Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Advice To My Teenage Self

Oh look at me being all original. Nobody has ever done something like this as a writing exercise. I'm so innovative.

Nah, it's something I've been thinking of a lot lately. If you think I'm a neurotic mess now (which you probably don't), you should've seen me as a teenager. Like pretty much every teenager, I was really insecure about a lot of things, like my weight, my acne (as mentioned previously), my grades (which weren't the best because I was a "smart kid" rather than a kid with any sort of work ethic, may write about that later), and even the things I found interesting. As said, these anxieties are hardly unique, and to be fair to a lot of the important adults in my life, it's not as if I didn't seek advice for these anxieties, but for whatever reason, their advice didn't stick, or if it did it took the passage of time for me to process it in a way that makes sense to me. So I wanted to jot down a couple things that, whether I actually heard them or not as a teenager, are the sort of thing I think I could have done well to remember, in no particular order.

1. It's okay to not know what you want to do when you grow up, but do pay some consideration towards it. This is something that you oddly enough should have already done because of the careers class you took in 8th grade (though your interests shifted a bit during the intervening years) but it's easy to take for granted the fact that, throughout school, if you attend/attended a small school (which I did) that there aren't a ton of options and you don't have a ton of say over what classes you take, but the sudden shift from having people tell you what to do 90% of the time to having to make your own decisions based on whatever knowledge you happen to have at the time is jarring. It's understandable to be overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of choices. I mean, I was and still am. Analysis paralysis, that is, the inability to make a choice by virtue of overthinking/overanalysis is a thing. But eventually, you will have to make a decision, and if it turns out to be wrong, that's fine. It's not permanent. Related...

2. Most of adulthood seems to be just "figuring it out". The people in grades above you who seem to have it together? They just know a little more than you do by virtue of experience. Once you get there yourself, the view isn't as nice as you thought it must be from below. And that's okay. You'll always have someone better to learn from, but if you ever feel like you're just kinda scraping by, that's okay too. Most of us are.

3. Never feel ashamed for being interested in things. Seriously. Besides the fact that darn near everything can be made into a career if you're passionate enough and able to find/make opportunities, in general life is just better when you can comfortably like things. Not only that but people can tell if you're just doing something to "fit in", if your heart isn't completely in it, and that's okay too. You don't have to like the same things as everyone else, and not everyone has to like what you like, but as long as your interests aren't harmful and you're not a jerk to others (regardless of how they treat you), it doesn't matter. Besides, from the outsider's perspective, someone who enjoys and is interested in things is much more interesting than someone who isn't.

4. It's okay to ask questions. Holy crap, where did I ever get the idea that it wasn't? You won't be able to learn how to do everything on your own, and sometimes you'll have things that you need help understanding. So ask. Sometimes you'll have problems with other people and will need advice or intervention. So ask. Sometimes you'll just have something you're interested in and want to learn more about. So ask. Yes, sometimes people will react poorly to your questions. Sometimes you'll get wrong answers. Sometimes people will refuse to answer you. That's fine. You can ask other people.

5. Have compassion for others, but don't make excuses for their actions. It's true that bullies tend to be victims of bullying themselves, just passing a blob of negative energy from one person to the next, but understanding one's actions does not mean you have to just sit there and take it. It does not matter what people do to rationalize their behavior. There are fundamental right and wrong approaches to treating other people, and if someone is overstepping what could be considered reasonable boundaries in the way they treat you, that's not okay, and you're within your rights to stand up for yourself. Even more importantly, if you see that happening to someone else, you're within your rights to step in. It's scary. It takes confidence. It's...something I'm still not very good at. Definitely something I wish I was better at growing up. Related...

6. Love and respect yourself. This is something that I was really bad at for a very, very long time. I've had self-esteem issues for as long as I can remember, and there are many reasons for that. I was told by many people through words and actions from a very young age that I wasn't good enough, wasn't smart enough, wasn't a hard enough worker, was interested in the wrong things. I felt like I didn't fit in, that I was unwanted, and though some of that came from external sources, much of it was an internal monologue I cooked up for myself, that, if I was somehow better, that would make all the difference. This isn't to say I was a perfect, angelic child, because I totally wasn't. But I at least deserved to treat myself with some dignity, the same dignity and respect that other people deserved from me, I deserved from myself. While it is true that there is always someone who is going to be more skilled at something than you are, you possess a unique combination of skills, interests, and temperament that you'll always have something to offer. Don't get angry with yourself for trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

7. Be kind to everyone. Including yourself. There's enough negativity in the world. Don't add to it. Even if you have to do it alone for a while, be the one to uplift those around you. You never know what's going on beneath everyone else's masks (metaphorically, not literally in the case with the current COVID outbreak), and you never know just how hungry other people can be for a little kindness and positivity. And look around. There's probably someone in your life that is extremely good at this. I mean, I married the queen of kindness, but hey, whoever is the silver medalist in kindness prolly ain't that bad am I right?

I'm sure I could come up with some more if pressed, but I feel like these are some lessons I would have done well to remember growing up. I dunno, hopefully it helps someone who reads this.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Part 13: We're Almost There

We rejoin the party as they enter into the inner sanctum of the temple. There, seated atop a large mountain of treasure was a full grown Bronze Dragon that resembled the statue in the entrance hall, speaking with a Tortle that Yesmae immediately recognized as her master, Don Chen, who turned to greet the party.

"Ah yes, come in, Princess and Her Royal Retinue. We've been waiting for you," Chen said.

"I trust my roommate didn't give you too much trouble?" the dragon boomed. "Well, I suppose since the people you were waiting for have arrived, we can start this discussion, right? The reason you wished to see me?"

At this point, Chen began explaining his side of the story, why he left the empire three years before, and what he was doing here. He noticed things were going in a strange direction with the appearance of Elphina Crowe, as many others had, but the thing that clinched it was one evening when he had overheard a group of people, including Crowe, discussing something in a hushed tone. Sneaking closer to the room they were in, he heard one of the group mention that the Emperor and Empress had successfully been "replaced" and that it was a matter of time before anyone else who could prove to be troublesome would be out of the picture, presumably including the princess and her guardians. Chen, realizing that the entire country could be endangered by Crowe's work, attempted to assassinate her, however, as you the viewer could probably guess, he failed, was identified, and was forced to flee in order to avoid arrest and execution, and has been on the run for three years since.

Yesmae had been able to track him down long enough to train under him before eventually being sent off on her own to work with Halinard Townsend. After which, Chen traveled the lands warning of possible invasion from Valmutia, as well as seeking any information on Crowe's possible goals with Valmutia. This journey also involved meeting with mystical creatures that lived in the various lands, trying to form an alliance against possible invasion, which brought him to this very temple.

Once Chen was finished explaining his side of the story, the conversation took a brief pause for everyone to process the information that was just dropped on them. Yesmae's parents might actually not be evil after all, though where they were was another question. They were likely replaced with Changelings which could prove troublesome if anyone else important was replaced. The question then became what Crowe's goal in all of this was.

"I believe I can venture a guess," the dragon offered. "How familiar are you with the history of the land? Before your kind came along?"

The party exchanged confused looks, and the dragon continued.

Millennia ago, before this dragon's time, before his father's time, all the major continents were one land, and the islands of the sea were not quite as plentiful. Magical creatures such as dragons, aboleths, and others ruled the lands, while the progenitors of the various kingdoms lived in small tribes, or, as the dragon put it, "Lived in caves and beat eachother with wooden clubs."

This all changed when a meteor struck the center of the continent, splitting it. Through a combination of continental drift and the large formation of a crater, the land flooded, forming what would eventually be considered the sea beneath the floating kingdom of Valmutia. As in, floating in the air. How, you ask? Magic. Specifically residual magical energy coming from the meteor that struck the land. It is this same meteor whose magical energy made the magical royal line of Valmutia possible, and it is also this magical energy that led to the development of civilization as the world knew it.

However, this energy was not just a spontaneous event. Rather, within the meteor slept a being of immense, almost godlike power. Because of this immense power, the dragons began to call it the God Warrior. Not much was known about this being besides this: if it ever were to awaken, its power could spell disaster.

"That, my friends, must be what she is after," the dragon concluded.

Bubbles perked up a bit. "Oh, that's an easy fix! Let's just wake it up before her! That way it'll do what we want, right?"

The party all voiced agreement, but the dragon shook his head. "Unfortunately, that course of action would probably end poorly. Even one with completely pure intentions could be seduced by the power and lose control over it. It's incredibly likely that, whatever Crowe's end goal is won't matter because she won't be able to control it."

Throughout the rest of the conversation Bubbles continued to stew on the idea of forcing a godlike being onto his side and the possibilities for reasons relevant to his backstory, which I'll touch on a little later.

After the dragon finished his explanation, Chen said, "Which brings us to here and now. What next?"

Yesmae spoke up first. "Go back to the palace, kill Crowe, find my parents, and stop the end of the world?"

"Yes, but we need a plan. That's a goal."

At some point I shared the video clip from Guardians of the Galaxy with the quote, "That is not a plan," and the party went silent for a bit, unsure of what to do next.

The dragon then suggested, "Well, as you can see I have a collection of treasure. I would allow you to search through it and borrow some of it to better equip yourselves for the upcoming fight." Basically I as the DM was permitting them some better equipment since we're almost at the end.

Properly outfitted, the party decided the next thing to do would be to meet with the leadership of the Western Confederation on the way back to Valmutia to let them know what the plan is and that this is the end.

I'm glossing over that because I want to take some time to focus on Bubbles specifically and why he might want to attempt to use the God Warrior's power for himself. I can't remember if I mentioned it earlier (and I'm not about to scrub through previous posts to find it), but an important note about his race, the Kenku is the fact that, while they are bird creatures (specifically humanoid crows/ravens), they do not have wings. Bubbles' flock worked with a group of alchemists to find a way for the Kenku race to get their wings back, which, like any good (read: terrifying) sci-fi/fantasy story would contain, eventually led to experimentation on the race itself, which Bubbles was a product of.

One side-effect of these experiments was the increase in creative thought, something that Kenku are not exactly known for. To make a long story short, he eventually left his flock and the group of alchemists behind, setting off to find his own way of restoring flight to his people. This is why everywhere he goes, he desires to collect blood samples, and wherever he ends up, his chemistry set goes with him (well, that and feeding his drug addiction but that's not important). One evening, Bubbles confided all of this in Grula, whom I'll remind you is another avian, being an Aarakocra, a race that unlike the Kenku has both wings and arms. In a conversation that somehow managed to split the difference between heartwarming and creepy (seriously everyone in the Discord call had some really complicated feelings), Bubbles begged Grula for her help and guidance, which she obliged.

That same evening, Savin started making his way through the city nightlife districts (okay, it was a few taverns, nothing that looks like how you imagine nighttime in Tokyo or anything like that) sowing rumors about an upcoming battle, and Yesmae and Chen went to a small field outside of town for a final friendly spar. Chen wanted to see how far along Yesmae was, and Yesmae was eager to show her master how far she'd come. With nothing left to teach Yesmae, Chen eventually conceded defeat, greeting her as his equal.

While in the capital city of the Western Confederation, the party split up to do some last-minute shopping, and Bubbles was able to brew up some potions for the upcoming battle. And this is where we stand now. Almost all party secrets are out in the open. The party has an endgame goal, and some new allies. Things are about to come to a head. And...we're finally caught up on everything that's been happening so far.

What? I realize it took forever for me to write two updates, especially with two sessions without any real combat, but it's been hard getting the group together. That being said, this is it. Here we go.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Part 12: Yu-Gi-Oh Intensifies!

It's been a while, hasn't it? I guess we've been having trouble getting together. Jangle's player has been busy but told us to just go on without him, and, finally, Somen's player has shipped off for Navy boot camp. Regardless, the show must go on, and we're close enough to the end of the story that I'd hate to just drop the story without a conclusion. Jangle wandered off following the other cat, and Somen disappeared searching for them. Hopefully they manage to have a happy ending here.

In the meantime, our remaining heroes set out for the door, but upon seeing how dark it was on the other side, they stopped to consider a light source. Bubbles picked up a stick and two stones, proceeding to tie them together and, using his abilities, light them up. Savin, ever the more practical, just cast Light on his rapier turning it into a makeshift torch. continued deeper into the temple, as a door on the opposite side of the room opened once the undead monks were defeated. The doorway led into a long corridor leading down, lower and lower, until the manmade halls of the temple basement eventually gave way into what seemed to be a more naturally occurring series of damp, weirdly slimy tunnels. Already Bubbles' player was starting to sweat here being someone who knows a lot about D&D creatures, but nobody else was picking up on the environmental clues here.

Anyway, the tunnel they were in eventually opened up into a large cavern with an underground lake to the right, with a wall and door on the left that seemed to be cut from the same stone as the rest of the temple, meaning that the tunnels somehow led outside of the temple under the ground. Again, Bubbles' player was becoming more uncomfortable with each passing second.

The others, blissfully unaware of the danger they were in, set about examining the door. A large, heavy stone door with no method of opening from the outside, it seemed like the door was put there to keep something out. Savin's player pondered this for a bit, saying, "I'm debating having Savin do something really stupid."

"Stupid like how? This sounds interesting."

"I'm not going to do it because I know it'll end badly, but the thought occurred to me to use Dimension Door to try to teleport on the other side of the door, but because I don't know what's in there I run the risk of hurting myself by teleporting into a wall or something." Which, he wouldn't teleport into it thankfully, but he certainly would take damage from it.

Anyway, the party split up within the chamber to attempt to find any sort of hints that could help open the door. While Yesmae examined some old carvings on the wall of the cavern, a voice suddenly came into her head.

"Hmm, interesting. It's been a while since I've had any visitors down here. Very interesting."

Yesmae's player didn't immediately see the message that I sent her over Discord to hide info from the other players, but once she did she gasped, not because she knew what was happening, but because she was getting information the other players were not privy to. Bubbles' player is probably sweating bullets at this point.

Anyway, Yesmae responded to the voice in the most rational way possible. "Who are you?"

"I have no name, for I, that is, we, are many."

D&D fans probably see where this is going, and therefore why Bubbles' player is starting to panic.

Anyway, at this point Yesmae's player told the others what was happening, but in-universe she's still talking to the voice.

"Can you open the door and let us through?"

"Of course, of course, I do not wish to keep you for too long, for I know you have grand desires, and your work is an unhappy one. You want what's best for your country. You wish for peace. I would not want to get in the way of that."

Yesmae let on a little that she was talking to something, at which point Savin began to play some music on his musical accordion, casting a Countercharm spell in case Yesmae's unseen guest tried anything funny.

Yesmae continued to press. "Where are you from?"


Yesmae asked Savin to stop so she could continue questioning the voice.

"What do you want us to do to open the door?"

"Oh, that's easy. Just play with me for a bit."

Here it comes. Boss fight. That I might have planned for the full group.

Aren't I the idiot for assuming my party would take the murderhobo route instead of trying something else. And something else they did. For Yesmae's player opened up her character sheet and asked the others to do the same, trying to find if the party had a game they could play with the voice.

Cue silence as everyone in the Discord call, myself included, tried to process what it was that Yesmae's player was suggesting. For while this was going on, Bubbles thought it would be a good idea to cast the Light cantrip on one of his pistol bullets and fire it into the darkened part of the cavern.

What? Apparently flintlock pistol shots only fly at 1000 feet per second. That's...wait...

*quickly checks*

681.818 miles per hour?! (smart people feel free to check my math, I just googled the conversion and am not about to put in further effort)

So...whatever, it was a clever idea. Of course I was going to let him have it without examining the physics behind it, as it provided me a chance to add some atmosphere to the encounter. In the light put off by the shot, for an instant, outside of the party's dark vision, a tentacle could be seen darting into the water. By this point Bubbles' player had totally figured out what was happening, and everyone else was starting to fear that they were about to have a situation like in Fellowship of the Ring where they were stuck trying to figure out a way into a door while also contending with a monster. Which was the plan.

Instead, Yesmae suggested literally playing a game with the creature, and she began scouring her items for literally anything. Unfortunately, though she had proficiency in the game Three Dragon Ante, she did not have a playing card set, so she had to use a quill and some paper to make one, and thus offered to play with the creature.

The voice, taken aback, responded, ""Oh, that's....a surprise. Very well, show me how to play this...'Three Dragon Ante.' My appearance might be a little...shocking. Try not to be too afraid."

Out of the lake and into view of the party swam (slithered? Slunk? I dunno, whatever) an Aboleth.

Naturally upon seeing this terrifying creature, the rest of the party readied their weapons, to which Yesmae requested they not, and even the creature itself reached out to the rest of the party's minds through telepathy, saying (or thinking), "I have zero intention of breaking my oath. Nobody has actually suggested playing with me before, so you might say I am intrigued. However if this proves disappointing I am going to kill and devour you. Oh, to keep things fair, I promise to not read your minds while we play."

After some dice rolls, it was determined that the card game actually went well. As they played, the Aboleth confided that, though it was the incarnation of many, many generations of its own kind, and though it had a "roommate" in the guardian dragon of the temple, the truth is it led a rather boring, lonely existence, its only interaction with the outside world being fighting and devouring thieves that made their way into the temple and found themselves going down the wrong path. The party showing compassion and more pure motives for going into the temple impressed the Aboleth, and, as promised, it released the psionic lock on the door and opened it.

Before the group proceeded into the doorway, Yesmae asked the Aboleth what its name was. I don't remember the name I gave (I used as I do basically any time I have trouble coming up with a name, and I forgot to write it down). Needless to say, Bubbles' character wasted no time turning the name into an off-color joke. Naturally I got him back when we discovered that Grula could speak and understand Deep Speech, which is the Aboleth's primary language. She spoke with the Aboleth briefly, and Bubbles demanded Grula teach him how to say some words, including apologizing for shooting at him. I'll spare you the details of my joke. It wasn't very funny in hindsight, well, unless you speak another language and know how annoying the specifics about word use can get.

Anyway, the party proceeded inward, and as they continued deeper into the basement of the temple they could hear voices, one at a rather normal volume, and one extremely loud, booming voice. This is the place, they agreed.

For the sake of brevity I am going to cut the session recap here. What follows is a bit of an exposition dump that's going to bleed into the next session as well, and I'm already waaaaaaaaaaaay behind on getting this posted.

Friday, July 3, 2020

That One Time I Got A Really Bad Sunburn At Football Camp

Huh, guess it's been a while, hasn't it? Well...let's talk about something embarrassing from my teenage years!

So in middle school, I, like many before and after me, had some pretty bad acne. It was one of those cases where, no matter what I did, I couldn't get rid of it. I washed my face every day. I tried to get enough water. I used topical ointments. I even tried Proactiv. None of it was working. And because nothing was working, day in and day out I had to hear, from child and adult alike, about how I needed to wash my face every day, and how I needed to do this, that, or whatever. Things I was already doing. Not gonna lie, it's kind of annoying when you have a problem and everyone takes it upon themselves to give you advice, but it's all stuff you've already tried. I know now and I even knew then that other people meant well, but life is hard enough without the constant reminder of your imperfections that you're already keenly aware of. Add to that the usual insecurities that come from being a teenager, and you have the perfect concoction of, "I hated middle school and generally consider it to be the worst years of my life."

Thankfully, I was not alone. A relative of mine also had problems with acne, to the point he actually went to see a dermatologist to get a prescription to take care of the problem. This seemed to be my big break. Sure, the pills he was taking were huge, and sure, he said it made him super sensitive to sunlight, but like, I was already that pasty white kid that got sunburned super easily, how bad could it be?

This was suggested to me in 8th grade, and in short order near the end of the school year (of course), I went to see the dermatologist myself, and soon, horse pills in hand, I was ready to take on the world with the face of a normal teenager.

So that thing about getting sunburned easily? Yeah, this is where things are gonna get painful.

So I played football in middle school and high school up until my senior year of high school, and one thing that high school football players have the opportunity to take part in is a weeklong training camp put on by a university in the area, and my high school had a yearly spot at the Boise State University football camp in early June. The downside to this is the fact that the camp can be kind of expensive, and as an 8th grader going into 9th grade, I didn't feel particularly into the idea of giving up a week of my summer and spending money to go to the camp.

In truth, I didn't want to go because I didn't even want to play but, being tall, strong, and the younger brother of two star athletes, I never felt like I had the choice, a problem made worse when the varsity team's head coach approached me personally to fill a slot that was given up by another player. I guess the camp was nonrefundable, or he donated his spot, or something. I don't remember the specifics. Anyway, this opportunity was thrust upon me, and away I went, as the call to adventure knew where I lived.

Well...apparently the football stadium on the Boise State campus turns into a freakin' oven in the summer, because it was hot. Yes you've probably been in a hotter place if you've been to or lived in Arizona, that's great, I don't care. It was hot where I was. Made worse by the fact that I, in my endless wisdom, forgot to wear sunscreen on the first day of practice despite knowing that my acne medication made me super sensitive to sunlight. You can probably see where this is going so I'll spare you the details.

Hey kids, when there's an explicit warning on your prescriptions to do or not do something lest there be consequences, just do what it says. Sure, somehow there was no blistering from the sunburn, but I was in absolute mind-numbing agony for the entire week. I went through a lot of that aloe vera burn ointment stuff that I swear never works if you have a sunburn, I put my mattress in the dorms on the floor in front of the AC unit just to have some air blowing over me while I slept because it hurt so bad. I learned my lesson. Don't pick a fight with the sun. You will lose.

So for the rest of the time I was on that medication I was diligent about applying sunscreen or staying out of direct sunlight, and I like to think this experience has shaped me to this day, as I spend as little time as possible in the sun. Less than I should, admittedly, but it's hard going back when you've been burned so badly (pun intended).