Session 7

As the group approached the seventh session, I knew that I wanted to start teasing certain elements of backstories in order to get the plot moving along. By this point, I had in my possession quite a bit of information about Lei, Bel, Solomon, and Caileth, and I had started to come up with some larger arcs that I wanted to introduce into the story. There was still quite a bit of business the group had to take care of in Vrotha however, so it was crucial for me not to rush into anything, but rather tease things as the events in Whitepoint played out.

Another tricky element was introduced into the seventh session. Caitlin, a coworker and friend of Neli’s, was an avid fan of Critical Role and had wanted to start playing D&D, but had been unable to find a group to play with in our area. We welcomed her into the group, and she rolled up Fenhaly, a halfling monk who came to the capital of Vrotha looking for a young girl who had been kidnapped. Even though this wasn’t exactly the first time I had introduced a new character into a pre-existing group (Bel was a little bit of a late plant in Session 2), this was my first experience doing it for a group that was already so bonded. I was nervous at introducing a new character, particularly for a group of such loners, so going into the session I had hope that everything would go all right.

Immediately at the beginning of the session, the group was sitting at the inn after their druid adventure and the day at the festival. Viola Ruxperd, a general from the Vrothan army, entered The Lion’s Blaze Inn and Tavern to “pay a visit” to the ladies who owned the inn. This served two purposes for the group: 1) to remind them that much of Whitepoint and the local government frowns deeply on adventurers and 2) to show a bit more of the internal tensions of Vrotha. Ruxperd was a character who had not entered the picture before, but she was one of my favorite NPCs that populated Vrotha, so I was excited to have a chance to show her off.

Once General Ruxperd had left the inn, Izzy came running into the place and shot up to her room. The group was already suspicious of her because of the incident the previous day, but they were even more suspicious when Fenhaly came running in after her. The halfling eventually made her way up to the second floor with Lei hot on her heels. Izzy had escaped, climbing out the window and running off into the crowd. Fenhaly tried to pursue, but quickly lost sight of the girl. She came back into the tavern and began to discuss with the other PCs what she knew and what they should do. Eventually, they decided to make their way to the Onyx Barrel Tavern and perform a stakeout to see what they could learn.

After a few hours of inspection, the group found no traces of Izzy, but decided to send Fenhaly in to talk to their old pal Whitley. Inside, Fenhaly saw Izzy sitting next to a gentleman dressed in dark leather armor. Quickly however the attempt to talk to the bartender went awry, and the gentleman at the back of the room insisted upon speaking to Fenhaly-and the rest of her group waiting outside. This man was Salazar, one of the prominent members of the Obsidian Tower. He explained that the Obsidian Tower was a local organization, similar in many ways to a thieves guild. However, this group had been kidnapping children and using them for nefarious purposes. Fenhaly’s friend was among those who had fallen victim to the group, and Salazar decided to take advantage of this fact.

In exchange for the release of the girl Fenhaly was looking for, Salazar requested that the group make their way to a dungeon on the outskirts of Whitepoint and retrieve some plans which were located within. Something within Solomon was triggered, however, and he demanded that whether or not the group succeeded with the plans, the children would all be set free simply for the group’s attempt. Salazar was unwilling at first but was eventually persuaded. With this agreement met, the PCs set off.

I used the Five Room Dungeon format for this dungeon, meaning that upon arrival at the dungeon, the group found a mysterious riddle set into a large metallic door covered in ash and snow. Though it took some time, they found their way through the door and into the dungeon. Unfortunately, they were met with the Path of Blades, a dangerous series of traps. The first section held a large section of whirling blades ready to behead anyone who dared step into their fray. Next were several pillars slamming down from the ceiling into the ground, threatening to crush the life out of the adventurers. Finally, the Rune of Fear was a large sphere hanging above the exit with a rune emblazoned on the front to strike fear into any who approached. With some significant struggle, the group made it through the blades and pillars, and every one of them made the Wisdom saving throw to pass the Rune of Fear, meaning that they had made it through the complex trap.

The next room held a series of six doors, each labeled with a number one through six, and an inscription on the floor stating, “Go through the seventh door”. My group was particularly befuddled by this puzzle, particularly once they tried going through one of the doors and emerged promptly from the same door they had entered. They began to try random doors, and after some trial and error Lei consecutively went through doors 1 and 6 and did not enter again from the usual door. The remaining PCs realized after some panic that they had to go through two doors that equaled seven when added together and were promptly reunited.

What awaited on the other side of the door was a large stone room filled with pillars and what appeared to be some kind of statue with little form. Upon closer inspection however, the statue came alive and began to watch the party. It was actually a clay golem who had been assigned to watch over the entrance. Although the PCs tried to lure it away from the door, it remained steadfast. The group quickly found out however that simple hits from weaponry did nothing to the monster; magic was the only thing that appeared to damage it. Eventually, the golem fell in battle, though not before taking a sizable chunk out of Bel. The group made their way past the golem and the skeletons that lay within the chamber and entered the final room.

Within this room lay a study of sorts. A desk and several bookcases filled the room, and various pieces of treasure occupied the space as well. The group found a pair of earrings that could be used as a communication device, a quiver with some extradimensional storage properties, and some goggles of night vision. It was the plans that quickly turned the adventure sour however. The PCs found the plans in pieces, and after putting them together they discovered that they were blueprints for a gun. None of them knew what a gun was in-game, but Lei’s military training gave her just enough of a hint to know that this was bad news.

Suddenly the group was at a loss. They began to debate on whether or not they should actually hand the plans over to Salazar, and if they could even get away with lying to them. Everyone agreed that these plans and the Obsidian Tower were bad news. Solomon suggested joining the organization and bringing it down from the inside, and while most of the group didn’t like that option, they were at a loss for what they could do. As the PCs ascended the stairs in the final room to make their way out of the dungeon, they racked their brains for a solution, and soberly contemplated what their path might be once they reached the surface.

Although this session is definitely not my favorite in my D&D experience, it carries a lot of weight within my mind. This session took place in December, and our group has not had an official session since (though this will be rectified next week). I have had a lot of time to ruminate on this session and I think that even if it wasn’t the most fun session we have ever had, it was certainly valuable to me as a DM in learning my craft.

  • Read and understand your traps

When I was looking for a series of traps to use for the encounter, I found the Path of Blades within the Unearthed Arcana for D&D 5th edition. This was prior to my acquisition of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, so I am unsure how that could have possibly changed the encounter, but I know that I certainly did not run the trap the way it was supposed to be run. I had thought I understood exactly what the trap needed, but once it came time for the players to proceed, I was lost and confused. Whatever the rules said I ended up throwing out, and I ran the trap very different. I think it worked adequately for what I was intending, but it was somewhat unsatisfactory. A week or two later I wound up rereading the instructions and I realized what I had misunderstood. In the future when I use a trap I plan to read and dissect the sections of it multiple times to make sure I understand it, particularly for a complex and multi-layered trap like the Path of Blades.

  • Consider all of your PCs powers when designing an encounter

Before I knew that Caitlin was going to be playing a monk, I had the dungeon encounter almost entirely finished. The problem that had been accidentally built into the session was that the big bad for the day was going to be the clay golem, which takes no damage form basic physical attacks but instead only can be damaged via magic. For Solomon, Caileth, and Lei this was no problem, because they had access to at least a minimal amount of magic. Fenhaly however was a low enough level and a specific subclass of monk that provided no access to magic. The lack of magic was also a problem for Bel, but the fact that both of them had issues brings to light an interesting point. Providing an enemy that is immune to a specific type of damage or plan of attack can make for an interesting encounter, particularly if you have players that fall into certain patterns of attack and rely too heavily on one or two specific talents. This means that for the normal group, the clay golem would have made for a unique challenge. However, because Fenhaly was a newcomer to the situation and also had the same problem, the encounter became more complicated for me as the DM on a metagame level. Caitlin was a newcomer who had happened to pick a melee-centered class with a lack of access to magic, and the golem was the only combat encounter in the session. This mean that Fenhaly didn’t have anything to do in combat, and as such Caitlin wasn’t given the chance to play around with any of her monk skills within the first session. If I had had more time before the session to fix this, I absolutely would have. I encourage other new DMs to pay attention to their players’ abilities, particularly if you have any new people joining your party halfway through, and especially if they are new to RPGs and D&D. We want people to have a good time playing, and if they end up sitting on the sidelines for most of the session because of a mistake you made, the day can go from great to garbage in the space of minutes.

  • Serious sessions can be good, but they are not necessarily best

This session was one of the first real opportunities I had to tease some backstories, and I also wanted to bring some weight to the world with the discovery of the gun plans. I always tell my players that their actions have consequences, and I think that this session really made them realize that their choices have weight. Similarly, Solomon’s encounter with Salazar quickly became serious in a way that most of hadn’t expected. This was likely due to the fact that no one besides myself knows anything about Solomon, and was also compounded by our groups’ lack of roleplay experience. It was hard for some of the players to separate their reaction to the encounter with their character’s reaction. While it was really fascinating and unique to see, it made me realize that I would not enjoy a truly gritty and constantly emotional game, and I don’t think my players would either. Even though most of the characters have very serious and possibly tragic elements to their backstory, the players got into D&D to have a good time. While they are here to tell a story, and that might include some sad moments, none of them (myself included) wants to spend the entire session in tears. Dungeons and Dragons is above all else a way for a group of players to have a good time and bond with each other, and in order to provide the best game experience possible we DMs need to pay attention to the things that our players enjoy and the moments that they are uncomfortable. This will allow us to learn and grow as DMs and create an excellent gaming experience for our players.

The seventh session was different in many ways, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was bad. While it was certainly different, and sometimes somber, it was still fun for us. The group enjoying themselves is the most important element of D&D, and telling a story usually comes second. As a DM, we are an amalgamation of everything we have done before, everything we experience within our own games and what we learn from watching other games or talking to other DMs and players. Much like everything else in our lives, we never stop learning and growing, nor should we accept stagnation in our tabletop roleplaying. I want to constantly strive for the next great D&D experience for as long as I live, and I hope that my players will take that journey with me.


Notable quotes from the session:

  • Me: The table is made out of a sort of dark wooden… wood

(Unfortunately my players have made this one a significant inside joke so I felt obligated to include this as a “Notable Quote”.)


Questions, comments, or concerns? Leave me a comment or find me on Twitter @DandDDM.

Playlist Spotlight: Pierre Lancaster

As a DM, one of my favorite things to do to help me work out NPCs and make them more fully-realized characters is to create a playlist for them. Several of my crucial NPCs in my world currently have a playlist. Today I’m going to talk about the playlist of an NPC named Pierre Lancaster. Pierre is one of the four generals and official trainers of the Tovellian army. He never knew his elven father but he loved his human mother dearly, though she passed away when he was sixteen. Ever since he has been a loyal member of the army. Throughout his military career, he has also fallen in love with a fellow soldier, which is against the rules, though the couple has struggled for other reasons in more recent years. His connections to Tovell and the army mean that his path has intersected with a few of the PCs before the campaign even started. Within the seven proper sessions that we have done, Pierre has not yet appeared, but because of the weight he holds within a few character’s backstories, he is what I would consider a key NPC.

Pierre’s playlist was the first NPC playlist I had ever created, and as such it feels a bit scattered. Most of the songs I chose have a lyrical importance rather than an aesthetic one as well. Many of the later playlists have a better style to them than this one. However, I am still proud of how this one turned out. For playlist posts, I am going to list the song and artist, as well as a few crucial lines, and explain a bit about why each was chosen and how it fits in to the backstory. (Want to listen along? Here!)


Song: Tear in my Heart

Artist: Twenty One Pilots

Sometimes you gotta bleed to know

That you’re alive and have a soul

But it takes someone to come around

To show you how

She’s the tear in my heart, I’m alive

She’s the tear in my heart, I’m on fire

She’s the tear in my heart

Take me higher

Than I’ve ever been

After Pierre’s mom died, Pierre was just kind of moving through military ranks, trying to do the best he could. When his lover came around, he finally had something to work towards. First it was someone to protect and train, then she became someone to love and to fight for. All Pierre needed was for someone to kick start his soul, and she was that person. Pierre is a broken piece of pottery, and she is the gold lacquer that repaired him


Song: I am Terrified

Artist: IAMX

You look good in leather, in bars
Breaking things, breaking hearts
You look good in pleasure, in hotels
Loneliness is the key to break that spell

I am terrified, I think too much
I get emotional when I drink too much
I buy every cry, ’cause I don’t trust
I am terrified, I think too much

This song is beautiful and depressing, a perfect snapshot of where Pierre has been for the past six years with his military career and his lovelife. Pierre is also a total light-weight, meaning he has spent more than a few nights in the bar wasted after only a drink or two.


Song: Pompeii

Artist: Bastille

And the walls kept tumbling down

In the city that we love

Gray clouds roll over the hills

Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,

Does it almost feel like

Nothing changed at all?

And if you close your eyes,

Does it almost feel like

You’ve been here before?

How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

A lot has happened in Goldcrest over the last few years. Despite his best efforts, this time has done little good for Pierre. The place that has been his home for nearly two decades now feels hallow, unwelcoming, and lonely. But if he concentrates, sometimes he can still smell her hair, imagine the leather of her armor, and feel the warmth of her hand in his.


Song: Dark Times

Artist: The Weeknd and Ed Sheeran

In my dark times I’ve still got some problems I know

Driving too fast but just moving too slow

And I’ve got something I’ve been trying to let go of

Pulling me back every time

In my dark time, taking it back to the street

Making those promises that I could not keep

In my dark time, baby this is all I could be

Only my mother could love me for me

This song perfectly encapsulates his mental state for the past few years. Pierre has never been one to not have spunk, but fights were never his thing. But some nights when the liquor flows too heavy and the pain runs too deep, all it takes is one wrong word to bring back those memories and Pierre simply breaks.


Song: One by One

Artist: One OK Rock

Kept down so long

Sick of living in the middle

If you stand for nothing

You’ll fall for anything

Our time is now

We won’t stand down

Wake up scream out

We are the chosen ones

Standing on the battleground

Standing on the front

Can’t see my way out

Standing on the pinnacle

Standing on the sun

Can’t see my way out

One by one we turn our hands to guns

One by one they fall down

Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in, and Pierre knows which battles he would pick any day.


Song: Pardon Me

Artist: Incubus

So pardon me while I burst into flames

Pardon me while I burst into flames

I’ve had enough of the world and it’s people’s mindless games

So pardon me while I burn and rise above the flame

Pardon me, pardon me, I’ll never be the same

When his mother got sick, Pierre was angry at the world. A quiet and loving child, he couldn’t understand why his amazing mother was so sick, and he understood even less why no one could do anything about it. He began to question everything; his father, wherever he was, who had probably left the two of them to rot; the village elder, who said that the sickness was beyond his control to cure; the gods, for allowing this to happen. For a while, being in the army made sense, made Pierre feel as if he was doing something right. When he found out that his mother had died anyway, Pierre didn’t trust anyone for a long time.


Song: Help I’m Alive

Artist: Metric

Help I’m alive

My heart keeps beating like a hammer

Hard to be soft

Tough to be tender

Pierre has always been an incredibly kind and caring soul. But a bleeding heart doesn’t belong in the army.


Song: When the Day Met the Night

Artist: Panic! At the Disco

When the moon found the sun

He looked like he was barely hanging on

But her eyes saved his life

In the middle of summer

It’s hard to say where Pierre would be if his lover hadn’t come along. After his mother passed, Pierre didn’t really pray or believe in the gods, but having hr in his life felt like a godsend. Every night he would say a prayer to ask the gods to watch over the woman who he felt truly saved him.


Song: Peace of Mind

Artist: Boston

I understand about indecision

But I don’t care if I get behind

People livin’ in competition

All I want is to have my peace of mind

If Pierre could choose to be anywhere right now, he would be far away from Goldcrest-perhaps a farm or fishing boat, somewhere where he wouldn’t have to make a decision and be in charge. Pierre really isn’t cut out for army life, it’s just the hand he was dealt.


Song: Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Artist: Lorde*

It’s my own desire

It’s my own remorse

Help me to decide

Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure

Nothing ever lasts forever

Everybody wants to rule the world

Politics are tough, and in Tovell only the strongest survive. Pierre has struggled to reconcile his need to be in his position with the values that his mother taught him. Being an army trainer has its perks, but sometimes it’s simply not worth it.

*I also chose this version over the Tears for Fears version because even though I like that version better, I feel that this version does a better job of signaling the dread that Pierre feels about his current situation.


I think that each of these songs does a pretty decent job of explaining who he is, where he comes from, and what he’s feeling right now. The original playlist was 16 songs, but it’s cut down to 10 here for clarity and because some of the other songs were only tangentially related. Please let me know if you like seeing more of these posts! I enjoy doing them and I will probably do more when my school and work schedule gets a bit crazy again.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Leave me a comment or find me on Twitter @DandDDM.

Session 6

With the Halloween session and the Blind Demon out of the way, it was time for our group to attend to some duties that they had signed up for in the past few sessions, and otherwise enjoy themselves while in the capital of Whitepoint. There was a three-day gap from the end of the goblin encounter until they were needed by the druids, meaning that the four of them had ample opportunity to explore the city, do research, or run some errands. Similarly, the twins who ran the magic shop had offered to provide some options for potions or poisons using the dragon bile that the group could commission once their spellbook came in, so the players had some options available to them for the start of session 6.

Caileth, truly a bookish, mom-friend style cleric, decided to go the library and do some research. The group had also taken several books from the DeMarcus household, so they spent some time poring over those tomes as well. Solomon did a bit of sight-seeing, while Lei ventured to the temple, spending some time praying to the gods to watch over those whom she cared for. Bel ventured off to a toy shop, finding a dragon toy that he sent back home as a present for someone special in his life. Finally, the group stopped by Augury and Alchemy to see what Nikolai and Simone had found for them. A type of poison that could be used on a blade was selected, and the twins gave them a timeline for when the poison would be ready. With that, the errands were done, and the adventure could begin again.

The PCs met up with the druids in the same place they had met them before, but this time they got to see that there were more than just the leader, his husband, and their bodyguards. Dozen of men, women, and children, all ages and races, gathered together to perform their annual pilgrimage. Elmyar, the leader, greeted the group cheerfully, reintroduced everyone to one another, and gave marching orders. With that, the druid tribe began their trek.

The trip to the tree and back was relatively uneventful. On the first day of the journey, the group did stumble upon what appeared to be an abandoned baby goblin. The little critter couldn’t speak common, and Lei and Bel were less than thrilled about the new companion. Caileth, however, remembered the goblins from the previous encounter, and eagerly accepted the goblin child. She fondly nicknamed him Chewy, after she gave him a leather strap to chew on and he eagerly dug in. Chewy for Caileth was a fond little part of the strange adventure.

After two and a half days of traveling, the troupe finally made it to the tree that held so much meaning for the druids. Elmyar explained that after the Great War, the land of Vrotha was completely devastated. Heartbroken that her homeland was so broken and dead, Denaria, a frost elf and loyal warrior of Severin, the god of nature and plants, sacrificed herself to Severin so that she could become a beacon for his energy, restoring the land to its former glory. Her body became the tree, and the magical energy from Severin is still channeled through her into the land to this day. The tree itself is magnificent and beautiful, limbs stretching out to reach the sky, and a blue gem embedded in the trunk. Despite the snow falling in the northern kingdom, a large periphery around the tree was completely dry, vibrant green grass visible several feet around the tree in a circle. The divine energy the tree possessed allowed it to be evergreen throughout the year, but in order to maintain the energy, it needed a time of renewal each year. Once every cycle, the druids would gather in a circle around the tree and use their life energy to maintain the land while the tree was able to cycle through summer, fall, and winter, all in the space of twenty-four hours.

It was the job of the group, then, to protect the druids in the circle while they allowed the tree to be reborn. They had no clue what would happen if the circle were to be broken; they only knew that the Glacius tribe had been tasked by Severin centuries before to protect the tree at all costs. Each and every druids’ life force was needed, forcing them to rely on outside help during the renewal ceremony. The PCs were to protect the group at all costs, though the druids would prefer it that they refrained from killing anything; this would allow the druid tribe to fulfill their duties. With that, the druids began to perform their ritual, leaving the PCs to their own devices.

Most of the night passed uneventfully; at one point, Chewy nearly got out of his harness and escaped into the forest, but Caileth managed to keep hold of him. At another point in the night, wolves surrounded the clearing, but the characters were able to scare them off with some scary noises and a good old casting of Thaumaturgy. Everything seemed clear until the last hour, when out of nowhere a giant began to wander into the clearing. With some quick thinking, the group managed to distract the giant, leading it back the way it had come. Eventually, it ran into another giant, and being territorial the two began to duke it out in the mountains, far enough away from the druids that they couldn’t cause any damage to the ritual. An hour or so later and the ritual was complete, meaning that the group could rest before making their way back home.

Once back at Whitepoint, the Glacius tribe paid the group and said their goodbyes. Chewy went with the druids, since he was significantly safer with them than in the walls of the capital, though Caileth was not happy about having to say goodbye to her new goblin child. The druids thanked them for their help and promised them they had gained friends if they were ever in need of some, before taking off into the wilderness. The PCs ventured back into the city, only to find that the city was celebrating King Esmond’s birthday. Games, food, and competitions were everywhere to be found. Lei tried her hand at an archery competition, Solomon competed with some musicians, and Bel played the Ring the Bell game (which he promptly broke with an extremely high roll, much to the chagrin of the game owner). Overall, the group had fun with the celebration (all of which was recycled from Session 1.5) and left with a few prizes to their name.

However, on their way back to the tavern, the group encountered someone crashing through a store window nearby. The person appeared to be a young woman, physically similar to Izzy, a fellow patron of the Lion’s Blaze Inn and Tavern. After a quick and eventful chase, the group traced her to the Onyx Barrel Tavern, a small and unassuming bar closer to the center of town. Upon entering, they found Whitley, the apparent bartender of the establishment.

There was no trace of a woman to be found, and despite their insistence that a girl came into the tavern, Whitley was persistent in his denial and refused to allow them into the back room. His resistance was met with some physical retaliation on the part of Caileth, but he maintained his resolve. Although the troupe was reluctant to give up, they decided that they wouldn’t be getting info from the bartender anytime soon and headed to rest back at their inn, thus ending the session.

This particular session was a bit of a wild ride; it was the second one in a row that had no sort of combat encounter, and allowed for a wide range of events and emotions to drift to the surface. It also went quite a bit longer than I had intended it to, with the group being extremely more determined to find out what the bartender and the mysterious woman were hiding than I had anticipated. Overall, it was an enjoyable session, one that I got to see my players flourish a bit more in and I personally got to flex my roleplaying skills a bit and practice an accent or two As always, I came away from the session having learned several things about my party and about DMing.

Know the morals of groups in your world

When I had originally created the encounter with the giant, I had intended for it to be an action-packed encounter, one where the players might have difficulty taking down the antagonist but would still get a chance to show some of their awesome new level 5 skills off. However, when I began working on the druids more, both as characters and as a unit, I realized something important: the druids within the tribes believed that all life was precious and tried not to kill without a valid reason. As such, the druid leader Elmyar would likely tell the group that they would prefer the PCs to only harm or kill if absolutely necessary. Whether the PCs chose to align with that preference was their decision, but I knew that by putting the possibility out there, the chances of the encounter being a combat one had significantly decreased.

While this was perfectly fine, it made me realize that I probably should have considered this in advance of the encounter’s creation. Any PC of worth that you as a DM introduce should have some sort of moral code, some belief system (even if it is a total lack of faith and belief in anything), and knowing these things is important. This goes double for factions, tribes, and any other group you might introduce into your game. Not only will this give you a better sense of what your tribes are more inclined to do (and thus the characters within them as well), but it will also make your world seem real and whole, something that has had thought put into it.

• Be accommodating of those in your group who are not as comfortable with role-playing

Even though Dungeons and Dragons is considered a “roleplaying” game, there are many people who only get into the role-playing aspect enough to consider the actions that their character might do, and do not fully get into character the way actors like those on Critical Role do. And this is perfectly fine. The point of the game is to have fun and feel comfortable, not to constantly try to push your players for an Oscar. That being said, if you have a few players who are not as comfortable roleplaying as some of the others, pushing them a bit is perfectly fine as long as you consider everyone’s boundaries and comfort zones. Two of my players, my dad and Eli, have had theatrical experience, and although they have their limits too, these two tend to be a bit quicker to step into the roles of their characters than Reagan and Neli. The other two have told me that they want to get better with the RP aspect, but they are not quite comfortable just yet. Because I have a close relationship with both of them, I thought it might be a good idea to try to have a one-on-one RP opportunity with each of them to allow them to practice their roleplay.

Elmyar, as the leader of the druids, took interest in Solomon, who is not necessarily the leader of the players’ group but the face of it with his high charisma. Thatoris, Elmyar’s husband and a blind wood elf druid, took special interest in Caileth, sensing a love of nature and an inner turmoil from her. Mirie, a human druid and a bodyguard of the couple, recognized Lei’s soldierly demeanor and initiated a conversation about their pasts. Finally, Krisvyre, a wood elf and another bodyguard, tried to connect with Bel due to her similar past, something that she was able to discern from his behavior, solitary attitude, and clothing. Each of the players had an opportunity to connect with an NPC, allowing them to practice roleplaying at a slower pace. The most important thing to consider when trying to bring players out of their shell is to take things slowly and to go at a pace that is comfortable for them, because the moment you try to push them too much, they are likely to close themselves off, leaving you as a DM with nothing to work with.

• Consider allowing multiclassing to have a story affect

Eli had been considering for some time multiclassing Caileth into a druid, primarily due to backstory reasons, but also because Eli loves druids, and the class’ reliance on wisdom makes it a convenient multiclass for a cleric. However, I didn’t want Caileth to just wake up one morning with druid capabilities suddenly, so I knew that I needed an opportunity for her to learn. Much of the druid storyline came about due to my desire to foreshadow a few elements for later in the story, as well as to drop in some world lore; however, one important part for me was allowing Caileth the chance to at least be exposed to druids again, to give her a reason to know and learn about this new class. This in particular is why Thatoris took an interest in Caileth. He encouraged her, attempting to teach her the Druidcraft spell and inspiring her to find her own connection in nature. Providing this path for Caileth to gain access to the first step of her druidic powers made the decision more cinematic and consequential, and helps keep the story of your campaign consistent. Although it might take some work, allowing those who desire to multiclass in your campaign to have a story reason will make them feel as if they are really in their character’s shoes and will allow you to keep control over the narrative.

Potentially teasing backstory elements can create an amazing effect in your campaign

One night during the group’s journey to the tree, a cozy moment with the druids around a bonfire was interrupted when a bird swooped in and delivered some news. Apparently, the druids had been following a woman throughout Vrotha. The woman had been visiting small villages, poisoning the water supply, and holding the cure ransom. At several of these sites, the druids had been able to thwart the woman with their natural powers, and as such the woman had apparently decided to leave, venturing out of Vrotha and out of the domain of the Glacius Tribe. However, as Elmyar explained the situation, he described the woman in a way that was similar to a person that Caileth new from years ago. Although she couldn’t be sure, just hearing the description was chilling to Caileth, and witnessing her reaction to this moment was absolutely amazing. Whether or not this story element goes anywhere or rings true, seeing the look on Eli’s face, and subsequently the reaction from everyone else, was pure joy as a DM. This was the first opportunity I had ever been given to tease something from someone’s background, and I look forward to continuing to put to work the excellent backstories that my players have given me.

This particular session was a lot of fun for me, specifically concerning weaving lore and backstories together and getting to roleplay some of my favorite characters of the campaign (the druid husbands, whom my players even admitted they actually liked for once too). Having the druid tribe and the tree in the session allowed me to construct more of the world of Dracia, and gave me a chance to bring some of my friends out of their roleplaying shells. Although it might not have been the best of our sessions, it is still one that I consider monumental for us in some ways, and a new test of some of my DM skills.


Questions, comments, or concerns? Leave me a comment below or find me on Twitter @DandDDM.

Session 5

Session 5 was to take place in October, and like many DMs, I wanted to try and do something spooky in preparation for Halloween. Due to school and work, I didn’t have much time to prepare anything new, so I decided to insert the Blind Demon scenario from Session 3.5 into the campaign. This was intended not only to provide a horror-themed scenario, but also to provide another group to playtest the adventure that I had created and was particularly proud of. I knew that the adventure would last about four or five hours, and our monthly sessions tend to run eight or nine (including breaks), so I added some extra content that the group could explore once the demon encounter was over.

The group was enjoying breakfast at the Lion’s Blaze Inn and Tavern when the matriarch, Sonia DeMarcus, burst into the establishment looking for Sybil. She explained that she had left her house to go into town and retrieve supplies because it was her servants’ days off. However, when she returned she glimpsed a monster inside of her house, and in her fear she ran to find the only friend she had. Unfortunately, the players were not particularly fond of Sonia (and their opinion did not improve over the course of the adventure), but knowing that the lady was rich was enough to motivate them to help. This moment was a particularly tricky part for me, because when I ran this adventure last I simply dropped the group into the scenario, but I couldn’t do that to a pre-existing group, so I took my chances, hoping that the promise of gold would be enough to motivate them.

Unlike the first time I ran the Blind Demon scenario, the adventure ended up being true horror experience, instead of a suspenseful and mysterious one. (In the months since, my players have claimed that the trailer for the new horror film A Quiet Place reminds them heavily of what occurred in the house with the Blind Demon). The group was anxious, unsure of what they were about to experience, and were constantly on edge while they prowled through the house. Caileth and Lei in particular said more than one prayer to their deities; this is particularly profound because neither of them are religious, not even the cleric ironically. The party’s discovery of the secret passage led to some clever thinking on their part, allowing them to occasionally bypass the creature that they knew would eviscerate them. However, they had some difficulty locating the candles crucial to the banishment, though much of this was likely due to their hesitance to go into the attic. This led to one particular instance where the PCs were trying to sneak up the stairs from the second floor into the attic, with the Blind Demon lurking on the bottom floor next to the stairs. Caileth, Solomon, and Lei all made it to the attic with no problem, but Reagan unfortunately rolled a 3 for Bel’s attempt, resulting in him tripping while trying to climb up the stairs. The enormous sound he made after tripping alerted the demon, forcing Bel to bolt to safety with the creature hot on his heels. He darted into the attic, the rest of his party slamming the door behind him. The Blind Demon pounded on the door, but alas his claws kept him from opening it, and he soon wandered away.

Eventually, with careful maneuvering and more than a little tiptoeing, the group made their way around the mansion, collecting the elements needed for the banishment and encountering the ghost of Vivian DeMarcus. The PCs realized that Peter, the son, was likely the demon who failed while trying to bring his sister back, and began to take on an even more unfavorable opinion of Sonia after finding Peter’s journal entries discussing his mom’s behavior since the passing of her daughter and husband. Finally, they assembled the ritual, lured the demon into the circle, and banished the demon from Peter’s body. The group returned to the tavern, reuniting Peter and his mother, though they confronted Sonia over her poor parenting skills despite her apparent mental instability. Sybil, angry at the group’s attitude towards her friend, defended Sonia from the group and took her back home. With that, the adventure of the Blind Demon came to an end for this band of adventurers.

A listing for warriors for hire was placed on the adventurer’s board, so the group grabbed the flyer and set out to meet the people responsible. A group of druids, known as the Glacius Tribe, were searching for protection for a yearly pilgrimage they embarked upon once a year. Elmyar, the leader of the tribe, was a tall moon elf with silvery blue skin and long, dark black hair. His husband, Thatoris, was an even taller wood elf who possessed long blond hair and pale skin. Elmyar was particularly flamboyant in demeanor, showing an enthusiasm for life that was balanced with his fierce loyalty to his people and a devotion to his love. Thatoris was the quiet calm in contrast to the druid leader, showing his age and his lack of sight through his caution and continuous close proximity to Elmyar. The group took a liking to the elves, and after an interview they signed a contract with them, promising to accompany them when they departed on their small journey a few days later.

With some time left in the day, the group took another flyer from the tavern, one that asked someone to stop a band of goblins who had taken to ransacking incoming merchants. After talking to the head of the merchants and being given a list of items that had been taken recently, the group set off to find where the goblins would set up shop. They quickly found the goblin cave and followed the creatures to the road where they would later ambush an unsuspecting merchant. Due to a not so great stealth role, the goblins noticed a few of the PCs, but because I for some reason like to play goblins in a Three Stooges/idiotic style, they didn’t care that these random humanoids were watching them. None of the party knew how this was going to go and were curious to see what the goblins had in mind, so they waited until a merchant came along. As the poor traveler drove his cart underneath the tree, the goblins launched themselves onto the man, distracting him while two hobgoblin buddies began grabbing items from the cart.

Finally, the group decided to intervene. And by “the group decided to intervene”, I mean Caileth decided to run up to the merchant, grab the goblin off of his face, and throw him into the snow. The other two goblins, seeing this, decided they wanted their turn, and promptly demanded that she throw them as well. A well-timed natural twenty resulted in the goblins being promptly launched into the forest. Meanwhile, the two hobgoblins were overpowered and tied up by the rest of the party. After assuring the merchant that he was okay and collecting the items the fiends had stolen, the group walked back to the capital and turned the goblins in to the guards. What was originally intended to be a combat encounter was solved with goofy shenanigans in true D&D fashion.

Overall, I really enjoyed this session, and I was grateful to get a chance to playtest the Blind Demon encounter again. There were a few definite things that I learned from the session, and it made me look at one particular type of encounter in a new light.

  • The same scenario will play out very differently with different characters, even if the players are the same

A big part of why I think this iteration of the Blind Demon scenario was a lot more tense was due to the fact that Eli was no longer playing a blood cleric. The blood cleric had the ability to use a creature’s blood to track it, but neither Caileth, nor anyone else in this group, had such an ability. This meant that the group had to be much more careful about the location of the demon at all times. Suddenly, the encounter became much more frightening, and potentially more lethal; it was some strange haunted house/slasher film that the PCs were trapped inside. Even to this day, my players still tell me that this was an incredibly terrifying adventure, which is the effect I was hoping to achieve, one that I don’t think I truly managed to find with the first group. It allowed me to realize that even minor character abilities can affect a scenario in ways that I had never imagined, and one of the most important things to do as a DM is have a basic understanding of how your PCs’ abilities work. That’s not to say you should have everything the players can do memorized; knowing exactly how the classes work should be up to the players. But knowing if your team has decent stealth, good range attacks, or, yes, the ability to track a monster through their blood can really help you as a DM determine what elements of a story will work best for your players, providing a nice challenge while still allowing them to feel heroic.

  • Social encounters can also have a victory condition

When I came up with the druid encounter, I didn’t really imagine a scenario where the group would fail to get the job once they met the druid leader. In retrospect, I would likely have made the encounter a little more serious, providing a more in-depth interview of the PCs and providing an option for them to “fail”. While a big part of the DM’s job is to ensure that the players feel like the heroes of the story, a realistic tale also doesn’t have the characters succeed at every angle. Building in a scenario where the players don’t have to work makes the players lazy and the characters Mary Sues/Gary Stus who are practically perfect at everything. I don’t necessarily regret not making this encounter trickier, but in retrospect it makes me want to try harder when designing social encounters, knowing that they can be just as unique and challenging as combat encounters or skill challenges if we as DMs allow them to be.

I really enjoyed this session, and although I can’t say it was an absolute favorite, it was a lot of fun and allowed me to learn some valuable things about my DMing style. Additionally, being able to try my hand at the horror genre in D&D was fun and refreshing. I still hope to keep playtesting my Blind Demon scenario, tweaking bits and pieces until it becomes a more well-rounded adventure. Until then, I am so pleased to keep adventuring with this awesome party of players and learning more and more as a DM.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Leave me a comment, or find me on Twitter @DandDDM.

Dungeons and Dragons and Aesthetics

There are many creative outlets that D&D players use to portray their characters. Many like to draw, some cosplay, others make playlists; the list goes on and on. The truth is players and DMs love the characters they create, and they want to find any possible way to keep their characters alive. One of my personal favorite things to do for D&D characters is to make an aesthetic or moodboard.

Although there are many different ways to make aesthetics, my personal formula tends to be very specific. To make the moodboards, I use the Android app QuickCollage (which I believe is unavailable for iOS) because it allows me to create a nine-picture collage with no borders around or between the pictures. I also use Pinterest to find the pictures I use, and I have an enormous board filled with all sorts of aesthetic pictures and other things that I can use to create the moodboards. When building a moodboard, I decide on two colors that I feel represent a character and don’t contrast and type in the color followed by the word “aesthetic”. I comb through the results to find things that match the character, and do additional searches to find anything that I feel is particularly relevant to the character. Finally, I either find a face claim or request one from the person who the character belongs to, put the images in the three-by-three grid, and put enough filters on the pictures to ensure that the colors look uniform. For he rest of this post, I am going to go through some of the aesthetics that I have made for my players and NPCs and breaking down why I chose the images and colors I did.

  • Lei

For Lei’s aesthetic (the picture above and the featured image for the blog), Neli said that the two colors that she imagined her in the most were black and red, and as such I chose those colors to work with. Additionally, she provided me with the appropriate face claim. I always put the face claim in the center of the moodboard to ensure that the character is the core of the aesthetic. The red pictures I feel all contribute to parts of Lei: soft and sweet like a rose, but not afraid to burn anyone who messes with her, like lava. Lei also has someone she really loves from her past, and she is absolutely not afraid to kick ass and take names (hence the “Girls bite back” at the bottom). The black pictures are mostly more obvious; arrows for an archer and combat boots for a former militant. The eclipse in the bottom left corner is mostly for aesthetic purposes, but could be interpreted as a deeper struggle in Lei’s soul. Finally, the quote in the upper right is a reminder of something from Lei’s past, something we haven’t broached in-game yet, but is an enormous part of her life.


  • Caileth

Caileth’s colors are gold, blue, and white; these colors are the one’s that Eli chose for Caileth at the beginning of the campaign as a cleric, a moon elf, and just for overall aesthetic. Her character has blue hair and grey skin, and since it is hard to find a picture that matches that description, I was able to find a picture of a woman with short bright blue hair that fits just well enough for Caileth. The blue imagery is quite symbolic of Caileth as a whole; the underwater hands and the electricity between fingers highlights her nature as a tempest cleric, and the swirling neon “What do you believe in?” in the bottom left corner represents Caileth’ tumultuous relationship with her god, a relationship born not of necessity and belief but of chance. The clear glass with blue fog spilling out of it also fills a mostly aesthetic purpose. The gold trident is in place because it is Perceus’s favorite weapon, and a weapon that Eli hopes to get for Caileth one day. On the right and left, the gold sparkles and wings represent the divine nature of Caileth’s powers. Finally, the golden banner stating “I can and I will” are a symbol of the cleric’s optimistic nature and love of her friends.


  • Bel

Bel, as a lover of the forest and animals, naturally lends himself to the colors of green and brown that represents nature. Nearly all of the pictures in Bel’s aesthetic represent his attachment to the forest that he lived in before becoming an adventurer. The snake skin in particular is very important to Bel; he has two snakes that he loves dearly, and he himself is also a Path of the Totem Warrior barbarian under the Path of the Snake (using a homebrewed mechanic). When asked for a faceclaim for Bel, Reagan responded with Dane Dehaan, and as such he is the very center image representing her angry half-elf boy. The bottom left corner shows two men kissing, representative of a great love in Bel’s life (and as Reagan would probably say, of his gay little heart). The bright green “You are strong” is not only symbolic of his actual barbarian strength, but also of the hardship he has had to endure in his life. Finally, the last piece of the moodboard, the shot of the phrase “You suck less than most people”, is there to represent Bel’s attitude towards people and society. He is slow to trust and absolutely despises emotions (especially talking about them), but if you’ve made it past the walls he has built up, he will be there for you for life.


  • Solomon

Solomon is a man shrouded in mystery for both the other characters and the players. Outside of my dad and me, no one knows anything about what has occurred in his past. He is a man of music who has a way with words. For the face claim, I picked Ben Barnes; he matched the physical description of Solomon my dad had given to me and is just about the right age range for the bard. For the rest of his pictures, I chose the burgundy and silver/grey color based off of my dad’s idea for his color scheme. The burgundy scrabble tiles to me represent his high charisma and way with words, while the storm cloud and staircase represent the hardship in his life, how far he has come, and how far he has still to go. Naturally, the last of the burgundy images is a stage, which also telegraphs his skills as a performer. For the silver and grey pictures, I wanted something to represent magic, and I felt the glittery hands were an excellent way to show the flashiness that charisma based arcane arts often possess. The horse is primarily filler aesthetic, but it does also have some background relevance to Solomon as well. I found the quote picture “I’ll survive. Somehow I always do” to be very fitting for Solomon because of the sheer amount that he’s been through over the years, both before the group and with them. Finally, the quote “You great unfinished symphony” spoke to me for the bard, partially because of the musical connotations, but mostly because of the idea that even though he’s been through so much, he is working towards a grand purpose and becoming a heroic person, even if he still has a long road ahead of him.

Creating moodboards is absolutely one of my favorite things to do for characters, both PCs and NPCs. The ability to pick colors and images that resonate with the core of their souls is something that I cherish and try to keep doing regularly. Many of my players also make their own moodboards for the characters too, and it is fascinating to see the different perspectives for how they see their own characters and the others. Having a creative outlet to express your D&D characters is something that I think everyone should have if they can find it, whether it be drawing, creating playlists and moodboards, designing figurines, or any number of other things. It just goes to show how much we love our characters, and how life-changing D&D can truly be.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Leave me a comment below or find me on Twitter @DandDDM.

How to not be *That* DM

If you, like me, enjoy consuming D&D-based media content because it is enjoyable and helps you improve your own game, you’ve probably watched Critical Role at some point. And if you’re really into Critical Role, that probably means you’ve seen a panel or two from the cast at a con. One of the most common questions that Critical Role’s esteemed Dungeon Master Matt Mercer seems to get is “Why/how did you start DMing?” This is a fascinating question to ask DMs, for there are as many unique answers as there are DMs, but I always find Mercer’s answer to be particularly fascinating. When asked, he mentions that he started out as a player, but his group had an awful DM. This inspired him to start DMing himself, and the years of investment and hard work has turned him into the master of the craft that we know today.

Even though this story is fascinating and explains a lot about Mercer and probably many DMs today, every time I hear this story there is one worry that crosses my mind: What if I’m that original DM? What if I am so bad of a Dungeon Master that people tell stories of how bad I am thirty years from now? I think that most DMs have that fear; we constantly worry if our players are having fun, if a good story is being told, if we’re remaining impartial, and all of the other million things that DMs have to or tend to worry about. So how do we, as DMs, keep ourselves from becoming that DM? After thinking about this heavily over this subject the last week, I have come up with some ways that I think new DMs can keep themselves from falling into the Bad DM Trap, both as a storyteller and as a friend to your players.

  • Listen to your players

This may seem like a fairly obvious tip, but often on Twitter or in Facebook groups I hear players complaining about their DM not listening to them or ignoring their wishes (this goes both ways; I see a lot of DMs upset that their players won’t listen to ground rules set or trust them, so make sure that there is respect on both sides). Sometimes the things that players want their DMs to do are a bit outlandish, but more often than not these things are simple requests that should at least be talked through with the player. D&D is a not just a game, it’s a form of collaborative storytelling, and if the players don’t get a certain amount of input, they’re going to feel cheated and that they might as well be playing Candyland. This doesn’t just go for story ideas however; if your players are having an issue at the table, pay attention to what they’re saying. Maybe there is some turmoil between two of the players, or perhaps something that happened in the story went too far and the players are no longer comfortable with the direction that the story is taking. D&D is a great way to challenge players, particularly their creativity and expectations, but it is important not to push them past a breaking point. This is a great way to lose players and even friends forever. Listening to your players as a friend and a Dungeon Master is the most important thing you can do.

  • Use the backstories of your PCs

Often when you have a group of players, each of them will come up with a unique backstory for their characters. Not everyone gets invested in the backstories, but most people will come up with at least a little something. When creating a story for the game, it is important to pay attention to the stories that the players have given you. It can be tempting to focus on the epic story you might have in mind, and often the players will still go along with what you have, but applying elements from the backgrounds of your player’s characters will get the players invested and make the story feel more real. Bringing back an old mentor, a dead lover, or a fierce rival from a character’s past can widen the scope of the adventure and provide some emotional investment that a player might not otherwise have. The more you can get your players invested and pay attention to the characters they have created, the better of a DM you will become.

  • Constantly be working on your world

This point is particularly relevant for homebrew campaigns, but whether you are creating everything from scratch or using a pre-made module, it is vital to constantly be working on the adventure and shaping the world that the players exist in. This will not only help you as a storyteller, but it will also give the players a lot to work with and help make the world feel real. Often the players will have questions about the circumstances they have found themselves in or the background of the town or kingdom they are currently occupying. If you can produce an answer quickly, either off the top of your head or through a quick notes search, it will appear that you have put so much thought into the game. In reality, you don’t have to know everything ahead of time; you can make something up on the spot as long as you write it down, because if it comes up again and you don’t remember what you said, the players might catch on. However, when I say constantly I certainly don’t mean 24/7. (Believe me, I work three part-time jobs, go to school full time, and suck at time management, so I know how precious of a resource that is). However, it is good to spend time throughout each week working on aspects of the world, even if you aren’t prepping for a session. Maybe it’s ten minutes each day, or a full hour once a week; however you can fit in, try to make a habit out of occasionally world-building to make your world even more awesome. The players will appreciate how much work you put into the game for them, and your creative skills will keep growing.

  • Practice your poker face

A lot of DMs worry about struggling with NPCs because they aren’t particularly good with accents or body language. All of these do help provide a fun and authentic experience for the players, but they’re not absolutely crucial to the gameplay. One item that a DM should have in their toolbox however is a good poker face. I personally struggle with this; even as someone who did theatre for seven years, I always sucked at staying in character when something went awry. When my players do something like predict the plot twist or joke about something that might actually happen way down the line, I have a hard time hiding the big goofy smile that has wound up on my face. During my time as a DM, I have become slowly better at holding a poker face when it comes to important things (there’s a difference between smiling while in character because a PC made a joke and grinning because the players guessed something really important that will pop up by the end of the session). However, I still have a lot of problems with this, and it’s something that I hope to keep working on. A good poker face can be a powerful asset to a DM, both when acting as an NPC and while simply observing the players interacting and planning, so working to perfect it can take your game to the next level.

In the end, there’s no formula for how to be the perfect DM. Everyone makes mistakes, even Matt Mercer, Matt Colville, Chris Perkins, and undoubtedly Gary Gygax himself. That’s one of the best things about D&D; it’s a game with a lot of rules but a fluid nature, and we as DMs are in charge of figuring out how to work within the rules, or even throw them out. The only true guideline to being a good DM is to ensure that your players are having fun. Whether that fun is nitty-gritty realism and depression or bust-a-gut laughter, you as a DM are responsible for it, and to make sure it happens we must pay attention to our players and give them what they ask. As long as we DMs allow our players to have fun and facilitate a thrilling and creative story for them, we are not that DM, and we can be proud of the work we have put into the game.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Leave me a comment below or find me on Twitter @DandDDM.

Session 4.5

During my time running games of Dungeons and Dragons, I find that one of the things I do most often is run one shots, particularly one shots for new people. In my circle of friends, I am one of the few people willing to DM, and in their circles of friends, I am usually the only one. This means that I end up doing a lot of one shots for people who have never played before. In a way, I consider the DMing of new players a sort of specialty of mine; I have gotten pretty efficient at building new characters quickly and even have some of the rules memorized, like how to find AC and attack bonuses. When my friends’ friends and family members want to play D&D for the first time, I tend to be the person they turn to. Thus when some of Neli’s friends and family members decided they wanted to try out the game, it was time for a new one shot.

This group consisted of five people, which is one more than the main group I DM but one less than the Vrotha one shot I ran for my sister, which was the most I have ever DMed. Eli and Neli participated to help fill out the party and assist the new players. Eli’s character was a sweet little urchin monk named Tai, who had a heart of gold and an intelligence of four. Neli played Amethyst, a young human assassin rogue who studied under the tutelage of Thanos. Thanos was a hardened and lethal human assassin rogue played by Yazmine, Neli’s sister. Vidia, a sun elf Bard, was Julia’s character. Julia was the sister of Yazmine and Neli, and played the part of a bard well. Finally, Oskan, a sun elf sorcerer, was a noble native to the land, and was played by Juan Miguel, a friend of the sisters. The group was eclectic and fun, and interacted well from a role-playing standpoint from the beginning, likely due to their close nature.

The process of coming up with this one shot was difficult for me. While I believe my one shots tend to be better sessions than the canonical ones for my main campaign, they take a lot more work to come up with because they need to be self-contained, and I usually don’t have as much material to work with as far as context and character backgrounds. This particular session didn’t fall into place until the afternoon we played. Some of the characters needed finishing touches like armor and spells, so as the players worked on their characters I was frantically trying to finish and print off my notes.

When I run one shots, I like to use them as an opportunity to expand and construct new parts of my world. With this one, I decided to set it in Aestoreacia, the kingdom of sun elves and desert elves. This worked out due to the heritage of a few of the players, particularly Oskan. At the very beginning of the session, Oskan was sent a secret coded letter asking him to meet. At a bar known as The Nightingale, the designated location, Oskan found Gremoria, one of the fellow nobles residing in the capital city of Estella. She requested the help of the group to sneak into the house of another noble and retrieve a trusted advisor who had been kidnapped and a vase that was a family heirloom for her family. “Bitchmoria”, as Juan Miguel fondly called her, insisted that they would not get payment for the job unless they were able to retrieve both things. Reluctantly, the party set out for the estate of the targeted family.

Although the Ildrimsan family was away from their estate, there were several guards surrounding the building and a wall separating the mansion from the streets of Estella. The group did some reconnaissance, with Vidia drawing some of the guards away, but they found that it would be incredibly difficult to scale the wall. After some intense deliberation, Juan Miguel asked if Oskan would know enough about the family to impersonate one of the family members. With a good roll and a Disguise Self spell, Oskan approached the guards, pretending to be the oldest son of the family. Some persuasion rolls ensued (with advantage due to the spell) and the group found their way inside the mansion.

From here the group wasn’t sure where to go, so they began searching the area for the kidnapped advisor. In one of the towers of the mansion, they found a brig with two cells. However, both of the cells held the same person-a male desert elf with leather armor and stubborn attitude. The party was taken aback, uncertain which one was the real Fentoris. Both of them began clamoring for the PCs attention, insisting any of the questions the party might throw at them they could answer. Juan Miguel used a history roll to see what he could remember about Gremoria’s family history that might be useful to them. A quick info dump ensued, and the group finally settled on the question “What is the name of Gremoria’s oldest child?” The one on the left answered that Nae’min was the oldest son of Gremoria, which was true to the public. However, the Fentoris on the right answered “I don’t know, she never told me. It wasn’t supposed to happen.” This threw the PCs into a tizzy, and speculations about affairs began to fly. The group decided that this was the real Fentoris, but once they did the second one opened his cage, flaunted the key in front of the PCs, and swallowed it. A battle ensued, Thanos struck the final blow, and Tai shoved his hand into the creature’s stomach to retrieve the key as the body transformed into the grey, indistinguishable form of a doppelganger.

With Fentoris released, the PCs were ready to head off and find the heirloom, but the advisor revealed that there were some special papers in another room of the mansion that he needed to retrieve. He tried to convince the group to go on ahead and find the vase while he looked for the papers, but naturally the party didn’t trust him. They divided up, two of them shadowing Fentoris and the other three looking for the vase. Eventually, Tai, Vidia, and Amethyst found the vase surrounded by pressure plate traps, but not before Tai got a face full of fire and went down. Vidia managed to bring him back, and Tai was unbelievable shocked and maybe a little excited that he basically died. Meanwhile Fentoris got frozen by a security glyph, and Oskan and Thanos skirted past him to look through the room for the papers he was so desperate for. Eventually, both parties managed to retrieve the object they were seeking, and with some spells they managed to disable the glyph holding Fentoris in place. With their treasure in hand, the group set off to return to the place where Gremoria lay in wait.

The PCs managed to get past the guards by having Fentoris hold the vase and turning him invisible. One of the guards nearly recognized Vidia from her attempt to distract them, but an order from the still-disguised Oskan made them stand down. The trip back was uneventful, and the group confronted Gremoria with the papers and the knowledge about her supposed affair. Gremoria’s hands were tied, and each of them walked out with an enormous pile of gold in order to ensure their silence. The last thing that the party heard as they left The Nightingale was Gremoria screaming in frustration and burning the papers the party had brought her, as each of the PCs relished in the gold that they had blackmailed her for.

Personally, I think that this session is one of the best I have ever run. It seems ironic due to the fact that it was difficult to come up with and was more than a bit hastily thrown together. Despite the scenario, the session went great, the group had a lot of fun, and I learned some very valuable lessons from it.

  • Be careful about dropping bombshells for a different campaign

One of the greatest moments of the one shot came when the group was blackmailing Gremoria about her secret child. In a moment that shocked two of the players, it was revealed that Gremoria’s secret child was actually Bel, Reagan’s little half elf barbarian from the main campaign. The name drop shocked Eli and made Neli run out of the room screaming, though the rest of the group was more than a little confused. I hadn’t originally intended to reveal that they had been working for Gremoria the whole time; it was just supposed to be a coincidence, something that might pay off a year or so later if the main group ever made it to Aestoreacia. However, the PCs immediate suspicion of the secret child and their insistence on blackmailing her forced my hand a bit, and us such the bomb was dropped. The end result was more of a surprising easter egg for players rather than the characters. I really want to avoid doing this sort of thing in the future; telling the players secrets that have weight on the main campaign while they’re doing a one shot can a) distract from the current one shot and b) make I harder for the players to avoid metagaming down the line. The more the players know that their characters don’t, it becomes harder for the players to separate that knowledge and roleplay effectively. Luckily, the reveal that it was Bel’s mom that they had been working for wasn’t essential to the plot of the campaign and didn’t reveal any secrets, but it is still something that I want to be careful about going forward, even if it was very much worth it this time around.

  • Dropping a character in immediately can be a great way to hook the player

When the session started, I described the surroundings that the players were in before immediately addressing Oskan and handing him a letter. The letter was coded, meaning that before the group got into anything else, they had to solve a puzzle. Additionally, the message was sent from Gremoria to Oskan, one noble to another. This played heavily into Oskan’s character, and gave his player in particular more to go on. Similarly, the puzzle was a quick way to engage everyone-the equivalent of dropping your characters in media res without the danger that comes with a battle. I highly recommend using this method to get a session going, particularly for a one shot with new players. Starting off the session with a puzzle will let your players feel victorious and excited, and you can set the tone for the rest of the session.

  • The first time a character goes down can be a scary moment for a DM

The moment that Tai stared the trap in the face and got a face full of fire was a terrifying one. Immediately he fell unconscious, which is the first time when I was DMing that a character had gone down. (There’s probably a deeper commentary about this moment that shows how I play the game, but that’s a post for another day.) I wasn’t the only one shocked however. The entire table was freaked out by the fact that Tai was unconscious, particularly Neli and Julia because their characters were in the same room. Vidia quickly rushed to Ty’s aid and delivered a healing spell, which brought him back from the edge of death. Tai himself seemed impressed and awestruck that he had died, which allowed for some sighs of relief and strange looks at the table. It was interesting to see how the group reacted to a death; those who hadn’t played before seemed a bit confused and alarm, while Eli was somewhat resigned to Tai’s fate. Neli meanwhile seemed the most shocked, likely due to the fact that she had been playing awhile and knew how serious going down was but had never seen it. The whole experience was a unique one, and one that sticks in my head even now as a DM. It’s a nice reminder that even in a world of high fantasy there is still some consequence to a character’s actions.

  • Don’t be afraid to use a character’s background, even just for a one shot

One of the things that really allowed the session to fall into place was Oskan’s noble background. It made it much more plausible that Gremoria, a noble herself, would reach out to the PCs for their assistance. Similarly, when sneaking into the estate and determining who the real advisor was, Oskan’s ability to “recall” information about the nobility gave Juan Miguel and the other players some excellent tools to solve the puzzles set in front of them. Even just for a one shot, using a player’s background can not only tie them into the story quickly and effectively, but can prompt the players to roleplay where they otherwise might not and get them to think outside of the box. A player with an urchin or criminal background might be helpful in a big city setting if the party needs a quiet path that won’t attract attention. Similarly, an acolyte might know the best place to get supplies for facing against the undead, hermits and outlanders can have advantages in wild terrain. Pay attention to your players’ chosen backgrounds and find ways to tie the scenario and the setting into the character, particularly if the players quickly engage and roleplay in a way that is consistent with that background. It will make the world feel so much more authentic and your players will be engaged in the session and their character.

Even nearly five months later, I am still prouder of this session than I am of almost anything else that I’ve done as a Dungeon Master. The players were all incredibly engaged, doing some of the best strategizing that I have ever seen in a game and becoming incredibly invested in these characters in such a short amount of time. Even if I don’t include the reveal about Bel’s mother, the game was fun for the players, which means it was fun for me as a DM. It’s moments like these that revitalize my love for the game and make me want to introduce it to everyone I know so they can participate in the amazing world of Dungeons and Dragons.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Leave me a comment below or find me on Twitter @DandDDM.