March Madness!!!

I just ‘finished’ Destiny. It’s not really finished, because I don’t have The Dark Below, House of Wolves is still on the horizon, and I haven’t even hit max level, but I’ve completed all of the story missions. I’ve had a lot of fun but I’ll be looking for something different soon enough.

Katie had a great idea. We both have backlogs of games we haven’t played or haven’t finished and want to play. We both keep playing the same games over and over. To fix this, we’re going to force ourselves to play backlog games. We’ve both made lists of 20 games we want to play. We’re going to roll a die to pick a game off of our list, and then we’re going to play those games to completion.

And we’re going to call this March Madness, because that’s an entirely original name that isn’t being used by anyone ever to mean anything other than two dorks clearing video games out of their backlogs.

I rolled a 7 and got Thief (2014). Katie rolled a 19 and got Contrast. MARCH MADNESS!!!

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell

I think I’ve played about as much of this as I need to. Saints Row 3 is the last complete original Saints Row. Saints Row 4, though almost as large as SR3, was more or less a rehash of SR3 but with a Matrix twist. Gat Out of Hell is SR4 except on an new arrangement of a smaller landmass. It’s not Steelport, it’s an original map, but everything looks and feels like the previous two games. It feels like we’ve been deriving less interesting games from SR3 ever since THQ folded.

Gat Out of Hell is, at best, a standalone expansion pack. It directly continues from the end of SR4. You can only play as Johnny Gat or Kinzie Kensington. You can’t change their appearance. There’s no licensed music. There’s not much music at all. There are no story missions per se. Once you start the game, you’re given free reign to do any of the multitude of side missions available. They’re all plays on the same missions from previous Saints Rows. Once you complete enough of them, you get the one boss fight in the game, and then the story is more or less done. It takes less than 3 hours to get through.

Afterwards, I spent a couple more hours completing the rest of the side missions, which rewarded me with animated epilogues for the companion characters. They’re no more than 30 seconds of video each. If I were to keep playing, I could pursue the rest of grindy missions like getting 100 kills with a particular weapon or power, or chase collectibles, but the game is over. My clock reads over 7 hours but no more.

The most interesting part of the game is that it offers something like 5 or 6 different endings, a couple of which could clearly lead to a more interesting Saints Row sequel. Hopefully it’s a ways off, because this series desperately needs a shakeup. It feels like they’ve thoroughly exhausted what they started in Saints Row 3.

Orthog the Crafty

Orthog the CraftyOrthog the Crafty was a bodyguard of Pash King-Slayer, one of Sauron’s warchiefs. It’s a good idea to eliminate bodyguards before going after warchiefs, so I targeted Orthog. After gaining some intel on him, I learned his strengths and weaknesses. Vulnerable to combat finishers, meaning I can kill him fairly quick but I have to wear him down a bit first. Strong against monsters. Invulnerable to ranged and stealth. Note the name: Orthog the Crafty.

The mission to confront Orthog came as a Trial of Ordeals. Uruk fight other monsters in order to demonstrate their strength. The mission was to interrupt or exploit the trial to get to Orthog. In most cases, the monster gets a few shots in, but it’s not likely to survive. My vantage point had plenty of arrows, but I knew those were useless against Orthog. Knowing he was strong against monsters, I made the choice to move to attack almost as soon as the caragoar got out of the cage. At worst, I’d have to deal with the caragoar after I beat Orthog, right?

Wrong. Orthog the Crafty. As soon as I dropped into that arena, Orthog was ready for me. The caragoar was never going to scratch Orthog. It was already dead. The Trial was to lure me in and I walked right into it. Knowing this could be a 1 vs 50 battle, I moved quickly to get some shots in on Orthog. That’s when Krakhorn Broken-Shield stepped in.

Krakhorn Broken-ShieldKrakhorn is subordinate to Orthog. He’s big, he’s got a shield, and he’s vulnerable to stealth attacks. There’s not a lot of stealth to be found when you’re surround by Uruk, so he wandered into pretty much perfect conditions. However, Orthog was my target so I kept focusing on him. And once again, I’m surprised when another Uruk captain joins the fray.

Rukdug ThunderheadRukdug is also subordinate to Orthog. Orthog the Crafty. This was all a giant trap. Orthog can’t beat me, so he’s got two friends waiting for me to engage him. I walked right into it. Crafty. It’s in his name! I knew he was a monster killer, and I still decided to engage him in a Trial. I underestimated this Uruk captain.

Despite the odds, I kill Orthog. That was a foregone conclusion by the time Rukdug shows up. When I do, the other two captains try to escape. Rukdug doesn’t get away. I didn’t have any intel on him, but I learn quickly that he’s not invulnerable to steel. After dropping Rukdug, I start thinking about making my escape.

As I’m running over the roofs of building in the Uruk stronghold, I spot Krakhorn. He’s not very fast. I’m much sneakier now. I get ahead of him a bit and lure him to a ledge. Krakhorn is vulnerable to stealth attacks. Krakhorn dies

The streak ends.

Terrible in-car foot selfie (felfie?)
Terrible in-car foot selfie (felfie?)

I broke my foot. This is my first official broken bone. I’ve been in plenty of accidents, trips, falls, drops, etc. Never broken a bone until last night. The prognosis is a non-displaced fracture in my fifth metatarsal. The fix is three weeks with a boot and crutches, a visit with a podiatrist, and probably another three weeks of taking it easy.

There are many terrible things to say about this. Of all the shit I’ve done to myself in all the years of my life, my first broken bone comes from tripping on an upraised bit of sidewalk during a low speed, short distance run. It’s embarrassing, truly. And then I had to walk home 3/4ths of a mile because I didn’t tell Katie where I was going and I didn’t have my phone. Adrenaline continues to amaze me as the walk home wasn’t particularly painful. It was when I woke up this morning that I couldn’t put any weight on it.

Another embarrassing fact: it happened on my first run of a training program leading up to my first marathon. Not only am I out of commission for six weeks, I’ll be six weeks behind on training. I’ve already paid for this marathon, and you probably know I won’t give up on it regardless, but it sucks.

Unused D&D Ideas: Monster Mash

These are some of my favorite ideas. I will run one of these someday.

Monster Mash

What motivates intelligent monsters? Do they simply lie in wait in dungeons and tombs so that some brave adventurers can come along and kill them? Of course not. They do things. They have goals or instincts. This adventure is about what monsters do.

Each of the PCs is a monster. I’m thinking classical monsters, so a vampire, a werewolf, a ghost, and flesh golem (Frankenstein). It will probably take some level magic to make them all relatively equal. They’re all some alignment of evil, but they’re drawn together (bound by magic, maybe?) to reach a distant castle for a macguffin.

Along the way they’ll have to pass as people, terrorize a village, and (of course) fight heroes. This is the kind of adventure that would probably play well in Ravenloft. Really, the monster PCs won’t be that much different from regular PCs in a Inner Sea or Forgotten Realms campaign, and that point should probably be driven home.

Monster Mash 2

I’m a funny person, so this is a play on words. Everyone is a barbarian with a giant hammer, and the whole adventure is smashing tons of low level monsters to death. Just mountains of skeletons, zombies, goblins, orcs, giant spiders, anything you can throw at them in large numbers. Really stretch the limits of CR increasing with numbers. Make it a point to describe the heaps of dead monsters. Make them really question where in the hell did all these monsters come from. Keep a kill count, give a prize to whoever smashes the most! Give them lots of locked treasure chests to smash with hammers, and make one of them a mimic, so, for the first time ever, the players surprise the mimic.

So while Monster Mash was about playing monsters, Monster Mash 2 is about mashing monsters. Ha ha.

Super Monster Mash

Okay, we know what player sized monsters do. But what to big monsters do? In Super Monster Mash, each of the players is a Huge monster. So uhh what do they do? Eat smaller things. Trash a town. Fight. I didn’t have many plans for this one, except that it should end with some kind of kaiju battle.

And that’s that! Those are my unused D&D ideas. I hope they inspired someone, and I hope someday I can do something with them myself.

Unused D&D Ideas: The Hive

This is a dumb idea.

Party composition and level is irrelevant. The party is called to a small village to investigate a string of burglaries and disappearances. Upon investigation, the items being stolen are sweet things. Sugar. Candies. Syrups. And the disappearances are all male villagers. People in the houses near those affected report hearing a buzzing sound in the night.

The party finds a trail. It’s not hard to find. It’s footsteps. The footsteps lead to a cave. Entering the cave, the party hears a buzzing sound. As they get deeper into the cave, the buzzing grows louder. The party comes across a river. It’s a river of sticky, sugary substance. They soon encounter the source of the buzzing.

It’s bees! Giant fucking bees! Except it’s not actual giant bees, but men in bee costumes. They all buzz. None of them talk. After a few fights, they come across the “worker” bees. They are also entranced men. They just buzz and make bee costumes. Or ‘honey’. You can feel free to determine how ‘honey’ is made.

To break the trance, the party has to fight the queen bee. The queen bee can be whatever you want. It might be a dude who managed to charm all of these other dudes into being bees. Maybe he’s high on drugs.

This is a dumb fucking idea, but you can run it as a comedy thing or as a serious/horror type thing. I just thought it was hilarious in Castle Crashers when I came across the dudes in bee costumes. Who put them in bee costumes?

Unused D&D Ideas: All Four of Us Are Dying

What is a hit point? Losing hit points abstract injury. Gaining hit points abstract healing. D&D has no real system for broken bones or failing organs. Everything is boiled down to either hit points (95% of all damage), or ability score damage (rare at best).

The DMG is full of rules for stuff like starvation, dehydration, forced movement, and all sorts of environmental stuff that would kill a normal person, that no DM ever, ever, ever uses. When was the last time you couldn’t get enough sleep? When was the last time your mount died because you rode it to death?

This adventure is intended to explore both ideas. The party are seasoned adventurers afflicted with a disease. Healing magic in any form is no use. No potions, no prayers, no spells can reverse the disease. The party has a short amount of time to make a journey to the cure.

While you can keep the length of the journey a secret, I think it would be more fun for the players to give that to them upfront so they can plan. You throw the wrenches in with your choice of encounters, but the terrain should be at least knowable. They should be expected to traverse deserts, tundras, rivers, grasslands, etc. Use all of the environments. Make starving to death or dehydration a possibility. Force them to scavenge and use survival.

The entire time, secretly track their hit points. In fact, don’t let them know their hit points from the start. If they die, let them keep playing. When they reach the cure, the cure works for the living. The dead find out they’re ghosts. Maybe it’s a shitty thing to do, but this adventure is about the journey more than the destination. Whether they survived or not is kind of irrelevant.

Most of this idea was shamelessly stolen from a video game.

Unused D&D Ideas: The Betrayer

This is one of my ideas that didn’t get much development. I’ve never run a game with secret actions, and I like the idea in certain contexts. So in this context, one of the players is working toward a secret goal. The problem is, how do you act in secret through a DM? So instead of telling everyone that one person is working against the group, I’d give them all secret goals. They’d all be harmless or promoting teamwork, except the betrayer. To make this work, the DM should be periodically polling everyone for secret actions. It becomes pretty obvious who’s trying accomplish what if you just allow anyone to give the DM a secret action, but polling everyone reduces the chance of them figuring each other out.

The framework for this mission is that the group has been sent to a dungeon to retrieve an artifact. The artifact is useless to everyone except the betrayer. To the betrayer, it’s an item of ultimate power. The game isn’t over until the betrayer escapes with their artifact leaving no witnesses alive, or everyone is dead. The dungeon should be a slog to the artifact, so that the betrayer doesn’t out themselves immediately and has to rely upon the rest of the party to get to the artifact.

Even after the artifact is in the party’s control, the betrayer needs to get their hands on it and then get out of the dungeon. Ideally, the other players are completely in the dark that one of them ultimately wants to leave them dead in the dungeon. This gives the betrayer the option of either exploiting the artifact and fighting their way out on their own, or slyly using the party to help them get out of the dungeon and then sticking the knife in their backs.

So let’s say the betrayer decides to go it alone after getting the artifact. Does everyone else just watch as they walk out? Of course not! The dead players possess the remaining creatures of the dungeon. Maybe new monsters are summoned by the activation of the artifact. Maybe another party of adventurers was in pursuit of the betrayer and blocking the exit. Regardless, it should not be a cakewalk for the betrayer, even if they’re juiced on artifact power.

I have to admit, this isn’t a particularly great idea now that I spell it out, but it’d be interesting. Probably hard to pull off without giving it all away on accident, or pissing everyone off and turning friends against each other.

Unused D&D Ideas: Four Bards

This is the one I got the closest to actually running, so I’ve got more than just a handful of ideas. It was meant to be an introduction to D20 games, as well as an exploration of the bard class. Bards get a bad rap. The bard is either found useless by people who haven’t read the class specs, or they’re admired by people who have but ultimately not used. This adventure was my idea to do fun things with bards. Bardy things, but even more than that, demonstrate that they’re a versatile class.

First, you need four bards. I pre-rolled four 10th level bards with different focuses. A fighting bard, a spell casting bard, an sneaky bard, and a skills bard. Race doesn’t matter, but I tried to make each of them a different race that complemented their focus. They should each have a different perform skill as they’re all members of the same traveling troupe. They have a mobile wardrobe that is carried by two hirelings. The hirelings are worthless, as they’re not part of the story, but the wardrobe is important. The players should know that hirelings are not fighting anything and run at the sign of danger.


When the game starts, the bards should have to complete a series of skill checks. Perform, disguise, appraise, sense motive. From the results of these checks, the DM will relay how the bards are leaving the last town they performed in, and the disposition of the people and royalty they performed for. The idea is that they should be either ushered out, beloved by the city, or running for their lives because they’ve insulted the royalty. Something to get them out of town and moving on to their next destination.

On the Road

As the troupe is traveling, they will be ambushed by 12 goblins and 2 trolls. Being 10th level, the goblins are much less of a threat than the trolls, but these goblins are special. They’re sick. As in, they’ve got the goblin flu. But they still need to eat, so they’re still ambushing travelers with their charmed trolls.

The trolls are distractions. When combat starts, the hirelings (predictably) drop the wardrobe and run. While the party engages the trolls, the goblins engage the wardrobe. When the players figure out that goblins are rifling through their costumes and equipment, that’s when the fun starts.

The goblins are sick as hell, and they vomit everywhere. In the wardrobe, on the players, on each other. Make it real gross. The goblin flu isn’t contagious but it should certainly nauseate some of the players. The trolls are unfazed.

When the party wipes out the ambush, they should take inventory.  Anything covered in goblin vomit should elicit a negative response from anyone else they come across until they can clean up. But it should be stressed that they need to keep moving to their next engagement.

A Stop at Larnwick

Larnwick is your standard tiny crossroads town. An inn and a couple dozen houses. Rural, but not unaccustomed to travelers. The bards should arrive at night, and go straight to the inn. The innkeeper, though disgusted, offers to give them free board and clean their wardrobe if they’ll find the macguffin. I didn’t have much plan here, except that it should be an opportunity to roleplay, and it should lead to a barn, where the bards should encounter a pair of mysterious, cloaked travelers.

These travelers will quickly reveal themselves to be nimblewrights, and engage the players in combat. Nimblewrights are quick, dexterous constructs from D&D 3rd edition Monster Manual 2. They’re cool as heck. They should fight until they’re badly injured and then attempt a hasty escape. No big deal if one dies, but one should get away. What are expensive, carefully crafted constructs doing in Larnwick? That should be a mystery for another day. But the bards recover the macguffin, and receive their free stay at the inn and clean costumes.

The Big Performance in Sorvong

The second leg of their trip should be fairly uneventful, until they arrive at Sorvong, their intended destination. Based on how they left their last town, this town’s royalty should either immediately capture them with overwhelming force and imprison them (bad exit from last town, mad royalty in this town), or they’re so thrilled to have them, they immediately put the bards up in the goldenest cages in the castle (good exit from last town, royalty so in love that they won’t let them go).

Regardless, the bards can win their freedom back in only one way: a spectacular performance. They’re going to perform The Saviors of Sorvong. It’s a musical well known by the town, but unknown to the players. They’re given some simple directions. They must perform, give a display of magic, fight, and have a big ending. None of this will require any forethought by the players; it’s all built into the musical.

This is where you give them their verses. They should read the verses out loud, and the crowd finishes it. That’s when the fighting begins, because the town was either prepared for this performance, or some royal wizard is a great summoner. Regardless, here’s verse one:

On the seventh of Moondawn, we looked to the stars.

From the mazes below, out came the _____

2x Minotaur fight

Verse two:

Though they trampled and crushed and destroyed all of our wares

We will never forget the hooting of the _____

2x Owl bear fight

Verse three:

But the worst of it came from an enemy who would accept no treaty

From out of the lamp came the fiery _____

1x Efreeti fight

At this point, the players should be made aware that dazzling pyrotechnics are available. If they think they’re going to survive the fight against the efreeti, the pyrotechnics make a spectacular finish. If the performance is going badly and they need to make a quick exit, the pyro makes an excellent distraction. If they stick around, they get the fourth verse:

Chaos reigned that night until the arrival

Of four brave heroes who ensured our survival

They fought the monsters with sword, spell, and song

And so we celebrated for the Saviors of Sorvong

The players, now the figurative and literal saviors of Sorvong, should be showered with praise, and gold. If they made a quick exit, at least they lived to play another day.

Post Summer of Suffering 2014 Wrap-up

Nipple chafe is real, and it really sucks.
Nipple chafe is real, and it really sucks.

This weekend, I finished my second half marathon, the We Care Twin Cities Half Marathon. With the exception of the Sand Creek trail run in a couple weeks, and that’s quite a bit deeper into fall, my summer of suffering is over. So let’s take a look at the results!

  • March 29 – Penguin in the Park – 5K – 30:50
  • May 3 – Moonlight Marathon – 5K – 30:45
  • May 10 – Whitmore Classic – 5M – 48:36
  • May 31 – RAINN 5K – 5K – 33:17
  • June 28 – Scheels 5K – 5K – ???
  • July 4 – Staley Firecracker – 4M – 41:53
  • August 17 – Abe’s Amble – 10K – 1:04:22
  • September 21 – Shoreline Classic – 15K – 1:36:50
  • September 27 – We Care Twin Cities – Half Marathon – 2:22:57

Overall, I can’t complain much. I took a break from running after Whitmore and, clearly, my times suffered for it, but they’re all an improvement over last year’s. I tried to run everything in my Vibram FiveFingers, but they’re really hard on my feet. A couple weeks before Shoreline, I decided to switch back to traditional running shoes so that I wouldn’t unnecessarily risk injuring myself and missing my two biggest runs. It was the right call because I don’t think I would’ve made it through the half marathon essentially barefoot, but I’m still disappointed. I’m not giving up on them though, as my stride is much less heel-heavy than it used to be. I’ll be running in them at Sand Creek in two weeks.

Just because my summer of suffering is over, I’m by no means done! I’m feeling more confident in my ability to finish an actual marathon, so I’ve got to keep up running through the winter so that I’ll be ready in April. That said, here’s my wishlist for the rest of the year!

  • October 12 – Sand Creek Trail Run – 7+M
  • November 9 – Route 66 Half Marathon – Half Marathon
  • November 22 – Turkey Trot – 10K
  • December 10 – Frostbite Festival – 10M