Out of the Abyss

Sojourners Awake!

presents the first three sessions with a Dungeons and Dragons group. I drafted together a simple narrative based on the actual play during the game. Sharing stories and collaborative creativity is like making music together and no experience is necessary! We all improve the more we play. Enjoy!

An Underdark Adventure

Elient 21, 1453, autumn

In the mighty city of Neverwinter, also known as Tethyrna, we meet our sojourners. Roanoke, an air genasi woman, spent her downtime living in the graveyard, working there in the day and camping out at night. She met Krag, an orchish man, descended from the line of Tresendor, mighty giants of old, who was the groundskeeper and servant of Kelemvor. Roanoke uncovers a mysterious plot invoking “sacrifice, feeding someone and prisoners” between a hooded female character and a wizard skulking in the graveyard.  Krag lectures her on the ways of the gods (he is very knowledgeable about the business of the religious establishments – he even has a pristine collection of books that he keeps in his home) and how they manage their domains with followers. She acquired a flask of fungal mead, a book on Tymora, goddess of luck, and learned how to dig a fashionable grave. She hears whispers and people moving around the graveyard at night but has not encountered anyone.  A foul odor lurks from the entrance to the forbidden catacombs. 

Another one of our members is Rico Redbeard, a strong dwarf. He and his band of dwarves, Graeco, Machaela and Fezzu, met to discuss the future of dwarven business in Tethyrna. After deciding to spend their profits going into the brewery business, they successfully set up Ricos Red Ale Tavern, possibly upsetting the economy in the city. Rico was also able to establish sale of his brew in the Howling Wolf owned by Grimm Holt the gnomish proprietor. Finally the group were introduced to Bardock, who showed off his painting, musical and jack of all trades proficiency and became a welcome member of their group.

Rico and Roanoke meet periodically to swap news and gather information about potential job opportunities.  Many times the meetings are in a public area where it looks inconspicuous and no-threatening to any of the locals of the area. Rico has taken up a stall at the local market place and barters his beer to anyone who will stop by.  This is his opportunity to hear local news and also become a local presence in the community.  He hears all the gossip and shares when they meet. Roanoke has spent most of her time in and around the graveyard.  Something is amiss and she is drawn to the people who frequent this place of solitude and death.  Many times in their grief they will share information that would not have been brought to her ears.  She is fascinated with Krag and his weird ways but trusts nothing.  She doesn’t trust easily and will hold back information even from Rico if the mood suits her.  She doesn’t eat or drink any items that she has not gathered or prepared herself. Paranoia has set in but she hides it well. The party in a little bit of gossiping and carrying on about the town discovered that many gangs had risen up such as the Yearscats, the red brands, Zhentarim and various Cults rising boldly in this wild Northern Territory. The party encounters Krag at the tavern and Roanoke introduces him to the party.  Krag asks Roanoke to not come into work because of some goings on that he is concerned about with the catacombes. Roanoke asks Krag about these suspicious things and he warns her away from the Catacombs – but asks if she knows of a group who might be willing to investigate (only).  Roanoke says she will ask around. Krag outlines the specifics for  investigating the catacombs (forbidden because of danger to the community.)  He warned to be careful but to find out if anyone was meeting down there. 

Marpenoth 1, 1453, autumn.

Rico establishes his Rico Red Ale Brewery and Tavern, leaving Graeco, his cousin, in charge of the establishment. 

Marpenoth 2, 1453

The sojourners entered catacombs at night, Rico was possessed by a ghost seeking vengeance on an aberrant monstrosity deep in the ground. The ghost led Rico below and the party followed at a distance. The team discovered a collection of undead plant life assembling corpses together, guarded by undead warden supposedly reporting to someone outside through a gem necklace. After bravely destroying the carnivorous plant, the team met Thumbletop. Unable to escape the room, Rico, in his rage, kicked open a secret entrance to the catacombs which lead into a series of tunnels beneath the ground, leading them deep into the Underdark. Krag is very fearful, but remorseful over the loss of his reputation as a safe guards keeper. If encouraged he will take up the mission to safeguard the team. Thumbletop is wary of entering the Kobold Camp as he knows gnomes are the favorite enemy of Kobolds. . He retains the necklace and will do his best to get it returned to the plane of air for his friend Zahida. After the sojourners leave, a drow searches for her missing scrying necklace given to the wight. She explores the catacombs but fails to see the hollowed out stone where the sojourners descended.

and so our story continues.

Homeschool like a Dungeon Master, Share a Story and Find your Values

Back in the 80s, my family homeschooled. I remember the days of workbooks, reading assignments, playing outside and household chores. Right now, we have experienced the COVID – 19 pandemic of 2020 and overnight, public education closed for the year. This landed most everyone staying at home with their children while performing online calls with teachers and classmates. My family of 5 was already homeschooling during this time so not too much for us changed. Although I remember that homeschooling usually involves playdates, field trips, and trips to the library, during this crisis, we aren’t truly homeschooling. That being said, I do think that this time can provide some much needed reflection on how to identify our values. As I mix together tabletop roleplaying games and homeschooling, think about your own values that you have had time to realize.

When I thought a little more about our situation, I realized that homeschooling is so much more than completing your textbook at home as if it was a sick day or if you were snowed in and the country shut down. During this time, we played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, having no real place to go and recreate anymore. Quite a few people joined me with online calls as well and we had a great time. So I thought of some ways that home schooling was a lot like playing Dungeons and Dragons.

First, I decided to identify my values with homeschooling. As of now, we live in the information age. Find an opinion on a topic, and I’ll find a counter opinion. Find a truth and I’ll expose it as a lie. Find a fact and if we dig deep enough, science is just science and nature is just nature. Even reading through history, I’ve discovered that there are many takes on what happened in the past based on perspectives and sometimes, editing or omission of information.

Dungeons and Dragons can be a lot like that. When the story teller describes a scene of welcomed oasis in the middle of a scorching desert, they’re not going to give you every detail of information. Nor will each player experience the scene in the same exact way. When I’m done with my description, I ask each player to then ask me a question about the scene. This tells me #1 what I failed to inform and #2 what the players pay attention to in settings.

  • Do I see any animals?
  • How deep is the oasis?
  • What time of day?
  • Does anyone look thirsty?

These example questions prompt me to continue on with the description before assuming I know what they want to hear. It’s not that there are no caves nearby, but only that none of the players really care if caves exist. Theoretically, if a cave existed in that scene, no one remembers or their brains just simply blocked out the info so they could see what gave them interest.

Now tie this back into homeschooling. We see what gives us interest. And these lenses help inform our view of the world. The practice I’ve implemented is asking the children more questions. What do you see? What do you notice? What would you like to know more about? What questions do you have about your reading?

The next point is that on the opposite end of the table, the reason Dungeons and Dragons works as a collaborative story telling game is because every player and the story teller agree to share the same reality.

When the story teller describes a rickety rope bridge over a river of snapping crocodiles, the players then share that reality by testing the bridge, attempting to fly over using magic, befriending the crocodiles by feeding them a prisoner. You get the idea. If the players disregard the narrative by announcing they walk along the bridge with no consequence then the information given by the story teller is invalid. Now, some story tellers will then describe the consequences to the players careless actions, but even then, the players have to continue to agree that what the story teller describes is the same story they play in their minds.

Along with sharing the narrative, players agree to enhance the narrative by adding dialogue, describing responses to the sway of the bridge, tossing a rock down to the crocodiles to see how hungry they might be. This not only agrees with the narrative collectively, but builds a world that can further expand into another story. Like roots from a seed, they expand out and down to create a system of thought with a story.

Homeschooling requires agreed upon values. Teaching your kids at home is not just about handing them information to memorize, although most of study can be about memorization, kids love trivia! Teaching values using rhythms of life, routines and honoring choices with consequences impart the worldview that one is to adopt. How we spend our resources defines our values and homeschooling can really drive a person to identify the treasure they protect, the values of their life. Once they agree upon those values, then watching a child enhance them is one of the most innocent and beautiful events in creation. Their radical adherence and promotion give radiance to the value, arguably increasing its worth. Stop and take a minute to think about what you have found important during this time of repose.

Values are the last of ourselves to remain in the flames of trial.

Dungeons and Dragons. Homeschooling. I’m sure that like myself, you have little teachers in your life that show you the path. Gardening. Photography. I hope that when the rats begin to crawl back into their wheels, that when the bright lights and hum of activity increase back to “normal”, that you have made friends with your values. Shelter them. Grow them. And teach your kids to love them as well.

Consumer? Or Creator?

I’ve been reading this book entitled The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. She gives really insightful exercises on increases your creative energy. She surmises that’s every one of us is an artist. Although not a traditional artist with paint or music, you might have another kind of art. Either way, we all have creative potential energy.

maybe you don’t consider yourself a painter then again, maybe you have talent for oils and watercolors. But think of these activities as art for releasing creative forces in the world.

Gardening. Dog grooming. Journaling. Interior design. Event planning. Auto mechanics. Carpentry. Real estate sales. Home care bathing for disabled. Nursing administration. Cleaning your kids room. BBQing. Preaching. Surfing. Playing the guitar. Playing the drum. Defending a criminal case. Starting a campfire. Organizing your desk. Writing a blog. Making dinner. Playing softball. Dungeons and Dragons.

Dungeons and Dragons. A storytelling tool designed to spark imagination in anyone’s mind. I have gotten in the habit of saying, you’ll never play the same game twice so long as others play with you. That’s because when we sit around the table and collectively agree on a shared imagination, we fashion together stories we can agree upon. The outcome, as well, is shared whether a glorious victory or soul crushing defeat.

I love quotes about understanding, listening and paying attention.

what we can learn from playing Dungeons and Dragons is how to commit to understanding one another perspective. The game goes so well and people enjoy each other’s company when they agree upon a shared reality. This skill is priceless. And many times we learn it too late or when there’s too much skin in the game. Play D&D. Learn to communicate your thought and feelings. Practice shifting perspective and realize the skills of this fun pastime spill over into your life as you level up.

The rising tide raises all ships in the harbor.

Dungeons and Dragons – Online!

Never has there been a better time to try new things! I keep looking for “100 things to do when bored,” and it’s not that I’m bored, but certainly I have a lot more time on my hands lately.

Honestly, I believe it’s better that we have slowed down. I hope that after the quarantine passes, that we can remember to take more walks, play more bored games and spend more time with family. Also, I hope that companies realize it’s WAY more profitable to allow employees to work from home.

In the meantime, I play dungeons and dragons! It’s a way to tell stories as much as it is a game, but it doesn’t involve screens or video. Traditionally, we gather around a coffee table with pencils and papers ready, and a sweet set of dice to roll when describing our exploits.

Lately, though, I’ve resorted to setting up zoom sessions for my D&D parties and much to my enjoyment, it has worked and benefits reaching out to long lost friends to play some much needed entertainment.

So, if you’re interested, email me at jonathan.hardin.82@gmail.com I set up games for kids, adults, families and you’re sure to have a good time for those 2 hours. Pay what you can, especially if you’ve been hit hard financially during this time. Even paying the price of a coffee to my Venmo or PayPal account helps! Since I’ve been a stay at home, homeschooling and homemaking dad, I’ve tried to come up with creative ways to bring in money so we can continue to educate our children, giving them memorable experiences.

Dungeons and Dragons is a great way to spend time together, whether morning, afternoon or evening, Mondays or Weekends and anytime in between. So, if you’re ready to create entertainment and memorable experiences, grab your pencil and paper, a nice set of dice and let’s play!

Three ways playing Dungeons and Dragons improves family dynamics

Do you have a family game night? I have heard of families getting together on a Sunday afternoon after a meal and playing cards, board games or video games. It’s hard to find something that everyone enjoys. Sometimes families simply put money towards dinner and a movie. All those are popular and fun, but think about this.

When you watch a movie or play a board game, you are being entertained. This is a form of passive entertainment. You take in the fun and that’s all well and good!

But what if you shared the creation of that entertainment with your friends and family?

Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative role playing game. Three ways to collaborate means we engage, entertain and entrust.

Engage

When we sit around the dining room table, the coffee table or outside on the patio, we face one another and engage. Armed with a pencil, paper and imagination, you are part of the storytelling process in the game. The Dungeon Master, who operates as the storyteller, referee and other characters in the game, sets the fictional stage where each of the players around the table build upon the ideas infusing their own created characters as heroes of the tale. Each game lasts from 2-4 hours with breaks and with about 3-6 players, the most interesting and exciting adventures can unfold!

Entertain

Telling stories requires your imagination, along with collectively sharing that imagination with others. This means you entertain! You may not consider yourself a comedian, but each of us have some form of creative energy whether humor, descriptions of brave deeds, revealing hidden backstories or simply sharing in the laughter. As opposed to simply watching a movie, you make the movie. Using tried and true techniques of improve such as the “yes, and” method, you actively listen to what’s going on, engage your part of the story and entertain your fellow travelers. This level of creativity rewards your brain with the feeling of success.

Entrust

Most people have a fear of public speaking. Role playing games can be daunting at first because so many questions arise in our minds.

  • Do I have to talk with an accent?
  • What if l say the wrong thing?
  • How will I know if it’s my turn to speak?

The truth is role playing comes more natural than you think. No one around the table is trying to impress or outdo anyone, and there’s no pressure to give a stellar performance. Much like anything, practice makes your art better. The Dungeon Master should be like a guide helping your stretch your acting skills and build creativity. Remember, if you’re having fun, you’re doing it right. There’s no real “right” way to be creative. Think of it as a pool party. If you just show up, you may be nervous about getting in, but once you see others enjoying themselves, you’ll be tempted, even if to dip in your feet, to join the party.

This leads to a surprising level of trust between you, the Dungeon Master and your fellow players. We build bonds over time by telling stories around the campfire. For as long as our civilization has existed, we have told stories in one way or another. Some stories were factual, some were exaggerated for effect, some written and some transformed into memorable songs. Either way, at it’s heart, Dungeons and Dragons is primarily a way to tell stories. You become a better story teller. You become a story maker. This builds trust between those you care about the most, because you begin to ask yourself, “what stories am I telling now?” And believe it or not, this greater level of awareness happens all while you are having fun!

So, consider this your new recreation! Dungeons and Dragons can become a great family pastime and what a wonderful way to express yourself creatively. With no instrument to learn, or serious rules to memorize, you can just jump in and explore the world of role playing games.

Photos used with permission by Wizards of the Coast

Interested in playing Dungeons and Dragons?

Sojourners Awake!
New player guide for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons
Whether you are completely new to adventuring in a fantasy world, or a seasoned traveler looking to spark again the love of role playing games, Sojourners Awake provides exciting adventures.

My mission is to bring family and friends around a table, to grow in health as we share with each other amazing stories, and to teach folks of all ages of this wonderful game known as Dungeons and Dragons. 

See below the link for the New Player Welcome Sheet

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Rn1-dDW_0en_xYNoozSBPXdiVhn7sp8Qovp2TlKPNiY/edit?usp=sharing

And so our story begins
Jonathan Hardin
04/30/2020

Fumbling with keys in the parking lot

Photo by Abdel Rahman Abu Baker on Pexels.com

The restaurant had been in full swing for almost half a year. The family friendly environment and cuisine sophistication had ushered in a variety of parties. Families of six, two high chairs and plenty of spills kept the staff busy. Couples, whether on their first night out or seasoned lovers stopped by for a relaxing and romantic evening. The menu even suggested that just about anyone from the broke college student scarfing down the chicken fried steak lunch special to the classy businessman dining on the 12 ounce Rib-eye, kept company by only his evening alcohol and paperwork. The manager, knowing lunches might slow down during the week implemented a senior’s special lunch menu. Catering to the elderly proved to be profitable as a well-known clientele visited on a regular basis. Now a couple of blue haired ladies walked in through the door, greeted by the young hostess. She couldn’t have been more than 18, but she displayed confidence in her job and had the couple seated down in their preferred booth by the window.

Once seated, the aged gentleman got up from his seat and hobbled over to the bathroom. He smiled as he past the hostess and waved hello. As he rounded the corner, a waiter, buzzing with haste, nearly crashed into the light-framed great-grandfather of seven.

“Oh, excuse me,” blushed the man. “I’m in your way.” He really wasn’t in the spiky haired kid’s way, but moving one foot in front of the other in such a precarious way caused him to linger in one spot for a substantial amount of time. The kid grunted and rocketed past him.

“Dammit, move your slow ass!” mumbled the kid way out of earshot of the gentlemen, now tugging at the restroom door. The kid knew how to complain about his customers and still make decent tips. He just talked about them behind their backs and smiled at the tables. Various ages all walked through the door, but the elderly couple, now in their 80’s, were the only ones who asked if the restaurant could turn the air conditioner down.

“You want it colder?” barked the kid. Well, it was more like a yap, however still resembled the tone you use when you’re in a hurry and not in the mood to deal with this kind of treatment.

“Old people!” He began to mock the strained voice of the lady, “ Could you turn down the air please!’ I’ll turn down the air; I’ll turn off her oxygen. Damn, I hate old people!” Snarling, he prepared the ice water with “extra lemons please” and grabbed a handful of lemons, placing them in a bowl, he stormed off back to the table—smiling, he knew how to make tips. No sooner that he tossed down the drinks, the gentleman arrived back at the table, asking if he could order a hot soup for the two of them. It took the old man about a minute and a half to get the words out. It was long enough for the kid to nod his head over dramatically as if to say…

“I get it, you want one of our two choices of soup.” he began to walk away.

…and could you bring us some napkins, please, said the man behind wrinkling eyes and a smile revealing his missing teeth. As the kid stormed off, the couple began to stare across from each other. It had been 67 years since they met, right here in this restaurant. Before it was Big Louie’s, it was The Mexican Garden and she worked weekends as a waitress. He came out with his buddies after a day at the fair and they all sat in her section. He memorized her shift, but convinced himself that he wasn’t stalking her, he just wanted to meet her in an “evasive way. You know, girls are weirded-out by guys who confront them on the spot. You gotta be smooth and act like it was fate that brought you together.” His words were interrupted by howls of laughter. “Fate, sure!” his buddies roared, “You like her man, fate or no, you can’t keep your eyes away from her.” He smiled, showing all white teeth intact and present and leaned against the table, taking it all in. This table wobbled from time to time, the restaurant wasn’t one of the classiest, mostly just served good food to the community; they were famous for their fajita plates, sizzling and tempting everyone with the smell from the grill. These characters, however, were cheap. They ordered an appetizer and kept the waitress busy bringing out complimentary chips and salsa. She arrived with a hot bowl of chips and two bowls of thick, chunky salsa. All the guys made a big deal about her coming around to their table, but one just smiled with his arms folded, leaning on the table, seated himself opposite of her, all good. She encouraged him by continuously approaching the table opposite him and laughing at all the jokes until she looked at him and then she just smiled, looked down at the table, and looked up at him to see if his gaze was still fixed on her. Yep, he’s a keeper” she mused.

“Keep .the change, young fellow, you look like you’re working hard.” His hand shook as he handed the brisk young waiter a crisp dollar bill. After an hour and a half of staring at each other, the elderly couple sauntered over to the door, past the register and waved goodbye to the young hostess. She waved back and smiled thinking the lady reminded her of her gone but not forgotten aunt and how she used to make lemonade for the kids after school. Jeremy bolted to the register and woke Sherry up from her day-dreaming.

“Did they leave me anything else up here?” Before she could answer ‘no’, he went on with his tirade, “they sat there for two hours, wasting my time with their damn cups of  “fresh coffee please”, mocking the shrill voice of the lady, “all day long, I have to put up with old people.”

Sherry smiled nervously; seeing Jeremy whine about his customers was funny because he imitated them well. She’ll admit that old people were sometimes a little slow, but she wasn’t upset by them nearly as much as Jeremy was now. Now that she thought about it, Jeremy was always this upset.

            “Why do you hate old peop—um, the elderly?” she asked, correcting herself.

            His answer was brash and preceded with no thought, “Cause they’re slow. They take their time and they need to be in a nursing home.”

            She laughed indignantly, “You don’t deserve them!”

            “Yeah, well, I don’t have to, they leave me a dollar, what the hell am I supposed to do with this, pay my bills?”

            “Well,” she said slowly, “you can give it to me, then.”

            “Hell, no,” he said, and walked away.

 The couple had been outside for a while. The elderly gentleman looked around the parking lot, fumbling his keys in his hands. “I know I parked it here somewhere,” he mumbled quietly. She called from the curb, “Donald, do you think we parked out back?” She hollered loud enough, but his hearing had been gone for a while. She knew he didn’t have to listen anymore; she remained content to listen to him and have him stare and blink at her across the dinner table, but she called out anyway, mostly because she was afraid of the silence. She knew nothing was going on in his head, however, his memory had really gone downhill the last few years. It wasn’t the first time she waited by the curb, cold, tired of standing, looking on as her proud man stood baffled in the parking lot, pretending to fumble with his keys. Donald began to sweat. He had been forgetting more often and it bugged him not to know why, but he would just forget. No occasion, no correlation, just a plain old fashioned memory lapse-he hoped. He had heard plenty about Alzheimer’s, affecting mostly folks over 80, 4.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Warnings flooded his mind as he recalled the T.V. shows he watched in horror as the white-haired men slowly lost their minds and couldn’t even remember their own names, to the dismay of the heartbroken family. He remember hearing the warnings from magazines and talk shows about how to prevent memory loss, although no one is completely immune to losing memory, it just happens. He wiped his bald head with his handkerchief and began to mutter out loud, mixing curses and prayers together, frozen on the parking lot where no one could help him, he’s lost his memory, and his wife is standing on the curb.

“The curb!” He drove around back where the wheelchair ramp allowed for avoiding the curb step. Her walk was getting weaker, but they had managed to spend time on the town, especially here at this restaurant, because they had a nice wheelchair ramp which they could both walk up with ease. He turned around with a boyish grin and hollered, “Margie, I parked the car next to the wheelchair ramp, if that doesn’t beat all, I thought I was losing it there for a second.”

“Oh dear, I’m so silly, I should have thought of that,” she echoed in apology.

“No, it’s my fault” he replied, “for a second there, I forgot that I parked over there, yes, there it is right there,” he breathed those last words out a little slower as his heart rate dropped back down to normal. He didn’t know how he remembered, or how he forgot for that matter, but he made a promise to himself that for Margie’s sake, he would help himself to remember from now on, even if it meant tying strings around his finger looking like a crackpot professor, he wouldn’t forget again.

 As they drove home, she remembered how it was when they were dating. He continually stopped by her parent’s house. He always wanted to take care of her and reminded her of her father, and the way he cared for the family. They had five children together, although one of them died in a miscarriage. They heard plenty of ideas of why the child didn’t make it, but were never given a definite reason. One thing was for sure: she received every bit of emotional support that he could give. He cared for her during that hard time. He was always a sensitive man. His mother was ill most of her life, he grew up learning to care of folks. Maybe that’s why she married him. She looked over at his skinny frame, once built tough and hard: he worked a lot. His eyes were fixed on the road, “just like him”, she thought, “always focused, always keeping his eyes on the road.” She loved his curly black hair. He was mostly bald now except for the the hair around this temples. She had lost her hair too, but it grew back. On her sixty-second birthday, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The treatment had been rough on her body, but she had the support of her children. Most of the help, however, came from her husband. He seemed to thrive in crisis. He told her, “Baby, it’s okay to be emotional all you want, I’ll take care of you.” And he had, and remained her friend. She patted her soft, wool hair as they pulled in the driveway. She had a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. It seems all of their outings nowadays related to their declining health. They both walked up the dusty driveway and onto the front porch where their cat, stretched it’s lithe body along the welcome mat, looking up as if to say, “What took you so long?”