Monday, January 2, 2017

Monday Recap: A New Direction

It's a beautiful day to murder some giants
Sometimes you've got to step back and evaluate your games to see if they are really working.

Last night, my weekly group got together to continue our Princes of Apocalypse game, but I decided to take a minute to talk to them first. It turns out that the mega-dungeon-esque crawl of Princes wasn't really working for the players. They enjoyed playing their characters and fighting things, but the endless dungeon and constant exploration was starting to wear down the players. And honestly, it was starting to wear me down too.

So we decided to start up a new campaign, right then and there. After some discussion, we decided to try out Storm King's Thunder. Thanks to the wonderful writeup from Sean at Powerscore, I was able to run the entire first session on the fly. So the group made some characters and we ran the very first session of a brand new campaign!

Also, this is the first week where I have two recaps out. This will probably happen more often, but I won't always have them both out on Monday. And some weeks there may only be a short note about one game in the intro of another.

Storm King's Thunder: Goblins in Nightstone!

Bree-yark!
Cast of Characters:
Jon: Dungeon Master
Megan: Cecelia Sondheim, human bard, member of the Harpers and childhood friend of Rolen. She is the latest reincarnation of an ancient princess who loved and betrayed the Prince of Frost, a powerful archfey, and he seeks to steal Cecelia's soul to bring back his love. She carries a magic rapier that acts as her symbol of Harper membership. She's currently a Watcher in the Harpers.

milyknight.deviantart.com
Kinda technically royalty but not in a way that matters
Cody: Rolen Dundragon, half-elf Warlock of the Archfey, a scoundrel with a heart of gold who tried to use a gambling game to win Cecelia from the Prince of Frost's grasp. He was nearly killed for his brazenness, but Hyrsam, the satyr prince of fools, took a shine to him and saved both the mortal's lives in exchange for Rolen's service. Now Rolen carries a magic staff of Hyrsam, which he can't seem to get rid of, and the calling card of Hyrsam - a tarroka card of the charlatan.

Pretty, troubled, and edgy. 
Cait: Mialee Galanodel, elf ranger, who hails from a small elf clan on the distant isles of Moonshae. Because of a childhood experience, she became disillusioned with the war against the giants in her homeland and set out to seek her own adventure when she came of age, wearing a special elven armor that ensured she wouldn't drown at sea. She looks quite unusual and beautiful to those of the Sword Coast, and she finds many Faerûnians attractive in return. It doesn't help that her people had very little regard for personal space.
Deadly with a hug or a blade
I used the following scenes directly from Powerscore's suggestions on opening scenes to introduce some key NPCs and themes to the campaign. I won't be linking the actual scenes here, since I know my players follow the blog as well.

As a child, Mialee often wandered the woods and shores of the Moonshae islands. One summer day, she was surprised by two giants who burst up from the water and destroyed her boat! The giants were quite friendly and introduced themselves as Queen Neri and Princess Serissa.

Mialee and Serissa instantly became good friends, and spent the rest of the summer talking every week by the shore. One day, however, another giant, who called himself King Hekaton, came up from the water and told Neri and Serissa they were no longer allowed to visit. Mialee was sad, but never forgot the language of the giants, her friend Serissa, or that not all giants are evil.
King Hekaton and Queen Neri, lords under the water
Rolen had just been freed from the Prince of Frost's wrath and received the magic staff of Hyrsam. However, the Prince of Frost is fickle and cruel, and Rolen found himself carrying an unconscious Cecelia through the frosty tundra of Icewind Dale, hoping to stumble on one of the Ten-Towns. However, he has a bad sense of direction.

Suddenly, Rolen saw a white dragon with a wizard's corpse tied to a saddle on his back. The dragon, named Arviaturace, was quite upset, and promised Rolen directions to civilization if he helped her find a magic ring she had lost. After finding the ring, the dragon kept her word and carried Rolen and Cecelia to the town of Hundelstone. As Rolen left, he thought he saw a glint in the dead wizard's eye.

Cecelia was on a mission for the Harpers, and was working with a haggard but canny Harper agent named Beldora. They were on a simple mission, retrieving a small magic item from a shrine in the desert of Anauroch. However, they didn't expect to be dropped through a sinkhole and captured by gargoyles! They were chained up in a cell with their other companions until a massive blue dragon came to visit them. The dragon began to turn their companions into gargoyles.

Stone cold!
The dragon was just about to turn Cecelia to stone (and actually got a small patch on the center of her chest) when fellow Harper agents burst in to the rescue! Leading the charge was famed hero Artus Cimber, who used the legendary Ring of Winter to single-handedly drive off the dragon. After the dust cleared, he took Cecelia by the shoulder and said, "Blood of the Lady! Let's get out of here!"

About a year later, Cecelia had been placed on a new mission. She had been told that Lady Velrosa Nandar of Nightstone was looking for a charismatic mediator for a dispute with the Elves of Ardeep forest. Cecelia decided to take her childhood friend Rolen with her, because they had been apart for a few years and elf-humans mediations would be a perfect use for his canny.

They came to the fork in the road where the High Road from Waterdeep split off towards Nightstone, and they met a strangely beautiful elven woman standing at the crossroads. The woman introduced herself with a pair of big hugs for the two, and stated her name as Mialee. After some rather flirty introductions, they realized they were all heading to Nightstone and departed.

The first of many, many travel games
Mialee told the pair that she had been told by a dwarven adventurer named Larg that in Nightstone she could talk to Morak Ur'Grey and find an adventure to help her explore the new continent. Cecelia and Rolen immediately realized she possessed fantastic tracking and navigation skills, which could really help them due to their combined deficit in sense of direction.

Together, they travelled for a few hours before coming to the town of Nightstone. It was evening time, and the church bell was ringing in the town. However, the heroes quickly realized something was not right. The keep of the town was in ruins, the drawbridge to the village was down, and there were no guards in any of the towers around town.

The group crept in to the town and saw strange boulders everywhere. After taking a quick look from the top of a watchtower, they explored the local temple. Searching the room where the bell ringing was coming from, they discovered two goblins, pulling the bell and laughing!
Motte-and-Bailey fortification: The More You Know!
They had quickly dispatched the small creatures when they heard a human scream from the courtyard to the town. Cecelia immediately ran out into the center of town to see what was happening. Mialee dashed after her, and Rolen reached down to grab the goblin's sacks of treasure before following. (Rolen has a strength of 4, so this slowed him down even more)

In the courtyard, four goblins and two worgs were chasing after a woman in Monk's robes. The heroes jumped into action, but the woman's arm was injured and the tide of the battle quickly against the heroes. Mialee was knocked prone by a worg, Cecelia and the monk woman were surrounded by goblins, and Rolen was trying in vain to protect anyone he could.

Just then, a young bronze dragon came hurtling out of the sky. It slammed into the roof of the temple, its wing clipping off the bell tower and sending it sailing towards the heroes. Miraculously, the tower (and bell) took out a worg and a goblin, and the crashing dragon crushed another worg, leaving the heroes and the woman completely unharmed.

askdepokeman.deviantart.com
He loves both Wizards and Coasts
After taking out the remaining goblins, the characters spoke to their new and unusual companions. The dragon introduced himself as Felgolos, saying he had just been flying along when he had to dodge a small bird and plummeted from the sky on a bad air draft.

He also immediately gave a suspicious accusation at the monk woman. Felgolos said he had been tracking a group of Zhentarim, a shadow organization that stands for many of the things the Harpers fight against. He attacked their caravan, but some of them got away. The monk woman looked like one of the Zhents who escaped, and Felgolos was eager to put an end to her trickery.

However, the woman had a strong alibi. She said her name was Kella Darkhope, and she was a traveller who had been staying in Nightstone for a few weeks, enjoying the hunting and rubbing elbows with the nobles who came to visit. She said to ask Morak Ur'Grey, the innkeeper, to verify her story. In the meantime, she suggested they go to the town keep where Lady Nandar could be found.
Totally legit
Felgolos admitted that his memory of the caravan was not perfect and apologized before transforming into a stout male halfling to better move through the village. The heroes accepted this temporary truce, and both Cecelia and Mialee made not-so-discrete attempts to flirt with the noble dragon. As they passed by the other buildings, they noticed the town was nearly deserted.

They made their way up to the keep, crossing the broken bridge over the moat with Felgolos's help. Inside, they meet four guards with some grave news: Lady Velrosa Nandar is dead, crushed by a falling rock. They tell the heroes what happened and why the town was empty.

About three days ago, a castle in the clouds appeared over the village. Rocks began to rain down from the castle, massive boulders that crushed buildings, ruined the keep, and killed several villagers. After the rocks fell, four pale-skinned giants lowered themselves from the castle and took a large obsidian monolith from the center of town. The townsfolk fled, but with the bridge over the moat gone, these four couldn't leave.

While the characters discussed what to do next, Rolen eyed the ring on Lady Nandar's lifeless finger. His staff urged him to take the treasure, but he pushed back and refused.
Our first giant-sighting! Well, sort of.
Felgolos asked the party to clear out the village of goblins while he helped the guards and kept an eye on Kella. Cecelia pointed out her sword (which glowed when goblinoids were nearby) would let them know when they were finished with their task.

After clearing out some goblins in a windmill and a pumpkin patch, the heroes went to the Nightstone Inn, where they hoped to find the innkeeper Morak Ur'Grey and verify Kella's story. Mialee was also excited to meet the person who would give her an adventure to follow (and also excited to find out that Morak was a man's name).

They immediately found a goblin dead in the center of the dining room, with a crossbow bolt in its chest. They cautiously called out to the rest of the inn, and heard a noise from the kitchen.

In the pantry, they found a single goblin stealing a too-large sack of food. They quickly took out the creature, but after Rolen fired his Eldritch Blast in the body, he kept firing even after the creature had died.
Rude.
Cecelia and Mialee were shocked, but Cecelia played a soothing melody to calm her friend down. Rolen explained that Hyrsam had a bit of a temper. He was the Prince of Fools, but also could become Hyrsam the savage. Occasionally that anger leapt out of Rolen and made him rash, vicious, or angry.

The glow of Cecelia's sword slowly faded, and the heroes returned to the keep to rest. As they passed by an empty house, a small winged cat (called a Tressym) began to follow them. Investigating the house, they saw the Tressym's owner had died in the giant attack. The heroes adopted the cat, which Mialee took an instant liking to.

His name is "Quest Reward"
We stopped here, and the characters leveled up to level 2. Overall, the players really liked their new characters and they got along really well. Cait was very affectionate as Mialee, Cody played up Rolen's past and his struggle to do the right thing while not ticking off Hyrsam, and Megan was a great force of good as Cecelia. They had immediate inter-character chemistry and worked together well.

I think for any campaign, there is just a point where the players get tired of the campaign. Fatigue, wanting to play new characters, getting tired about hearing about the same exact cults terrorizing the same exact cities over and over. This can be exacerbated when the players are looking for a different type of adventure than the campaign offers.

My weekly group is amazing for playing through a sub-optimal campaign for over six months. I'm hoping that I can keep this story fun, varied, and interesting for at least a year. Obviously, aside from the main plot of Storm King's Thunder, the players have given me a ton of great material to work with. The traveling bardic hero, the explorer from a distant land, and the scoundrel struggling to do the right thing will have the entire continent to explore, and I'm extremely excited!

Country roaaaad, take me hoooome
Thanks for reading!

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