Starter Kit: (First Entries Of) Serials
Newsworthy: The Story of Three Kind-of Assholes Trying to Survive One Night in a Nice Town (Chapter 1)
Chief Spicy Chips Correspondent Andrew Piotrowski // Issue 29
Author's note: I'm not just like, gassing myself up by calling this "Newsworthy;" that's just what I named the roll20 campaign because I thought it was a fun joke.
So time doesn't exist anymore. We all know this. I wrote a few weeks ago about my attempts at writing a D&D campaign from scratch, but I'm also not confident about how many weeks ago that was, so don't worry too much about it.
A few (?) weeks ago I wrote about my attempts at writing a D&D campaign from scratch. Alas, the group I wrote it for hasn't been able to meet in a while, a fact which I lamented to Matt. If you're not familiar, he's the editor and aggregator of this whole shebang. Or claims to be. If time doesn't exist, I don't think I can be convinced that editing does either.
But anyway, I complained to Matt about this, and some other words were exchanged, some light flirting, a bit of alcohol and bam.
Suddenly we're playing a new D&D campaign. He mentions Alex has been wanting to play, and of course Sam is lurking in a nearby old-timey dumbwaiter so we extend an invitation. And thus, I became a Dungeon Master for a new flock of dumb idiots.
If you don't wanna be spoiled for the award-winning D&D podcast we're eventually going to release, I'd stop reading now.
Since the adventure in question was one I actually wrote for an entirely different group of people, I decided to turn that into the adventuring hook. The former party, conquerors of the Lost Mine of Phandelver, find themselves at the bottom of a cliff. Except they don't find themselves because they are dead at the bottom of said cliff. Although if they're religious, I suppose you might consider that metaphorically finding one's self.
In any case, the old party is dead at the bottom of the cliff, along with their money, collection of magical items, and a beautifully embellished envelope. This is where the party of intrepid reporters came in.
Enter Bill Torpedo: human bard and veritable ball of nerves and mommy issues. This D&Dsona of the lovely Alex Speed found the corpses first but, bowing to his inner muse, sought inspiration from the grisly scene rather than riches.
Enter editor Matt's Karhorn Prius: dwarven paladin made out of pure, smooth, slick wagon oil; the silver-tongued and salacious salesman of the group. As he approached the bodies with the eye of someone who truly knows the value of a dollar, Bill Torpedo raised his voice in protest at the desecration of his art fuel.
Enter An: the elderly dragonborn barbarian and brassy, brass woman of few words but several axes. Sam took the reins of this reticent reptile and quickly shoved aside the need for talk and began looting the bodies. And by "need for talk," I mean Karhorn. She shoved Karhorn aside and laid claim to the treasures by reason of Because I'm Thicc and I Said So.
Naturally, after I explained what the various items were, the party went on to discuss who got what for like 20 minutes before remembering the Obvious Quest Item.
The envelope contained a letter directing the party to the coastal settlement of Iblan Tur, along the High Road between Waterdeep and Neverwinter.
Since this was more of a session zero, there wasn't a ton of grist to the story, but the gang fought a trio of very weak bandits on the way to the town and embarrassed them very deeply.
Upon arriving in Iblan Tur, the party was treated very warmly by the townsfolk. This quickly made them suspicious for some reason. They were shown to the central keep of the hilltop settlement, wherein a very pretty half-elf girl escorted them to the writer of the Obvious Quest Item. Unfortunately, she didn't escort them quickly enough to avoid Bill Torpedo (and vicariously through him, Alex) falling desperately in love with her. They later found out her name is Tanis but they didn't particularly care at the time.
The writer of the Obvious Quest Item is an older human man named Sildar Hallwinter, and he was surprised and distressed to see that his callers were not the people he actually assigned the quest to. It didn't help that they were also not especially friendly to him, but maybe that's just DM bias. In any case, he told them that he would still give them some work if they came back to talk with him after an event to be held later that day. He called this event Arbitration but only elaborated to say that it was a way the town resolved conflict.
On the way out, An did not stop to awkwardly flirt with any innocent young women. She instead went in pursuit of raw meat to put in her mouth hole. I only mention this because Bill, with the lukewarm hypemanship of Karhorn, did in fact stop to awkwardly flirt with an innocent young woman. Tanis went into a little more detail about the town and arbitration, including that it was to be led by Sildar and the other two arbiters, a wizard named Berris Feuller and another character only referred to as Lady Dragonsbane.
They didn't really get any more information or affection out of Tanis because of that problem they have where they lack any significant social skills, so they ventured out in search of alcohol. They found it in a dwarven pub in a part of the city called the Iron Ring. The bar, which I haven't named yet (leave me alone) is staffed by a pair of twin dwarven sisters named Bert and Gert, which stand for Bertrude and Gertha. They almost poisoned Bill with a potent alcoholic beverage called "dwarven rock polish" and entertained An with an assortment of smoked meats. Thus the party killed time until Arbitration.
Arbitration itself wasn't nearly as ominous as I make it sound, by the way. The party entered the keep again to find what basically amounted to a town meeting where the Arbiters (the now-familiar Sildar Hallwinter, elven wizard Berris Feuller, and halfling ranger Iana Dragonsbane) went over complaints submitted by townsfolk and the efforts that had taken place to rectify their issues. The party remained mostly polite and quiet, even when Dragonsbane entered with her ballista-sized bow and Feuller pulled back his hood to reveal a face covered in mottled snakeskin.
The Arbitration proceeded smoothly and ended in around an hour, with all parties pleased by the outcomes which, of course, made An incredibly suspicious. However, this suspicion was lightened by Bill doing a Successful Flirt with Tanis against all odds.
Session Zero ended with Sildar Hallwinter enlisting the party to assist with an undead nuisance in the nearby Mere of Dead Men.
That's the end of the recap. I'll probably write another summary next time we play, but I want to conclude with how wonderful it feels to be doing something with this cast of clowns again. To my dears Matt, Sam, and Alex: I missed you guys and your dumb cute faces. I think this is gonna be a fun game.
The Potty Monster Cometh: Part I
Ascendant-level contributor Matt Spradling // Issue 7
I work at a coffee shop. It's fine.
This coffee shop happens to be in a big complex with mainly an HEB and also lots of other bougies facilities that have to do with nails and backs and some less bougies facilities that have to do with $7 cheese fries and $10.50 Freebirds but I'm not naming names.
This complex comes with security guards. I'm not at all clear if they belong to HEB specifically or the complex in general. Either way, such nuances don't stop one of these heroes from frequenting my happy little corner of Hancock.
I usually work closing shifts. That means working past dark. Dark is spooky when you're inside and it's outside. Sometimes nights are hard because people are expired juice vomit incarnate. Sometimes nights are hard because a young homeless woman comes in and pretends to talk on the phone for two hours. Sometimes nights are hard because the milk of 40 cows and 200 almonds is not enough to sate the public's lust for hot cocoas and you must make an emergency pilgrimage to the HEB across the way and possibly also Twin Liquors. But sometimes nights are chill. Real chill. Too chill.
Sometimes when it's a chill night, you'll be doing your chill business at a chill pace, and, lulled into a false sense of security and life-satisfaction, may glance out upon the parking lot like you do absentmindedly several, even many, times a day. But sometimes, especially when you least expect it, there will be a golf cart instead of a car. This is surprisingly unsettling in the moment. Or maybe this is only unsettling because of what I know.
For a while - and by a while, I mean Summer 2016 to December 2018 - one aforementioned heroic security guard tended to frequent our caf'e'e'. He did this exclusively at night, and he did this exclusively to use the bathroom. He used said bathroom for a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of unknown. And when I say used, I mean it.
Fade out. Sometimes I'll see this man chilling in his golf-cart when I take out the trash in the day time. He tends to just bury his head in his phone, watching god-knows what, but it's turned horizontal, which means he's committed. He doesn't acknowledge me.
Hard cut. The lights inside are warm and dim, safe yet fragile. If this reads like I've been drinking, it's because I have, and that's because I'm afraid.
And now I sit watching the Windows clock bottom-right go around second-by-second for a minute and a half while listening to and comparing it to the ticking of an actual clock in my kitchen because I can't actually fathom how the two could sync up perfectly and I'm terrified of what would happen if I found that they didn't. Point being, I guess, that's how he - it - makes me feel.
To be clear, I don't at all mind when people come in purely to use our bathroom and then leave. I don't have a personal stake in this business, and I'm not convinced that such borrowings have an adverse effect on said enterprise. Even if they did, I like to provide a public service. The asterisk to that whole sentiment, though, is that the borrower be respectful, which is to say, not fucking ruin the bathroom for 45-90 minutes, leaving the very tile and ceramic gasping on its proverbial knees in need of a rest as though it had just run a marathon and might very well crumble under your weight if made to work again too soon.
I guess it could be worse. I've attended to public restrooms for nigh on a decade now and I've certainly seen far worse things. The smell though -
I don't think we think about smell enough. It's the sense that is most often left out of fiction, both written and filmed. Novels sometimes describe smell, but only when it is especially abnormal. Movies almost never discuss smell. There was that one time at Disneyworld when they had short films with smells and smoke and moving chairs and stuff but that never made it past the Florida border for good reason. Point being, you don't think about smell until you smell a smell that smells particularly smelly, and then it's far too late. This is what this denizen of the night forces me to contemplate roughly three times a week, and the 46th time isn't any easier than the 1st.
The lights calm. The noise of the cafe pleasant, subdued. A woman orders a drip coffee with room and pays with exact change. A ding at the door. I bend and pour from the carafe. Not too hot to handle, not too cold to drink. I rise.
Crash-zoom on the front windows. For the most part, the glass merely reflects what is inside - yellow lights, passing customers, my blank face. Blended with these as though through a dimensional collision is the half light of the parking light outside falling faintly, fearfully, across a shape, a vehicle, squat and square, slightly but aggressively crooked within the handicap spot. These are the moments that change entire nights if you're lucky, and can set the tone for entire weeks if you're not careful.
We grew used to this eventually, or as used to it as possible. Not completely acceptable and yet understandable, inevitable, like herds of antelope with the reality of lions ever present at the back of their minds, or poor villagers who know they may be visited by the Sheriff of Nottingham on any day, though this story has no merry outlaws for us to eulogize around the fire on cold nights. We the brave Scotsmen flapping our kilts about, they the cold-hearted English governors invoking Prima Nocta on our freshly purified facilities. The list goes on. Some days there is nothing but the list.
Then on Wednesday I realized something. It hadn't been a perfect week by any means, but there was a burden missing from our shoulders, the air felt less foul, the customers less perturbing. When was the last time the Potty Monster had been sighted? I couldn't remember. At least since before my leave of absence in December. I asked my friend. He didn't know either, he answered, surprised, cautiously optimistic. I checked with the group chat of coworkers on our scheduling app. No response - ominous, but understandable.
I realized I'd already spoken his name three times, and there wasn't enough knockable wood in the city of Austin to mitigate such recklessness. Can lapses of judgement in the throes of victory be forgiven? Is it inevitable that indiscretions abound when pressure is lifted at long last?
That night I slept well, but my naive reverie was fated to last nary 24 hours. I received a text while cooking dinner. All I could tell from the preview was that it contained a dark photograph.
To be continued? I fear so.
Night of the Undead Siri: Part I
Chief Gasps Correspondent Matt Spradling // Issue 33
Once upon a time there was a boy named Mart Spralndig. He always updated to the newest available iOS because he was a good boy and just wanted his phone to work.
One day in September, one such new iOS version became available so he downloaded it. As per usual, most of the changes were nonsense, but at least everything was up to speed, and the ability to add custom photos to group chats was kind of fun, he supposed.
Then he double-clicked to switch between apps, and something curious appeared: a pop-up suggestion for podcasts. He had never received such a pop-up suggestion and immediately hated it. "It must be a new feature I should go turn off, because I'm still trying to get over the inescapable and unholy nightmare that is the new app library," Mart said, and his cat hit him.
Unable to find settings for anything called "invasive pop-ups on the phone you paid for and own," he eventually found "Siri & Search" settings. "Ah, turning off Suggestions on Home Screen (and everywhere for that matter) ought to do the trick," said Mart. He even went through every individual app listed on the page and manually turned off suggestions for each one, which took a long time.
He'd always turned Siri off in every possible capacity because he found that entire feature to be useless and annoying except for a brief stint in 9th grade when he found joy in trying to get it to say dirty words. He'd never before encountered resistance. Why should this be any different?
As he expected, this took care of the vexing but now vanquished invasive pop-up problem. He went on to have a wonderful day and was very productive and very cool and his cat loved him.
The next evening, Mart decided to imbibe alcohol because it seemed like the smart thing to do. After a fun night of games and revisiting godawful mid-2000's music videos with his partner, he spread out on the sofa and cracked open a crisp, ice-cold podcast.
The humid wind began to churn outside in the dark and the teens next door piled into their car parked right outside his living room window to hotbox and listen to loud music for several hours. Mart stuck his airpods in and clicked between apps, and that's when he saw it.
(pause for gasps)
"There must be some mistake," he said, and his cat hit him. "I specifically turned this the fuck off." He once again found the Siri & Search settings, and everything appeared turned off like he'd left it. Fearfully, he scrolled down through the long list of individual apps until he arrived at Podcasts, and clicked it with trepidation.
(pause for gasps)
A foe he thought dead stared back at him.
Mart hurriedly swiped it off once more and tried to get on with his evening, but he couldn't shake the feeling that something was amiss. Over the course of the next month, he was proven fearfully correct again and again. Each day he would turn off the setting, and each day it would turn itself back on, unkillable and unable to be kept from its dark task in the mortal world: to deliver annoying pop-ups that were hard to click around because Mart's fingers were big.
Mart tried everything he could think of. He tried googling the problem in like seven different wordings, but no one else seemed to have experienced this haunting. He tried resetting his phone, but this never ghoulsmashed it thoroughly enough to exorcise his personal pan poltergeist. He called 311 to tell them the changes were coming from inside the phone, but they always hung up on him. Never safe, he descended into madness, a dim half-life, a mockery of health and normalcy.
Weeks later, as he hid from the daylight under his bed, no longer able to feel his cat biting his ankles, he opened up to his friend Blex about his phantom problem.
"Have you tried cursing your phone?" he asked.
Mart replied that no, he hadn't thought to do that.
"The blue moon falls on Halloween this year," said Blex. "That would probably work. What could go wrong?"
To be continued.
Order With Dom
Magistrate-level contributor Matt Spradling // Issue 15
I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair - it just won't behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up. My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi presentable.
Kate is my roommate, and she has chosen today of all days to succumb to the flu. Therefore, she cannot attend the interview she'd arranged to do, with some mega-industrialist tycoon I've never heard of, for the student newspaper. So I have been volunteered. I have final exams to cram for, one essay to finish, and I'm supposed to be working this afternoon, but no - today I have to drive a hundred and sixty-five miles to downtown Seattle in order to meet the enigmatic CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. As an exceptional entrepreneur and major benefactor of our University, his time is extraordinarily precious - much more precious than mine - but he has granted Kate an interview. A real coup, she tells me. Damn her extra-curricular activities.
My stomach scowls with consternation. Damn my goddamn internet. My week has been a whirlwind, and my weekend thus far has provided no respite. I sit at my computer trying to order something healthy from the Healthy Something store because I'm just in such a hurry for tonight, but damn my internet.
I look at the clock - 6:49 and 27 - no - 28 seconds. I shut my laptop like a window to a better future and whip out my phone. The Domino's Pizza app is there, inevitable, and I open it like a window to my Domino's pizza app. I guess tonight will just have to be a pizza night.
The interface is painfully familiar as I swipe down to find my Easy Order - all too easy - but something is off. Something new. Someone new.
An AI interface to assist with pizza ordering? Well, this is the future, I laugh to myself, hard, too hard, far too hard, several orders of magnitude too hard.
I send through my Easy Order as per usual and fetch my shoes and keys to go pick it up. The one lesson my grandfather taught me is to never have anything delivered. He died of a preventable and treatable illness, but my family inherited enough of his frugally saved money to live comfortably for a week or two.
The now-familiar, inscrutable, frustrating, utterly domineering face stares back at me, all white-on-red confidence and unblinking eyes.
The storm pouring over the window in front of me mirrors the tears pouring over my big dumb face. I'm crying because I'm super sad about all the messed-up crud that happened to me in chapters 4 and 5. I'm sad because it was super bad and I like to be happy but I'm not so I'm not.
"Fuck you, Todd," I scream as I bring a careless fist down onto my keyboard. Why couldn't he just slice the chicken? The rain does not cease. Eventually I look up. I've idled so long that the chat function has seemingly auto-replied. What can I assist you with? it asks. He asks.
I stare like a deer in headlights but that wants to get hit. My fingers tremble - damn my typos - as I type: I nneed to no be alone.
I wait. After a moment, Dom replies. I know.