The Order of the Stick Has Stuck With Me

One of my favorite webcomics, which happens to also be my favorite D&D webcomic, is Order of the Stick. If you’ve been in the webcomics consumption business or D&D business for a while, you have likely heard of it. It has been going on since September of 2003 and, despite a few setbacks and being the poster child of how too much success can be a bad thing, it has passed 1100 pages. What started as a way to joke about the rules for the new D&D 3.5 release has developed into an epic tale that still manages to find the time to make jokes about the rules.

The first comics are fairly formulaic, by today’s standards. The party is introduced to the readers and jokes are made about obscure rules or the tendency for player characters to fail simple checks, like seeing the monsters immediately behind them. Then Evil Opposites are introduced, a Lich at the end of the Dungeon is encountered, and then the party is released into the wider world to wreak havoc and eventually get railroaded into some new plot or another. They go from light-storytelling at the start so jokes can remain the focus to telling an epic story of personal growth, the consequential struggles of mortals in the matters of gods, and need of individuals to act even when they feel out of their depth. There’s on particular moment, as the webcomic approached and passed its 1000th update that has stuck with me. The combination of the art change and the focus on the growth of one of the characters culminated in a single splash page that still gives me chills.

For a long time, my idea of playing or running Dungeons and Dragons was to create a place for players to sort of just stumble through the world. There was supposed to be a story, but it was secondary to making sure the players got to make their jokes and kill a bunch of stuff. Reading through Order of the Stick showed me there was a lot more that I could do within the world of D&D since the writer/artist, Rich Burlew, manages to tell the entire story without departing from the world. It taught me a lot of how to trim a story to fit within the confines of a D&D campaign, how to ensure my players had agency, and how to even do a bit of railroading without ruining the story. Beyond even that, it taught me so much about how to play within the rule set, how to creatively express myself in a variety of character types, and how to add nuance to the rather black and white D&D morality system without making everything entirely relative or perception-based.

While it managed all of that, the story created a wonderful mixture of sympathetic villains, unsympathetic villains, good guys who get screwed over, and bad guys who get better than they deserve. As soon as you venture outside of the online comics, to the book only publications or the PDFs that were created as a part of the “too much success” Kickstarter (what started out as a cheap drive to fund reprinting a popular book wound up raising millions of dollars and forcing Rich Burlew to take time off of the comics in order to work on meeting the commitments he made during the event, some of which is still ongoing). My favorite story, about my favorite character, is one of those PDFs. How the Paladin Got His Scar is a tale about personal strength, commitment to something larger than yourself, second chances, and choosing to live for something while still being willing to die if it means that everyone else will be safe. I read it at a time I really needed it and I still go back to read it again when I feel like I need to strengthen my commitment to something that feels impossible. Such as updating my blog every day for a year.

People talk about stories or books that made them who they are today and Order of the Stick is one of mine. I would not be as skilled a storyteller as I am without this comic. I would not be the same creative, twisty DM and player without it. I would not be me without it. If you’re looking for something to read and enjoy jokes about D&D and learning about what it means to be a leader or the price of power, check it out at Also, yes, the stick figure drawing does improve over time, but it remains stick figures until near the 900 mark, when it improves without losing its original charm.


Coldheart and Iron: Part 6


Dawn broke just after six. I’d made two more quick patrols of the grounds, silently moving from post to post, to make sure everyone was alert and ready. Aside from the scouts that Lucas had taken with him to find the bandits forty-eight hours ago, everyone was still alert. The scouts were split up amongst the groups and, aside from a quick scrub of their eyes every so often, were handling their sleep deprivation fairly well. Even us older Wayfinders could handle a couple of days without sleep before our ability to function, and all of the scouts except Lucas were still only in their late twenties.

Right as I was about to start my third patrol, one of our snipers gave the signal. A quick, two-beat bird imitation that let us all know the main force had been spotted coming out of the hills. A five-beat version of the bird call let us know we were facing a force of around fifty people. Compared to the scouts, of which there had only been twenty over-confident morons who fell into our trap, they were going to be a significant problem. We’d wiped out the bandit scouts, so our preparations would still be a mystery, but they’d be more cautious and the morning light that was slowly suffusing through the clouds was only going to help them.

After a quick breath to steady my pulse that had jumped up when the warning signal came, I got up from my post by one of the windows and made a silent circuit of the farmhouse, telling everyone to keep their eyes peeled, stick to their assigned window or crevice, and shoot as soon as they see someone walking toward the house or the barn. While reissuing Camille’s orders, I check over the barricades everyone had made. Most were just pieces of scrap wood we had collected, layered around their firing positions so the bandits wouldn’t simply be able to fire through the walls. A sufficiently powerful sniper rifle still could pierce the multiple layers we had set up, but the laborers and nomads would be protected from most stray bullets when they were taking cover or reloading.

My post was a bit better defended, since I was facing the direction the bandits were most-likely coming from. I had my barricade set up underneath my second-story window and I was the only person here so I’d be able to hide entirely behind it. The wall around the windows was layered with more wood, of course, but my barricade would stop anything but the largest caliber rifles. One of Natalie’s most ingenious ideas, the portable barricades had saved countless lives. Lightweight and incredibly durable, they were a lot like body armor you could take cover behind. Most sniper rifles would leave a huge dent in them, but they’d leave you alive as well, and the repairs were fairly easy to do in the field.

I settled in behind my barricade, head down, and eyes waiting on the signal. The seconds thudded by, each measured by the silent passing of seconds on my watch while my heart supplied the sound effects. Five whole minutes of silence and the repeated mantra Camille had taught us when we first realized marksmanship was the only thing we’d be able to depend on as the world fell into chaos around us. Sight, exhale, squeeze. There was a lot more to it than that, but breaking it down into single words that represented the whole made it easier to focus during moments like right now.

Then, so dimly I almost couldn’t see it, was the change in light I was looking for, shining in through the window. I popped up, legs bracing me against my barrier and eyes darting past the flares that were just coming to life on the treeline. I picked my first target and fired. The rifle pushed into my shoulder, the thunderclap boomed through my earplugs, and I saw my target fall. I switched focus to another one and fired off a trio of shots, hoping to get something vital through the bush she was standing behind. She went down. I swapped to another target, but then bullets started flying out of the trees and I ducked back down.

I heard a few cries of pain from the floor below me and more from the woods. A few bullets zipped through my window and out the wall opposite and one blew a hail of splinters out of the reinforced wall as it exploded on impact. I pounded the floor three times, signalling to fire at will and then scooted away from the window on my stomach. I crawled out of the bedroom, down the hallway, and stopped at the top of the stairs. There was a window facing the opposite side of the farm clearing and I carefully poked my head over the sill.

Creeping up the slight incline, through a scattering of grass clumps and bushes, was another group of bandits, almost as large as the group attacking us from the east. I hadn’t taken a close count, but I could definitely tell it was way more than fifty between the two groups. I thumped the floor twice, and fired a few shots out of the window. They group of bandits scattered, but didn’t manage to avoid the rain of bullets coming out of the farmhouse. Most of the laborers weren’t skilled with a gun, but we’d given them all the guns and ammo we’d taken from the bandits, so they were given free-reign to fire as they liked.

Once the bandits started regrouping behind whatever cover they could, I rolled away from the window. I went back to my original position and started adding a dozen potshots to the chaos that had engulfed the area around the barn. When I came up to shoot the last four bullets in my magazine, I added a whistle signal to the roar of my gun. Two beats, two beats, a short pause while I took cover again, and then four beats. Almost forty bandits coming from the west.

A couple of moments later, as I reloaded, I heard Camille’s distinctive whistle pierce the battlefield. A single, long note cut through the bark of combat rifles and then the small contingent of Wayfinders that had hidden in the snow, waiting for the bandits to pass them, went about their work. We sent a few more volleys into the forest, but had to stop soon so we wouldn’t hit our own people. I banged the floor twice, telling the nomads to stop, and then banged it four times. Following my own signal, I returned to my westward facing window and started shooting at the bandits from there.

The bandits seemed content to focus their fire on the first floor, doing their best to chew through the walls around the windows and being rewarded with several screams. I got a faceful of splinters when I rolled off to the side, thankfully avoiding the bullets that ripped the wall up but unable to get my hands up in time to protect my face from the wooden shrapnel. My eyes were fine thanks to my goggles, but I was going to either die with a face like a porcupine or spend a few hours pulling splinters out of my face.

I tugged out the largest ones on the right side of my face and kept firing. One cluster of bandits made a break for the farmhouse and, as I went to fire at them, the remaining two dozen bandits started blind-firing at the farmhouse. They didn’t hit much, but they succeeded in forcing everyone back behind their cover. I blindly emptied my magazine in what I hoped was their direction. A couple of seconds later, as I was reloading, one of the doors crashed open and I heard the unmistakable shriek of a flashbang grenade. I popped over the sill and started shooting at the rest of the bandits that had started running toward the farmhouse, doing my best to ignore the dizziness and ringing in my ears despite my earplugs.

I got almost a dozen with solid body shots before the ones in front realized what I was doing and started shooting back. Bullets flew through the walls and even the floor around me, filling the air with wooden shrapnel that bounced harmlessly off my thermal jacket and pants. I shifted my position to get a better angle on the bandits approaching the house but, as I shifted into a kneeling position, I took a bullet through the meat of my calf. I shouted in rage and pain, trying to keep my balance, but failed. As I crashed to the floor, I kept firing, blindly shooting through the wooden defenses. If more bandits got into the farmhouse, it would be a slaughter. Right now, there was a chance that some of the people would survive. As I slammed a new magazine into my rifle, there was too much shooting inside the house to be just the five or so bandits that had broken down the door. The amount of screaming certainly sounded like everyone down there was dying.

Bullets whizzed past me as I grunted in anger at rapidly devolving situation, rocked back on my uninjured leg, and then threw myself down the stairs. I rolled so my uninjured leg would hit ground first and gritted my teeth against the pain of banging my injured leg against everything I could find. At the bottom, I used my momentum to throw myself to my feet and spun around the corner to face the room where the grenade had gone off.

I looked past all of the collapsed bodies and focused on the still standing ones. A couple of the laborers where struggling with bandits for the control of guns, so I took a quick shot at each bandit, ending the scuffles, and then sighting on the doorway as the rest of the bandits showed up. There were only eight, and they didn’t enter after a flashbang, but I got lucky. I had a direct line of fire on all of them and they were too focused on the laborers screaming and hip-firing right next to the doorway.

Once they were down, I limped my way back to the east-facing side of the farmhouse and peeked through a window. The Wayfinders were cleaning up there, chasing after a group of bandits that had fled and finishing off any bandits left alive. I clicked the safety on my rifle and slung it over my shoulder.

I collapsed into a chair along the wall, popped out my earplugs, pulled out my first-aid kit, and started inspecting my wound. While I let my hands and all my practice take over, I called out. “Any further sign of bandits?”

There was a few moments of silence before a scattered chorus of “no’s” came back. I grunted and held my breath as I started bandaging the wound. A quick plug, then a cotton wrap around my leg to hold it in and prevent my thermal pants from shifting. After securing everything, I tentatively stood up and discovered I couple manage on my leg as it was. I stumped over to the other room and started assessing the mess.

There were a dozen dead bandits lying on the floor near the door, and about that many of the nomads. It seems like they had taken the worst of the flashbang attack, though there were a few dead laborers as well. The cries and whimpers of the injured made it hard to listen for the signals from the Wayfinders, so I set all of the uninjured laborers to clearing the dead bodies away, figuring out how many people had been killed, and collecting all of the gear from the bandits. I had the nomads collect all of the wounded and take them upstairs, away from all of the dead. There was only the one room and a large storage closet up there, but it was a bit room and there weren’t many wounded who would be back on their feet quickly.

While the laborers and nomads shuffled off to do what I had said, I went outside and whistled the all-clear signal. I got one back from the barn and carefully made my way to the big double-doors. Camille met me just inside them.

I saluted. “Getting numbers now, but it looks bad. Lots of dead nomads and laborers. There was a breach and they had flashbangs. I’ve got the survivors taking stock and sorting the injured from the dead right now.”

“We’ve got one dead Wayfinder out here. Diego. Got hit by a few lucky shots when he popped up to provide some covering fire for the snipers to reposition. Still waiting on final injury reports.” Camille saluted and then we took a moment to steady each other. I looked her over and, aside from the stress I could see in her eyes, she seemed fine.

“First is clean up and then a bit of scouting to make sure that was all of them. After that, rest. We’ll stay here for a couple of days to bury the dead and pick over the bandits’ supplies.”

Camille nodded. “I’ll get the scouting parties organized. Once the laborers and nomads are finished taking care of their dead, we’ll need their help collecting the bandits.” Camille turned to face the east, looking off into the woods. “Flashbangs?”

“Yeah.” I took a deep breath and shifted my weight so it rested more fully on my uninjured leg. “The way they attacked the farmhouse suggested they have at least a little training. Hopefully they have more grenades they didn’t use.”

Camille shook her head. “That’s not what I’m thinking. I’m just curious about why a group this well-supplied would be attacking nomads or a fortified position like ours. Even by typical bandit standards, this attack was idiotic. They know how to breach and enter a building, have the high-tech gear to do it, and yet used waved tactics to try to get to the barn.”

“And the house.” I sighed and rubbed my eyes, careful to avoid the splinters still stuck in my face. My usual post-battle headache was already forming. “Their approach to the farmhouse was horrible. I was able to just mow them down after the first group breached and they weren’t even using cover as they snuck up to the farmhouse.”

“Sorry about that.” Camille turned back to me, concern on her face as she looked over my pincushioned face and the hasty bandage around my leg. “I was sending the snipers over to your side when Diego went down. The bandits decided to rush then and the barn would have been overwhelmed if we had continued to turn away.”

I shrugged. “I’m alive. We’re going to have to explain what happened to the survivors, so let’s just focus on getting through the next twenty-four hours and then we can start in on all the guilt of losing people we said we’d protect.”

Camille smiled ruefully. “You’d think I’d get used to it after almost fifteen years of this.”

I walked over and put my hand on her shoulder. “Camille, I’d be worried if you didn’t still care.” I looked around and, sure that no one was watching, embraced her. “You did great. Most of us are still alive and that’s more than most would be able to say after a day like that.”

“You bet your ass I did great.” Camille laughed quietly and hugged me back. “Now stop with all this mushy stuff. You don’t need to hug me after every death.”

“No, I don’t.” I stepped back and smiled at my oldest living friend. “But I’m still going to. Makes me feel better.”

Camille punched me in the shoulder and I turned away. “Now, I’m going to check on the non-combatants. I’m going to need to spend some time talking to kids whose parents died.” I closed the barn down behind me and looked up at the overcast sky. The snow was holding off for now, but the skies looked fit to burst. There was light diffusing through the clouds, but the day wasn’t getting any brighter. It would snow soon and we had bodies to bury. I looked back at the ground, ignoring the bloody smears around me and the groans of the injured, and limped off in the direction of the cellar doors. At least the cellar would be a bit warmer.

Tabletop Highlight: Don’t Split The Party

“Don’t split the party” is probably one of the most common lines throughout all D&D games. There is a built-in fear, for almost every (even moderately) experienced player, that splitting up will lead to certain doom for the party or members of the party. The idea of strength as a group holds true in common media depictions. Everyone dreads the moment in a horror movie when the future victims split up for whatever reason. Even in Scooby-Doo, nothing good happens when the gang splits up to search for clues. It is almost always the precursor to them getting chased around the mansion/factory/cave/woods by the monster they’re trying to investigate. The idea is also expressed in more real terms via phrases such as “divide and conquer” and pretty much any time someone conquered a bunch of Europe. However, history is also full of examples of when splitting up was a great idea. Guerrilla warfare has used successfully on numerous occasions. Breaking empires down into smaller administrative chunks for management is always a great idea until the person who built the empire dies, at which point the whole thing falls apart–providing a wonderful example of both sides of the idea.

In D&D, there are plenty of reasons to stick together as a group. Given that most parties have a diverse set of skills, it makes survival much easier since someone with decent perception skills is going to be able to spot the monster sneaking up on the party’s camp and someone else will be the one to go confront it. Generally speaking, the same person spotting the problem isn’t the same person solving it. At the same time, having multiple people able to attempt something like that perception skill check makes it more likely that at least one person will pass and only one person needs to pass in order for the group to know. Unless the person who passes is trying to get the party killed or keep something for themselves. There’s not much you can do about that degree of undermining, though. Most combat encounters and even the rules about combat encounters are geared toward groups. Flanking bonuses, assist actions, melee versus ranged combat, distractions, and mid-battle healing are all things that require a group to properly use.

However, when it comes to exploring, it is often a good idea for the party to split up. If there is scouting that needs to be done, it would be better to leave the tank behind. All that armor is only going to make too much noise. If there’s a door that needs to be held, the tank is great at that, and the rogue is better off finding another way around so they can hit the enemies from the back. If there is research to be done, perhaps the wizard or cleric should be left to their own devices while the rest of the party takes care of other business. Maybe there’s a maze and the party needs to figure out which way to go. If the routes are narrow, best to leave most of the party behind while one person scouts ahead. If there’s a combat encounter about to happen, maybe the rogue should sneak off to make sure the enemies aren’t going to receive any reinforcements.

There are a lot of times when splitting up makes a lot of sense for a D&D party, though they don’t always match up with the examples seen in the primary world. Guerrilla warfare utilizes strike forces and a D&D party is pretty much the epitome of a self-sufficient strike force, so there’s no need to break it down further. Additionally, few D&D parties ever actually form their own empire or conquer nations. There’s little need to delegate or decentralize your government if the most you’re governing is a base of some kind.

Party splits larger than the ones I outlined are a bit more difficult to manage in a D&D session, though. If half of the party decides to explore the underdark because they’re not good-aligned and want to figure out where their demon-adjacent target went, then you should probably come up with something for the paladin and super-good scout to do since they’re going to get instantly busted if they go to the underdark. I wound up running split sessions for a couple of weeks, and had to come up with some way to give everyone something important to do. Their decision to split the party helped give shape to the rest of the campaign because I needed something relevant for the above-ground party to handle. The more recent split I’m dealing with, the scout towing the rogue’s body back to the base of some druids for reincarnation and their subsequent slow trip back (a Halfling corpse is easier to carry than a half-elf person), will not be so easily managed. The other half of the party is currently camped right on top of a dungeon that is aware of their presence. They have captives from their previous forays into the dungeon. There’s at least one young-ish black dragon hanging around somewhere near them. All they have is a camp of NPC hirelings and a DMPC cleric they hired to Remove Curses and Raise Dead. Plus, the party-members waiting at the dungeon are the go-getters, so it isn’t like they’re just going to wait for the rogue and scout to get back.

Party splitting can be fun, but it can also make a LOT of extra work for the DM and slow down sessions to a crawl, since each sub-group doesn’t have access to the same information anymore. Splitting the players up is the easiest way to handle that, in my opinion. It just requires copious notes since it can be easy to mix up what everyone is doing and what each group knows. That’s usually why I try to reunite the party by the end of every session if I can. Makes my life so much easier and keeps things running smoothly.

For Hire

It should have been everything he wanted. He’d done viral marketing, learned how to use Twitter, and even got a decent camera for Snapchat and Instagram. He’d discretely entered social circles, splashed across the local newspapers, and put up posters where his ideal clients frequented. His dreams of being a friend-for-hire were shattered. His family had laughed at first, but then he started getting calls. Now, two years later, he finished replacing the money he’d borrowed from his savings.

It just wasn’t like he imagined. He’d left his fliers and advertisements vague so no one felt limited, but it had backfired in a way he never imagined. What he did wasn’t bad and he even enjoyed it most of the time. It was just so different from how he’d envisioned his future.

Gone was the idea that he’d make a living by being friends with socially awkward nerds with money. Gone were the thoughts of helping older men get around and run their errands. Hell, gone were even the thoughts of being used as a taxi service to ferry people without cars around since his rates were cheaper than an Uber.

He sighed and sat down at his office computer, opening the program he used to push new advertisements to all of his media accounts. He reviewed the new ads he had composed and, after one last deep breath, published them. Friend for hire no more. In the business world, you had to recognize your niche and do your best to inhabit it. He’d even filed all the paperwork to update his license at town hall. As he turned off his computer and went home for the day, he admired the sign on his door. “Peter Foster: Grandson for Hire.” At least he would never need to bake for himself.

Saturday Morning Musing

I’ve been using Facebook since 2007 and I did a lot of growing up during the past 11-ish years. I never really did much social media posting with specifics to my life, but I sure did plenty of whining. And posting song lyrics. There are also the broken links to blogs I’ve run in the past that I ended years ago. Worst of all, at least to my mind, is that I did tons of “vague-booking.” For those of you who are not familiar with the term, it is what you call a post on Facebook that complains about something without actually indicating what is wrong or why you are upset. I’m sure urban dictionary has a better definition, but that is basically it and it annoys me these days.

It can be weird to look back on posts from the past and see myself upset about something that was clearly a big deal at the time but that I can no longer remember. Most of the big, lasting problems from my life during my later high school and college years are things I never posted about but still remember quite clearly. The break-ups, the betrayals and loss of friends, the fights between friends that shattered friend-groups, my attempts to act as a moderator to some dumb shit in college that only convinced both sides to turn against me since I wouldn’t pick a side, and more. There’s nothing on Facebook that is painful to remember mostly because I can’t remember anything I was complaining about.

These days, I maintain a bit of a “digital persona,” I guess you could call it. Maybe “Digital Identity” would be better. Either way, it isn’t an act or a fake personality. I just strictly maintain a certain self-identity across platforms. I try to use similar usernames if not my real name and be consistent in profile pictures, the things I support, and how I voice my thoughts. My blog is currently where I voice most of my thinking while Twitter tends to get more of my moment-to-moment impressions when I feel like they’re actually worth recording. Which isn’t to say I tweet everything that comes up. I try not to complain too much and don’t generally post anything that isn’t a part of my mission. I do similar things outside of the internet as well, so my online identity reflects my offline one. I just feel a little more aware of the performative aspects of being a person and constantly working toward a goal when I’m doing it online. Offline, I just want to make the world a better place however I can, so I generally try to look on the bright side, share things that are good, and generally be a positive influence. In the end, they pretty much work out to the same thing.

That being said, I’m not exactly a ray of sunshine online. I deal with my depression and anxiety a lot on twitter, posting about the weird sort of negative/positive mix of my thoughts that results from my depression and anxiety pulling me down and my attempts to avoid being ruled by them pulling me up. It is also a good exercise in making me focus on things I enjoy, setting my mindset for the day, and looking for the good that comes from everything going on in my life. My twitter isn’t happy, but it is positive and affirming. It represents what it is like to be someone who is active and creative, who refuses to stop doing anything less than literally everything he can, while struggling with depression and anxiety. At least it represents what that means to me, specifically.

My life’s goal is to leave the world a better place than I found it. To be a positive influence on the world, even if it means just making one person’s life better for me having been here. Angst-y Facebook posts from years ago don’t really support that. Plus, they’re kind of embarrassing. I thought I was so clever just sharing song lyrics instead of posting about how I felt, but the themes of the music and the specific lines I chose paint a pretty clear picture of my emotional state at the time of posting. I have to admit that the desire to get rid of these transparent references to transient, ultimately meaningless problems is a part of it.

If I’d actually posted about the real problems I was facing, if I’d shared anything like I do now, about facing life with depression and the constant struggle of managing my anxiety, I would keep it. People benefit from knowing other people out there have shared similar struggles. Something is easier to deal with when you know you’re not alone. The desire to let people know what it is like to be depressed or anxious, to have to struggle to get through every day even when you know you’ll manage just fine and aren’t a suicide risk, that is why I’ve chosen such a public forum. The few random comments I get on this blog from time-to-time make it all worth it.

I don’t really feel like it is self-censorship to remove old posts that no longe represent who I am. My social media should reflect who I am. While some of my past problems are a part of who I am today, none of the whiny little vague posts are. It feels a lot more like cleaning and maintenance to me.



What weighs me down weighs naught at all.
Instead, it pulls me from my feet.
The ways I’m down aren’t ways at all
But an urge to admit defeat.
I wallow not in some dark pit
But in an endless sea replete
With crushing waves that don’t remit
And don’t allow me to retreat.

I tread and float upon the sea
With nothing but my strength and will.
There is nothing to tether me
Or that will make my floating still.
I am not content to survive
Waves larger than the tallest hill.
I will fight while I’m still alive
To buck this watery treadmill.

I will forge myself an anchor
Made of my wit and will and word.
I will twist a rope of my rancor
And all of the pain I’ve incurred.
My anchor will lodge in the deeps,
Stuck fast no matter how I’m stirred
By the wind, waves, and rain that sweeps
Away the rafts I once preferred.


Hyrule Warriors is Switching it up

I really enjoyed the Hyrule Warriors game that came out for the Wii U. The console kinda sucked, but the game was tons of fun! Until you got to multiplayer, anyway. If you tried to play multiplayer, one person using the little TV-Screen controller and the other playing on the main TV, the console would be unable to keep up with the demands of the game. There were whole levels and challenges I was unable to complete in multiplayer because the game simple wouldn’t render more enemies for me to fight. I’d be running around the battlefield, all but the last handful of goons defeated, but still four hundred short of the challenge goal because no new enemies would spawn. Story missions became impossible to complete because I couldn’t kill enough enemies to make the bosses appear.

The game was fun enough to play on my own that I don’t regret my purchase, but a lot of the achievements and post-story gameplay wasn’t as fun without a friend to play it with. The version they eventually released for the 3DS was better, since it required separate systems to play and they could share the load this way, but it wasn’t nearly as fun to play on the hand-held system (I’ve got huge hands, so even the larger “New 3DS” can cause my hands to cramp if I play it energetically). Plus, the screen was small and a lot of detail was sacrificed every time they shrank the screen from it’s “on TV” proportions. They also added a bunch of really cool DLC to the handheld version but it just wasn’t worth buying again, since no one else I knew was planning to buy it.

Now that there’s an edition coming out for the Switch, I might consider buying it again. I’m fairly certain my roommate would buy it and, since we’ve both got a Switch, we’ll be able to do multiplayer fairly easily. The screen is bigger and has a better aspect ration for these kind of games, so it’ll be less of a pain to play on the go. Best of all, it has all of the combined content from the previous iterations, all without needing to buy any kind of DLC for it! Though, to be fair, I would not be entirely surprised if they added more DLC for this version. While Nintendo isn’t as egregious about DLC stuff as most other game developers are (their DLC is usually more of an “expansion” than content that should have come with the game), they still do it with an increasing regularity. I just hope it never goes to Pokemon games! Or, maybe it would be better if they turned stuff like “Ultra Moon/Sun” into DLC so you wouldn’t need to buy an entirely new game…

The “Warriors” series of games, now in many different skins, all play much the same. You play as one of many heroes running through crowds of mooks, a few captains, and the occasional boss. You are mighty and they are weak. You kill hundreds or thousands of them and, unless you’re playing on a higher difficulty or are not actually trying to complete your missions, none of them can kill you. You can level up your characters, growing their power and unlocking new moves, using resources from the game and various weapons you get as prizes. The stories are simple and the point is to unleash incredible (but never very graphic) violence upon your foes.

While the original games never really held my interest, throwing a Legend of Zelda skin on them certainly did. You get all of the above paragraph and more! You can plan as any number of characters from across a few different Legend of Zelda games, use various items from the various games to hilarious effect, and do everything to some really amazing metal or heavy rock versions of classic Legend of Zelda songs. The music was amazing, though I’ll admit it doesn’t make for a very good YouTube or Spotify playlist. The music is best experienced as a part of wholesale slaughter and rescuing your friends from different time periods/universes.

If you want a casual game that’s a lot of fun and enjoy Legend of Zelda or Dynasty warriors, I recommend picking up some version of the game. If you want the Switch one, it should be out in the next three months. As of writing this, the scheduled release is “Spring 2018,” so I’d guess late March or sometime in April. Otherwise, grab a the 3DS or Wii U version and get to trotting around the battlefield as you wantonly murder a bunch of mooks.


You NEED to Read this Webcomic!

As anyone who has read my blog for long enough can tell, I am a firm proponent of representing the struggles of mental health in stories and media. I try to do it myself and I’m always looking for other media that does it as well. When someone I follow on twitter re-tweeted another comic author/artist and added a comment that this other author/artist did an amazing job representing mental health in her comic, I felt inclined to check it out. As always happens, I wound up not actually doing that for almost a month. I followed the author/artists on twitter and then promptly forget about the comic I was supposed to start reading. That was a huge mistake and I regret it immensely.

Daughter of the Lilies (link to page 1, so don’t worry about spoilers), by Meg Syverud, is an amazing webcomic about self-doubt, depression, anxiety, and religious themes cleverly hidden in a comic about fighting monsters in an epic fantasy world. The religious themes are cleverly-hidden and the mental-health ones are part of the main themes for each chapter as we follow the story of the protagonist, Thistle, when she looks for work with a local mercenary group. There is some gore and some uncomfortable moments the author/artist handles well (with warnings and obfuscated pages that require you to click to see), but the amazing story and excellent characters make it worth it. The religious themes are not yet fully explored and are more along the lines of a more subtle Narnia than the sort of “in-your-face” version seen in most Christian rock. Honestly, unless you read the blog posts under each page or know a lot about Christianity (well, as much as a general practitioner of a Christian faith would know), you might miss the references entirely.

I sat down to just check it out after seeing a few more recent shares on twitter and subsequently forgot about everything else I was going to do that night. It is so good! I came in at the perfect time. Since the beginning of the comic, the protagonist’s face was hidden. There were hints, but the most popular thing for fans to do was to theorize about what she looked like. The day I started reading was the day her face was finally shown. I was able to read through all of the that the author/artist had spent the last few years creating, enjoying the drama of not understanding her identity, before finally seeing it once I’d caught up. I immediately went to support her on Patreon because I want this comic to update daily and storytelling as wonderful as this deserves as much support as I can give it.

This comic has pretty much everything you could want and does such a good job of creating a world that I might be copying some of the stuff I’ve read here for Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. The mercenary leader actually has paperwork to do, to register the protagonist as an official part of his team and it looks just as confusing as tax forms! The logistics of the world are incredible. It is firmly grounded in the typical fantasy world, but it moved the time forward a couple hundred years, so you have more of a “renaissance” feeling instead of a “peasants farming dirt near a castle” feeling. The orcs can be friendly, the racial designs are great, and everything is so colorful! The clothes are probably one of my favorite visual details since almost everyone wears them and they’re so incredible to look at.

I went to go look up some stuff for more to write about and accidentally re-read the entire comic. Whoops. There’s just too much that’s wonderful about this comic for me to try to chop it down into a review. I suggest you read it for yourself. You’ll understand, then.

Coldheart and Iron: Part 5


The attack came a little after three in the morning. They were silent, with top-tier pre-collapse gear: Night-vision goggles, motion trackers, and audio sensors. We had flares and synchronized watches.

That’s the thing about Wayfinders we never leave anyone alive to talk about. We don’t fight fair. Our groups are almost always smaller than the bandits roaming the tundra and we don’t have any hulking bruisers among us, so we’re usually individually smaller as well. As a result, Wayfinders avoid fighting at all cost and, instead, simply kill any threats we face. Our preferred tactics are ambush and surprise, but only when stealth killing isn’t an option. Someone who dies before they wake up can’t raise an alarm or escape their bonds in order to help their allies fight.

Camille was one of the first to take the practice of ending fights before they began and turn it into a codified practice taught to others. Before the Wayfinders were an official group, when we were just four people trying to find the rest of our friends and families, Camille protected us from bandits by killing every single one we found while sneaking from city to city. When I decided to turn our side job of guiding people from settlement to settlement into a business, she was ready with training and guidelines. She made us into the militaristically strong organization that we are today, the only strength and justice in the tundra for people who just want to travel safely. There were no better hands to be in than hers and the bandits only realized their mistake when it was already too late to save themselves.

The night was overcast with an ever-falling blanket of light snow to cover any noise as they approached. Our scouts had already spotted them and warned us of their arrival, well before they had even set up their small staging camp outside of the hills that separated this farm from the plains. They wore their night-vision goggles and all we had were eyes trained to make out detail even in the harshest blizzard. We watched the thin light reflecting off their goggles as they approached and, once they snuck up on the dummies we’d placed at all the barricades, we ignited our flares.

In the confusion that followed, the muffled crack of each silenced Wayfinder rifle firing was drowned out by the pained screams of our targets and the sharp roars of their guns as they blindly fired. Their confusion and blindness did more damage to their allies than we had done.  After firing two rounds each, our snipers stood down, waiting for the bandits’ panicked firing to stop and for more targets to appear. Five minutes and a few careful shots later, the remaining bandits started their retreat. As they retreated, Camille signalled to my group.

We slipped out of our hiding spot near the entrance to the barn and started collecting weapons from the dead bandits. By the time we’d grabbed the dozen guns and all their ammunition, the second group was on its way back. Leaving the flares burning and hiding the looted guns in the bushes, we crept around behind them, sneaking through the gap one of our snipers made when she silently killed the pair approaching us from the south. Ten minutes later, as the Wayfinders traded shots with the bandits, we struck their base camp.

There were eight of us. I and one of the trainees went around the far side and started working our way into the tents. We killed the two bandits we found sleeping, finished off the injured ones that had been dragged back to the camp, and drew a line of kerosene through their camp. We poured from tent to tent and then dumped the rest over their ammunition after giving them a quick scan. While we did that, the other three trainees and three Wayfinders, led by Natalie, slipped through the sentries and awake bandits, swiftly killing them all. Once we were all finished, we dumped out their camp stoves and used them to light the trail of kerosene. While they burned, we dashed back to the cover of the hills.

A couple of minutes after we’d lit them, the fires reached the ammunition and the whole camp exploded. Natalie led us through the hills, taking us wide around the farm so we wouldn’t run the risk of encountering anyone racing back from the farm to find out what had happened to their camp. Half an hour after we had left, at about three forty-five, we made it back to the barn. Natalie signaled to Camille that were had finished and we made a dash for the barn.

Once we were all safely inside, I climbed up the spikes we’d stuck into one of the beams and crawled through the hayloft until I found Camille prone, peering through the scope of her rifle. I crawled next to her, raised my scope, and looked in the same direction she was. Just through the trees around the farm, I could see the red glow of the bandit camp burning shining off the tops of the hills. I watched it for a moment before lowering my gun and reporting.

“The camp was dead before we left. No major resistance and only one minor injury on our part. A bit of debris from the explosion nicked Matthews. Clean cut, just needed a quick wrap to stop the bleeding and a patch to his gear.” Camille grunted, pleased that her plan worked. “How about up here?”

“No injuries at all. They couldn’t handle the flares and were counting on their goggles giving them an advantage in marksmanship. Between our two groups, that should account for all of them. There were a few left alive when they left, so I had our ground troops follow the bandits back to their camp to make sure none of them returned again. Find anything useful?”

I shook my head. The bandit stores had been empty aside from their ammunition, which was useless to us, since we used rifles and all of their guns were semi-automatic. “No food or extra gear we could have used aside from the tents and blankets. They must have a much larger force following them if their scouting party was almost three dozen people. There’s no way they could live out of their packs alone for the entire time they’ve been following the nomads.”

Camille nodded. “That confirms the reports we got from one of the bandits we questioned. A survivor whose passing we eased after he answered our questions.”

“How did the laborers and nomads take that?”

“They didn’t see it. Luke took care of it while doing a second sweep right after they fled.” Camille lowered her rifle and looked over at me. “We need to reset quickly if we’re going to be ready for their main group. Have the nomads and laborers been handled?”

“Yes.” I nodded. “The non-combatants are hidden in the farmhouse cellar with our extra supplies and the cellar is barred from both sides. Two nomads were stationed there with their weapons and Natalie is passing them the extra guns and ammo. Just in case. The rest are hidden in the farmhouse with orders to use it as their fort if we give them the signal. They did a good job of staying silent through the fight.”

“Make sure everyone is still in their places. I’d worry they fled if we hadn’t had eyes on the entire clearing.” Camille winked and made a shooing gesture with her hand. “I’ll keep an eye on things from up here.” Her small smile faded and her usual grimace returned. “Hopefully sniping can convince the main force not to push for the barn.”

I crawled backwards and turned around, ready to crawl out of the hayloft. “Hopefully killing their scouts without any major injuries or losses on our sides will accomplish that. I’d prefer to avoid another fight.”

“Sure. That’s exactly how things work out here.” Camille chuckled darkly and raised her scope back to her eye. “They’re just going to leave us alone because we’ve already killed enough of them to make them afraid. They’re definitely not going to decide that we deserve killing for daring to stand against them.”

After a moment of silence, I patted Camille on the calf, pushed her feet aside to make more room for my departure, and made my way back to the ladder. It was just about four o’clock in the morning and I was starting to feel it. I did a quick round of all posts, made sure everyone was good to go, and then settled in the farmhouse with the laborers and nomads to wait for dawn and whatever attack would come. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to wait long.

Tabletop Highlight: Dungeons & Dragons Under The Sea.

Underwater or otherwise water-centric (sailing) campaigns for D&D Are generally set up from the start as a campaign focused around the water or underneath it. Races will be adapted for wet environments, every actually puts skill ranks in the Swim skill, and everyone makes dexterity-based characters because no one wants to be the person in heavy armor who sinks and then drowns before they can get out of their armor. At this point, handling underwater combat, the drowning rules, and how movement works is fairly academic. It is just one more bit of math that needs to happen for the players to take their turns and determine their actions.

You generally do not see a lot of mixing water environments and non-water environments. It happens occasionally, as most land-based campaigns need to cross water at some point. Oceans, rivers, lakes, marshes, and underground lakes in dungeons are all fairly popular. At that point, the players are forced to scramble. If they have time to prepare, a typical Dungeons and Dragons part can figure out a way to get everyone across safely and have a few plans in place for accidents. If they’re just shown a bit of water they have to cross in a dungeon, they will still plan. Their resources are just somewhat more limited.

Unless the campaign established that water environments are going to be a big part of the campaign, most of the players probably won’t look up the rules for swimming. The rules are fairly straight-forward. The swimming skill check to move around in water is dependent on the type of water. Still water is very easy, while flowing water is harder, floods are harder still, and stormy oceans or rocky rapids in rivers are incredibly dangerous. When swimming underwater, there are a few more things to consider, such as how long the character can hold their breath, what can affect that (fighting something underwater makes them run out of breath more quickly), and then what happens once they run out of breath. The rules are pretty brutal, but so is water. If the water is still enough that the checks are easy, some good common-sense practices like having a plan for extra air (extra-dimensional storage spaces are often full of air) or knowing how far you have to go to get back to the surface are a must.

Unfortunately, those do not always happen. After a few sessions involving water, including a couple close-calls, on of my players finally had a character drown. The character was a Halfling, so his movement was barely worth mentioning underwater, even though I’ve house-ruled half-speed movement instead of the usual quarter, and though he had plenty of rounds for holding his breath, he spent a lot of them fighting something because he tried to be invisible underwater as a means of sneaking past the security octopus. Invisibility is mostly ineffective in water, since an invisible person still displaces water, and there’s very little other cover to provide a means of effectively stealthing your way up to an octopus for a sneak attack.

The rest of the party, of course, helped him kill the octopus, but the Halfling couldn’t make it back to the surface in time, failed his constitution checks to survive, and then died before anyone could get him to the surface since no one else was a very strong swimmer. Tragic, of course. The scout then set a land-speed record for getting his body back to the druids for reincarnation because that isn’t his original body and a standard Raise Dead spell wouldn’t exactly work the way they wanted. But that’s a story for another day.

Sticking aquatic environment adventures into my dungeons is always a tricky concept. I had two possible traps that involved water in the first dungeon my players encountered, but the plan for those dungeons was to radically shift the campaign if the party got trapped by them, since it would have swept them all away. I left them out for a while, because the party wouldn’t really have an answer for them and they’re difficult to deal with. Also, to be entirely fair, the number of monsters and creatures that’d maintain water features in dungeons instead of just living in underwater dungeons is rather small. There just isn’t much of a need for them in most low-mid to mid level adventures. There’s plenty of other ways to kill a party. At the same time, water can be a great equalizer. Unless they’re specifically prepared for it, a high-level party has no advantage over water that a low-level party wouldn’t have as well. Drowning can kill anyone, no matter their level.

If you want some good resources on water combat, has some useful information and the SRD section of contains a lot of important info as well. Otherwise, feel free to make it up when you need it. Just make sure to write it down so you’re consistent. As I said when the Halfling drowned, “Everyone has to follow the rules, even the DM.” Once you set a rule, stick to it.