Pathology: The Moon Druid – Bark at the Moon!

Note: All Images are Copyright their original creators, and I am linking to their creators if I can find em.

Welcome one and all to another breakdown of a path, and this time we have something a little more feral in nature.  I am of course speaking on the Moon Druid path in the Player’s Handbook. So what is the Moon Druid? How do they function in combat? How does Wild Shape really work? I hope to answer all these questions and more, and this promises to be a bit of a long post so I hope you stick around.

First, and foremost, the Moon Druid is the path for the Druid who wants to focus on being a Shapeshifter.  All of your unique powers and abilities are within this theme, either giving you the ability to assume more powerful beast forms, heal yourself in beast form, and eventually alter your body at will.  Now, my intent for this guide is to provide the following information

First, we are going to talk about what the Moon Druid’s role in a party is.  Then we will break down the Moon Druid specific abilities. Next we will discuss Wild Shape and how it works.  After that, we will move onto Druid Spells you might want to consider. Then it’s on to my personal suggested Wild Shape Forms for each CR level, and finally some house rules that I personally intend to use when I run games for those who want to play a Moon Druid.  So let’s dive right in!

The Moon Druid can best be described as a soak tank for the party.  Given the ability to shift into a variety of beast forms and how Wild Shape effectively gives you a huge pool of Temporary Hit Points to work with, a Moon Druid should try to take up as much space as possible in a fight, and get the enemy to focus on them.  If the enemy is hitting you, its not hitting a party member, and with the ability to heal yourself as a bonus action, it is very hard to take down a Moon Druid.

Additionally, with the way Wild Shape works, you will want to have your Ability Scores focused first on Wisdom, second on Constitution, and then Int and Charisma.  This is because Wild Shape will replace your Physical Stats (STR, CON, DEX) and leave your Mental Stats alone. Wisdom will boost your ability to cast spells when in Non Beast form, and the reason you want Con is to have a large buffer of HP in case you get knocked out of Wild Shape, as any damage that exceeds your Wild Shape HP will carry over to your normal form.  More HP equals a larger chance to survive big hits. And you WILL be taking large hits as your AC in most beast forms wont exceed 15.

Moon Druids get access by default to Spellcasting like all Druids, as well as Ritual Casting.  However they must prepare any rituals they want to use. You cannot, however, cast spells in Wild Shape until you reach level 18 and get Beast Spells, so keep that in mind.  At level 20 you get Unlimited Wild Shapes per day, but as far as Baseline druid abilities these are the only ones that really matter.

However, the unique Moon Druid powers are what we need here, and upon taking Moon Druid at level two you get the following: Combat Wild Shape, which allows you to shift into a Beast as a bonus action.  Additionally, while in Beast Form, you can spend a spell slot to heal 1d8 per spell level as a bonus action. Burn off a 2nd level spell, and get 2d8 HP as a bonus action. This lets you sustain your form quite easily, and since you can’t cast spells while in Beast Form until level 18, gives you a use of your spells beyond Concentration spells (Which we will discuss in a bit).  Also at level 2 you get Circle Forms. This lets you shift into a CR 1 beast or lower right at level 2, and then starting at level 6 you can shift into a Beast whose CR is ⅓ your level (so CR 2 at 6, CR 3 at 9, CR 4 at 12, CR 5 at 15, and CR 6 at 18). This is where the power of the Moon Druid comes from.

At level 6 Moon Druids attacks while in Wild Shape count as Magical.  This is how you deal with damage reduction of many enemies while being an angry brown bear.  At level 10, you can spend both your Wild Shapes to turn into an Air, Earth, Fire, or Water elemental.  These forms are very very powerful (they are CR 5, which would normally be a level 15 shift as a Beast) and are insanely potent.  Also, since these elementals have mouths and can speak, so can you as a the Druid. Finally, at level 14 you get what I consider the weakest power of the Moon Druid, casting Alter Self at will.  This lets you grow claws and other such things, and technically lets you shift your appearance if your DM allows it.

Now it’s time to discuss Wild Shape, one of the most confusing things about Druids.  You get 2 uses of Wild Shape per short rest. So you will be using the hell out of the short rest mechanic as a Moon Druid to maintain your power.  The easiest part about it is this: Wild Shape allows you to shift into a Beast of a specific Challenge Rating. Normally, the best you will get as a Druid is a CR 1 beast at level 8th, but the Moon Druid breaks that rule with Circle Forms so we ignore that.  However, at level 2 you can only shift into forms with NO FLYING OR SWIM SPEED! At level 4, you unlock swim speed but still cannot take flying forms. At level 8, you can now shift into forms with a Flying Speed. Wild Shape also lasts a number of hours equal to ½ your druid level.  Important tip: Once your Wild Shape lasts longer than an hour you can SHORT REST (since that’s only an hour) while in Wild Shape! Spend those Hit Dice your Wild Shape technically has to heal it! Get your Wild Shape’s back! Especially once you have Elemental Forms.

When you shift, it takes a Bonus Action for a Moon Druid to do so.  Your Physical Stats (Str, Dex, and Con) are replaced with the beasts.  Your Mental Stats (Wis, Int, Cha) stay as yours. You gain the HP and Hit Dice of the beast as well (So if you shift into a Bear which has 50 HP, your HP becomes 50).  I usually treat this as Temp HP since your Druid HP stays the same when you shift. Basically, when you Wild Shape your Beast HP is separate from your Druid HP, and any damage you take in excess of your beast form will apply to your Druid HP.  Also, if you drop to Zero HP in Beast Form you instantly go back to Druid Form. Example: You have 7 HP left in Beast Form and take a hit for 10 points. You lose the 7 HP, drop back into Druid Form, and the remaining 3 damage goes to your Druid form.

Any equipment you wear or hold will either have to be dropped or merged with your new form.  You do not gain the benefits of these items. If the item can be worn by your new form you can keep wearing it however.  You cannot cast spells while in Wild Shape form but you CAN Maintain Concentration spells that you cast prior to entering Wild Shape.  You can also use actions from spells while in Wild Shape, like Call Lightning (dropping those lightning bolts!). You lose all your special senses such as Darkvision unless the new form has it, however you keep all benefits from your race, class, ect if your new form can use them.  For example, my Yuan Ti Pureblood Moon Druid will always be immune to poison, but I lose Darkvision when I shift into forms without it. Also if your beast form has Lair or Legendary actions you don’t get access to them.

Now the confusing bit.  When you shift, you keep all your skill proficiencies and your saving throw proficiencies.  You ALSO gain those of your beast form! If you and the new form share a proficiency, such as say Athletics, you get the higher score no matter what.  But here is where things get interesting. Any skill that you have that is linked to a Mental Stat (Wis, Int, Cha) will always have the same bonus, as your stats there do not change (unless your beast form has a higher bonus and also has proficiency listed).  However, if you have proficiency in something that your beast form doesn’t, like say Stealth, your Stealth Check will change based on your Beast forms stats!  This is also the same as your Elemental Forms.

This is best described as an example.  Lets say in Druid form you have +2 to Dex, and are proficient in Stealth.  At level 2 that means your Stealth rolls will have +4 to them. +2 from your proficiency bonus and +2 from your Dex.  If you shifted into a form however that has +4 to Dex, your Stealth check will NOW be +6! Conversely, if your Dex is +5 when in Druid Form (+7 total bonus at level 2), but you shift into a beast form with a +3 to Dex, your Stealth will go back down to +5 based on your new modifier.  This is the most confusing aspect of the class to be honest.

Now let’s talk Spells.  Here is the big thing with Moon Druids and spells: You can’t cast any spells in Wild Shape form until level 18.  Simple as that. Because of this, you are looking at Rituals, Concentration Spells, and that’s about it. Until level 18 your spell slots are life you can use in battle with Combat Wild Shape Healing.  Because of this, here are the spells I suggest, as well as Cantrips, that you want to consider in my opinion. Mind you, as all preparation based casters you can change your spells each day.

  • Cantrips: Guidance, Produce Flame, Druidcraft
  • 1st Level: Cure Wounds OR Holy Word (just for emergency), Goodberry, Detect Magic, Entangle
  • 2nd Level: Flaming Sphere, Barkskin, Lesser Restoration, Moonbeam
  • 3rd Level: Call Lightning, Water Breathing, Sleet Storm
  • 4th Level: Ice Storm, Wall of Fire, Stoneskin, Conjure Minor Elementals, Polymorph
  • 5th Level: Mass Cure Wounds, Conjure Elemental, Wall of Stone
  • 6th Level: Heal, Sunbeam, Conjure Fey
  • 7th Level: Fire Storm, Regenerate, Reverse Gravity
  • 8th Level: Control Weather, Tsunami, Earthquake
  • 9th Level: Storm of Vengeance, True Resurrection

Now, a quick little tip.  The reason you want Concentration based spells is because once you shift, you can maintain concentration on the spell.  If you have, say Flaming Sphere active, you can still use your bonus action to move the sphere. If you have Call Lightning active, you can still call down strikes.  And here is something to keep in mind: Any Con Saves you have to make while concentrating on a spell in Beast Form will be made with the Beasts Con Bonus!

Also, as a suggestion, use Barkskin.  Since most forms have an AC lower than 16, casting Barkskin and then going into Wild Shape will make your AC a 16 minimum at all times.  This is a huge deal for many of the forms I am about to discuss, making your survivability much higher then it would be normally.

And how about those beast forms am I right?  Sadly, the Monster Manual does not have a lot of choices for Beast Forms, so you gotta make do with a few here and there.  Now, technically, Swarms count as Beasts (they are swarms of tiny beasts) but your GM may veto this. Here are my go to Beast Forms from CR 1 to 6.  Also, please be aware that most GMs are going to require your Druid to have studied the Beast before you can shift into it, or have some knowledge of the beast.  Also be aware at level 4 you can do Swim speed creatures, and level 8 you get Flight.

  • Druid Level 2 / CR 1: Dire Wolf, Giant Spider, Giant Eagle (at Druid Level 8)
  • Druid Level 6 / CR 2: Giant Constrictor Snake, Polar Bear
  • Druid Level 9 / CR 3: Giant Scorpion, Killer Whale
  • Druid Level 12 / CR 4: Elephant
  • Druid Level 15 / CR 5: Giant Crocodile
  • Druid Level 18 / CR 6: Mammoth.  That’s it. That’s your option.  There is nothing else at CR 6.

Each of these forms offers unique abilities.  For example, the Dire Wolf is a little faster then many things, and has Pack Tactics, where you gain Advantage if an ally is within 5 feet of your target, and can knock things prone if they fail a STR Save.  Or my favorite, Giant Constrictor Snake, which lets you Restrain a single target, forcing it to either suffer disadvantage on all attacks, let allies get advantage on melee attacks against it, or use its action to try an Acrobatics or Athletics check, DC16, to get out.

Also, just a suggestion when going into combat.  Start the fight by using your standard action to cast either Barkskin on yourself, Flaming Sphere, or Call Lightning, and then using your bonus action to Shift, and then move.  This gives you an active Concentration spell up to use, and frees you up to do all sorts of things during the fight.

Finally, the last thing we need to discuss, are some house rules that I feel help improve the Moon Druid a bit and bring it up to balance with everyone else.  First and foremost, is improving your attack roles with your Beast Forms based on your Proficiency bonus. In most cases, the CR of a beast is equal to a character level, which makes figuring out the effective Proficiency bonus for its attacks fairly simple.  Based on that, you can recalculate the attack bonus using your druids proficiency bonus plus the relevant stat for the attack. If your new bonus is higher, use that. This lets you use older forms (like say the Dire Wolf) for a lot longer as they will continue to have a scaling attack bonus.  I have been using this for my Moon Druid in my bi weekly Planescape game with my GMs Permission and it feels fine so far. Damage on the attacks doesn’t change, just the chance to hit, and only if it makes sense.

Next, another house rule is that I would allow Moon Druids, or really Druids in general, to assume Plant forms.  It makes sense that a class built around nature would be able to turn into Plane creatures. They would still follow the same CR Rules, just a few more forms added.

There you have it folks, the Moon Druid.  Hopefully you have learned a bit about this unique and interesting class.  Now, I have a confession to make here: I never wanted to play a Druid. You see, what prompted this entire article is the fact that in my friend / GM Saevrick’s Planescape game (we livestream it on his channel every other Saturday) I play a Yuan Ti Pureblood Moon Druid named Scarlett.  And this was not by choice. We rolled our character’s entirely at random, stats, skills, race, class, the works. And I ended up with the Moon Druid. Since I am the kind of guy who will power game / min max within the theme he is given, I decided to learn just how to make the best of this.

This article is the fruit of that research and learning, and I wanted to share it with you all because I realize just how insanely powerful these sort of Druids can become!  If you want to see me play Scarlett, simply follow my friend Saevrick’s twitch channel and join us one Saturday, or check out this Playlist that houses all the Youtube Archives and watch our group roll our characters and adventure in the world of Planescape.

If you want to see more Pathology stuff, click here.

As always thanks for reading everyone and Stay Nerdy!  Make sure to follow me on TwitchYoutubeTwitter, and join my Steam Group and Steam Curator pages!  Pledge to my Patreon!  Spread the word on social media & help me get out there so I can bring even more content to the masses.  You do want more content yes?

Oh and the title is a reference to this song!

My Worst Gaming Experiences

Pull up a chair kids, it’s time for Old Man Nerdy to tell you a few stories from my gaming history.  Today we are going to talk about the three worst instances / experiences gaming which have caused me to become….very very particular about who I game with and what games I play.

First, for many of you long time followers, the Blue Magic Incident.  I did a video about this one, which you can view here. It is NOT safe for work in the slightest, and I get very angry about it.  Even thinking about it infuriates me.

But that is only one cause.  There are in fact two more. So let’s dig a little deeper.

The first of the remaining two occurred about 6 months after the Blue Magic Incident. I had met a few people at work who invited me to come play in their long running 3rd Edition DND game.  They were high level, so I would need to come over during one of their sessions (they tended to play bi-weekly for 8 hours at a time, ahhhh youth!) to create a character. At the time, I had only played Clerics in 3rd Ed, so I decided to play a Druid.

I spent a good 4-5 hours creating this new character.  They were level 13ish or so, so this meant I had to pick treasure based on my level, build up feats and spells and all sorts of things.  In 3rd Ed building characters higher than 1st level, especially when you are new to the system AND class can take a while.

The DM introduced me in the night, and since they were in the wilderness I started by coming out of the forest in Wild Shape (Bear) form, only to shift out and greet the party.  The response I got was “ENEMY!” from the Troll Fighter who then leapt across the fire they had and stabbed me. The rest of the party joined in and before I could escape (I rolled SHITE on initiative) I was dead.  I stared at the group as they laughed, and it was explained that this was their way of “hazing the new guy” and that they expected the Troll Fighter (who called HIMSELF an Asshole) to do something like this to me. I was quiet, left that night, and never went back to play with them.

Now, that’s bad enough right?  You can see why those two above instances might scare a person and make them reticent to play with unknowns?  Well guess what?

IT HAPPENED AGAIN!  THE SAME HAZING! WITH COMPLETELY NEW PEOPLE IN A NEW TOWN A FEW YEARS AFTER THE FIRST!

The third and final event happened when a guy I knew at my first pharmacy call center job invited me to come join his RIFTS game.  Now at this point I had been learning 4th Ed, and running my own games in it. RIFTS was a system I knew nothing about, but it sounded kinda wild.  So I checked with my wife, she was fine with it, so away I went to join his game. Again, I spent hours while the group played trying to learn the system and understand all these OCC and weird concepts (I mean seriously, wtf game!) and creating a character.  I joined up, and within minutes am dead because the party decided to haze the new guy, distrust him, and destroy him. This time however the DM was at least apologetic and tried to get me to come back but at that point I was like “I am good”.

Mind you, these are only the Tabletop RPG focused stories.  I have had issues when I tried to get into Warmachine and Hordes in my local scene years ago which eventually pushed me out of that, and I dealt with numerous poor sports in the Magic the Gathering scene when I played THAT.  My town, its…iffy when it comes to other players 0_o. I had good experiences as well, don’t get me wrong. I played Magic casually for a good year or two, and Warmachine for a good two years and even blogged about it, but the bad just left such a taste in my mouth that eventually I got tired of putting up with it.

So why am I telling you all this?  What is the point?

Well first the point is to entertain.  While these are horrible stories and I would not wish these experiences on anyone they are also kinda funny in retrospect.  But more than that, I wanted to share these as examples of what NOT to do to new players.

When you know someone is new to the hobby, when they are wide eyed and interested in joining your group, don’t “haze” them.  Don’t do horrible things to them. Make sure to welcome them and let them get their footing. They may be a great player in the future!  Doing things like this, mean spirited “jokes” towards them does nothing but breed resentment. Because of these 3 events and the other stuff, I now refuse to play with people who are strangers to me.  My Patron One Shots are about as close as I get, and those are a 1 Strike and you are OUT kind of thing and are well outside my comfort zone.

If someone new is joining your group, be welcoming and friendly.  If you are at a Con game, same thing! Don’t be insulting, dehumanizing, or demeaning.  It helps no one and only serves to close the hobby off from new blood. And we need new blood to grow and stay relevant.  We WANT new players, new DMs, new participants in the hobby.

At least I do.

As always thanks for reading everyone and Stay Nerdy!  Make sure to follow me on TwitchYoutubeTwitter, and join my Steam Group and Steam Curator pages!  Pledge to my Patreon!  Spread the word on social media & help me get out there so I can bring even more content to the masses.  You do want more content yes?

 

The Collaboration Conundrum

Hello everyone, Clay here bringing you another personal blog.  This time, I want to discuss, at least for the moment, why it is I don’t collaborate with people.  I get these requests all the time, and despite me having made this clear numerous times via twitter every time I get new followers inevitably, someone asks me to guest on their podcast or their live stream or something.

And I am flattered, truly I am.  I would love to be able to do these things.  Hell, a few weeks ago (at the time of writing this) I got offered a paid guest spot on a show.  It would have paid me an amount equal to what I make working for the hours worked no less (which is pretty good) and I still had to turn it down.

“But Clay!” I can already hear you saying “You won’t grow if you don’t network!”  And you would be right. I can’t.  I grow very slowly compared to what people apparently think I should be.  I am small potatoes compared to many others.  And part of that is because I don’t collaborate, or network.

But the reason?  Why I don’t do these things?  Well, in order to explain this I am going to have to get a bit personal about my life.  I don’t mind, but be ready for some knowledge.

Now, prior to January 2018 the answer was time.  I had little free time after work due to the way my wifes and my own schedule matched up.  So I would spend my evenings after work spending time with her, as she worked on the weekend.  She still does, by the way, but now my available free time has plummeted.  Because of changes to my job in January 2018.

You see, in January of 2018 my job moved their office.  I went from having a 15 minute commute daily (one way) to having a 1 hour and 15 minute commute in the mornings, and a 1 hour and 30 minute commute at night.  My job is a 40 hour a week Monday thru Friday job.  Here is how my day breaks down now, this is not an exaggeration mind you.

  • Wake up at 5am EST to get ready for work, make mine and my wife’s lunch, ect.
  • Leave my apartment at 630 am EST to take my wife to work. If I don’t have to take her to work (she starts at 7am) I leave the house at 645am EST.
  • So far I have 1 hour and 30 minutes of “free time” in the morning, for the record. And I am usually fairly groggy / waking up for at least half that time.
  • Now, we either drop my wife off to work and then I go to work OR I go straight to work. My work day starts at 8am EST.
  • I have a 30 minute lunch. I get off work at 430pm EST.  My wife, for the record, gets off work at 4pm EST (and we only have 1 car / can only afford 1 car)
  • I leave work, and either arrive HOME at 5:45pm (assuming I didn’t have to pick up the wife) OR arrive to her work at around that 6pm EST, and then go home (getting home around 6:15pm)
  • I then have approx. 2 hours to take a shower, eat dinner, and try to relax before going to bed around 8pm EST. Sometimes I stay up till 830pm!  Ooooo getting fancy.

My free time, nightly during the week, consists of 2 to 2.5 hours.  That’s it.  That’s all.  And THAT’S assuming I don’t have ANY ERRANDS to run such as shopping, getting gas in my car, picking up medication, doing chores around the house, ect.

I literally have almost no free time during the week.  Instead, I have an effective near 60 hour work week and I am only paid for 40 of that.

But what about the weekends I hear you cry!  Surely you have time then?  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

So if my wife works (and she usually does) I again STILL get up at 5am EST.  I take her to work and come home.  Saturdays I do Laundry, which takes about 2 hours.  So I am usually done with Laundry around 930am EST.  My wife usually gets off work at 4pm so I leave my home at 330pm EST to make sure I can pick her up.  My free time on the weekend is basically from 930am to 330pm EST on Saturdays, and 730am to 330pm EST on Sundays (basically) assuming my wife’s schedule is not weird.  There is variance here.

And do you know what I do in those hours?  EVERYTHING.  I try to do shopping here, I try to do car repairs / maintenance, errands, sending mail out, working on the blog and reviews and reading things, playing games specifically to review them, prepping for any DND games (as a player or a DM) and on rare occasions trying to relax and let myself wind down finally after a week of work.  Then when my wife gets home I FINALLY get to spend time with her, and I am STILL in bed by 9pm EST at the LATEST on these weekends.

So where, exactly, can I fit in a collaboration or guest spot?  Where in my limited free time do I have space to do these things?  I am not giving up what time I get to spend with my wife for anything, so that’s not happening.  And to make this EVEN WORSE?  I only know my wifes schedule 2 weeks in advance, which makes planning for anything in the little bit of free time I get on the weekends to be insanely difficult.

But it gets better.  There is a second issue I contend with.  My health.

I am a Type 2 diabetic, and I have a heart condition.  The medications I am on for these things, coupled with me not paying attention to the Type 2, has caused me to have issues involving my digestive system and stomach.  Essentially, I am in the bathroom every hour or two, for upwards of 15 minutes, dealing with things.  I have FMLA (Family Medical Leave) at work because of these issues.  Sometimes I have cramps and other problems that are so bad I miss work.  Often however its just constant bathroom breaks.

How exactly would I handle a stream guest spot, or a podcast guest spot, where they expect me to sit and not move for several hours?  I can’t do that, its not physically possible for me to accomplish this anymore.

These two issues, time and health, combined make it essentially impossible for me to do collaborations or guest spots without significant issues for the other party.  How exactly am I to appear on a stream when I gotta piss every hour and sometimes worse?  How am I going to do an interview when the only available time is when other people are busy with their families?  How am I going to schedule things when I can only work 2 weeks in advance?

Plenty of people have told me things like “we will work around you with our group” but that’s unfair to the other group.  Why should several people have to adjust their lives to accommodate me and my issues?  The fact is, they shouldn’t.  And I won’t allow it to happen.  So I say no, to everything and anything.

Maybe one day it will change, and I will be able to say yes sometimes.  I have managed to do 2 interviews in my entire “career” online here, and that was only cause 1 guy was in the UK and thus was fine with the time I could manage, and the second works a night shift and just stayed awake.  And in both cases it was just effecting a single person other than me, and in both cases they got nearly no warning.

So there you have it.  That’s why I don’t collaborate.  I hope this explains things in enough detail.  And any time anyone asks me to collab, from now on, is going to get linked to this to explain why I am saying no.

TLDR: ITS NOT YOU ITS LITERALLY ME.  ALL ME.  FUCK MY LIFE SOMETIMES OK!

Introspective: Another Trip Around the Sun Done

This past weekend was my birthday.

It was also my wifes birthday.

It was also our anniversary.

Yes all 3 are on the same day.  I am a year older then my wife.

Every year when my birthday passes I get introspective.  I look at where my life has been, where it seems to be going, and if I have become a better person or accomplished something worthwhile beyond just surviving another year on this planet.  Get ready cause this post might get a little depressing at the start.

I don’t like my birthday very much.  I never have.  As a kid I didn’t have friends so I never had the classic “birthday party”.  We would usually go out to eat somewhere I picked and that was about it.  As I got older, I found people just didn’t know what to gift me as my family are nothing like me and couldn’t understand my interests.  Similar shit happened at Christmas frequently which is prolly why I am not a huge fan of that day either.  At this point in my adult life they are just another day for me.  For my birthday my usual hope is to spend it with my wife.  For Christmas it’s to just survive.

This last birthday was little different.  I managed to avoid thinking about it too much by spending our weekend together playing Final Fantasy 14, and our Planescape DND Game (with Saevrick, Walking Virus, Shelbutt, Brax, and a guest named Jasmine) on Saturday evening.  As I write this on Monday though, sitting at work with my mind allowed to wander, I started to think again, about everything.

Like many creative folk I suffer from Imposter Syndrome, worried that eventually everyone out there will figure out just how much of a fraud I am, and how I don’t belong ect ect.  I can’t help it, I can only deal with it.  I especially feel that way because as much as I want to believe I have done something worthwhile its hard to see it.

Sure I have a lot of supporters, yes.  Plenty of twitter followers and patrons and views on the blog and all that jazz.  But all I can think about is “I wonder how long it will be till I anger them, or fail them, or run them off?”  Logically I don’t think I will be there will always be this little asshole voice in the back of my head yelling that at me.  Sometimes he gets so loud its hard to think of anything else.  Other times, its barely there.  My birthday is when its especially loud.

And its loud because no matter how hard I want to slice it I never seem to make much headway in life.  Its a constant struggle to push forward and try to get somewhere.  In fact, I am 36 now and its ONLY in these last two years of my life really that I can really say I have achieved much of anything.  And that which I have achieved has really not effected me in any major way because every time I make a little headway something else seems to come along to smack me down.

Case in point: Got a bunch of patrons, but now dealing with increased costs from work commute and insurance for work.  One thing caused a positive gain, the other a negative gain, thus almost perfectly balancing out.

I will say that the future looks brighter.  I am not as sad or annoyed or anything this year as I have been in past years.  Things are going better, every day it seems.  It’s just a long uphill climb and it’s not easy.  It’s never going to BE easy.  It feels at times with my 60 hour work weeks (9 hour work days + 3 hours of commute total x 5 = 60) that this blog, the patron, everything I am doing is a second job.  Anyone who claims this sort of thing is easy is lying their ass off to you.  I also think I really need a vacation from my day job, but sadly our work has a policy of taking your PTO if you miss work, and my health conditions cause me to miss work enough that I literally NEVER have Vacation Time.

But at the same time hard work does, slowly but surely, pay off.  I like to think that maybe down the line I will do something that people love, that helps others.  That makes the world a better place in some fashion, that brings light to others.  Even if that light never reaches me.

I still have to work on my Project but frankly I have been demotivated for it.  I don’t know why.  My brain doesn’t want to think about it.  I still need to find time this weekend to prep and setup a Patron one shot for my patrons.  I know some of them signed up specifically FOR a chance at this.  I managed to setup a custom dice bag with Greyed Out, I got a TeePublic Storefront with a design on it along with another one in the works (eventually) so I mean there is positive motion in my life.

And I am excited to see where things go from here.  I have to say my life has been improving, slowly but surely, these last few years.  I have friends, I have fans, I have a few people I call family now as well.  And eventually I have to believe that the good will outweigh the bad.  Because right now, slowly but surely, I think it is.

Happy Birthday to Me I suppose.  I survived another year, and the future is finally starting to look truly bright for me.  In some fashion or another.  Hopefully I can continue to do whatever it is I do for all you guys who read this stuff.  All like 20 of ya.

Thanks for reading and remember: Get those Crits, Take those Hits, Keep Pushing Through and Stay Nerdy!

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action – A Review

Well hello there.  Welcome to Valhalla!  Why don’t you take a seat here at the bar.  What would like to drink? A Sugar Rush? Perhaps a Piano Man, or Woman.  No judgements here. I hear a thousand stories when I am on the job. Why don’t you tell me yours? It’s time to serve drinks, and change lives here in bar of Valhalla.

Greetings my loyal (I assume?) readers!  Today on Terminally Nerdy I will be reviewing a Visual Novel Bartending game, set in a cyberpunk universe called VA-11 Hall-A.  Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, this is not one of those standard Japanese hentai games where you get people naked. This is a story driven heavily narrative game where you live for a few weeks in a cyberpunk world, learning about its people and the issues facing the world from your regulars.

So let’s dive right into Glitch City and see what lies in the seedy underbelly of Glitch City, and the bar known as VA-11 Hall-A.  Starting as always with the Visuals.

VISUALS

Visually the game is stunning.  It has a very clear pixel art style that is clean and crisp.  The character sprites are all visually appealing and distinct, and you get to know each of the characters by site alone.  Dorothy, Sei, and Stella are some of my favorite sprites. Additionally the UI is perfect, with no wasted space. Each section of the screen gives you a clear indication of what it is for, such as the mixing area, the jukebox and so on.

The other main screen you will spend time on is in Jill’s apartment.  In this one you spend most of your time working on her cell phone, and again everything is clean clear and easy to understand.  I absolutely love the visual style in this game.

AUDIO

This music is amazing, it’s perfect, and I want the soundtrack.  Simple as that. And they tie it into the game by the jukebox feature, where you actually select the background music that will play on your shift.  Additionally the regular sound effects are perfectly solid and work with everything. I have literally no complaints with the music.

STORY AND SETTING

The story of VA-11 Hall-A is centered on the bar the game is named after, and the bartender Jill.  The game primarily explores the closing of the bar and the patrons who visit. Every day Jill wakes up, reads the news and heads to work to serve drinks and change lives.  You learned about the world mostly through the Patrons of the bar, as well as the news stories you read on your phone between days. There is a story here, but its muted and very personal focused on Jill and her interactions with her boss, coworkers, and customers.  I adored playing through the work days, meeting the various patrons and learning about all the goings on in the world. Also there are talking dogs and brains in jars so I mean…what more do you need?

GAMEPLAY

Gameplay is very simplistic, but still fairly engaging.  Everyday Jill wakes up in her apartment. You generally have a goal to make sure you have a certain amount of money before a specific date (electric bill, rent, ect) so you have goals to aim for.  On the side of your screen is your phone, which slowly gets upgraded to allow more apps to be added, which is your window into the larger world. This phone is where you get your news, background to the world, and hints at the larger issues in Glitch City.  You also sometimes need to visit a store to buy something to keep Jill from getting distracted at work, which would affect your income. You also can save your game here.

From here, you head to work.  Your UI here is very clean. Work days start with some dialog between Jill, her boss Dana, and her coworker.  Then you select your Jukebox playlist for the night, and then it’s time to “Serve Drinks and Change Lives!”

Serving drinks is very easy but mistakes can still be made.  Patrons will come in, have some discussion with Jill, and then order a drink.  These can be as simple and direct as make me a Sugar Rush, or as weird and ambiguous as “I just want SOMETHING”.  Knowledge of the kind of drinks your patrons enjoy helps here. Your drinks are made up of 5 ingredients, mixed together in various qualities.  Beer, for example, is 1 Adelhyde, 2 Bronson, 1 Delta, 2 Flanergide, 4 Karmotrine, mixed. Yes I remember this because you make it so much. You can also make them “on the rocks” (add ice), Aged, and blended (run the mixer for 5+ seconds).

If you make a mistake on the drink you cannot serve it and must reset.  However, if you mess up the order (serving say Beer when they want a sweet drink) you will get an angry patron, and less money come the end of the night.  You can even make “Big” drinks, where you double all ingredients added. Each night plays out this way, and its surprisingly fun and engaging when someone comes in saying “I want a Cold Drink” and I have to flip through my Drink Manual, trying to find a drink on the rocks that I think they will like (Sei generally likes Sweet drinks FYI) while also maximizing profits (I need to make money!).  Beyond that, its simply reading dialog and hitting space bar or your left mouse button to advance. Sometimes there are other fun little things like a night of Truth or Dare, but most of the game is making drinks and talking to people.

FINAL THOUGHTS

At the end of the day, this is a straight forward linear narrative game, but I adore every single minute I spent with it.  The atmosphere, the art, the style, the MUSIC, it was all perfect. There is even a New Game plus mode to try as there are multiple endings, if you feel the need to go chase those down.  It’s also fairly short, at 8 hours for my run start to finish.

If you are looking for a wonderfully chill engaging game with a solid story you cannot go wrong with VA-11 Hall-A.  You can pick it up on Steam and GOG for $14.99 and its absolutely worth your money.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy that Piano Man.  Stay Nerdy folks!

Gleaner Heights: A Review

Hello gentle readers!  It is I, the resident head nerd, the Terminally Nerdy one himself, Clay, coming to you from the magical world of the internet.

Now, normally the topic for today’s article would be in video form, however I simply have not had time to really sit down and record it, so I decided to go back to what I used to do for Vox Ludicus, and do an old school written review of this video game.  Now, please keep in mind that the developer has been actively updating the game, so some aspects of my review may become nullified.

And what is this game, you might ask?  At its core, Gleaner Heights is a farming / life simulator / rpg created by one man.  Similar to games like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, this game attempts to harken back to the bygone era of SNES styled 16 bit sims, with some unique story twists based on one of the creators favorite shows: Twin Peaks.

Does it accomplish this feat? Well let’s break it down, starting with the visual style.

VISUALS

Visually the game looks solid.  The sprite work is nice and varied, with characters looking “Chibi” styled with large heads and tiny bodies.  The various buildings and areas around town look good, and I am a sucker for the way the water looks. The color palette tends towards the grimey, dingy, dirty style, which given the subject matter touched on in the game makes sense.  This world, the region is not a bright cheerful place. There is darkness here, and the twisted trees, muted colors, and general dark look to the game evokes that quite well.

Enemy variety could however use a bit more spice.  A large portion of the game takes place in a cave system in order to mine, and every floor in the caves looks virtually identical and is filled with the same sorts of enemies.  I found myself going slightly mad down in the mines, which I guess, given again the subject matter of the game, makes a sort of sense. Also, it took me a little while to figure out what plants and trees I could and could not interact with given the art style of the game.  Once I figured it out I was fine but it took a bit of learning.

The UI however is a mess for me.  Its built for a controller, which I found odd considering that as far as I can tell this is a PC only game.  You have a hotbar with 2 rows on the upper left, one row being your tools and the second row being usable items.  Your backpack is divided on the inventory screen into a Tools section and an Items/Loot section. It takes some getting used to.

Overall I think the visual style works well for the game and I enjoy it quite a bit.  But what about the audio?

AUDIO

I despise the audio of this game at this point in my life.  After 17 hours with the game, given the sheer lack of variety in music and sound effects, I have slowly been driven mad by it.  There seems to be one theme (and ONLY one theme) per season, plus music for the mines. That’s it. Sound effects are bog standard, nothing great or terrible there.  But the lack of options for songs during the day of the game (and the mines) means you will hear the same tracks over and over and over and over and over again till it bores into your mind, threatening to break your sanity.  It just really needs more variety.

Speaking of sanity, let’s discuss the most unique aspect of this game, its story and setting!

STORY AND SETTING

Gleaner Heights takes place in the fictional mountain town of, well, Gleaner Heights.  You leave your previous life and purchase a rundown farm on the edge of town in order to start over.  All however is not what it seems in the world of Gleaner however, with strange noises at night and secrets to be found.

There is a story thread running through the game involving the townspeople and the strange and dark things that take place in town.  And unlike say, Stardew Valley which only hints at darker tones, this game goes all in with them. There is a government agent in town, for example, trying to uncover the secrets of the town.  There is abuse, death, eldritch horrors, and more, all waiting to be discovered and exploited.

And yes, I said exploited. You can be a right bastard in this game.  Early on, for example, in the Summer season I was walking around at night to collect these flowers that EVERY Villager in the game loves as a gift.  I got near a particular building to find a townsperson having fallen off a cliff nearby and was dangling by a rope. They begged me to pull them to safety and I had the actual choice to save them, or let them die.  Or another event where I witnessed domestic abuse between a husband and wife, when the wife accused her husband of being a straight up drug dealer. Turns out that whole story can get REAL bad (I looked it up).

While on the surface it seems like this game is another happy go lucky farm sim, dig a bit deeper, befriend the townsfolk, and you can learn all sorts of dirty nasty secrets.  I adore this aspect of the game because it feels unique when compared to the other life sims out there. Finally, lets talk about what brings everything else together: The Gameplay.

GAMEPLAY

After 17 hours with the game you could say that my feelings towards the gameplay are conflicted.  There is a lot here that I enjoy, and almost an equal amount that I dislike.

First, understand this is a farming simulator, and it does not have the same level of depth that Stardew Valley (its direct competitor) has.  You can’t really grow orchards, or make booze, ect. Your farm has only one layout and it does not have any resets at the beginning of a season.  You will spend time in a mine digging your way down to fight a boss and collect metals and other materials to upgrade your gear. You can upgrade your house and tools.  You can fish. You can get animals and care for them (just cows and chickens) to collect milk and eggs. In a sense, if you have played one farm sim mechanically you have played them all at this point until something comes along to really shake up the genre.

Where things differ, however, are in things like the weather.  Gleaner has an actual weather system. Rain for example can wash freshly planted seeds right out of their soil.  In summer days can get so hot you take double stamina to do anything outdoors. Fall can have fog so thick you can barely see what is around you.  When mining, you don’t break small rocks on the floor, you actually dig out the walls and carve your way through things. Hell you can even jump over fences (which I adore).  Combat is more action oriented in Gleaner, with dodge rolling being a thing, and your tools doubling as weapons as well. At its core, Gleaner is a competent game. One thing I have to mention that I love is that time stops when you are indoors.  It makes no sense, logically, for this to occur. But it’s handy. Like when you are mining, time will not move. You can spend literal real time hours in the mines (assuming you have stamina recovery items) to dig. Also, you do not faint when you run out of stamina!  Instead you simply no longer gain skill XP or drops from anything you do, which is tolerable.

However, I have some distinct problems with some of the systems.  First up we have the UI when you sell items. There isn’t one. There is no results screen for the end of your day.  This means that when you sell crops, you have to note how much money you had BEFORE you put any crops into the sale bin, and then check it the next day to see how much it increased.  This also means its difficult to determine the worth of each crop or item you sell. I could not find anywhere in the UI where this information was housed either.

Additionally, some of the perks seem useless, as do some of the backgrounds you can choose from during character creation.  While it’s fun to be able to choose your previous job, a lot of the bonuses are useless. Chef, for example, gives you a ton of cooking recipes!  What the game neglects to tell you is that you cannot cook a single thing till you upgrade your home to have a kitchen. Wrestler (yes you can be a wrestler, and I was) gives you boosted combat damage.  But the boost is so minimal its basically nonexistent. The best one is the background that increases the money you make from your crops.

Another thing is while you can make friends with the villagers and townsfolk, you cannot track your levels with them.  Other then marriage candidates having a colored heart on their dialog boxes there is literally no way to check and see if you are making headway with any particular person.  At times, it felt like I was just spinning my wheels trying to get townspeople to talk to me, which is bad because almost all of them unlock either new crafting items or town services once you reach enough friendship with them, but you can’t track where you are.

My biggest issue, however, is with the mines.  You see, time stops in the mines. This is a good thing.  However, to counterbalance this, finding your way around in there is madness.  You see, there is no quick exit. The mines are 40 levels, and the only exits to get out are on floors 1, 20, and 40.  That’s it. If you are on Floor 15 and you want out? You either need to go down to 20, or back up to 1. No other way.  And each floor gets regenerated when you enter it, meaning that if you go down to floor 3 and want out, you have to go up to 2, find the ladder UP all over again, and climb up to floor 1.  Now I know this doesn’t seem that bad right? But see, the ladders are hidden in the actual walls. And without a specific perk (perks you buy when you level up) you will have no idea where the ladder could be.  You will always start next to the ladder from the floor you last came from, but the way forward (either up or down) can be hidden. Sometimes you get lucky, and the ladder you need will be out in the open.

This means the most effective means of traversal in the mines is to go up and down the ladders over and over again until you can see the ladder you want on screen, and then make your way over.  And since you cannot get knocked out from stam loss, your only other option to get out of the mines is to let an enemy kill you. This is NOT good game design in my opinion and severely punishes players.  I have no idea why I cannot exit the mine by going to an up ladder at all. And given how often you need to go to the mines (its the source of a variety of materials for crafting) you will be driven mad by it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall I like Gleaner Heights but I am unsure if it does enough new to really warrant a play through.  The farming aspects while solid are also very basic, the combat is engaging but basic, and the major selling point, the story, is locked being a friendship system that is hard to deal with at times.

Given however that its only $10 on steam I would say, if you are looking for a new 2D Farming Sim, it can scratch that itch.  While the developer game me a key for the game for this review I would not have been sad had I bought it. I easily got $10 worth of entertainment out of my time with Gleaner Heights, and with the developer actively updating the game I can only hope that my concerns noted here get fixed.

If you wish to pick the game up, you can do so on steam RIGHT HERE.

As always thanks for reading everyone and Stay Nerdy!  Make sure to follow me on TwitchYoutubeTwitter, and join my Steam Group and Steam Curator pages!  Pledge to my Patreon!  Spread the word on social media & help me get out there so I can bring even more content to the masses.  You do want more content yes?