #1 factor preventing me from posting blog entries (anywhere): Uncertainty about this whole digital downgrade idea. I've had aquela.com as my web site since 1998, when having your own web site was not exactly commonplace. Various names @ that domain have been my email address almost since I left AOL. It feels like a big plunge. But a friend this evening commented that he keeps checking my blog weekly and finding no updates, and that's not an acceptable state of things. So here it is on the new blog, along with a notice on the old site telling folks to come here. I guess I'm really doing this.

So here's the ninety second James update:

  • I finished the first draft of Dragon War on New Year's Eve. I've been working through my editor's comments and marks, but rather slowly. Not sure when I'll get the darned book done, but at least the pressure to write tens of thousands more words is gone.
  • I got Wrath of the Lich King for Christmas, played a death knight on Christmas day, and then put it aside until my draft was done. At this point my main character is only just level 73 (and I think still in need of visiting a trainer and spending a talent point). I have not been playing very much, and I think folks in my guild are disappointed. 
  • Work has been very, very busy. As I mentioned in September, I was promoted to Design Manager for D&D, and my life since then has been much more complicated—mostly in good ways, mind you, but wow. I have a much better understanding of how Andy Collins and Chris Perkins spend their time as my fellow managers in the department, and still deeper respect for my boss, Bill Slavicsek. In general, I think I'm a good manager. I'm also still doing a lot of writing to fill gaps and smooth text over, with this week's big project . . . well, I won't talk about that.
  • My son got Guitar Hero III for Christmas, and that has turned out to be way more fun for the whole family than I would have expected. All three of us have had such a blast with it that we're seriously considering the investment in either a second guitar controller or the whole shebang of Rock Band 2.
  • I finally started running the campaign I've been writing about for months in my Dungeoncraft column in Dungeon magazine. My players are Bill Slavicsek, Chris Perkins, Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, Rich Baker, and Chris Youngs. We've had two sessions so far (with two players missing from the second one), and it's been a blast. I might have miscalculated by planning the game for Friday lunchtime, though, because my natural time to prepare would be Thursday evening—when I'm playing in Bill's game. Oh, well, I'll figure it out eventually.
That took longer than ninety seconds to write. But to read? Hm.

Downgrading my online life

I am beginning to take steps toward getting rid of aquela.com, the domain I've owned and the site I've operated since 1998. 

If you're one of the loyal or curious folks who keep checking back here to see whether I've actually posted anything, I invite you to visit my new (free!) blog at http://james-wyatt.blogspot.com, where my first post (in late November!) explains why I'm doing this.

Thanks for stopping by!