This Week’s Brio Build II

Most of our table builds start from wanting to use a specific piece then shaping layout around that. This week it was the collapsing bridge at the center (333911).

The elevated metro station and its green ramps often end up in our layouts, especially as the 90 degree riser is an economical use of space on the small table.

Down on the red bench waiting for Thomas, Annie, and Claribel is a figure from Hape’s “Busy City” we’ve affectionately named Working Mom, as she takes the train to work “just like Mommy.” Working Mom is usually at one station or another of any of our table builds.

Of course, much of our dramatis personae on the tracks is Thomas and Friends, as that is what we’re mostly into these days. Nia and Hiro are favorites, although we can never have too many cranes on the table, either.

Other pieces featured (with my best guess on identifying):

  1. The 2013+ version. ↩︎

Repairing a Brio Bridge

A number of Brio pieces my parents kept around from my childhood have seen better days— missing pieces, cracked smokestacks, and broken knobs on track pieces. My most recent repair job was this arch bridge (333631).

The Brio bridge with its 3d-printed pins in use in a classic figure-eight patten.

This is not the viaduct that came in many of the classic figure eight sets, but a two piece bridge, and in my case missing both male pins. I recall it being broken even in my own childhood, and there was dried hot glue on the ends where my father had clearly tried to make it work for us anyway.

The replacement pins came from TrainLab on Etsy. I didn’t have a metric sized drill bit set, so I had to work at it with a slightly smaller bit- I was a little worried I might crack or break the piece drilling out the broken pin, but it ended up being just fine.

So far my son is not quite as impressed with me as I am, the key takeaway I got (as only a two year old can tell it) was that I couldn’t use it because Nia (his favorite Thomas character) couldn’t fit through the tunnel.

Tough crowd.

  1. It appears 33363 may refer to multiple sets, as Brio changed their serial numbers at some point, but this is what I found in this document from the Brio subreddit. ↩︎

This Week’s Brio Build I

Over the last year we’ve gotten really into wooden (mostly Brio) trains in our house. We are by no means Brio purists, and our collection has grown from a variety of sources- IKEA lillabo, Hape, my own childhood collection, neighborhood giveaways, and more. I’m hoping to post details on more specific items and sets, but starting off with the table build currently out for the week.

My wife and I got the table from a neighbor with a Melissa and Doug set some time back, and while it took a bit, eventually got it re-painted and cleaned up.

The jury is still out as to whether Sasha or I am having more fun here.

Unfiltered Thoughts: One D&D Character Origins

I wasn’t part of the hobby for D&D Next, and while I don’t have many (any?) fundamental problems with 5th Edition, a new editions/revamp was inevitable, and I think this will be an exciting time. I’m excited to see the playtest material on D&D Beyond, and while I don’t know that’s I’ll get a lot of table experience with many of the new rules, I’m excited to pour through it all the same.


+1 on starting feats! Seems like that was a popular houserule (although I never played with it) and maybe means fewer variant humans running around. Or maybe that was just the power gamers I played with.

We have not yet gotten away from capital-R character Race, although background seems to carry more weight than ancestry.

Feels like these rules play well with the half-elf-raise-by-gnomes Fitzworth Tinkertonk Tiddlywink in my first Curse of Strahd party.

Affirms the +2/+1 to any ability score from Tasha’s. Seems like we’re taking much of the designs and “alternative rules” we’ve seen in the last couple books (Tasha’s, Van Richten’s) into the forefront.

They’re saying it’ll remain compatible with 5E— I’m curious if there are any “breaking changes” that are in the works. I can’t think of anything I would want like that at the moment, but if it comes up, hopefully we can decide to drop PHP 5.6 support and make some quality of life decisions that would otherwise be held up by backwards compatibility.


Ardlings. Don’t know a thing about them. Is this a previous-edition port, or something new? Something to investigate. There’s an All Dogs Go to Heaven joke here somewhere. Like a variation of Aasimar, but less “angelic human”, more fantastical in appearance.

Interesting— we have the option to choose a spellcasting ability for Ardlings inherent traits. Curious if this will be the case for any spellcasters from classes, but I assume this is to let one match inherent spellcasting with class abilities rather than potentially having multiple spellcasting abilities at play.

I would be curious to compare some of the races and archetypes from Sword Coast Adventurers Guide (Aarakocra, Goliath, Deep Gnome) side-by-side with Monsters of the Multiverse and these new 2022 UA versions— I know there’s a common take that some of the earliest outsourced D&D books (SCAG, RoT) lacked a certain amount of quality control and polish.

Ooh, Stoneunning is now tremorsense! I like this much better than “you make a great archeologist”.

“When you roll a 1 on the d20 of a d20 Test…”

This is a new term… ability overarching term for attacks, saves, and checks? I guess we’ll find out when i get down to the glossary.

“For every sequestered halfling shire tucked away in some unspoiled corner of the world, there’s a halfling crime syndicate like the Boromar Clan on the world of Eberron or a territorial mob of halflings like those found on the world of Athas.”

This made me laugh.

There is no longer a mechanical difference between stout and lightfoot halflings.


“Building a background” was always an option of the Player’s Handbook, but much better explained and organized here. It’s almost an aside in the 5E PHB.

“Your character gains 50 GP to spend on starting equipment. The character keeps any unspent GP as spare coin.”

This and each suggested background has some equipment listed. Probably for the best, but now fewer people will have pitons just when they need them, and no one will think to buy a bedroll and tinderbox.

Background features are gone, I always thought those were fun, but most were very situational. First-level feat makes a lot of sense instead.


“Each Feat has a level. To take a Feat, your level must equal or exceed the Feat’s level.”

I wasn’t expecting that one. Cool to see that these might scale with level then. That was one complaint I had with some feats— they were often great at lower levels, but less applicable as class features expanded.

“Choose one Spell list: Arcane,* Divine,* or Primal.*”

Looks like class lists might be distilled down to three— makes sense, although I like class-specific spells. Those may still end up existing (just be more specific) once we see UA for classes roll out. I could see something like “Paladins are Divine + this short list” or something like that.

Rules Glossary

Oh man, I’m gonna have opinions about this one…

“For a list of Artisan’s Tools, see the 2014 Player’s Handbook, but ignore the prices there; those tools now cost 15 GP apiece.”

Inflation’s hitting everyone these days…

“Creature Type” – One of the past UAs (I think before VRgtR?) floated the idea of multiple creature types. I wish we could go back to the idea of having multiple (i.e. Humanoid, Undead)

“D20 Test”, yep, umbrella term for checks/attacks/saves.

To be warranted, a d20 Test must have a target number no less than 5 and no greater than 30.

Upper and lower bounds. This is new.

Not sure if I’m on board with auto-success/failure of tests yet. I have to think about this one.

Inspiration – Good to see more mechanical ways to get inspiration. It’s something I wished I remembered to do more with as a DM, and more opportunities means players are more likely to use it knowing they can get more.

“Long Rests” I don’t think the rules actually changed, but this reiteratd I was running rests wrong. I used to run three two hour watches, with an hour before and after of “camp setup/breakdown”— but that meant anyone keeping watch only got four hours of sleep. That doesn’t actually work.

“Slowed” Condition is new, right? language is also very specific and designed around specific conflicts of rules, matching past descriptions of difficult terrain. Compare “You must spend 1 extra foot of movement for every foot you move using your Speed” (p. 20) to “An affected target’s speed is halved…” (slow spell, PHB 277), “You move at half speed in difficult terrain— moving 1 foot in difficult terrain costs 2 feet of speed” (difficult terrain during travel, PHB 182), and “Every foot of movement in difficult terrain costs 1 extra foot.”

“Unarmed Strike” – the mechanics are the same, but Grapple and Shove are now forms of Unarmed Strike, instead of “special attack actions”. Interesting.

Spell Lists

As I suspected, we’ll learn more in the future. Also as I expected, previously single-class spells (Druid’s shillelagh, Paladin’s compelled duel or wrathful smite) are included in these cross-class lists. There’s something about the class-specific spell lists I really like, but it’s probably not the hill to die on. Is it going to break the game to have wizards casting arms of Hadar, or rangers with shillelagh? Probably not. We already have a number of “cross-class subclasses” anyway with their extended spell lists (Oath of the Ancients Paladin, Celestial Warlock).

Final Thoughts.

It’s still 5E. We’re probably going to end up calling it 5.5E (stop trying to make One D&D happen, it’s not going to happen). So far I’m not finding a reason to switch to Pathfinder 2. Looking forward to more UA and surveys to come. Can’t wait for the first “playtest adventures”.

The Expanse – A Reading Order

The Expanse is great. But you want me to start a nine book series? you ask. Yes. Yes I do. But 1. It’s basically three distinct trilogies you can space out, and 2. it’s finished, and it finished well. And anyway there’s actually ten books if you loop in all the short fiction. Have I sold you yet?

The short fiction made for great bites while waiting for the main novels, and I definitely recommend folding them into the reading order.

The Protomolecule

  • Leviathan Wakes (2011)
  • “The Butcher of Anderson Station” (2011)
  • Caliban’s War (2012)

At this point you can try out The Expanse RPG – “Salvage Op” and “Cupbearer” are great starting points (and the latter is free!).

  • “Gods of Risk” (2012)
  • “Drive” (2012)
  • Abaddon’s Gate (2013)

The Ring Gates

  • “The Churn” (2014)
  • Cibola Burn (2014)

The latest book of the RPG, Beyond the Ring advances the timeline to this point.

  • Nemesis Games (2015)
  • “The Vital Abyss” (2015)
  • Babylon’s Ashes (2016)


  • “Strange Dogs” (2017)
  • Persepolis Rising (2017)
  • Tiamat’s Wrath (2019)
  • “The Last Flight of The Cassandra” (2019)
  • “Auberon” (2019)
  • Leviathan Falls (2021)
  • “The Sins of Our Fathers” (2022)

Dramatis Personae: Stefania Martikova

Stefania is the adult daughter of Davian and Angelika Martikov, living at the Wizard of Wines winery with most of her family and the “inner circle” of wereravens. Stefania and her husband have four children also detailed in chapter twelve of Curse of Strahd.

Like the rest of her family, Stefania is a wereraven, but she is also a (mostly) self-trained mage. She learned the fundamentals of arcane magic from an outlander wizard when she was a young girl, and continues to study the scrolls, notes, and scribblings they left behind. Stefania will do her best to hide her magic from the party until they have gained the family’s trust.

In My Campaign

Stefania’s teacher was a mage from the Marquet region of Exandria who found herself pulled through the mists into Barovia many years before the present day. This mage eventually gained the confidence of the Keepers of the Feather, and helped apply some of the enchantments that keep The Nest safe.

Stefania has the stats of a wereraven, with the following adjustments:

  • She has an INT of 14 (+2)
  • She is proficient in Arcana
  • She is a 1st-level spellcaster. Her spellcasting ability is Intelligence (spell save DC 12, +4 to hit with spell attacks). She has the following wizard spells prepared:
    • Cantrips: ray of frost, firebolt, prestidigitation
    • 1st Level: burning hands, disguise self, shield

Carefully utilizing her control over fire and cold spells, Stefania controls and cultivates the brown mold that keeps the wine cellar cool (W15). If the mold is destroyed in the course of the players’ investigation or combat with the druids, Stefania will ask the party to harvest brown mold from elsewhere in their travels (it might be found in the castle, Berez, the Amber Temple, or elsewhere in the mountains) and bring it to her to re-establish her colony.

Stefania is eager to learn more about magic, and will attempt to befriend any wizard or artificer in the party. Given the lack of options to further her own magical education, she does not pass up the opportunity before her— she tries her best to remain respectful, but her enthusiasm can get the better of her. Her spellbook is a compilation of scraps of paper, vellum, and misprinted bottle labels bound and sewn together with colored thread and shiny bits of tinsel.

Among the notes, scrolls, and books Stefania has, there is a partial spellbook that contains three first-level spells, two second-level spells, one third-level spell, and one fourth-level spell. Stefania has not yet learned all of the spells, but a wizard with enough time and materials could transcribe the additional spells per the Wizard class’s “Your Spellbook” sidebar. Stefania will allow a visiting wizard to study and copy the spellbook in her presence, but she will not let it leave The Nest.

In My Campaign

The outlander who left these materials to Stefania was a Dunamancer (See chapter four of Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount), and the spellbook included spells usually limited to that world.

Stefania knows of a number of locations where magical secrets may be found, including:

  • A ruined tower on the shores of Lake Baratok was supposedly build by a great wizard
  • The Abbey of St. Markovia contains an extensive library, that likely includes arcane texts (I based this library on the Teodorus Archives described in Hearing Secret Harmonies)
  • More than twenty years ago, the outlander that had taught her magic left to investigate rumors of “a great library deep in the southern mountains”
  • Strahd von Zarovich knows powerful magic, and there is little doubt the library of Castle Ravenloft is full of magical secrets if it can be reached.

Beginners Tournament IV: SevMoun

Well, we got to the last match, I lost both, and… I never recorded or posted my self-review in At the time Simmon streamed live commentary on Twitch, however, and now the video has made it to YouTube. I figured I’d add it to my collection here to complete the set, even if I don’t have the embedded self-commentary.

Circling Back on my Corvid Friends

When I ran my D&D campaign of Curse of Strahd (CoS) that ended last year, I spent a decent amount pouring through past editions’ sourcebooks and adventures, lifting aspects of Ravenloft and Barovian lore to incorporate into Curse of Strahd’s Baroiva. One of the pieces that stuck with me the most as I dug through the archives was the idea that the leader of the Keepers of the Black Feather was the last cleric of Andral, the god of a pre-Strahd Barovia.

The immediate product of these deep-dives was two blog posts on a blog I maintain with friends:

I quickly went to work incorporating much of that into the Martikov family of CoS, expanding roles and identities withing the family, as well as establishing a thread that explains the way the history pieced together between the lore of 2E & 3.5E Ravenloft, with the Church of Andral and the Cult of the Morninglord, vs the Church of the Morninglord that is the only faith (past and present) of 5E’s Barovia.

As the campaign continued, much of this came together in scribbled notes, incomplete documents, and of course, making decisions on the fly as the campaign took new directions and players asked unexpected questions. I always intended to collect these threads, but as the campaign moved on, and then ultimately finished, I lost steam and the project was set aside. You might even note I say “multi-post deep-dive” up there in May 2020, and then never followed up. I hope to break up what I often spent too much time on into smaller posts I can knock out a little faster (although still likely with little regularity), all focused on the Martikov family and their ties to the history of religion in Barovia. I’ll continue to index posts related to the subject together, and ideally when this little project is complete (if ever complete), I’ll have something that could be collected into a supplement for others to bring my Martikovs into their Barovian campaigns.

Beginners Tournament IV: Gioqw

My last matching of the round-robin group, and we split wins as white.

Game One

Game one was excellent (I lost), I flagged a number of key mistakes in my review (too many!), and Gio held onto their cap for some time to cause me trouble when it finally came down.

Game Two

Game two was over quickly to an early missed threat. Not a whole lot of notes to it, but I liked the position I’d built for myself as quickly as I had. Black was a bit scattered, and I think I could have kept pushing the momentum on through the mid game if we’d not ended as quickly as we did.

Beginners Tournament IV: Skyward

Another pair of matches from our round-robin group, this time with Skyward.

Match 1

The first match had a lot of back and forth and some trading of Tak threats— Skyward got his cap out somewhat later, but in an excellent position, and it took me a few more rounds to get it neutralized. Our group of capstones and walls (nobles, to steal a term from Bill) around move 23 was interesting, because before that, the white cap was not “pinned” in the sense we saw in my previous games this week, but then once it had to block the “drawbridge” (More Bill vocabulary from Mastering Tak) moving off e3, it was.

Game 2

Shorter game than the first, and opening with adjacent stones during the initial swap, AKA “the hug”. I feel like any time I’m placed off a corner in the opening move throws me more than it should, because it’s so different from the norm, but it shouldn’t change the game especially (and is arguably a stronger start, though some disagree). The last time I recall this was during the Blitz tournament last year against Reid. Two high points of this second game for me were when I was able to isolate the black cap out of play at move 8, and black’s threat at 13 I almost missed.