Presta Shobogan, Elven Ranger


As promised, today I’m sharing my newest D&D character—the one I’m currently playing in Season 3 of Total Party Kill.* We’re playing “Dungeons and Dragons”, which I think is a dumb name—not the name itself, but the fact that Wizards of the Coast isn’t including an edition number. Like this is the be-all, end all of all D&D forever. We’re nerds. We like numbering things and putting them in order. Have they not read their own books? D&D is all about** minutiae like that!

Okay. Sorry. /rant

So yeah, we’re playing what everyone refers to as D&D 5e (or fifth edition). I quite like it so far. One of the things I like most is how much character building is involved in character building. If you follow the creation rules as laid out in the book, you have to come up with a good amount of backstory to support things like traits and flaws…but we’ll get to those, and sooner rather than later, as I think they provide the backbone for all the rest of the character info.

Our campaign setting is Dark Sun, which is set on a particularly hostile desert world called Athas, where water, metal, and wood are extremely scarce, magic is seen as a dangerous and terrible thing (though not by Elves), Halflings are bloodthirsty cannibals, and Elves tend to be near-xenophobic, nomadic traders who aren’t as long in life or short in stature as their usual D&D counterparts.

Note that the party I’m joining is 3rd level, so I’ve created my character at 3rd level. Not everything here applies to a brand-new, first-level character.

The Basics

Name: Presta Shobogan***

Alignment: Neutral Good

Race: Elf

Character Backstory/Overview

I grew up with a tribe of traders and traveled the desert extensively from the time I was old enough to run. (Athasian Elves learn to run practically before we can walk.) Eventually I grew bored with trader life. I knew the trade routes and dangers of the desert well enough to give up the trading life and hire myself out as a guide. I know what to watch out for when traveling in the wild, I’m an adequate fighter, and I’m knowledgable in the ways of healing. Thus I’ve made a bit of a reputation for myself as a skilled guide. I’m uncomfortable in cities and have a powerful wanderlust. As an elf, I’m appropriately haughty towards those not of my kind. (Especially Thri-Kreen, who are basically the bogeyman to Athasian Elves. Elven flesh is a much-loved delicacy for Thri-Kreen palates, you see. An Elf traveling with a Thri-Kreen is a rare, rare thing. So of course, our party has both! Oh, the Drama!)

Background: Outlander

Instead of jumping in with a bunch of numbers, I’m going to start with Presta’s background. I think this makes for more interesting reading than all the math-based stuff. This 5e addition to character creation simply codifies some things experienced role players have done for years. It’s nice to have it as a formal part of character creation. Newer players (and, let’s face it, some older players) are forced to think beyond stats, and that’s always a good thing. I’ll include the nitpicky stuff at the end for you detail-hounds, but this background really forms Presta as a person.

The Outlander background is perfect, having grown up with a band of traveling trader Elves. It grants some specific benefits, though I made a couple of substitutions—I really like that minor substitutions are A-ok according to the rules. It’s more important to create the character you envision than it is to stay within the lines.

Personality TraitI’m driven by a wanderlust that led me away from home.
Elves in Athas don’t live as long as Elves elsewhere, as such, they’re less likely to stay put for decades at a time. I certainly don’t like staying put. If I’ve been in one place too long, I’ll start looking for the nearest caravan that needs a guide/guard.

My ideal stems from one amazing place I discovered in the desert many years ago. One night, I left the trader caravan to scout for raiders. I traveled farther afield than I strictly needed to (not unusual for me). This time, amongst the tumbled rocks of a particularly treacherous stretch of desert, I discovered a small sandy cave with, of all things, a tiny spring creating a pool of water at one side—not enough water to live off for long, but enough to be unutterably beautiful in the moonlight, surrounded by desert plants. The sight took my breath away, and though I’ve returned there many times, occasionally camping for several days, I’ve never told anyone of its existence. I’m convinced other such places exist in the desert, and I’m determined to find them, no matter how long it takes.

BondI protect [guide] those who can’t protect [guide] themselves. (substituted from Folk Hero)
I know as an Elf, I’m better than pretty much anyone else. For some reason, I feel compelled to protect those less-fortunate creatures from their own stupidity. I don’t particularly like this about myself, so I tend to cloak that assistance in disdain—especially when saving someone from a situation they were stupid to get into in the first place. Open disdain tends to inhibit my ability to find work, so I try to keep my thoughts to myself. I don’t always succeed.

FlawI’m not fond of cities (or any place many people congregate).
I spend time in Tyr and other cities when I need to find a job, but I’m much happier wandering the deserts. When I travel with a group, I occasionally take unwarranted nighttime jaunts (or daytime jaunts, as that’s often the rest period for desert travel). In part, these side-trips are to search for natural desert treasures, but they also provide solitary time. So far I’ve been lucky. None of my excursions have endangered the people I’m supposed to be guiding/guarding, but I still feel mildly guilty each time I do it. Of course, that doesn’t stop me the next time I feel I need to roam.

Skill Proficiencies: Survival and Medicine (substituted from Hermit)
Tool Proficiency: Musical instrument (Fipple flute, aka recorder/whistle)
Languages: One additional – Halfling
Origin: Desert

Feature: Wanderer
I can always recall the general layout of terrain, settlements, and other surroundings. I can also find food and water for myself and up to five others each day (provided the land offers such things—on Athas, this is anything but assured).

Race: Elf

Because I’m an Elf, I get the following:°

Darkvision, which means I can see in dark and dim conditions. I can see in dim light within 60 feet, and in darkness as if it were dim light. I can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of grey.

Keen Senses, which grants proficiency in Perception.

Fey Ancestry, which gives me advantage°° on saving throws vs being charmed. Also, magic can’t put me to sleep.

Languages: I can speak, read, and write Common and Elvish. (Actually, I’m not entirely sure about this. Literacy on Athas is extremely rare, so I’d have to check with my DM on this one. I can definitely speak them both though!)

Subrace: Athasian Elf
Athasian Elves are different from their brethren who live in more temperate climes. But as you might expect, hardship creates opportunities. Living on such a harsh world has caused the Elves of Athas to evolve some special features:

Dune Runner: When traveling on foot, either alone or in a group that’s all elves, I can perform actions as if I’m traveling five feet slower than I’m actually traveling. For example, while moving at a normal pace I could still use Stealth.

Fleet of Foot, which means my base land-speed 35 feet. I’m quick!

Mask of the Wild, which allows me to (attempt to) hide even when I’m only lightly obscured by foliage, sandstorms, siltstorms, and other natural phenomena. This being Athas, the foliage bit is rather unlikely.

Class: Ranger

My very first D&D character back in the late 90s was a ranger, and I don’t think I’ve played one since, so I’m excited to be going back to my roots. Of course, Presta is a very different character from stolid old Silva Lak.°°° Being a ranger imparts some neat stuff too:

Hit Dice: 1d10/level

Favored Enemy: Undead
I get advantage on Survival checks to track undead creatures, and on Intelligence checks to recall information about undead. I would also learn an extra language, but there’s no language associated with undead. At 6th level (if I live that long) I’ll get to choose an additional type. I’ll definitely choose something with a language next time!

Natural Explorer: Desert
I’m very familiar with desert settings. I get to double my proficiency bonus when making Intelligence or Wisdom checks related to the desert, as long as I’m proficient in the skill I’m using. Also, when I’m traveling in the desert for an hour or more, my group and I get a bunch of sweet benefits:

  • Difficult terrain doesn’t slow us down.
  • We can’t get lost except by magical means.
  • I stay alert to danger even when doing something else (navigating, tracking, etc.).
  • I can move stealthily at a normal pace when traveling alone.
  • When I forage, I find twice as much food as normal.
  • While tracking creatures, I learn their exact number, size, and how long ago they passed.

I get to choose an additional favored terrain type at 6th level as well. Seeing as this is Athas, I feel like that’ll be less than helpful.

Primeval Awareness: If I use an action and expend one ranger spell slot, for one minute per level I can sense whether certain creatures are present within 1 mile of me (or 6mi in favored terrain): aberrations, celestials, dragons, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead. (I can’t tell their exact location or numbers though.)

Fighting Style: Archery
I get a +2 bonus to attack rolls with ranged weapons.

Ranger Archetype: Hunter
As a Hunter, I place myself between civilization and the wilderness, which truly fits my character perfectly. As I’m 3rd level, I get one specific “Hunter’s Prey” feature:

Colossus Slayer: When I hit a creature with a weapon attack, I do an extra 1d8 damage if it’s below its HP max.

Stats and Spells and Such

Here’s my list of classic attributes. I rolled these up on my trusty d6es. Note that I included bonuses that are imparted by my race.

  • Str-11
  • Dex-16 (14 +2, Elf)
  • Con-12
  • Int-14 (13 +1, Athasian Elf)
  • Wis-15
  • Cha-9

These are the things I’m good at. I’ve included the source of the proficiencies for those who care about that level of detail.

  • Armor: Light armor, medium armor, shields (Ranger)
  • Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons (Ranger)
  • Saving Throws: Strength, Dexterity (Ranger)
  • Skills: Athletics, Insight, Nature (Ranger), Perception (Elf), Medicine, Survival (Outlander background)


  • Alarm: I can set a magical alarm against intrusion for 8 hours in an area no larger than a 20-foot cube. If a Tiny or larger creature enters, I’ll be alerted either audibly or mentally.
  • Cure Wounds: I can touch a creature to restore 1d8 HP + my wisdom bonus (4).
  • Goodberry: I can create up to 10 magic berries which each restore 1 HP and nourish a creature for one day. (They lose potency after 24 hours.)


And for the really really detail-oriented folk, here’s what I started with! Playing in Dark Sun is neat because the lack of metal and wood changes the things that you can realistically find/own/carry.

Starting Wealth: 110gpˆ

Armor: Studded leather (the studs are obsidian)


  • Longbow (made of bone) and Quiver
  • Sling
  • Scimitar +1 (made of crystal)
  • Daggers (3, made of bone)


  • Explorer’s pack (contains a backpack, bedroll, mess kit, waterskin, tinderbox, 10 torches, 10 days of rations)
  • Extra waterskin
  • Candles (5)
  • Chalk (3 pcs)
  • Component pouch
  • Flask of oil
  • Fipple flute

Playing Presta

Someday I might write a whole post about what it’s like to play Presta. After two gaming sessions, I’m quite enjoying her. It’s a bit tricky playing a taciturn character, as I mentioned in my previous post, so I’m still kinda trying to find my way in. I think I’m managing alright, but who knows? Have you listened/watched yet? Let me know what you think!





*If you like D&D and podcasts (either video or audio—we have both!), I highly recommend you check it out. This season has been the funniest yet, in my opinion. As I write this, the most recent episode is titled “A Night on the Caravan” because it went so far off the rails it’s practically a Marx Brothers movie. In fact, I might argue that a Marx Brothers movie has more sense/plot/coherence.

**D&D is emphatically NOT all about minutiae like that—or at least it doesn’t have to be. The story and characters are every bit (and usually far more) important, but I was in the middle of a good rant there, and it seemed to fit.

***Yep. That is absolutely a deep-cut Doctor Who reference. I am that kind of nerd.

°Note that I haven’t included Trance here. (Elves with Trance don’t need to sleep normally, they just have to go into a trance for about 4 hours a day.) Apparently Athasian elves don’t get that. So I have to sleep through the night—like a sucker.

°°Advantage is a new 5e thing. It means I get to roll two d20 and keep whichever roll is higher. As you might guess, Disadvantage is a thing too. It means you roll 2d20 and keep the lowest.

°°° Sadly, to this day, Silva, her mischievous weasels (Sid and Nancy), her semi-sentient scimitar (“the Silvatar”), and her talking flame sword (Moltar—who’s more intelligent than Silva) are stuck ~one gaming session away from completing Tomb of Horrors. Alas!

ˆThis amount has now decreased by 40, for reasons you may have already seen. Blackmail’s a bitch!


D&D dice & 5e PHB

As I type this,* it’s Sunday, February 22nd, 2015. As much as I love watching a good awards show (I really do), instead of watching the Oscars tonight, I get to do something even better. I get to play D&D online with a bunch of talented and funny people. I’ve been playing D&D with The Incomparable crew since June of last year, but we’ve just recently switched campaigns (back to the Dark Sun campaign they all started well over a year ago), so I got to do something I both love and hate– Continue reading

Ode to Gally

Frazer and me Gally 2015

Dearest Gally,

How do I miss thee? Let me count the ways.
I miss thee to the depth and breadth and height (of the LAX Marriott).
My soul is bleak when cosplay’s out of sight.
For the days of meeting in ideal space (Programs A, B, C, D, E).
I miss thee to the level of each con day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and poolside-light.
I miss thee freely, as Lobbycon night.
I miss thee purely, as LA sun’s rays.
I miss thee with passion Gally sets loose
For my beloved show, my childhood fave.
I miss thee for the stress I seem to lose
With my first drinks. I miss thee with the breath,
Smiles, squees, of all my fandom; and, I muse,
I shall but miss thee more until the next.

(Apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)

Coming back to real life after a convention is never easy. After Gallifrey One, it’s even more difficult. It’s the one time of year when I’m surrounded by the greatest number of my closest friends. When I can make a joke about a Jameson bottle cosplaying as a Sea Devil, and the whole room gets the joke. There are no words to describe just how important this trip is to me, so I’m not going to try. What feels easier at the moment are words about trying to put myself back into the “real” world.

Unpacking all the lovely geeky t-shirts (some new!) I wore on stage? Heartbreaking.

The shock of having to wake up early, not for a panel or an interview, but for a cold, snowy trip to the office? No thanks.

The coworker who asked about my trip only to be polite so she could immediately talk at length about her own personal news? I could do without.

A day full of email triage and scrambling to document everything that got missed while I was gone? Dreadful.

Having to rush to the library at lunch to pick up a comic book for podcast homework? … Actually, that one’s pretty okay.

And with that, I’ve reminded myself there are parts of “real life” that are gosh-darned great. I encourage all my fellow travelers experiencing Gally-withdrawal to look for those bright spots and hold onto them nice and tight. That’s what I plan on doing! …Until May 1st at 11am Mountain Time,* at which point, the jonesing will start up again. It’s a vicious cycle, but one I wouldn’t trade for anything.





*That’s when Gally 2016 tickets go on sale!

Note: That picture is of me interviewing Jamie McCrimmon himself, Frazer Hines!

Gallifrey Bound!

Gally 26

Is there anything more distracting than having only two more days of work before leaving for a much-anticipated vacation?* Because that’s what I’ll be experiencing as this post drops. As you read this, I’m probably struggling with my brain, telling it to read those emails and document those issues when all it wants to do is think of California sun and Doctor Who fans and guests and guests who are fans.

That’s right. Wednesday morning, Steven and I will be waking up bright and early** to head for the airport to take us to Los Angeles for the Gallifrey One convention.  I cannot wait. I’ve only been going for a few years, but I already think of it as my “primary” con. It’s where I get to see many of my favorite people, most of whom I only get to see once a year. Chatting on Twitter or on Skype is quite nice, but there’s something special about the energy in the room when we can get together and talk face-to-face. And hugs! I miss hugging my friends.


In addition to prodigious amounts of hanging with my friends, I’ll also be doing my usual couple of panels (italicized descriptions are lifted right from the program materials, found here***):

Rivers and Captains and Teachers of Maths
6:30pm – Friday in Program D
From River Song to Captain Jackº and Danny Pink, from Madame Vastra’s Paternoster Gang to Mickey Smith and Wilf, Osgood and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart too… we love our recurring players in Doctor Who. Our panel will take a look at what the supporting cast has brought over the years, from the long-running to the one-shots (Astrid Peth and Santa, anyone?), and how they’ve enriched the universe of Doctor Who.

Twelfth Nights
1pm Sunday – Program C
Love him or loathe him, revel in his adventures or scratch the collective head – reactions to the adventures of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in his inaugural year have been as varied as they are fervent. We’ll discuss the first season of adventures of the Twelfth Doctor in detail, hitting high points and low, and discuss how Doctor Who has changed over the past ten years to lead up to this moment of Capaldi’s older, more abrasive take on the role.


Okay, here we get to the truly exciting (and possibly terrifying) part. This year, for the first time ever, I’ll be doing some on-stage interviews. Truth-be-told, I’m thrilled about this, and I’m (mostly) expecting they’ll go great. But it’s a new thing for me, and I always have trouble with new things, so if you’ll be at Gally, and have some free time Saturday morning, I’d be mighty obliged if you showed up and pretended to be entertained. I mean, I’d rather you actually be entertained, but I’ll take fake enthusiasm too!

Anyway, here are when those are happening:

Gary Russell
10am Saturday – Program B

Frazer Hines
10:45am Saturday – Program B

I’m truly honored to be able to do these, and I hope I do them justice. I adore Gary Russell, and he’s a consummate pro when in the interviewer chair, so I’m pleased he’s up first. I’ve seen Frazer in interviews, and he’s as delightful as he is experienced at these things, so I feel like I’m in good hands in both cases. Still though, the more support I have in the audience, the better!

For those of you not heading to LA this week, I hope whatever you do is even half as thrilling as Gally will be for me. Seriously. Enjoy the heck out of yourselves. I know I will be!





*Okay, maybe having just one more day will be even worse.

**Though less early than we had to for our last trip. 3am was just too darn early. 6am is more doable.

***If you’re curious what my fellow Verities will be up to, look no further!

ºI hope to avoid the argument about whether Captain Jack (or anyone else) is actually a companion. I don’t have a whole lot of hope though.

My Suggestion: Courage


Today I suggested a thing. It doesn’t matter what the thing is, what matters is how I felt about the thing. I had a suggestion for a group of colleagues, and I wasn’t sure how it would go over. I’d been thinking about it a while. It was something that had bothered me, and I wanted it changed, but I wasn’t sure if it was bothering anyone else. In fact, I rather suspected it was just me, and I would sound like a nitpicky complainer if I brought it up.

So I didn’t—at least not for a while. This was what I like to call “Past-E” taking control. Growing up (and actually into college and beyond), I was always incredibly shy. I was also convinced that my opinion didn’t (and shouldn’t) hold as much weight as pretty much anyone else’s. I was meek with a capital ME. Over the years I’ve managed to shed a lot of that, but clearly not all, because I hesitated so long with this thing.

So anyway, it finally bothered me enough that I brought it up. In an email, I explained what was was bothering me. I laid out what we could do to change it. I even explained why I thought making that change midstream might be an asset, rather than making us look like we were inconsistent. Pressing Send was much more difficult than I’d’ve expected. My heart was in my throat, and as I hit the button, I clenched my eyes closed and silently said “screw it!” Then I sat on tenterhooks, waiting for the first reply. And guess what?

I wasn’t the only one bothered by this thing.

The first response started with “Oh thank the goddess it’s not just me.” And then more responses flowed in. Everybody was annoyed by it! In addition to a profound sense of relief, I experienced a mild wave of self-kicking.* Why be so nervous about having an idea? What’s the realistic worst that’s going to happen? People will say no, and life will move on. Such a small risk when on the other side you have the possibility of improving your life/work/day/whatever.

It reminds me of being in high school and being afraid to ask questions. (I almost never raised my hand in class.) When someone else asked a question I was thinking of (but too scared to ask), I’d breathe a silent thank-you to them. I now wonder about all my unasked questions. How many similarly-shy kids were wondering the same things?

So if you’ve had an idea and been afraid to put it out there, I encourage you to do it. You may not be the only one who’s thinking it!





*Note: It was mild. I’m getting better and better with the self-recriminations. Nowadays it’s more like laughing at myself than actual anger. And yay for that!

Happy Birthday to Steven!

Steven interviewing Billie Piper

I was prepping a post about D&D for today, when I realized I had something much more important* to talk about. You see, today is a very special day. It’s the anniversary of the birth of the most important non-me person in my life. That’s right, it’s Steven Schapansky’s birthday today. As you may know, Steven is my spouse, and as of a week from Saturday, we’ll have been married for two years. As of March 2nd, we’ll have lived together for one. Yes, international romances play havoc with anniversaries.**

Anyway, I thank my lucky stars every day that somehow, out of the millions of people on the internet, I managed to electronically bump into him. I most definitely have Doctor Who fandom to thank for that, but I’m not going to go into that here.*** Maybe I’ll do a how-we-met post someday, but for right now, I just want to reflect on how insanely lucky I am to have the life that I do—specifically, the life with Steven. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Mental Health


There are lots of reasons I was happy to move to Canada–a loving husband and universal health care are only two out of a whole passel. And since I’ve moved, I’ve found lots more reasons to be happy here. One of them is Bell Let’s Talk. Bell is a Canadian telecom company, and say what you will about the vertical integration/monopolization of that industry here, Bell’s annual Let’s Talk day is something that makes me proud to live in Canada.

Every year on #BellLetsTalk day, Bell donates 5 cents to mental health initiatives for each text message, mobile and long distance call, Twitter hashtag mention, and Facebook share including the image.* As of this morning, there are over 44 million interactions already!

I love that it’s “Let’s Talk” day. Because that’s exactly what we need to do: Continue reading