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Review: Uncaged, Volume 1

Uncaged

Cover Artwork by Samantha Darcy

Uncaged, Volume 1 is ambitious, imperfect, and inspiring.

I’ve been awaiting this anthology since Ashley Warren posted a call for contributors on Twitter last year. Uncaged is a collection of myth- and folklore-themed one-shot adventures written for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition which subvert tropes around female mythological creatures and monsters and reinvent classical female archetypes. Each adventure is intended to be played in 1-5 hours.

Uncaged, Volume 1 is the first of four releases and it does not disappoint. The 25 modules in the collection are mostly for Tiers 1 and 2, but there are a few Tier 3 and one Tier 4 module as well. The narratives range from small town investigations to epic combat in the afterlife, from ancient mythological conflicts to spooky, cryptic fairy tales. Some of the adventures are sparse, while others are densely packed with information; most are a mere seven pages long.

There are minor grammatical and formatting issues and some modules feel much more polished than others, but the overall quality and value of the collection outweigh these concerns. The artwork is stunning and the layout is stylized and clean. I’m always seeking modules that emphasize roleplay, investigation, and exploration as much as combat and this collection fits the bill.

Some of the narratives are open-ended, allowing PCs to drive them in various directions, while others feel like short stories to be shared at the gaming table. Though my reaction to each adventure varies – and is based on my own preferences and biases – I would highly recommend purchasing the collection. Given the extent and the overall quality of the content, I have no regrets over the $14.95 price tag.

Since I haven’t yet run any of these adventures, my reviews below are based on readings alone. Starred* titles are my personal favorites, which I hope to run for my players within the next few months. I also hope to post extended reviews for any adventure I do run, along with some long overdue posts about past adventures I ran and loved. I’m getting there, it’s just…life!

THIS POST CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS. If any of my players (or anyone who is knowingly going to play through these adventures) are reading this, I advise you to stop here. Don’t ruin the surprises, however small they may be.

Continue reading “Review: Uncaged, Volume 1”

Birds, Birds, Birds

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This year, I tried my hand at producing a mainstage play, the Seoul Players production of The Birds by Aristophanes. Serious props to all the producers out there; what a stressful, multi-faceted job it is. In the end, I’m proud of this show we put together and I’m absolutely in love with these shots I captured during our final dress two weekends ago. Putting on a play is a chaotic, expensive, unpredictable, and gratifying experience. Here’s to the deranged and brilliant people who do this over and over again for the pure love of the craft. Much love to you all.

Russian Doll

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I loved Russian Doll. I sat in my living room with my cat and watched the whole season in one sitting. I couldn’t stop. Lately, I’ve been reading exclusively fabulist/magical realist fiction by women and Russian Doll scratched that same itch. The emotional weight pummeled me, the supporting characters are so alive and entertaining, the twists somehow both expected and unexpected as should be with any fairy tale.  I didn’t know anything about the show before watching – including how reminiscent it is of one of my favorite films from the 1990s – and that made it all the more enjoyable. Thank you to my friends Brian and Andrea who urged me to watch Russian Doll. This is me, paying it forward to you.

Wild Love

I woke up early this morning to a message from a friend informing me that Mary Oliver had died.

Three days ago, my husband sent me the following image from a beach in Vietnam:

He was quoting my favorite Mary Oliver poem, entitled “I Go Down to the Shore.” It’s a brief, simple poem that has given me ineffable solace in difficult times. It is one of the only poems I know by heart.

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

I first became aware of Mary Oliver several years ago when I listened to her interview with Krista Tippett for On Being, recorded in October 2015. She read this poem in that interview. I was immediately captivated by her. I felt a closeness to her. She reminded me of my grandmother, who recently passed away. Granny was also a poet, extremely intellectual, a nature lover, sharp and humorous. They were both so damn practical.

When my husband sent me that image, I printed a photo of Mary to go in the front of my journal. I was inspired by Austin Kleon, who selects a Guardian Spirit to watch over each of his notebooks and who also wrote a lovely post in honor of Mary today. It seems fitting that she remain my guardian at a time when I am grieving and letting go of so many things: the loss of my grandparents, proximity to my family and friends back home, the safe, familiar layers of self I’ve shed to make room for the flourishing and the new.

Mary wrote often about wild love.  She expressed such love for the beauty of the world and its inhabitants; she had a deep compassion for herself and for others. May her wild, loving spirit reside in the corners of the life I’ve constructed and in the work I have to do. May her words resonate in my heart this coming year and beyond.

Dear Mary, you were loved, you are loved. Thank you for your gifts and for rescuing me from despair. In your honor, I will go to the woods, I will walk and scribble, I will listen to the world.

Buttercups

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I’m dreaming of you again. In my dreams, I’m looking for the lamp, the one mother brought home when you were little. That day, we rubbed and rubbed it, and you plucked a golden buttercup from a field, placed it inside, and made a wish. You giggled as the blossom’s “blood” smeared onto your fingers. You dropped the lamp in this forest, the forest I wander nightly in my polka dot skirt, the skirt you said made me look like a princess. ”Princesses don’t wear polka dots,” I said, a week and two days before we buried you beneath a wreath of buttercups, my fingers smeared golden with blood.

Photos and narrative part of a collaborative project with Matt Bokan.
Model: Katie Bokan

2018: A Year of Magic

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The Magician, The Wild Unknown Tarot 

I’ve been learning the tarot for one year, a practice which began last New Year’s Eve when I was visiting home and joined two dear friends, Andrew and Anne Marie, at their kitchen table for a reading. Andrew had purchased the same deck that’d been sitting neglected on my bookshelf for many months, and I took this as an invitation to return to the cards. We drew a card for each month and one to encapsulate 2018; none embodied the energy of the past year quite like The Magician.

2018 was a year of magic and my challenge was learning to receive it.

Last year, I experienced a transformation; I am not the same person I had been. That year, I learned to let go of a number of habits and beliefs that had been causing me deep suffering for so much of my adult life: confusing shame for anxiety and mental moments for facts, fighting against my feelings rather than accepting them, tuning out. The year brought many other blessings. New friendships came unexpectedly, adding layers of love and inspiration to my life. I spent an hour each week for many weeks with a therapist, a kind and nurturing woman who turned my understanding of human emotions upside down and who showed me how to love and accept unconditionally – myself first, then others.

I learned what true compassion can feel like and how finding seeds of connection in others can transform relationships. I also learned to tune in with the deeper tides of experience that flow beneath the surface of consciousness; in other words, I connected with my inner child.  Throughout the year, I repeatedly drew the same tarot cards: Cups/Sea, Mothers/Queens, The Moon. The sea and the subconscious were so dominant in my mind and spirit that I had them etched into my skin so that I would never forget. I still see my dreams in shades of seafoam, the mysteries and magic of life in the crashing tides.

It was last year that I was thrown by chance onto the stage and rediscovered how theatre and the act of making a show can be deeply medicinal, spiritual practices. Through theatre, I reconnected with my physical body, from which I’d been disassociating for years but hadn’t known it. I performed in another play and won a Best Actor award. I took up drawing again, played many hours of Dungeons & Dragons, studied the tarot. I directed a short play and through that experience uncovered yet another unexpected and powerful friendship.

I expanded into the world, seeking connection and contributing what I could with the energy of The Magician, my ambitious ally. The love and passion I sent out returned in the form of new connections, a sense of community, and opportunities which are filling me with such thrill and anticipation I hardly know what to do with the feelings.

Here is the magic I came to see: the universe is abundant and cyclical as the sea. Its gifts are boundless. When your heart is open and loving, you will find that there is so very much to receive.