Monday, April 3, 2017

Drownlands Campaign Play Report – Sessions #1 & #2

I had a lot of self-doubt about this game. I haven't DMed a campaign since about two years. I haven't DMed a one-shot since about a year. I was feeling rusty and unprepared. I didn't have a hexmap ready, I didn't finish stocking a dungeon I had in mind... Well, I was anxious. And of course it went swimmingly. It actually went so well that after session #1 on Saturday, we had session #2 on Sunday, because the players insisted. It was great. I think there are two things that I have to remember and take away from this. They seem super-obvious now, but they were not when I was sweating during prep. The most important thing is: play with your friends, those people that you like to hang out with outside of the gaming thing. Those people that you talk about books, tv shows and politics with, those people that help you when you need to move, or find a job or feed your cats when you're on vacation or whatever. Those people are the best players, even if they never played before. And thing number two: D&D game is a party. People drink, snack, tell jokes and have fun. And that's the way it should be. You want that. I think that those two things are crucial to having a good game. 

Okay, so let's dive into details. My players arrived and after a brief chat about cats, Polish politics and the new A Tribe Called Quest album we rolled characters. After about 45 minutes we had an adventuring party consisting of:

* Sapphire, a human fighter played by Marta
* Misty, a human wizard played by Paulina
* Enorindum of Astia or simply Eno, a 42 years old human thief played by Romain
* Norväk Bloodbeard, a dwarven cleric of Madarak, God of Redemption, played by Pierre

So I always used this trick when starting a new game: start with exciting action scene. For example the ship that PCs are travelling on is attacked by pirates, or there's a riot in the prison where PCs are held, stuff like that. But this time I couldn't think of anything appropriate and I started with something boring – PCs waking up in the barracks of Lone Tree Watch. Lone Tree is one of Smugglers Guild's trading posts in Drownlands and PCs are members of the Watch, which is fashioned like a militia, but in reality it's basically a muscle of an organized crime syndicate. Surprisingly my players reacted very enthusiastically and made many references to "thug life" through the game. 

Lone Tree trading post

As I wrote in a previous blog post I planned to repurpose parts of N5 Under Illefarn for this game. This module also has PCs as members of small town militia and gives them three starting quests: fighting lizardmen raiders, rescuing a kidnapped noblewoman and guarding a caravan. So after breakfast in the Watch's canteen they went and interacted with NPCs and found bits and pieces of information about these quests. They spent a lot of time talking to their nameless corporal, arranging meetings with Vana, the watch captain and One Eye, Smugglers Guild underboss and de facto Lone Tree leader, then they spent some time in Lone Tree Inn, where the innkeeper got half of the party really drunk on "Harpy Cream" (which came from a hilarious random roll on Hubris tavern generator) and it was all going in the direction I planned until they found a dot on their map. 

"What's that?"

"Oh, it's where Kaddbad the Druid lives."

"The druid?"

"Yes, he sometimes heals people that need it and because he's useful the Watch doesn't bother him."

"Is he human?"

"No he's half-wild elf."


So when the party was traveling to the druid's grove by boat and talking amongst themselves I made my best poker face and started looking through one page dungeons that I keep at the very end of my D&D binder. By the time they were saying hello to Kaddbad I found an appropriate dungeon ("Dire Briars" by Joshua Jones) and tweaked it to fit the situation. High Priestess became Ursula, another druid and Kaddbad's friend and Bramble Beast became a plant demon that possessed her. The party went on their way. It took them 3 days travel and 2 random encounters from Hubris' Bogwood Swamp before they reached the grove. The party quickly learned that they have to search for traps, disarm them, look for hidden doors, etc. They made quick work of various monsters in the dungeon, but the encounter with Ursula, who turned into a bear, nearly ended with a TPK. But they managed to take her down without killing her, then they figured out that Bramble Beast's vulnerable to fire and defeated it just as it mind controlled the thief. It was close and exciting and I didn't even fudge the die rolls. Then they found some cool random loot and decided to take wounded Ursula to Kaddbad, so he can heal her. And that was the end of second session. 

It was good. Everything went smoothly and DMing felt natural and easy, even though I was improvising on the spot like 70% of the time. Really happy how it turned out, I only hope I can keep it up on session #3. 

Oh, and when my players asked Ursula why she would make a pact with the Beast and get mind controlled in the process I told them that she did it because the Beast promised to help her save Drownlands' dire otter population which is being hunted to extinction. I meant it as a joke but girls at the table took it seriously, because otters are cute and wrote on their charsheets that dire otters need saving. I love my players!