Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Recap: A Two Year Affair

Time for a nap...
Well, it finally happened. I finished my two-and-a-half year long storyline, involving 15 players, 6 campaign groups, and two massive all-player games.


In the spirit of my End of Evil post, this article will go over the broad strokes of the various campaigns and discuss the things I enjoyed, the things that went well, and the areas I felt were weak or could be improved.

Also, as a side note: no weekly game this week. We had a lot going on!

Orphan Quest

Half-man, half-woman, half-elf
Megan: Orianna No-One, Tiefling Rogue who loved her pet Wyvern
Jackie: Leigh, Half-elf Bard, sassy, androgynous, had the hots for nearly everyone
Tom: Keth Hilltopple, Half-halfing-half-half-orc Fighter, constantly mistaken for a goblin
Notable guest: Liz, Tom's sister: Luca Jin, a future-seeing wizard working for Garlancia's spy network

This was my first campaign using 5th edition. Wanting to see how the system functioned at different levels, I ran 12 games, starting at level 0 and ending at level 20. The characters began as children in the same orphanage, joined up with Garlancia's grassroots spy organization the Cobblestones, and traveled across the country to learn more about a strange situation with the king.

Along the way, they made enemies with the king's champion, Sebastian. He worked for the King (who was a total jerk) and killed their mentor, Hilde. They eventually found out that the King was running a war just for the sake of pitting Garlancia and their northern neighbors, Norstone, at odds. Also, the King and Sebastian were a pair of Rakshasa devils in disguise.

The campaign ended with the heroes personally going to Norstone to stop the war, getting trapped in Hell, and making a deal with Asmodeus that allowed them to escape - at the cost of Keth and Leigh's half-sister being trapped in Hell.

Multivarious D&D

Still bitter about losing that cup that turned anything into chocolate milk
Will: Kreev, Red Dragonborn Bard, former prince of his clan, fled to be a hero
Cody: Mr. Lizard, Red Dragonborn Chaos Sorcerer, brother of Kreev, hid his real name, crazy chaos magic
Laura Lee: Runa, Human Barbarian, raised by wolves, loved battle and drinking in that order
Jake: Kalara, Drow Cleric of the Raven Queen, hated undead a lot
Wes: Legolad, Elf Fighter, deadshot with a bow and really into baked goods and beauty products
Tom: Callie Hilltopple, Halfling Druid of the Sewers, unaware of her half-brother Keth
Honorary kid NPC: Torrin, a little dragonborn without a breath weapon, admired Kreev

This group formed because everyone at Multivarious Games (MVG, the video game company I write music for) wanted to play D&D. I decided to stick to a monthly game, since everyone was pretty busy, and instead of using experience, we used a system based on the tiers of play and sessions attended. The characters began by taking a job for Captain Barker of the city watch of Garton, eliminating a corrupt leader of the local thieves' guild. They kept taking jobs, growing in power and influence.

In their adventures, they got involved in all sorts of strange things: rumors of demons, dealing with an undead police force, and constantly trying to mitigate the effects of Mr. Lizard's powerful chaos magic. They became known as the C.H.A.O.S division of the city watch.

This campaign didn't end, so to speak, as much as it merged with the next campaign.

Intern Quest

Have you heard the good news about my backflipping skills?
Quinn: Rank, half-orc totem barbarian, alcoholic and back-flipper who loved his sword, File
Wade: Voronion Fael, Half-elf arcane trickster, member of the Thieves Guild of Eastcliff
Shannon: Aethryn, Tiefling Dragon Sorceress, looking to improve her fiery temper
Bria: Faelynn, Silver Dragonborn Bard, out to avenge her twin sister Faerynn, hates her dad Raavodar
Honorary kid NPC: Pity, a tiefling girl they saved from slavery, attached to Aethryn

This campaign started when the interns we had one summer at MVG complained they weren't involved with MVD&D. At the time, I just couldn't get enough D&D, so I agreed to take on a third campaign (as long as it was also monthly). The characters started by going to a cave full of Kobolds and quickly got embroiled in a massive conspiracy featuring the mysterious noble Lord Theobald, and the sinister Cult of Kam.

After they quashed the cult and revealed Lord Theobald to be a generally okay guy (when he wasn't being possessed by demons), the group traveled to Garton, fighting a rival adventuring group and getting some really weird horses along the way. They got to Garton and immediately became mixed up with the Mage's Guild, the Cobblestones, and of course, C.H.A.O.S.

This campaign didn't end, so to speak, as much as it merged with the previous campaign.

Evil Quest

Together, they ensured that at least one demon died 1000 times.
Megan: Azrae, Blind Drow Fighter, exiled worshipper of Nerull
Will: Aryte, Draconion Paladin, they tried to make him go to rehab and he said no, no, no
Quinn: Nepher, Aquatic Halfing Warlock, last survivor of his tribe, nihilistic and sociopathic
Shannon: Noxa, Centuar Druid, enslaved by humans, broke free and swore vengeance

I've already covered some of this campaign here and here, but this was my experimental campaign. The players all started off dead, and were raised by a semi-demon lord as his undead/demonic/demigod servants. We tried a lot of different playstyles, alternate challenges, and weird plot devices.

Overall, however, this campaign fit into the others simply by being a looming threat. The evil characters got extremely powerful, between power-leveling, demigod rules, extra bonuses, and additional NPCs they got to control. Meanwhile, the players were acutely aware that if their evil characters ever went to the material plane, their other heroes would die horribly.

From that perspective, it worked very well.

All-Player Game #1: A Fancy To-Do

Players love in-game parties. Fact.
This game involved all the players from Multivarious D&D and Intern Quest. They teamed up to sneak into a Cult of Kam party, and learned there were two forces at play: a contingent of demons providing resources, and the Cult of Kam, who were looking to summon their demon masters (the characters from Evil Quest).

After this game, the party split again into two groups, some of which contained new members (due to deaths, additions, and swaps).

Demon Quest

Graz'zt, the guy with the great hair
Quinn: Rank, half-orc totem barbarian, alcoholic and back-flipper who loves his sword, File
Wade: Voronion Fael, Half-elf arcane trickster, looking to avenge his Mentor (eaten by demons)
Shannon: Aethryn, Tiefling Dragon Sorceress, looking to improve her fiery temper
Wes: Legolad, Elf Fighter, deadshot with a bow and really into baked goods and beauty products
Bria: Faelynn, Silver Dragonborn Bard, out to avenge her twin sister Faerynn, hates her dad Raavodar
Tom: Callie Hilltopple, Halfling Druid of the Sewers, there's demons in them thar sewers
Jake: Floris, Human Paladin, captain of the city watch, running this investigation

I wrote a bit about this campaign here and here. Basically, they were in charge of hunting down the contingent of demons. They investigated corrupt nobles, beat up some gangs, and headed to Breaddington, home to the best baked goods in Garlancia. Along the way, they lost some good folks, but ended up defeating Drogen, the leader of the demons, and closing the portal she had snuck through.

Cult Quest
Who's throwing shade? Spit it out!
Will: Kreev, Red Dragonborn Bard, former prince of his clan, fled to be a hero
Cody: Mr. Lizard, Red Dragonborn Chaos Sorcerer, brother of Kreev, hides his real name, crazy chaos magic
Matt: Re'lar, Tiefling Wizard, former member of the Mage's Guild of Garton
Cait: Caitness, Elf Fighter (Archer), she wants to be the very best, from a distant land
Michelle: Nerithya Finzerwin, Half-drow Rogue, former member of the cult who defected
Laura Lee: Runa, Human Barbarian, raised by wolves, loves battle and drinking in that order
Megan: Zovira, Red Dragonborn Fighter, aunt of the dragonbros, here to take them home but helping out in the meantime
Wade: Luth, Human Rogue, rescued from the streets by Voronion, joined up with the group
Jake: Floris, Human Paladin, captain of the city watch, running this investigation
NPC: Oddmund, a shield guardian who belongs to Nerithya, has a smile painted on his face

I wrote about the last game of this campaign here. This group was responsible for staying in Garton and stamping out the Cult of Kam. They fought some gangs as well, busted the Cult's headquarters, and in their last big game wrapped up plots involving the Mage's Guild, the gangs, and the King (all the way back from Orphan Quest!).

All-Player Game #2: Ritual Busters

My name is Thron Magnus, and this is my first time at Cultists Anonymous
This game involved all the players from Demon Quest and Cult Quest. As the folks from Demon Quest returned to the city, the Cult managed to finally get its ritual to start, and the players had to hustle across the city to stop it. Faelynn's dad Raavodar showed up and was generally unpleasant. Pity and Torrin did their best to help. Luth got some good intel.

In the end, the players were victorious. The King gave each of them a title, a promise to house them as long as they remained in the city, and hero treatment by the populous. They each went their various ways, some to continue the fight against the next great quest, others to retire or seek smaller adventure.

The Long Game: Thoughts

Things that Worked:

Fun and meaningful NPCs: Some of them were meant to be made fun of, like Gary the City Watch Accountant. Some of them were meant to make a connection then die heroically, like Hilde. Some turned into much more than they were intended, such as Oddmund. Some were just cute, like Pity and Torrin. But overall, there were a lot of good NPCs in the game.

Session 0's: had these for a few of the campaigns. It's a good way to bring the group together without making them scared for losing their character. However, I know there are DMs out there who would play this exactly the opposite... with session 0 just there to kill off level 0 characters until your level 1 character appeared.

Long-running plots: Using the rule of 3 Why's, I was able to dig pretty deep into the plot and had things to reveal all the way up until the final games. One player even had an item (which he had totally forgotten to label) which gave away major plot that he got in game 1. I thought this went very well, and I had a few involved players who enjoyed theory-crafting on the plot. There are also a couple groups who want to continue their plots forward!

Slack and Doodle: I know a lot of DMs use Roll20, Discord, Google Hangouts, and Skype to organize and run their games, but I think that if you have a group of players in the same general location, nothing beats organizing games on Slack and Doodle. These tools were lifesavers and literally changed the face of a few of my campaigns.

Things that Needed Work:
Get it? Because it's a forge? Yeah.
Group size: I'm becoming increasingly convinced that four players is the perfect group size for D&D 5e. Three is decent but can lead to one player being excluded or taking complete control. Five and Six are doable but usually someone gets lost in the mix and combat starts to bog down. Seven and up just lead to sluggish gameplay and difficultly in table control. Not to mention that in my later games, some players had nearly zero plot due to having to spread my plot among lots of players.

Play Time: Meeting once a month made for interesting games. It was hard to keep a consistent schedule, players weren't prepared for a "regular" game length and many games were four hours or less, and we regularly had people drop due to busy lives, illness, or schedule shifts. Fortunately, the structure of the campaign kept things "mission-based", meaning people could drop out of a game and catch up on Slack. The downside of that is they then had two months of not playing to forget rules and plot. Even those who made it every month would often forget plots that happened to their characters.

Rest and Recovery: Another issue with playing short, story-focused games infrequently is one of rest and recovery. D&D assumes that the players have about six combats per day, of challenge varying easy to hard. However, with so many players, combats ended up taking a full hour apiece, and I couldn't possibly have more than two or three a session. There's no way we could have gone through a day of story in two months of play. So, I defaulted to making those two combats very difficult. There's nothing wrong with that, but it lead to some very anti-climactic boss fights and overly-climactic minion skirmishes. I think I might try out the alternate ruleset in the DMG (pg. 267) where a short rest is 8 hours and a long rest is 7 days. That would allow me to get through 2 weeks of plot instead of 24 hours, and I can lower the challenge level of the combats to something more manageable.


Time to tune up my games...
I'm very happy with how the game turned out and that the players were interested enough to stick with it for so long. I need to seriously consider how I'm going to run campaigns in the future, though, because at the moment I can't see my players moving down to weekly sessions. Maybe bi-weekly. Maybe.

I learned a lot about how the structure of your sessions changes the type of story you are able to tell. In retrospect, this makes a lot of sense, since a movie tells a different type of story than a comic (looking at you, Zach Snyder), and a weekly long session can get through a lot more plot/dungeon than a monthly session with limited time.

The last thing I want to end with is a tribute to the characters who fell in the course of the adventure. This is PCs only - many good NPCs such as Hilde and Captain Barker also met their end.

Fallen Heroes
"Avenge me!"

Faerynn of Clan Druuga
Dragonborn druid, daughter of Ravodaar, loved adventure
Fell to Kranky the Kobold Kaptain

"Someone has to keep you lot alive"
Dark elf cleric, worshipper of the Raven Queen, tried to be matronly
Fell to Mu-Aquibatt, demon librarian
"I shoot him in the crotch while stabbing him."
Voronion Fael
Half-elf rogue, deeply connected to the thieves guild, tried to keep it going in Garton.
Fell to Drogen, demon general
"You have got to try these muffins!"
Wood elf fighter, loved beauty products and baked goods, master archer
Sold himself to Graz'zt in exchange for magical shampoo

To those who follow the blog, thanks for reading!

To all my players, thanks for putting up with scheduling headaches and odd hours to play D&D. I look forward to our future adventures, especially the ones I get to play in!

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