Sunday, January 27, 2019

My experience with Adventure League (season 8)

I went to a café to play Dungeons and Dragons last week. It was an Adventure League sponsored thing (is "sponsored" the right word?) and the module was "Bad Business in Parnast". It was fun until the end.

This was a mystery themed quest. See, the party rolls into town delivering statues to a tavern, and the keeper of the tavern is the quest giver. He talks about how orcs have been causing trouble and he's trying to organize a defense but setbacks repeatedly delay the work. He asks for their help because they are armed and tough looking adventurers.

So the players look about the town, talk to people and investigate the setbacks/sabotage. That was fun. There was a good bit of roleplaying with the local blacksmith and the wagon/supply guy and a cleric. My character was a dwarf paladin and so I got to contribute by curing a couple horses and jumping into a burning building to save the tavern keeper's daughter (I failed both a Constitution saving throw AND an Athletics check and so I lost most of my HP).

The climax was a fight with the orcs who were causing all the problems. That was a close fight because everyone was rolling shit (including the wizard, whose Fire Bolt would otherwise have wasted the boss orc in half the time). I thought we were going to die the whole time but bit my lip from calling a retreat. In the end, my character was indeed knocked out and so was another guy's (by the last goblin, who ran away immediately afterward).

That was all fun. It was exciting. I was ready to sign up for the next Tier 1 adventure. Then we got to the rewards portion. The Dungeon Master gave everyone two "Advancement Points" and 2 "Treasure Points". There was no EXP, gold, or treasure. Furthermore, the other players left without a word.

I was told that Adventure League was in "season 8" which changed a lot of things. There was no "experience" in this format.  There was  only "advancement", and it was based on how long the module was supposed to take instead of what the players did. There would be no "gold" received except by leveling and no items except purchased, somehow, with "treasure points". Each session was a one shot pick-up-game, so you weren't likely to play with the same people again. Even if you did, it would be in a different story likely unrelated to the previous one.

All of this left a bad taste in my mouth. Given the nature of this campaign (helping out a small and out-of-the-way town with orcs), I wasn't expecting a big reward. Given my character is a classic For Great Justice type, he wouldn't even be looking for one. Yet, this state of things cheapened my experience, and soured me on the whole Adventure League thing.

One of the fun things about RPGs is finding treasure. You know, brave the dungeon, defeat the dragon, and you get this hoard of goodies.

Within this session, the party overcame this pair of bad guys and we disarmed them of their weapons. I was thinking about how we could use or sell their equipment and asked how we would split it up. Then another player basically said "leave it here; we just want them disarmed". I shrugged and said okay. What I realized later was that acquiring even these items, common daggers and crossbows, was apparently against the rules. The even bigger disappointment came at the end, where our party discovered that the boss orc was wearing Gauntlets of Ogre Strength. Did we get them? No.

Gauntlets of Ogre Strength are a 16 treasure point item. This meant we needed 14 more, and had to play 7 more modules. Then EVERYONE could get a pair. Yes, all five players, even though we only found one pair. How does that make sense? There is no in-story reason for it at all. I searched the internet for a story-based reason and I found the opposite.

Someone else wrote a blog post (or was it a comment on the blog) that "treasure points" were basically game tickets from a Chuck E Cheese; you play the game and then you exchange tickets for prizes. I immediately agreed with that person. What you, the player, did in the campaign did not matter. As long as you completed the main objective in the two or three hours the module maker set, you got tickets. Save up the tickets and get a prize.

What I gathered, from reading threads and reflecting and such, is that this is supposed to make campaigns easier for DMs to run by making everything simpler and more predictable. Also, that it was supposed to address player problems such as "who gets this special item?" by giving out-of-story tickets/treasure points.

From a certain point of view, it make senses. This set-up is more accessible for both new and old players. There is no commitment to a group or storyline. The rules on gold and treasure are so rigid that one could jump into any tier and any adventure by crafting a character of the appropriate level. What happens before doesn't matter and what happens after doesn't matter. It's convenient.

It also means you're basically playing alone. Remember when I said that everyone else at the table left without a word? There was no talking about the campaign, reflecting on how we worked together. There wasn't even a "see you next week" because there wouldn't be one. I reflected on my own and realized that there was no "party" but "five people working separately towards the same goal".

We spent most of the session separated, doing our own thing. I didn't think much of it at the time because we were all investigating. You know, "Let's split up gang, and search for clues". When it came to the battle, there was no unity there. I include myself in there.

I could have cast "Bless" to help everyone but I only had one spell left and I wanted it to save for Cure Wounds because I still had only half of my HP total  (I ended up using it on someone else because they had 1 hit point left and a lower Armor Class than me). We fought our own targets (except the Rogue who mechanically needed help for Sneak Attack) and did our own thing. Though another positioned himself to guard my character after he was knocked out, which was nice. The orcs had better teamwork.

Ultimately, my impression of Adventure League (season 8) is that it is a good system for quick and convenient tabletop D&D, but for one-shot campaigns with strangers I'd rather go online.  My impression of the specific module is much better. That was entirely fun.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Animal Farm (read for fun)

I first heard of this book in school, but I can't remember if it was elementary, middle or high school. I've had it for a while and never read it until recently.

The introduction of the version I have speaks of how Orwell wrote in against Totalitarianism and in protest of the Stalin/USSR/etc. fanboyism in England at the time. Yet, it was co-opted to be against communism. I can see that here. Personally, I see it as more against cults of personality regardless of what ideology/economic system, etc. they happen to preach. I also see it as a warning of how noble intentions can be corrupted by the greedy and ego-centric.

My only gripe has nothing to do with any kind of political theory. It actually has to do with the functionality of the animals. Early on in the story, there is mention of their difficulty using farming tools because they lack human hands. Yet they had no difficulty building a wall or a windmill. Then there's the pigs standing upright. As a metaphor for them becoming human (Full Circle Revolution) it is fantastic. But why would they do it at all? It's not like their fore hooves will be good for anything, and the other humans were already taking them seriously (this is putting aside how the animals can communicate verbally with humans).

Is Benjamin supposed to be immortal or something? ("None of you have ever seen a dead donkey").

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Animal Farm" a B+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): On the Origin of PCs

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): Spice and Wolf volume 7 - Side Colors

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Spice and Wolf volume 7 - Side Colors (read for fun)

I bought this one because I like the series. This one in particular, Side Colors, is an interquel of sorts. It has three stories. One takes place between Volume 1 and 2, another takes place between 2 and 3 and the other (I think) predates the main narrative. I will look over all three and then assign a grade.

The first story is the main story. It is the longest by far. It is basically Holo playing Trickster Mentor/Cool Big Sis to a pair of orphan children.

It is from the perspective of one of the children, Klass. He and his companion, Aryes, are traveling to the ocean so they can fish for a living. The meat of the narrative is Holo teasing and teaching them (but especially Klass). It is an interesting change of pace in more ways than one.
Unlike Lawrence, Klass is never presented as Holo's equal. It is more like a boy who believes himself more mature than he is traveling with his big sister who is only too willing to prove otherwise. The fact that he's also traveling with his girl-crush increases the embarrassment potential all the more.
Secondly, this entire story takes place in the wilderness. They walk through grasslands on a cart road and then a forest. There is no town and so the cast is very small and the economic factor is likewise diminished.
It is not a complete story but rather a complete "arc" from such a story.

The second story has already been adapted to the anime. It the part where Lawrence has money changed so he can buy Holo's "town girl" clothes. It is short and fun. The real prize is the third story.

This one, I think, has also been adapted to anime. It is the victory dinner with Nora the shepherdess and Holo falling ill. This is a gem because it is from Holo's perspective. It was a fascinating look into her mind. For instance, she is deliberately Tsundere. This is for fun but also out of fear.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Spice and Wolf volume 7 - Side Colors" an A+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Animal Farm

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): The Tao of Jeet Kune Do

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Tao of Jeet Kune Do (read for fun)

I can't remember where I got this book. It's been a while. If I had to guess, I'd say that I bought it myself.

The introduction to the book, written by Linda Lee and the editor, says that the book contains little new information. It is mostly how Bruce himself liked to train and fight. I agree with them. Indeed, the first section on Zen and how it relates to the mindset of a Martial Artist echoes a book I read recently, "The Sword and the Mind". Both of them speak of how a martial artist should possess an empty mind so they can react quickly, and stress the importance of mental flexibility (i.e. not being fixed or rigid in methods).


Sometimes it appears like an instruction manual with explicit advice and lines like "the student should X" or "the instructor should Y". Other times it appears more like personal notes, such as the terms he doesn't define, the pictures without captions or explanation, and lines in parenthesis like "investigate Z for M purpose". I don't know how "crispy" relates to a martial art movement. I think it means something like a "snappy" motion.


I read Bruce expressing frustration at classical styles. They are seen as rigid, limiting and counter-productive because they inhibit innovation and individuality. "Organized despair" is how he refers to the forms/kata/etc. that these classical styles have. I can relate to that. There are times when I feel like they are more about looking good than being good. This book strikes me as a search for practical knowledge and methods. "Classical" is a pejorative.

Interestingly, he speaks positively of boxing. The practical sections, that of the specific "tools" and such, include images of boxing-like figures and refers to it often.

The techniques of Jeet Kune Do, based on this explicit technique section, involves a lot of feinting, deception and countering. Little attention is paid to kicking, at least relative to the fist techniques. While it may seem as though this is the same sort of limiting he criticized earlier, he says that what he includes here are simply templates; basic archetypes to use as needed. If they don't work, then forget them and trying something else.

I wouldn't recommend this book to a beginner. It strikes me as something for the intermediate and beyond to use to advance their craft. A beginning practitioner should develop self-discipline and a body of knowledge first. I base this recommendation on my self. Personally, I would NOT have been able to use as this book as a beginner. It would have been in one ear and out the other. Either that, or I would skip the methodology and go straight for the techniques, and thus miss the point entirely.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Tao of Jeet Kune Do" an A+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Spice and Wolf volume 7

Click here for my previous book review (a request): Jack's Wagers

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).