New on Desk #75 — Ref Relief

I’m running a bit late with the newsletter, had a busy weekend with some light forestry (clearing grass around saplings) and hiking. The feature topic is accidental and unrelated to the weekend’s schedule.

Considering a break

The Coup campaign has been going for a year now, to some considerable artistic success. Over the last half year I’ve also been trying to write Muster alongside the play, and while some progress is being made, I would prefer it if the writing was going faster.

Part of the reason for the slow going is probably that my creative focus hovers too often over practical campaign concerns instead of focusing on the book. Writing productivity can be simply expressed by the formula time × focus, and considering the experiences over the last months, it may be that I’m focusing too much on the campaign day-to-day instead of the manuscript. The topic is kinda the same in general terms, but not enough to not cause focus-splitting and consequent productivity issues. Time I have, but I’m not happy with the amount of work I get done per time-unit, and that’s basically because I don’t think about the book enough every week.

(Yes, this is ironic in that I started the campaign last summer specifically to freshen up my old school D&D stylings in preparation for writing this book. Men, mice, plans overtaken by cruelty of cats.)

Arranging a Substitute GM

Motivated by the threat of having to end the campaign simply to have more time for writing (a truly wretched outcome!), I ended up with the clever idea of taking a limited vacation instead while having a substitute GM run an adventure for the campaign. This wouldn’t be such a meaningful solution for many styles of roleplaying game, but for a project like Coup it makes a lot of sense:

Maintain forward momentum: This is frankly the single reason why I most hesitate to undertake measures like having the campaign go on vacation or moving to a biweekly schedule; I’m secretly terrified about losing social capital in the form of committed players who remember what they’re doing in the game. I’d rather not have the process of the game itself slowed or stopped just because I personally need to take some time.

Build foundations: An advantage that a grand challenge-oriented D&D sandbox has is that the game’s not about some great story that weaves itself out of my cranium session by session; the game is about getting to Name Level, and for that purpose I am frankly not a mandatory piece of the whole! As is probably the case with most D&D campaigns, Coup is constantly in a strategic position where building more foundations (doing more basic dungeoneering to gain more money and level more characters) is a meaningful and useful activity. I fully expect that having the regular GM take a break while the rest of the players keep grinding wouldn’t slow down the process at all.

Develop learning: D&D skills are grown in interpersonal play, which means that often much that we learn is specific to role and personalities we play with. Switching things up is great for broadening the foundation of your skills; even just playing with different GMs helps greatly, and running the game is certain to bring new perspective to everything you do. In the best case scenario my taking a summer break could be greatly advantageous to the rest of the group as an opportunity to shake up the basics.

These are all, of course, predicated on finding a willing substitute GM who’d like to run an adventure arc for the party while I take a break. In practice this’d be one of the other players in the campaign, bringing in an outside ringer doesn’t really make sense overall. (For one, wouldn’t they already be participating in the campaign if they were interested?)

Summer break roadmap

I’ve actually talked with Sipi earlier in the spring about having him run an adventure for the Sunndi fork of the campaign at some point, so arranging a substitution at that end seems to work out well. My thinking is that the natural timing for this would be after the Tournament of Fear, our current big campaign arc; after that’s concluded in whatever way, a simple dungeoneering project with some Sipi-favoured dungeon could work very nicely. The Sunndi team generally tends to have shaky foundations, what with the ambitiously experimental non-standard adventures we keep having, so doing a regular dungeon seems like a good idea. Skill-wise Sipi is a fine substitute; he’s got more than enough experience with the game, with an emphasis on the player side, so it’ll do him good to run the game now and then. The largely inexperienced Sunndi crew would also benefit from playing with a different GM to get some understanding of how the GM’s personality influences play.

For the Monday crew I’m less certain; I’ll certainly talk about it with the group, but their adventuring has had less GM overhead in general over the last few months, so taking a break from it doesn’t benefit me as much, and the player counts have been slightly less healthy, so even if I’m just one participant I’m a bit worried about not having enough participants if I drop out and force one of the others to GM instead. The group is basically all-GM, so to me it seems like literally anybody there could jump up and run something for the rest, but then that also means that it’s not a crucial training exercise or anything. I could well just keep running the Monday game.

If this plan goes forward, I’ll be trying my damnedest to get a productive writing flow going in July (or whenever the Tournament of Fear concludes) and get the Muster manuscript finished while I have less practical game on my plate on a weekly basis. It’s possible that doing this won’t actually help my productivity at all, but can’t tell without trying. Mostly it may be that letting for a bit will just help me believe that the campaign won’t crumble the minute I stop pushing it as hard as I can, which might be helpful in itself.

Monday: Coup de Main #48

After the recess last week we got back into the dungeoneering business on Monday. We seem to be firmly embedded in the Castle Greyhawk (arguably something of a campaign goal all along), so the party just kept hammering at the tunnels underground. We’re apparently attempting to penetrate the dungeon territory of a tribe of well-organized (comically so) kobolds, so at least there’s some sense of the nature of the challenge now.

A new player went on a test-drive with us, the first in a while, so that was also nice; the party has been lacking a traditional Thief willing to check for traps and stake their own safety on the results; a true hero! I gather that the jumpy and careful dungeoneering style of the Coup crew garnered some notice.

The session’s main noteworthy danger occurred when the party misjudged the direction of threat and a well-organized, heavily armed squad of kobolds ran straight into them from the opposite direction of perceived threat. The dice were very much on the party’s side here, though, as the run-in encounter turned into a surprise against the kobolds (two 2/6 rolls for surprise, one for each party), allowing the party to crush the kobold line in a desperately savage step-up assault, vanquishing the kobolds to the last man. Peculiar beings, with chain mail and fancy fur helms, and complex weapon systems consisting of javelins, short swords and oil bombs.

The rest of the session after that was spent in exploring the storage rooms that might be those of the kobolds themselves. Some good stuff, too, like bolts of silk and food supplies. In this “Barbican arc” the party is sort of strategically stuck at the Castle barbican, as leaving to go get supplies and reinforcements would be likely to end with the barbican reoccupied by hostile forces. Makes finding more food pretty attractive, as while that doesn’t address the manpower issues, it does allow the party to spend more time holding the barbican.

Session #49 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 7.6., starting around 15:00 UTC. Feel free to stop by if you’re interested in trying the game out or simply seeing what it’s like.

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #25

The safari to the Isle of Dread is over! The last session was a big fat wrap-up, with lots of notable events occurring after being set up for a considerable time earlier. Like so:

Gorilla Grodd hunted dinosaurs diligently, basically off-screen from PC perspective, but we did roll dice for his hunts, so there’s some idea of what happened. Grodd’s hunt ended up taking like two months instead of the two weeks set as the initial minimum length, so the PCs also ended up stuck on the Isle much longer than expected. Grodd did ultimately succeed in bringing down his white whale, a humongous 42 HD dinosaur that got away from him once.

Cultivator PCs discovered a coral reef with strong presence of Life Force while waiting for Grodd’s hunt to finish. Cultivating (doing yoga) in the middle of the sea, on a creaky platform built on top of a coral reef — it wasn’t the easiest, but the team survived the experience, and in exchange advanced their cultivation in leaps and bounds. One of the PCs realized the secrets of channeling Water Force, the water-element equivalent of positive energy, and consequently managed to advance to rank 3 in their cultivation in just two weeks of diligent training.

Pirates succeeded in their raids on the native villages of the Isle, capturing many slaves and what valuables the natives managed to have. For all their preparation against the dangerous giant monsters of the Isle, the natives are ultimately ill-equipped to defend themselves against lightning raid from the sea. When the ship returned from the tropics with all the dinosaur flesh and over hundred slaves surviving the trip, the crew ultimately ended up with ~200 GP each as their share. A fine haul!

Diligent preparations began as soon as the safari expedition returned to the Temple of Doom, for the Tournament of Fear had been declared to occur in just one month’s time. We established some interesting training programs, like how Lokki the Warlock put together all the cultivation advantages he’d managed to gain at the Isle, and ranked up both himself and his cultivation demon Gorman in a furious training montage that ended literally the day before the opening of the Tournament. Meanwhile two PCs squiring in the Order of Fear managed to convince Sinister Thaal to send them on a dangerous class change adventure to get them successfully initiated as Blackguards before the Tournament.

We’ll probably look into that Blackguard initiation business next time. I’m hearing that we’ll be playing outside in the sun, so I’ll need to prep some extra-dark adventure to compensate.

Developments in the hiking hobby

I’d write more about this, but who has the time; I’m already running late on the newsletter, and I should mow the lawn before the Monday game, too. Mayhaps next week.

The short of it is that we’ve been doing some hiking training with my brother, who’s gotten gratifyingly interested in walking this summer. As I reported earlier, we went on a 30-km day hike two weeks back. As that left the team in a state of mild exhaustion, we’ve now done ~3 weekly training hikes over the last two weeks. The swimming season has thoroughly started as well, which makes for nice routines with summer sun, walking and swimming. Takes a long time compared to some other sports, with a long training day taking basically the whole day.

After doing shorter hikes (like 10–20 km) over the week, a ~25 km hike last weekend and another one today, the physical cultivation has advanced to a point where the 25–30 km day hike has become less dramatic as an achievement. Still pretty sore at the end of the day, but the feet are basically OK (no abbrasions that’d take long time to heal), and a night’s sleep suffices for recovery.

We’re planning to spend next Saturday hiking at the nearby nature part “Goblin Gate” (Hiidenportti); while the length of the hike isn’t extraordinary (24 km I think), the route is unfamiliar and we’ll do it under a bit of a load, unlike the training hikes. Also a bit more of a team, and it’s generally more festive when you go hiking in some special place, so all in all a bit more noteworthy than usual. We’ll probably do a few shorter walks over the week as well to keep up the conditioning, of course.

The weather reports have been diligently increasing the amount of rain predicted for next Saturday, which is of course the way this world functions: first have two weeks of no rain at all while I’m dying from the heat, and then have a rain on the single day we’re planning to spend the entire day outdoors.

State of the Productive Facilities

I managed a single sitting on Muster worth 2000 words this week, so not all bad, but it’s still just me stealing the occasional moment of time to write. Felt like I was spending too much time preparing the Tournament of Fear for the Coup campaign, so basically letting the practical playtime press on my writing focus. See the feature piece on how to address that.

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