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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A short word on censorship

As people may have guessed, I'm not one to stand in the crowd and listen to things I don't agree with, and not say anything. I also work in an environment where we encourage and foster feedback - positive and negative....why? Because things only improve when you deal with those things that aren't right. I like to improve things, to get things done - better than they were before. It's what drew me to science (which in effect is asking difficult questions and finding the answers, including testing if the answers really hold up), and what appeals to me in Kaizen, Six-Sigma, the Toyota Way and all the other various process improvement, redesign and LEAN tools there are available today.

So let me talk about Spartan Games.

I've been a member of the community since - well, since before the current community even started - I was present in the old forums before they came crashing down in a a great a long time...about 7 years I guess. I've always been vocal, had some great discussion and got involved with SG because of that.

That seems to have changed now. My prior account was deleted after they gave me a warning point, which was fair enough - I was being provocative, but then they aren't answering the questions the community is asking. I had another account, so used this to wade back in - I watched from the sidelines for a good while before making some corrections to some BS that Spartan Linde was spouting about the former FFG and "bias" or some such. An hour or so later and I find the account is deleted - no warning, no interaction, just deleted.

Is this really the sort of community Spartan are trying to foster? One that cannot take any criticism, one that re-writes the past 1984 style to suit its current members and thinking? If that's really the direction Neil is taking the company, then things really are worse than I feared - he really has lost the plot.

You can't force people to be quiet - the world of social media, blogging, podcasting and more has been around for quite some time now, and is quite established. You might not like what people like me say, but the way to deal with it properly is to address the points sensibly, not just attempt to gag people - that's the sort of lunacy that North Korea attempts (and fails). All that happens is the rest of the world look at you like you're a nutter.

I guess at the end of the day you have to look at what you get out of this - for me, I love Firestorm Armada, it's a great game. I haven't played it for a while now, however, because of the association the game has for me with Spartan and their raft of broken promises and lug-handed "management" (if you can call it that). Looking at the activity (or lack of it) on the "community", I can see that others are equally as turned off as I am...threads go by for weeks or months without being updated, and most of the activity seems to be the batch of new moderators for which involvement of any sort with a games company is still shiny and exciting.

Now I get that I'm now an insurrectionist in the eyes of Mr Fawcett (who can't see over his own ego, or the books of mine he still has) but in business you need to get over yourself and get on with what is best for the game. Business is about application of good practice and process, not hot-headed reactionary emotion. I'm no longer involved in his business, so I get to call the emperors new clothes whenever I like now, which is remarkably liberating. At least talking to a wider audience, someone will realise Spartan's new promises are exactly the same as their old ones - and just as genuine.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

5e D&D - The Chronicles of the Backbiters: The long road North

Last post I left The Backbiters pulling into Baldur's Gate....somewhat singed and browbeaten. They followed the cult across the city and got themselves hired in various capacities by the caravan. Then it was off north, on a journey that covered several sessions. They fought a bunch of hobgoblins, which the trader who owned the ambushed wagon was grateful for.

At this point Lander noticed Darrien was not looking his old self, despite him never contracting the odd disease that still plagued them (despite their measures to prevent the spread of infection) and some discussion was had. No conclusion was reached, Darrien proclaiming himself fine, and his stout Halfling constitution the source of his good health. Interestingly no-one had picked up on the fact that Darrien was casting Chill Touch at every opportunity, despite it not being a Bard spell....

Still, Sirethnis was suspicious, and kept an eye on Darrien as the others slept and she pretended to. She watched as Darrien stealthily rose from his bedroll and went to some of the horses, and started spellcasting. Sirethnis sprang up, rousing the others and challengin Darrien. Darrien cast Phantasmal Force on Sirethnis, who saw a demon rise up next to her and fought the unseen spirit.

There then followed a hilarious Benny-Hill style chase which eventually ended with Darrien rerstrained, and the nature of the Pearl as the Eye of Death revealed as Uro read the journal (not bearing the Eye, he could decipher it easily). The artefact could not be separated from him, so he was trussed and gagged, and carried in one of the caravans. Further on, the party encountered and defeated a family of Perytons, and had a hard-earned rest at a wayside inn that night. 

The party took pity on Darrien and let him stay the night too, untying him for the night - he swore an oath to Thor he would be good. Othrod and Lander gained the attentions of two pretty sisters in the bar, and despite being warned that this was highly suspicious, they went ahead anyway and wined and dined the girls, before taking them to their rooms. Of course they were doppelgangers, and Othrod was caught unprepared and laid out, whereas Lander managed to at least make some noise with his laughing longsword and crying for help before becoming unconscious.

Thus members of the party arrived to find two Landers in the room - and the conscious one was persuaded to have them both bound. Othrod was fetched, saying his girl had left and then he was as startled by the noise as the others were. Darrien wasn't so sure, and went to check his room, finding an unconscious Othrod under the bed. At this point the doppelgangers attacked, and a fight broke out, with Thor transforming into a bear - which the two doppelgangers also did, making it very difficult for the party to tell who was who. 

Ranger Jon expertly shot his arrow into the melee, unfortunately piercing his friend Thor, but Uro blasted one of the doppelgangers, not only injuring it but thanks to his Eldrich Invocations, but also blasting it through the first-story window of the inn. The other doppelganger was killed and Lander (now healed and awake) leapt out of the window to give chase. Unfortunately the rain and darkness made it almost impossible, and so Lander came back through the main bar of the inn, naked and soaking as he made his way back to the upstairs room, to more than a few chuckles and sideways glances from the patrons.

The innkeeper was not pleased with the noise and damage, and Darrien ended up barred from the inn. The following morning a caravan horse was dead, and suspicion immediately fell on Darrien - Sirethnis told the party he should never have been released, and he was bound once again...even Thor was in agreement, for Darrien had broken his oath to him.

For me, this was a great set of sessions - there had been some really nice situations that I really hadn't anticipated when I prepared for these encounters. I figured the doppelgangers were too obvious and the party would end up skipping them, but the way it developed was brilliant, and provided some of the funniest, most cinematic and memorable moments in the campaign. Likewise the way Darrien had played his succumbing to the evil of the Eye was outstanding - I had suspected the party would work something out long before they finally did!

The next sessions included events like Lander's magical laughing longsword going missing, an ambush by Ettercaps and giant spiders, super-fast growing fungus, a magical stag and rescue of an Harper agent. interestingly, the party completely failed to rise to the bait of the "No room at the Inn" encounter, and despite some pretty harsh goading, they simply went and slept by their caravans in the rain - once again they confounded my expectations here.

The last part of the journey was dominated by the cult - with Ranger Jon being recognised by a cult member, Jamna Gleamsilver pointing out the stomach-shredding bone traps in their gruel, and finally a murder of one of the cult guards - the party were accused but their standing as protectors of the caravan by that stage soon quashed that - including the mysterious Azbara Jos sticking up for them. The next day, they arrived in Waterdeep, and a month and a half of game time travelling came to an end.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Hub Systems Episode 30 - 2017 Musings

Just posted up the 30th episode of The Hub Systems....we also broke the 8,000 visits per month stage on the blog - so a massive THANK-YOU to all of you out there for supporting us. As a bit of a teaser, there is a deliberate error in the Podcast tonight...can you spot it???

Sunday, 29 January 2017

5e D&D - The Chronicles of the Backbiters: The Eye of Death

Now as a preamble to this instalment I should talk about the party's first adventure - The Master's Vault. This concludes with them getting into the vault, having a showdown with a necromancer and some skeletons, and learning that there erstwhile teacher was actually a different character who had found an artefact called "The Eye of Death". They had a journal which described the Eye's location and how to destroy it, together with a Pearl of Power and a magical longsword.

Now thinking long-term, I knew the party would be doing The Hoard of the Dragon Queen next, and after that probably Rise of Tiamat. They would then be in a position to do an epic Lord of the Rings style quest to destroy this evil artefact. Also, rather than introducing another faction, I had the necromancer at the end of the adventure be part of the Cult of the Dragon, interested in the Eye to help create their undead Dracoliches.
So I created a powerful evil artefact, and rather than have it as another quest in the future, decided that it should replace the Pearl they had found with the journal - the Eye appearing to be such until activated (the artefact needed attunement to use as a Pearl of Power, at which point the character would lose weight at the rate of 1lb/day until they reached their racial minimum. They have bloodthirsty thoughts and enjoy watching things die, and their dreams are full of nightmares about death. It also confounds the bearer as to any clues about it and its method of destruction).

After the character had personally killed 50hp worth of creatures, the Eye enters its first level of activation, and the character can cast the Chill Touch cantrip, favouring it over other methods of attack - the Eye would grow to the size of a large rounded grape, and the character would be aware of this power and become secretive about the item - at this point the character cannot be released from the item by anything short of a Greater Restoration. They gain immunity from Necrotic damage, their touch kills normal plant life and those that stay within 100' of them for 24h or more risk contracting Sewer Plague....

In addition, the Eye requires death constantly, and the bearer is unable to benefit from hit dice, short or long rests unless they have killed (something with a CR, not just a spider or an insect - I know how player's minds work!) within the last 24h. They are obsessed with killing, so much so that their Charisma is lowered by 2 and their Wisdom by 1 whilst they possess the artefact. Their alignment also starts to slide towards Neutral Evil.

Let me now add that the character who picked up both the journal and the Pearl was Darrien - the halfling Bard...this meant he couldn't read the journal (as the Eye confounds its bearer as to its origins etc), so he reported it was written in some sort of code - I was imagining parallels to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings at this point - one of the great joys of being a DM are these little secrets as they unfold!

ooo o o o OOO o o o ooo

So, preamble done, the last time the party had been beaten by the Cult after seriously depleting their human followers left in the cave system. Frulam had escaped off North to warn Rezmir of the threat, leaving Landregosa to watch over the eggs - a task he felt more than capable of doing having met the party before and hardly being troubled with their advances.

The party had a bit of internal reflection at this point, and talked about planning more and being less impulsive. This half worked on their re-entry to the caves, where the Dragonclaw guards had been replaced by slightly less capable kobolds, who were stealthily eliminated. The party explored to find the bodies of cultists gone, but little else changed, and so went through the mushroom forest - at which point their discipline started to break down, and they proved that wet surfaces and climbing were not their strong point (this was also historically true, with falls being more dangerous in their past than monsters!)

Now I had prepared for the next part with some more 3D printing...they were entering a cave full of bats and piercers (I had replaced the Stirges in the book for these as I felt they tied in with the Roper later on, plus I felt Stirges would attack cult members travelling through here). It turned out they were also easy to print...and here they are.

The party ended up with a few piercers in the back, but some curing later and they got through this, though they managed to lose the Wizard in the process. It was at this point when Darrien reached the 50hp threshold for pushing the Eye of Death into its first level of activation. Anyway, Kylantha the wizard had become disoriented in the swarms of bats flying around in the cave, and ended up going into the foul-smelling Troglodyte area. I could have used Lizardmen for these, but I wanted the Troglodytes to be different, so I ended up printing a bunch of these too. Kylantha cast Thunderwave at them, the noise disturbing the bats again and bringing Sirethnis, Alonna and Lander to go looking for her and bring her back.

Landregosa finally met his end after an epic battle which Landregosa himself ended up doing a lot of damage to kobolds and a guard drake, being the recipient of a Crown of Madness cast by the Warlock Uro. This meant that by the time he was really into fighting the party he was already somewhat down and didn't have the support he should have had. He was finally finished off with a Spiritual Weapon blow from Lander. The party then spent some time smashing his head with a maul and then cutting it off, just to be sure! They weren't out of the woods, however, since the remaining kobolds and beserkers did a substantial amount of damage - to the point where they needed a short rest in the reeking kobold barracks.

This rest gave them enough to go exploring again, and they found the kobolds guarding the eggs (after being glued and burnt by their grenades), followed by the guard drakes and finally the roper - which the party named "Mighty Mike". After some dialogue and some meat trading, the party avoided combat with this creature, which I had used a Reaper mini for that I already owned previously.

The dragon eggs were all extracted and smashed, and other than getting some acid damage from the chest trap in the dragon temple and some poison from the trapped meat chamber curtain, the party did little more before a lengthy debate on what to do next - chase after the cult immediately or go back to Greenest to report and restock. Eventually they decided on the latter course, and went back to see Leosin and Governor Nighthill. Of course Leosin had already gone, and Nighthill equipped them with horses to ride up to Elturel.

On the way to Elturel, the party was ambushed during the night by orcs, including an Orog and Eye of Grummsh from Othrod's old clan. The attack was not only rebuffed, but completely slaughtered. Still, I had no doubt the figures I had bought for the purpose would be used for other fights!

At this point various members of the party started falling ill - something the party traced back to their resting in the filthy kobold barracks back at the cave system. Lesser Restoration seemed to do the trick, however, and remove the effects. This set them up to meet Leosin and Onthar, and give them the opportunity to join the Harpers, or the Order of the Gauntlet. Some joined both organisations, some joined none, so the party had a real mix of outlooks - a good thing overall I felt.

Come the morning they were due to set off, some of the characters were again ill, and they found that Othrod's horse had been killed in the night - something he was very unhappy about and made something of a scene outside the stables about. Of course this was actually Darrien's doing, he killed the horse in the night to sate his bloodlust - driven by the Eye.

Nevertheless, the party set off to Baldur's Gate by boat, and in an attempt to insulate themselves from further disease they separated into infected and non-infected groups, taking the prow and stern. Mid journey they heard cries for help, and decamped in rowboats into the shallow waters of a swamp to investigate, only to find a fair maiden chained to a rock, prisoner of three ogres and their pet crocodile.The maiden was another purchase (at the same time as the orcs), whereas the monsters I had printed

The party dealt with this, but the highlight was Thor being pulled from his rowboat by the crocodile, and Uro casting Witch Bolt, which fried both crocodile and Thor over several rounds. During this time Thor had been unable to break the crocodile's grapple, and afterwards was unable to climb back into the boat, even with lander's help. Eventually Lander and Uro managed to pull his still-smoking, sodden form out of the water, but it did become something of the focal point for the fight!

The Ogres put up a fair fight, including one who was casting Vicious Mockery on various party members. in the end, however, brute force and ignorance couldn't delay their despatch, and the maiden managed to set herself free from the shackles during the fight. She then told the party how her party was ambushed and killed as she was on her way to Elturel, but she'd be grateful of carriage back to her father in Baldur's Gate to get more guards to pick up the two cases of exquisite jade figurines she was taking as a gift. The party offered to take the statues too, but she refused, saying there was no point taking them back just to haul them out here again.

That night, back on the boat during the first watch, Uro cast Vicious Mockery on Othrod. Despite denying it, he did it again, and Othrod was prepared to fight - this woke others, including Darrien, who also cast Vicious Mockery on the half-orc. Sensing something wasn't right, Sirethnis stepped in, saying this was very suspicious when they'd just picked up a passenger. The maiden was confronted and she tore into Sirethnis, revealing her true identity as a Green hag. she had been using her natural abilities to cast the cantrip, imitate others and cast her voice to cause the mayhem. A fight ensued, but she turned invisible and jumped off the boat.

Next day, as they approached Baldur's Gate, a one figure was spotted on some rocks ahead. She cried out and Fireballed the was Myrdinn, their former colleague and friend, who blamed them all for her brothers death. After a couple of long-range Fireballs she vanished, leaving the party shaken and bemused. They were also somewhat down in cleric and druid spells as the cycle of infection each morning was countered by Lander and Thor's Lesser Restorations, leaving their spell slots depleted.

Finally they arrived at Baldur's Gate, their boat somewhat burnt and slightly depressed - they had learned of an old friend that was a new enemy, couldn't seem to shake the cycle of infection they'd picked up and still had a long way to go to track the Cult. What would Baldur's Gate - the largest city in Faerun - bring them?

Saturday, 28 January 2017

5e D&D - The Chronicles of the Backbiters: Origins and the Cult of the Dragon

Last entry I introduced our D&D group - the Backbiters...I haven't told you why they got that name. It didn't come out straight away, but really it comes from a bit of a house ruling on critical failures.

I allow my group to do chancy stuff - firing at enemies engaged or obscured by other characters - I impose an AC penalty depending on the amount of cover I judge them to get dependent on what's in the way. It's cinematic to have the Rogue fire at an enemy between the legs of a fighter, or the Warlock to get an Eldritch Blast off against someone through a crowd. 

With all the opportunity for glory, however, comes the opportunity for failure. Critical failures in our group mean either dropping your currently equipped weapon, or (if in combat or doing something risky as above) possibly hitting one of your friends...

This has created some very fun moments - including Sirethnis (who specialises in dual-weapon fighting) throwing first one of her weapons down in front of a foe, then the other....then reaching for another and throwing that down as well (three critical failures in as many rolls!). It's led to a lot of arrows ending up in the backs of fighters, and a fair few spells going awry too - including a Witch Bolt that after a critical failure could have hit Darrien the I had the roll made...critical success! There are many examples - probably many more than should be statistically the point that the party is almost as dangerous to itself as my minions are...hence the Backbiters. At least they heal each other afterwards.

Anyway, a couple of pivotal figures I needed in the Hoard of the Dragon Queen were Frulam Mondath and Landregosa Cyanwrath (which is a great name, by the way!). These two characters needed setting up at the start of the campaign, and they would end up chasing Frulam half way across the Sword Coast! Anyway, one of the figures I had was holding a polearm and had a tabbard, so I figured they'd do...Frulam didn't look very female anyway!

Landregosa on the other hand was more difficult. In the end I took an old Warhammer Chaos warrior and replaced the head with that of a Lizardman, using green stuff to bridge the gaps. After a new sword, he just needed a paint job to be able to harass the characters, and beat Sirethnis in 1-2-1 combat at the end of Episode 1, just to cement her hatred of the Cult!

After Greenest I needed some scenery - rock formations mostly - for the party's tracking of the Cult back to their camp. Once more, Thingiverse proved a great source here, and I managed to print off enough rock bits to cover their approach to the Raiders Camp.

The Backbiters got to the Raiders Camp after clearing up the stragglers and (thanks to successfully interrogating three cultists) doing a dual -talking their way/sneaking past- the rearguard (the party split, with one group going directly through pretending to be cultist stragglers, the others sneaking around the outskirts). This also developed the Druid Thor as being a bit of an odd one - the party was really split with what to do with the three cultists they captured - kill them or let them go....whilst they argued Thor burned their shoes and let them go, deciding for the party!

The Backbiters did well at the Raider's Camp, extracting information and rescuing Leosin, and getting him back to Greenest after a whole session's worth of bargaining, roleplaying and various hilarity (we will never mention what happened with the two female dwarf characters as they posed as cultists in the "Emerald Excess of Tiamat" tent....!). Let's leave it at the point of Constitution tests were required....Anyway, I also managed to obtain quite a nice Monk figure to represent Leosin, seeing as he would be popping up at various points throughout the Tyranny of Dragons adventures.

They then dawdled about a bit deciding what to do and healing etc, so the cult was long gone when they returned - further confirmed by Othrod communing with a bird who scoped out some of the empty camp for him. This took our adventurers to the cave system, and their first real underground adventure since the small cave in their first "Test" outing. I printed a whole bunch of mushrooms for their expected path into the caves...

One of the great appeals of D&D for me is that people are always capable of surprising you, which the party did here. I expected them to go off through the mushroom forest and into the caves that way, but instead they ended up fighting the main human cultist force with Frulam Mondath. The Dragonclaws took a good few chunks out of the party, and Frulam managed to cast Hold Person on Othrod in the entrance to her chamber, making it easy for the Dragonclaws to defend it. She cast Spiritual Weapon and had a few swipes before deciding the party was too much, and escaping to the Dragon Temple cave.

The party paused a little before pursuing, meaning Frulam could alert Landregosa and his beserkers whilst she went to get the kobolds to cut off their retreat. Sirethnis and Othrod pushed a dead Dragonclaw down the escape chute, further warning Landregosa of their arrival - the beserkers watched and waited. The main party tanks then went down the chute, and were confined to a 5-foot wide corridor, meaning they couldn't really bring force to bear on the cult leader and his cronies. As the lead beserker was whittled away, so were the fighters - so when Landregosa stepped up behind him and unleashed his breath weapon, it was pretty devastating. Sirethnis was healed and hit back down again a couple of times, and Othrod managed to drag her back with Lander, despite being on only a couple of HP.

Being in no condition or mood to fight the blue half-dragon, they decided to shove the desk over the hole, and run for it. The timing of this was perfect, as at that moment the Guard Drakes and kobolds of Frulam arrived, trapping them. They fought out of the chambers, only to have Frulam Callm Emotions on many of the party, whilst kobolds got ready to attack. Despite this, the party managed to battle out, just escaping with little in the way of spells or HP left between them. They'd dealt the local members Cult a bit of a blow, but had been beaten and forced away in return.

The party managed to find another safe cave nearby to get a long rest in - during their long rest I determined that Frulam would ride out with half the kobolds and a couple of beserkers to warn Rezmir of the adventurers. Landregosa would stay behind with the remaining forces to protect the dragon eggs from harm. This meant I had to adjust the forces and descriptions in the cave system for the next session, but that was fine - all in a day's work for a DM!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

5e Dungeons & Dragons - The Chronicles of the Backbiters

Listeners to our podcast - The Hub Systems - will know that Oscar and I have embraced 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons since last Autumn. I think it's one of the best editions since my imagination was first captured by AD&D v1 back in the 1980s - it captures the feel of the original game whilst dealing with some of the more anomalous and detracting points of the game (like Magic Users only having d4 hit dice!).

Anyway, I used to DM a lot, and when a group of like-minded people got together through Meetup (having never met each other before!), I volunteered to DM again and we set off on a small starter adventure so everyone could get the feel of the new edition. This was "The Master's Vault", a RollD20 scenario which is a really nice way of getting into a new edition with players who don't know each other - lots of introductory stuff, it's not highly paced but has combat, traps and puzzles to solve. The party are a bunch of students of an old mage who now trains all types of adventurers. A couple of people couldn't make the first sessions, so I also had a couple of NPCs in there (handy as well for being the fall guy if the new edition proved unfortunately lethal at some point). 

Now this presented me with a couple of small issues - although I played AD&D as a teenager, and have been gaming for a long time, I don't actually own many fantasy figures - those I did have got lost or sold at some point. In addition, I didn't have any particularly good method of mapping that kept the required FOW/mystery element without requiring a lot of messing about in-game. Now for the former issue there are a few speciality manufacturers, but buying all the monsters, NPC etc was going to be expensive. I knew some of the players would have their own minis, but many wouldn't as they were first-time players or new to 5e after a long break.

In the first instance I tackled the mapping issue by printing out some sheets of A4 with 1" squares and then laminating them. This would give me a reusable grid that I could pre-prepare rooms etc on. It wasn't perfect, but it was fine as a starting point considering I didn't know how long this group would stick to things. I also thought about 3D printing as a solution, so started with a bunch of barrels and bookcases for the first adventure - they went down very well with the group. 

Figures require more finesse, however, and my M3D was very limited in terms of speed/throughput, so I looked to GW for some figures, buying twenty-odd unpainted Skinks from ebay for very little, modifying and painting them to be kobolds. They went down well too, and it was nice to paint something different.

Here was the party as it started;

Lander Hornraven - Male Human War Cleric
Thor (the mighty) - Male Human Druid
Uro Quo - Male Half-Elf Warlock (Great Old One)
Darrien Fellweather - Male Halfling Bard
Alonna Torlinn - Female Dwarven Rogue
Ranger Jon - Male Gnome Ranger
Mifregg (NPC) - Male Tiefling Fighter
Myrddin (NPC) - Female Tiefling Sorcerer (These two Tieflings were siblings - I had a plan!) 
Sirethnis Duenlyn - (Couldn't make first sessions) - Female Elven Fighter

This finished, we were then going to start Hoard of the Dragon Queen - mainly because I'd heard good things about it, and Lange from Jaded Gamercast has run it a few my mind if its good for him then it's good for me. I had Sirethnis be one of the students from the first adventure, but recalled to her home in the Greenfields after getting word from them that trouble was afoot. At the end of the RollD20 adventure they then received a request from this character for help, with word to meet at Greenest.

The issue of figures now raised its head again - HotDQ has a lot of stuff right from the outset - dozens of enemies. Lots of raiders, guards, veterans & berserkers - humans, basically. I checked out my newly found FLGS (Triple Helix Games - here's a call out for them) which has a whole bunch of Perry Miniatures figures - The English Army and Foot Knights are ideal for D&D, and incredibly good value. They also sell GW stuff at good prices, so I picked up some Lizardmen (no, I'm not going to use the silly new tentacle-porn name) including some cavalry to use as Ambush and Guard Drakes.

At this point a tragedy struck - my M3D printer broke...after contacting support, they basically said "Tough crap buddy, you don't live in the US so it'll cost you £400 to send you a new one". My reaction was to broadcast this as widely as I could so people don't buy from that PoS company, and to buy a new printer from a UK distributor - a Wanhao Duplicator i3 v2.1. For those that know, this is a cheap Prusa clone, as I wanted something between a fully "out of the box" product (expensive) and "here's a bunch of components in a box". As it was it took me 40 minutes from receiving my shiny new printer to producing a perfect first print, so I was VERY happy. It is also at least 100% faster than the old M3D, has a massive print area and a heated bed, meaning ability to print in different materials (all for much less than the "replacement/repair" service from M3D).

With the newfound speed and versatility of the new printer, I looked to Thingiverse to broaden the immersive style for the game, and found a whole bunch of different tile sets.

I printed out a load for the next session, which would form the basis of some of the pivotal encounters within the first episode. I also magnetised them with a thin magnetic sheet on the bottom so I could put them into place on steel sheets without them shifting about...

I also embarked upon my most ambitious print to that point, a dragon for the attack on Greenest...

In the interim, one of the original guys who couldn't make it dropped out, and we had another two join (one a Half-Orc Barbarian named Othrod Tranganth, the other a female Dwarven Wizard named Kylantha Marbleshield). I ran a small preamble for these three, where Sirethnis rescued Othrod from an execution by his former clan mates following the death of his father (as there was no-one left to protect this half-blood runt).

Othrod then accompanied Sirethnis, who returned home to find his father missing after going with other village men to find the source of recent raids. Tracking down her lost father, Sirethnis witnessed both her mother and father murdered by a mysterious Dragon Cult. Before he died, Sirethnis' father told her that he'd found out the next target was Greenest, and she should get help and warn Governor Nighthill before the attack came. Of course they arrived too late, though they managed to rescue him  with Kylantha, and make it back to the keep - where I had them meet the rest of the party in the next session. The player with Ranger Jon couldn't make it, but as is back story was that he was a bit of a wanderer, didn't like crowds and was actually really good at getting lost, I had him say he would meet them at Greenest as he would make his own way....getting lost and arriving late (for the session after).

Episode 1, the attack on Greenest, took a few good sessions to get through, but all in all it went pretty well - I'd managed to tie in the new characters, have them all on comparable experience and give them a compelling reason both to go to Greenest whilst under dragon attack and a desire to investigate the Cult of the Dragon (though Sirethnis took this as pure revenge...). Now we had a lot of players, so I got Mifregg electro-cremated by Lennithon in the party's encounter with the adult blue dragon, which also made Myrddin go mad and vanish (she was a wild magic sorcerer, and had done this kind of thing before!). I had plans for Myrddin to return at later points to plague the party after blaming them for the death of her brother - there's nothing quite like like setting up a long-term adversary who used to be one of the party, is there? 

At the moment the party are just completing Episode 6, but I'll cover some of how they got there in another post. Until then, happy gaming!