Sunday, August 30, 2020

Quitting Soda: End of August Update

Daily uploads were a bad idea.

It's not about the accountability thing. It's more that the honest truth is the fact that day-to-day real life is boring. It's hard figuring out things to talk about on a daily basis. This is 100% why I'm bad at writing journals. I'm not beating myself up for this, to be clear. I'm actually laughing.

So instead I'm just going to give a brief follow-up on how I'm doing. No real weight loss so far but to be honest I haven't been doing much to work on that front besides quitting soda, which is my primary project at the moment. So far it's going well. The headaches and fatigue have mostly gone away. Occasionally I get the cravings, especially when I'm stressed, but I think the big lesson that that's taught me is the fact that real life doesn't stop just because you're making positive changes to your life.

This is both good and bad news. We'll start with the bad side, that being the fact that, no matter when you start something, it's not going to be easy, but the good news is the fact that once you accept that, starting a new habit and committing to it isn't so bad.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I guess...if there's something you've been wanting to do that will make your life better, just do it. After all, the rest of the world will go on either way. So many things are out of your control. So many things are going to go wrong no matter what you do about them, whether you chalk it up to God's plan, living in a fallen world, or just sheer randomness, you may as well just take what little control you have and go for it. Even if you slip up, who cares? In the real world, failure doesn't really mean much unless you stop trying. Life goes on with or without you.

From my own religious perspective, the thing that makes humans special is freedom of choice, and while that doesn't necessarily free you from the consequences of your own or others' choices or things just happening, you will always have control over yourself, and that's not something anyone can just take from you unless you let them. Don't be afraid to take the wheel.

I'll probably release more sporadic updates. I'm alive. That's probably enough for the time being.

Final Part: The Experiment Was Apparently A Success!

Hoo boy. I'm honestly still trying to process what just happened with this session, and it's been a few days. Suffice it to say between all the things I sort of dropped in the party's lap for good or for ill and the various things the party themselves have done up to this point, or the things they're planning to do, things are going swimmingly. All the dominoes were set up in the best way possible. Don't worry if you don't feel prepared for the insanity to follow. I sure wasn't.

In the time it took for the party to be escorted back to the imperial palace, Bubbles spent a lot of time in his room on a secret project that his player had actually contacted me about earlier in the week. To be honest, because he was rather vague about his intentions with this secret project, this made me a little nervous, but at the same time, I'm committed to the idea of whatever ridiculous stuff happening, it goes I guess.

During the flight, the party spent some time going over their plans. Bubbles' player put it best (after apologizing for breaking the plans for my campaign by shortening it), "I don't wanna fight an entire army to get into a palace where I can fight a bunch more enemies and then fight the final boss, so if we don't have to, great!" Honestly, this is something I'm okay with, as it shortened the ending by like 2 or 3 sessions depending on how long it took them to get there, and once this campaign is over I don't have to be the DM for a while.Win-win.

Anyway, here's the plan. The party would place all their weapons in Bubbles' Bag of Holding and let the admiral have it smuggled into the throne room. Once the deed was done, he'd do what he could to help the party find the emperor and empress and keep them from being imprisoned. Admittedly the monster I picked to have the party fight made me worry that they might not survive long enough for an escape plan to be necessary, but we'll get to that.

Anyway, after the party's plans were finalized, we decided to fastforward to the landing. The party was "disarmed" and led to the throne room, where Elphina Crowe sat, waiting, with the exact smirk you can imagine, completely surrounded by guards. She bade the party welcome, even saying how much she missed Yesmae.

Yesmae, clearly not wanting any of Elphina's nonsense, demanded, "Where are my parents?"

"Oh, my dear, they're ill. But not to worry, you'll get a chance to see them soon enough. But enough," she looked at the guards. "Leave us. We have much to discuss. Go on, out with you." At her word, the guards all left, but the admiral was able to get Bubbles' attention to show where he was dropping the bag of holding.

Once the soldiers all cleared out of the room, Elphina completely dropped her facade. "Okay princess. You have a captive audience. I suppose you'll be demanding to hear my evil plan so you can swear to stop me?"

"Evil plan? You have a plan for all this?" Yesmae asked.

Bubbles continued. "You've taken over the empire and you're going to awaken the God Warrior. What else are you doing?"

"Do you know anything about the Shadowfell, or the land of Barovia?"

Bubbles folded his arms. "Ummm....what? You're making up words!"

"I thought not. After all, the Shadowfell isn't on this plane of existence, neither was Barovia until recently when a group of troublemakers destroyed the lord of that domain and restored it."

Naturally, the party's eyes glazed over with this bit of exposition that had nothing to do with them but was a mild shoutout/forced connection to our previous campaign where we ran Curse of Strahd, which ended with Strahd, the lord of Barovia, being defeated by the party and banished from that plane of existence directly into the custody of the Raven Queen, patron of edgy warlocks the world over, desiring to reclaim her lost power in the Shadowfell. Once Strahd was defeated, the land of Barovia reappeared in the the Prime Material Plane (basically the normal D&D world).

Seeing that this bit of news wasn't getting through to the party, Elphina continued, "I guess a good way to put it is real estate."

If Bubbles could furrow his eyebrow, he would. "Land?"

"Exactly." She explained exactly what I just explained regarding Barovia.

"Long story short, I plan to harness the power of the God Warrior to pull this land into the Shadowfell. What happens to you doesn't matter to me. Regardless, the ritual is almost done, so there's nothing you can do to stop me."

Yesmae raised an eyebrow. "Wait, so the Shadowfell lost Barovia, and you or your master or whatever wants this land in exchange, and that's supposed to be fair? Barovia didn't belong to the Shadowfell either!"

Savin, waiting for an opportunity, found this as his chance and cast a spell on Elphina, Dissonant Whispers. Awesome. Time for action. I wasn't sure how much longer I could have Elphina monologue before the party got sick of her crap and made their attack. So I had Elphina make her saving throw, and...naturally, for my villains, it was bad.

But not quite as bad as Karin's response to the Dissonant Whispers spell. As in, she asked me if that was "the song." To which I responded, "No, that's Careless Whisper." And the Discord call broke out in laughter. So I uploaded this gif.

So anyway, Elphina, having failed her Wisdom save, was racked by an extremely painful, dissonant rendition of Careless Whisper. Naturally, when confronted with a decent song that just sounds wrong, she panicked, and set about trying to get as far from the party as possible...

By activating and stepping into a teleportation circle beneath the throne.

"Blast. I wanted to scare her, but not like that. She's probably leading us into a trap."

Bubbles, ignoring Savin, scrambled over to the Bag of Holding and started distributing everyone's equipment. "Whelp, let's not waste any more time. She said the ritual's almost done, and I've got wings I gotta get back!"

"No stop," Savin suggested. "We're not going in without a plan."

"Oh that's easy, I've got some potions we can take. It'll be no problem"

So before jumping into the portal, the party quickly downed what potions Bubbles had been saving, which included a Potion of Storm Giant's Strength that Bubbles wasted no time downing. However, since his only weapon was his pistol, he asked if anyone had a spare melee weapon he could use. Which Yesmae happened to have in the form of her old quarterstaff.

I should also mention that he took a Potion of Invincibility, but that really ceased to matter once they got into the portal, because...

Elphina had already managed to put herself on the opposite side of the hallway the portal led to, with a group of twelve cloaked figures between her and the party. "Stall them! I only need a little more time!"

Well...about that...

Wasting no time, Bubbles grabbed the cloaked figure in front of the group and used him as a human shield to force his way in, slowly bowling over the other cloaked figures. So, Bubbles isn't even 5 feet, and I think his player said he weighs less than 50 pounds, so you can imagine this one of two ways. A hulked out crow person pushing them like a rather jacked peewee wide receiver somehow blasting open the defensive line of the New England Patriots (size comparison, I played enough football to know that no coach in his right mind would use a WR as a lineman), or the way I imagined it where he didn't hulk out, a Smart car shoving a bunch of pickups aside. Either works really. Both absurd. Both hilarious. Neither making me regret giving him that potion.

Yesmae took advantage of the sudden embarrassment of Elphina's last line of defense and dashed forward, leaping from cloaked man to cloaked man, until she finally caught up with Elphina and clocked her in the back of the head.

"I know those fools were useless in the long run. Very well, looks like I'll have to deal with you myself!" At these words, dark energy began billowing out from Elphina, blowing out all the torches in the hallway. As the light faded, the party saw Elphina take her true shape, that of a Shadow Dragon.

Her cultists had no idea that this was her true form, nor did they really understand just what her plan was, so at this revelation, they sprinted out of the hallway, leaving the party alone with their new nemesis.

For a short while she gave them a decent match until it occurred to Yesmae that Elphina specifically darkened the room because light was her weakness, so she used her shadow monk abilities (for the second time in this campaign) to stealth towards the curtains and open the windows, flooding the room with light.

All the while Savin, Grula, and Bubbles were laying the smackdown on the dragon. Once she started recoiling in pain from the sunlight, Bubbles saw his chance and decided he was going to try to grapple the dragon, wrestling her to the ground.

Considering how many pro wrestling jokes I've made in our group chat so far this was a long time coming.

Out of desperation, Elphina let out a roar of rage and ignited her breath weapon. Savin, taking the brunt of the blast to keep his friends in danger, was engulfed in shadowy flames. Well, okay, he actually made the Dex Save so he technically took half damage. Except due to a secret he'd been keeping from the party, he took half of that since it was necrotic damage, a damage type his race has resistance to. What race? It's still a secret to everyone but me. He'll probably let it out eventually.

Eventually, Elphina's HP were brought to zero, as she shouted in despair that her loss was impossible and blah blah blah standard villain stuff. Just then, the altar of the ritual began to glow as a huge white hand reached through a portal that appeared, grabbing Elphina and starting to drag her in.

Bubbles immediately realized that this was a problem, for he had pinned Elphina to the ground in the last bit of the battle, and was now being dragged to the portal with her.

I had no idea how I expected them to solve this problem, but thankfully Bubbles' player is an extremely creative person.

Filled with newfound strength, Bubbles tried to wrest Elphina from the giant arm's grasp, somehow succeeding. Armed with an extremely wounded, severely confused dragon, Bubbles mustered up all his strength, swung Elphina around, and threw her as hard as he could at the altar, smashing it completely. The portal closed, severing the arm at the elbow, as screams of pain and confusion racked Yesmae's mind.

For a brief moment, Yesmae was certain that she could hear the God Warrior's thoughts, begging for some release from the pain. Not destruction. Not awakening. Yesmae apologized, saying that someday, somehow, they'd figure out how to save it.

Elphina, collecting herself, muttered. "It doesn't matter. It's over. It'll go back to sleep soon enough. Who knows if it'll ever wake up aga-blargible."

Bubbles, who had already set about harvesting blood from the giant arm and had grown tired of Elphina's incessant talking, also realizing that he wasn't going to get the wish he convinced himself he was getting, threw a bottle straight into the dragon's maw. It exploded within her, and shortly enough, she went down, foaming at the mouth, dead. From what?

Drug overdose.

Because Bubbles' secret weapon? Opium grenades. That he intended to use to gas anyone getting in the way of his wish. However, since it was now officially out of his hands, out of spite, he used them on the dying dragon.

Shortly after this, a squad of soldiers dashed into the room, accompanied by Tylhana, who explained that they were in the dungeons searching for the emperor and empress when they heard a commotion and made their way in (but not without apprehending Elphina's cronies). Tylhana explained that they had narrowed down the location of the emperor and empress to this particular area of the castle, and one of the cultists spilled the beans on everything. After feeling around the room a bit, she found a switch, which moved the altar back, revealing the emperor and empress in glass coffin-like structures, hooked up to a strange machine, looking nearly dead and having what little life force remained sucked from them for the ritual.

The party healed the emperor and empress enough that they could extract them from the machine and turn it off, and they were rushed to a healer.

Over the next few weeks, Yesmae was retrained to take the position of regent over the land until her parents could make their recovery, though once they did they decided that the empire was better in her hands than theirs, willfully abdicating the throne and placing Yesmae in charge officially as the new empress.

Grula, saddened to see the state of the military after the last few years, enlisted to work her way through the ranks to help rebuild it from within, serving the rest of her (admittedly short) life in an important advisor role to the new empress.

Savin and Bubbles went back to the ship and their crew to continue Savin's privateer business as well as hunting down the crew that had betrayed Savin in his backstory that I totally forgot about. Bubbles' fate is a little more ambiguous. As a Kenku his lifespan is already pretty short, made worse by drug abuse and experiments, so we came to the conclusion that he probably didn't really get a happy ending. Either he would upset someone and die in a bar fight, or he would dope himself too much with his experiments and poison himself, or he would try one too many times to steal a sample of Savin's blood, which would result in him briefly learning what it feels like to fly for the precious few seconds he had before he smashed into the ground below the ship after being thrown overboard.

And thus the book closes on another one of my campaigns. I've been nervous about this one, because I often find myself making things up as we go along (hey, it's worked for Akira Toriyama for decades with Dragon Ball), and I never feel like I do endings particularly well. And here wasn't much of an exception, since most of my rolls for Elphina were pretty bad, and I don't feel like I do villains well when I'm trying to do everything else, but my party seemed to enjoy their adventure enough to stick with it, well, most of them.

I like putting up these recaps, though, so I'm going to do it with our next campaign. Stay tuned for the prologue, as we begin our next adventure in Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Quitting Soda: Days 4 and 5

Yesterday I was super energetic, and we got a lot done. I felt like I was finally over that initial hump. No fatigue. No headaches. Things were going great. And then I woke up with a huge headache this morning. Well, dang.

That being said, the average seems to be improving bit by bit, which is exactly what I was hoping for. I weigh less according to the scale, but I'm going to wait to celebrate that as weight fluctuations are normal.

Yesterday while we were at the store, I bought a bottle of seltzer water just out of curiosity. What is it with this stuff? When I opened the bottle I even got the distinct scent of blueberries and lemon, appropriate since the flavor is literally blueberry lemonade. So why doesn't it taste like that in the slightest? It literally just has that weird, bitter seltzer water flavor that feels super dry when you drink it. I don't understand this stuff at all.

I guess that really goes to show how much sugar and flavoring is in sodas. When I have something that's supposedly all natural, it really doesn't taste like anything at all. Apparently it's better if you add lemon or something like that to it, but we'll see. I might just stick to plain water. Maybe adding some mint if I really need a change. We'll see.

To be honest, I don't have a problem with plain water at all. Well, depending on where it comes from. I'm not the hugest fan of the water that's in the Albany city limits, but since I live outside city limits that's a nonissue right now. I have a water bottle. I should just carry it more.

Man, writing these on a daily basis is hard. I've never been great at keeping a journal. I don't really feel like what happens to me is interesting enough to comment on. I realize that that's not the point for this exercise, which is a daily examination of how much things change as I quit soda. I dunno. I guess I wish I had more interesting observations to talk about.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Quitting Soda: Day 3

 I had a great deal more energy today than I did yesterday or the day before. I wouldn't say I'm back at 100%, but as I suspected, once the body gets a chance to get used to the change, things seem to roll more smoothly. The cravings haven't really come back either. Part of it is probably because I haven't really been putting myself in a place where getting something is an option, but I legitimately haven't even really been wanting one lately.

I'm still really tired, especially right now, but that's because it's an hour and a half past my usual bedtime. But again, I've had more energy than I did the past couple days. My level of fatigue seems to be subsiding, and when I sleep it feels like I'm having a more restful night's sleep than previously (though this morning I had a little trouble waking up at my alarm)

We're slowly making our way through the initial lethargy. I don't have much else to write about tonight, but I'm excited to see where the rest of this takes me.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Quitting Soda: Day 2

Going to bed on time and getting a decent night's sleep helped immensely, but I still found myself really tired this morning. Part of it is definitely my work schedule, but part of it is also probably lethargy due to cutting out caffeine and dropping my sugar intake. I'm most certainly not hydrating enough either, but that's something I've always struggled with. That's also something my wife is extremely good at. She always carries a water bottle, something I could probably be better about.

Honestly, the first week always feels the hardest, as you have to do as much as you did before (life doesn't stop just because you're trying to set new healthy habits) with less than the usual amount of energy. I suppose that's why addictive substances are so dangerous, as they trick the body into needing that boost in order to function. Though again, a sort of blessing in disguise is the fact that doubt I'll have trouble sleeping tonight. Heck, I could probably go to bed right now and be just fine, though I did want to put an update out there to at least hold myself accountable.

Since I officially started (not counting Day 0) I haven't been to a store yet so I haven't really had to fight off any sort of temptation, and even the day of, I'd already had my fill and had decided that that would be the end of it.

Which isn't to say I haven't had the opportunity. Part of the fun of my work schedule is I'm home alone during the day quite a bit. Nobody would even know if I went out and got something, though I think my wife would see right through me since I'm a terrible liar, which is both a blessing and a curse.

I have been out to order food. Since my wife is doing that Healthy Democracy panel for our state, I offered to run to a fast food place to grab some easy food. If I had been feeling more energetic/motivated I probably could have/should have made something for her, but that's an entirely different can of worms. Either way, I ordered food and didn't order anything to drink.

Good thing, too, since any caffeine this late would probably screw up my sleeping schedule again, and though tomorrow is Friday and I could basically coast through my work day I would really prefer not to.

I'd write more, but as I'm sure I've hammered in, I'm tired. I'm alive, and I'm 2/2 in terms of successful days, but I'm also tired.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Quitting Soda: Day 1

 I'm still experimenting with the format of these posts so this will probably be rough.

Day one wasn't too bad. I was expecting to have the standard headaches that come from caffeine withdrawal but they haven't happened yet. They'll probably crop up in the next couple days. I mainly expected them today because I had a miserable job falling asleep at night. I kept tossing and turning until about midnight, which under normal circumstances, while not ideal, isn't terrible, but when you have to wake up at 4 AM to get to work at 4:45, it's not exactly a pleasant experience.

This sort of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as I have trouble sleeping due to caffeine consumption (even if I limit it close to bedtime, some days it works better than others), which makes me tired when I have to work, which makes me want caffeine, and so on. So I've been really tired, but that was a bit of a blessing in disguise because I wasn't really tempted to go anywhere, which meant that I had no opportunity to buy any soda.

The lack of caffeine has also made me feel more sleepy later in the day (current time being a little after 7 PM) which means I'll probably get to sleep faster and hopefully sleep better.

So all in all I'd probably say that Day 1 has been a success. After all, you can't give in to temptation if you're too tired for the temptation in the first place.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Quitting Soda: Day 0

Guys, I have a problem. In the grand scheme of things, it could be worse, but still, I have a problem. For about as long as I can remember, I've really enjoyed soda, especially Dr Pepper. I like the taste. I like the caffeine boost. Not as big of a fan of the higher calorie count but I don't really like the taste of diet sodas so it's a trade-off I've just kinda accepted. I think that acceptance of an overall worse experience for better taste is exactly why it's time for me to quit.

Which isn't to say I haven't tried before. I've tried to quit several times for a multitude of reasons. Last year it was for Lent in solidarity for my wife giving up sweets and my brother giving up alcohol. Last December I attempted to have a head start for the new year (before I got super sick and the carbonation was the only thing that would soothe my sore throat). I tried to quit for the new year. Each time I've slipped up, and I think there are a few reasons for that.

Mainly, there was a lack of accountability. And I don't mean lack of people to be disappointed in my poor choices, but more of a lack of honest accountability to myself. No specific notation of when I started, how many successive, successful days, nothing. For that particular reason, I'm writing this.

I've tried substitutions. I've tried switching to diet. Didn't like the taste. I've tried sparkling water. Really didn't like the taste. Of course there are sports drinks like Gatorade, but the truth is I'm not an active enough athlete for it to be necessary either (not to mention the amount of sugar in Gatorade as well). Instead, I think the better alternative would be just drinking more water, something I should be doing anyway.

Another reason I think previous attempts didn't really work out was the fact that they weren't really motivated by a desire to actually do better. Sure, there was lipservice to it in the New Years Resolution, but that doesn't really work as a motivation. That "resolution" was met with a shrug and a, "Well, I guess that's as good as anything," which doesn't really cut it. I did it because felt like I had to, rather than because I wanted to. Instead, I think the motivation needs to come from within, which in this case would be a desire for better health, especially for the future.

Admittedly this is part of a sort of late-20's crisis. I'm turning 29 in October. I'm not getting any younger. While 29 is hardly old, and in terms of addictions mine could be worse, the truth is bad habits are bad habits, and while mine isn't illegal, it's still not good for me. And in terms of becoming more healthy this is only the first step of many, but I'd also be willing to wager that it's the hardest. May as well get the hard stuff out of the way early.

So today is Day 0. I designate that because I finished off what soda I have, and that's it. If you ask me if it's the last ever, or if I'll someday feel comfortable about having the occasional one, I don't really know. Studies vary on how long it takes to form a new habit (21 days, 66 days, a year, whatever), so instead, I'm just going to shrug and say that I'm leaning on those cravings just going away after a while. It's not going to be easy, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.

For the next 30 days, I'm going to be writing and posting daily updates based on how it's going. Hopefully each one of those 30 days ends with positive news, where I can come home and say that, no matter how tempting it was, I made it. Will it? I dunno. But I'm going to try. And if I fail, I'm going to try again. Because the only real failure is if I just give up.

Anyway, I'm up later than I should be for as early as I have work. Good night everyone. Wish me luck.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Part 14: Finally Some Airship Combat!

 We rejoin our heroes, still in the same meeting they were in last time. Now that a basic end goal had been established, the party then conversed with possible avenues of getting into the imperial palace. While the empire's sea coverage was relatively weak, obviously their air support was unmatched, which could pose a problem, as Bubbles pointed out.

"Doesn't matter how strong your navy is. Shooting at something in the sky is impossible!"

The Western Navy's admiral furrowed his brow. "Do you have a suggestion?"

"Nope! I've got nothing!"

The admiral rolled his eyes. "Excellent. Thank you." He paused for a few seconds. "There is one avenue, though I am loathe to even entertain the thought, let alone suggest it."

In unison, both Savin and Bubbles finished the line of thought; "The Fury of the Small."

"Yes," the admiral said. "I do not wish to reward piracy, but-"

Bubbles piped up, "Just call it privateering. That's what Savin does, and he says its legal!" Savin shot a glare back at Bubbles.

"Right," the admiral continued, annoyed at the interruption. "They've caused an awful lot of trouble for us over the years but unfortunately they may be our best bet for quickly bolstering our air support." He groaned in irritation. "If only we had time to analyze the airship you lot are flying and make some adjustments, possibly adding to our own fleet."

Yesmae thought for a moment. "At the very least, do we even know where we'll be able to find the Fury of the Small?"

The admiral frowned. "That's a good question. We don't know where they hole up to stay out of trouble. Our best option would be scouring the Southern Isles in the hopes that we run into another pirate crew that is affiliated with the Fury, but even then that is a great deal of wishful thinking. Though I suppose it's better than-"

The door flew open as a messenger dashed into the meeting. "Excuse me sirs, but we've just received urgent word that pirates have engaged the empire's forces at the city of Doncaster!"

"Doncaster again? That city can't catch a break," Savin muttered to himself.

"The admiral's mouth hung open for a few seconds. "Well, I suppose that is our answer. We set off for Doncaster, aid the pirates, enlist them to our cause, and hope that bolsters our forces enough to make an invasion of imperial space possible."

Once the meeting concluded, the party made ready to ship out with the strength of the Western Navy at their backs for Doncaster. After a few days' travel they arrived at the scene of the major standoff. Two large forces lined up against one-another, just waiting for the other to blink, or move, or something. However, once the two armies caught sight of the Western Fleet sailing in, someone fired the first shot. Nobody's sure which side shot first, but what followed was a hail of cannon and ballista fire.

Bubbles looked over the battlefield and made a suggestion to the group before they joined the fray. "It looks like most of the other ships are already engaged with the pirates. If we rush down the flagship we'll probably win!" And truly, with the battle map I drew up, that was the case. One unengaged ship held the line between the party and the flagship, and the party's ship had some backup. After a few rounds of cannon fire and Grula flying ahead of the ship to snipe cannoneers off the enemy's ship, Savin got an idea.

His player asked me how far they were from the flagship and if he could see the captain of the flagship. I quickly measured out the distance on the map and, though he couldn't see it through cyberspace, I shrugged, saying, "Yeah, I guess that's reasonable. Why, what's your idea?"

"I'm gonna cast Dimension Door. If I teleport myself and one other person to the flagship we can quickly take out the enemy's commander and force a surrender." Bear in mind, Savin, like other characters from this player, thinks in an extremely strategic manner.

This is the kind of guy who revels in early checkmates if the opportunity comes up (I've been Fool's Mate'd a few times by him in the past 😒 What? I'm not a chess player), and he and Bubbles had decided that, if possible, they wanted to secure a victory with as few casualties as possible (well, more accurately Savin wanted to minimize casualties, while Bubbles was keen to gas everyone on the ships and commandeer them with little resistance).

What was Yesmae doing during all this? Unfortunately, nobody asked her. Savin put Ray in control of the ship, and Yesmae was left on cannon duty, and away Savin and Bubbles went on their crazy scheme.

So...from the perspective of the commanding officer of the enemy's flagship, an admiral, this is what happened. A human dressed up in fancy merchant's gear and a humanoid crow whose race is not super common just pop into existence in front of him, demanding immediate surrender. Which is already startling enough on its own, but one thing that sealed the deal? Bubbles had downed two potions before teleporting over: one of his Potions of Fire Giant's Strength and a Potion of Alter Self. So not only was this crow person sporting massive, Olympic weightlifter-esque muscles, but he used the Alter Self Potion to transform one of his hands into a massive claw.

So I had them roll for Intimidation. And I really wish I hadn't. Because Savin rolled a nat 20, and I've mentioned before the debate of whether a nat 20 means automatic success and my feelings towards it, from the admiral's perspective he had just gone from a comfortable stalemate that could have held a siege for months to being hopelessly outnumbered by not only pirates but a navy of another nation who was already upset with the empire. He decided his luck would be better spent with the new guys' mercy than fighting to the last in a losing battle.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a magical stone called a Stone of Farspeech (an item I totally didn't steal from either The Adventure Zone or Final Fantasy XIV), basically a magical, fantasy walkie talkie that one could use to deliver messages over a distance (see, totally exists in D&D).

"It's me. Put up the colors. We're done here." He paused, waiting for a response. "Yes, I know we're basically dead if we return home like this. We're also basically dead if we keep fighting. Put up the colors. That's an order." He returned the Stone into his coat pocket.

One by one, the imperial airships put up flags indicating surrender, until one was left: the heavily damaged vanguard ship, which instead opted to try to ram the party's airship. A move which was met by being violently blasted out of the sky by a hail of cannonfire from three nearby airships.

The opposing admiral grimaced, expecting the worst, while Savin quickly surveyed the rest of the battlefield. Seeing that the pirates were beginning to plunder their captured ships, he scoped out the most important person on the largest pirate ship, told Bubbles to keep things under control for a bit, and teleported over the larger ship to try to bring the pirates around.

No, you're right. This was probably a bad decision.

A couple of soldiers near the admiral glanced about, and the admiral shook his head. "What is it that you and your comrades are up to?" the admiral asked. "Wait, that's the airship we're after! Who are you and what are you doing?"

"We're taking your ships and throwing you guys into the ocean. Once we're done here we're going to make our way to the imperial palace, murder the empress, and save the world!"

The captain flew into a rage. "I will not let you do that!" He quickly shoved a free hand into his coat, grasping for a pistol.

Bubbles, wasting no time, grabbed the admiral's wrist. Unfortunately since he wasn't used to the strength boost from the potion (his strength is at a 7 when average is 10, the potion boosted him to 25), he felt the admiral's wrist crumble.

Naturally, with a freshly broken wrist, the admiral screamed, and the other two soldiers nearby raised their guns, one firing a shot at Bubbles. Unfortunately, the shot went wide, hitting the admiral instead. The other took aim to take a shot at Bubbles but was stopped.

By what, you ask? Why, Grula, of course! Grula, seeing things were starting to get iffy and hearing the first gunshot, made the snap decision to dropkick the other soldier, knocking his weapon out of his hand. Naturally, the admiral shouted for a stop to the fighting, to which Bubbles got defensive. After all, he wouldn't have broken the admiral's wrist if the admiral hadn't tried to defend himself. The admiral wouldn't have gotten shot if the other soldier hadn't tried to interfere.

This is the sort of insane logic that Bubbles' mind runs on, folks.

Anyway, rejoining Savin. Savin popped into existence right in front of the captain of the larger pirate ship, directly interrupting his speech about "Stealin'everythin' that wasn't nailed down" and "killin' all them imperial yobs".

Savin quickly started explaining the situation, right until the gunshots rang out from the imperial flagship. Immediately regretting his decision to leave Bubbles alone, he tried to hide his sudden onset of panic since he had no spell slots left to cast Dimension Door again. However, his panic subsided when Grula crashed into the situation on the flagship, and he was able to continue.

"Basically, have your pirates wait on the whole raid and plunder thing, get us in touch with your friends on The Fury of the Small, and hear what we have to say."

The captain, a small, somewhat well-dressed goblin, thought for a moment. "We get the stuff?"

Savin rubbed his forehead in frustration. "Yes, very well. After this, you can have what you want, but don't kill anyone else."

Not long afterward, everyone gathered on the bridge of the flagship to discuss the terms of their surrender and just what their plans were. Yesmae outed herself as the princess to the admiral and clarified that they weren't out to kill the empress, as the woman claiming to be the empress was an impostor working with Elphina Crowe, and that the real emperor and empress were hopefully still alive, hidden away as captives somewhere.

The admiral considered the new information he was provided with. "That being the case, what is your plan? Fight your way to the palace?"

Bubbles spoke up. "Wait! You could take us like Chewbacca!"

My group has a habit of referencing outside materials like movies and tv shows as legends, plays, and literature in universe. The admiral, naturally, no idea what this sudden outburst was about, and Bubbles had to clarify that it was a really old story where a big yeti creature was used as a fake captive to sneak into an enemy fortress.

After hashing out the specifics, the admiral agreed that that might work. He would escort them back to the palace as "captives". They'd get pulled into whatever nefarious scheme Crowe had for the party. They'd fight and defeat Crowe, stop the ritual, and save the world. The admiral agreed to this for three reasons: if the party was lying, they'd be taken into a no-win scenario and the admiral would be viewed as a hero rather than a coward; if the party was honest and they failed, oh well, the world ends; if the party is right and they succeed, the end of the world as we know it is stopped.

Let's see how this goes.

So a bit of a peek behind the curtain here. I 100% intended to have the ritual completed off-screen.. The party would have gotten stopped outside the imperial capital by some super powerful monsters meant as a distraction. The God Warrior would have awakened and begun a rampage, slowly absorbing everything into a sort of distorted dimension inside itself, which would have simultaneously become the final dungeon and in some fashion the final boss.

Instead, the party's own mixed feelings on the God Warrior ritual have inspired something better. Bubbles wants to hijack the ritual to possibly restore wings to his people. Yesmae just wants to stop Crowe but thinks there's a possibility that the God Warrior could be used to stop Crowe somehow. Savin wants to stop the ritual at all cost. So...I'm gonna let this happen. It's more fun this way.