Friday, February 13, 2009

Another turn behind the DM screen...

After two days pretty much wasted by the flu, my son decided tonight that he wanted to run another D&D adventure. I had brought home a bunch of new minis, a set of the new Dungeon Tiles (Caves of Carnage), and the Dungeon Delve book, and I guess that got him in the mood. So I sat him down with Dungeon Delve and the DMG while I started some laundry, made myself some dinner, and did a few other things around the house.

He decided that he wouldn't use anything from Dungeon Delve—he wanted to make his own adventure tonight. So he created a Delve of his own: three encounters, ramping up in difficulty, with the ultimate goal (inspired by reading the Quests section of the DMG) of rescuing the village magistrate, who'd been kidnapped and held for ransom. I helped him build the encounters (which involved scaling a number of monsters down to 1st level—he wanted to use a shadar-kai chainfighter and an iron cobra and . . .), but the adventure was really his design.

At last he, Amy, and I all sat down to play. We used the characters we created last week for Jeremy's game (about which more in a moment), including my son playing his character as well as running all the monsters. And it was fun! We all had a great time, playing for maybe an hour and a half.

He was so thrilled. He kept saying things like, "I'm DMing!" and "I want to run a regular campaign!" I was tickled pink. And kept drilling him on math as he tracked the shadar-kai chainfighter's 88 hit points (we turned it from a level 6 to a level 3 elite). Good times.

* * * * *

We are all playing in a new campaign started up by Jeremy Crawford. We played one session last Saturday, and we're missing another tomorrow. (Amy refuses to play D&D on Valentine's Day . . .) Our characters:

• Jaeric (me), male half-elf sorcerer. Actually half-eladrin. 
• Riva (Amy), female deva invoker.
• Chava (son), female deva swordmage.

Here's the background I wrote up for Jaeric:

Jaeric is the eldest son of the human thane of Llandaer and an eladrin princess (Meriele) who died when he was very young. From birth (a birth accompanied by mysterious omens), Jaeric was regarded as a strange child beyond what one would expect from his fey blood—he never cried, and it soon became apparent that he saw things that no one else (even his mother) could see. His father regarded this as a personal betrayal on the part of his mother, and when his mother died, some folk whispered that his father was responsible. Soon after his mother's death, the thane took a new human wife and promptly sired a respectable heir, Jaeric's half-brother.

When his father remarried, Jaeric was sent to live with the druids at the Grove of the Dhunail. They laid him on the Dhunail (a sacred stone) to heal him, but his condition did not improve. The druids took to saying that his madness was a divine gift, not an ailment, and they secured fey tutors to help him learn to control the magic that seemed to flow uncontrolled through his body (beginning when he reached puberty).

Recently, Jaeric's father died and his half-brother became thane of Llandaer. Before his father's death, his living in Tira had been basically a caretaking situation, but with his half-brother's ascension it's clear that Jaeric is an exile from Llandaer, not welcome home.

Chana and Riva don't have quite that much background worked out. And I think it's probably best if I avoid saying too much about them until PH2 is officially out there.

* * * * *

In other games:

Baredd, male human paladin (in Bill's Thursday night game), has reached 11th level and chosen the Champion of Order paragon path. We've basically been playing through the adventure series, but we skipped H3 (because I co-authored it). We're pursuing Skalmad into the Feywild (in P1) right now. I missed last night's game because of the aforementioned flu situation.

Baredd is a devotee of Erathis. His background notes that he grew up in a distant town built among the ruins of the ancient capital of the long-fallen empire. His head full of dreams of civilization's greatest glories, he came to the town of Haven hoping to help rebuild the Havenguard (the town watch) and eventually grow the town into the seat of a new kingdom. 

* * * * *

Adrin, male elf rogue (in Andy's monthly game), is 5th level. We're playing through the Scales of War adventure path. I missed the last session of that game, too, so I haven't played since about Christmas and it's a bit of a blur . . .

Near the start of the campaign, Andy asked four questions about each of our characters. Here are the questions and my answers:

1) Where are you from?
I'm from Tiri Kitor, in the Witch—in the forest to the west.

2) Why are you in Brindol?
I came to Brindol primarily out of curiosity and gregariousness—I like being around people, interacting with different people, and a small village of elves and eladrin isn't sufficient company.

3) How are you connected to at least one other character in the group?
Galidas (Brian Larabee) and I met in Tiri Kitor and decided to journey to Brindol together.

4) What interesting secret would your character prefer that others not know about him just yet?
While everything I've said about my reasons for coming to Brindol is true, it's not the whole story. The immediate impetus for my departure was an encounter I had in the Witchwood, an experience of some kind of fey being of enormous power, ancient wisdom, and primal hunger. It scared the sh** out of me, and resulted in my fey pact (via the Pact Initiate feat). I used to love to walk in the woods alone, but I won't do it ever again (which is part of the reason I was so glad to hook up with Galidas). I'm not quite sure what my pact consists of, and I'm terrified of what this fey being is going to ask in exchange for the power it gave me. Not that I particularly think it's going to be sinister or awful, just that I don't like the feeling it gives me of having a greater purpose or destiny. I have nightmares about the experience just about every night.

After a couple more sessions (after we finished a detour into the Treasure of Talon Pass adventure), Andy asked some more questions:

1) What rumors have you heard?
Travelers through the more remote parts of the Witchwood have told tales of an enormous beast wandering through the forest. Nobody has given a clear description of the thing, except to say that it's gigantic and dark. Common themes: Shaggy appearance, the forest seems darker just before it's spotted, response of people and animals alike is to run in terror at the sight of it.

2) Who is your character's best friend, closest confidante, or most trusted ally? What does he do, where does he live, and why do you have such a close relationship?
I have an uncle named Haran, a hunter who lives among the other elves in the Witchwood. I spent a lot of time with him while I was growing up, and he taught me a lot about the forest. He is the only person I have told about my experience with the creature in the forest, and his reaction—of utter terror and shunning—is what really drove me away from home. I don't feel that I can go back to him any more.

Adrin died in a nasty fight with some kruthiks before we reached Talon Pass. The nearest place for my one surviving comrade to bring the bodies for resurrection was Tiri Kitor, which was about the last place I would have wanted to go. Andy informed me that when I came back to life, something came with me, and he asked me to describe what it was. I said:

The spirit, or an echo, of a powerful eladrin of winter and decay. It's not committed to evil, but it is utterly uncaring, amoral, and borderline cruel. I don't know whether it's connected to the being I encountered in the forest, but I suspect that it hitched a ride back to the world on my spirit because of my connection to that being. It doesn't speak to me (at least not yet), but its influence is clearly showing on me.

* * * * *

Saman, male human fighter (in Mike's lunchtime game), is also 5th level now. The strange bastard sword (apparently carved from a single piece of metal) that he found after a disastrous military raid has just awakened into a powerful (+2) sword with elemental power. This happened when I slid it into a sword-sized hole in an altar of elemental evil beneath the moat house (yes, that moat house). I can use it as an arcane implement (which will help my otherwise pretty lame attacks with thunder wave and burning hands), and its daily power lets me use one of four elemental-themed effects each round at the start of my turn. I don't have all the details here at home with me, and I haven't had a chance to use it yet. But it's quite cool.

* * * * *

And my fifth current game is the one I'm running. I wrote a bit about the first session in my most recent Dungeoncraft column (link for D&D Insider subscribers only, sorry), and I won't muddy the waters by writing too much about it here.

So what explains this lengthy post about all my D&D games? Partly it's that I'm having such a great time gaming these days, and just loving the fact that I have five games going on—plus the occasional game with my son! In a month's time, I could play D&D as many as 17 times, just counting my regular games. Add in playtest sessions, games with the family, and other random events, and I call it a happy gaming life.

I guess the other reason is that some folks were talking at work today about the bizarre and random accusation that 4th Edition somehow prevents players and DMs from telling stories in the game any more. It's a charge I just can't understand, and I think this post explains why. I actually believe the opposite: compared to 3rd edition, at least, I spend more of my game preparation time (for the campaign I run) thinking about the story of my campaign, and much less hashing out stat blocks for the villains and monsters I plan to run. 


Mike said...

Hi James!

How do you find playing a game with only three characters? How do you handle the roles? How does the DM scale the adventure? Inquiring minds want to know.

Anonymous said...

James, I like those questions for Scales of War.

I've decided to use something similar, though I'm going to change question 3 to reflect something my players already decided about their group.

I'm taking an approach to the Fourth Edition implied setting more reminiscent of "fragmented China" than "feudal Europe" - fuelled by the fact that I'm currently reading OUTLAWS OF THE MARSH. Instead of the town council in Brindol, there will be a magistrate - a hold-over from the days when Nerath was strong and unified.

Anyway, question 3 will be "What have you done to anger the magistrate?" The players have decided that all save one of them will have committed some minor but outrageous breach of the peace or other crime, and have been sentenced to the supervision and command of a dwarf cleric of Bahamut recently arrived from Overlook.

Shades of JOURNEY TO THE WEST - reruns of the Japanese television adaptation MONKEY (as dubbed by the BBC) was very popular in Australia when we were young.