December 20, 2013

Friends, Facebook Friends & Exemptions

In the last few years, I've started trimming my Facebook friend list to people that I genuinely like and would hang out with on a voluntary, one-on-one basis.

I don't see Facebook as a means to keep tabs on the lives of people that I don't care about. It seems to feed that destructive, "how much happier is X person than me?" mentality that is bad enough with actual friends. Since I have a hard time with not being competitive and I obsessively try to keep up with my feed, removing that kind of input undoubtedly helps me to be happier.

The problem that I'm currently dealing with is the "exceptions" that I've made. The biggest one being family members. Currently they're all under some privacy controls, but due to some major, glaring, differences in opinions and beliefs, and with the eventual divorce, I've been mulling over de-friending the in-laws. There's still about 5 months left in the lease on the current place, so there's a possibility that some of them might come up to visit again during that time, but it's unlikely that I'm going to go out of my way to hang out with them or visit them when I'm in town.

That's not to say that they're not good people. But their opposing fundamental opinions and beliefs about things that are extremely important to me are not things that I want to spend my time and energy fighting them over or see pop-up in my feed. It makes me sick and sad that they pass judgment and support people that perpetuate that kind of thinking. Could I just ignore that part? I could, but I feel like I'd be constantly lying, to them and to myself that it's not a big deal. 

I know I'm not obligated to have anything to do with them and yeah, I think they expect that they're not going to see or hear from me, but it's still hard cutting people out of your life. "I'm sorry, but you're not someone who enhances my life." Is it selfish? Self-preservation? Passive aggressive?

But I think in the long run, I'll look back and know I made the right choice. It's not my job or responsibility to educate or change their minds, and it's not worth the emotional stress.

December 15, 2013

Rocks Are Pretty Dangerous

D&D Next with Ben Robbins.
Start from the beginning: Slave Galleys Suck
Next session: Forced Marches are Exhausting

Titus, Visage, and Kelti spend all night alternatively swimming, staying afloat, and being subjected to the whims of the ocean. As the sun rose over the flat horizon, it found the three ex-slaves cast upon an unknown shore, each in varying stages of exhaustion from the rough night, but glad to be alive.

Titus, through sheer force of will, had managed to survive the night while holding on to his hard-won hand ax. He recovered first and went in search of other survivors. It didn't take long before he found Visage lying on his side, feet still in the water. Titus eyed the wizard cautiously. The events on the boat were still fresh in his mind. He cleared his throat in an attempt to wake Visage, who slowly and painfully opened his salt crusted eyes.
"You don't look too much worse for the wear."

Titus shrugged, "I'm used to being hungry, and these muscles aren't just for show. So don't try anything funny, I'm not sure I trust you quite yet."

Visage struggled into a sitting position, spat some sand out and said, "Look. I haven't started a fire in your chest yet, so don't worry." He looked up at Titus, who's eyes went wide with shock, "Erm, I mean, just because my hands are free doesn't mean I'm in any shape to...not that I would..." He sighed and cast a small illusion of strings attached to his arms, and acted like the saddest marionette that had ever existed.

Titus visibly relaxed as he finally understood that Visage was trying to quell his concerns and not threaten him. He reached out and offered Visage an arm up. They went in search of Kelti, but when they found her, they got in a heated argument. Titus unwisely mocked Kelti about the effect that her actions had on the fate of the rest of the slaves on the ship. She was rightfully infuriated by his callousness and stormed off. Titus and Visage lost sight of her as she went around the bend of the shore and disappeared into the forest.

After wandering around for bit in the tropical forest, Kelti climbed up a tree to get a better look at her surroundings and spotted a monkey with its back to her, sitting in a tree about 30 feet away. It was unlike any she had ever seen. Its fur was gray and spiky and it seemed to be preoccupied with something. Just at that moment, it raised its head, and turned slowly to one side. Kelti could suddenly see with sharp clarity that its fur was blood caked and that it had been gnawing on a limb of some poor animal. As it went back to its snack, she could hear the rip of the flesh as its teeth tore into the limb and see the spray of blood that was beginning to coat the tree branches next to the monkey.

With her heart pounding in her chest, she focused all of her meager energy and concentrated on climbing down and getting away from the monkey as quickly and quietly as possible. As soon as she was far enough away to feel a little more safe, she let out a breath and continued her search for water and food, but much more cautiously, nervously looking up into the trees to search for signs of monkeys as often as she looked around to find her way.

Meanwhile, Titus also decided to climb up a tree to get a lay of the land. He did not encounter any scary monkeys, but found a nearby tree that was loaded with mangoes. Visage and Titus spent the rest of the day eating too many mangoes, trying to make a carrying bag out of leaves and vines, and gathering firewood. Kelti was able to pinpoint their location from a fair distance away, since the two of them were practically shouting at each other to be heard from the rest of the noise of the forest.

As she carefully crept up to them, she quickly spied the pile of mangoes that were directly behind Titus, who was sitting with his back to her. He was hunched over in deep concentration, brow furrowed with frustration, alternating between bursts of slow, careful vine/leaf manipulation and angry mashing and throwing. It didn't look like his attempt to try to weave the pile of vines and leaves into something useful was going well.

Her stomach growled but she ignored it and patiently waited for a moment when Titus had his head turned to shout at Visage before she darted out and grabbed two mangoes. It took a few moments before Visage noticed that the mango supplies had dwindled. "Titus, I'd appreciate it if you'd stop eating the mangoes and save a few for later. Since it's the only food supply we have, I think we should discuss it before either of us just start eating them."

Titus looked confused and offended. "What? I haven't eaten any additional mangoes." He looked behind him and immediately saw that some of the mangoes had gone missing, "What the hell?" He quickly stood up and looked around, trying to spot the thief.

"You know, we're not alone in this forest, an animal probably came along and took a few. Although, " and Visage shook his head disapprovingly, "I would have thought that you would have kept a closer eye on them and noticed."

A light bulb went off in Titus' head and he said a little more quietly, "I bet it was Kelti. She's seems like the sneaky sort." He cleared his throat and called out, "Kelti! Are you out there? You can have the rest of the mangoes if you want! No need to hide from us."

They waited for a response and none came.

When night fell, Visage and Titus decided not to make a fire, since they didn't have a good reason for it. Kelti had stayed out of sight, but in their general vicinity. Right before the sun fully set, a loud cacophony of sound erupted from all around them from within the treetops. It sounded like inhuman screeching and was bloodcurdling. After several minutes, once night had fully fallen, the noise died away, but their rest was uneasy and broken.

The next day, Visage and Titus gathered more mangoes before setting off. Titus used some of the cloth from his clothes to fashion a makeshift bag to carry the mangoes. Instead of wandering through the forest half starved and slightly delirious from thirst like the day before, Titus, slightly more fortified by the mangoes, decided to use his ax to mark the trees and was able to more accurately find his way through the forest and they came upon a marshy section of the forest.

The water was stagnant and undrinkable, so they started walking along side the marsh, where the ground started sloping uphill. Before they had gone very far, Kelti, who had been tailing them the whole time, noticed a large round shape slowly emerging out of the marsh water. The water tension made it look like a bubble was rising from the water, but after a few moments, it was obvious that it was a creature.

She started sprinting toward Visage and Titus, yelling, "Look out!"

Her shout gave Titus just enough time to dodge the first attack by the monster's long tongue that shot out from its maw. Visage quickly spun an illusion of a giant troll to block the monster's view of Kelti and give them time to potentially escape, and then he moved to hide within the forest, careful to stay within range to keep the illusion from disappearing.

Kelti, with a fire in her eyes, didn't hesitate to chuck a rock at the monster, aiming for one of its eyes. The rock connected solidly, half blinding the monster. It let out a croak of pained outrage and started charging towards the troll and consequently, Kelti. Even with a large frog-like monster leaping towards her, Kelti stood solid and with her one remaining rock in her hand, launched it at the monster's other eye. It was a skillful throw and it didn't miss its mark. The monster, now completely blind, barely had time to mourn its loss before Titus, bolstered into action by Kelti's fearless attacks, leapt on top of it and sank his ax into its skull. The monster crumbled, partway submerged in the marsh.

The three of them caught their breath, and then hauled the monster out of the marsh and spent the rest of the morning and afternoon butchering it and having a froggy feast. Kelti and Titus fashioned shivs out of the monster's leg bones and they wrapped some of the remaining meat in leaves. Titus helped Kelti out of her manacles and gruffly apologized for his earlier insensitive remarks about the events that transpired on the ship. They put the past behind them and together, continued walking uphill beside the marsh.

A few miles later, they came upon the most beautiful sight that any of them had seen in their lives up to that point. A clean, clear flowing waterfall surrounded by moss. They quenched their thirst and washed the blood of the monster, their sweat, salt, and any remaining traces of their slavery from their bodies. The memories would stay with them, but with the threat of dying from thirst and hunger in an unknown tropical land far away from civilization receded for the moment, and they were able to enjoy being alive and unfettered.

That night, they kept a fire going and traded keeping watch. The night was uneventful, they saw various animals cautiously approach the water, staying as far away from their camp as possible, to take a few hurried drinks and then scamper back into the relative safety of the forest.

In the morning, they found some reddish purple fruit, drank deeply, and then climbed to the top of the waterfall. They walked along the stream that fed into the waterfall, surrounded on both sides by tall ferns. Before too long, they heard the dreaded screeching that had plagued their dreams a few nights before. Through the ferns, they saw a group of half a dozen gray spiked haired monkeys in a domestic and violent argument. Not wanting to draw attention to themselves, they made a wide berth around the fighting monkeys, but when they tried to get close to the stream again a while later, they noticed a monkey sitting in one of the trees. It didn't look like it was doing anything, but when they decided that it might be best to sneak away, it suddenly let out an ear piercing hoot that carried and echoed through the forest. Visage, Kelti, and Titus froze and cringed. When nothing immediately happened and the monkey went back to picking at its fur, the three of them shrugged at each other and tried to quickly and quietly backtrack and continue making their way around the (scout?) monkey.

They were making steady progress when Titus almost walked face first into a large stone obelisk. It turned out to be a statue, its features smoothly carved into a tall cylindrical  shape. He decided to climb up it, to get an idea of their surroundings. His progress was slow but right as he reached the top and was getting his bearings, they all heard the telltale screeching of angry monkeys in the not too far off distance. It sounded like a pack of them were making their way quickly to their location.

Throwing caution to the wind, Titus opted to get down as quickly as possible from the top of the statue, deftly sliding down one side to land solidly. They immediately started running for the stream, where they thought they might not be as disadvantaged due to the lack of trees overhead. They managed to barely make it across the stream before they turned around and were immediately set upon by the gray spiked haired monkeys that clawed and bit at their throats with razor sharp teeth well used to tearing flesh.

The fight was brutal and both Visage and Kelti were overwhelmed by the beasts, but not before Kelti made good use of her new frog shiv, rending and killing one of the monkeys. Titus made good use of his ax, swinging it viciously and lopping off several monkey heads, including the one that kept tearing into Visage's unconscious body. At the end, after Titus had stabilized Visage and Kelti had struggled back to consciousness on her own, Titus made a show of brandishing the head of one of the monkeys, smearing its blood over his bare and muscular arms and yelling defiantly towards the small crowd of monkeys that stared angrily across the stream at them.

Titus picked up Visage's unconscious body and they made their way in the stream away from the bloodbath. None of the monkeys followed them. After trekking for a mile, they settled in for the night and they could hear the discontented muted noise of the forest, but they were left alone for the time being.

December 4, 2013

Slave Galleys Suck

I had the great fortune of participating in a D&D Next game, run by none other than the illustrious Ben Robbins of Microscope and Kingdom fame. I'm going to attempt to give brief rundowns of the play sessions, to help us players out in remembering what happened and because we originally had three other people that were going to be in the party that had scheduling conflicts and this way, they can follow along until some distant point in the future when they can "for real" join in.

Ben - GM
Me - Titus, male, raised in the streets of a big city, looking to make something of himself so he can win over the daughter of foreign nobility. More of a Lover than a Fighter.
Andy - Visage, male, power hungry mage with bitterness in his heart.
Pat - Kelti, female, free-spirited, fiercely independent and stubborn, raised by gypsies.

We all played as humans who had been tricked, double-crossed, or duped onto the slave galley. Titus thought he was buying passage on a ship, but his enemies instead sold him into slavery. Visage was similarly a victim of his circumstances, the wizarding community having tired of his antics and sold him off. Kelti, on the run from not being quite as light fingered as she normally was, accidentally stowed away on the wrong ship.

A week into the grueling lifestyle that is being chained 24/7 to your bench, Visage has the good (?) fortune of having his benchmate die and while they were removing the body, Kelti helps him escape his chains by performing some amazing acrobatics and Titus also aids by sweeping the slaver's legs out from under him. Once free, Visage casts Minor Illusion to make it sound like the ship is being overrun by krakens and destroyed. Spoiler, turns out the illusion ironically turned out to be the truth. Titus uses his brute strength to pull his chains free, freeing Kelti as well, who was his benchmate. He then smashes in the skull of the slaver. Kelti immediately sets out to free as many of the other slaves as possible, but Titus grabs her in an attempt to haul her up to the deck of the ship.

This is when they realize that the ship is actually being overrun by krakens. Distracted, Titus lets Kelti go and rushes forward to kill a sailor who was holding an ax. She dashes back down into the mass of terrified slaves and manages to free almost a dozen slaves before the ship begins to sink. Meanwhile, Visage uses his magic to battle against the soldiers and sailors on the ship, toppling some of them overboard and tricking the krakens into grabbing others. Titus shoves one of the soldiers overboard, who falls right into the clutches of a kraken, plays hide and seek with several tentacles before finally grabbing up the ax and doles out his fair share of damage, at one point hurtling one of the slavers' clubs into the skull of an archer, saving Visage's life and killing the archer. Eventually, it's apparent that the battle against the krakens is a losing one as the ship slowly and then quickly takes on water. Titus and Visage both jump overboard and begin swimming for shore, while Kelti makes one last desperate attempt to give the poor wretches still trapped in the galley a chance to escape by tossing a few tools and weapons she found to them. In a final brave and foolish act of revenge, she manages to topple one of the soldiers into the galley as they were running past her. One last glance into the pit of hell and writhing mass of misery and she too jumped overboard.