Dragon Heist – Session #4

Morgran, Xana and Sev just came back from the sewers and rescued Floon who had been kidnapped by the Xanathar’s guild. Meeting Volo again at the Yawning Portal, the adventurers receive as a reward a deed to a remarkable property in Watderdeep: Trollskull Manor, a former tavern located in Troskull Alley, in the North ward.


Morgran Foamtankard, new owner of Trollskull Manor

Following Volo’s advice, and after a deserved good night sleep, the group headed up to a courthouse in Castle ward to meet with a tiefling magistrate called Kylynne Silmerhelve. The magistrate officialised the transfer of ownership from Volo to Morgran Foamtankard, who paid a 25gp fee for the estate transfer tax. Although magistrate Kylynne was in a hurry, everyone had a ton of questions regarding the new property and its mysterious occupant, Lif the specter. Magistrate Kylynne provided the party with the plans of Trollskull manor.

The plans of Trollskull Manor, provided by magistrate Kylynne Silmerhelve.

First visit to Trollskull Alley

Later that morning the group made their way to Trollskull Alley. The had a first look at Morgran’s new property. From the outside, it didn’t look so appealing at first glance.

Troskull Manor. Doesn’t it look lovely?

Players had many ideas about what to do with this newly acquired manor. A low-cost AirBnB, offering every possible room for renting? Fixing and reopening the old tavern? Who knows! It seems like they are tending towards the second option.

Everybody decided that it would be better to first ask the neighbours about any knowledge regarding the former tavern and its ghostly owner.

Overview of Trollskull Alley. (1: Trollskull Manor) (2: The Bent Nail) (3: Steam and Steel) (4: Corellon’s Crown) (5: Tiger’s Eye) (6: Book Wyrm’s Treasure) (7: Sewer access)

Meeting the neighbours

Morgran and Sev started by visiting Embric (male fire genasi) and Avi (male water genasi) at the Steam and Steel forge. Embric was apparently emotionally troubled. According to the couple, Tally the woodcarver from The Bent Nail store across the street showed some signs of disapproval regarding their lovely gay couple. Embric and Avi had invited Tally to discuss a business partnership, but Tally left before the end of the diner, just when Embric was bringing his favourite chocolate cake to the table. Embric is convinced that Tally is intolerant and couldn’t bear the feeling of intimacy between him and Avi. Despite those stories, Morgran and Sev still learnt a little bit about Liz the spectre, who appeared to have just died in a natural way after many years running the tavern.

Meanwhile Xana entered Correllon’s Crown, a store with a greenhouse with glass walls at the third floor. There she met Fala Lefaliir (undefined-gender wood elf), the herbalist. After a discussion that could be interpreted as “flirting”, Xana managed to show Fala that she was passionate about herbalism, flowers and the art of crafting potions. Fala suggested that Xana could help on gathering special ingredients in the future. Who knows how this symbiotic relationship may evolve? Fala also mentionned that Vincent, the private detective, might know more about the spectre.

After gathering outside, the group split up one more time to continue interrogating the neighbours.

Sev entered Book Wyrm’s Treasure (thanks for explaining the pun to me), a book-store with walls filled up with bookshelves bigger than what the place would like from the outside.  The place is managed by Rishaal the Page-Turner (short male dragonborn of gold dragon ancestry). Rishaal was very surprised by Sev’s abilities. Indeed, Sev displayed some non-trivial magic skills (creating the illusion of a book). But even more impressive, he managed to catch what Rishaal was saying while speaking to himself in draconic. They continued the conversation in Draconic (decided the Japanese of the Forgotten Realms) and Rishaal offered to help out Sev on his quest to improve his magic skills.

Lastly, Morgran and Xana tried to enter a smaller, fairly unremarkable house from the outside. Only a orange-and-black sign featuring a cat’s eyes was indicating that the place could be of any interest. After knocking on the door, waiting for three minutes, ringing the bell and waiting two more minutes, Vincent Trench (male human, dressed in a sharp suit and smoking a slim pipe). Visibly, Vincent already knew quite a lot about the party, its recent expedition in the sewer as well as Morgran’s new property. Xana tried to bribe him into offering them exclusive business relationship regarding Vincent’s abilities to discover secrets, but the arguments weren’t convincing enough for the experienced businessman. Still, Vincent told them (for free) about what he knew about Lif the spectre, his former life as a tavern owner, and about how the best way to deal with him could maybe be to simply try and help the ghost fulfilling its will.

First (cat) look inside the manor

With all this knowledge, the group decided that it was time to check out the manor. But not yet still! Xana turned into a cat (first time shape-changing!) and climbed up the manor, looking by the windows to have a glimpse inside. All she could see were dust, broken pieces of furnitures and tankards on the ground of the first floor. The other floors were empty, with no furnitures.

The inside of Trollskull Manor.

Coming down from the manor, Xana spot on the side of the alley the same black cat that she saw the day before while entering the sewers. The cat was explicitly looking in her direction and managed to find a little intimacy on the roof, after Sev managed to catch and release it (OMG a speaking cat!). The cat delivered a message to Xana in close-to-perfect common. “Interested in joining the Emerald Enclave? Come meet us at Phaulkonmere in the Southern Ward”.

Befriending Lif the spectre

Finally the group entered the manor. Their first idea was to start cleaning the place, sorting broken furnitures, getting the dust off the tables. This was enough to befriend Lif the spectre, who ended up not being so dreadful after all! Lif draw a smiley face on the window to show how happy he was to see people helping him cleaning up the mess in the former tavern 🙂

Volo turned up in the late morning to say hello. The group asked him to help evaluating the costs to renovate this place. The costs were evaluated at about 1000gp to fix everything, plus some one-time fees for guild licences and contracts (beware of the Fellowship of Innkeeper!). He suggested that they could visit Mirt the moneylender (a noble from the North ward who sometimes acts as business angel) or Istrid Horn (a shady figure from the Southern ward).

Xana also asked Volo if he knew anything about the Emerald Enclave. Volo never heard about it, but he talked about The Harpers (a group of people devoted to maintain balance between nature and civilisation). “You might actually know some of their members already, in the person of Renaer!”.

During the next five days, Xana, Sev and Morgran worked hard to get the place in better shape. Sev, who now sneaks out on a daily basis to turn into a house cleaner, was in a monumental shape. He worked all day long to clean every part of the first floor (reducing overall the renovations cost for 50gp!). Xana the cat tracked down some mice and removed all the poop that was fermenting in the cracks of the walls (-25gp!). Lastly, Morgran used his skill with Mason’s tools to fix the stone structure of the manor, making it better isolated. He also managed to fix some old barrels (-25gp as well!).

Night call

During the night of the third day, Morgran was sleeping in his apartment in Castle ward when he received the visit of a strange creature which flew through the window.

A strange flying creature…

The creature was a flying snake and was apparently here to deliver a parchment. Morgran woke up and picked up the message, as the flying creature flew back in the dark streets… Morgran read:

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Dragon Heist – Session #3

The group had just defeated the duergar and interrogated Krentz the bandit. After a short rest, it was now time to continue investigating the hidehout to rescue Floon.

NOTE: This session involves some nonexistent strategic planning and some ridiculously risky and desperate combat moves. If you like stories of adventurers outsmarting their foes in a creative and coordinated way, you should stop reading right now. On the other hand, if you like to see how players can mess up a boss fight and try their best not to die at level 1, you’re welcome to continue reading.


The group had two options. They learnt that the left door had been worked on to prevent something weird and potentially dangerous from leaking out. They had also learnt that someone looking like Floon had been taken further away in the hideout via the right door. What should they do? The answer was simple: look at both options at the same time.

Sev went investigating beyond the right door. It opened on a corridor about 35 feet long, leading to a staircase going up. Xana was following with the usual safety distance. Meanwhile Morgran was very curious and opened the left door and…

Hello! It’s me, the creepy gray ooze from behing the door coming to kill you!

Morgran decided to step back and retreat just behind the other door, waiting for this viscous creature. He got in position to smash the thing do death as soon as it would make it to the door. He waited 18 longs seconds (the monster has a speed of 10 feet…).

How NOT to engage a boss fight

During those 18 seconds, Sev went up the stairs. It led to a bigger room with many worth-noticing elements. Fortunately (or not), Sev had a good look. On the floor further away was a body lying on the ground looking like Floon. Next to him stood an Orc, facing a platform at the end of the room. On this platform sat a nightmarish creature wearing black robes. It had large white eyes and rubbery purple skin, with four tentacles encircling its inhuman mouth… and it was caressing its brain-cat.

I was not expecting any guest…

Sev had a good look indeed, but so did the monster. The creature pointed at Sev and the orc turned around. At that same moment, the gray ooze was showing up through the doorframe. Assaulted from both sides, and without Renaer’s help, the future of the party was slightly compromised.

Ooze meets fire

The creature (all right, the mindflayer…) dropped its brain-cat to the floor and started running towards a side escape. Xana was the quickest to react. She entered the room and immediately turned left on a room which happened to be empty with no issue. The orc was running towards her. Sev got his shit together and decided to drop back towards Morgran to help defeating the slimy creature.

At this moment, the orc appeared in front of Xana. Seeing Sev running down the stairs, the orc took a pause, before deciding to to hunt down the young rogue. At this point Morgran had engaged the ooze. This mean that both Sev and Morgran were now trapped between the ooze and the orc. Seeing all this mess, the orc decided to fire…

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The party’s position when the orc decided to go with burning hands…

In one moment, the corridor’s temperature went up tremendously. The nimble Sev managed to duck out of the way and avoided most of the fire damage. Morgran, still engaged with the ooze were not so lucky… he got knocked unconscious. Fortunately, the ooze standing behind him was reduced to ashes by the same token!

Inspiring artwork of Sev dodging the fire. Keep them coming Ray!

Meanwhile, Xana was face to face with the brain-cat (a.k.a Intellect Devourer). She estimated her chances in a one-to-one combat against the creature and soon decided to rush back towards the rest of the (barbecued) party.

One more time, Sev had to save the day. Standing between Morgran’s body and the orc, the young Sev listened to his instinct and tried the dagger-in-the-chin uppercut one more time, adding a special “aria vs white-king” effect. Sev rolled his attack and … the dagger gloriously connected with the orc exposed head, killing him in one neat blow.

Xana (almost) loses her mind

The fight was far from being over. Sev ran towards Morgran and managed to find the one health potion that Morgran was keeping in his backpack. As Morgran was coming back to life, Xana appeared down the stairs. The creature behind her knocked her unconscious and made an attempts at infiltrating her mind…

The brain-cat in all its ugliness.

At this moment Xana had to roll an intelligence contest versus the intellect devourer. On a fail, she would… pretty much have to re-roll a new character. Xana went ahead and rolled a 6 (-1). Silence. The intellect devourer rolled a 2. Xana was still alive.

The intellect devourer was coming for a second attempt at Xana’s life. Morgran, freshly revived, charged and took out a big chunk of the brain. Together with Sev, they managed to kill the creature. Silence in the room again. By some miracle, the group was out of danger!

Volo’s reward

The party found out an exhausted Floon (standing with 1HP). Without darkvision, Floon had only one idea in mind: get out of here as soon as possible. Sev started to proceed at looting the place, but Morgran, in an attempt to calm down Floon, messed up (NAT 1!) and turned him into complete panic mode. So everybody started to go back from where they came. Honourable mention for this last goblin guard who managed to dodge three attacks before being reduced to pieces by the tired adventurers. You fought well.

Back to the Yawning Portal, Volo met the party with great pleasure. He confessed that he was running a bit short on money. Instead of paying the adventurers with the promised 100gp each, he offered another kind of reward… the deed of property for a historical manor in Trollskull Alley!

Dragon Heist – Session #2

Renaer was rescued from the Zhentarim kidnapping, but another group has taken Floon away, most likely mistaking Floon for Renaer.  Time to track down Floon in the sewers of Waterdeep.

Renaer the DMPC offers his unwanted help

Renaer Neveremember offered his help to assist the party in the sewers to find out what had happened to Floon. The party told him that he should rather take it easy, stay home and let the real heroes do the job. “You can’t even see in the dark and it would be too easy to spot us if we go down their with a lantern.” And most importantly, “we don’t like DMPCs”, said Xana out of game.

Sneaking into the sewers

Still in the Dock ward, the group went to a side alley and found a circular metal cover leading to the sewers. They took extreme precautions to be sure nobody would see them entering the sewers (why? I don’t know, but it seemed important!). Xana turned a rat into a scout for an exploration mission. The rat understood the first bit of the mission (go down) but unfortunately it never came back. Sev did his special illusionary box trick one more time to cover the entry while everybody went down.

Exploring the sewers of Waterdeep…

A mysterious tavern basement

Soon enough they noticed yellow signs at the intersections, signs that were to lead them to the Xanathar hideout, and hopefully to Floon. After about an hour wandering around the sewers, the group spotted a ladder going up, leading to the basement of a tavern. Sev carefully entered the room, rolled a 1 on his stealth check and spilled a full barrel of ale on the ground. The noise alerted the staff members which started to rush downstairs. Sev retreated and sent Morgran to take the mission over. Morgran went up and started climbing the stairs leading to the first floor of the tavern, before rolling another 1! He fell down on his butt and was almost caught by guards rushing in the basement.

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This guy tried his best to scare off the group, unsuccessfully.

Everything was under control until it wasn’t

Following more yellow signs, the group found out a not-so-secret-and-not-even-locked entrance. They obliterated the goblin guard in his sleep. This poor goblin (RIP) was asleep, facing 3 foe and deprived of any weapon, as Sev carefully disposed of the scimitar. Sev continued to lead the way room after room, working in close cooperation with Xana. “Go, count to 15, come back and report!”. Rather efficient until Sev rolled a 1 (again?!) while trying to open a door… and now things got wild.

A shadowy dwarf rushed to the door entrance and charged with his war pick. In the blink of an eye, he became MASSIVELY HUGE! He swung his weapon at Morgran (level 1, 9 HP) and… CRITICAL HIT for 2d8+2 damage on the poor dwarf (behind the screen I rolled an 8 on the first damage roll and Morgran was 2HP away from being insta-killed). Meanwhile Renaer is still home watching Netflix…

That’s a CRIT, bitches!

Time for Sev to make a choice

At this point, Morgran was down, the duergar was badly injured and Sev was faced with a critical decision:

  • Option #1: Disengage, run for his life and abandon Morgran to a sad fate (and lose a friend out of game, but that’s OK).
  • Option #2: Attack and try to kill the big bad dwarf. On a hit, you save the day. On a fail, you’re going to be butchered a few seconds later.

After a pause to the bathroom, Sev went for it and managed to uppercut-style plant his dagger into the duergar’s head, right down the chin. Clean, efficient, HEROIC!

Xana’s interrogation

Behind the duergar was a human bandit going by the name of Krentz. This guy decided to surrender after seeing what Sev did to his big friend. Xana led an interrogation and Krentz told them a few interesting things. First, DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR ON THE LEFT! Something dangerous is hiding behind it (remember that). Second, someone matching the description of Floon has been seen with an Orc and taken further away within the hideout. Krentz then managed to miraculously retreat and escape after begging for his life.

Morgran’s revenge

Two hours later, Morgran woke up from his trauma and took his revenge by drawing a fairly well designed (rolled a 14 on a DEX (medicine) check) penis on the duergar’s forehead (because why not). Everybody took a well-deserved short rest.

Dragon Heist – Session #1

This series of posts will summarise the D&D campaign that I started running in Stockholm. This campaign is based on the published adventure Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (spoilers)!

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Cover of the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist book

Meet the party!

  • Uthemar Aelar Margaster (a.k.a Sev) / Male High Elf / Rogue (70 years old).
  • Xanaphia Dara Sylvaranth / Female Wood Elf / Druid (303 years old).
  • Morgran Foamtankard / Male Hill Dwarf / Monk (120 years old).

Uthemar is a teenager from the Margasters, a noble family from Waterdeep. His family house is located in the North Ward. Uthemar has seven siblings, but he doesn’t get along very well with them. Over the time, he has grown tired of all those family ceremonies and dinners with other noble families (to the disappointment of his father). Fortunately, he found a way to escape his daily routine: Sev often sneaks out of his bedroom via the window and adventures in the streets. For this purpose, he has created a second identity and usually introduces himself as Sev.

 Xanaphia  is the youngest of a family of four wood-elves. She works for the Margaster family as Guardian of the garden. She took residence in a tree and literally lives in the family garden. From this position, it didn’t took her long to notice the sneaky expeditions of the young Uthemar. Although she chose not to denounce him to his parents, she feels responsible to keep an eye on him and sometimes accompany him out in the streets of Waterdeep.

Morgran is a former war veteran. When his life as an accomplished soldier started to feel a little too dull, he decided to find shelter in a monastery to try another path in life. The teachings of the monastery are a little unclear to him. However, he did become a little bit stronger in martial arts (and much stronger at drinking beer!). This new learnings (especially the drinking part) make members of his clan (Foamtankard) proud of him.

Yet another day at the Yawning Portal

Once again Uthemar decided to sneak out of the family domain. This time he had to play sick to avoid another boring brunch invitation with the whole family. While moving through the corridors, Uthemar heard from a servant that somebody had brought an uncommon creature in the city (an elephant). The beast was now parked in the street near the Yawning Portal, an iconing tavern in the Dock ward featuring a massive well in the center of the main room. Xana saw Uthemar once again climbing down by the window. She took him through to a secret passage she maintains hidden between bushes. The two of them made their way to the Yawning Portal.

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The Yawning Portal

Arriving at the Yawning Portal, the elephant was drawing a lot of attention. Xana went closer and successfully appeased it. Meanwhile Sev entered the tavern and started catching up with her friend Yagra (female half-orc). As Sev went out to find Xana, the group saw five individuals in black outfits entering the tavern. A few seconds later, a fight broke. Yagra was being beaten down by the newcomers. Sev decided that this was the perfect opportunity to search the pockets of people in the audience…

The brawl was interrupted by a growling sound coming out from the central well. People started screaming and running out of the place, as a TROLL came out of the well! The bartender Durnan took out a massive sword from behind the counter and charged the monster. Xana and Sev joined the fight. A group of stirges attacked the group and went back sucking the troll’s blood after having tasted a bit of Sev. The troll was managed without too much trouble.

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Volothamp Geddarm

Xana and Sev’s performance in the fight brought the attention of Volothamp Geddarm (male halfling), who introduced himself as a successful author and researcher. Volo went to find Sev and said that he was looking for help. His friend Floon had been missing since last night. The last time he was sawn was at another tavern called the Skewered Dragon. Volo promised 100 dragons (gold pieces in Waterdeep) as a reward to each adventurer who would take part in this quest. Sev accepted the quest without even telling Xana about it. He also invited his friend Morgran to join the party.

Looking for Floon at the Skewered Dragon

The group decided to investigate at the Skewered Dragon. On their way there, they passed a street that was blocked by members of the City Watch. It appeared that a fight had occurred between  members of two factions. Xana questioned the guards but they would not give any more information. “Get out of the way”! Sev entered a shop nearby (the Xoblob Shop). The only thing he found was a weird gnome trying to sell him some random purple trinkets for an outrageously expensive price. Morgran asked a passerby and learnt that a conflict had been escalating recently between the Black Network and another group.

At the Skewered Dragon, the group learnt from the bartender and some patrons that Floon stayed later that night, after Volo had left. He was accompanied by Lord Renaer Neverember (the son of the previous Open Lord of Waterdeep, Lord Degault Neverember). When the two of them went out, a group of individuals (probably from the Black Network) followed them. Nobody knew what happened after this. However the bartender told the group that these individuals were often seen hanging around a warehouse in Candle Line, a shady alley in the Dock ward. “Look for the symbol of a snake on the door”, he said.

How not to sneak into the warehouse…

The warehouse had to be explored. But how to make sure that nobody would be suspicious when a random group would approach it in this silent alley? The group decided to play drunkards and approach the place while making as much noise as possible. In Candle Lane, the warehouse was easy to spot. It was surrounded by a fence. Xana had a closer look at the portal which opened instantaneously as soon as she put some weight on it. Although the windows had been darkened with some black paint, Xana noticed some movement behind the window (nat 20!) and under the door slit. Sev went to the main door to try and pick up the lock. At the same time Morgran approached the window and used his quarterstaff to try and quietly break it open and… (nat 1!) Morgran misjudged his strength and shattered the window, his weapon falling into the warehouse. He immediately jumped in to get his weapon back and was ambushed by a bird-like creature. Kenkus!

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Fighting the kenkus

The kenkus were (not surprisingly!) expecting some visit. The group quickly defeated the first one but three others hidden behind boxes started firing at them with their shortbows. Sev created the illusion of a box and hid within it to avoid the next volley of arrows. Unfortunately the kenkus saw him casting the spell and got lucky enough to hit Sev while shooting blindly at the fake wooden container. Sev felt unconscious. The fight was tight and the situation was definitely not under control. Fortunately Morgran turned into a killing machine and got rid of another kenku, before throwing a dart right into the butt of a third one who started shooting arrows further down the warehouse. Xana used her magic to bring Sev back on his feet. Meanwhile the two remaining kenkus were trying to escape via the main door. One ran away in the streets of Waterdeep, but the party managed to knock out the other one.

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Kenku with shortsword and shortbow.

After the fight

The adventurers decided to bring the unconscious kenku back into the warehouse to avoid attracting too much attention. Morgran investigated the second floor and found a note written in an unknown language. The note was written on an orange paper and folded into the shape of a bird. Morgran also took four rapiers with him.

Sev checked a storage closet and found… Lord Renaer Neverember! Renaer was hiding there. He thanked the group for saving his life and shared that he was feeling guilty. According to him, the Zhentarim (also known as the Black Network) had mistaken Floon for him.

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Lord Renaer Neverember, son of the former Open Lord of Waterdeep (Lord Degault Neverember).

As the group was packing the kenku into a bag to bring it out with them, Captain Staget burst into the warehouse, accompanied by a dozen members of the City Watch. The captain questioned the group. They tried to lie about the content of the bag but the Captain could feel that there was something fishy. The kenku was discovered. Captain Staget advised to leave the scene. For this time, the adventurers would not get into troubles (he still gave them a copy of the Code Legal and warned them about future misbehaviours).

Members of the City Watch

Just as the party was leaving, the kenku started convulsing and started repeating: “The Xanathar sends its regards! Tie up the pretty boy in the back room! Follow the yellow signs in the sewers. No time to loot the place. Just get him to the boss!”

Morgran, Xana, Sev and Renaer made their way to another tavern. On their way, Morgran sold the rapiers to a merchant (for what he believes was a good price!) and used the dragons to buy a healing potion from another store (he tried to seduce the human shop owner and failed big time).

Once at the inn, Renaer explained: “The Zhentarim think that my father had embezzled a large amount of gold while he was Open Lord of Waterdeep, and that he had hid the dragons somewhere in the city. They think that they can find it by using an artefact called the Stone of Golorr, which was in the hands of the Xanathar Guild until recently. But apparently, someone stole it.” When asked if there was any reward for saving his life, Renaer answered that he would be ready to help in the quest of finding Floon.




Playing the guitar – Wish You Were Here

The very first recording of me singing and playing the guitar. I started learning on June 13rd 2019, so this is 10 days in. I love this song and I wish I can play it better in the future.

Recently I found that I wanted to start practicing an artistic activity. It’s a good way to relax and spend time alone without having to think too much. After months of indecision about which instrument to go for, I just went for that old guitar store next to my office and acquired the cheapest acoustic guitar they had. It’s not the best guitar, but it’s perfect to learn and I love it!

Second-hand Yamaha C45. Nylon strings. Made in Indonesia. 95€

Since I don’t know anything about guitar, the plan so far is to go on Youtube and find exercises or song tutorials to follow along. So far I’ve learnt:

  • The basics of music theory (see Paul Davids’ playlist)
  • Some basic fingerpicking exercises (see video from Justin Johnson)
  • Some basic chords from simple songs (see Marty Music channel). To be more precise, I know 8 chords: E, Em, A, Am, G (in 4 different ways), D, C, B7
  • The pentatonic scale. The name sounds cool and I’ve heard it’s useful.
  • Some practice on simple songs like La poupée qui fait nonWish you were here, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Take Me To Church, Creep. I want to practice more the songs I like the best and record myself, possibly singing as well. I’ve also created a Spotify playlist for songs I’m learning or would like to learn in the future (see guitar wish list).

After 10 days of practice I have to say that this is a lot of fun! Learning lyrics of Wish You Were Here and Take Me To Church has also completely changed the way I listen to songs. Now I really want to understand the songs’ meaning. I also found myself listening to more music and I developed new habits like singing in the shower.

Book review – The Will to Change

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

By Bell Hooks


The Will to Change by Bell Hooks was an important book for me. During the past few months I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about gender equality, feminism, love, sexuality and masculinity. This book helped me tremendously on this path.

The book starts by recognising the existence of male suffering and its sad consequences on society. Hooks provides practical advice to help us men out of this suffering. By doing so, the author becomes a model for her own thesis: in order to end patriarchy and change society for the better, men and women need to work together. Men must be willing to change and learn the art of love, and women must accompany them on this difficult journey.

This review tries to be a summary of The Will to Change, based around six key topics that are logically related to one another.

1. The need to end Patriarchy

The central concept of The Will to Change is patriarchy. Here is Hooks’ definition:

Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.

The strength of Hooks’ thinking lies in recognising males as victims of patriarchy:

To indoctrinate boys into the rules of patriarchy, we force them to feel pain and to deny their feelings.

The logical way to stop male pain is then to end patriarchy:

To end male pain, to respond effectively to male crisis, we have to name the problem. We have to both acknowledge that the problem is patriarchy and work to end patriarchy.

Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation.

Ending patriarchy would increase the well being of our society as a whole:

Life has shown me that any time a single male dares to transgress patriarchal boundaries in order to love, the lives of women, men, and children are fundamentally changed for the better.

2. Men’s longing for love and psychic self-mutilation

The following quotes explain how men’s suffering originates from forced acts of “psychic self-mutilation”. This was a hard but instructive read for me as I could easily relate my personal experiences. Hooks knows that we men must first identify and understand our pain in order to address it.

The reality is that men are hurting and that the whole culture responds to them by saying, “Please do not tell us what you feel”.

The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.

Asked to give up the true self in order to realise the patriarchal ideal, boys learn self-betrayal early and are rewarded for these acts of soul murder.

When males are required to wear the mask of a false self, their capacity to live fully and freely is severely diminished. They cannot experience joy and they can never truly love.

The truth we do not tell is that men are longing for love.

Forbidden to express their longing for love, men suffer and find shelter in addictions:

Even though they have been socialised to create and maintain false selves, most men remember the true self that once existed. And it is that memory of loss, — coupled with rage at the world, which encouraged the surrender of the self — that engenders depression. This suffering […] leads many men to addiction […].

Men victims of patriarchy develop two common addictions. Personally, I went through both of them for many years, at various level, without being aware of it.

Addiction to work (workaholism)

The following quote about workaholism was quite enlightening for me:

Workaholism is the most common addiction in men because it is usually rewarded and not taken seriously as detrimental to their emotional well-being.

Hooks uses a insights on workaholism borrowed from Zukav and Francis (authors of The Heart of the Soul: Emotional Awareness): 

Zukav and Francis describe workaholism as a flight from emotions: “It is a drug that is as effective as the most powerful anaesthetic… workaholism is a deep sleep. It is a self-induced trance that temporarily keeps painful emotions away from your awareness.”

Hooks explicits the inherent contradiction of workaholism:

If the intention behind the work is to seek recognition and power […] then you are setting yourself apart from others as a way of trying to feel connected to them.

– Dean Ornish, Love and Survival

This thinking on workaholism helped me to validate a recent learning: work should always be part of life, and never life itself.

Addiction to sex

Realising how men’s addiction to sex works and its consequences helped me understand how anger and violence can germinate within men’s mind and end up hurting others (especially women) psychologically and/or physically. On a personal plan, it helped me understand the contradictions I was facing and the mistakes I did when interacting with women in the context of actual or would-be romantic relationships:

Sex, then, becomes for most men a way of self solacing. It is not about connecting to someone else, but rather about releasing their own pain.

Hooks gives an insightful note about how linguistics tells a lot about male’s alienated conception of sex. Quoting Robert Jensen:

To fuck a woman is to have sex with her. To fuck someone in another context… means to hurt or cheat a person. […] That we live in a world in which people continue to use the same word for sex and violence, and then resist the notion that sex is routinely violent and claim to be outraged when sex becomes overtly violent, is testament to the power of patriarchy.

The next quote helped me to better differentiate what I would call healthy or responsible pornography compared to the type of pornography I feel guilty about watching: patriarchal pornography:

Often men use perverse sexual fantasy (particularly the consumption of patriarchal pornography) as a hiding place for depression and grief.

Finally, hooks hints at an alternative way that can be followed by men:

While masses of men continue to use patriarchal sex and pornography to numb themselves, many men are weary of numbing and are trying to find a way to reclaim selfhood.

3. Learning the art of loving

Men are longing for love. But “Men cannot love if they are not taught the art of loving”. But what is love? Hooks gives the following definition:

Working with men who wanted to know love, I have advised them to think about it as a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.

Learning the art of loving requires an active attitude by men. Our society must make time for this activity:

Working men must make time to get in touch with their emotional selves if they are to become men of feeling.

In order to know love, men must go beyond the barriers of patriarchy:

Love cannot coexist with domination.

Men need to find an alternative way of thinking and living their sexuality:

Many men fear  learning to love because they cannot imagine a sexuality beyond the patriarchal model.

“In loving sexual intimacy, sexual partners are not interchangeable. They are unique in their histories, aptitudes, struggles, and joys. they know each other and care for each other. […] They use physical intimacy to deepen their emotional intimacy. […] They are committed to growing together.”

– Zukav and Francis

Hooks insists on the fact that men shouldn’t be afraid to engage in the quest for love by fear of not pleasing to women:

Men are on the path to love when they chose to become emotionally aware. […] Women want men to be more emotionally aware.

4. Healing men’s wound by the practice of integrity

Hooks explains that “the practice of intimacy is healing“:

“When we love someone and feel loved by them, somehow along the way our suffering subsides, our deepest wounds begin healing, our hearts start to feel safe enough to be vulnerable and open a little wider. We begin experiencing our own emotions and the feelings of those around us.”

– Dean Ornish, Love and Survival

The following quote shows the responsibility of women partners in helping or preventing men from healing:

“To heal, men must learn to feel again. They must learn to break the silence, to speak the pain. Often men, to speak the pain, first turn to the women in their lives and are refused a hearing.

Hooks uses the concept of integrity to show how men can heal the wound caused by the splitting of their soul:

This wound in the male spirit, caused by learned acts of splitting, disassociation and disconnection, can only be healed by the practice of integrity.

Hooks borrows a definition of integrity:

Integrity means being whole, unbroken, undivided. It describes a person who has united the different parts of his or her personality, so that there is no longer a split in the soul.

– Rabbi Harold Kushner, Living a life that matters

I found the next quote helpful to give us ideas about many areas in which we can try and grow our integrity by working on reducing our obsession with sex:

Obsession with sex can be healed when we reclaim all the essential aspects of the human experience that we have learned to manage without: our affinity for one another, caring connections with people of all ages and backgrounds and genders, sensual enjoyments of our bodies, passionate self-expression, exhilarating desire, tender love for ourselves and for another, vulnerability, help with our difficulties, gentle rest, getting and staying close with may people in many kinds of relationships.

– Bearman, Why Men Are So Obsessed With Sex

This last powerful quote is my favorite:

A culture of healing that empowers males to change is in the making. Healing does not take place in isolation. Men who love and men who long to love know this. We need to stand by them, with open hearts and open arms. We need to stand ready to hold them, offering love that can shelter their wounded spirits as they seek to find their way home, as they exercise the will to change.

5. Feminist masculinity

One of the first revolutionary acts of visionary feminism must be to restore maleness and masculinity as an ethical biological category divorced from the dominator model.

In my understanding, feminist masculinity is the new ideal of maleness that needs to be celebrated so that man can become who they are outside of the patriarchal model.

Here are three quotes about feminist masculinity. I found the first one particularly instructive:

Feminist masculinity presupposes that it is enough for males to be to have value, that they do not have to “do”, to “perform”, to be affirmed and loved.

Feminist masculinity defines strength as one’s capacity to be responsible for self and others.

Feminist masculinity would have as its chief constituents integrity, self-love, emotional awareness, assertiveness, and relational skill, including the capacity to be empathic, autonomous and connected. 

6. Reimagine family as a place for resistance

What can we do as individuals to help undermining the fundamentals of patriarchy? Hooks gives a clear answer:

Since we have yet to end patriarchal culture, our struggles to end domination must begin where we live, in the communities we call home.

If we are to create a culture in which all men can learn to love, we must first reimagine family in all its diverse forms as a place of resistance.

To create the culture that will enable boys to love, we must see the family as having as its primary function the giving of love.

As we’ve seen in part two, boys are assaulted by patriarchy since their youngest age. Hooks gives extra advice about how to help our boys:

Progressive parents who strive to be vigilant about the mass media their boys have access to must constantly intervene and offer teachings to counter the patriarchal pedagogy that is deemed “normal”.

To truly protect and honour the emotional lives of boys we must challenge patriarchal culture. And until that culture changes, we must create the subcultures, the sanctuaries where boys can learn to be who they are uniquely, without being forced to conform to patriarchal masculine visions.

Caring fathers with bold strength and integrity shield the open, tender hearts of their sons, protecting them from patriarchy’s hardhearted assaults. 

Let’s finish this review with this quote full of hope for men ready to exercise the will to change:

Ultimately the men who choose against violence, against death, do so because they want to live fully and well, because they want to know love. These are men who are true heroes, the men whose lives we need to know about, honour, and remember.

Pet project: chessboard UI – Day 5/6/7

Last Sunday I went to a meet-up in Stockholm where developers gather in a Starbucks to work on personal projects. By speaking with a more experienced JS developer I realised that it would be nice to improve and refresh my knowledge about the raw JavaScript language. So I spent most of my programming time going through the official documentation and reading through a nice book, Eloquent Javascript. (The YDKJS series is also good, I read it a year ago but I find Eloquent Javascript to be better organised and more practical). Still, some decent progress has been made on the chess project!

Drag & Drop

Moving pieces via Drag & Drop has been successfully implemented. In react-dnd jargon, I decided to make <Piece /> a DragSource and <Square /> a DragTarget.

When a Piece is dropped on a Square, a MOVE action is dispatched to update the game position:

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 18.14.00

Move validation

As you might have noticed in the previous screenshot, the MOVE action is actually only dispatched if the index of the destination square is included in the props legalMoves, which is an array of all legal (valid) index moves.

I decided that those legalMoves would be calculated at the square level and passed to each piece as a prop. This way, we always know where a piece can move before it is actually moved by the user, improving the speed and the overall UX. This will also be helpful if we decide to help the user by highlighting the possible moves when a piece is being dragged.

To do so, the <Square /> container gets the legalMoves from the redux store via a selector, getLegalMoves. But since the moves are specific to a square index, I had to pass the square index to the selector. To be sure that everything was correctly memoized, I followed ideas from this article:  Computing Derived Data.

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 18.25.28.png
The getLegalMoves selector takes the square index as argument

Then the fun began with writing the logic of the findLegalMoves function. After quite a few Jest tests and calculations, the basic chess rules have been implemented. The code of the chess logic is not completely DRY for now: it would be good to refactor some parts. But at least it is tested, which will facilitates a lot the implementation of more advanced chess rules and the refactoring work.

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 18.01.00.png
All green!

There is one part of the code that I was quite satisfied with: the function to find the valid queen moves reuses the functions to find bishop and rook moves. This represents nicely the fact that a queen in chess has the combined abilities of a bishop and a rook:

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 18.29.33

Live demo

I deployed a demo of the app on Heroku with this handy buildpack. Feel free to try it out!

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 18.36.41

Next steps

I might slow down on this project to continue reading Eloquent Javascript and go through the codebase of my former project (ChineseMe) to prepare some job interviews.

Still, there are some simple ways to improve this app:

  • Complete the chess logic
  • Add basic user actions (start a new game, go to previous / next move)

I’m not that far from completing all the TODOs to achieve the simple vision I had for this pet app. I’ll make an update in the future when significant progress is done. Cheers!

Pet project: chessboard UI – Day 4

Today was a short programming session. The objective was to move pieces on the board by dispatching MOVE actions.

Handle MOVE actions in the game reducer

This is the first implementation of a move. I update the position as well as the fullMoveNumber. Note that I use a function called calculateNextPosition() to find the next position based on the origin (from) and destination (to) squares.

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 11.55.13

The calculateNextPosition() function was not existing yet. So I wrote a test for it:

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 11.53.44

Thanks to the two util functions developed yesterday (positionToArrayOfPieces() and arrayOfPiecesToPosition()), making this test pass wasn’t too difficult:

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 11.54.02

And with that in place, all the tests are now passing!

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 12.08.29

Playing around in Redux devtools

According to the tests everything should be working properly. Still, it’s fun to see the pieces moving on the board! Below is a small demo recorded live.

Note: don’t try this in an actual chessgame…

Tomorrow I’ll try to implement moves via Drag & Drop using React DnD.

Pet project: chessboard UI – Day 3

Today was a really poor day for the user of our chessboard (no new feature!). BUT I’m quite satisfied with the progress made on the app structure and the development experience. Almost everything I mentioned yesterday has been implemented.

Redux and ducks

I started the day by setting up Redux. I decided to do this early because…

  • it is much more convenient to hold the state of the application in one single store.
  • it will be more convenient to handle user actions.
  • it will allow time-travel between moves (something that chess.js doesn’t support).
  • it allows me to conveniently test the app logic (by dispatching actions and comparing the expected state to the actual state.

To do so I installed the following libraries: redux, react-redux, immutable, redux-immutable, reselect, redux-devtools-extension. Then I refactored the currently very simple codebase to match the ‘ducks’ organisation, which I previously used on the ChineseMe project and found very convenient when scaling up.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 16.23.54
Up and running with Redux and Redux Devtools

Improved Game State

Instead of saving the full FEN string in the store, I decided to cut it into it’s six distinct parts. This will make it easier later to update the game situation based on user actions:

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 15.36.41

I use Reselect to recreate the full FEN string based on those six elements:

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 16.29.42

Testing the app logic

With this first ‘duck’ in place I can now develop the logic following a TDD approach. With Redux, the idea is quite simple: the only thing that can happen is user actions resulting in redux actions, which are handled by reducers, which update the state in the storeThe UI then displays components by querying the store’s state via selectors.

Image result for redux action reducer store selector image
Diagram taken from this article


This means that we can test that every part of the flow works as expected by creating tests that:

  1. Generate an action using an action creator
  2. Calculate the next state by passing the action to the reducer
  3. Get the next state via the appropriate selector
  4. Compare the next state to the expected state

With that in mind I wrote a failing test for a future ‘MOVE’ action:

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 15.38.20
A useful pattern to test the logic of a redux app

As expected the test is currently failing since the position is not yet updated. I’ll handle the logic of the ‘MOVE’ action tomorrow:

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 15.38.36.png
As expected, it’s a fail! So far so good.

Useful util functions

When handling user actions it will be more convenient to work at the square level. If we represent the board by an array of 64 strings, it’s easy to understand what ‘moving a piece’ means: moving elements within the array.

However as far of the app state is concern, it’s much more convenient to keep track of the position as a string. And it would be more convenient if a server was added to this project (a simple string is easier to save in a database than a JS array.

With that in mind I developed two useful util functions:

  • positionToArrayOfPieces
  • arrayOfPiecesToPosition

I followed a TDD approach to facilitate the development of those functions:

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 10.47.28



Pet project: chessboard UI – Day 2

Today was a rather short session. I started by adding a <Game /> component that will be responsible for handling the data of the whole game (mainly the data from the FEN notation). That way we can keep track of the whole game situation, and the <Board /> only has to care about the position.

Then I played a little bit with the chess.js library. I went for a basic test implementation (there are cleaner ways to integrate third party libraries in React components).  Still, this demonstrated the possibilities offered by this library:

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 08.47.55
Initiating an instance of Chess in the componentDidMount() method of the <Game /> component.

With this code the board now displays the game, here after the first move ‘e4’:

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 08.51.52
One move in!

Now here are a few things I realised and will have in mind for the coming days:

  • Using chess.js sort sof defeat the purpose of this pet project. I’ll learn more by developing the chess logic myself, gradually adding more rules.
  • React DnD (Drag & Drop) looks like a promising option for allowing the user to move pieces. And the official tutorial even showcase this very chess example.
  • I need to start separating the react components between components (responsible for rendering UI elements) and containers (responsible for handling the data and passing it as props to the components). This distinction is sometimes called dumb vs. smart or presentational vs. container components. Here is an explanation from Dan Abramov.
  • I will soon need redux to have the whole state of the app in one place and handle user actions in a more manageable way. This article explains how to add redux.
  • Redux will also allow me to follow a TDD approach when developing the chess logic. For example, I can write a test to see if the game data is updated (using selectors) when a user move a piece (a redux action). This article looks like a good reference.