DDC Traps and Tribulations

I was just going back over my notes from the last couple of sessions and admiring how the group has both started to cohere and to realise that they are still learning the ropes, so to speak.

Delving down into damp lower levels was at least a break from the winter snows that had begun to fall in the morning.  The first chamber was marked by a series of statues of ancient deities of sky, earth, and stone and Wall paintings of both Dhakaani (ancient goblin) pastoral scenes and of the passage of their souls to the afterlife of Dolhurr.

There were also four human skeletons in the chamber, each missing their hands in what looked like executions. The heavy doors leading further were sealed with chains and a massive lock. Runes in Abyssal were written on the seal praising the Dragon Below. With little else to go on, a mixture of lock picking and brute force soon saw the way open.

The noise attracted the reanimated skeletons of the goblin guards, but this time the group was able to despatch them quickly with only one minor hiccup. This came when the Dragonborn Kerne chose to breath poison on the skeletons, only to find that they were immune.

The weapons of the guards were made of byeshk metal, a rare ore that made weapons capable of driving off creatures from Xoriat and so these were quickly distributed among the group, just in case. A quiver of magical arrows was also found, and the shafts of bone and obsidian were divided up among the archers in the group.

This just left a strange lever that didn’t seem to have any noticeable effect despite resistance when pulled and some doors that opened up into a wide hallway with more skeletons near the far end against one of the walls.

In their eagerness to investigate, two of the group set off a swinging spiked bar that swept across the hall before resetting. Being hit by it didn’t kill them, but did make them realise what had broken the bodies they found themselves scattered among.

Yikes

There then followed a period of searching for the trigger and how to circumvent setting the trap off again that led to a series of assisted acrobatic and athletic maneuvers to cross the hallway to relative safety, where the group huddled up against the opposite door to catch their breath and mend their wounds.

Things learned: poisoning undead rarely works, the effects of levers aren’t always obvious, and always check for traps in entry corridors.

Who knows what discoveries they’ll make this week?

New Player Ready

So we’re spending this evening mostly helping Lady W set up a character to join in the DDC adventures. We’re having a quiet evening as people are just feeling a bit wiped out, and it came up in conversation that she had felt unable to join the group as she hadn’t been around for the first session.

We immediately disabused her of this idea. As Lady W has never played D&D before, we’ve been making use of the Roll20 Charactermancer and a copy of the Player’s Handbook to help her create a new persona.

There is much jollity, silliness, discussion, and explanation going on – and therefore a good wind-down to the week. It may not be the D&D session I’d planned, but I think its the one we collectively need today

The Importance of Preparation

I spend a lot of time, even if only inside my own head sometimes, preparing material for my tabletop game. Sometimes its thinking of names, or external events for the players to react to. For the most part I’ve tended to think on a mechanic level of what rules to brush up on, or the best tactics to pose a suitable challenge during the game.

What I’d only ever really fleetingly touched on before, however, was open up some of that preparation to the players. In particular, I’m thinking about the bonds and history between them. I’ve never been one for the trope of “you’ve all met down the pub and a mysterious stranger offers you a job” but it has tended to be brief discussions during character creation.

That’s easier to do with everyone around the table than remotely of course, which is why I welcomed Mre B’s suggestion for a formal session zero to kick off the new group. It wasn’t a concept I’d ever encountered before, but a quick read through suggestions online and through a comprehensive guide sheet that they pulled together firmed up the belief that it was a good idea.

I’ll be putting together a page under the Gaming section based on the document Mre B composed. Essentially though the session is not just one of working out links and shared history between characters, but also of ensuring respect at a player level to settle the ground rules of play and engagement.

I’m paraphrasing and simplifying wildly for the sake of brevity here, but it was extremely useful as we had a number of people who didn’t know each other that well, and who were also relative newcomers to tabletop gaming. No other game I’ve run has had quite that combination.

It sparked, and has continued to spark, a wealth of role-playing material and plot hooks, and laid the foundations for one of the most fun and diverse groups I’ve DM’d for in quite some time.

Generosity

Lady B has been secretly assembling a range of gifts to distribute among the DDC – literally, as she has a 3D printer. Today a care package arrived.

Our friends know us so well

Both Lady M and I received a prison for misbehaving dice, a pedestal for favoured dice, and a nameplate. The vox also contained a dice-rolling tray, an Eberron DM shield, a card game, and a glass bottle with four red dice in it, representing a potion of healing. Our geekery levels just jumped significantly.

We really are very lucky, and its been a lovely bonus as we head into the weekend.

A Cracking Session

We got back into the swing of things last night in D&D – with a mix of derring-do and investigation, but also tears and laughter in moments of heartfelt roleplay where these new adventurers began to come to terms with the harshness of the life that they had chosen.

Chief among the causes of their introspection was that the stories and songs they had been raised on didn’t talk often about what it felt like to have to make life and death decisions over their friends. The fighting had been sudden and unexpected and nearly seen two of their number cut down in the first moments of their career. Briar, as a child of retired adventurers in particular, was shocked at the realisation that these feelings must have been felt by their parents.

Your Friendly DM

There was also concern about who or what the undead had been before becoming what they were. What lives had they lived? Had they had friends and family? What had led them to die and then be so darkly reborn?

Others in the group took to singing and drinking and dancing to cope – celebrating their lives and raising the spirits of all around them. For some there was study, or the quiet discipline of knitting quietly and watching everyone else.

The former introspection was roleplayed beautifully and brought tears to people’s eyes, the latter celebration turned into a celebration that had everyone in stitches with laughter. An overnight recovery for the adventurers and players – but with the knowledge that a dark mystery remained to be explored with the discovery of an overgrown staircase leading deeper into the hill.

Getting Creative

In between a couple of odds and ends, plus doing a week’s groceries or so, I’ve spent time fleshing out the adventure the DDC is most likely to have over the next few weeks – mostly in terms of flavour text and items – on an old imported map I made a few years ago.

The thing is, perfectionist that I am, I’m not entirely happy with how the grids align with the layout. The grids are what each counter or token are set into on the Roll20 maps. At present they’re slightly off so items and characters could end up halfway into walls. In addition, its a simply styled drawing generated by a webpage, so it looks somewhat plain compared to some of the full colour ones I’m generally using.

I do have the option to switch off the feature that snaps items to the grid, but at the moment I’m trying to simplify things for the less experienced players – and there is that whole graphics element as well…

So thats why I’m taking the modular stone building set i mentioned the other day, and have started recreating the map in a version two. There’s probably more productive things I could be doing, but the map making geek in me is happy as a clam.

Session Two – Or Ticket To Ride

So we had our second game night yesterday – and despite some tech issues on the voice side for a couple of people we had another successful go at it. My aim as GM this time round is to use this initial simple adventure to get everyone, including myself, used to the rules. I have two people (Lady M and myr s) who haven’t really played much D&D at all, while Mre B, Lady B, and Lord S have played but not in a group with any one else around our virtual table. There’s a lot of adjusting and settling in to do – not least of which is finding the right balance between roleplay and rollplay.

Rollplay is what I’ve started calling those parts of the game that rely more on dice results – things like combat for example – rather than the interaction between characters that allows people to inhabit the fantasy. My aim with this group is to allow it to have as much a say in the direction of the story as possible, with the aim of finding a happy middle ground that satisfies and still challenges each person around the table.

Last night saw the DDC using the tickets bought by the university to travel to Fort Light on the borders of Thrane. Even travelling in relative luxury it was still the best part of the week, and I would have been happy to have the whole session be just them talking nonsense and getting up to hijinx. Unfortunately we had enough voice disruptions due to network bandwidth somewhere that the flow didn’t really get started – so I moved the action along.

As they were travelling through civilised lands there wasn’t any form of banditry or disruption to the service on this occasion – indeed the biggest issues was that of characters who had never had gold before not being sure what the trade up values from copper and silver were for working out their change for bar drinks and meals. The journey across the border from Aundair did at least give me a chance to depict some of the lasting scars of magical conflict on the land, and set the stage for the cultural change as they moved into a theocratic nation.

Some quick bargaining by Alfonso got them a cheap ride to the village described by their patron, and they were soon able to locate one of the shepherds who had found the opening in the hill. With his fresh impressions and extra details in their minds, they had no difficulty finding the way in the morning – “past the blasted oak, through the gate, follow the path and sheep droppings to the top of the ridge and the opening will be below you on the other side where the landslip has left it bare.”

They were expecting a cave, but instead found an enormous hall, wet and cold with fungus and mould. A ramp led down to the floor below, and bodies could be seen between two enormous pillars. A forest of man-tall mushrooms was clustered near a hole in the ground below nearer the back but there was no sign of anything immediately dangerous.

The first body proved to be that of the missing shepherd, with his dog nearby, but as the DDC moved to investigate the second, they grew near enough the mushrooms to trigger a wailing shriek from them that roused skeletal human warriors in archaic armour to move to attack them. Nearer the back of the room, a fungal-covered orc zombie warrior in similarly outdated armour pulled itself out of the soil and began to advance as well.

The fight initially did not go well as the party was scattered, and Kerne the dragonborn sorceror and Caeluma the tiefling cleric were nearly pulled down straight away. It was only Briar’s quick thinking as a druid that turned the tide with a healing word and an entangle spell to buy them some time. Valenia and Alfonso managed to damage some of the skeletons, but Kerne was able to melt one and badly cripple another with an acidic dragonbreath exhalation.

At which point, as a cliffhanger, we paused the game.

So – we’re off to a start, and we’ll see where it takes us from here. I seem so far to be getting the balance right – in as much as there is terror and uncertainty but barring anything outrageous the DDC should be able to pull through without major harm.

Game Night Returns

Well, that happened… That’s actually the title of the game that I’m running and it seems entirely appropriate for a heavily roleplay-orientated group with similarly dry senses of wit as my own.

The mix of character personalities bubbles gently as we have a mix of introverts and extroverts at play – fortunately the most extrovert of them is Lord S, who as an opera performer delights in elevating everyone around him. Taking the royal of a flamboyant rogue of a noble halfling, he took us on a good five minute babble about the difference between asking someone nicely to do something and asking someone nicely to do something.

My notes on the session are as follows:

Key events – from memory: breakfast included another session of catching practice, where Caeluma switched up to using daggers rather than their tail for catching apples, and everyone thought a fight was about to break out. Alfonso and Briar took the stage to warm applause, but only after Alfonso nearly had a breakdown trying to explain to Caeluma the difference between asking nicely and asking nicely. The Secretary of Orcish Antiquities let people pet her Iron Defender “George” and her pet dinosaur enjoyed being snuck all the treats.

University IDs were handed out, a formal signing of the DDC charter happened, and a job was provided as a test run for the group to investigate a cave/ruin recently uncovered on the Thrane border by bad weather. Return tickets for the Lightning Rail to Fort Light have been provided.

Then there was a bit of a training session, first with a warforged ex-soldier called Speedy, and then with skeletons. The match was called after a minotaur skeleton KO’d Briar and sent them flying literally ten foot through the air.

We ended the session with a cut back to the bar and everyone covered in comedy bandages and moving in some discomfort to order dinner.

And then we mostly stayed up chatting until nearly four in the morning.

Dearie, dearie me…

The DDC

I was telling my counsellor via video call last night that one of the absolute joys that has been lifting my spirits has been this new gaming group and the use of a Discord server to keep us all in touch. Everyone is meshing so well that we’ve got impromptu roleplaying on one of the channels that has tempted everyone in.

It’s leading to character developments from quirks and hobbies to re-evaluation of initial concepts and back stories – with our heroes being hired by a patron in the Wynarn University of Aundair as a field research group. They’ve settled on calling themselves the DDC, and to tell everyone something different when asked what it means.

The five players have decided on roles within the group, from scholar to financier, scout, fixer, and anthropologist. We will no doubt see what that actually translates to once we get to the meat of the adventure, but for now they are a happy group who sort breakfasts for each other, have discovered a love of knitting, try to teach juggling with knives, and sit excitedly on public transport sightseeing.

It’s a very different set of dynamics to previous groups, so there’s a delight in that, plus several people haven’t really played much or at all before so there’s a sense of excited discovery going on. I’m not using any premade adventures this time out so it will all be a bit more freewheeling. I can’t wait to see where it takes us*

*I actually have a fairly well plotted idea for the first few weeks, so I fully expect that to be thrown out the window in short order

Lockdown

We’ve been such hermits with being in isolation that the announcement of some form of lockdown in the UK has been largely met in our household with a bemused snort and a glance out the window at the children playing on the estate. Our own health has been reasonable until today, but Lady M has worsened noticeably in the last twenty-four hours and has spent most of the day on the sofa dozing in front of Disney+ and a Toy Story marathon. Her temperature is noticeably up, and she is having difficulty breathing – but we’re reminding ourselves that her underlying asthma means that whatever germs are doing the rounds normally hit her chest hard anyway so there’s a lot of intentional grounding thoughts taking place at the moment.

My own health seems to be stalled at the rattling in my chest and brain fog with added muscle aches, but I can hold my breath for ten seconds without noticeable affect, and am only occasionally dry coughing. Assuming I don’t develop anything else with Lady M declining I should be okay. Hygiene and general distance isolation continue to be the routine.

Have some random cosplay body positivity

I’ve mostly been in the office doing preparation for our new D&D group which looks like it will be a feature of our Sunday evenings for the forseeable future. We originally set up a Discord just to chat and arrange Cards Against Humanity games online, but once I’d mentioned it as an option I practically had my ears bitten off in enthusiasm.

So at least I have a side project to engage me for the time being. It is another trip to Eberron, this time under Fifth Edition rules, which is a new experience for me and indeed most of the people taking part. Lady M and Lady B, Lord S, myr s, and Mre B are so far signed up, and I will indeed chronicle some of their adventures here too. Its been a good three years or so since I’ve done any tabletop gaming so I’m looking forward to it.

It does seem somewhat paradoxical then that at a time of enforced isolation and lockdown that I’ve never been more social in my interactions. I’ve always been an active text communicator, and between the Discord, Messenger, and various voice call interactions with family and friends I seem to be positively overflowing with people to talk to.

Which is nice – even if my brain has gone into information sponge mode.

What has been a lovely surprise is how well everyone has gelled together and how much roleplay is taking place outside of session. We had a session zero this weekend to check all characters were made up, decide on bonds and links between them, and to also agree the style and boundaries of the type of game people wanted to play. A couple of people have messaged me about a couple of topics that they really would not enjoy, and by and large we’ve come to an understanding of who the characters are and why they are choosing to embrace the adventuring life together. Within the game itself they have an employer, and resources and obligations that come with that – if nothing else the process and session zero has given me plenty of potential story hooks and beats to play with.

I’m selfishly hoping this will also help my creative writing side wake up. Like any skill it needs exercise, and running roleplay games has always helped. The in-character Discord chats that have been running since Sunday are already sparking ideas, and are a complete delight to read in any case.