I was talking to one of my fellow wine-lover friends a couple of months back, and she was raving about a California Red Blend called Orin Swift Machete. She said it was one of the best wines she has ever had. Knowing her taste palate tends to bold, in-your-face wines. Realizing my wife likes the same wine style, I bought a few bottles.
We burst out of the tunnel under the town’s keep (well, more accurately, Chazz burst out of the tunnel), scaring two guards posted there half to death. They challenged us, but Pebbles, the town’s gnome cleric, interceded on our behalf.
We headed to talk to the governor on the top of the keep’s tower. Along the way, we ran into Gillam Brandhoft, who asked us to rescue his two sons. It appears the attacking cultists cut them off from the safety of the keep and were hiding in the warehouses. We promised we would look into it, but the “safety” of the keep was rather suspect at the moment. We headed up to talk to Governor Nighthill. He thanked us for the rescue of the civilians but immediately requested we protect the castle walls. The urds (flying kobolds) had disabled all the ballistae, and the dragon was flying unimpeded over Greenest.
Repair the Ballista
With Barton staying the top of the keep’s tower, our plan was to cover Magnus as he used a mending spell to fix a ballista. Urds came flying in to sabotage the repairs, but Barton, Chazz and I kept them at bay. Two urds flew to the top of the tower to engage Barton, but he fended them off. Once we repaired the ballista, we decided it was time to face the dragon (or more accurately, Chazz decided it was time to face the dragon). He climbed down the castle walls and hurled insults until the dragon appeared. Then, the ballista, Barton and I all struck the blue dragon with missile fire. While the dragon survived the attacks, He howled at the wounds and flew off in anger. I have a feeling we have not seen the last of that drake.
Enemy at the Gates
The next crisis was a battering ram on the front gates. We moved quickly down that way while Magnus sheared off to deal with the injuries to the guards and townspeople. As the battle began at the gate, an aptly named ambush drake attacked me and damned near killed me. On the other side, Barton engaged both the battering ram shield bearers and the enemy archers providing covering fire. Chazz jumped ON the battering ram (he seems to have an aversion to the protection of the keep walls). Between Barton and Chazz, they beat back the ram and routed the shield bearers, completing blunting the assault.
Looking for a Talker
Escobert (keep steward) and the Governor wanted a prisoner to interrogate, so off we went. Barton and I covered as Chazz cased a house. An attack from a small hovel behind Chazz enraged him, and he charged in to “voice his displeasure”. Barton and I moved to flank. We got a cultist escaping the carnage in the small house, and subdued him, tying him up. We then poured arrows through the window into Chazz’s opponents. Between us all, we took the cultists and mercenaries out with little difficulty.
Ambush at the Mill
The Governor and Escobert could see the cultists setting fire to the mill. Afraid they wouldn’t be able to mill food from the harvest, they asked us to intervene. (their guards must be shit.) Although nicked up and wounded, we set out to save the mill. Upon our arrival, we killed one their leaders, but it was easy to see they were not really looking to set fire to the mill, only to make it appear that way. Chazz rushed into the mill to stamp out a fire inside, triggering an ambush by the cultists. As far as we could tell, they tried to lure us into a fight. Shouting, “I’m not locked in here with you; you’re locked in here with ME!”, he charged up the loft steps to attack the cultist archers. Barton and I “culled the herd” of ambushers from the mill floor. A tough fight ensued, but with a crazy half-orc, it’s like bringing a gun to a knife-fight. True to our word, we killed all the cultists in the mill.
Beaten and tired after a week’s worth of fighting completed in a day, we headed back to the keep and some much needed rest.
After all the recent celebrities committing suicide in the last few months, I’ve been thinking of my personal battles with depression and anxiety. I never suffered from depression growing up. An introvert? Definitely, but my bouts of depression and anxiety only occurred in the last few years. I consider myself lucky as I’ve never been diagnosed with anything worse than moderate clinical depression. Personally I categorize my episodes as “melancholy”, a persistent sense of sadness or mourning without an obvious reason. But knowing what that feels like makes me empathize who suffer from severe depression or anxiety. To imagine what depths of despair severe depression sufferers must sink to consider death a preferable alternative frightens me to remain vigilant against this problem. I’ve developed a few “home” remedies to help keep my head above water. These do not replace known solutions (therapy, medication, etc.) but for me form a daily routine to keep my personal melancholy “demons” at bay. If you find yourself with your own set of devils on your shoulder, maybe something here will work for you.
Get Up Early
A well-known symptom of depression is the daily struggle to get out of bed. To combat this issue I give myself a reason to want to get out of bed and start my day. For me, I enjoy an early morning walk with my dogs to catch the sunrise. Sunrise energizes me. The birth of a new day is my physical evidence of the old adage that, no matter what, the sun will rise the next day. By getting up early I’m not rushing through my morning, already adding to my daily stress. The morning calm before the trials of the day is my mediation. If the morning sun does not interest you that’s fine. Then find a reason that will. Read; write; eat ice cream; doesn’t matter. Give yourself a good reason to get up in the morning, FOR YOU, and you find it easier to have your feet hit the floor next to your bed.
Nothing keeps me grounded more than the adoring attention of my dogs, and that includes my wife and family. Having creatures in my house that don’t care how I look, what my income is, what kind of car I drive is the perfect antidote to my depression. Their needs are simple; feed them, take them out and show them affection, and that’s it. In times of my worst depression, the well-being of my dogs always kept me from sliding further down. Don’t like dogs? That’s OK. This list is personal to me, but if you like cats, snakes or pot-bellied pigs it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to have a pet that likes to give and receive affection.
Along with my daily morning walk with my dogs, I always try to get 30-minute walk outside. Barring hurricane weather, I’ll walk in rain, snow, wind and cold. It is simply a matter of dressing appropriate to the conditions, and getting a little exercise, and noticing your surroundings. Like pets, nature doesn’t judge. It provides us with a canvas that changes every day. The little miracles of nature (like sunrises for me), allow us to put our daily trials in perspective. Exercise is a suitable substitute if you prefer it, but I haven’t missed my 10,000 daily step goal in 9 months, so walking and day hikes work for me.
Joy of Missing Out
As a techie, I embraced all the social media platforms when they came out. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr; you name it, I had an account. But over time I realized that the connections I had with others on these platforms were a poor substitute for personal interaction, and the bias, political grandstanding and “keeping up the Joneses” often formed the triggers for my depression and anxiety. In addition, news platforms shrieking the latest political scandal, natural disaster or terrorist attack on a 24 hour news cycle only makes us feel more helpless and despondent. While I don’t advocate sticking your head in the sand, I think it is important to realize the distinction between staying informed and information overload. I limit myself to one form of social media now, and I limit my time watching/reading news to twice a day. Anything more is just overkill. I’ve replaced the Fear of Missing Out with the Joy of Missing Out. I’m not any less informed of the topics of the day, and my social media interactions involve topics I’m interested in normally (dining, wine, travel, gaming). This leaves me more time to ENJOY the experiences of dining, wine, travel and gaming. Duh.
I don’t write well (as you can probably tell by now), but I enjoy the challenge of it. Journaling is writing, but for an audience of one; yourself. You can journal about what happened during your day, struggles at work or home, personal thoughts, goals or plans; maybe just a little fiction. I journal almost every day. For me, it is any of the above. I use a fountain pen and paper and just go with the flow. I don’t care about penmanship, misspellings or run-on sentences. It is a time when I can just be myself, mistakes and all. When my thoughts become sentences on a page, they seem to take up a little less of my conscious brain. I like to think of Journaling as meditation with a pen and paper.
There are several other parts of my daily routine I used to keep my melancholy at bay. I meditate (poorly); exercise (occasionally) and write (abysmally). Perhaps none of the solutions I listed above are helpful as you battle your depression. What matters is that you keep battling. And if you lose a battle, you try something new and battle again tomorrow. Depression and anxiety is like alcoholism in that is a day-to-day fight. A person doesn’t succumb to suicide because of weakness, they do it because they feel alone and lose the will to fight. I’m a private person and struggle to share my personal battles. But I want people to know there are plenty of people fighting this illness. You are not alone.
Another session write-up post to keep the writing going. This is from the Dungeons & Dragons 5e “Hoard of the Dragon Queen” adventure:
From the Journal of Thenric Blackthorne
Rescuing the caravan’s goods, we hire the kobolds to clear the road of traps and accompany the wagons to the town of Greenest. As we draw closer to town, plumes of dark smoke billow in the sky overhead. Something is amiss.
A Town in Trouble
As we cross the last rise to Greenest, we see the instigator of the smoke; a large blue drake flies above the town, breathing streaks of lightning down on the buildings below. Accompanying this fearsome beast is a large band of kobolds and human cultists, obviously the force we heard about from the captive kobolds in the Overwatch tower.
We know we are no match for a dragon of that size. An argument ensues among the party of the best course of action. Chazz wants no part of the destructive blue dragon, it is certain death for us all; I empathize with his position. Every time I hear the beast hiss lightning down on Greenest the blood drains from my face. But we are all creatures of action and we cannot just sit idly by while our enemies slaughter the good people of Greenest. We realize we can’t defeat a dragon but we have already proven we can dispatch his land-bound allies with ruthless abandon; so into the town we go.
Heading in from the East road, our two armored comrades Magnus and Chazz taking point. Barton and I bring up the rear, covering their advance with our bows and guarding against flanking attacks from the buildings on the side of the road. Advancing to the first intersection in town, we witness a family bursting forth from around a nearby corner shop. A woman and a wounded old man push 3 small children before them. Pursuing them with murderous glee is a group of cultists and kobolds.
Chazz and Magnus quickly close with the enemy, stepping up to protect the family’s flight. Barton and I stand behind and to the sides of our comrades, guarding their flanks and cooling the kobolds’ killing ardor with some well-placed arrows. As a group, we attack with a precision that belies our brief time together, mowing through all of our opponents and saving the family from death.
Fight at the Church
The town is falling into chaos. Looking south, Magnus sees Pebbles pop his head out of the safety of the church walls, beckoning for our help. Thinking the church a good location to protect the common folk now in our charge, we hasten to the church grounds. The church serves as a haven for townfolk unable to reach the safety of the small keep in the middle of town. Surrounded by cultists and kobolds trying to force their way inside, Pebbles and his charges desperately hold the doors against their onslaught. Realizing the perilous situation at the church entrance, our little band moves into action, catching the attacker by surprise. Again Barton and I hold back and provide covering fire while Magnus and Chazz blunt the counterattack with their shields and hand weapons. The kobolds attack in numbers, gaining advantage and succeed in grievously wounding Magnus before we can stem the tide and defeat them. Chazz revives the dwarven cleric, but we have all suffered wounds in the defense of the townspeople.
In our current state, Pebbles feels the church building’s protection isn’t sufficient for all of us to survive. Seeing the town‘s keep on the other side of a long field, we group the people into a single mass and charge them across the open field to its protection. Our goal was to keep them away from the kobolds and cultists in the building and streets of Greenest, but our plan ran afoul with the blue dragon that landed 20 yards in front of us, blocking our path to the keep.
Fear the Dragon!
I’m ashamed to say my personal bravery drained at the sight of this huge drake so close, and I fled in terror with many of the town people, but Chazz and Barton stood their ground. For reasons unknown to me, the dragon seemed more interested in recovering the long-sword we liberated at the Overwatch tower than destroying us all with a single breath. Distracted by the sword, the beast was caught unaware by a large iron bolt launched from a ballista at the top of the keep’s tower. Piercing the scales in his back, the drake cried in pain and anger, lumbering back to the protection of the sky.
This gave us a brief respite to find a small sortie tunnel to the keep that Pebbles knew. Gathering the frightened town’s folk, we pushed them into the small dank tunnel, hoping the passage would not end up being our burial mound. Although attacked in the narrow passageway by a swarm of rats, we reached the safety of the keep, bleeding, beaten but unbowed.
I haven’t been posting a lot on this blog lately, but truth-be-told, I HAVE been writing. Lately I have been engrossed in some Role-Playing-Games (RPGs) like D&D 5e, Pathfinder, and the new Pathfinder Play-test. So to combine what I AM writing and blogging about it, I thought I would combine my gaming focus AND writing experience by providing my character backstory and session notes for a D&D 5e scenario “Hoard of the Dragon Queen”. This published adventure takes place in the Forgotten Realms world of Faerun.
From the Diary of Thenric Blackthorne
Too many jobs over the years have delayed my journey, but the stars aligned in the spring and I finally left Baldur’s Gate. I left in the company of Joe, a member of the Kin, knowing in the wilds there is safety in numbers. I quickly surmised Joe was not the best choice of a traveling companion. He was far too interested in stealing than traveling, roping me in several jobs along the way. What the hell, I needed the money anyway.
We arrived in the sleepy town of Greenest. Joe continued to look for jobs, but I just wanted to lie low for a while. The Lord’s Alliance were out in force, as big a bane here as Baldur’s Gate, and I did not wish to cross paths with them, in fear they would keep me from my purpose. Joe was foolhardy and got himself pinched; I ducked into a doorway to escape detection. This little happenstance led me the door of Brandhoft & Sons, a trading company who had just lost a caravan. The elder Brandhoft was named Gillam, and he had two sons with him, Stefanos and Clark. There were three adventurers hired to look for the missing caravan. After listening to an arrogant Elven Ranger named Llewellyn Featherstep describe the attack on the caravan but not intervening because he was “too busy”, it was all I could do to keep from stabbing him and leaving in disgust. A ranger who doesn’t offer assistance at a time like that runs contrary to everything my father taught me about rangers.. Nonetheless, I had nothing else going on, could use the coin to continue my journey and was a good way to lie low from the Lord’s Alliance in Greenest. I was also happy to see sword-slingers in the group, protection is great to have, so I threw in on this job. Besides, at least I would be out of Greenest for a while.
Looking at my fellow party members. looks like a good group. There is a human ranger named Barton. He reminds me quite a bit of Father. A mercenary, his skill with the bow exceeds my own. It is a rare thing to find an archer better than I, but I have been stuck in a city for 7 years. A fellow mercenary in his company is a huge half-orc warrior named Chazz. He strikes me as more brawn than bright, but I think it may be a mistake to consider him stupid. My gut tells me he is smart enough, merely inexperienced outside the regimented world of the military. Last is Magnus, a Dwarven priest to Moradin. With a war hammer in his hand, I view him more hitter than healer. Impersonating a priest has gotten me almost as many doors as my thieves’ tools, so having a real one around can only help. All-in-all, this might be a good group to further my Journey.
Just before we left Greenest, Gillam and Stephanos Brandhoft approached us at the inn. Seems they had a little “side hustle” going that Dad didn’t know about, and there were 3 treasure chests hidden in the caravan. They offered us 300 gp for the return of the chests without Father Brandhoft finding out. After an indigestible meal we headed out of the village under cover of dark. Stopping about midnight, we camped for the night. Although the noises of the night were all around us, no creatures ventured near us and our weapons. The next day however, we were not that lucky. Soon after we decamped, we were bushwhacked by 6 bloodhawks. I was wounded by one of these creatures, but fell back and dropped him with an arrow to his neck. Once the surprise was over, the rest of the group made short work of the marauders, although most of us suffered wounds of our own.
Continuing on, we found the site of the caravan capture. No bodies or debris remained, but we could see the trails of the carts and kobolds leading into the woods. As all knew of the cunning of kobolds, we sidestepped the trail (and any snares or traps) and took another path to the tower mentioned by Llewellyn Featherstep. The only drawback of this plan was an attack by 5 flying snakes. They inflicted serious damage to Chazz and bloodied most of the rest of the party. But we finally killed the little bastards and continued our trek to the Overwatch Tower.
The tower was not in great repair nor well guarded. We dropped the sentries and moved in. Chazz and Magnus stormed the tower door while Barton and I provided cover and support, ever alert for other guards. The morale of the kobolds was lacking, as we easily gained entrance to the tower. Moving higher, we next encountered some cowardly kobolds, obviously impressed into service. Barton could speak the kobold language and learned the name of the kobolds’ leader is Delfarion. There were 5 lieutenants, one of which was a dwarf named Drungor Ironhide. Moving higher, we made it to the top of the tower where we were attacked by 4 Urds sitting on top of a rookery. They dropped rocks on us, so Chazz scaled to the top of the rookery and pushed the creatures away from their supply of rocks. Unable to use their favored attack, they fell victim to our arrows and steel.
We noticed a rope leading off the top of the tower to the ground below. Barton eyed Drongor Ironside running away with a box of treasure. Taking calm aim, he dispatched the dwarf with a well place arrow to the head. With the kobolds cowed, we were able to load up the stolen caravan carts. The half-orc paid the kobolds to clear the trail of any traps. In addition, the kobolds told us of a large force of 60 kobolds and 30 humans that took most of the treasure of the caravan to a nearby swamp. This force seemed excessive, seeming more like a small army than a band of brigands. This concerns me. Is Greenest in danger? Are they trying to close the trade road? I imagine we will find out soon enough.
I’m always amazed by the positive power of the morning. As the sun climbs over the horizon and the first rays of light touch the world around me, it whispers the promise of our greatest blessing; a new day, a fresh start that Nature gives us every 24 hours.