Dungeons & Dragons

“I’m not trying to kill you. I’m trying to turn you into a hero.”

That’s the go-to reassurance I tell players whenever they start to wonder why I’m making their lives a living hell. Whether or not it actually reassures them is another matter entirely. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that with a few well-placed descriptions, some dice rolls and carefully curated music , they — the players — are invested in the story, and the world is real to them.

And then you drop a dragon on their face.

I started DMing seriously sometime around 2015, when my wife and a few of our artist friends wanted to jump into the world of D&D for the first time. At the time, my relationship with the game was a mix of bad experiences as a player back in college, listening to Mr. Sark and Brian Posehn’s crew playing NERD POKER, and then getting what I could from watching Chris Perkins run the PENNY ARCADE games. So I started pretty loosey-goosey with the rules, but as I got more comfortable and CRITICAL ROLE became another resource, running a fantasy game for a bunch of friends became second nature. I feel like just watching that show makes you a better DM by osmosis, thanks to the patron saint of dice rolling, Matthew Mercer.

Here’s a vlog Jad did in 2015, from our first D&D Session

Running a game is a lot like staging a play. But instead of having a small village putting on a show, you’re just one guy playing the displaced orphans, the love interests, the nameless threats. The monsters. The allies. The gods. It’s a lot more work, but it’s also a lot more control. And control is good. For whatever reason I’ve never been keen on using the countless modules that come with the games, for two reasons: 1) I don’t like the idea that the players can find out exactly where the story is headed by doing a little bit of research, and 2) I like being surprised by how the players shape the world around them. I’m a bit of a discovery writer in that I don’t have a clear idea of how things will end when I begin something. And that’s fun.

Flash forward to COVID times, and the campaign I run for my wife and our close friends is on hold due to various work and family commitments. But for now I scratch that D&D itch by running two separate campaigns that are both streamed weekly on Paperbug TV and Shmekm — both being comedy and video creators on Facebook. I’m supposed to be doing character art for both campaigns, so expect to see stuff about that here soon.

It’s a good, special kind of fun being able to reassuringly tell my friends that they are heroes one and all, as I lock them in a room with monsters.

Speaking of monsters, URBAN ANIMAL continues this weekend with Episode 78 for free-access readers, and 81 for Fast Pass readers. I’m really happy with how this season has been received despite the big risk we took for most of it, character-wise. If you’ve been reading, you know what I mean. I’ll probably talk more about that in a future entry. Peace!

UA will be on pause over the holidays so we can relax and spend time with family. We will resume on January 9th!

Recommendations 12.13.20

From reference books, to music, to games, here’s a handful of things I’m currently enjoying. I intend to do posts like these every now and then, so if you nice people have nice media to point to as well, sound off in the comments.

URBAN REFLECTIONS is not an instructional book in any way — you won’t be learning the fine points of perspective from this, but it is an excellent example of the variations of application of that knowledge. On top of that, and probably secondarily, I use it as great reference for city atmospherics and ambient light.

LINELIGHT is a minimalist puzzle game I only discovered during this pandemic. Fairly casual and relaxing, it seems to be a better fit for the Switch rather than the PS4, which it originally was designed for.

I play and replay levels when I’m trying to find my focus or wind my brain down at the end of the day. Try not to drop the console on your face though. That’s not fun.

Lastly, PAUL DAVIDS is a musician from the Netherlands. Spotify threw him onto my Discover Weekly feed and I quickly found myself repeating this one track over the course of an afternoon. His other stuff is pretty good too.

UnSecret Origin

Most people who follow my work today have really only heard of me through my webcomic URBAN ANIMAL. And why wouldn’t they? It’s easily the most successful thing I’ve ever done in terms of gains and readership. I co-plot the thing with Justin Jordan and handle the totality of the art (which… mental note… that’s a whole other thing to talk about because hoo-boy).

As of this writing, UA has upwards of 100,000 weekly readers and roughly 487,000 Subscribers on the Webtoon app. That’s pretty great. That’s a whole lot of people with a whole lot of eyeballs reading a comic I made. I whole lot. And if the comments section is to be believed, a handful of them read and re-read the thing to catch all the hidden gems, the easter eggs. The little character moments.

But what a lot of people don’t know is that the UA series that started running in 2018 is not the first iteration of the story. Because in 2002 College John was not only paying just enough attention to get by, but was actually working on the rough-as-hell, exceedingly locally flavored, and painfully self-referential BEAST BOY JOE… later re-dubbed The URBAN ANIMAL.

An angsty teen. A school setting. Monsters. Hormones. The original series had all the trappings of what would eventually become today’s URBAN ANIMAL. I guess the biggest difference between UA today and that old series was the setting. It was definitively set in the Philippines, with references to local street food, jeepneys, and the like. I grew up in Cebu, and looking at those old pages really takes me back to those times. Circa 2001-2005. No smartphones. No money. No problem. That’s just how it was. The world was simpler. And so College John wrote a simple story.

And a big part of the local flavor, I feel, shines through in the new series. In the quiet moments when the characters are just hanging out. Or when Joe’s dad blurts out a random expletive — College John has a shit-eating grin. I bring this all up because it’s a nice feeling when people respond to silly little character things like that. We have this really cool magic system that potentially encompasses any manner of shape shifting and monster situation you might think of… but also this one guy said yawa and there’s Chippy on the snack shelves.

I looked through some of those old pages. Man oh man. Let’s just say my art’s definitely better now. And speaking of stuff that I’m making now…

URBAN ANIMAL is currently on its third season, and Episode 77 comes out free to read this weekend (Ep 80 for Fast Pass Readers). No spoilers, but we’re in this season’s homestretch as all the elements and disparate parties are coming together. Roll initiative, basically. The battle map has been revealed.