When My Dragon Heist Campaign Got Real

5th edition’s Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is the first ever campaign book I used. It was also the first ever D&D campaign I ran as a dungeon master. After a little over a year, the campaign is close to ending so writing a post-mortem must wait. Instead, I wanted to talk about how the story got more real than I expected it too.

Fair warning, there are likely spoilers ahead. Avoid if you are interested in experiencing Dragon Heist without my opinions.

This is not a review of the book, but I learned quickly that I a) did not like it and b) do not like the formatting of D&D campaign books. They are written in a style that makes them more pleasing to read casually which, for me at least, meant it was hard to find critical information. 

For example, the second chapter requires the low level party to suddenly come up with a lot of gold to fix up a tavern/business they are rewarded with at the end of the first chapter. There are apparently moneylender options, but that information is included in the stat block for various NPCs referenced in the back of the book. I realized this only after complaining on the internet to people who thought I was stupid for not having read the entire book cover-to-cover several times prior to beginning the campaign.

The book does outline which villain you should use depending on the season. Since we originally began the campaign in winter, I decided to make it winter in-game too. This let me decorate the city to match a not-quite Christmas aesthetic. However, I wanted to try and introduce all the villains as potential threats and to round out my second chapter.

This led me to introducing Victoro Cassalanter, a duplicitous noble who moonlights as a worshipper of the archdevil Asmodeus along with his wife. One of my players, Tanya, is an orphan who was raised on the streets and grew up in a shanty town within Waterdeep we named ‘Chantier’. In secret, Victoro’s goal was to collect as many unfortunate souls as possible for sacrificing to Asmodeus. Using his wealth and reputation, he decided to “adopt” the poor people of Chantier as his own. With their trust, he lured them one-by-one to his underground temple where he chained them up.

Another player, our paladin Calen, is the apprentice to the famous hero of Waterdeep, All Knight (a play on All Might from My Hero Academia). All Knight is a dedicated servant of the god of justice, Tyr, and the type to have a key to the city. He also cares little for day-to-day operations of the temple which he leaves entirely to the treasurer, Sir William Austin. Unbeknownst to All Knight, Sir William Austin has been peddling access to the temple’s greatest hero as a means to fill the temple’s coffers with donations which he skims off the top for himself.

As All Knight’s self-appointed agent, Sir Austin quickly becomes allies to the influential Victoro (though he knew nothing of the secret cult he was running). Victoro and his wife want Sir Austin to convince All Knight to name their son as his apprentice. This is a ruse, of course. All Knight is a powerful hero and would count as a “great soul” if sacrificed to Asmodeus. If the Cassalanters can lure him into their own home through the pretense of training their son, they will capture him.

These two fronts of our story collided in a big way. The people of Chantier slowly went missing and All Knight eventually did too. This led to Calen, Tanya, and their friend Ophelia (our third and final player) to investigate and eventually discover the Cassalanter plot beneath their estate. 

At this point, Jarlaxle Baenre had become the bigger threat in regards to the plot-as-written so I wrote a send-off for the Cassalanter story that I hoped would result in a lot of character growth for Calen and Tanya. In an epic moment where they were totally outmatched, All Knight sacrificed much of his life force as an avatar of Tyr and vanquished the cult of Asmodeus along with the Cassalanters while saving the party.

And this is where the story got real.

When I realized how many cult members were present (that I just instagibbed with holy energy) and that they would be a collective of influential Waterdeep nobles and merchants, it dawned on me what a huge story-altering event this was beyond just my Cassalanter plotline. Overnight, a significant number of Waterdeep elite would disappear forever. Jarlaxle, having the inside scoop through a secret agent (the Black Viper, a noble in her own right masquerading as a vigilante thief), seized the moment.

He turned this into a class war.

When I introduced Victoro, I introduced him as the president of the Waterdeep Savings & Loan. I wanted him to be a banker with deep ties to the noble community both above and below the table. When he and so many others died overnight, Jarlaxle used their disappearance to spread rumors that caught fire when combined with the wipeout of Chantier (almost everyone from there was sacrificed to Asmodeus).

In Waterdeep, it quickly became assumed that wealth and power came from Asmodeus alone. Many middle and upper class families retreated into their lavish homes, protected by their guards and mercenaries. The rest of Waterdeep – those forced to fight and scrounge – rose up to protest and eventually rebel against the shadows of evil cast by Jarlaxle’s plot.

The Black Viper had successfully stolen Victoro’s journal. As Esvele Rosznar (and eventually with Jarlaxle pretending to be Rosznar), the Black Viper used her noble name to stoke the flames of hate further by revealing others accused of associating with the Cult of Asmodeus. These names were carefully selected to do the most damage by preying on the emotions of the upset rather than providing evidence of any actual association.

After making her a hero of the people, Jarlaxle killed Rosznar and tied her murder to the city guard. With her death, Waterdeep itself became a warzone overnight.

Now, the party is caught in a fight to gain the Stone of Golorr, a mysterious object that somehow leads to a vault containing embezzled gold and treasures. With the money, Jarlaxle hopes to uplift his city, the city of Luskan, to membership status in the Lord’s Alliance whilst simultaneously tearing down the city most likely to oppose him. All the while, the city guard, the Lord’s Alliance, and the Harpers fight to keep Waterdeep from burning down and hope to repair the relationship between classes that Jarlaxle has disrupted.

A Knowledge Cleric for Innistrad

My first experience dungeon mastering an entire campaign is nearing its end. After more than a year of “Waterdeep: Dragon Heist”, I am ready to get back in the player’s seat for a bit. Thankfully, one of my players and a DM in two other campaigns I played is ready to take back his seat. And, as a huge Magic: The Gathering fan, he wants to take us to Innistrad.

To test the waters a bit, he actually ran us through a two-shot set in Innistrad several months ago. It gave me some time to prep for Dragon Heist and take a much needed break running things. It was an interesting setting. I do not generally go for gothic horror, but I have read “Frankenstein” and seen enough vampire movies to know a thing or too.

Given the overbearing nature of the Church in the Innistrad setting, I thought making my first Cleric would be perfect. I wanted to base him off concepts of guilt, sin, and early Christian theologians as the scientists and philosophers of their day. I also wanted an older character who has experienced the world more through books than direct experiences or social interaction (akin to common Wizard tropes).

The Knowledge Domain was a perfect fit. It gives me all the access to skill proficiencies and languages I could want. It also has plenty flavor to tie into my background. But rather than write out his background outside the game, I thought it might be fun to write it inside the game as something he keeps with him at all times.

On his person, as an admission of his sins, he has the following letter:

To whoever is owed my truth,

I admit without redaction: I have been lying for the last five years. I lied to the Church and to my peers. I used my position, my reputation, and my talent to selfishly get what I wanted most for myself.

May Avacyn look kindly on me for my sins.

It started when the Church denied my request for fieldwork. They claimed it was because they needed me in Thraben and would not risk losing my knowledge. They actually meant that a 39-year old scholar, who never left the library or the city, was not worth the resources.

They were right. I spent my whole life surrounded by books, living comfortably in ivory towers. My mother kept me here to protect me. She left me to explore the Great Library on my own while she worked as a researcher and archivist. But she told me to never leave or else I would die as my father did – ignobly and forgotten.

With her gone too, I remained and have spent my years in study and quiet repose … an old man’s life at a young man’s age.

The Church’s denial was the catalyst I needed. Risking my reputation and my life, I manufactured and planted evidence of one of the greatest discoveries of our age: the Chalice of Life. With an artifact this powerful, I knew the Church would let me out of my duties to the Great Library.

But the Chalice never existed and never will. This note is my recognition of what I have done. I weaved a tale using ancient texts which I translated myself from languages no longer spoken. I destroyed priceless tomes that would contradict my lies. I misled my peers. I attacked the reputations of scholars rightfully onto my deceits.

If you have found this, then I am already dead and judged. I accept Avacyn’s will. I hope you too will find mercy for my transgressions.

In guilt,
Orran Richter

The “Chalice of Life” is an obvious McGuffin. I originally left it blank and suggested to the DM to fill it in however he likes. Whether it exists or not, whether I will find it, etc. are all questions I leave to him and hime alone.

I am excited to play him “sometime soon.”

WB Top 100: Best & Worst So Far, Part 2

After another 25 movies, it is time to look back at the second quarter of this overall list and do some comparisons and ranking. For our previous “Best & Worst”, click here.

As a reminder, here are the 25 movies we watched:

My Top 5

#5: What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962) – “I finally found out, and it was a terrible, horrible, thrilling story.

#4: A Star Is Born (1954) – “I didn’t expect much, but what I got had me tearing up in the end. Always swim with a lifeguard, kids.”

#3: The Dirty Dozen (1967) – “Strangely funny and endearing, this is that every dude movie should dream of being.”

#2: A Face in the Crowd (1957) – “Powerful from beginning to end. This has made me rethink Andy Griffith the actor, a staple of my childhood, and wish more people watched this film for it’s haunting reflection of modern politics.”

#1: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) – “It was hard to pick this over my #2 choice, but Bogart’s descent into madness from his greed will forever stay with me.”

Diane’s Top 5

#5: A Star Is Born (1954) – “Solid movie despite the racist song and missing scenes (included in our version as stills).”

#4: What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962) – “Nice to see two stars channeling their real life hatred in such a productive way.”

#3: The Dirty Dozen (1967) – “I bet my dad watched this movie so many times.”

#2: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) – “Finally, a Bogart movie we actually enjoyed.”

#1: A Face in the Crowd (1957) – “I’ve never watched “The Andy Griffith Show” and now because of this movie I never will be able to.

Our Worst 5 (Combined)

#5 (Combined): Bullitt (1968) – We forgot too much about this boring film to come up with a good quote. Car chase, maybe?

#4 (Me): Around the World in 80 Days (1956) – “QUOTE.”

#4 (Diane): How the West Was Won (1962) – “QUOTE.”

#3 (Me): Viva Las Vegas (1964) – “It never decided what kind of film it wanted to be.”

#3 (Diane): Around the World in 80 Days (1956) – “QUOTE.”

#2 (Me): How the West Was Won (1962) – “QUOTE.”

#2 (Diane): Viva Las Vegas (1964) – “QUOTE.”

#1 (Combined): Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) – “When people think of a musical where women get kidnapped and develop Stockholm Syndrome they usually think of Beauty and the Beast when they should really be thinking about Seven Brides for Seven Brothers“.

Halo Again

I preordered the original Xbox at Gamestop (then EB Games) in the mall. For $500, I got the system and three games. Two of those games were Dead or Alive 3 and Project Gotham Racing. The third? Like almost everyone else, it was a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved, and it changed my gaming life.

I love Halo. Maybe not as much as I did, but I always have a soft spot for it. Whether it was the multiplayer over LAN or over Xbox Live starting with Halo 2, I played games in the series a lot. More than that, I loved the single player. The original Halo felt revolutionary compared to other FPS games I had played. It had vehicles and big open sections. The enemy AI felt somehow more real. I even grew to like Master Chief, despite having little personality, and love Cortana for her snark.

I was a big enough fan to even read a few of the books.

Halo 4 was not a bad game. As 343 Industries first attempt at a new Halo trilogy, it did not upset things too much. I mean, I kind of hated seeing the Forerunners return and the main villain was a snooze, but it was more Halo and that is what I wanted.

However, my love of all things Xbox faded quickly after Halo 4. The Xbox 360 and I had some good times, but I also liked having a gaming PC around. With it, I only needed an Xbox to play Halo and without more Halo, why keep an Xbox?

I skipped the Xbox One entirely. It was the first Xbox system I did not own. When Halo 5: Guardians came out in 2015, it was tempting, but I ultimately opted to keep playing games on my Playstation 4 instead. Ever since though, I wanted to play Halo 5. Me and Halo? We are old friends, and I needed that old friend feeling.

I bought an Xbox Series X at launch. There were no launch titles that sold me. Instead, I bought in entirely on the merits of Xbox Game Pass. It is by far one of the best deals in gaming, and I wanted its convenience in my living room (in addition to the office). I also knew I could play Halo 5 with it.

And I think I hated it.

Halo 5 starts off where Halo 4 left off … I think. There were a bunch of characters I either forgot or was never introduced to. You spend most of the campaign not playing Master Chief. There is a new team – Fireteam Osiris – starring Nathan Fillion as himself along side some other people.

Actually, let me do a brief side rant here first: Nathan Fillion is okay but I hate hearing him everywhere. I am sure there are counterexamples, but he seems to always play the exact same character. Plus, I hate using real actor faces in video games. It somehow makes them feel more fake to me.

I have nothing wrong with any of the actors playing team members in Halo 5, but the fact that they are there on every mission bothered me. This game does not feel like Halo.

I know I am rusty, but I never felt like that bad ass Spartan of old. More often than not, I would get shot down by overwhelming firepower from dumb enemies, and then I would be forced to wait for an AI teammate’s pathing to not break so they could resurrect me.

Rinse and repeat. Die and wait.

If you were the one fan who loved fighting beside the marines in the first Halo and said, “Why can’t this be the entire game?”, then first of all, I hate you. Second, Halo 5 is your fault. In Halo 5, you are only allowed to feel badass in the cutscenes where physics cease to exist. It is cheesy and goofy. Otherwise you will make your AI partners look bad.

The story also sucks. It is hard for me to put a finger on exactly why, but it is the same issue I had with Halo 4 and a similar concern I have with Destiny 1 and 2. Everything is “The <Noun>” and it is supposed to be this grand, epic, universe-spanning idea. Every name, plot point, and story beat sounds like a cheesy game of mad libs and it grates on my nerves.

But, I finished it. That says something. The guns were fine. The vehicles were fine. It was a perfectly average game with the production turned up to eleven. Finishing it has made me less excited for Halo Infinite though. I think the series needs a reboot, not the epic conclusion to a trilogy with no real purpose.

Most Anticipated Games in 2021

There are currently 18 games on my wishlist. Some of those are carry overs from previous years, but a few are games I am looking forward to in 2021. I thought I would share a few thoughts about the ones I am most excited to play:

Nebuchadnezzar and/or Pharaoh: A New Era (PC)

One of my all-time favorite games as a kid was the Sierra Studios classic, Pharaoh. To me, the classic city-builder starts and ends with Pharaoh and similar titles. I have played plenty of quality city-builders since, but revisited Pharaoh with a more modern design is high on my wishlist.

Enter Nebuchadnezzar and, or perhaps ‘or’, Pharaoh: A New Era. The former is an indie game designed by two-people to mimic, but not copy, the original Pharaoh. The latter is a full graphical remaster of the original.

I say “and/or” because I am unsure I need both in my life. I was shocked to learn that we were getting not one but two versions of the classic game in 2021. While Nebuchadnezzar may do enough to set itself apart, perhaps I yearn more for something as close to the original as possible? Then again, maybe I am just looking at a game I once loved through the veil of nostalgia.

I am excited to find out.

Hollow Knight: Silksong (PS5)

Hollow Knight was a surprise hit for me. It was one of the first games where I realized that, when designed correctly, I could enjoy challenge. I spent a great deal of time on the game’s optional content, defeating the Path of Pain platforming section and the game’s optional Nightmare King boss.

More than the challenge, I loved Hollow Knight for its setting, style, and overall vibe. I want more of it. I want Hollow Knight: Silksong.

Honorable Mentions

  • Halo: Infinite (Xbox) – I have yet to play Halo 5. I doubt the series is as good as it was, but I am still a big fan and still in need of more quality FPS games.
  • Bravely Default II (Switch) – I absolutely devoured both of the other games in this series. I intend on doing the exact same with this one.
  • Horizon Forbidden West (Playstation) – The first Horizon was an all-time great. A bigger, better, bolder version could be even greater. More than just fighting robot dinosaurs, I was taken aback by how much I loved the game’s story. Ever since, I have wanted to see more of that world and that is what I am hoping we get.

Sports Story (Switch)

I never expected to love Golf Story. I bought it for the Nintendo Switch partially on a whim and partially because mini-golf in videogame form is almost always entertaining. I remember starting the game up when I was home sick one day. I had let the game sit for months after buying it on some discount.

I did not put it down again until I finished.

Golf Story is a fun, irreverent kind of game. Its the sort of story you only get in videogames, and the kind of gameplay you only get in a game that doesn’t take things too seriously. It was funny, endearing, and a joy to play.

When the sequel was announced, it instantly became a must own title for me. Though it may not live up to the original, if it comes close, it will still be a great game. We missed learning more about it in 2020, but I am hoping we will not miss seeing it this year.

What games are you more excited to play in 2021?

Alabama Snake (2020)

“Alabama Snake” is a 2020 documentary film on HBO. It presents Appalachian folklore and religious beliefs through the lens of true crime (with a healthy dose of horror too). The story focuses on a Pentecostal minister convicted of attempted murder of his wife. The weapon of choice?

Snakes. Lots of ’em.

The first half was a bit strange. I kept expecting a true crime experience, but that is not “Alabama Snake”. The details of the case are glossed over quickly. Instead, this is a film about faith that tries to balance believing in those who believe while also taking a critical look at their beliefs from an outsider’s perspective.

I have never been to this part of Alabama (the film focuses on true events in the northeast of the state), but growing up, I had heard of snake handlers in relation to Christianity. There was often an air of disbelief, shame, or wonder when they came up. I, perhaps thankfully, never experienced their particular brand of religious service first hand.

“Alabama Snake” works because it presents the story according to its subjects. We get versions of the truth from both the accused (the aforementioned minister) and his wife. Unlike most true crime documentaries, however, both stories are equally weird. Albeit it seems likely that the minister was correctly convicted, tales of him being demon-possessed by his wife (in the literal sense) do little to aid the truth.

I would recommend watching it for the last 30 seconds alone (where our shared reality undercuts the reality the convicted minister has constructed for himself in comedic fashion).

Score: 1.50 from me and 1.25 from my wife.

2020, A Year in Gaming

I hate that December is the month to look back on an entire year and make sweeping judgments like “Game of the Year”. After many began posting about their favorites, I was still padding my completed games list for the year. Instead of in December, I thought it better to try and do this early in January once the year has switched over and I can truly say the year is done.

All-New Everything

I was lucky in 2020 to make a series of upgrades. I mostly rebuilt my PC early in the year. This led to me thinking I could finally pull-off a virtual reality headset on my computer. I had been using my Playstation 4 Pro and, despite loving it, PSVR always felt limited. It took four months of waiting, but I got my Valve Index in November.

Also in November, I got both a Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X. Excessive, I know, but the wife owed me the PS5 (for prior debts I took on when we were first starting out). The Xbox was more an impulse buy. Back in the day, I was a bigger Xbox fan than most anything else, but I skipped the prior generation entirely. With Xbox Game Pass being a great deal (I am paid out three years in advance), I thought also having an Xbox in the house to play games easily was a good idea.

Here are quick reviews of each:

My computer now handles any game I want to play perfectly on my 1440p monitor. Also, I have two additional 1080p monitors going for work purposes. It has been a long time since I was truly a PC gamer, so the parts I bought were not top of the line, but I am excited to have them all the same. My computer feels like a beast especially since I only play games like FFXIV which, albeit beautiful, are not that intense.

The Valve Index is a dream. I sold my PSVR to help make financial sense of buying the Index. I do not regret it. With the mounted base stations in our office, it has never been easier for me to play a game in VR. With the PSVR, I had to keep the camera mounted on a mic stand which needed to be pulled out and adjusted each time I wanted to play. It was a huge hassle. Furthermore, the higher fidelity on the Index has led to a lot less motion sickness for me.

The Playstation 5 is perfect. The PS4 was one of my favorite consoles in recent memory, if not ever. The PS5 is strictly an improvement. I opted for the disc-based version since I wanted to play UHD movies on it. My television is limited in HDMI slots for HDR, and I knew PS5 would be guaranteed my best HDMI slot.

The Xbox Series X has been an experience. As I said, I skipped the prior Xbox generation entirely. I did not miss much. Still, with the entire Xbox Game Pass available, plus all the games I owned on the Xbox 360, I filled up my Xbox’s hard-drive with games on day one. I focused on playing other stuff, but I am excited to finally play Halo 5 or replay all the other Halo games or finally finish Child of Eden.

My 2020 Dropped List

Time is our most precious commodity. I spend most of mine on games. Sometimes a game does not work out and it makes my dropped list. A game could be dropped because I did not like it, was not feeling it, or just got away from playing it so much that I know I may never go back. I used to look at this list as a waste of money too, but that is less the case. With so many services, more and more games are dropped after trying them rather than trying them after having also bought them.

Presented in no particular order:

  • Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight
  • For the King
  • Scourgebringer
  • Nex Machina
  • Farcry: Primal
  • The Outer Wilds
  • Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
  • Pit People
  • Monster Train
  • Knockout League
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
  • Dicey Dungeons
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  • Blood & Truth
  • Beat Saber

2020 Games of the Year

Here are all the games I finished in 2020, ranked from least enjoyed to most enjoyed.

#17. Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem
#16. Airborne Kingdom
#15. Panzer Paladin
#14. Timespinner
#13. World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
#12. Final Fantasy IX
#11. Final Fantasy III
#10. Control
#09. The Messenger
#08. Cuphead
#07. Red Dead Redemption 2
#06. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
#05. Sackboy: A Big Adventure

I never intended on buying Sackboy, but after reviews came in, I decided it was worth a shot. I am glad I did.

Despite having played a ton of platformers in the last couple of years, they have all been 2D. Sackboy was the first 3D platformer I have finished since Mario Odyssey and the first non-Mario 3D platformer I have finished since Astro Bot Rescue Mission.

Those are both huge titles to live up to and Sackboy does it. The game oozes charm and imagination. It is fun and inviting. There is the right blend of humor and challenge whilst never being overbearing with either.

Sackboy was a perfect launch title of the Playstation 5. I obsessed over playing it and did almost everything I could to 100% it. I still have a ways to go, but I never try to 100% a game unless I care about it.

#04. Half-Life: Alyx

Half-Life: Alyx is not my favorite VR game. That honor remains with Astro Bot Rescue Mission. However, I have always loved the Half-Life universe. Alyx is no exception.

As my first ever Valve Index game, Half-Life: Alyx was a crash course in what VR should be, can be, and is. Few games have inspired the same level of intensity. While the puzzles and story were a bit weak for my tastes, the game’s focus on survival horror-esque elements (darkness, limited ammunition, etc.) always kept me on my toes.

As an experience, Half-Life: Alyx is unlike any other. It was totally worth the investment I made in order to play it. I hope to see more like it in the near future.

#03. Ghost of Tsushima

I loved Ghost of Tsushima for its atmosphere. The gameplay was fun too. I had high hopes that I would fall deeply in love with this game as I had with other open world games like Horizon: Zero Dawn. While I did not, that is no critique of the game overall.

More than its atmosphere or gameplay, I most enjoyed just standing around in this game. That is not a common thing for me. The island of Tsushima is so beautifully rendered and lovingly crafted, that I valued my long horseback rides through its countryside more than anything else.

I have no idea where a potential sequel might go, but I am ready to go wherever it takes me.

#02. Hades

As of writing, I put almost four days of time into Hades. I bought the game shortly after it first hit early access on the Epic Game Store. I have loved it ever since. By far, it is my favorite Supergiant game which is saying something because I have loved (and completed) every game they have put out.

Hades though brings in another passion of mine: Greek mythology. It also taught me that I too can enjoy cute boys and shipping them like some internet-raised teenager. That part is a stranger thing for me to admit, but no less true than my other feelings about the game.

The combination, along with its replayability, makes for as close to perfect as I think a game like it can get.

#01. The Last of Us Part II

If Hades is perfect, then what is The Last of Us Part II?

I always knew I was going to buy a Playstation 5. My wife has promised me one well in advance of any details. With that knowledge and knowing it would be backward compatible, I chose to wait to play The Last of Us Part II until I could play it on my new Playstation 5 rather than my old Playstation 4.

The wait was difficult. I loved the first game and thought it story hit deeper than any other game (and more than most other kinds of media too). The Last of Us Part II hit deeper, harder, and stronger. The game is not perfect in the way that Hades is perfect, but it resonates in its exploration of the human experience. It demands many emotions and earns them all without question.

The Last of Us Part II is not more perfect. It is more human. And it is terrifying.

An Honorable Mention

I played a ton of Final Fantasy XIV this year too. Though I technically finished Shadowbringers, I did not want to include it here as I never feel any kind of completion with FFXIV in the way I do with other games. There is always more to do now and more to come.

Contrast that with World of Warcraft, which I also played a great deal of this year. Both earlier in the year and later in the year for the expansion, I realized more and more that WoW is not the MMO for me anymore. I could write another tireless rant about why, but what is the point of that?

A Year Away

My last post here is dated March 6th. It was about a game called Wolcen, a Diablo-like that I have entirely forgotten – save for the strangeness of me, someone who does not like Diablo, enjoying it. We have all had a same or similar year: terrible. Though mine was less worse than most and I feel a strange guilt for it.

In this last year, I have paid off many debts. The combination of less time spent outside our two bedroom apartment, along with the freezing of student loan payments, helped tremendously. It is amazing what forced frugality and the temporary hiding of a loan can do to your financial well-being.

Many of us, including some of you, perhaps were not as lucky. Maybe you lost your job. I did not. In fact, not only did I not lose it, but working from home has made work better than ever for me. My ability to work from home is still temporary though, so one day soon I will have to put on pants and socks on the regular again.

The wife bought a car. She had been using a used vehicle, well-worn and past its shelf life. We probably did not need a new car in the middle of not going anywhere, but her job too was stable and the moment seemed right. I am happy to copilot a vehicle that does not rattle.

I have been happy as her copilot in life too. 2020 was our first year of marriage together. We spent most of it watching movies, shows, playing videogames, etc. We also both began to work from home and setup our guest/computer/cat-room as our new office. Working side by side, every day, and “partying” every night together, I realized that I married the right woman. I hope she feels the same. I added this paragraph just to read to her the parts of this post that mention her. She is looking at me now with a mix of love and annoyance. Alas, that married look!

I kept active on Twitter but not here. I should have posted here more. I hope to start again. There is a strange solace in sending these posts as letters to the void.

That is not to say I do not appreciate any who might read, or that I expect the many friends I have made over the years here and via social media to ignore me completely. Long ago, when I first started to blog, I had dreams of grandeur. A great, talented, and famous writer! They were silly then and I chuckle reminiscing. You should write for the writing. Nothing else is guaranteed. Then again, in 2020, nothing is guaranteed.

My year could have used more writing, but I focused most of my creativity on Dungeons & Dragons. There, for the entire year, I have run my first ever campaign as a Dungeon Master. Each weekend, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend come over to play. I cook; we play. It is all very normal. And, sure, we all wear masks outside our homes where we work 99% of our days. Each meeting was still a risk. Each time seeing family in person is more than some of you have been able – or willing – to do.

None of this pandemic is over. It still rages on, especially here in Florida. We are still taking it seriously. We are still impacted directly or indirectly by those who do not. We have been lucky to avoid COVID in my immediate bubble. My father too has taken it mostly serious. We will be seeing him again soon.

Why share this? Absolution? A call for commiseration and forgiveness? No, just writing for writing. I need to do at least that much again. I have missed it.

I Played Wolcen

I realize in writing this review of Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem that I am evenly split in my regards to the game. On one hand, it is by far the most successful Action RPG for me personally. I have tried (and failed to enjoy) genre titans like Diablo, Torchlight, and Titan Quest. Wolcen is the first and only Action RPG I have ever “finished”. At the same time, the game is horribly balanced, and I found the plot hard to follow. Completing the game was more chore than anything.

If you are unfamiliar, Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem is an Action RPG in the same vein as games like Diablo. Similar to Warhammer, it features absurdly sized characters in absurdly sized armor yelling at one another about demons, cults, rival political forces, etc. 

As I said before, I felt the game’s plot was hard to follow. Each act (the game is broken into three acts) seemed to introduce a new faction to contend with. However, since the gameplay largely revolves around wandering empty canvases in search of loot pinatas, there weren’t any side quests or side NPCs to exposit more about the story.

And, if I am completely honest, that may have been for the best. Of the bits I did understand, none of the story or its characters landed with me. It felt under-cooked, generic, and overly derivative.

Wolcen does stand out in its freedom. Rather than picking a class, your character is free to specialize in a number of different passives while also improving broadly applicable stats and leveling up skills tied to specific weapons. The game also smartly features a dual resource mechanic (willpower and rage) that is hard to describe but easy to understand once you play for a bit.

The game lacks properly balancing though. Initially, I went with a melee-centric build, but I found it impossible to beat the game’s first boss with my setup. After a little grinding, I managed to switch over to a caster build that made short work of the boss. For all of Act 2 and some of Act 3, I used the same build, but it made the game laughably easy. In Act 3, I switched back to melee after getting some lucky drops and, though it worked better, it wasn’t nearly as smooth or enjoyable.

Still, in my final build for completing the game, I went my own way with a bow build that I enjoyed playing and found reasonably balanced between my two previous extremes. Your mileage may vary, but from my experience, put everything in ferocity, learn how to dodge, and pick one of the top 2 or 3 skills to base your entire build around. Everything else is a trap.

As down as I may sound, I did mostly enjoy my time with Wolcen. It was a solid filler game to occupy my time (mostly while I was battling allergies). The endgame opens up a bit for some repeat activities, but I am not sure how much more juice I can get out of this lemon. If these is your type of genre, then you’ll probably enjoy Wolcen, despite its faults. For someone like me, who clearly doesn’t favor Action RPGs, it was probably worth the money I spent, but I am unsure if I will ever go back to it.

Timespinner (PC, 2018)

I don’t have a lot to say about Timespinner except that it was fun enough. I kickstarted the game on a whim back when kickstarters still seemed like good ideas. I finally got around to playing it and breezed through.

I found the game to be more interestingly, narratively-speaking, then in how it played. It was otherwise a reasonably competent metroidvania.

All that said, it was nice seeing my name amongst the other Chris’s when the credits rolled:

Timespinner - Name in Credits
That’s me!