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May 24, 2020

Austin's COVID Quarantine Routine 2020

Here's another routine article for you, now that it's a new and extremely memorable year for all of us.

Austin's COVID Quarantine Routine

My day starts somewhere between 1:00 a.m. and maybe 5:00 a.m. if I'm really lucky. I wake up to my son crying in his crib and my wife saying "Your shift." I groggily get out of bed, go to the bathroom, then take the screamingly hungry child to the kitchen to fill up a bottle of formula. I feed him in the rocking chair in the living room, watching an episode of Phineas & Ferb or playing a couple of rounds of Hearthstone. When he was a fresh newborn, he would just want to be held all the time, so I would stay up for three hours a night, playing Hearthstone or Divinity: Original Sin 2 or some other game I could play one-handed; but now, he's just as keen as I am to go to sleep again right after he's done eating! So I'm usually only up for an hour, sometimes as little as 40 minutes from start to finish feeding and changing his diaper.

When I wake up to him crying again when it's my shift, it's usually around 6:00 or 7:00. I've long since turned off my phone alarm, since I'm guaranteed to get up no matter what nowadays. I feed the kid again, usually while my other two kids are complaining about being hungry themselves, even though they're pretty much capable of getting a bowl of cereal on their own now. I keep all three kids entertained and fed as best as I can until about 8:30, when my workday technically should begin. I put my son in his Snoo crib, leaving my wife at his mercy, shower, and then I go on my precious morning walk.

I decided early on in this quarantine, when my workplace began requiring us to work from home, that I'd try and keep a degree of normalcy and familiarity to my daily routine, for my own sanity's sake. So I decided to start taking 20-minute walks in the morning and afternoon to replace my normal 20-minute commutes. I set a timer on my phone for 10 minutes and start listening to the Glass Cannon Podcast or Marco Poloing my best friend Dustin about D&D. I wander as far as I can, then when the timer goes off, I retrace my steps back home. My mind woken up, I'm ready for working at home. As ready as I can be, anyway.

Unfortunately, the only place that my work station fits in my house is on my kitchen table, in the middle of the house and everyone else's activity. Thank goodness for headphones, but I still had to modify my work pace significantly... Just being in everyone's view makes it hard for my wife not to ask for help holding the baby or the kids not to bother me. But they do their best to leave me alone if my headphones are on.

At 10:30, we do our online Stand Up meeting on Microsoft Teams, but everything else I do on a regular basis is much less organized than it was last year. I work on tickets throughout the day, but take constant breaks and drag out my hours longer than usual out of their usual frame. Sometimes I conference with my mentors online and pair program over screen share, but most of the time the work itself isn't too different.

At lunchtime, I eat pretty much what I ate at work before: some kind of leftover warmed up in the microwave. After I'm done, I sit down with my daughter to read her a Harry Potter book. Right now we're on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which really should be called and the Triwizard Tournament, and it's been a lot of fun to reread the series with her and see her experience the awesome story for the first time. I also really enjoy doing the voices. My wife says my Hagrid is spot-on. I enjoy giving Karkaroff a strong Russian accent, and Professor Sprout and Mister Filch both have Southern accents (though Filch's is more like a greasy cowboy). We read a chapter a day, but some days my daughter can't wait and we end up reading two. I never like reading more than that though. It's fun to keep the routine and I'm going to be sad when it's finished.

The 2:00–3:00 sleepy slog is worse than ever now that I have less sleep at night, but at least here at home I can find a place to take a cat nap and not feel bad about it. In between working, I like to work on any of my D&D documents on my Google Drive, most recently a 5e adventure based on Zelda: Ocarina of Time. My recent discoveries and subscriptions to Inkarnate, FlowScape, and Dungeondraft have helped along my D&D endeavors immensely.

I finish up around 4:30 like usual, and my afternoon walk is usually accompanied by my kids, wife, or both. The weather has been getting really nice lately, which makes these walks a real delight to go on, especially when we're stuck at home so often. I try to make dinner around 5:00, and then atound 6:00 or so, we've been having movie nights three times a week as a family. This has been a fun tradition to keep all of us sane together, and a great way to both reminisce and show my kids the types of movies I watched when I was their age. So far, we've watched George of the Jungle, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Homeward Bound, The Parent Trap, Flubber, Lilo & Stitch, and some other 90s classics, as well as a few movies I had never seen before like The BFG.

These movies are often accompanied by a bowl of my wife's popcorn, or dinner itself in a "picnic" form. I also usually enjoy a dessert, but the kids have to spend a Ballard Buck to have one, and by this point they've usually spent them all on extra screen time.

After the kids are in bed, I usually have time to play a little bit of computer, though most of the time I have to be holding my sleeping baby, so I'm still limited to one-handed games or grown-up movies like Pirates of the Caribbean or, this past weekend, TRON. On Thursday nights, I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons with my wife, brother, and sister-in-law, with Dustin as the DM. It's been a lot of fun to be a player instead of a DM for a little bit, which has helped with DM burnout a bit. Friday nights are sometimes bro nights where I play Terraria or Heroes of the Storm with my brothers and cousin, but those have been dying out lately, and my wife and I want to start having Friday nights be James Bond Goldeneye 64 nights. Saturday nights are my favorite: the Dungeons & Dragons adventure Dragon of Icespire Peak with a full group of five players on Roll20! I'd never ran a prepared D&D module before, and I've had a blast with this one. When it's over, we may move up to a more ambitious adventure: Baldur's Gate: Descent to Avernus, and I can't wait. I didn't use to like playing online with Roll20, but doing it out of necessity during this pandemic has let it grow on me, and I can't deny it's easier to get a group together in one place digitally to play.

Bedtime is pretty variable these days, but I usually get to bed around 10:30 or so just out of pure exhaustion. The days and weeks seem to fly by during this quarantine, which I guess is a blessing. We've had a lot of time to sit home and cook new things, bake (my wife is creating a sourdough starter as I type), and see what new projects the kids can come up with in their boredom. If only our landlord would let us get a trampoline or a puppy, they'd be set for this summer, but I guess we'll see how much longer things go. I think the thing I miss most is working on my YouTube channel (and the extra fun money income it brings in). It's just impossible to find the specific time and energy needed to make videos, or even stream, except for simple things I can do in my spare time like lip sync animations.

That's about it for this year! Honestly, I'm not scared at all of the pandemic, and being an introvert, I really haven't missed too much other than going to restaurants and movie theaters. I'm confident it'll end eventually and life will get back to normal. For now, I can think of no better recourse than to work on projects, find enjoyment in old interests, and develop new skills. I hope you stay healthy, and I'm excited to read this one day when COVID-19 is just a weird memory.

May 20, 2020

Ballard Bucks

My wife and I decided this past week to make a household currency system for our kids. The newly minted "Ballard Bucks" could be earned by doing chores, reading, and making age-related accomplishments (like successful potty training), and could be spent on screen time and desserts, or cashed in for real money, or taken away as payment for us doing their jobs for them.

So far, it's a huge success! We have yet to make a list of all the things Ballard Bucks are useful for, but the kids are so far really motivated by them, and though we've had to make a shared Note on our iPhones to keep track of how many Bucks each kid has just in case they try to steal the actual bills, things have gone smoothly otherwise.

Anyway, I wanted to showcase the Ballard Bucks I designed. It was fun looking at existing world currency and taking bits from some of them. I never realized before how it must be to actually design currency. You want to create something unique, recognizeable, and complex enough to be hard to counterfeit. It should show notable symbols of the country minting the currency, as well as identifying numbers and signatures to prove its authenticity. Below is the first batch of minted Ballard Bucks. I added symbology of the Ballard family crest (the gryphon), my religion, myself, and some cool designs. In retrospect, even though I would be printing these out in black and white for cost's sake, I should have made it in color just for the sake of presentation on the computer. That would've been pretty cool.

May 5, 2020

D&D Spells for Heroes of Might and Magic

For the past two and a half years, I've been collecting ideas for 5e magic items and spells based on games and other franchises I'm familiar with. Last week, I decided to finally compile all the spells for one of the franchises, Heroes of Might and Magic, into an actual document that could be sold on DMsGuild or something. I'd love any feedback you have on balance.

My main goal when making this document, and in adapting spells from other sources in general, is to merge the franchise with D&D as seamlessly as possible. I take great care to look at other existing spells, to follow the tips for designing spells in the DMG, and to even do things like tweak the wording slightly in order to make it sound more like a spell that would be in an official D&D source. I also try to make the spells versatile enough and vague enough that each would fit into any D&D campaign setting, not only the one the spell came from.

Lots of franchises have spells that are more or less the same as D&D, such as fireball, cone of cold, and heal, so for these I just skip entirely and focus more on ones that would be a welcome, fresh addition to the game. In other cases, in the case of clone in Heroes of Might and Magic III, I change the name so that it's clear that it does something different than the existing spell in D&D that had the same name. Lastly, if a spell's name doesn't make sense given what it does in the original game, I use the name as inspiration for a brand new spell. For instance, in Heroes 3, a spell called forgetfulness causes half of all creatures you target to "forget" to use their ranged attack on their turn. Instead, I just made it a spell similar to modify memory, though not as potent.

Below are some of my favorite spells I adapted from Heroes of Might and Magic II and III:

Magic Arrow
1st-level evocation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous
An arrow of magical energy flies from your hand toward a target in range. Make a ranged spell attack. On a hit, the target takes 2d10 force damage.
     At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 1st.

3rd-level enchantment
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 minute (concentration)
You grant a creature within range the ability to counter incoming attacks. For the duration, the creature can use its reaction when it takes damage from a creature within 5 feet of it to make one melee weapon attack against that creature.

Magic Mirror
4th-level abjuration
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (a small jeweled mirror worth at least 100 gp)
Duration: 1 minute (concentration)
A creature you touch reflects magic for the duration. Any time the affected creature is targeted by a spell of 4th level or lower that affects only it or that is a line spell, that creature can roll a d4. On a 1 or 2, the creature is affected by the spell but has resistance to any damage it causes. On a roll of 3 or 4, the creature is unaffected, and the effect is reflected back at the caster as though it originated from the creature, turning the caster into a target.
     At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of a higher level, the level of spell this it can reflect is equal to the spell level cast.

5th-level transmutation
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 minute (concentration)
You touch a willing creature. For the duration, that creature deals an additional 3d6 damage on weapon hits against the creatures of the following types: aberrations, celestials, dragons, fiends, and giants.

Summon Boat
6th-level conjuration
Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S, M (a pearl worth at least 300 gp, which the spell consumes)
Duration: 24 hours
A wooden boat emerges from a body of water within range that is at least 120 feet square. Any creatures in the ship's space when it is summoned are harmlessly lifted as the ship rises.
     The boat uses the statistics of a keelboat (see Ghosts of Saltmarsh). It is 60 feet by 20 feet in size and can hold up to 7 passengers comfortably. It has 100 hit points, 15 AC, a damage threshold of 10, and a sailing speed of 3 miles per hour. You are considered proficient with the vehicle and with navigator's tools while on the boat. The ship is furnished with cots, rope, and all the tools necessary for maintenance and sailing, as well as 1 days' worth of rations. The boat is decorated however you like. If anything created by this spell is taken off of the boat, it transforms to salt water and disappears.
     After 24 hours or when you cast this spell to summon a different boat, the boat harmlessly fades out of existence, unless you cast the spell again.
     If you cast this spell every day for 10 days, the boat and all its cargo become permanent.

May 1, 2020

My Favorite Hearthstone Deck of All Time

I've recently gotten back into Hearthstone after a two-year break, which is something I didn't think would happen. I really got sick of Blizzard making up crappy lore and making Warcraft, my favorite lore franchise of all time, even more messed up that World of Warcraft made it. What with Sir Finley Mrrglson, the "League of E.V.I.L.," and all that garbage. Well, now, they've gone back to their roots of lore bits like Outland, and the Demon Hunter is a pretty cool new class.

I rejoined the game playing mostly with an old Wild deck I made over the course of a long period of months a good 3 or 4 years ago: a warlock deck simply called "Mwoo hoo haa haa." I was delighted to find that, with only a couple of small updates, it is just as amazing of a deck as it was before I took a break from playing. Below is an explanation of the deck and the strategy I employ when playing it.
"Mwoo hoo haa haa"
Class: Warlock
Copy Code:
Value: 19,000 dust
Cards, in Order of Mana Cost:
  1. (1)Kobold Librarian. This is a good card to mulligan, since you can play it on turn 1 and essentially get a free Life Tap and a 2/1 minion on the board.
  2. (1)Mistress of Mixtures. Another great card to have in your opening hand. It feels good to play it on turn 1 and then essentially get two free cards from hero powers on subsequent turns, since it heals the damage dealt by Life Tap.
  3. (2)Bloodmage Thalnos. Honestly, this is the least essential card in the deck. I mostly just have it as a way to draw an extra card earlier on, and the spell damage might come in useful in a pinch.
  4. (2)Corrupting Mist. This is a cheap card for a bit of delayed board removal. Pretty good for removing low-attack taunts later in the game. It's also good to play it before another expendable minion when your health is low, because then the enemy can't help but try and remove the minion since they know the minions are going to die anyway, sparing you some health.
  5. (2)Drain Soul. A great 2-damage spell for picking off pesky Knife Jugglers or weakened enemies. And it's got Lifesteal, so it mitigates a Life Tap on use.
  6. (2)Gnomeferatu. This card is most of the time a shot in the dark, but there's always the chance it will discard the one card the enemy is basing their entire deck around. There's nothing more satisfying than discarding their C'thun or Galakrond and seeing them play their "Threaten" emote and concede. The 2/3 stats are also pretty good to have on the board early on.
  7. (2)Zephrys the Great. This is one of the best cards in the game, at least in theory. It can always get you a finishing move if the enemy has low health, though I do get tired of Zephrys wishing for Tirion Fordring or Temple Enforcer when what I really needed was a Mass Dispel. I find it best to play him around turn 6 or 7 to avoid this go-to he seems to fall back on.
  8. (3)Ironbeak Owl. Sometimes there's that one minion that the enemy has buffed all to heck, or a single taunt that's between you an lethal, or a Deathrattle card that'll ruin everything if it dies. It's also pretty useful against those stupid, stupid "Reborn" cards.
  9. (3)Kabal Courier. I love this card so much that I crafted a gold copy of it. Chances are, it'll land you a great Mage, Warlock, or Priest card that'll prove useful. My favorite moments are when I get Frost Lich Jaina or Mind Control to really turn the tide in the late-game.
  10. (3)Mind Control Tech. This is a relatively new addition to the deck. It's just super useful when the enemy has a lot of minions on the board.
  11. (3)Mindbreaker. This card can really mess with decks that rely a lot on hero powers, whether that be to quickly finish a quest or screw things up in the later game. And by the time you need it, you don't need to Life Tap anymore because you have a full deck anyway.
  12. (3)Shadow Bolt. A simple and useful single removal tool.
  13. (3)Zola the Gorgon. This is one of my favorite cards in the game. If you're smart and a bit lucky, you can end up using it to gain multiple wishes from Zephrys, potions from Kazakus, or full heals from Reno Jackson. And the copy you get is in gold!
  14. (4)Hellfire. A great early-game board clear card. And sometimes being able to kill your own Deathrattle cards or "safely" finish off your demons so they can be resummoned later is useful as well.
  15. (4)Kazakus. This card can really turn the tide and mess up certain types of decks, or it can just give you a small edge in a pinch. I try to wait to use this until I'm absolutely sure what the enemy is trying to do to me. For example, a Deathrattle/Resurrection Priest deck can be castrated entirely with a well-placed "transform all minions into 1/1 sheep." More often, though, it's just a nice way to gain a bit of armor early on and clear some 2-health minions.
  16. (4)Shadowflame. This deck needs quite a bit of removal power to be viable, since it involves a lot of stalling for higher-mana cards, and this card doubles as a way to save demons for later or activate a Deathrattle minion while clearing the enemy's board.
  17. (4)Voidcaller. The primary purpose of this card is to summon the Doomguard card, but summoning the Despicable Dreadlord or Mal'Ganis is always a plus. This is a great target for Shadowflame if you have a demon in your hand.
  18. (5)Despicable Dreadlord. This can be a great help in finishing off 1-health minions or punishing enemies for running too many tiny minions trying to swarm you. It's an especially fun bonus effect when it's summoned with Krul the Unshackled or Bloodreaver Gul'dan when the enemy's not expecting it. 
  19. (5)Doomguard. I can never, ever bear to play this card on its own unless I have lethal. Its Battlecry is just too risky with this deck, which depends so heavily on every single one of its cards. If it isn'y summoned with the Voidcaller or Krul the Unshackled, it's kind of a waste, so I always hope to get it out early on, and then resummoned when Bloodreaver Gul'dan is in play, preferably with Mal'Ganis so you get a 7-attack charge minion along with all the other demons that appear.
  20. (6)Emperor Thaurissan. One of my primary goals toward the early-middle game is coining out this card. Even being on the board for one turn can make a big difference, bumping down the mana cost of this deck's considerably costly cards or opening up chances to do combos like Zephrys and Zola.
  21. (6)Reno Jackson. Even though its cost is a bit high for a mulligan, I usually keep this in my hand if possible, since it's such an important step in the process of this deck's gameplay. Life Tap, Hellfire, and just general damage from the enemy can add up frighteningly fast, but once this card is played, you usually have a full hand to make a solid stand for the rest of the game.
  22. (6)Siphon Soul. A great removal card for a single, high-threat minion, and it comes with a bit of Lifesteal attached.
  23. (6)Skulking Geist. This is another situational card, but its stats are nice, and it's more often than not worth the risk. Absolutely no harm to you (unless you're still holding a 1-cost Kazakus potion), and there is no better feeling than burning an enemy's precious side quests, a Paladin's arsenal of secrets, or a Jade Druid's entire supply of Jade Idols they've carefully been stowing away for late game.
  24. (7)Lord Godfrey. Yet another board removal card, and its interesting mechanic can be really useful when getting rid of Reborn cards or Deathrattle minions that spawn new minions that can be dealt with immediately. 
  25. (8)Twisting Nether. The ultimate board removal card, useful when there are just too many minions to deal with viably. It's especially useful (and in this way better than the priest card Plague of Death) when some useful Deathrattle minions are on your side of the board, since all the enemy's minions die but you still get some lingering ones to protect you until next turn.
  26. (9)Krul the Unshackled. An essential card to work toward playing as soon as possible, especially if you can get out as many demons from your hand as possible. Even just getting out the Doomguard is worth it, but it feels so good to immediately get a 7/9 minion, deal 1 damage to all enemy minions with the Dreadlord, get a charging 7-attack minion, a bulky 3/9 taunt minion, or possibly Mal'Ganis, who will buff all of the demons you play at once and make you Immune. 
  27. (9)Mal'Ganis. One of my favorite cards in the game. Not only does he buff all your demons and have incredible stats, but you're Immune while he's on the board. This can save you from bombs in your deck, fatigue, and hero-specific targeting cards, or let you use a weapon without worry if you got one somehow. Obviously, his cost is prohibitive, so it's best to get him on the board with a Voidcaller, Krul the Unshackled, or Bloodreaver Gul'dan. 
  28. (9)Voidlord. A great way to stall, especially if you can summon it early using a Voidcaller. It's essentially a paragon of three Voidwalkers that the enemy has to fight twice. I actually don't mind when the enemy Silences my Voidlord, since that means I'll get more of the other demons who died when I finally play Bloodreaver Gul'dan without clogging the board with Voidwalkers.
  29. (10)Bloodreaver Gul'dan. The ultimate goal of this deck and the prestige you work toward the entire game. If you play your demon cards right, playing this hero upgrade summons a board full of minions the enemy has already had to face once before. Bloodreaver Gul'dan's battlecry alone can win you the game, especially if you can get Mal'Ganis and Doomguard out at the same time, or it can help save your life by hedging the way with a Voidlord, giving you a bit of armor, Immunity from Mal'ganis, or even just a hero power that can help you recover health. If you managed to keep Thaurissan on the board for two turns with this in your hand, you get to deal 3 damage and heal for 3 at the same time in addition to summoning your demon army! Oh, and did I mention this is the only Golden Legendary I've ever crafted? I just couldn't resist being able to resummon my demons shinier than ever, not to mention keep my golden hero portrait and hero power in their glorious animated forms.
  30. (12)Mountain Giant. Another recent addition, and just an all-around great card to have in this deck. If the enemy is stalling just like you are, you can punish them by playing this as early as turn 4, and if you're lucky, Zephrys can grant it Windfury and really speed you toward victory. In a pinch, you can pair the Mountain Giant with Shadowflame, which is an incredibly good board clear combo. With as many cards as you generally get in this deck, losing this minion usually hurts the enemy way more than it does you. 

Basic Strategy:
The first order of business every single game is draw, draw, draw. My first priority is to Life Tap up to a full hand so that I can play a card on each turn and still have 9 other options at my disposal, ready to deal with any challenge the enemy throws at me. This deck has enough removal, Discover cards, and board clear to deal with almost anything, and the primary goals are:
  • Stall
  • Raise an army of demons and let them die safely (that is, not get stolen from the enemy, reshuffled, or polymorphed into other minions)
  • Use Reno Jackson when you're at 8–12 health or so to essentially start "Round 2"
  • Use combos of whatever Kazakus, the Kabal Courier, or Zephrys
  • Become Bloodreaver Gul'dan, resummoning the demon army and gaining the power to devour your enemy and stave off fatigue until you win.
This deck does have a few weaknesses: Mill decks are dangerous to go up against, since you may have too many cards, and burning any of the cards in this deck could mess up its perfect synergy. Decks that are too aggressive are also hard to go against if Reno never shows up, and Bombs and other harmful cards that lurk in your deck waiting to be drawn are almost certain to mess up this deck's goals of keeping a full hand for the whole game.

However, I've found that despite these exceptions, this deck has an answer for almost every situation, which is a very satisfying experience that fits perfectly with my play style. So far, I've reached Rank 7 of Platinum on Ranked play using exclusively this one deck, so it's treating me pretty well. Feel free to try this deck out and let me know what you think of it. But please... play with Gul'dan as your hero, and not freaking Nemsy Nezofickle or whatever her name is. Have some dignity for the warlock class.