Cyrran Reaches: Secrets of the Past pt. II

Tuesday May 21, 2019 at 8:15pm d&d, cyrran reaches, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 
Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 

- Though they could still hear the pounding of the dragon above them, the group decided Lily should cast her Legend Lore spell to learn more about the place they've found themselves in.  In so doing, they learned that the deep interior of this keep was once the lair of Lochthuun, the legendary hydra, and that its death apparently tore open a rift into the lower planes which was the origin of the contaminating evil of the region.

- Deciding they needed to see what was actually going on in the dungeons below, Kael activated the ethereal ability of his armor and passed through the door.  On the other side, he found several dozen demons, a malfunctioning portal, and the abyssal rift floating above the perfectly-preserved body of a massive hydra.  The group now needs to decide what to do about the situation to prevent the situation from worsening and to keep the cult from abusing it...

Cyrran Reaches: To Go Deeper

Tuesday May 14, 2019 at 8:45pm d&d, cyrran reaches, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 
Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 

- As the Mafka zealots launched their attack and the roaring creatured bellowed from outside, Ravina began her spell to de-petrify the goblin leader.  As the creature's warnings grew closer and more angry, the zealots retreated.  Ravina completed her spell and managed to restore the goblin chief to life, though he was not too happy to see his saviors.  As the building shook, they all moved further into the structure away from whatever was outside.

- The goblin chief stopped his aggression against the group, but insisted they part ways.  At Lily's convincing, he indicated the way toward what the goblins called the "Deep Evil" - which was down in the lower dungeons and vaults of the keep.  They made their way down, hearing the furious pounding overhead, and found a sealed door bearing an evil, pulsing rune...

Shiny, Shiny Pedals

Tuesday April 30, 2019 at 10:36pm guitar, gear, music Comments (0) »
Shiny, Shiny Pedals Image

A couple of weeks ago I broke down and ordered some guitar pedals.  The idea was to create a selection of pedals I could use both with my amp and running directly into a mixer for playing at our church and/or for recording (been doing some writing again lately).

I haven't spent extensive time fiddling with each one on its own, but I have been playing a lot with them as a unit.  What follows are my initial thoughts and the reasons I chose the ones I did.  My default choices were going to be Boss pedals, because they're a good industry standard, and they make solid stuff.  I stuck to that default sometimes; other times, I didn't.

Overdriving

Going in order of my effects chain, the first pedal is overdrive - specifically, the Boss OD-3.

I suppose the main question to answer is "why the OD-3 over the SD-1, which is about half the price?".  I did debate this quite a bit, but after watching several comparison videos on youtube and reading reviews, it seemed that the OD-3 was reputed to be a bit clearer, warmer, and less harsh - and I wanted "overdrive", not "super overdrive".  There's also a little of "you tend to get what you pay for" in my thinking. 

I don't have any personal experience with the SD-1, but the OD-3 sounds great.  It gives a nice, warm, blues or classic-rock style overdrive crunch to the signal on its own, and if I run it into my distortion pedal or drive channel on my amp, I get a really nice, jagged, high-gain metallic distortion.  It's just what I wanted from overdrive.

Distorted

This was the pedal that I agonized over the most.  There are a lot of different distortion sounds, and they all have different characters.  My original plan was to go with the good ol' DS-1.  It's a well respected pedal, and it's cheap - and I still might pick that one up - but I really wanted something versatile.

In a couple of distortion pedal lists and videos, I found the Fender Pugilist Distortion pedal - and I really liked the sound of it.  This one has two different distortion circuits, the sounds of which you can use seperately, blend together, or even run one into the other (I do think it would have been cool if they would have made the blend/series switch a footswitch).  It's not a super-high-gain pedal (their Full Moon Distorition is more aimed that way), but you can get a pretty wide range of drive from using only channel A with just a little gain, to a pretty heavy sound running channel A into B with both gains cranked.  Add my Overdrive onto the front end, and you can get some pretty wicked gain (albiet a bit noisily) as mentioned above.  The Fender tone also does a bit to mitigate the midrange exaggeration of my SG+amp combo (which I've mentioned before).

The Fender pedals are solidly built, look great, and I have to admit, I loved the name of this one.  "Pugilist" as the name of a drive pedal is pretty awesome.

Compression

Next up is the compressor.  Once agan, I initially figured on picking up the Boss CS-3, but read several articles sayng it was a bit noisy.  I know there is some misconception with compressors and noise, but I saw this concern often enough that it affected my choice.  Since I'd already gone with one Fender pedal, I decided to take a look at their compressor, The Bends.

This was another pedal with a good look and a cool name, but that wasn't going to sell me on its own.  The reviews on this compressor were very positive though, and a couple even commented that this particular compressor was quiet and subtle.  Compression is one of those effects where, if you're doing it right, you don't really notice it - so this sounded good to me.

The controls on The Bends are a little different from those on the CS-3 and more "standard" compressors, but ultimately they do the same thing and give you a fair amount of control (moreso than the much-loved  MXR Dyna Comp, which has one knob for "compression").  Also, I like the feature where the jewel LED on top of it actually changes color to show when/how the compressor is affecting the signal.  I tend to leave this on all the time, but its effects are most noticeable when playing clean - tightening up the dynamics and giving a little boost to sustain.

Choral

So then there's the Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble.  This pedal is different from the others in that I've had it for about 20 years.  It's probably not one I'd pick out these days, but I got a lot of use out of it in the past - and I have it, so I threw it in.  It performs its chorus functon well, but it's not an effect I use super often - and when I do, it's usually fairly subtle.  I think these days, if I was going to pick up a modulation pedal, I'd probably look at a flanger or phase shifter.  Like many modulation pedals, it will take you all the way from "barely noticeable" up through "unusably bizarre".

The 'Verb

The biggest reason I wanted a reverb pedal was for amp-less playing.  My amp has a decent spring reverb built in, and I'm not super picky about my reverb sound - I just know I don't like the sound of an electric guitar without a good dose of it. 

For whatever reason, reverb pedals tend to be some of the more expensive effects.  I went ahead with the Boss RV-6 on this one, as it was well-liked and seemed to have a decent selection of reverb types/effects.  I also liked the fact that it has a +delay mode to play around with without buying a dedicated delay pedal.  Whle I may not be picky, I have enjoyed playing with what this pedal can do - and it's reverb is quite a bit juicier than what's in my amp - so it's usually always on.

It sounds good.  Like I said, I'm not super picky on reverb in particular.

Equality

Last in the chain is the MXR 10-band EQ pedal, which I've talked a little about before - it's good for guitar and bass, and it has +/- sliders for volume and gain.  It does a good job of taming my amp in a couple of ways, and it should give me more control over my tone for direct inputs.

 

So that's about it.  I'm pretty happy with this setup.  Nothing super fancy, but it gives me a solid sound and some versatility.  If I get good mileage out of this stuff I might eventually pick up other toys - perhaps wah, volume, phaser, delay, some more drive pedals - but most of that stuff is all secondary at best.

 

~PS

Cyrran Reaches: Enemies of Enemies

Monday April 29, 2019 at 8:30pm d&d, cyrran reaches, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 
Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 

- The group awoke to find themselves surrounded by goblins.  They were approached by one of them - Tofkag - who turned out to be the leader of one splinter of a local tribe.  In exchange for their help in de-petrifying their leader, they told the PCs they would lead them to the keep by ways that would avoid the more hostile goblin factions.  They spoke with Tofkag for some time about his tribe, the keep, and the "Deep Evil" he said dwelled beneath it.

- Making it to the keep the following day, they made their way into the ruin.  Within the CourtHall of the primary tower, they found the statue of the former leader of the goblin tribe - as well as some of the Mafka zealots Tofkag had warned them about.  The altercation was only beginning when the building was shaken by a tremendous roar from overhead...

Cyrran Reaches: Into the Curse

Saturday April 27, 2019 at 2:00pm d&d, cyrran reaches, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 
Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 

- After a considerable conversation, the rest of the party managed to convince Taryn that going after the Orb was too dangerous and put the rest of their mssion in jeaopardy - though Tyrrox tended to think they could defeat the goblns.

- The group continued northward to the Navlin forest - a cool, pine-covered region leading into the foothills of the Elmhine mountains.  Inside they found the slaughter of a village of some kind of humanoid mushroom race and had a run-in with some territorial canine humanoids.  Deeper still, they found that the forest was corrupted and diseased, and they began encountering bloated, corrupted, undead, and unusually aggressve animals.

- On the far side of the forest, the group located the old elven road up into the mountains that would take them to Ver'Sheole.  As they climbed, they found evidence of several recently-used humanoid camp sites and even caught site of someone else on the road.

- Near the top, as they pressed on into the night, the group was ambushed by a goblin warband, which they managed to fight off.

 

GM's Note: This session had two pretty serious combat encounters, and I was very entertained by how much terrain factored into both of them, as well as the previous river-ambush encounter.  We also did an interesting encounter-setup-contest between the PCs and the opposing force for one of them to determine who started with the high ground and prep time.

Black Foxes: To Strike at the Heart

 Artwork © Evil Hat Productions and Square Enix
Artwork © Evil Hat Productions and Square Enix

- Erik met up with his "friend" from their smuggling run at the Maple Grey in Silkshore and got an easy job offer.  Drave stumbled back into the Foxes' turf, but was acosted by the Bluecoats on the way in.  He tried to turn their attention to the Stone Club, but was only partially successful.  A few nights later, their tinker friend Lerrin found them at the Three Pennies to tell them that the Club was making problems in Fenwell Hook again.

- The gang spent some time discussing their options and gathering some info on their rival gang.  They were able to track down the Stone Club's HQ, as well as some that their leader Muggs has made a recent habit of betting on the hounds down at Vreen's races in Nightmarket.  The time has come to strike - and they're looking to cut the head off the snake...

Cyrran Reaches: Green Warren

Saturday April 13, 2019 at 3:00pm d&d, cyrran reaches, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 
Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 

- The group fought with the goblins on the high bank and the monstrous elder water elemental that had appeared in their midst.  The tactical advantage the goblins had proved to be very effectve, and the tide of the combat didn't turn until Taryn pulled out his orb and used its powerful breath weapon.

- It was then that the sole surviving goblin in its area - a spellcaster of some apparent power - took notice.  Using a potent stunning spell, he froze Taryn, took the orb from his hands, and disappeared into the grasslands before any of the others were aware of what had happened.

- Now deprived of his second source of power, when he came to the panicked Taryn insisted that they follow the thief.  Kael quickly found that the trail suddenly vanished a few hundred feet from the site of the encounter, however.  The group interrogated one of the subdued goblins and found that the spellcaster, called Akrisk, had taken over their tribe some months ago - though he couldn't tell them much about his abilities.  After releasng him, the group tailed him back to his warren - Ravina's divination having suggested this would be the best way to recover the artifact.  There they found a large triibe inhabiting a cavernous hollow in the ground in a small, hilly region of the grasslands...

 

GM's Note: Ever since Taryn had found that Orb of Dragonkind and I ruled it had actually be held for some of ts abilities to be used, I have been mindful every time he uses it.  Sooner or later, I knew that something smart enough to recogniize its power would take interest and try to deprive him of it.  As this particular NPC spellcaster was very powerful, I knew if he saw it, he would make a play for it - and I'd given him a couple of spells that would give him a shot.  Even so, several things had to go just right for him to be able to pull it off - and I didn't expect it to actually work.  So now the players are on a little detour from their time-sensitive misson, and they're having interesting coversations about how and whether to try to get it back.

Jamming Again

Thursday April 11, 2019 at 12:17pm music, guitar, drums Comments (0) »
Jamming Again Image

So a month or two ago someone at our church was talking about needing more musicians.  This actually surprised me a bit, as I know we have a lot of talented people.  Talking to our worship minister, turns out they have a lot of people that can play, but he's only got a few for any given instrument.  By the time you add in scheduling conflicts, he's apparently had some trouble filling all the roles every week.  Playing music is fun, and I like to help out, so I told him I could fill in on guitar (lead/rhythm), bass, or drums as necessary.

And I thought, yeah, I miss playing.

Getting the Axe

After that conversation, it occurred to me that it had been some time since I'd even played my SG.  Sadly, it and my amp had been in the basement for a  year or two - mostly because there isn't an "out of the way" place for them to live.  Playing again sounded like fun, so I brought it in and set it up in a corner of the living room.  It's not "out of the way", but the biggest problems are keeping the 3yo away from the knobs, and competing with the TV for audio time.

Anyway, the first thing was to change the strings and clean up the fretboard.  The second things was a bit less expected: re-solder the input jacks on my amp.  They'd been finicky for some time, but apparently they finally snapped - quite literally.  The old solder had given out from years of stress and the jacks had simply popped off the circuit board.  Luckily, it was about the easiest possible thing to solder, and thus within my meager capabilities.

Since then, I've been playing quite a bit - trying to squeeze in an hour or so most days.  I've been working a lot on my fingering, alternate picking, and generally expanding my repertoire of techniques.  I've been going through spotify playlists picking out riffs that sound like fun, and then learning how to play them.  I haven't tried anythng objectively difficult, but I'm pretty pleased with how I've been able to take something truly challenging for me that I've never attempted before and then be able to play it fairly proficiently after just a little practice.  I think I've reached a point now where I'm actually a little better than I was back in college when I was playing a lot more.

Pedal Hard

So I play through an old Peavey Special 212 Transtube amp I got in the late 90's when my highschool band outgrew my little Fender practice amp.  When I got it, I was playing a fender Duo-Sonic my parents got me after I'd been playing for a while (still one of my most memorable Christmas presents).  It's still a great amp, but Peavey's favoring of the midrange combined with the darker tone of my SG's humbuckers means that, while you get really fat lead sounds from it, you can't get a rhythm tone that isn't 5-year-old-puddle-jumper-level muddy.  After a couple weeks playing on it, I decided I needed to tweak that - and I ordered MXR's 10-band eq pedal.

I (obsessively) looked at a number of eq pedals before landing on this one.  The big reasons I decided on this one were that it offers an eq range that's useful for guitar and bass, and that it has a 'gain' slider as well as a simple 'volume'.  I figured that bumping the gain would be good for my passive instruments when doing direct-inputs, and I've found that pulling the gain all the way down (when running it post-preamp) quiets the hiss of my amp and enables me to turn the volume and post-gains on my amp up further than "1" (the other thing about my amp is that it's 200 watts - which is great if you're on an outdoor stage, and not-so-great if you're in your small house with sleeping children).  I've been pretty happy with it so far.

I'm now looking to expand my pedal selection a bit more - if only so that if I end up playing at my church, I don't have to lug my amp (the other other thing about this amp is that it is unnecessarily heavy).  Think I'm going to pick up a distortion pedal, a compressor, and a reverb to start.  After (also obsessively) looking at a lot of the options, I've got my eye on some Boss models.  They seem to be a solid mix of quality + value, they're well-reviewed, and I know Boss makes good stuff.

Drummed Up

I was never really "a drummer" - Justin always took care of that.  But I have always loved to play drums.  I think it's the energy in feeling the music that comes with it.  When my brother started playing, I developed a habit of playing his drums pretty often, teaching myself the basics and developing that particular kind of coordination.  Actually, I think it made me a better musician overall.

Since then, I've played drums in a few ad-hoc music groups - usually praise bands at camps/churches/whatever.  Basically, wherever someone was just needed.  I don't know that I would pass too many auditions, but I can keep a beat and I play well enough on simple stuff to get by.  I'm the percussive equivalent of that guitar player who only plays straight rhythms with with open fingerings - I'll get it done, but it's usually nothing special.

That's not to say I'm satisfied with my meager skill level.  I'd love to practice more, but I don't have a kit of my own, so I'm kind of stuck here for now.

Jamming Again

So last week I was asked to play drums for service this sunday.  We had a rehearsal last night, which went fairly well.  I've been deemed passable - which I consider a success if only because the guy playing percussion is a good drummer, and he said he didn't hear any big issues with my playing.  Still, the once-through rehersal was not enough for someone like me who likes to be over-prepared.  I've been told we'll go through everything "for real" on sunday morning.  Meanwhile, I'm scrambling to make recognizable notes on what I was doing that worked vs. what didn't.  As the new guy, it's maybe 1/4 the rehearsal time I'd like, but it's been a ton of fun.  

Until yesterday, I actually hadn't played drums in at least a few years.  Just haven't had the opportunity.  Knowing this, I made arrangements to get to the church a couple of hours early to warm up, break off some rust, and generally have a blast rocking out.  I played for about 2 hours straight, soaked myself pretty good with sweat, and made my shoulders sore.  If I end up doing this regularly, I think I'm going to need to get a kit.  Or make arrangements to be at the church...often. 

Yesterday was the first time since playing my brother's that I got to sit down, undisturbed, and really get comfortable with a kit.  I have to say, that by itself was awesome.  The difference between then and now, however, is that this kit is electronic.

Electro

Like a lot of actual drummers, I prefer the feel of an acoustic kit.  Unlike others, I do like the tighter sound of the electronic kits (maybe I just haven't played a really good acoustic), and the fact that I can, in a church, hit drums hard and not have to worry about being uncontrollably loud is fantastic.  The "gentler" I have to play, the worse I am - or, at least, the less I can pull off.

The church's electronic kit is pretty decent.  As you can see from the photo, it's a Roland kit, and it uses the TD9 module which is solid enough.  I actually read the owners manual ahead of time so I was able to program the sounds I wanted into my own kit on the thing (piccolo snare is a must).  The drum pads have all-mesh heads, and the response feels good.  The cymbals are decent to play on, if nothing particularly amazing.  The hats are really my only complaint.  They're not the worst I've played on, but like most of them, the trigger is "lazy" in that letting up on the foot controller after hitting the pad doesn't change the sound.  This is my continual pet peeve on electronic hats.  I do know that Roland makes a hat trigger system that mounts on an actual hi-hat stand that doesn't have this annoying behavior - I've just only got to play on one for like 10 minutes at a Guitar Center.  

 

All this has brought my songwriting back onto the radar.  Other than recording a dozen or so chord progressions as voice notes on my phone, I haven't done much with it yet - but if the musical momentum continues, I'm hoping to be able to channel it there.

 

 

~PS

Cyrran Reaches: The Crossing

Monday April 8, 2019 at 8:30pm d&d, cyrran reaches, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 
Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 

- Lily had a conversation with the innkeeper Helia, giving her a few more details than they'd told most of the townsfolk.  She also asked if anyone unusual had been through town, and after talking to a local farmer, they discovered that someone matchng the description of the missing Aegus Rothan had been seen several months ago.

- Using some magic from Ravina and Kael's sense of direction, the group headed north toward the Navlin Forest and the road into the Elmhine Mountains that would lead them to the abandoned Ver'Sheole keep.  The river, however, kept pushing them further west, and they eventually decided to cross at a ford, where they found themselves ambushed by goblins...

Cyrran Reaches: Unrevealed

Tuesday April 2, 2019 at 8:00pm d&d, cyrran reaches, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 
Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 

- As the group left the library, they found a young elven woman weeping at a run-down shrine originally devoted to Corellon Larethian.  As Lily engaged in conversation with her, it became increasingly clear that something was wrong with her.  The woman became increasingly agitated, and apparently reached a breaking point when an unearthly shriek came out of her.  The sound was loud enough to vibrate the surrounding structures - and attract the attention of the bebilith that had entered the Courthall.

- Lily attempted to ignite the webs the spider-demon had constructed across the street, but found that they would not burn well.  The party had just begun hacking their way through when the spider burst through the large, half-open doors of the building.  Kael fired arrows and Lily summoned a celestial creature to distract the monster as they made their escape.

- Back in town, the group rested at the inn and told the townsfolk some of what they found at the keep on the hill.  Most were troubled at the news, but few seemed surprised.  Taryn had another chat with a strange but familiar swordsman, and Lily also was visited by a strange old woman whom she later decided must have been the hag she and her friends had encountered when the first arrived in the region.  Apparently she came to tell them that orcs were massing in the western corners of the area, organized by something claiming an eye/tooth symbol...

 

GM's Note:

This game has been going for a while, and I found it very satisfying to (finally) get to bring in a hook from all the way back at the start of the campaign.  This narrative thread was so old that we've added 2 players to the group since it was on-screen.  When the PCs had spared this hag and saved her "pet" hydra, she told them she would not forget their kindness - and has now made good on that by alerting them to a growing problem they otherwise had no way of knowing about.

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