Posts tagged #D&D

Josh's Adventures As a DM - Episode 1: The Fun & Freedom of D&D

This will be a new article series in which I chronicle some of the things going on in my current big interest, Dungeons & Dragons, and my experiences as a VERY new Dungeon Master (or, DM). When people think of D&D, they get the mental picture of huge, loser-nerds talking in accents while rolling dice. Well… That happens. But in all fairness, those are the people with imaginations. Personally, I just enjoy creating a story for my players to experience; and the best thing about it? Anyone can do it!

Designing adventures for D&D is probably the closest most of us will ever get to creating huge, sprawling epics like Skyrim, or any other video game on the market.  Using myself as an example, I don’t need a vast knowledge of gaming engines or any computer experience at all really, to make an interesting world for people who will play my game. All I need are some paper, a pencil, and 3 core rule books to have my players fight a dragon, save the princess, and get a whole crap-load of treasure… all while securing trade agreements with countries in other parts of the world.

Several years ago, some of my friends (one of which was Nic) and I decided to try our hand at Dungeons & Dragons. Even though its known as the dorkiest game on the planet, I couldn’t help but notice the game’s emphasis on, and encouragement towards, creativity. Unfortunately, we had a hard time jumping into its 3rd edition, and after around 2 or 3 games, our game sessions quickly came to a close. I think the main problem we had was that we just didn’t know if we were doing it right or not.

One night a few months ago, I randomly searched “people playing D&D” on YouTube. The first results were the live Penny Arcade “Acquisitions Inc.” games from PAX (if you haven’t seen those games, go look ‘em up. They’re hilarious). I soon found that when we originally tried D&D, we WERE doing it wrong, and we were over-complicating things all those years ago. D&D is as free-form as you want it to be. The rules are just there to give you some guidelines and advice on how to handle things.

I decided to give the current version (4e) a try. I bought the “Red Box” starter set and ran the included adventure with me as the DM, and my friend Danny and his wife, Lori, playing as a wizard and thief, respectively. We had a blast! Not too far into the adventure, I began to deviate from the pre-written guidelines quite heavily, something which the developers encourage, and set small things in motion which would come up in later adventures as we went along.

So far, I’ve DMed something like 5 games with no sign of stopping. Our biggest game so far had 4 players going through an adventure that I created. The plot was rather thin and I had very little time to prepare for the additional 2 players, but it was great fun having that many folks!

The best game, however, was this past weekend when Danny, Lori and I played a pre-made adventure, “Keep on The Shadow Fell,” written by Mike Mearls and Bruce R. Cordell, as a playtest for the unreleased D&D Next (5e) version of the game. Someone had, very awesomely, converted the game to the D&D Next rules, and since our 4th edition adventures really need our 2 additional players in order to continue, I decided to run this larger pre-made adventure for my 2 main players.

I wonder if Mearls and Cordell had any idea that the adventure would take the turn it did when my players ended up banished from Winterhaven?

Confused? Well, what I’m about to do is give you a rundown of the game session’s first half of events and hopefully give an idea of how much fun and freeform D&D can be.

Danny (a human cleric) and Lori (a dwarf fighter) met on the way to a town called Winterhaven, realized their goals aligned, and decided to combine their efforts. Danny, being a cleric, had heard rumors of necromancy around the town and because of his obligation to banish evil wherever he may find it, thought he’d check it out. Lori, a fighter that likes to smash stuff, heard rumors of a kobold (small, humanoid dragon-like creatures) threat around Winterhaven and figured there would be coin involved. On the way to the town, they were ambushed by kobolds, lending some validity to the rumors Lori had heard.

Once they reached the town, 2 guards pointed them to Wrafton’s Inn as a starting point for gathering information. At the Inn, and after a ridiculous display that involved Danny slamming his mace on the ground and announcing his arrival in the Inn (which, rightly so, freaked everybody out), they were informed that the kobolds had brought the town’s businesses to an all-time low. Everyone was afraid to go outside for fear of being raided and ambushed, and traders who tried to come near the town were literally stopped in their tracks. This had forced Winterhaven’s food supply to run dangerously low, as well as their normal goods trade to cease completely. Basically, the town was in terrible shape.

The first person they noticed was a female hunter named Ninarin. She gave them a small side quest to find a dragon’s skull from a dragon graveyard in the southern forest. She warned that it was somewhere near the kobold’s lair, and urged them to be careful. When they asked about the necromancer rumors, she said she knew nothing about such things and that the townspeople were probably just being superstitious. Unbeknownst to the two adventurers, Ninarin was actually in league with the necromancer, Kalarel (the main villain of the adventure).

Danny and Lori decided to split up and cover more ground in their investigation. Lori left to talk to the town’s leader, Lord Ernest Paldraig, and Danny’s goal was to talk to the town priest, Valthrun. After Lori left, Danny was approached by a drunken farmer in the Inn, known around the town as “Old Eilian.” Eilian didn’t have much to say about the kobolds, but he said that he had seen what he believed to be evidence of a necromancer: zombies!

He proceeded to tell a very alcohol-induced tale involving a farm he had stumbled across one night in the northern forest and the zombies that now inhabited it. After hearing all of the drunken tale he could stand, Danny left to speak with Valthrun.

When Lori was granted permission to talk with Lord Paldraig, he was overjoyed that someone had come along who could hopefully take care of the kobold menace. However, Lori didn’t trust him. Here was Paldraig living in a quasi-fancy estate and his town was suffering. Paldraig assured her, however, that he wasn’t screwing the town or being selfish, but that he was from a long line of Winterhaven rulers and that he was trying to hang on to his things just as much as his townsfolk. He then offered Lori payment to eradicate the kobolds and she went on her way.

Danny spoke with Valthrun the priest, predominantly about the necromancer rumors. Valthrun said that he hadn’t seen anything himself, but believed that the large number of citizens who said they had been witness to such events, couldn’t be simply making stuff up. The interesting bit here was when Danny asked Valthrun about the “zombie farm” which Eilian had mentioned earlier. Danny mentioned the northern location, but Valthrun said that he had heard a similar rumor, only it was to the SOUTH. He then asked, “Was he drunk?”

After meeting back up with Lori, the two went to confront Eilian about the directional conflict in his story. Danny decided to cast a truth spell on him, but due to his drunken state, the spell only made the directional conflict worse. When Danny and Lori went back to Valthrun to tell him of Eilian’s confusing information, he told them, “Never cast a truth spell on a drunk.”

The great thing about this is the fact that none of this was in the premade adventure. The non-player characters (NPCs) were all there, but this little bit of dialogue and characterization all came from developments between Danny, Lori and I.

Eventually, the two learned (from Valthrun) that there was, indeed, a Kobold lair in the southern woods, so they set out to find it. After traveling for several hours, Danny and Lori stumbled upon the zombie farm (proving Eilian’s story to be somewhat true), the dragon graveyard, and tracks which led them to the kobold’s lair.

This is where things got REALLY interesting.

While exploring the kobold’s lair, a series of winding caves and tunnels, Danny and Lori fought off kobolds and several other monsters. However, they didn’t kill ALL of them as Padraig and the rest of the town expected them to. Once they defeated the “boss” of the lair, a green dragon who slyly revealed the kobold’s connection to the necromancer, the adventurers found the exit and left the caves only half explored.

Lori’s initial reaction was to go back inside and explore the rest of the lair. Danny, on the other hand, thought that they should figure out a way to seal off the cave’s entrances, trapping the kobolds inside. After a debate on what to do, they decided to go with Danny’s plan which would involve going back to Winterhaven, getting some dynamite and sealing the lair.

Bad move.

As a DM, I’m not really supposed to come right out and tell the players what to do next - that’s for them to decide. I just remember thinking, “Oh, this is gonna be great! The people aren’t going to be happy when they hear about this!”

And happy, they weren’t! When Lord Paldraig excitedly asked the players if they had accomplished the task of taking out the kobolds, Danny replied, “We got MOST of them.”

Paldraig was furious! He had put his hopes in these two adventurers’ zeal and ability to carry out the mission, but they had failed to deliver. When Danny and Lori told him they had a plan to seal up the tunnels, Paldraig said, “You don’t know very much about kobolds, do you? Sure, that might slow them down, but it won’t stop them. They’re tunnelers! They’ll just dig their way out and start terrorizing us again!”

There was quite a heated debate, but it all ended with Paldraig letting his anger and frustration get the better of him and banishing them from the town. There were a few other events which ultimately led the players to the main villain’s lair, Shadowfell Keep, but for all intents and purposes, Danny and Lori aren’t allowed into Winterhaven ever again.

This drastic turn of events pretty much forces me to change the entire second half of the premade adventure.  Sure, the players will enter Shadowfell Keep, but they won’t be able to have any more interactions in Winterhaven unless they do something to restore the town’s faith in them. And that’s the greater part of the fun!

This goes to show that D&D is one of the best games known to man. It’s a huge, open world in mostly the same style as The Elder Scrolls video game series, but it’s actually much larger than that. In fact, it’s infinitely larger. Theoretically, Danny and Lori could continue on throughout this course of events until either their characters die, or the real world ends. The best thing about it, though: if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse and there’s no electricity with which to play video games, there’ll always be D&D!

Posted on November 7, 2013 .