Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 3 - Let's Make a Deal

The prep...

So the plan was to get the characters paid and then get them moving on their way to the next adventure, the Dwarven Excavation site. However there were a few other things in town I wanted to seed. I wanted to use a backstory element for the Rogue that impacts the story. One of the townies is actually an agent for the biggest organized crime group in The Forgotten Realms - the Zhentarim. I figured it might be fun if the Rogue got tangled with the group and had to decide if she wanted to work with them, or work around them. 

I figured between that role playing encounter and fun with Townmaster Harbin the two would get enough town antics out of the way for the first hour. Then for hour two, they would head off for the first half of the Dwarves Excavation adventure which is a mini-dungeon.

Unfortunately we ended up starting very late, as conversation took over. We ended up only playing for an hour. I focused on getting the town material completed so they could start the next session with some exploration and combat.

The story...

The characters ended the previous session at the Stonehill Inn. After enjoying their ale and quick meal the two adventurers headed over to Harbin's house to get paid for warning Adabra. Harbin still refused to open the door, even when the druid attempted to mimic Adabra's voice to convince him to come out. She failed her performance check, and so Harbin was convinced it was the dragon attempting to trick him and squish him (a running gag now, everyone in town keeps mentioning how dragons squish people and how all dragons breath fire). My rogue got clever and used her thieves tools to open the door while Harbin was ranting and raving about dragons.
"Wot's all this then?"

And then, I had one of those moments where the DM is caught unprepared - because I had to describe Harbin! I had no idea what he look like. I didn't plan on Harbin's reveal happening this early, because the joke is he never opens the door to his house. I did some quick thinking, and since I based his voice a bit on The Walrus, from Disney's "Alice in Wonderland", I described him as a puffed up walrus mustached man dressed in a suit. It was quite a bit of fun as the ladies attempted to explain to him what happened at Umbrage Hill. 

Eventually Harbin paid them, and they decided to take the Dwarven Excavation quest next. Although they considered the visit to gnomes pretty strongly as well (and boy did I sweat it out a bit as they talked that one over, because I have nothing prepared for that). When they decided to visit the excavation site, Harbin recommended that they talk to Haylia Thornton over at the Miners Exchange, since she works with miners and may know more about the site.

The two hadn't been there yet, so they headed over. Haylia greeted them with "Oh, I was wondering when you'd stop by." Which set off alarm bells for the Rogue. They talked with Haylia about their upcoming mission and she was happy to show them a map of where the excavation site was located as well as a bit about the dwarven couple who were prospecting in the area and found the ancient village. She mentioned that she offered them protection, but they turned it down. She also said she could find them a buyer for any relics or artifacts they found.
Haylia wants to know if you need "protection".
It will cost you of course.

Once they wrapped that up, Haylia moved on "to another piece of personal business". She explained how she worked for the Zhentarim and how the Rogue had messed up one of their operations. It cost the group 300 gold pieces and that they wanted it back, or they wanted the Rogue. But Haylia was willing to work with them, because she liked how the Rogue handled herself (screwing over the Zhentarim isn't easy). She offered to have the Rogue work for her doing a few odds and ends, and pay off the debit. Or the two could just bring in the gold in installments and pay her off that way. The two didn't want to get tangled up with the mafia, and so agreed to pay Haylia. They also learned that the three local toughs work for Haylia as her "protection team". Nervously the left the Exchange.

The adventurers made a quick stop at Barthen's Provisions. They asked about Paellia the druid, but he couldn't tell them too much more, except that he hadn't seen her in a while. They asked if there was anything new in the treasure barrel and sure enough there was. I rolled on the trinket table in front of them, and there was the glass orb full of water and a mechanical goldfish. They thought this was pretty odd, but they paid the single gold piece for it. Barthen was flummoxed at how that ended up in his barrel, but he accepted the trade. The Druid declared the goldfish's name was Bruce in reference to Jaws and Finding Nemo

The two returned to the shrine of luck to leave a message for the local druid. It was a fun moment as our druid came up with a message, and then noticed all the animals around. Thinking that maybe the local druid was hiding as a squirrel or bird, she also spoke out loud to the animals. They didn't respond (the local druid is actually traveling and will find the character's message in the night and leave a reply for them).

They headed back to the Stonehill Inn where Donnabella and Inverna were hanging out. The Rogue bought them both a drink and they had a conversation. Inverna told them how she's been working in the area for a while, and that the orcs were becoming a real problem. They asked if she wanted to accompany them to the Excavation site. She agreed, and would meet them in the morning for an early start (it will take about five hours to get to the site). We ended the session there.

The post...
Sorry Strahd, no gothic horror this time.

So it was a pretty meh session all the way around. I was hoping to get some combat in, but because we started so late, and only had an hour to play it was all town - all the time. But I think I gave them some fun moments with Harbin (who I'm just having a great time playing) and intrigue with Haylia, who I played as urbane and confident. She's all business, but I made it clear that she was playing it straight with them. I got the feeling that neither one was into playing intrigue and backstabbing in this game. They both have been enjoying the more light and breezy tone I'm taking. Real life has been a bit hectic for the players, so I'm keeping the tone of this game a bit more comedic and fun. Tension will arise, sure, but I don't want this to turn into something grim like Curse of Strahd or Tomb of Annihilation

Besides most of my "voices" are over the top and silly. Even playing Inverna, I just leaned into the cowboy element of her portrait, and gave her a bit of a twang and calling the player characters "ma'm". 

This is some of the best advice I can give to new DMs. Really see how your players are reacting to things and ask them if they are enjoying the game from time to time. Adjust the game accordingly so everyone (even you) are having a good time. While I do love darker tales of danger and intrigue - I can tell that just won't work for this group. So I'm putting a bit more humor into the townsfolk (and the adventure has some of it built in - Harbin's fear of opening the door was right from the adventure). Things will change a bit when they run into the orcs - those guys do not mess around.

Up Next:

Session 4: All the Glitters...

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 2 - Taking Umbrage

The Prep…

He's friendly, right?
The Umbrage Hill encounter is an interesting one. Single monster, single NPC, a fun setting… but man this monster is way out of level 1 player character’s league. We are talking a Manticore here. This guy has three attacks, and two hits are deadly for first level player characters (PCs). I adjusted his hit points (HP) to make him a younger, and not as tough as full grown creature. However, those three attacks are wicked.

What I want to do is have the character witness how the creature is behaving, get an idea of what it can do, and that it can speak. Because they were able to diffuse the situation last week with the thugs without a fight, they might think to engage the Manticore without fighting it. The creature can be bargained with, but it isn’t too bright. It also won’t fight to the death. If it feels it is outmatched it may flee from a battle. I can also have the midwife trapped in the tower help out by throwing things at the creature and distracting it. The characters can use the windmill and the ruins around it for cover. I’ll do my best not to kill them, and the midwife will have healing potions she can throw down if need be, but we’ll see how it goes.,

After completing the quest, they can return to Phandalin and get their reward. I also prepped the start of the Dwarven Excivation site, fleshing out the two dwarf archeologists a bit. But I’m not sure we’ll get to them in this session. I’m thinking the Manticore and the aftermath will take up the two hour session.

I’ve also planted a Druidic symbol on the Shrine of Luck that my Druid will discover if they head back there. It will lead her to communicate with the representive of the Emerald Enclave that is located in the area. 

I still have the other town characters and sidekicks hanging around if they want to do any more exploring. Most important is that I need to keep the dragon moving and flying around in the setting, so the characters are always aware that it is around.

The Story…

You could try to ride him... if you were in Final Fantasy.
Because they did some shopping in the previous session, the players decided to start the session traveling to Umbrage Hill. They felt they had enough gear and provisions to make the short trip. They also didn't feel they needed to take Inverna aka Cowboy Elf, with them. So I asked them if they had any conversation during the travel. They had some roleplaying moment where the two discussed the oddities of Harbin and why he would want a midwife back in Phandalin so quickly. Several pregnancy jokes were told.

I described the hill with the cairns as the first thing they spot on their trek. Both characters made perception checks. The rogue was able to deduce that the little mounds of stones were cairns, probably of dwarven design. The Druid found large footprints belonging to a flightless bird called an axebeak. The tracks lead up the hill with the cairns. So the two climbed the hill and looked around a bit more. From there they could see Umberage Hill and the manticore circling the windmill.

They watched it for a bit, trying to determine if it noticed them, and what it was doing. They made some solid stealth rolls, so the Manticore didn’t see them. They could also make out the ruins at the base of the windmill and realized they could use those for cover as they approached the structure.

The two crept down the hill and then moved up behind the windmill, doing their best to move when the manticore flew to the front of the structure to engage with Adabra. Their stealth rolls maintained, and the manticore was so focused on his main target they were able to get very close, within the shade of the old fireplace. I described the manticore’s barbs embedded in the wooden door, and they found a few more on the ground. This gave them a good hint that the creature could loose those in a fashion. I also had the creature demonstrate by attempting to impale Adabra, but she was able to avoid the attack and mock the creature. 

Eventually the rogue attempted to open the door to the windmill but found it barred shut. She failed her attempt to use thieves tools to open the door, but succeeded in scaling the outer wall to the second story and slipping in a window, before the manticore saw her. She hurried downstairs and opened the door for the Druid, who barely was able to dive into the windmill before the alerted creature fired barbs at her. She succeeded her dexterity save, and the two were inside the building with Adabra. 

The three discussed what to do about the creature. Meanwhile he was going on and on about how hungry he was, and how he would kill only one of them, and do it quick if they came outside. He attempted to land on the roof and listen to their discussion, and said that they should throw food out to him if they had it… or shinies. This got their attention, and they asked him about shinies. He said he was like a king and tribute would work for him as well as food. (I was playing him like a spoiled cat, I have a lot of experience with one).

Eventually they were able to talk the mantiore into landing and they offered him the white glove they got from the treasure barrel. The Druid made a good case for telling him that it could serve many purposes and she rolled a pretty good persuasion check. I had the mantiore ask her if she would find a mate attractive if he wore the glove. The Druid admitted that she’d find a male elf with the glove very fetching. That sealed the deal, the manticore would use the glove to attract a mate (implying there was one nearby). Since his paws were too massive for the glove, he stuck it on a barb on mane and then flew away to give it a try.  It was a fun resolution to the encounter and players enjoyed figuring the puzzle out and dealing with the manticore without fighting.

Magic is in the air?
They talked with Adabra about coming back to Phandalin. She refuses to leave, because all her potion making items were here and she needed the millstone to grind up key ingredients. But she gave them the healing potion, as well as told them about al local Druid, Paellia who might be useful to them. This is the connection to the Emerald Enclave for the Druid that I wanted to seed earlier. The Druid was intrigued. Adabra wrote a letter to Harbin (the townmaster) to tell him that the ladies had delivered the message but she wasn’t coming back. But he still had to pay them. I also hinted at a romantic past between Adabra and Harbin which tickled both players.

The two returned to Phandalin. There they went to the Shrine of Luck that Adabra mentioned Paellia left a sign at. A quick search revealed a sign in Druidic that mentioned the emerald enclave as well as the ability to leave a sign there in response. (Always good to let the players use unique languages from time to time).

They also met a new sidekick, Donnabella Fiasco the “unicorn”. They players had a good time with her. I played her as being bullied by the three toughs in town, but wanting to learn more about magic. She offered to go with the characters if they needed her help. The session ended with the characters heading to the inn to enjoy a pint and some food, feeling like they needed a good drink after dealing with the manticore. They chatted with Tobin a bit and they decided to deal with Harbin next session (it was getting late).

The Post…

So all in all this session turned out to be pretty fun for everyone. We ended up starting a bit late and going longer than two hours, so I need to really watch my time. But part of the issue was that dealing with the manticore took a little longer than we all expected. The two were really stumped on what to do once they got inside the windmill. They kept swinging between fighting with it, except the Druid didn’t feel she had any good ranged attacks. She also felt that there had to be a trick or outsmart the creature, since I was playing it as pretty dull witted. There was a lot of discussion, and I used Adabra and the Manticore to offer suggestions or increase the tension. 

Eventually I figured the creature would get desperate or bored. And that is how I started to play him, more and more like a spoiled cat. Both players are familiar with feline behavior and picked up on that. That eventually lead to them bargaining with the creature.

Lady manticores can't resist!
The glove was one of those moments that was just too funny to pass up. As they were looking through their inventory for something shiny as tribute, the Druid came upon the glove and it made us all laugh. But then she really tried to figure out how she could pitch it to the creature. The suggestions were so funny, and everyone was having a good time, I just ran with it. The module mentions the Manticore can return later in the game with a mate, and I figured the creature may have already seen this mate. The glove would be something he could show off to attract her. It was great to see their faces as I had the manticore ask “You female, yes? You like this glove? You think that glove show you a good mate?” The Druid ended up using her inspiration from the last session to dodge the barbs as she leapt into the windmill (her first DEX save was really bad). So she got inspiration again for coming up with the glove.

I think I did a good job of warning the players how dangerous the creature was by showing its actions to them as they approached. They also took it very slow, which was a good thing. If they had rushed in to attack the creature, this could have gone very badly. I do hope they come back to Umberage Hill again, I’d love for them to run into the Manticore… and maybe his mate, depending on how high level they are.

Donnabella was a lot of fun to play, and I think they players liked her a lot. I made her a bit theatrical, but also added the element of her being bullied by the local toughs. I think this made her a bit more endearing to them. I would have loved to end the session with them getting paid by Harbin, but it was getting late, so we stopped there for the evening. 

Still they were excited when I announced that they leveled up! Level 2 means more hit points, new skills and new spells. The druid can now transform into small animals, and the rogue can perform some very valuable actions on her turn.

Looking forward to the next session.

Up Next…

Session 3: Let's Make a Deal

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 1 - Welcome to Phandalin

The Prep…

"Little town... its a quiet village... little town..."
Ah the dreaded town episode of the adventure. It is necessary to give the players a base of operations, and a place for some safe roleplaying. But man, do the town episodes slow down your game's momentum. It is especially rough when you start the game in town. I usually prefer to start in the middle of a quest, or plunking the characters down right at the start of the dungeon.

There are plenty of ways to avoid starting in a town and jumping right into the adventure proper. Actually Lost Mines of Phandelver  does that quite well with the goblin ambush on the road. Dragon of Icespire Peak starts in Phandalin, and the characters have to decide what adventure to take from there. 

I struggled with this episode because the last time I started a longer campaign it got so mired down in the town stuff that the adventure felt like a slog. I wondered if I should have just started the game with the two players already on an adventure I picked out from the three that they are offered. But that would be taking away some of the choice from them, and part of the fun of this campaign is selecting the adventures that appeal to the group. What's the point if the Dungeon Master is picking for you? Besides, I ended our Session 0 with them traveling to Phandalin. So they were expecting some town roleplaying.

In the end, I started the session with the party arriving in town. I provided a list of the main locations in the campaign notes, so they could think about what they might visit first. Not sure if it worked, because they spent some time deciding where they were going to go.

As I mentioned in the previous entry we are using the very handy map that came with The Essentials Kit. The map of Phandalin with the clearly marked places of interest came in very handy. I used a lego minifigure of young Elrond from Lord of the Rings as the marker for where they were. 

We aren't playing this, but I'm getting some
good ideas from it.
I did some calculations before the game to determine how long it took them to get to Phandalin based on the map, how long they rested after the gerblin battle. It ended up being about dusk when they arrived in town.

So I really didn’t have a Strong Start for this session. It is difficult when doing a town episode, but I did my best to keep things moving. Because we have two hour sessions, I knew I needed to keep my encounters quick but packed with good information and role playing. The goal for this session was to pick up a quest to start next session, and maybe do some initial exploration of the town. I had a combat encounter planned if the opportunity lent itself, but it wasn’t one that was actually in the adventure.

Again, I borrowed from Lost Mines of Phandelver and pulled the idea of a group of toughs in the village. My Rogue has the background element that I can tie the ruffians to. The rogue caused an innocent to go to prison because of her actions. I worked with her on details for the backstory. So it turned out that she got a dragonborn warrior implicated in a theft she committed. He figured out it was her and made it known to other mercenaries. The toughs in town know the dragonborn and recognized her. They decide (drunkenly) to get some payback for their pal. I spent some time fleshing out some of the NPCs in the town and some of the sidekick characters as well. I followed the guidelines from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master and didn’t go overboard, but got enough flavor for each so that they were distinct and interesting.

The Story...

Lots of places to see and NPCs to annoy.
The duo arrived at the inn, since night was falling and they needed a place to sleep. The characters bought a meal and rented some rooms. They talked to the halfling owner (I changed a lot of the NPCs to fit some of the goofy voices I can do and make things a bit more interesting). The toughs entered the inn for some more drinks (they were already pretty wasted when they got in). They didn’t quite start a fight, but sounded like they were itching for one. The heroes also met their first sidekick, the “cowboy elf” Inverna. She chatted with the hero’s and mentioned that she would be willing to help if they went orc hunting. 

The pair went to their room, and barricaded the door in case the toughs got an idea to visit in the night. But the night was uneventful.

The next day the pair visited the Shrine of Luck. They noticed that it was made of pieces of ruins from several cultures. But no one was around that early in the morning to chat with. The pair then headed to the Provisions store and talked with the owner. I made him a John Candy type with a silly Chicago accent. I added a treasure barrel in the shop. Before the game I rolled on the trinket table and added two odd items in there. A white glove and a scabbard of mysterious design. My players picked right up on the single white glove/Michael Jackson joke and had to buy the glove. Of course I made both secretly magical, but they need to identify the item to find out about their mysterious powers. Since it was white and scaled I made it absorb cold damage, like the absorb element spell. The scabbard does the same with fire.

"I would like to purchase... your kicky scarf."
After the pair left the shop, they ran into the toughs in the street waiting for them. The thugs had hangovers, but were itching for a fight. I figured we could have a nice fist-a-cuffs battle in the street, classic Western style. But my players surprised me. The Druid used her Gust cantrip spell to cause some nearby bushes to rustle. One thug turned on her heels to see if she could detect the new threat. The Rogue used her Thaumaturgy spell to cause her voice to become booming. Spoke spoke in the Infernal language (just saying she was hungry), but the thugs were then convinced she was cursing them with some hellish spell. They ran away, the most sober one saying “I told you this was a bad idea. Viper is going to have our ass!” My Rogue player picked up on that hint.

The adventurers then headed to the townmaster’s hall. I love the NPC concept in the module for the Townmaster and how he is so afraid of the dragon that he won’t come outside to talk or invite them in. I used my pompous British commander voice (inspired by Chris Perkins’ wonderful Admiral Warrington Munt voice from Dice Camera Action). The players got a kick out of this guy, and had fun interacting with him as he talked about the jobs he wanted them to do from behind his closed door. 

After reviewing the three adventures in front of them, they settled on visiting Umbrage HIll and convincing the Midwife to come back to town. Although it paid the least, it was the closest and they figured the easiest to complete. After that they were both interested in visiting the dwarven excavation site. 

So with the new quest selected they were ready to start off next time, although they discussed maybe picking up a sidekick to help them out.

The Post…

Overall this was a tough session because it was a town/shopping session. I tried to make the NPCs interesting and fun to interact with. The most successful was certainly the Townmaster, but they warmed up to Barthen the shop owner too. The toughs made for some intrigue in the town, and gave it a bit more flavor than they were expecting. I loved the way they resolved it without a fight and I awarded both players with inspiration points for quick thinking. They got their quest, found a magic item and picked up a backstory element. 

I realized after the fact that I could have added a backstory element for the Druid as well. I think I can still work it in the next session at the start, but we’ll see. 

We finished in two hours and they technically had about four NPC encounters and one “combat” encounter. Not a bad bit of work. Next week will be a bit more technical, because we will get into a combat situation for sure. Still I’m looking forward to it.

Up Next

Session 2: Taking Umbrage

Monday, September 2, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 0 - Origin Stories

Check out my Introduction to find out more about the campaign journal.

Why Session Zero?

Dragon? What dragon?
One of the best pieces of advice I've picked up over the last couple of years is running a Session 0. This is essentially a session where all the players make characters together, tie their backstories in some interesting way, and work out reasons why they are all traveling together (if it isn't baked into the story). During this session the Dungeon Master (DM) provides a brief description of the campaign - focusing on determining what the players would like to do or see in the campaign. The main focus to make sure everyone's expectations a understood and clear.

Since I'm playing from a published adventure from Wizards of the Coast, a few of these expectations were easy to present. The adventure takes place in the official D&D setting of The Forgotten Realms. Both my players are familiar with the setting in one way or the other (one has watched a few live play D&D shows that take place in The Forgotten Realms the other has played some video games in the setting). So they know the this is an Tolkien-esque fantasy world with lots and lots of magic floating around (no one is going burn a wizard at the stake if they cast a simple Light spell).

They also know that the violence level is going to be typical PG-13 (unless they seem to want to go bloodier), and that the DM will cut away from any content that is too rated R. And that is something you really want to be clear about before you start. You'll run into some players that don't mind torture scenes or having their players bed just about any non-player character they run into (and some player characters too). If everyone in the group is OK with that, then fine, but the DM needs to make sure that is the case. For this game, I'm keeping it PG-13 unless they escalate the violence (because I know how players can be).

Campaign Focus

Elven druid seeking White Dragon.
Must be willing to talk about
past atrocities.
One thing that I made sure was clear (and you need to keep the players on track with as they go along) is the main focus of the campaign. Mike Shea recommends that focus be a simple sentence like - defeat the evil wizard. Mine is Get rid of the white dragon. Simple enough. I also made it clear that the goal was "get rid of" not necessarily "kill". Because in The Forgotten Realms dragons are intelligent creatures and can be bargained with. So that is always an option.

I explained that while they had a clear goal, this was a "sandbox" style adventure. Meaning that it doesn't move along a linear path, but that they can go where they want and do what they want in the setting, as long as the end goal is to get rid of the white dragon. Once we dive into the session 1 I plan on making that a lot more obvious. The way the encounters are set up in the game give the players a some freedom, while still pointing them toward the end goal.

Great Expectations

I also told them that this adventure should take them up to 5th or 6th level. I would not be awarding experience points, but they would level up as they reached key milestones in the game (less math tracking that way). If they enjoy the setting and characters we can move onto a different adventure (I have Lost Mines of Phandelver and Princes of the Apocalypse waiting in the wings).

As for their expectations, since they are new players, they didn't really have any. One player wanted to keep the sessions down to 2 hours, a challenge but possible. I said we may run over, but that should be the exception. The other player was very new to the game, and we spent a lot of time working with her on character creation, and some of the basics of the game.

Origin Story

The Tiefling Rogue doesn't think it is
stealing if you just hand her the money.
Quick aside: We used D&D Beyond for character creation and tracking. At the risk of sounding like a commercial  it made the whole process so much easier. My new player found character creation a lot less painful than she anticipated. I'm also using this tool to track the campaign with notes and information for the players. I highly recommend it to anyone running Dungeons and Dragons at the table (it has its uses in an on-line game too, but most on-line platforms have very similar character creations tools built in).

We got down to character creation. My not-so-new player made a variant version of the character she made back in 2017. She is playing a female elven druid, who has a lightning/storm theme going on with her spells. My new players is playing a female tiefling (half devil) rogue. Both are coming from the nearby city of Neverwinter and heading south to the frontier town of Phandalin.

They discussed what their characters were after. The druid is looking for more information about dragons as a species as well as researching more information about the ancient ruins in the area. The rogue is looking for loot. She knows that ancient ruins contain treasures and is tagging along with the druid to find these.

Both characters picked some interesting Bonds and Flaws during character creation that hint at backstory elements I can use (the Druid has a dangerous tome in her possession, the Rogue's antics landed someone in prison).

When Gerblins Attack!

Quick Aside: I'm using the map of the Sword Coast and Phandalin that is included with The Essentials Kit. I'm using a lego figure to show the characters progress and location on the map. For combat we are going to use theater of the mind style (I don't have miniatures). If things get too confusing I might use some quick drawings to show locations of characters and objects around them. D&D Beyond also has some maps to show your players for specific locations and has Player versions without any spoiler text.

After completing character creation, I had a mini encounter prepped for them, so they could test drive their characters. I think this is important for new players especially. Keep it simple and light, everyone just getting use to how the rules work and how to use the D&D Beyond interface.

Just look at these guys! They have to be up to something.
I borrowed the initial encounter from Lost Mines of Phandelver, with the characters happening upon a place on the road where an ambush occurred. While investigating they are attacked by goblins. In Lost Mines the goblins are part of the overall story. For my mini-encounter I made them a small group of scavengers that happened upon the site were the White Dragon attacked a farmer's cart.

I started by describing how the characters were awakened in the predawn morning by a horrible roaring sound coming from the south. Neither one had heard anything like it before. The druid and rogue packed up their camp and started traveling down the road toward the town, and eventually encountered the scene of the attack.

I took time describing the ambush point, where the dragon used its icy breath to attack the travelers. The characters didn't find any sign of bodies, but lots of blood where something was carried away. The druid identified hoof prints from an ox, which was probably carried off by the dragon. The frost from the breath attack was already melting by the time the characters arrived. They heard something rummaging around in the tipped cart.

I played the goblins (or gerblins if you prefer) as bumbling idiots who think they are tough enough to take on two fully armed adventurers. Keeping things silly, I had one wearing a boot as a hat and the other would just laugh and repeat what Boothead just said... and his name was Beviz. Once the battle started and the two goblins were getting beaten up, they called their friend Mongo for backup. A fat goblin burst from the bushes and joined the fray. It actually got a pretty close there. One of the goblins got a natural 20 on his attack and rolled double damage on the Druid, dropping her. I kept rolling for morale for the goblins (since they are naturally cowardly), and after Beviz got an arrow to the face, Boothead and Mongo ran for it. The party got some coin (and a tasty apple) from the cart, rested and continued on their way to the hub town of Phandalin.

The session did run long, almost three hours, but I warned both players that Session 0 tends to be that way. Character creation takes some time. I think both players had some fun, especially when the goofy gerblins showed up. Looking forward to the first official session.

Next up... Welcome to Phandalin.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Introduction

Dungeon Master at Large

As a long time roleplaying game enthusiast, one of the things I enjoy the most is running my own game. Playing in them is always a lot of fun. I love creating characters and going on adventures with a crew of misfits. But what I really want to do is direct.

I'm a fantasy writer, so how can I resist the lure of running my own game of Dungeons and Dragons? It isn't like I don't have experience. I've mentioned before that I ran a Star Wars roleplaying game for a couple of years in the late 90s. It was a blast, and I have so many fond memories and stories from those games.

I did try to run a home-brew campaign for a single player right off the bat back in 2017... and yeah, it sucked. I was really rusty, and I hadn't accumulated the knowledge of how the game runs best. I also made the newbie Dungeon Master mistake of trying to run my own material right off the bat. I really should have started with a published adventure first. The campaign crashed and burned, and it was mostly my fault for flailing around so much.

After playing for a bit longer online, I got a better handle on running a Dungeons and Dragons game. I will say that rules for 5th edition are much less complex than any other version of D&D. That said the game mechanics for old Star Wars RPG (created back in 1987... damn) were wonderfully simple, easy to learn and very flexible. So it makes sense that I wasn't quite ready to run a game so early on.

Sometimes a Dungeon Master needs a break, and so during our long online campaign, I helmed a couple short campaigns. One was three sessions long, the other two sessions. Each session was about four hours long. I home-brewed again, but this time I had a better idea of how to run the game. I think the first campaign went better. It was a simple objective - escape the dungeon. The second one, I went for a Mission: Impossible style adventure. I think the concept was good, but I didn't run it all that well (probably should have stuck to something simpler).

Since then, I've been bouncing around the idea of running a game online. I'm currently playing in two games, but that itch is just there to be scratched.

Enter the Essentials

Earlier this year Wizards of the Coast released The Essentials Kit, a boxset for new players. It contained a ready made adventure tailored for two players - one Dungeon Master and one player. It had an interesting concept of having sidekick characters that could travel with your single player and help out when things got nasty (or act as a meat shield - whichever). It sounded like a perfect way to try another game with my long suffering solo role-player. I picked up The Essentials Kit and gave the adventure a read through. It had some really interesting settings, characters, encounters and magic items.

Now I had picked up The Starter Set at the end of last year. That was an older product that also included its own starter adventure. That adventure, The Lost Mines of Phandelver, is a pretty linear adventure, really hand holding both the DM and the players along the way. The adventure in The Essentials Kit, The Dragon of Icespire Peak is a bit more open. There isn't a linear path to the story and the characters build their own story over a set of encounters that the DM places in front of them. I really liked this idea, and since my solo role-player had done some adventuring in the past I figured the open world would be a better fit for our campaign.

Lazy Days

I've been enjoying a podcast featuring Mike Shea, who wrote a couple of books, The Lazy Dungeon Master and the followup/revamp Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master. His podcast had a lot of great ideas for running a game using minimal prep time and hitting all the key points to keep the game fun and interesting for all the players, and yet not spend hours and hours on work that no one is going to see (a real danger for a writer). I picked up The Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master and found a lot of great insights and advice for running the game.

So I decided to take what I'd learned from Mr. Shea's book and use it to run Dragon of Icespire Peak. On a whim I asked a second person if they would be interested in playing some D&D (one of my other players from the old Star Wars campaign days). She agreed to give it a try... and lo, I have two players!

So I got to work prepping for my very first session of a new Dungeons and Dragons campaign. I knew we'd have to spend some time creating characters, describing the campaign setting, and of course setting my players exceptions of what the game was going to be like. Sounds like we needed a good old fashioned Session Zero.

Next Up... Session 0: Origin Stories