Control of Skullport

We had another entertaining session of D&D this week. This one felt especially well-rounded from the perspective of character role diversity. The rogue snuck around, spying out the landscape while the battle master scouted the enemies for strategic knowledge. In one fight, there was an epic mage duel, and the halfling monk got to run through the effects of a Cloud Kill spell to end the threat.

Overall, the session had great party dynamics with creative use of individual skills and abilities. They also did a great job of leveraging their contacts and connections to minimize their risk of exposure while still taking action to gather the needed intelligence. I next need to figure out what that intelligence will be, but this approach also gives me more time to make the information more dynamic. This part of the role-playing of D&D is fun for me, and I’m enjoying how the players are interacting with the world.

The latest decision on their plate is “Who should control Skullport?” None of their options are good. It is Undermountain, after all. Xanathar’s Guild, their current nemesis, holds sway over the underground town. A Drow house from the Underdark is making a play for it, but they are limited to river access, with a long-established group of hobgoblins controlling the other primary access points from level three of Undermountain.

Those hobgoblins have asked the players for help recovering something stolen. The recent theft has placed them at a distinct disadvantage, and the group finds themselves caught between the Drow threat and continuing pressure from Xanathar’s Guild – who the players find out have already been infiltrating the hobgoblins via strategic placement of intellect devourers. Azrok, the hobgoblin leader, is already hosting an unwanted guest from Xanather that he cannot afford to refuse.

The hobgoblins are likely the ideal group of the three to help give control of Skullport, but they might already be too far gone to help. Xanathar’s Guild wants them dead on sight, with a bounty on their heads for the “theft” of massive wealth up in Waterdeep. Then again, are Drow who attack intruders on sight likely to be good and gentle stewards who will allow them free passage if they gain control? Can any of them be trusted?

Probably not, but it makes for interesting gameplay. Skullport is likely to be a recurring visit as the group continues, so I’m excited to see the long-play on this and how the situation evolves over time…as long as they don’t TPK before then.


Player vs Reader

Yesterday I hosted one of our periodic Saturday D&D sessions. They are always fun, with way too many salty and sugary snacks to munch on and ruin our dinner, which we eat even though we are still ninety percent full. In general, it is always a good time had by all, with enough breaks to satisfy our need for generic conversation between bouts of role-playing. 

My books came up at some point (yay!). I am happy to report my alpha reader is “enjoying the fourth book so far.” The combination of discussing my books and an article my partner is reading about the art of game mastering set us thinking about the different approaches needed for a player audience compared to a reading audience. 

I believe the article he is reading was written by The Angry GM, as he follows that creator for TTRPG content. The article referenced how the GM should present the facts to the players: what their PCs (player characters) sense or perceive. However, they should not provide what the PCs intuit. My second-hand understanding is that the argument for this is that a TTRPG, by its nature, can only challenge the players mentally. Making intuitive connections for them takes away from that challenge. 

Writing for my readers, I am presenting the story and the characters. My characters must figure out the puzzles and face the challenges thrown in their path. The reader joins Annalla on her journey, perceiving the world through her experience and thoughts. They might figure something out before her and feel proud when their assumption proves correct, or they could be surprised by a curve I throw their way. Perhaps my character’s thoughts or actions reveal a twist to them that they did not intuit with the meager literary breadcrumbs provided. 

For writing my books, it does not matter as much if the reader catches those clues or not. My cleverly laid trail will reveal itself eventually. Perhaps the books deserve another read-through to find all the little pieces missed on the first pass that become so clear at the end. Some of my favorite books include this aspect, and it does not even need to be a massive twist. Sometimes the smallest reveals are the most memorable. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to my D&D game, I need the players to put the clues together, and the task is made more challenging with a boxed campaign. With a homebrew campaign, I could utilize common references, but with a pre-made campaign, I must try to translate to our common references where I can or hope they do at least some investigation. 


I told my players multiple times they should not treat this dungeon like a run-and-gun, first-person shooter. Each level is like a little town with factions, social dynamics, the town proper, and the outskirts. If they run through the place fighting everything and everyone they come across, they will end up with a total party wipe and effectively lose the game. 

After facing a large group of hostile Drow in the prior session, they started the day by scouting to get the lay of the land. They found the river and some rafts, evidence of fighting, evidence of Drow killing troglodytes, more Drow watching the river, and a good size hobgoblin patrol guarding one area. Their eventual decision is to lure the hobgoblins into an ambush so they can get past them. It’s not a bad decision, and I liked the planning that went into the approach and thinking about using their scouting and the terrain to their advantage. They also had some hostile encounters with hobgoblins on prior levels, so assuming hostility was not unwarranted. 

However, there are two lingering concerns in my mind. First, they did not really interact much with the breadcrumbs left for them. The biggest oversight was the evidence of fighting throughout the tunnels. They asked if they could discern anything from the blood on the floor, but only once when they peeked at it from around a corner, down the hall across the room. “No, you are too far away.” They did not ask again. 

DM: “You see a fork in the road with a signpost between the paths hidden behind some brush.”

Players: “We go to the right.”

Part of the problem was the troglodytes. Their presence likely pushed an incorrect assumption on the players. While they are perfectly fine questioning me at every turn, they firmly believe their assumptions are infallible. I can try to minimize the troglodyte red herrings, but the other issue is for them to address before I stop beating them over the head with the breadcrumbs and start leaving the trail as intended. 

The second concern came when the attempt to lure the hobgoblins out failed. Instead of chasing, they called out, “Who goes there?” When the unexpected happens, you often have three options: fight, flight, or freeze. In reaction terms here: attack them, flee to regroup, or hold your ground and have a chat. In my opinion, you can always attack. That should generally be the last course of action because it effectively eliminates your other options. After attacking, you can’t talk to them, you limit your ability to escape, and potentially add another enemy to a growing list. 

Any conversation, no matter how short, is an opportunity for information gathering. Rather than talking, though, the players effectively said, “Well, the ambush is off. Charge!”


We only play once a month, so I cannot expect them to follow the long, meandering trail of information without some guiding lights from me. However, the immediate, in-session breadcrumbs bear a reasonable expectation of being gleaned and followed. 

I will not remove this aspect and nerf the levels to allow for a run-and-run playstyle, as I don’t think that kind of game is fun for long. The little clues make the world more alive and engage the players’ minds. As the article (as told to me) said, rolling a fourteen on a D20 is not a challenge for the players. It’s the little puzzles and discoveries making up the meat of the game. If we don’t find the happy balance, the Half-Pints will become lost in Undermountain forever, disappearing as so many adventuring parties before them. 

GenCon Indy 2022

Whooo! First time at GenCon Indy, my friends! August is a big event month for me, and this was just the start.

My favorite event we did was a bank heist escape room. We “got caught in the act” by not making it out in time. I always end up a handful of minutes away from escaping, but we get bogged down in the final room thinking we found all the hidden clues and only need to open one more box when there are about seven things left to locate. Despite that, I love escape rooms. I think they rank right behind ziplining for me. 

Ebony Bay is one of two True Dungeon events we participated in. This is the only one we survived. Despite a valiant effort in the other, we failed to defeat the boss.

My husband enjoyed the True Dungeon the most. These are half role-playing games, half escape room stories you do with a group. There were seven rooms in each of the two dungeons we were able to sign up for with shuffleboard combats and creative puzzles to solve. The item pucks do matter, so I appreciated that the experienced TDers did not push for hardcore mode with all of us noobs tagging along with only a handful of pucks on our cards. 

We also tried out the Artemis Bridge Simulator. This is a game where each person plays a role on a starship bridge on a separate computer screen. We only did the training version, so it was mostly us flying around, engaging poorly in battle, and running into docking stations. There were also two D&D games in which we participated. One was more role-play-focused, where you tried to play to your backstory. The other was a first edition game in which we did not do too poorly, avoiding horrific deaths at the hands of monsters and dangerous items. 

The dangerous Tower of Gaxx! My fighter/magic-user came away with a magic shield, while my husband’s paladin found an Ioun Stone! Not bad for first time AD&D players.

Early this year, my husband and I decided to volunteer as GMs for a company running some D&D games at GenCon. I think the games went pretty well. We each ran four separate 4.5-hour one-shots, deciding to do one a day and pack in other fun around them.

If I had to pick a couple of favorite parts from the games I ran, they would be: 

  1. My groups usually barred the doors the second time the ceremony was interrupted, thereby trapping themselves and the parishioners inside with the next monster to emerge. 
  2. One of my groups made an elaborate plan to distract the monsters while one party member snuck forward to rescue the high priest. The approach was very clever and unique, as most of my groups ignored him lying on the ground. 

Would I volunteer again? Maybe, but probably not for four games. We had little time to attend the convention center and had to scramble to get from one event to another. We volunteered to ensure we would not have large chunks of time without anything to do, but that would not have been a problem. There would also need to be some changes to the coordination up front for me to feel comfortable volunteering again. I had too much to carry around with me all day because of how much I needed to bring. I enjoyed running the games, and I hope my players had fun. 

For anyone concerned: Gen Con had fairly strict COVID restrictions (I fully support). My husband and I also double-masked the entire time and brought our hand sanitizer with us for liberal use throughout. We will monitor for symptoms and test before we head to the Renaissance Faire this coming weekend for more crowds of awesome nerds.

Stay safe, stay cool, and stay awesome everyone!

T-Minus 10 Days!

Hidden Memory Status Update!

As of today, December 4th, there are less than ten days until the official release of my first book. Also on today’s agenda is sending out a reminder to my ARC readers that they should be downloading their copy so they read it in time to get a review posted in that first week of release (hopefully).

For the last week, I have been looking into creating some social media images to post in advance and on the day of release. Right now, I am playing around with Canva’s free version. You can see some of the preliminary results as the cover image for this post as well as here:

Posted on Instagram with hashtags. One like from a random person? I call that a win!

I’m enjoying the program so far. It is easy to use and does a great job of providing a color palette that coordinates with any images I upload rather than making minor adjustments constantly until it is what I think looks good enough.

Paperback Version?

Yes, I am now also looking at the paperback version process, and it is just as complicated as I imagined it would be. As I don’t think I’m going wide distribution at this stage, I’m probably going to use the KDP cover creator to use my ebook cover and use a solid color for the spine and back. I might get fancy with a future release, but I have already spent a fair bit of money on this whole endeavor.

The other piece I waffled on was trim size. I usually bought mass-market paperbacks, so all of the books on my shelf were pretty small. If I went with that size, it would mean more pages and, therefore, more expensive to print while simultaneously appearing cheaper. Online guidelines are somewhat helpful, but this morning we went to the local bookstore (B&N) to see what fantasy authors are publishing trade paperbacks at these days for both trim size and price.

Based on my quick assessment, this is either 5”x8” or 5.5”x8.5” with a price range between $11.99-$21.99. The higher end of that range was for well-known or currently trending authors and series. I have decided to try 5.5”x8.5” and $12.99. We will see what the author test copy looks like once I put it all in the system and order one. I think I also need to purchase a barcode for this ISBN to put it on the cover, but that will be part of my final paperback research.

In Other News

We are going to have five weeks between the D&D game this week and our January session, so I’m in the process of setting up a little Jeopardy trivia game to play via Discord between sessions to keep info top of mind for everyone. I have set up the questions and the reward system. It is just for fun, but I’m hoping everyone finds it engaging and informative!

Our little tree is up. I wonder how long before one of the cats swipes the first ornament off.

We are hosting a little potluck for my immediate family in a couple of weeks. It is something we do every year to include my grandparents. We skipped it last year for obvious reasons. Everyone is protected now and being very careful, so we are moving forward with it for 2021. It will be good to have our little group together again.

Next week for the blog, I’m debating talking more about the imminent publication or sharing the next installment of my dream story. Time shall tell! I hope you are all having a great holiday season so far!

Deafened and Blinded

This week continued the trend of super busy weeks, with a Sounders game on Monday evening and D&D on Thursday. While still a lot to handle, both were fun escapes from all the learning and deadlines at work. I was cracking up at the D&D session this week, and I was not alone. 

Mad Mage – Continuing Level 2

Nothics informed the group of a locked door to the west in the prior session, so they planned to address that door first. Well, it turned out that the door in that room was not locked, and it opened just fine into a hallway heading off in multiple directions. They already promised the revenant, tagging along with them to get some healthy revenge, that they would go after his former partner after addressing the door. So, they turned around and headed east instead. 

It ended up being a riskier situation than they previously thought, as they ran smack into a fight with a fiend who could cast cloudkill. That is enough damage from one spell to drop a couple of the party members in one turn. If they had known this upfront, they might have retreated and adjusted their strategy. Unfortunately for them, they found out about the cloudkill after two of their party had already charged forward, and the revenant ran in shouting accusations of betrayal at the human in the room. Backing out? Not an option anymore for some of them. 

Two people went down more than once. They threw a ton of party resources into that victory, but everyone survived. The combat took a long time (real-time), but it did not feel like it dragged because there was so much going on that the dynamics and sense of dread it conveyed kept you invested. I’m happy with my revised combat note page, as it helped me keep track of all the special monster abilities. It all adds to the atmosphere. 

We had time for one more room after the first big battle. They decided to take the remaining hallway to the east in that same section and heard muttering as they moved down a hallway. 

“Does this sound like the same kind of muttering we heard from the first gibbering mouther?” they ask. 

“Why, yes. Yes, it does.”

“I prepared silence,” the cleric noted during their planning. 

So they plan to go in, the cleric casting silence on the mouther when he sees the monster so that its muttering won’t drive them insane. The PCs will be deafened in the radius too, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Plan in place, they charge boldly forward…it turns out there are three mouthers this time. 

Okay. No problem. I allow the cleric to catch two of them in the zone of silence. They can deal with those first. This plan will still work. 

As they are charging in, the mouthers shoot off these phlegm-bombs of flash-spittle that can blind you. Now they are in the room, right next to a blob-like mass of mutely muttering mouths, and they can’t see or hear them. Even better, the ground sucks them in, so they can’t move away. 

I’m rolling really well with this flash-spittle reload and can shoot it off every round, while they are rolling poorly and are continuously blind at this point. The mouthers are not doing much else, honestly, but the fumbling around is pretty hilarious. 

To be fair, rules-as-written for blinded and deafened means that they can attack and move around with the knowledge of their player. A character simply has disadvantage to represent the impact. I think this is dumb and makes no sense with stacked status effects like this, but some of my players get rules-grumpy. It is my game, and I can overrule them, but I did not think it was worth it this time. Instead, I told them to play it how it made sense to them. 

(Two of my players did end up playing the situation more realistically how I would have. Guess who is getting inspiration in the next session!?!)

Once they dealt with the two in the zone of silence, there was one left, and now the muttering madness came into play again. Most people only lost their turn when hit by the insanity, but one of my newer players got hit by it where she would end up attacking a random person. 

“Go ahead and make an attack,” I tell her.

“I’m going to use feinting strike,” she replies.

Everyone else at the table groans while I laugh maniacally. 


Ashe is now chuckling as well. “Nothing. Do what you are going to do. This will be entertaining.”

“Does an 18 hit?”

“I don’t know,” I say with another laugh and evil grin. “Ashe, does an 18 hit you?”

It did hit him, and she ended up doing more damage in one strike than all three mouthers had managed the entire combat. We were all in stitches by that point. 

It was a good night. 

Photo by Will Wright on

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you found some humor here as well. Until next week!