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.

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.

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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.

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.

Session 4

After having killed a dragon, looted a dungeon, and dispatched some thieves, my players were pretty confident in themselves. When session four came around, they knew that they could kick ass and take names and were ready to move on to bigger and better challenges. At the end of the third session they had informed me that they were going to be heading to the capital city of Vrotha, and as such I began to plan accordingly.

However, I had not anticipated exactly how thorough the players were going to be. The party had already scavenged some scales, blood, claws, teeth, horns, and an eye from the dragon when they returned from the dungeon, and as such I figured they would take what they had found and move on. Instead the group bought a carriage, went back to the dungeon, and began looting the body even further. Meat, gallbladder, kidneys, and anything else that could be torn from the corpse of the white dragon was quickly removed. I had planned out ahead of time the basic values for each piece and who would be most likely to buy what (or who could turn the items into what they wanted in certain cases), but these new items left me completely blindsided and scrambling to keep up.

The party made their way through the icy landscape of Vrotha to the capital city, Whitepoint. There the players entered and found the city separated into seven districts, each with its own purpose. First, they ventured into the merchant district, looking for people to buy the raw materials. A good charisma roll from Solomon meant that a large portion of the 18 pounds of dragon meat they possessed was bought by a doubting man named Quincy who was currently running Merle’s Meat Market. This exchange gave the group nearly a thousand gold, which combined with what they were given by Simone and Nikolai, the twins who run Augury and Alchemy (the newest and biggest magic shop in Vrotha), amounted to quite a large amount of gold. Solomon also asked the twins if they could do anything with the bile from the dragon, and the two promised to provide him with some options in a week once their alchemy book came in. Finally, the group commissioned some jewelry, a new bow, and some armor using the remainder of the dragon materials they possessed before finding their way to the library.

Caileth was particularly interested in the old book that the group had found in the final room of the ice dungeon. However, the journal was written in celestial, a nearly dead language in the realm of Dracia. This meant that in order to understand the knowledge hidden within the tome, they would need to hire the services of a professional translator. The Library of Vrotha, one of the biggest libraries in Dracia, was home to several professional translators, and Shae Jin, a young eager woman with a love for books took upon the case. However, the book was lengthy and the language was old, meaning that it would take about 30 days for Jin to translate it entirely. This meant that the party would need a place to stay.

Towards the center of the city sat The Lion’s Blaze Inn and Tavern (a reference to an Olan Rogers skit in the vein of RPGs), a place designed specifically (but secretly) for adventurers. Sybil, Tamara, and Martha, the ladies who own the inn, were former adventurers themselves, meaning that they knew exactly how important it was for young adventurers to have a space where they can get new quests and stay out of the eye of the disapproving government. The players found shelter there, paying in advance for thirty days room and board. Inside the tavern rested a secret board, filled with calls for help that potential heroes could pursue. Here the group found their first call to action in Whitepoint.

A group of shepherds had been losing sheep to a strange creature on the outskirts of the city. Despite the government’s insistence that citizens not rely on outside help, the farmers had gotten tired of their livestock being picked off and getting no military help, so they reached out to The Lion’s Blaze for assistance. When the PCs arrived at the house of the head shepherd, they were informed about the situation and instructed to rid the capital of whatever creature had been taking the sheep. With some hesitation, the group set out to the outskirts of the city to see what they could do to help the poor farmers.

Using the corpse of an old sheep, wool, and some tar, the group created a dummy to trick the creature so that they could kill it. After waiting for some time, the creature, a “terracabra” (a modified version of the legendary Chupacabra), swooped down and grabbed the decoy. The PCs followed the creature, attacking it and forcing it to fight back. Solomon found himself being carried away in the claws of the monster, and fell several feet as Caileth struck the killing blow with a blast of sacred flame from the circlet she had found in the ice dungeon. After destroying the terracabra, they returned to the shepherds, and were rewarded with 150 gold, an immovable rod, and a sheep named after each of them. Satisfied with their work, the adventurers returned to the tavern for a night of rest, promising to continue fulfilling quests through the rest of their stay in the city.

This particular session was certainly one of the more relaxed ones we have had, even since the time of this session. Since the group spent much of their time either scavenging materials or shopping, much of the session was spent focusing on the individual characters’ needs and the roleplay between them and NPCs. Nonetheless, the session was informative and I feel like I came away from it with important knowledge, not just DM knowledge but that pertaining to my world, my players, and their characters.

  • It is perfectly acceptable for players to ignore a branching plot point

For many people, D&D is a way that they can escape from the rigorous cycle of real life and the demands placed upon them. Being a DM that does not railroad your player not only provides better storytelling potential but allows your world to become an escape for your players. This means that if you set up a potential plot point and your players show no interest in it, that is completely okay. On their journey to Whitepoint, my players came across the town of Rakski (from Session 1.5) and found the bare traces of a new plotline building. However, the group expressed no interest, spent the night in the tavern, and went on their merry way. My players were not motivated to investigate further, and that is perfectly fine. The whole point of a sandbox campaign is to provide option for the players and to allow them to feel like they are immersed in a real world. This being said, if players ignore a plotline, it is okay (but not necessary) for them to see the consequences of skipping it. Keep in mind that “consequence” and “punishment” are not the same thing. If the players ignore a farmer whose chickens keep getting eaten by foxes, that doesn’t mean they have to see his body drug down the streets in a cart full of people dead from the plague. Rather, you can twist the plot so that the farmer overcomes the foxes on his own, taming the foxes into pets, and when your cleric decides she wants a pet fox the farmer can look her dead in the eyes and tell her no because they didn’t help him when he needed it most. The consequences can be a punishment, but they don’t have to be, and they can be negative without being punishing, but they don’t have to be. When running a sandbox campaign in particular, an important thing to remember is that the best way to make the players feel immersed in the game is to remind them that their actions have weight. Don’t panic if the players aren’t interested in one particular plotline you were sure they would take the bait for, and don’t punish them either, especially if it’s their characters who are not interested rather than the players.

  • Be careful with rare items and creatures in your world.

In the world of Dracia, dragons are extremely rare, so much so that they are considered extinct or merely fairytales by the people of the world. When I decided this in my worldbuilding phase, I hadn’t considered the potential of throwing a dragon at my players, nor had I thought of the ramifications of them scavenging and selling the parts. What was originally a storytelling element became a way for my players to get quite a bit of gold-and at fourth level nonetheless. Normally, the people in Whitepoint would have simply believed that the players were lying to them (with the exception of Simone and Nikolai, who are well-trained in the history of magical creatures and the arcane arts), making it hard for any of the dragon parts to be sold. However, thanks to some clever thinking and talking by Solomon, his high charisma, and some lucky rolls, they were able to convince the gentleman at the meat market to buy the meat off of them. Because I had made one thing extremely rare, I had inadvertently made the players far more powerfully financially then I had intended to. The important thing to remember is not to panic and try to undo what you just did, as that will leave the players feeling frustrated and robbed-literally and figuratively. Rather, allow for other opportunities to arise, such as a market or shop with cool trinkets that allows the players to spend their hard-earned gold on something that they like. You are here to tell the player’s story, not your own, so allow the players to learn, grow, ad gather some gold-they’ll feel much more like accomplished adventurers and heroes in the end.

This session was one of the least memorable ones we had played so far simply due to the lack of intense combat or complicated puzzles. Yet it was useful and necessary; the intensity of a necromancer and a dragon back to back was a bit much for the players, so providing them with an outlet for shopping and roleplay helped to revitalize them. Additionally, their commissioning of items required some time for the items to be made, tying the group down to one spot for a small portion of time as I began to plot out the next leg of the campaign. This strange bit of a lull was the perfect spot for the next portion of the heroes’ journeys to begin.

 

Notable quotes from the session:

  • Me (as an old man): Helloooo??

Caileth: Oh… that’s not what I expected.

Old man: Well, you’re not what I was expecting either, but we don’t always get what we want, do we?? *Slams door*

  • Eli: Can I use spiritual weapon to make a sheep-shaped bomb?

*AKA the moment the cleric officially broke the Dungeon Master*

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

Session 3.5

After my group’s third session, I was starting to get more comfortable with DMing. Thus when the DM from the group that I generally play in asked me to DM a one-shot, I felt ready to take on the challenge. However, the scenario in front of me required a bit of an adjustment from the games that I usually ran, and I wanted to challenge myself, so I set to work to create a one-shot that I hoped would be fun, unique, and scary.

When I played with my other group, we ran generally from 12-4 because we got together on Fridays or Saturdays, meaning that I had to leave for work. Every time I had run a session prior to this, I had a good six or seven hours to work with and no solid end time to worry about. This time I knew that I needed a concise adventure that could be wrapped up in one session and take about 3 hours (figuring in time for eating and restroom breaks). But I struggled with a good plot thread, a concept to use in the session. I have never been particularly good at creating unique ideas from scratch, and as such I was at a loss for a while.

Around this time, Sagas of Sundry: Dread was airing on Geek & Sundry’s Project Alpha. I had been eagerly watching the episodes week by week, clinging to the unique characters and air of suspense surrounding the series. As I drove to work one day, I found my mind toying with the idea of a horror one-shot. However, I have always been a weakling when it comes to horror entertainment; if I couldn’t watch a horror movie then how could I expect to provide a suspenseful and scary D&D scenario? I was about to pass on the idea when a thought struck my head.

Out of nowhere, the idea for a monster popped into my head. It was tall, lanky, with enormous arms and legs. Its head was pale, and nearly featureless. Skin was stretched over where eyes should lay, and two thin slits rested where a nose might be. A grin, devoid of lips but filled with sharp teeth, was framed by dark horns that emerged from the sides of the creature’s head and curved around to stick out next to the mouth. The pale skin at the head gradually fades into a pitch-black color, allowing the creature’s strange cloven feet to blend into the darkness. Finally, where fingers should have existed on the creature’s hands, instead there were lengthy thin claws, dragging behind the evil as it moved. To me, the creature was terrifying, and to this day I still am unsure how the idea for it popped into my head.

Once the demon popped into my head, the rest of the scenario quickly fell into place. In order to keep the scenario contained, I decided that the group would have been asked to investigate a monster inside the house of a rich elderly lady. Once inside, the house will have been transported to a pocket dimension with no exit, forcing the group to stay inside the house until the mystery was solved. The basic plot would be that the son of the older lady had been trying to bring his younger sister back to life, but had accidentally summoned a demon and subsequently been possessed. Over the course of the session, the group would be given opportunity to uncover the mystery behind “The Blind Demon” and potentially exorcise the demon from the body of the son.

The party consisted of a monk, a barbarian, a rogue, and a cleric, all at fifth level. Since it was a one-shot, I wasn’t terribly concerned with the characters and their abilities when setting up the scenario, although there were multiple moments where the PCs’ skills came in handy. In order to start the session quickly and ensure we had enough time to play, I essentially info-dumped the scenario on to the group, telling them enough details about the house, the lady who hired them, and the creature that resided within. While I would never have done this in the middle of an actual session, it worked for a group like this, involved in a one-shot and short on time. The group gave no pushback, and when I essentially dropped them off at the house they hit the ground running.

Once inside, the group found a pool of blood in the center of the hallway. Lying next to the blood was a piece of paper torn from a book, which held information about a specific demon and the details about performing an exorcism, as well as the words “HELP” written in blood. The cleric, actually a blood cleric, used his ability to connect the blood to the originator, and thus the group knew the location of the Blind Demon. Using the list of required materials on the piece of paper they had found, the group set off on a mad dash to find the ingredients, avoid the demon, and save the son.

Going into the session, I had very specific ideas of how I thought the entire situation would go, which is, as a DM, one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Still, I felt that the session went well, and to this day I am incredibly proud of this one-shot. I hope to continue working on this one-shot, playtesting it and tweaking it, then eventually publishing it on DMs Guild one day. But until that moment comes, it is important to reflect on what I learned from this session, both as a DM and as a content creator.

  • Your PCs might have abilities that circumvent elements of your story-and that’s okay

I hadn’t realized when creating this session that Eli’s character was going to have the ability to sense where the Blind Demon was at all time. At first it threw me off guard, but I was able to adapt to a certain extent. However, this ability did inherently change the nature of the game. Instead of being a straight up horror/haunted house type of story, it morphed into a suspenseful strategy situation. The group knew exactly where the Blind Demon was at all times, meaning that they had to carefully plan every move, every step to ensure that they did not run into the creature and endanger their lives. While this was an unexpected occurrence, it was a welcome one, and reminded me that as a DM the most important abilities are adapt, overcome, and improvise.

  • Repurposing monsters can be useful, but do so carefully

When I came up with the Blind Demon, I knew that I would have a hard time finding something that matched what I wanted as far as stats. I went into the Monster Manual looking for something to reskin that seemed powerful and frightening, but also matched the physicality of the demon. I settled on the Goristro, a demon itself, to fill in for my creature. The goristro has an ability called “Charge” that allows it to gore a target with its horns if it can move at least fifteen feet straight towards the target before it hits. Originally, the goristro had two fist attacks and one hoof attack, but I changed it to two claw attacks and one horn attack. What I adjusted on the monster felt like it held little difference because of how I intended the adventure to play out, which was a tremendous mistake on my part.

The goristro is a monster with a challenge rating of 17, an encounter which would be quite deadly for a group of four level-five adventurers. This might seem like madness, but when I picked the monster, I had a purpose. I wanted the Blind Demon to be a fearsome creature, a horrible monster that none would care to face. Because the demon was actually the son of the lady that had recruited the adventurers, I wanted to players to save the son and not kill him. I had hoped that the “HELP” on the paper found in the hallway at the beginning would lead them to that conclusion on their own, but I hoped that by making the demon a horrendously powerful creature I would force the players to avoid combat. At one point however, the players got caught in the same room as the demon, and instead of running, they decided to fight. I was worried about killing the players, so after a couple rounds of combat, I had the demon run away. While it saved the players, it weakened the story. I realized after this that it was important to allow room in the scenario for the players to defeat the demon, to kill the son, and that in order to make this scenario better I would have to rework the demon to provide more versatility in the outcome.

  • Creating unique props can help draw the players into the story

When I concocted the idea of the scenario, I wanted the paper that the PCs found to be a real piece of paper that the players could look at. On one side, the paper contained background information about the Blind Demon and its origin, as well as how to summon it, while the other side held the instructions and materials for how to banish it. I typed up the information on a plain piece of paper then asked my mom to help me age it. She used brown and tan paints to give the paper an older look, smudged some of the ink, wrinkled the page, and tore some of the edges. To lend the page a more horrific look, she mixed up more paint to look like blood, splattering it across the paper and tracing the word “HELP” in thin bloody letters. Finally, she drew a six-pointed symbol on the bottom corner, the symbol that the group would need to make to banish the demon, and tore that portion from the rest of the page. The prop was wonderful, scary, and engaging. My players knew immediately that it was important to their quest, skimmed it for clues, and began a hunt for the section that was torn away. Having such a unique prop immediately immersed the players in the story and helped to establish the atmosphere I wanted, that of a sense of urgency and suspense.

To this day, I have run the Blind Demon scenario twice, and I hope to continue to keep running it with different groups, fine tuning it and playtesting it. Eventually I want to work out the problems with the scenario, write it out properly, and publish it for others to use. I am incredibly proud of this scenario, and each time I have run it so far it teaches me powerful and unique lessons, both as a DM and as a content creator. It is important to remember when running the game that above all else, the most vital thing you can do as a DM is to not set expectations for how a scenario will go. The more of an idea you have for how the situation should go, the less likely you will be able to adapt to the players and their needs. Whether you are running a premade adventure or creating something yourself, remember that adaptability and improvisation are your two greatest assets in the world of DMing.

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

Session 3

Although we had played two sessions before, I still somewhat considered the August session the official start of the campaign. I knew that I needed to start thinking about the long game, about my character’s backstories and how I could use them, and most about the story I wanted to tell for my heroes. No longer was our game simply a game, it was becoming something more; a fairy tale of sorts, a legend we might recount to one another over and over again fifty years from now or a tragedy that we might long to forget in the weeks following. Whatever it was to be, I knew that I needed to take responsibility and work towards something greater that my players could enjoy. 

In order to kick off our journey, however, there was one order of business that I needed to take care of: getting the characters out of at least Goldcrest, if not Tovell entirely. As mentioned before in my Session 2 post, I knew that if the group stayed there, Lei would have no reason to remain with the group and would feel uncomfortable in the midst of a city of people who believed that she was not only a traitor but also dead. With this in mind, the first two matters of the agenda was easy: provide a reason for the group to leave the resistance and give the players plot hooks leading them away from the capital. 

I struggled for a while to find a good excuse for the group to leave, but I eventually settled on the fact that there was likely a traitor in the group somewhere and the resistance needed to temporarily disband. At the time it felt like a cheap excuse, a shoddy way to push the players out, although in the time since it has actually worked well with the overall plot points I would like to work in. With the announcement from Druvall that the rebellion was essentially “on break”, I then needed to introduce hooks that the players could then take. 

While coming up with what the players could do for the next session, I wanted to make sure that my players had options and freedom to explore the world. I came up with three distinct hooks, each taking them to a different part of the world. When Druvall temporarily disbanded the forces, he told the group about a merchant who was an ally that would take the group out of the city, and if they chose to go with him, would provide them safe passage to his village in Edotis, the southern kingdom of man in Dracia. Similarly, when discussing with some of the people they had met during their time in the rebellion, I made sure that the group heard about an ice dungeon in Vrotha, the northernmost kingdom of Dracia and another kingdom of man. If the group had gone to meet the merchant, they also would have seen evidence of a third plot hook, leading them to Thorean, the neighbor to Tovell and the kingdom of the mountain dwarves. (In the time since, I have snuck this hook elsewhere into the game, just to allow them to keep their options open). In the end, the group decided not to trust Druvall’s suggestion of the merchant, leading them away from Edotis and the third plot hook, and decided to head north to visit the ice dungeon. 

The journey to the ice dungeon took two weeks. Partially paranoid about the spider fight from the previous session, partially because I had too much stuff to work on, this time I didn’t worry about a random encounter. I let the journey pass peacefully, knowing that the group would have plenty to amuse themselves with once they got to the dungeon. Eventually they got to Berufell, the town nearest to the ice dungeon. There they met Peter, the keeper of the Silver Ore Inn and Tavern, and his two twin daughters (whom no one bothered to get the names of). On their first night there, Bel and Lei managed to start a fight with a neighboring table after discovering that one of the guys was cheating at a game of cards. Otherwise the night was unremarkable, leaving the four to rest from their long journey. 

Immediately the next morning, the group set out for the ice dungeon, stopping only to gather some healing potions from a small potion shop. (I created Adelaide, the girl running the shop, on the spot, and the group did not take well to her, because she was a bit snobbish, though she still remains one of my favorite NPCs to this day). Eventually they found their way into what appeared to be the entrance to the dungeon, a small ice cavern with a door nestled inside. Deciding to investigate, Caileth examined the door while Solomon began looking at a skeleton inside the cave. Meanwhile, thanks to a not so great perception check, Lei and Bel noticed some ridges in the ice and decided to investigate-and by investigate, I mean “throw rocks at it”. Little did they know that the “ridges” were actually the scales of a young white dragon. 

The dragon encounter was one of the more difficult ones that the group has encountered in our time playing. A friend of mine adjusted the stats for a Young White Dragon so that it would be more manageable for a group of three level 4 characters and one level 3 character (since Reagan had only had one session, I didn’t want her to be overwhelmed, so I gave her an extra session to get used to the game before pushing Bel up a level). Still, the encounter got somewhat close. No one went down, but some of the group got low because of the amount of damage that the dragon was dealing each round. Luckily for them, the breath weapon never managed to recharge. The group was also close to smashing through the door to escape from the dragon, but Solomon managed to kill the dragon first, using his spell Shatter to cause an enormous piece of rock and ice to fall from the ceiling and crush the dragon’s head. As such, the first obstacle was defeated (and looted) and the group moved on to the next room. 

For the second room, I had designed a puzzle involving plates that depressed when stepped on and either caused a music note to play (if stepped on in the right order) or darts to fly out (if done wrong). I knew that my players had a fondness for breaking down doors, so I designed the puzzle with this in mind. The room was made of stone with only the door the group had come through visible. Once the puzzle was complete, stone on the other side would slide out of the way and reveal a passage to the next room. I had anticipated this puzzle to be relatively easy, however, the players actually had a rough time with this one. Nevertheless, the group made it through and arrived on the other side. 

In the next area, the group found three other humanoids struggling against a group of ice kobolds in a long hallway. My players decided to wait to see what would happen, and soon the other adventurers had defeated the kobolds and taken a rest. As usual, my players were distrustful of the newcomers, and instead of introducing themselves or outright killing them, they decided to intimidate them. Bel had skinned the dragon and had been carrying the scales of the dragon around as if it was a cape, Solomon had the ability to imitate any sound if he had heard it for a certain length of time, and Caileth had the ability to amplify sounds using Thaumaturgy. Down the hall Bel ran, the sound of a dragon behind him in an attempt to make the newcomers believe that a dragon was after them. Titus, the leader of the group was unimpressed. Cassia, a half-elf girl with arcane trickster abilities, was temporarily startled but quickly recovered. Bartholomew however, a rookie to the group, was completely terrified out of his mind thanks to a natural one on an intelligence check. Poor Bart spent the rest of the day terrified out of his mind of Bel, which Bel took great advantage of.  

After the encounter, Titus introduced his group and mentioned that they were looking for something very specific in the dungeon. He suggested that they team up, and so the players warily moved through the next room with them in tow. For the next room, I described a raised stone dais with several circular slots carved into it. Around the room were several coins with the symbols of the gods, and inscribed into the stone was a riddle. The riddle held hints of the gods that each symbol corresponded to. Lei and Caileth quickly made their way through most of the riddle, with some occasional hints from me through Cassia. However, the last coin was missing, which happened to be the symbol of Perceus, the god of tempest and the one that Caileth had pledged her allegiance to. Through a prayer and successful wisdom check, Caileth was able to summon the last coin to put into the slot, thus opening the door into the next room. 

In the last room of the dungeon, there was no monster lying in wait, nor any traps. There was simply piles of gold and other treasures, an old book, and in the center of the room a pedestal with a glass bottle containing a fragment of a map. It was at this moment that Titus revealed his group’s true intentions-they wanted the map fragment and nothing else. They offered to let the group claim the rest of the treasure if they would only allow them to escape with the map. My players of course did not agree with this and instead engaged in battle. Poor Bartholomew was too terrified to do anything but blindly swipe at Bel. Cassia on the other hand had the sole mission of retrieving the map and escaping at all costs. She nearly got out of the room too before Lei’s arrows brought her down. Titus was focused on Solomon at first, but as soon as Cassia fell he immediately sprinted for the map. He was out the door in moments, dashing for the exit, but finally met the same fate as Cassia. 

The group retrieved the map and searched the bodies of the two bandits. They found that each of them had a simple green circular clasp on their capes, and Titus had in his possession a letter from a “K” that detailed his instructions to get the map at all costs. After gathering up their treasure, they proceeded to grill poor Bartholomew about his involvement. He told them that he was a new recruit for the Jade Eye, a thieves’ guild in another Kingdom, and Lady Kyra was the one who had instructed them to come here. Despite Bel and Lei’s protests, Solomon freed Bart, handed him one of the valuable gems they had found, and told him to start a new life, warning him that if they ever ran into him again, it wouldn’t be on friendly terms. With that, Bartholomew scrambled away, and the adventurers were left to drag their gold back to the inn and get a good night’s rest. 

Over the course of this session, I learned a few things about how to run a game, as well as paying attention to the players. This session was a unique one for me, but is still to this day on of my favorites that we have ever done. 

  • Be careful about throwing a dragon at your players too early 

Plopping a dragon in front of your players is great at first. It’s intimidating and scary; your players will likely immediately be worried about if they’re even going to survive the encounter, and you’ll get a lot of delight out of finally being able to use a dragon in your game of Dungeons and Dragons. However, the fun stops once the dragon is dead. Theoretically, you can often have a dragon simply fly away, but if the dragon is trapped or specifically assigned to guard a place, it’s a lot harder to justify having it escape to reappear another day. Once your dragon falls, the players will feel on top of the world, which is in theory what you’re supposed to accomplish as a DM, but from then on the group won’t be afraid of most of what you throw at them, especially if someone doesn’t go down in the fight. Even if you emphasize that it was essentially a baby dragon that they killed, the players don’t care. So be careful about playing the dragon card too early in your campaign. 

  • Sometimes the NPCs we love are the ones we spend the least time with 

During this session, I introduced two characters that I was particularly invested in. Adelaide, as mentioned before, was a favorite of mine, but the players had no interest in her. I doubt the group will ever find out what her story is, and that’s okay; if your players aren’t interested in every little thing you as a DM create, they’re still playing in your world, and odds are they still like most of it. Even though I created her on the spot, I was somehow able to instantly know her story, and as such Adelaide was designed as someone whom the players could interact with and uncover the history behind. However, the world is open and the players have infinite choices, and as such it is perfectly all right that Adelaide got passed over. 

On the other hand, Cassia was constructed very differently. I came up with her in advance specifically to be both a potential ally and a possible antagonist. Although I knew little about her history, I had her personality figured out perfectly. She was spunky, flirtatious with everyone, and a little everywhere. When Lei swung at her with her sword, she let out a maniacal giggle and said “This is going to be fun!”, something that I hadn’t anticipated but had just happened. In many ways thinking about it now I see her as a Harley Quinn-type. Cassia wasn’t meant to have her past figured out, she was meant to be a puzzle piece, something to fit in the story that the characters could live in the present with. I wasn’t sure going into this session if she would come out alive, and when Cassia was killed, it was a weird feeling knowing a character that I had created and loved was no more. I don’t regret it; the moment was a great victory for the players, but it was an odd moment for me as a DM. 

  • Be careful with your puzzles 

When I put the puzzles in front of my players, it was the first time I had ever done so in a campaign. I had assumed that the music puzzle would be easy for them and that they would struggle with the deities puzzle because it was an element of the world that most players had no knowledge of. However, Eli already knew some of the deities because she had seen me drawing the crests for them, and I tried to make the riddle as similar to the crests as I possibly could. Additionally, I made the “coins” out of cardstock and drew the designs on them, and provided the “dais” by drawing circles on a piece of paper and allowing them to put the coins in the necessary areas. Having a physical prop for the players to mess with I think helped enormously in them solving the puzzle. While I did try to provide a physical “map” of the room where the players encountered the music room puzzle, it was quite a bit more difficult to pull off. I had also included a mechanic where if they stepped on the wrong pressure plate after activating the first part of the puzzle a bunch of darts would shoot out at the person on the wrong tile. I made them do a dexterity save every time, which quickly got monotonous. In the future if I were to use this puzzle again, I would allow the group to automatically succeed on their dex save after the second or third time, or even perhaps allow them to avoid the darts because they had begun to anticipate them with how long they had been in the room. Similarly, the room had ten different tiles that needed to be pressed, and I think that perhaps I would change that number to five or six instead. Overall, I was proud of my players for being able to understand and defeat my puzzles, and it allowed me to realize that in the future I could throw some puzzles and riddles at my players without too much trouble. 

As I mentioned, this session is still one of my favorites. The puzzles, the defeat of the dragon, the unique NPCs, and the crazy dragon imitation encounter were moments that were unique and fun for both me and my players. It also felt like a beginning; the players had left their original base and ventured out into the wide world, looking for adventure and treasure and creating bonds along the way. This was the beginning of our campaign, and I couldn’t have been prouder. 


(Special credit to my friend Dyer who helped me build this dungeon!)