I’ve finally returned to thinking about the future again, after my month (or so) of chaos and stress. I’m not at the point of making any plans yet, since I’m still letting myself finish recovering from all that stress, but I have begun to imagine how different scenarios might play out. It’s the same sort of exercise that you do whenever you talk about a dream house, an ideal occupation, or a fantastical life. There is little focus on the specifics or the likelihood of that dream coming to fruition as you instead just spend the time imagining what would be the most fun or pleasant way for things to be. Dream houses have secret tunnels, hidden doors, hedge mazes, and oddities like towers or lighthouses or live-in garden hermits. Dream occupations hopefully focus on things you find fulfilling rather than the odd power fantasies I always hear from people who’ve bought in to capitalism. Fantastical lives are either incredibly vague things when they’re “realistic,” especially these days when an ideal life is stuff like “not sad all the time” or “I don’t have to worry about money while living modestly” and so on, or they’re hyper specific as you imagine yourself living in the fantasy or sci-fi or alternate world of your choosing. Instead of focusing on any of those, though, I’ve been imaging what my ideal day would be.Continue reading
As a person interested in creating my own stories, worlds, and whatnot, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to create something “original.” In terms of criticism, I think the word has been so bandied about and overused that it has lost most of its meaning, leavied as it has been against everything from creative works acknowledging their influences to entirely unrelated and unconnected works that coincidentally had similar themes. In this vast, wide world of ours, it is not unthinkable that two incredibly different people might have similar ideas. Not everything alike is a copy or partial copy, and there’s nothing wrong with copying something if you’re planning to build off it.Continue reading
I’ve been working on a new poem (goes up tomorrow). I got a draft done pretty quickly, forty-five lines across three pairs of stanzas, lots of nice imagery, all of that in about twenty-five minutes. I had a super clear image, a theme to work with, and a form that rapdily emerged from the way the thing arranged itself in my head. Not my fastest work, but still pretty good for a first draft. I spent another five minutes over the rest of the day reading it and making small adjustments and then sent it off to a reader for a quick review. I was expecting a comment about the end, that it would feel very abrupt or like it shouldn’t have been the end, and that’s the comment I got back. See, I had more I wanted to say, but I couldn’t find a way to say it, so I tried to wrap it up there. After all, not everything needs to go into one poem. But clearly it was missing something, so I decided I’d spend some time today to work on it.Continue reading
I am a child. The world has become huge, but pieces of it still feel small and like they can belong to me in a way they can’t belong to anyone else. I am past all the illusions of youth, but I’ve learned to lie well enough to fool even myself when the need arises. Tonight, a night when everyone else is busy settling in to the cabin my parents have rented, I am left to my own devices. My parents are so busy with my youngest sibling that they don’t even notice me leave. Their usual hail of admonitions is absent as they talk about the next two weeks and the schedule we are all to stick to. Tonight, though, I have no schedule, excellent fire-making skills, an enormous pile of wood beside the bonfire pit, and a cloudless evening sky that I’ve been told will soon be filled with more stars than I have ever seen in my life.Continue reading
The first thing you learn as a ghost is how the stairs creak. Not just which stairs creak, but the notes and melodies they play. Initially, you notice what the order means, whether someone is rising or descending. Then you start to recognize feet as they pass, how they pause, and where they hesitate. You learn the sounds you can make and how to make no sound altogether. Sometimes, you learn to mimic people, and sometimes you learn to sound like no one.Continue reading
There’s a D&D joke that’s gone around the internet a few dozen times about Mimics. “The barkeeper asked why we carried weapons on us in the bar. I said ‘Mimics.’ The barkeeper laughed, the party laughed, the table laughed, we killed the table. It was a good time.” It does a good job of illustrating the potential dangers a D&D party might face and why most tabletop players have a heavy dose of what we like to call “adventurer’s paranoia.” It’s the idea that almost anything can wind up wanting to attack adventurers and crazy things like chests that want to eat you, talking tables, and ceilings that decide they want to invade your personal space are all relatively normal.
If you spend any amount of time looking through D&D source-books, you find a whole slew of things specifically designed to be hidden until they’re eating you. There are all manner of horrible tree or stump creatures that will destroy an unwary party, not to mention all the horrific vines, lichen, and fungi that will kill you before you’re aware they’re trying. Then there are the ravenous beasts of the various wildernesses, territorial intelligent monsters, magical traps, and let’s not forget the Demons/Celestials/Fey who sometimes just want to screw around with mortals because they’re bored. Chairs come to life, the suits of armor in castles are almost always going to attack you, paintings can hide mesmerizing or mind-control magic traps, and even something as simple as a hallway can turn into a deadly gauntlet of hidden pits, spring-assisted blades, and magical fire at a moment’s notice. Carelessness causes death and only a screwy mind filled to the brim with paranoia can save you and your allies.
That being said, a lot of D&D campaigns don’t make use of all of these things. Traps are difficult to set up and often unrewarding from a DM’s perspective because two skill checks can bypass them entirely. Bringing the outer-realms of existence into the mortal plane is often a decision made by the story the DM has set up or the players have started, and that’s a hugely complex set of worlds to bring into any game without sufficient preparation. Everything takes a lot of work to set up and the players often wind up avoiding all of your preparation in favor of some unexpected route that doesn’t fit anything you’ve made. Monsters and encounters created off the cuff are rarely as creative and unique as the stuff you’d spent a week of evenings planning.
In my experience, you best bet is to always make sure to include a few intelligent monsters. If they’re smart, it means they have likely survived for a long time and have a wealth of experience to draw on when it comes to screwing with the party. Sure, the hallway doesn’t have any traps, but maybe a fleeing monster ruffled the carpet a bit because he knows the adventurers following him will be proceeding carefully. If they think there’s a trap, they’ll take the time to be thorough, giving the monster and its allies time to better prepare.
Ambush predators are almost always intelligent as well, with a whole history of successfully managing to prey on inattentive mortals. There wouldn’t be mimics pretending to be treasure chests if it hadn’t worked really well for a long time. Maybe one of them is smarter than the others and uses the shapes of its less-intelligent brethren to guide its own decisions. My favorite example of this was a mimic my party encountered. Elsewhere, there was a mimic as a treasure chest and a mimic as a door, so this one decided to assume the shape of the door frame rather than the door, because it knew it wouldn’t catch anyone off guard if it was just another door.
It is important to remember that, just because the creature is a monster doesn’t mean it’s fine dying or an idiot. Yeah, it would probably suck for your party’s caster if the monstrous stump attack it first, since the caster has so few hit-points and no ability to resist the monster’s poison, but why the heck would a tree stump smart enough to hide and attack opportune prey attack the armor-covered party tank who could shrug off all its hits? Controlled monsters require specific direction to differentiate, but any free-willed creature should be able to tell the difference between an easy target and a difficult one.
If you’re looking for ideas to justify your players’ paranoia, the internet has some really great ideas. Homebrew monsters are fine since all you need to do is make sure it isn’t going to be an unfair, unwinnable fight. If you’re looking for this sort of thing, you’ve probably gotten fudging things well in-hand, so being able to take the idea of an overly powerful homebrew creature and bringing it down to being an appropriate challenge for your player should be easy. If the world is really as full of dangers as they players think it is, make sure not to let them down, you know?
When it comes to other creatures, like goblins and kobolds and anything intelligent, the idea that they’re willing to fight to their death is a little far-fetched. Maybe the fight was brutish and short, like the time my party killed three rocs in the time it took for them to make a first approach, but any drawn-out fight should mean the losing party has the chance to surrender or flee. No squad of goblin soldiers is going to fight to the death without some level of magical compulsion or incredible fear of whatever is directing them. Or they’re fanatics. Fanatics love fighting to the death. Just make sure they’ve got weird tattoos, clothing, and jewelry.
Just make your monsters interesting if your players want a little depth or fanatical and crazy if they just want to kick down doors and kill stuff. Monsters should reflect the your setting’s level of realism if you want your sessions to be believable. Good monsters and enemies are an important part of making the game feel real for your players.
Honestly, I could probably do an entire week of posts on making good monsters. This catch-all post feels a little scattered to me, so I think I’ll revisit this once I’ve finished developing (and running) the dungeon my players are about to face since it is going to be all about realistic, intelligent, and creative monsters. This is going to be a lot of fun for me and will hopefully give my players the opportunity to rise to new challenges.
What do you need to create a positive environment? I’m being specifically general here. Positive work environment at whatever job you hold, positive home environment, positive creative environment, etc. Seriously, Its super open-ended.
Mine tend to shift depending on which ones. For my creative environments, I like low light, no glare, some kind of music playing softly (though the music changes depending on what I’m doing), and something to drink. Usually water or tea are my beverages of choice, but I’ll drink anything but alcohol. Alcohol and I have some significant creative differences. I also need someplace away from movement and activity since I’m constantly distracted by anything moving. Like all the dogs from Up. Its horrible.
At work, my positive environment has a lot less to do with what’s around me and a lot more with what I’m doing. Sitting still too long bums me out, so I take walks around my building and drop by my coworkers’ offices to give them candy. I am known, and worshiped, as the Candy God by my peers. Mostly I like making people happy and you’d be surprised how much positive effect a bite-size Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup can have on Twenty-Somethings. Other than that, I like to change my office around fairly often, do lots of different work tasks, and get heard when I’ve got something to say.
Positive environments are important to me because I have a tendency toward dour outlooks, depression, and jaded negativity as a result of, well, mostly student debt. That’s the biggest cause. For pretty much everything that isn’t just super awesome in my life. Honestly, aside from that and its side effects, my life is pretty awesome. This is a rare moment of real appreciate, brought to you by the power of a positive environment and two hours of ass-kicking exercise.
Literally ass-kicking. Someone snuck up behind me at my foam fighting practice and was going to nudge me in the butt except I started backpedaling right into their foot. It was a cat-ASS-trophe.
This sort of environment something I’ve spent a lot of time and effort into learning to create. And to do without. As a writer who has a full-time job to pay my bills, I can’t really afford to spend all my time in this perfect little world. I can’t create this kind of environment on business trips. Hotels generally frown on burning candles and I’d hate to have to buy matches at every destination. I also tend to work late so I can’t always get my writing time in at home, sometimes its done sitting on one of the couches in a lounge somewhere or on a bit of shady grass.
That being said, it’s always so much easier to work when I’m at home. I’m more relaxed, better able to focus, and a lot more creative. I do my best work at home.
I think a lot of people underestimate the value of a positive environment. A lot of introverts have it pretty well-figured out since we need this sort of thing to really relax at all, but every can benefit from knowing what you need in order to do you best. Maybe its collaboration with a group of peers or the quiet of an office by yourself with signs warning people away. Maybe you need complete silence or maybe something rhythmic to keep your mind focused and sharp.
There’s nothing wrong with needing a specific setup to work. Knowing how you work best and doing what you can to create that sort of environment can not only help you excel, but it can help those around you and your relationships with them. The more relaxed you are, the easier it’ll be to interact with them. A lot of workplaces do studies on exactly this sort of thing, which is how we’ve gone from cubicles to the “open office” concept that removes privacy and gives everyone access to you at all times (can you tell I’m not a fan? Thank god I’ve got an office…).
What do you need? I’d love to hear about it.