Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 11

Read chapter 10 (“El’lar”) here.

Chapter Summary

There was something about her presence pulling at him, calling him to cross the distance between them. He recalled how she had dominated the conversation with Vizeran — how he had coached her to do that — and his hands ached with a familiar energy: to placate, to please.

Jorlan and Mavash have a conversation in a mushroom grove about homes, youthful foolishness, and things they can’t put behind them.

Chapter End Notes

Drow aren’t supposed to have very keen noses, canonically, but let’s just say it’s Jorlan’s rogue senses. (He does have expertise in Perception).

I spent a long time looking at this map trying to figure out what path Mavash would have taken to get to Neverwinter Wood. (It’s from 2E, but that’s really the only map that had Sossal on it — it’s kind of been forgotten in subsequent editions). Up in the northeast corner there is Sossal, and I figured she lived inland, somewhere like Dharvil, near the Armridge Mountains.

Anyway, it is a long, long distance to Neverwinter Wood — at least two thousand miles. I figured crossing the Anauroch Desert would be impossible, since there don’t appear to be roads. So she traveled with a caravan across Novularond, to the town of Ostra in Vaasa — whence she sent her “I’m dead” message. From there she went west around the northern shores of the Moonsea, cut south around Zhentil Keep, and spent some time in Cormanthor Forest. From there she went west to Cormyr and then Iriebar, then she headed north and west until she reached the Trade Way around Baldur’s Gate. From there it was a straight shot to Neverwinter.

I still haven’t satisfactorily answered why she decided not to settle in Cormanthor Forest, or why she felt the particular calling to Neverwinter Wood. But it probably was from some goading from her quori, who had a sense of her Destiny ™ as the one who will stop il-Lashtavar.

I also had to decide what age she left home at. It had to be young enough that she still sorta imprinted on her grove in Neverwinter Wood as her “family.” But given the reason I gave her for wanting to leave, she had to be old enough to be married — not to mention, how old is old enough to cross an entire continent on foot?

Also clearly I have a headcanon about the drow and non-monogamy. I see it not unlike the drow view on murder and house warfare — if you can destroy everyone who could accuse you of the crime, it didn’t happen. And yes, I imagine this is a game Jorlan has played before.

I’m still not entirely happy with where this ends, but eh, good enough for now. Maybe inspiration will strike me later.

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 10

Read chapter 10 (“Araj”) here.

Chapter Summary

Vizeran has a plan for getting rid of the demon princes, and it’s a bad one. How is he going to get our heedless do-gooding adventurers to buy into it?

Easy: he’s going to make someone else explain it.

Or: in which Vizeran continues to be insufferable, Mavash gets angry, and Jorlan Explains It All (where “all” = drow politics)

Chapter End Notes

Technically the “Great Wheel” model of the planes is no longer valid by the 1480s DR? OH WELL. It’s much more interesting than the tree model. Apparently it’s not so much that it’s invalid; it’s just that 5E basically says, “eh, it’s all an abstraction for mortal minds, anyway”.

I believe, rules as written, Rystia Zav is a random crazy human NPC you can meet in Mantol-Derith, a Harper spy infiltrating the Zhentarim. Here, obviously, she’s still a Harper spy, but she’s an elf, and she’s more interested in infiltrating Menzoberranzan. Obviously the fact that she’s hanging out in the Tower, or is Grinna’s girlfriend, is entirely our DM’s take on it. (And yet, isn’t this better?) Our DM also got rid of Vizeran’s pet death slaad, because seriously? (Fake drow girlfriend > death slaad).

The drow political situation laid out here is a weird blend of the RAW module, canonical-to-books stuff (like, the re-creation of House Do’Urden) and custom stuff our DM came up with. For example, the figurehead Matron Mother is someone else entirely, not Inshalee. As I said before, I have very little patience for trying to catch up on the Drizzt books, so mostly I have Nixon, what of the RAW module isn’t spoilery, and the FR wiki to go on.

(And if you know the lore better than me, you probably can guess that there’s something — or someone — that Rystia and Jorlan are dancing around here. But we the players didn’t know that at this point in the adventure, so you don’t get to know it, either).

Also once again Jorlan refuses to mention Drizzt. My headcanon is that Jorlan disdains the guy; they are of an age, were probably at Melee-Magthere at the same time, and their families were always in competition for that valued eighth spot on the Council. Plus I think Jorlan bought in more to the chaotic Drow Mindset ™, at least grudgingly. So he probably sees Drizzt as an insufferable twat who thinks there’s no blood on his hands.

Two funny Jorlan moments here that were true to the actual session: 1) Jorlan did in fact go all VOLDEMORT VOLDEMORT VOLDEMORT about the name of Lolth. 2) The comment about the noodle shops was in fact made. (Which is how my “Jorlan likes a dish called Menzoberranzan noodles” headcanon got started).

(We finally did get to Menzoberranzan in the campaign, and LET ME TELL YOU how angry we all were that there was no time to go slumming for noodles. I may need to write a fix-it fic just for this).

(Alsoalso we are only about one or two sessions away from the end of the game. AND THEN WHAT WILL I DO WITH MY LIFE???)

(Continue to write unending authors’ notes, apparently).

D&D Campaign Idea: Wilderness Survival + Player-Driven Plot

(This is a repost/slight reframing of something I posted on Facebook earlier today).

An intriguing campaign idea came to me as I was falling asleep last night… this may be why I’m feeling so tired today.

The PCs are fellow travelers on the road to a “gold rush”-type place across the continent. But their past is on their tail, and their dreams are still unfulfilled.

Also, they may or may not have a map.

It would be wilderness survival with an overarching plot determined by two questions the PCs answer:

What are you running from? What are you running to?

More details:

  • This is somewhat inspired by the research I did for Mavash re: crossing Faerûn on foot. It occurred to me that running or playing an overland adventure — which was focused on the travel, not the destination — would be kind of fun.
  • I think I would probably use Faerûn as the continent being crossed, but only because it’s a familiar environment for a lot of players, and would help in creating personal plot hooks. I am not interested in whether or not it cleaves to Forgotten Realms lore, except as it pertains to the characters. The “gold rush” place would be entirely my own invention, though, though you’d probably be leaving from some place like Baldur’s Gate.
  • What I mean by “wilderness survival” is actually using the mechanics in D&D for things like overland travel, foraging, weather, getting lost, exhaustion, exposure, etc.
  • I am also interested in making a game out of the fiddly resource management stuff that everyone tends to gloss over, i.e. equipping, encumbrance, tracking food rations and arrows, etc. I want it to matter if you have enough rations to get to the next city or a tent to sleep under.
    • I have the idea that as the players level there will be less of this, because those levels should allow them to “get ahead of the game.” Nobody wants to spend levels 1-20 rolling Survival checks every day to see if you get to eat.
  • I am expecting a lot of emergent plot via the characters’ histories and how they react to the challenges they encounter. I am very much trying to combat my tendency to overprep. That said, it would depend on a level of player investment that is more typical of a make-your-own-character larp than a TTRPG.

I think this could be fun, if played right — and if player expectations are set correctly! Then again, I am the sort of person who installs tons of survival mods in otherwise perfectly good video games, so I also admit this may not be everyone’s cuppa.

Is this the sort of game anyone else would be interested in?

Image credit: Denise Jans on Unsplash

I finished playing Out of the Abyss and I feel empty inside

This past weekend, my Out of the Abyss game had its final session. I got what I wanted for my druid — a happily ever after with her drow boyfriend in Neverwinter Wood, with bonus noodles and fancy hats. I also had some awful/amazing tension on the road to that.

Tears were shed. Feels were had. And now I will be writing fanfic about it for… well, a long time.

But in the wake of it… I have an emotional hangover. I feel empty inside, and like I don’t know what to do with myself.

“Feeling pointless” meme of dude staring vacantly into space, with the caption “Me After Finishing Out of the Abyss.”

I need a new D&D game to play, and waiting until DM Nixon is ready to run something again seems unbearable at the moment.

At the same time, trawling /r/lfg looking for games to join is… not super productive. A game is like a relationship, right? And I just got out of an INTENSE one. So I feel like this would be the TTRPG equivalent of looking for hookups on Tinder after an intense breakup.

(But what do I know; I haven’t dated since the late 1990s).

I did start thinking, however, about what I want in my next game. This isn’t something I gave a lot of thought to before I dove headfirst back into the TTRPG pool last year, so I’d like to lay it out now.

Plus, this will be useful in the future in case I do decide to apply to certain games.

What I Want in My Next Relationship Game

  • I’m looking primarily for a campaign, not a one-shot, at this time.
  • I’m currently available Thurs/Fri evenings, and Sat/Sun afternoons Eastern time.
  • I’m mostly interested in D&D 5e — and most of these points are relevant to that — but I’m also interested in trying other games in a fantasy setting.
  • I like roleplay a lot, but I also really like tactical combat. I’d prefer roughly a 65%/35% RP-to-combat ratio. I’m not interested in playing a campaign that’s nothing more than a dungeon crawl.
  • By “tactical combat” I mean where the enemies don’t just stand still and fight to the death — where generally they act like they have two brain cells to rub together, and they have motives other than “kill the PCs.” Also where inventive tactics on the part of the PCs are rewarded.
  • I don’t mind random encounters, if it’s more than just “here’s a random monster I rolled on a table to keep you busy.” I prefer when they’re used to characterize the world, i.e. “here is a type of enemy you might fight later” or “here is a landmark that might be relevant in the next town.”
  • Also, I like a CHALLENGE. If there’s not occasionally a risk of your character dying, how am I supposed to stay invested? I don’t consider one PC going unconscious to be a dangerous fight.
  • I WANT TO FEEL THINGS. I WANT TO SHED TEARS. I firmly believe there are no emotions that someone won’t pay to experience within the safety of narrative. OotA was stand-out for me in that regard, and not just because I developed a romance plot with an NPC.
  • Relatedly, I am cool with character romance so long as all parties involved are consenting in- and out-of-character.
  • I like writing character histories; they range in length from a few bullet points to a few thousand words. I write these mostly for myself — writing is thinking, for me — but I also expect the DM to read them and, if possible, use them as personal plot hooks. If I write about a missing sibling in my backstory, I would very much like to see that come up in game.
  • I want my fellow players to be invested, too. I would hope they’ve come up with a few character bullet points, don’t spend the entire session browsing Facebook, and don’t perpetually show up late.
  • I would really like a semi-serious campaign. I don’t want joke characters, or joke names. I don’t want people to do random zany shit and call it “chaotic neutral.” That said, I’m not a humorless automaton, and I don’t mind the occasional OOC joke or derailment.
  • I am Done for all eternity with murderhobos, chaotic neutral “it’s what my character would do!” assholes, cheeseweasels, metagaming, and on-screen sexual violence.
  • I want to play with adults (18+).
  • An online game is a must. Even aside from COVID, if I have to travel to play, I’d rather play a larp.
    • No preference as to virtual tabletop — though I’m most familiar with roll20.
    • I have a slight preference for no camera, but that’s only because I like not having to put on real clothes 😉
    • A slight preference for Discord for voice chat.
    • Not super interested in text or play-by-post campaigns.
  • My next group will be woke, accepting, and anti-racist or it will be bullshit. If it wouldn’t fly on the Chaotic Good Dungeons & Dragons Memes Facebook group, I’m not interested.

Nice to Haves

  • I have a preference for good-aligned campaigns, because my no-consequences power fantasy is being able to help everybody.
  • As someone who installs a bunch of “immersion” mods in perfectly good video games, I actually enjoy some of the fiddly resource management you can do in D&D (but no one ever does), like tracking resources like rations or arrows, or dealing with encumbrance. I feel like it adds an interesting dimension of challenge to the game other than “give the monsters bigger numbers.”
  • On a scale from “published adventure run RAW” and “complete homebrew,” I prefer somewhere in the middle, i.e. a published adventure modified for the needs of the group. But I am pretty flexible on this.

That’s not asking a lot, right? 😉

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 9

Read chapter 9 (“Dalninil”) here.

Chapter Summary

Mavash’s premonition comes true, but the heroes are prepared. Jorlan is (maybe?) still full of secrets.

Chapter End Notes

Mavash is using ogham for divination, the “language of trees” of neo-pagan druidry. I drew the interpretation of the runes from John Michael Greer’s The Druidry Handbook. Basically I was like, hmm, what would you draw if you wanted to get the message of “prepare Earthbind, dumbass?”

The plant Mavash describes as a stand-in for heather is a little bit of both mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and sheep laurel (K. angustifolia).

(Also I came up with the divination as a way to explain DM Nixon giving us a long rest before fighting the dracolich, and thus the opportunity to plan out our spells).

Also worth noting: in actual play, that fight with the dracolich suuuuuucked for Mavash. I spent most of the fight either a) positioning myself, b) being Frightened, or c) on the ground. I never did succeed at casting Earthbind; it’s a STR check, and unsurprisingly dragons are STRONK.

But that doesn’t make for a very compelling story, does it?

(Jorlan did totally show up to put a potion down Mavash’s throat, though. I blame DM Nixon for the phrase “gentle fingers”)

Pretty sure that in RAW there’s not a dracolich and an illithilich waiting for you at the Tower of Araj. And Grinna is intended to be Grin, male apprentice to Vizeran.

… man, have we really never seen Mavash cast spells before? Anyway, druids being druids, I imagine the verbal and somatic components of their spells are all very individual; there’s no “magic word” that Mavash has to say to cast them, but she does have to say something personally meaningful.

(Also I totally imagine “words against fear” being the Bene Gesserit “fear is the mind killer” thing).

“Dalninil,” from the fan dictionary, means “sister.”

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 8

Read chapter 8 (“Zhaunil”) here.

Chapter Summary

“Show us,” she said, closing her eyes, “how the Lords of the Abyss came to the Underdark.”

In which the heroes learn what they need from the Gravenhollow.

Or: in which Mavash has premonitions, Jorlan is forced to be astonishingly candid, and Vizeran is an arch-bitch about Gromph Baenre.

Chapter End Notes

Quite some time has passed since this session, and my notes were shoddy, so I fabricated more here than I usually do for our sessions. While it didn’t happen precisely like this, I can assure you that Jorlan’s moment of candor is true to the actual session.

Zhaunil is the Drow word for “knowledge.”

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 7

Read chapter 7 (“Khaless”) here.

Chapter Summary

Mavash paused, sorting through feelings she’d never dared put words to before, and resigning herself to them with a sigh. “Jorlan, I think about you… a troubling amount.”

In which Mavash and Jorlan are honest about their feelings for each other, but still our boy is gonna overthink everything.

Chapter End Notes

Jal khaless zhah waela is a Drow proverb meaning “all trust is foolish,” with khaless being the word for “trust.”

I didn’t say much more than that in the original author’s note, so let me just add: this was one of my favorite chapters to write, overall. Really, any chapter where I get to go beyond “what happened in the campaign” and let these two characters talk to each other about their histories and their trauma, and how it informs their views on what is happening in the adventure.

I am narratively in love with these two <3

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 6

Read chapter 6 (“Jhinrae”) here.

Chapter Summary

“I do wonder what you would be like drunk.” Mavash’s smile broadened into a grin.

Jorlan narrowed his eyes in mirth, and said, his voice low, “You’d find me very entertaining when I’m drunk. I become, if possible, even more charismatic.”

Chapter End Notes

Jorlan being the son of Vizeran de Vir is, of course, not from the RAW adventure, although all the stuff about Vizeran being banished is. The stuff about House deVir being destroyed is canonical, as is the re-creation of House Do’Urden.

In case you saw the name of Lux’s sweetie and said, “Wait, wasn’t Neheedra the medusa in the Rockblight of Blingdenstone?” YES SHE WAS. This party does one thing well, and that’s forming attachments to random NPCs we probably should have killed.

Folks, I spent so much time thinking about wine in the chapter. Starting with:why do the drow have a word for wine? and following up with Do mushrooms have enough sugar to ferment by themselves? (no) and Come to think of it, where does one get sugars in the Underdark? (it basically has to come from the surface — photosynthesis, yo).

I decided jhinrae is made with mushrooms augmented with sugar from the surface, and fermented with wild yeast/lactobacillus, in the style of sour-type beers. This beer snob imagines it tasting kind of Revival Brewing Company’s Up Ship’s Kriek, which tastes like alcoholic pickle juice and yet is AMAZINGLY GOOD.

For all that I’m a beer snob, I’ve never been blackout drunk, so please excuse any inaccuracies to the experience of being utterly shit-faced.

I recently put together a Pinterest board called “hot elf bois” (as one does), and came across this art, which is exactly how I picture Jorlan.

In case you are curious how much of my fic comes directly from the session vs. stuff I make up… it’s about 50/50. I have a pretty good memory for the session, especially if I write things down, so I can usually quote DM Nixon fairly accurately. But most of the Jorlan/Mavash one-on-one stuff is made up, because we don’t usually split the party just so I can have heartfelt roleplay with my waifu.

There is another chapter in progress, which is the logical conclusion of “Jorlan and Mavash get drunk” and in which there MAY ACTUALLY BE SNOGGING OMG. Dear reader, there was in fact snogging.

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 5

Read chapter 5 (“Ssinssr’ogglirin”) here.

Chapter Summary

Light take him, Jorlan knew now what was troubling him. This feeling was familiar; it had quickened his hand on the prison door at Velkynvelve.

Sssinssr’ogglirin. Or, more crudely, vith’ogglirin. Sex rivalry.

Jealousy, in Undercommon.

In which we meet a druid who wants to devour Mavash in more than one way, Jorlan once again uses murder to solve his problems, Lux is reunited with their own waifu, and oh yeah there’s an important library or something.

Chapter End Notes

Here’s where I tweeted along with this juicy session full of pent-up jealousy.

Gaze upon Mavash in all her glory. I commissioned Kii Weatherton to do this art, and it made me love Mavash even more.

I have SO MANY notes about my inspirations for this chapter:

  • Of fucking course Jorlan is wary of possums. Have you seen them? They really are beneficial little creatures — they eat so many ticks! — but I still wouldn’t want to meet one in a dark alley.
  • Sladis describes a mushroom similar to genus Cantharellus, i.e. chanterelles. They are easy to identify (due to their bright orange color and false gills) and delicious, which is all I needed for ficcing purposes.
  • The creatures we fought here were core spawn out of the Wildemount book (as is the moorbounder, for that matter), which are technically aberrations, and thus don’t show up on a paladin’s Divine Sense. (Even though they do with Detect Evil and Good? *shrugs*) Creative license!
  • The Drow word for “jealousy” I wove together from two words from my faithful Drow Dictionary: “ssinssrigg,” for “love, lust, greed” (or “vith,” for “sex”), and “ogglirin,” for “rivaling.” The word sssinssrigg comes directly from canon, though the others are fan-created. I suppose I suppose I could have used that word to encompass “jealousy” in its meaning, but it’s already pretty overloaded.
  • I realize this is the first time I’ve switched POVs mid-chapter. I hope it was clear enough. I generally subscribe to the idea that the viewpoint character for a given scene should be the one with the most to lose, and oh hell that is Jorlan for that bit in the middle. Given that half the fics I read on AO3 head-hop mid-scene, confusing me terribly, I don’t think it’s so bad.
  • I totally stole the whole “scrambling the brains of pack animals to make them docile” thing from my other favorite murder elves, the Dunmer of TES, who are known to do as much to their giant sand-flea mounts for much the same purpose. The Dunmer are notably less terrible than the drow, so if they do it, I can only imagine the Ilythiiri do something similar. Seems much less complex than fucking around with House insignia like you see in the Drizzt books.
  • Apropos, I discovered I can borrow the ebook of Homeland from my library, so I am enjoying rereading it and indulging my inner 15-year-old girl. I’m a couple of chapters in, and lawd, I will never apologize for being melodramatic in this fic ever again. Pages of maudlin Jorlan maunderings are still not “Zak going out into the wilderness to deliver a Shakespearean monologue on the hell of Menzoberranzan.”
  • Also interesting to note how the seeds of Out of the Abyss were planted hundreds of years before, with the destruction of House deVir — which happens in the first chapters of Homeland. We’ll find out more about that later on in this fic, when we reach the Tower of Araj, but man that is some good worldbuilding. Unfortunately I felt like a lot of that went to waste in this adventure.
  • Jorlan being Vizeran’s son is definitely not in RAW.
  • WotC, gimme a call, I’d love to write drow for you. I need to ruin some fanboys’ childhood.
  • I guess follow me on Twitter if you want to hear me talk about mushrooms and drow? Or make a comment and I’ll reply with a random fact about this chapter. You do you.

ETA (much later): holy shit I just realized I’ve been spelling “Neheedra” wrong this whole time. I’ve been going by the name on her token in roll20, but let us say, our DM does not excel at spelling.

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 4

Read chapter 4 (“Zha’linth”) here.

Chapter Summary

Her elven colleague had insisted that there were no dreams in the trance state.

Yet despite those assurances, Jorlan dreamt.

Chapter End Notes

I went back and changed a couple of small details in chapter 1 and 3, now that I know a little bit more about our boy’s lineage. (Specifically, the position of House Duskryn in Menzoberranzan, and his relation to the Matron Mother of the house, Prae’anelle).

My campaign is at least three sessions ahead of this now, so even though this wasn’t where I intended to end the chapter, I figured I’d better release it before I forgot everything that happened. No longer relevant! My campaign will be finished as of Saturday, March 18th, 2021.

Zha’linth, by the way, means “memory.” At least according to the fan dictionary!