So, I have basically jumped in front of the bandwagon from the side of the freeway from nerdy to trendy-nerdy. I played 3.5 Dungeons & Dragons in college pretty regularly with a good group of various sociopaths (including me, a gnome wizard/alchemist by the name of Hamish “Haggis” MacTavish, a diminutive angry little man with a Scottish baroque and a flair for the unpredictable), but alas, my nerd cred had slipped since then.
A year ago though my brother turned me onto The Adventure Zone and after devouring it we decided it might be quite nice to run a 5e campaign. As I was the one with the Creative Writing degree that needed accounting for, I was our groups DM. I fully expected this to be one of those things where we always talk about it but never actually do it. There are 7 of us– both my brothers and their wives, one of my brother’s army buddies and his wife, and me. All of the married couples and I live in different states, which isn’t the hurdle you’d imagine it to be. I had played around with Roll20 once or twice and a quick tutorial was all I needed to show the rest of them the basics of how to roll, use macros, and in general exist. After negotiating the hell of trying to schedule a time when 7 adults can all meet up digitally at the same time in a given workweek when schedules are fluid, we finally settled on Sundays every other week and somehow, somehow made it to session 0.
That’s the story of how we got there. We followed the trending breadcrumbs of live-play shows like TAZ and Critical Role and like a thousand other D&D groups we began to put our game together. Now, being the Dungeon Master of a group of busy grown-ass adults that can’t meet every time we’re supposed to can be titchy when you need someone to brag about your story to, so this is what brings the world of my campaign to the world of my oft-neglected blog.
So, let me introduce you to the party we left Session 0 with. They’re a cool bunch of individuals. No angry kilted wizards, but hey, I can’t have people going around copying my shtick.
(I’ll refer to my players as their character names to avoid any needless info sharing, so if something sounds weird, that’s probably why).
[As a general note, none of the art used below is mine so if you see any of your own, please let me know and if you want I will take it down]
Beleg is a half-elven warlock of the Great Old One variety. Now let me break down what that means for those not in-the-know. The warlock is a spellcasting class, but they’re different in that they don’t gain their magic from rigorous study like the wizard or from inborn magical talent like the sorcerer. They gain their powers from making a deal with a greater power, one beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals. These beings have a very wide range of forms and motivations– everything from your standard red-horned smiling devil wheeling and dealing for souls to the unpredictable Fey Lords who just want everyone to have a good time. Beleg chose the Great Old One option for his patron because he likes to flirt with madness and if you couldn’t already tell, the Great Old One is pure Lovecraft (without the racism, maybe with the cat-obsession). That presented a challenge for my burgeoning DM-ing skills, but when in doubt, STEAL EVERYTHING. Seriously, I’m completely unashamed of it and recommend it to any other aspiring DM’s out there. If you love it, chances are they’ll love it in your game unless you have shitty taste. Not to mention if you recombine your Frankenstein’s Monster of stolen movie, TV, or existing D&D lore that you’ve taken what you needed from and booted the rest of in a new order (as you would pretty much have to), it’s pretty unrecognizable. My players still haven’t sussed out what popular movie franchise my campaign’s major plot point rips off. Getting back to Beleg though, I picked Tul Oreshka, a shadowy figure from the Ebberon campaign setting (which in itself has a lot of cool things in it to steal because steal everything always). She’s known as “The Truth in the Darkness” which I liked because it didn’t shoe-horn Beleg into any pre-defined roles. I ran with this idea of Tul Oreshka as being this repository of hidden, secret, or simply unknown knowledge that dwells in the dark spaces between universes. Her domain is what cereal you’re going to eat tomorrow even though you don’t know what it will be yet, but the fact that you will eat cereal tomorrow and it is one of the ones in your cabinet, and it’s Reese’s Puffs because Reese’s Puffs are the shit. She’s not 100% breakfast related, that was just an example. It ties in real well with Beleg making the fun choice for his character to be more than a little unhinged. He used to be an archaeologist (more nerdy, less Indiana Jones) who discovered something that was not meant to be discovered deep in a tomb belonging to an ancient civilization lost to history– a silvery orb that claws at the corner of the mind with desire– and as these things do, something happened when Beleg touched it. Unfortunately for Beleg, he doesn’t know what that is. He blacked out, and when he awoke he found himself deep within the ruin, the orb gone, and all of the workers on his expedition dead. And also he now has magical powers and strange whispers from an inscrutable entity in his pointed ears. What I like about Beleg is that he is essentially the tinfoil-hat wearing guy at the bus station who won’t stop muttering to himself, but within that there are periods of almost lucidity where the echos of who Beleg once was can occasionally be seen. I’ve noticed this particularly in relation to one of the NPC’s who’s a regular with the party, a 15 year old boy, Tomlain (more on him later) who Beleg took on a kind of mentor-dad role with early on. Beleg is at the same time the last person you should trust to play that part but also the one who’s doing the best at it so far. That’s been really interesting to watch so far. Anyways, so that’s our first party member, Beleg the hobo warlock. Moving on alphabetically, here’s our next member:
Elessana is a halfling fighter and I honestly thought at first that this wasn’t allowed by the rules at first. I know in 3.5, gnomes and halflings suffered strength penalties for wielding heavy weapons and armor because Haggis was no slouch when it came to trying to do things that made the DM beat his head against the table. Despite the fact that no such penalty exists in 5e, Elessana went with a different approach that I had honestly not thought of. She made Elessana out to be more of the Errol Flynn-type swashbuckling dexterity-based fighter who favors a rapier in one hand and a whip in the other. She also chose the Battlemaster subclass which offers her a lot of cool options for maneuvers in combat which fits really well with the idea of a leather-armored combatant flitting in and out of combat using the reach her whip affords her to reel in her enemies and control the battlefield and dart in to deliver the killing blow with her rapier. Personality-wise Elessana is a fun character to have in my party too, as while she doesn’t have any old gods at her beck and call (not that Beleg does either, he’s more puppet than puppet-master), but she is a character who is legitimately in it for the adventure. So many players and characters get caught up in having the most tragic backstories or funny quirks that they sometimes fail to answer the question of why their character even leaves the house in the morning. (I am not accusing any of my players of this). This isn’t to say that she grew up in a vacuum, far from it. I’ll keep her backstory light as I’m not sure all my players are privy to it yet and I plan on shamelessly self-promoting this blog entry all over the interwebs and they might read it. But what they know is that Elessana is something of a tomboyish heiress to a rich halfling family who, upon being promised to the repugnant son of another local family, hatched a plan to not only escape but rob them blind and cut her own swath into the world. It’s an incredibly open-ended backstory which has some complexities that haven’t become apparent in the story yet, but I just love the point it leaves her with– she became an adventurer because she wants to seek adventure. She’s done with her stuffy mansions in remote farming communities, she is out to get into trouble, save some damsels, and be a hero. You never know what shit the DM is going to throw at you, so this optimistic approach is a good way to ensure that it still makes sense for your character to be doing them whatever they are. Elessana is something of the life of the party. She’s quick to anger, quick to laugh, quick to fight, and loooves to fight. In a lot of points where some characters might lack for motivation, you can always count on Elessana to motivate, bringing a much-needed let’s do this mentality to the group. And it’s endlessly amusing that she’s like four feet tall.
Eogred is human, which a lot of D&D players will give you shit for, seeing humans as generic or boring, but that’s a bit of a loaded attitude to take. D&D is not a competition to see who can be the special-est anime protagonist out there, it’s about shared story-telling. So when someone decides to play a human, that’s a conscious choice to make your character either more relatable, unassuming, or otherwise imply that the complexity in their character lies in other areas. I get the feeling that that’s the case with Eogred, and that Eogred’s story is very personal to him as a player, but more on that later. More on basics, Eogred is a ranger, so again for the non-initiated this means basically he’s a scout type character who finds themselves at home in the wilderness. There’s a lot of ways to play a ranger, either from the uber-crunchy commune-with-nature type or the hillbilly doomsday prepper type, and anything between. Eogred’s character ties in very well with the story of the world at the start of the campaign as well, which he couldn’t have known in Session 0 but I’m greatful for nonetheless. Eogred is an old and disenfranchised soldier of the kingdom of Adrium, the homebrew setting of the campaign (more on setting later), who after many years of service throughout the beginning of a long and bitter war that is still raging at the point my campaign starts, finally retired from the Ranger Corps to work as an independent mercenary. His backstory hasn’t been touched on in the campaign yet but I worked closely with him on it to make sure that it matched up with the world I was building, and I *may* have pulled a few strings to input a few elements that interact with certain plot points that I hope will really drive the later campaign to a personal place for Eogred. He seems to me so far the type to bottle his feelings, preferring the role of the gruff silent type who focuses at the matter at hand. He’s an effective leader of small groups from his military service and as a player he has some of the worst luck with rolls in the entire party. So far the list of things he’s been unable to perceive due to botched Perception checks includes; a wagon cart that another party member was pointing at, the fact that a monster in a dungeon was a relatively harmless gas-balloon rather than a TPK-ing beholder, a kick-me sign on his own back, and that same kick-me sign over the course of several days. Oy, poor guy. He also had the misfortune to lose a bet with another party member IRL over the outcome of the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight and as a result his character has a crippling fear of snakes. Unfortunately right now Eogred is stationed in Kuwait and can’t make our regular games, so I’ve had to temporarily write him out of the main campaign and have him go off on a side-mission which is mainly conducted through Facebook chat, but I think it’s been great as I’ve given him his own team of NPC’s to lead on this mission, including someone from Eogred’s military past. It’s interesting to see an Eogred in command, as he might have been in his past, but still an older, less sure of the world and those around him Eogred who, despite his joy at having his old friend Bill back in his life, just doesn’t know who to trust at the moment. He’ll be back soon though, and I’m looking forward to working through the resolution of his mission and how his experiences might have effected him when he meets up again with the rest of the party.
Maghana is a tiefling rogue. Teiflings are fun to have in your party because even in the most progressive settings you might find yourself in, at least some NPC or whole town will take one look at their devilish features and think I need to keep an eye on that one. There’s a lot of different stories to tell from that perspective when you think of this kind of judgement and the effect it can have on your character’s psyche. Does this character develop a misanthropic streak? Does this character want to prove them wrong? Does this character care? In Maghana’s case, no the fuck she does not. Maghana spectacularly does not care what people have to say about her as her primary concern is usually in robbing them blind, so really in her case those judgmental townsfolk reaching for their pitchforks and torches kind of have a point. Now, Maghana is new to D&D, and roleplaying in general, so she’s relied on a certain amount of help from the group on what to roll and how to act in certain situations, and this is all completely fine. What actually gets me, is that she is doing a fucking fantastic job of it. She may have to think about what she’s doing at times or ask what she’s allowed to do (“everything, anything” is my usual unhelpful answer), but when she makes a character choice she just always tends to nail it. Every time I find myself watching her character and thinking “Damn of course that is exactly what Maghana would do right now.” She’s unpredictable, as a good thief should be. Once when presented with an encounter with a fellow thief to (I assumed) purchase some hot property she needed for a mission, the delicate alleyway encounter I was expecting was replaced by Maghana straight-up clocking the guy in the nose, taking what she needed, and stealing the guy’s cloak off his back because she thought it was cool. It was. It was all so. Damn. Cool. I did help her out with coming up with an idea for her character’s backstory. Usually if a character doesn’t want to put a lot of effort into a backstory I’m all for letting them, and let them decide in the moment how to play their character. That is a great way to play, as Maghana herself proves. Regardless, I’ve tried to work in a way for each of the party’s backstories to tie in at one point or another, whether it’s in the main story or a side-quest we don’t get to till next year, I want each player to have a moment where it’s all about them, where they get to have their character’s moment. With that, I knew Maghana right now didn’t particularly care what her backstory was, but I didn’t want to deprive her later of that moment after maybe she warms to the roleplaying aspect. That said, I delved into established game lore and improvised a little bit. Tieflings, in game, are the descendants of mortals who ahem with the devils of the Nine Hells (also called Fiends). I wanted to work with this concept, and I thought about what I’d seen of Maghana’s character so far. She had something of a loner streak, and then of course there was her thieving nature to take into account. I thought, what was it she was trying so hard to achieve? Wealth for wealth’s sake? Power? Why does she have to do it alone. In the end, I invoked her feindish ancestry and decided that she had a shoulder-devil in the form of her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-you-get-the-idea grandmother, an honest to goodness Devil who laid some claim upon the souls of all those mortals who are tied to her bloodline. These mortals– Maghana’s family– are forced to serve their ancestor as assassins and agents upon the mortal realm, and Maghana, as the last scion of this bloodline, is searching fervently for a way out. She needs to amass enough gold, power, influence, however she wants to do it to buy her way out of her grandmother’s contract and end the cycle. It’s open-ended though. Maghana’s assassination of an innocent priest (in front of two of her shell-shocked party members) could be an indication that Maghana doesn’t mind doing the bidding of her ancestor, it’s just the cost of doing business and she’s all about the family business. It’s still up to her, so please don’t tell me I’m a bad DM for making that choice for her. I’m delicate.
Magnys Shlong, M.D:
This fucking guy. IRL Magnys is one of the biggest, most cunning trolls I’ve ever met–that’s internet trolling mind you, for once I’m not talking nerd shit– and I have a lot of respect for him with the amount of Facebook arguments he’s goaded me into. This 100% translates into the game, as Magnys is the Charlie Day wild card of the party. He is a human druid, and made some pretty interesting character choices I think mainly to see if I would allow them. That said, he is 103 years old, obese, and his druidic focus (that he uses to channel his spellcasting) is a wooden dildo. I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into with him, as Magnys wasn’t able to show up to Session 0 due to work and therefore was among the last to complete his character. I told him that so far there weren’t any healers in the party, and asked if he might like to play a healer. I told him I didn’t mean to shoehorn him into any particular class, and to play a healer there’s more than a few good options: The Cleric (the main healing class in the game), the Paladin (the Cleric with more of a knight in shining armor flair), The Bard (the one I thought he would pick, not specifically geared towards healing but can do so ably, the class relies on charisma and therefor a lot of funny characters come out of this class a la Scanlon in Critical Role) and finally, the Druid. I’m not sure what it was about the druid that appealed to Magnys– maybe it was the nature-magic, maybe it was Wild Shape, an ability that allows them to turn into animals, or maybe it was their inherent reclusive nature that lead to Magnys’ development as this wild, dirty-minded old hermit who lived in a swamp. Magnys IRL is a very intelligent, patient person who uses these qualities for evil, willing to outlast you in any argument with infuriatingly relevant points. That leads to Magnys in-game to be an intellectual force to be reckoned with when he wants to be. He uses this to pull the strings of the NPC’s I’ve populated the world with, and on more than one occasion commanded complete authority through sheer wildness of appearance. The following is an exchange between him and a hapless halfling shop-owner, just to show what I mean:
Um, excuse me, I’m sorry that’s just the price of the amount of paper you’re trying to buy. It’s costly to produce, I don’t know what to tell you.
Listen, I get it, but if you think you can get one past the Elders of the Swamp with this weak-ass crap, then–
Is that a threat?
I own these streets!
I OWN THESE STREETS!
(Terrified and sweating) Yes sir, right away, whatever you say!
When he’s not playing the master-manipulator, Magnys is following his own inscrutable path in life where anything can and invariably does happen. I seriously can’t even describe it as there’s no set category for it to be. Suffice it to say that he is solely responsible for the name of our party’s group chat being titled Magnys Shlong and the Babykillers. So far his backstory hasn’t been touched upon in the main campaign, but I’m thinking it’ll have big implications for the possible future of the game beyond this current arc. Honestly I can’t wait and hope we make it that far. Finally, here we have our last party member:
Rhai is our party’s second halfling, of the monk class. When I say monk, think less Friar Tuck and more Shao Lin. Now you have a much more fun picture in your head. Especially when that picture is four feet tall and beating you over the head with a frying pan. Rhai in real life loves to cook, and we all love it when she does, and it therefore was a cool choice for her to incorporate into her character, as a girl who ran away from home at a young age to be a hermit in the middle of the woods to meditate on the art of cooking. That’s the cool thing about the monk class in 5e, is that a monk is a spiritual warrior, but doesn’t need to be one in direct service of a god per-se. A monk is disciplined and studies their discipline until they gain a meditative understanding of it from which is derived their spiritual connection. I just thought it was a really cool idea that Rhai was a character who elevated the study of cooking to a spiritual discipline, and uses that discipline to be able to knee people in the face and do sick flips and shit. Her main weapon is a frying pan (for which I just used the stats of a quarterstaff and re-skinned them, as I made the executive decision not to count cooking utensils as improvised weapons for her because come on), but she also has a pewter ladle that can be thrown like a light hammer, a potato masher what can do bludgeoning or slashing damage, a throwing fork, and most recently a magical meat cleaver that is perpetually dirty (as it was pulled from the ectoplasmic corpse of the ghost of killer chef who used food-poisoning to kill his patrons) that deals poison damage on a critical hit. Rhai is very brash as a character, owing to her fifteen years spent as a hermit far from the society of others. At the same time though, she’s definitely got a “mom-friend” vibe that plays off her opposing rough-around-the-edges personality to create a cool, multi-dimensional character. She’ll take any opportunity to cook for her friends, for which I’ve begun assigning points of inspiration for particularly well-prepared or creative meals. While she’s a bit of a glass-cannon, Rhai is generally the one who comes out on top in a fight due to her mobility. She’s able to weave in and out of combat and from levels 1-4 she’s the only character who’s capable of rocking a total of 3 attacks in a turn. I’ve had to describe a lot of finishing blows done by Rhai, which I like doing with monks as the whole martial artist thing lets you get really creative. “Unarmed Strike” doesn’t have to be just a punch, so sure, that killing blow was a headlock that popped their head clean off, that knee you threw at the goblin definitely almost went through the bastard. Fun. It is sort of a running joke though, that the party can be kind of wary about the food she makes, as they’re not sure if she used the regular frying pan to cook it, or the one she just decapitated a guy with. I imagine that Rhai, still re-learning the nuances of civilized folk either doesn’t understand their concern or doesn’t care.
Anyways, those are my players. I’m going to try and do Dungeon Delving articles as a series to cover the world of my game as well as the stories. I’ve got a lot of material for re-caps as this game has gone on for almost a year, and I’m really excited about some of the NPC’s myself and my girlfriend (who’s been my partner in crime in creating the world of the game) have come up with, and I cannot wait to see where they take the story. But that’s all for today as it’s 9:58PM on a Friday night and I am off to go drink.