Origin Stories: Dorn, part 2: mechanics

Last week I discussed the backstory of Dorn, a Neutral Good Oath of the Ancients Paladin for D&D. This week I’ll go over how I created the character.

Dorn was a lot of fun for me. My group was rebooting with new characters, and I wanted to play a paladin. But I was excited to try out some of the new paladin options in the 5e PHB, and settled on the Oath of the Ancients paladin. This is kind of a Green Knight paladin, a mix of the regular paladin and druid, and seemed interesting.

Dorn is an example of the stats driving character backstory, rather than the other way around, so may be an interesting model for players who are struggling to come up with a good character concept.

For this character, I tried rolling the stats instead of using the fixed numbers—you roll six sets of four six-sided dice, drop the lowest for each, add each remaining set of three up and and then assign them. This can give you great stats if you roll three sixes, but also pretty mediocre ones. I ended up with some good stats, but also a pretty low one (a 6).

As he’s a front-line fighter, I prioritized Strength, and also had a high Charisma (as this is the most important stat for a Paladin). My lowest stat was intelligence, as I didn’t think I would be using it much.

I then thought about the kind of character with these stats. He’d be a powerful personality and strong, but not incredibly smart. The default background choice for paladin—noble—didn’t really fit here, so I went with folk hero. This is a villager who does some great deed, like saving his village or overthrowing a tyrant, before going out adventuring. I thought a well-meaning but simple villager sounded right for Dorn.

For race, I chose variant human—which gets two bonus points for stats, an extra skill, and a feat. I knew I wanted him to be a human, and it’s hard to turn down that feat. For the feat, I chose charger; this cool-sounding feat gives you an attack bonus when you charge an enemy. Since I envisioned him as an attack-first-ask-questions-later kind of guy, charging into battle seemed appropriate. For skills, I mixed regular paladin ones—medicine, athletics, perception—with some outdoorsy one from his folk hero background, specifically survival and animal handling.

Finally, I had to choose spells. I picked a few of the standard paladin ones—cure wound, sheild of faith, protection from evil, and aid. But I wanted to make use of the extra nature-themed spells that come with the Oath of the Ancients build, so I used things like speak with animals (which sounds cool, but I never used it), misty step (which lets you basically teleport through mist), and moonbeam, a kind of laserbeam that shoots down from the sky.

So you can kind of see how I put Dorn’s backstory together. I knew I wanted an Oath of the Ancients Paladin as a front-line fighter, and when I rolled the stats I had a powerful but dumb fighter. So I came up with the idea of a simple folk hero. One of the options for his defining moment is defeating  a monster, which inspired me to think of the goddess granting him her favor when he stood against the destroyer of nature.

Even though I didn’t go in with a fully-fleshed out character, I made sure to come up with a three-dimensional background for Dorn as I created him, which made him a lot of fun to play.

Origin Story: Dorn

In this Origin Stories series, I’ll be discussing Dorn. Dorn was my second character I created for 5e D&D. As the first was for a short-lived campaign, I consider him the beginning of my 5e adventures in a way. He was a Lawful Neutral Oath of the Ancients Paladin; nothing at all like I usually play, which was great.

As always, part 1 is the backstory, and part 2 (next week) is the character creation mechanics.

Dorn grew up in a small village near Neverwinter, deep in the Mere of Dead Men. He worked his uncle’s tavern, helped keep the drunks in line, and always dreamed of something bigger. Dorn was not very intelligent, but was strong and gregarious. Most people liked him, although some grew irritable with his lack of attention and shallow thinking. Dorn’s chance for greatness came when a fiend was reported to be rampaging through the forest nearby, heading to the village. Dorn joined the militia, and headed out to stop it.

Unsurprisingly, a spawn of hell proved more powerful than a village militia. Everyone fell except Dorn, who still stood against the fiend, clutching his dead father’s longsword. At this moment, Mielikki—the goddess of forests—noticed his stand in defense of her realm, and granted Dorn her favor. Suddenly infused with holy fey power, Dorn defeated the fiend.

He returned to his village a hero, and used his new powers to defend his village, all the while continuing to brew his famous ale. Eventually, Mielikki wanted to collect on her investment in Dorn, and sent one of her Shadoweirs—paladins sworn to serve her—to Dorn’s village to recruit him to her cause. Dorn jumped at the chance to leave his village on an adventure, and followed the Shadoweir. He was soon sent to join the Order of the Gauntlet, to help defend good in the world in line with Mielikki’s teaching…

Out of the Abyss Walkthrough session 1, part 2

Last week I presented the first part of my walkthrough on our first session of D&D’s “Out of the Abyss.” The group escaped their drow prison in the midst of a demon attack and headed into the Underdark…

[I chose to narrate their travels through the Underdark with just a few random encounters to keep it moving along; the alternate was to roll twice a day. But I did have the group roll daily for foraging and navigation. I’ll roll for more random encounters in future travels].

The group stumbled through the tunnels under Shuushar’s lead. At one point they climbed down a cliff face thanks to a well-placed ladder—which they had Derendil tear down—and heard screams of terror in the distance down a side passage. They generally managed to find enough food and water thanks to occasional groves of fungus.

After a few days, they came to a narrow passage with two gas spores (fungal reanimations of Beholders) blocking their way. Brynn approached and cast burning hands on one. It promptly exploded, but the burst of spores it sent out knocked her unconscious and close to death. The rest of the group opened fire with their ranged weapons and killed the second spore. As they did, they all got a burst of memory; they saw a Beholder chasing some deep gnomes into a ruined elvish temple that had sunlight streaming in (gas spores sometimes release memories of their Beholder lives). Zenaella healed Brynn, including the disease she picked up from the spores, and they moved out.

The group continued on for a few more days without incident, although they struggled to find food and became exhausted [they gained one level of exhaustion]. Suddenly, a steam vent broke open and Navarre was hit with the steam, severely wounding him. He was still walking though, and they continued on.

As the group approached Slubbladoop, Shuushar became excited, but the group wanted him to go first and make sure they could enter peacefully. He told them he was not very welcome there—thanks to his pacifist teaching—and he’d prefer the group as backup. The group was a little uneasy–and irked, as Shuushar hadn’t mentioned this yet–but they continued.

After another hour they were surrounded by a kuo-toa raiding party. The group was wounded and exhausted, and found themselves overwhelmed as the kuo-toa attacked. Several of the group went down, and it looked like they were about to be captured, when a rain of spears came out of nowhere. Another group of kuo-toa killed the landing party and ran up to the group.

This group was led by the archpriest of the Deep Mother, the kuo-toa god. He said his daughter recently had a vision of the Deep Father. She denounced their ancient traditions, gathering followers of the Deep Father and conducting blood sacrifices. He asked the group for help. He would present them as fake offerings, and when his daughter was distracted, he would attack her with his followers.

The adventurers were skeptical, and pressed him for some assurance they would be safe (and actually receive a reward). He wasn’t very comforting, but they did get a sense he wasn’t lying. [this was a difficult encounter, because as far as I could tell there wasn’t much for the players to do but follow along, unless they really screwed up and attacked].

The kuo-toa led the group through their chaotic and filthy city. They passed the docks, where numerous sturdy ships were moored, and came to the priest’s quarters near the Deep Mother shrine. There they waited for a bit, managing to get a short rest, before they were summoned to appear before the Deep Father.

They were escorted out, and came to the shrine, a grotesque creation made up several dead aquatic features tied together, on a platform over the Darklake, with a blood-stained grate below it. The sacrifices occurred there, and their blood flowed into the Darklake below.

The priestess began the ritual when, suddenly, her father attacked. The entire area broke out in a chaotic melee. As the kuo-toa fought, the group saw the water foaming with blood, and realized a swarm of ixitxachitl (a kind of evil manta-ray piranha) were attacking some of the worshippers. In the chaos, one of the Deep Father worshippers grapped Turvy, stabbing her and throwing her into the water. Topsy rushed to help, but the group—realizing it was too late—grabbed him and ran off.

This horrible situation soon became worse, though. The group heard a deep rumbling that gradually grew in severity. Suddenly, the water near the city exploded in foam and out of it emerged a being seemingly spawned from their darkest nightmares; two-headed, tentacled, and roaring, Demogorgon was here!

The group recoiled in horror, and Brynn, Varys and Navarre became stricken with madness [bad roll on the madness check]. Brynn became enraged, trying to attack Barakus, although her lack of combat skills led to him not realizing he was under attack for a few rounds [a few natural 1s]. Varys and Navarre collapsed, weeping and laughing. Meanwhile, Derendil went crazy, attacking kuo-toa randomly.

The group ran towards the boat when they heard Ront scream from behind them and disappear into the crowd. They ignored this—as they weren’t very fond of him—and kept running, dragging Varys and Navarre along, while Barakus was held up behind them trying to fight Brynn and grapple her.

As they got to the boat they noticed Buppido run out of the crowd, wiping blood off his knife. They ignored this as well. They got aboard, with Varys and Navarre’s madness wearing off, and Barakus finally grappling the angry gnome wizard.

Once aboard they shoved off, rowing frantically to escape the city, which Demogorgon had begun to destroy. A near-miss of one of his tentacles threw Stool and Turvy overboard. The group got Stool back but had to row out into the depths with Turvy holding on by a rope when an ixitxachitl suddenly attacked Turvy, grabbing him in its mouth. Barakus and Zenaella both grabbed the rope, pulling Turvey and the evil fish aboard. They freed the deep gnome, and pushed the fish back into the water.

The group tried not to look back as they rowed away, trying not to be overwhelmed with terror by the realization that not only were they trapped in the Underdark, but they were trapped here with the prince of Demons…

And that was our first session of Out of the Abyss. It was a little chaotic (there’s a lot for the DM to remember}, but a lot of fun. It worked pretty well to have someone run the NPCs, although I should have given him a chance to read the campaign book first, as he was catching up as we went.

I was a little surprised and gratified the group moved so quickly to escape from the drow prison. When I ran as a player, the DM indicated we couldn’t break out of the chains, and we struggled for awhile to figure out what to do. This group also benefited from some lucky rolls to escape. But this is a definite sign of the importance of following your players’ lead, instead of trying to get them to use the cool encounters the DM came up with for their time in jail (the ones I had were pretty good).

I think it made sense to skip over a lot of random encounters between the drow outpost and the kuo-toa village, as I wanted to get into the heart of the story. But for our next sessions I’ll rely more on the random encounters to provide flavor and a sense of dread. I may follow the lead of some other blogs on this campaign and roll for the encounters first, so I can be prepared ahead of time.

So that’s that. We’ll be running our next session in early June, so I’ll be back with part 2 of Out of the Abyss then.

Out of the Abyss walkthrough: Session 1, part 1

My D&D group recently started the excellent fifth edition campaign, “Out of the Abyss,” which came out in 2015. I ran through part of it as a player with an old group, so I was very excited to get started. As I did with previous walkthroughs, I will be summarizing what happened in narrative form, with points about game mechanics [in brackets]. I’ll break up the first session into two posts for easier readability.

The group consisted of:

  • Navarre, a half-elf rogue
  • Zenaella, a half-elf paladin
  • Varys, a half-drow ranger
  • Barakus, a tiefling monk
  • Brynn, a gnome wizard

As this adventure includes a group of NPCs who accompany the party throughout the adventure, we had an extra player (from the event’s wait-list) manage the NPCs, with direction from me. The NPCs were:

  • Prince Derendil, a quaggoth who thinks he’s an elf
  • Ront, an orc
  • Eldeth, a noble dwarf scout
  • Stool, a myconid sprout (a kind of walking fungus)
  • Shuushar the awakened, a pacific kua toa (a normally violent fish-person species)
  • Buppido, a derro (a kind of mad, evil dwarf)
  • Sarith, a renegade drow
  • Topsy and Turvy, deep gnome twins
  • Jimjar, another deep gnome

There are interesting backstories and twists for all these characters, but I’ll reveal them as the players discover them.

The session started with the group captured by the drow, locked in a cell and restrained with manacles and collars. They had been there a varying number of days, and some had managed to acquire useful objects, like an iron bar or a shard of flint. While they hadn’t met before the adventure, the surfacers in the group got to know each other (with the exception of Ront). They’d been put to work on menial but difficult tasks by the Drow priestess in charge of the outpost. They’d also managed to get a sense for the basic layout of the outpost, which was a series of caves connected by platforms 100 feet above pool on the floor of the cavern. [I thought I’d start them out with some familiarity, to move things along]

It was evening, and the group was recovering from their day of work. Suddenly, there was a commotion outside, and the Drow threw in Shuushar and Stool. Stool landed on Ront, who was about to beat him up when Barakus intervened. Ront backed down, and glowered in the corner [Barakus rolled well on intimidation]

The group discussed what to do. Navarre was able to use the shard of flint he found to free Varys and Barakus, but it broke when he tried to free himself. The two freed prisoners arranged their manacles so the drow wouldn’t notice, and they waited till morning.

In the morning, the drow woke them up with buckets of foul, cold water, and threw in some bowls of mushroom gruel. Ront tried to steal Topsy’s, but Barakus intimidated him again, and he gave it back [we started a running joke about how bad Ront was at being an orc after this]. The drow announced they’d be back in 20 minutes to divide the group up for the day’s labor.

The group sprung into action. The freed prisoners situated themselves so they could surprise the guards, and the others were told of the plan. When the four guards returned, Barakus hit one over the head with his iron bar, and combat began. The NPCs were not very helpful, and Zenaella and Brynn wasted several rounds until they discovered they were in an anti-magic field and their spells were useless. But Barakus killed one guard, and Navarre took his keys to free everyone else. It was a tough fight, and Barakus was knocked unconscious after the drow teamed up on him. But the group managed to overwhelm them. [I had a couple days of encounters planned for the group as they prepared to escape, but this was pretty fun too]

The group snuck out into the compound, and saw they had two paths—into a stalactite hollowed out to serve as a guard tower (not very desirable) or a platform to the north. They headed north, ducked into a cave…and ended up face to face with two quaggoth. The fight began, and was going badly for the players, when a horrible buzzing and howling broke out, and alarms sounded.

The quaggoth ran, and the group followed. The outpost was in chaos as a group of chasme and vrock demons battled in the air—occasionally swooping down on a drow—and the drow tried to defend themselves. The group took advantage of the chaos and ran into the guard post. One surprised drow was inside, and they quickly defeated him.

They found stores of arms and supplies, and stocked up when two drow ran in from outside [I set a timer, and every few minutes something would happen, to kind of approximate the chaotic feel]. The group had a tough fight, as they were still weak from the first battle, but won.

The group stopped to look around, and saw that below them was a layer of webs over a deep pool. They thought they could jump onto the webs, then into the pool, but Brynn wanted to find her spellbook first. So they headed south to explore the rest of the outpost.

They saw a large platform where most of the drow were gathered to fight the demons, and another stalactite off to the side. The group snuck in there, and found a shrine to Lolth, the drow’s demon goddess. They searched the room, and found a few valuables, including gems in a spider idol’s eyes, which Navarre stole without thinking through potential consequences…

The group continued down into the stalactite and found what looked like the priestess’s room, where they discovered more valuables, some potions of healing, and all their gear. They suited up, and Navarre hollowed out some pillows to serve as rucksacks. While they were doing this two drow guards stopped by to investigate.

Barakus heard the drow arrive in the level above them, so the group prepared to ambush them as they investigated. But the drow saw the group, and began firing their crossbows down into the lower chamber. This led to a few rounds of inconclusive exchanges of fire until Barakus leapt up the ladder, grabbed one of the drow and—in an impressive display of his monk skills [and great acrobatics rolls]—pulled the drow down to the floor. This shifted the balance in the group’s favor, and they won, albeit even more injured.

They decided to run. The group headed back to the platform above the pool and leapt into the webs. Navarre, Barakus, Varys and few of the NPCs managed to free themselves on landing, and they noticed three giant spiders approaching. Navarre, not the noblest of heroes, jumped down into the pool, and Barakus and Varys followed.

Eldeth remained to help her friends, freeing Brynn and Zenaella before the spiders arrived. Zenaella tried to stop the fighters while Eldeth and Brynn freed the other NPCs. They managed to get all but Jimjar, Ront and Shuushar out when Zenaella fell before the spider’s venomn. Eldeth, in a burst of heroism, told Brynn to try and stabilize Zenaella then run; she handed Brynn her warhammer and asked her to return it to her family in Gauntlgrym.

Eldeth threw herself at the spiders. Brynn managed to stabilize Zenaella with a lucky medicine roll and the two of them jumped as the spiders killed Eldeth. Ront and Shuushar managed to break out, but Jimjar remained stuck in the webs, and the spiders soon killed him.

The group was now  free, on the cavern floor while the drow battled the demons. They were rather guilty about leaving some friends to die, and Ront was pretty unhappy in return.

Shuushar urged them to go to his home city, Slubbladoop, as it was relatively close and they could find passage through the Darklake there. The group agreed and headed out, although they heard a cry of “the prisoners are escaping” from above.

They headed into the Underdark….tune in next week for the conclusion of our first session.

Crusader Kings 2 walkthrough: Restoring Charlemagne’s Empire, part 1

I ran my first session for the D&D 5e campaign “Out of the Abyss” this weekend. I’m working on a write-up, so while that’s in progress I thought I’d try something new. This is a walkthrough of a long computer game campaign I’m playing. If this isn’t your thing, bear with me, and I’ll be back with RPG discussions next week.

When I’m not playing D&D (or working, or spending time with my family) I play Crusader Kings 2, an excellent historical strategy computer game. In this game, you take control of a dynasty in 1066 (this is the default setting, it can change) and play them through 1453. For a certain type of person (like me) this is an incredibly engaging and exciting game.

After awhile, just trying to conquer land becomes boring, so players come up with harder challenges. One popular one is starting as the Count of Vermandois in 1066, who is the last descendant of Charlemagne, and attempting to restore the family’s empire. Here’s my attempt. I’ll be discussing the gameplay in narrative form, although I will include some interesting (or frustrating) mechanics that came up [in brackets].

Clotaire was a completely average man in every respect. No discernible skills, a steady church-goer…who also had a series of affairs. Ruler of a respectable but small piece of land, the County of Vermandois, in France. Married to the daughter of another weak count. But he had two things going for him—his great ambition, and his name- Karling, the last descendant of Charlemagne.

As soon as he gained his father’s lands in 1066, Clotaire got to work restoring his family to greatness. He attracted skilled councilors from around Christendom to begin developing the country. Under the direction of his steward, he established a trade route to bring the riches of the east to his territory. And thanks to the work of his chancellor he developed close ties with the young King Philippe.

Clotaire tried to increase his power and prestige through two means. First, he tried to get close to those who already had power and prestige. Using his good relations with the King, he married his eldest son to one of the King’s sisters and managed to become the King’s Marshal (despite having no discernible military skills). He also developed a close friendship with the Duke of Berry while serving on the council. And when the King found himself with extra territory thanks to his holy wars (more on that below), he granted Clotaire the county of Orleans.

Clotaire also tried to expand his power more directly, primarily through his wife’s family lands. He first attempted to convince his wife and father-in-law to have the lands pass to her (instead of her elder brother), to no avail. Clotaire then dispatched his chancellor to fabricate a claim to the land. It was rather convoluted, and no one really believed it, but it was enough. Clotaire declared war, and—in an early sign of the continued power of his name—soldiers rallied to his side to support Charlemagne’s heir. Clotaire seized the land, dispossessed his wife’s family (ending any lingering good feelings between the two) and now ruled a significant portion of the Duchy of Valois.

Things became more complicated, however. This partly had to do with succession. Clotaire’s eldest son was a brilliant administrator, who soon became his steward. And his eldest grandson was a brilliant diplomat, who became his chancellor when the old chancellor died. Clotaire was reassured his line would continue strongly for several generations. But his son was killed by an angry mob of peasants while collecting taxes, and his grandson died mysteriously shortly after being sent on his first mission as chancellor (likely an assassination plot).

His second son became the heir. Raymond was a capable diplomat, and likely would be a good ruler, but he had married the daughter of the Holy Roman Empire (who inherited the Duchy of Franconia on his death), and had thus been absent for some time. Additionally, both France and the Empire had complicated inheritance rules, portending some troubles when Raymond’s son inherited Franconia from his mother.

The troubles also had to do with France itself. As mentioned, King Philippe launched a series of holy wars against the Muslims in Spain, seizing a good portion of Aragon. The acclaim he received for this went to his head and he soon turned against the Pope, adopting the Fratricelli heresy. This divided France, and a series of Catholic lords launched rebellions against the King as Muslim states to the south attempted to retake Aragon. The King succeeded in defeating the rebellious lords, although he lost some of his Spanish territory and, most disastrously, lost Flanders after the Holy Roman Empire invaded. By the end of these conflicts, Philippe was so weakened he was easily overthrown by the Duke of Berry, the son of Clotaire’s old friend, who started the Bourges dynasty.

Clotaire stayed out of these fights. While he remained a Roman Catholic he did not join any of the rebels, and tried to remain on good relations with the Fratricelli rulers. After the new King came to the throne, he granted Clotaire the Duchy of Valois and county of Paris—seized from Philippe—possibly out of respect for his father’s good friend.

Clotaire died at 72, after living a long and successful life. He managed to put the Karling family on the path towards regaining some of its glory, and his son, Raymond, ascended to his titles expectantly…

“A shadow in the woods” walkthrough, part 3

Over the last two weeks I presented a walkthrough of “A shadow in the woods,” my D&D 5e home-brew adventure. And in an earlier post I discussed some takeaways from DM-ing my first home-brew. So this week I thought I’d write about the creative and technical process behind this adventure.

It was inspired by reading through Volo’s Guide to Monsters, a D&D sourcebook that came out last year. It includes background on monster cultures and playable races, as well as several new and interesting monsters. One of these was the Banderhob; as soon as I read its description I knew this would make for a great adventure. This adventure was basically a linear story—defeat the monster—but organized around a series of dungeon settings and set encounters.

The Banderhob is summoned by a hag to kill a target. I thought it’d be fun if the group bumped into one, and then got sucked into its mission. Simply going and warning its target wouldn’t make for much of an adventure, so I had to come up with some way for the target to be missing or hidden. Then I had to think about the motivations behind this.

For the setting, I decided to go with a Twin Peaks-esque surreal horror (with hints of humor). The adventurers went to a small provincial town full of difficult personalities and devious intrigue. It may or may not be based on my hometown.

A political fight within the town seemed a good motivation, although I went with a bumbling villain—the local guy who wanted to stop his cousin’s land sale—for some comedic effect. I fleshed this out with locations that may or may not have been near my own hometown, including a swampy area, barren hills, and some rich farmland. I added random encounter tables for the day and night to flesh out the creepiness of the town.

I had a setting—the hometown—and some basic plot ideas: the characters stumble on a Banderhob hunting a woman, and need to help her and figure out who summoned it. I filled in the details with fantasy/sci-fi writing conveniences. The Banderhob dropped a locket belonging to the woman, which confused it about her location. And the Banderhob was summoned in a specific ritual that required the group to close the summoning portal.

I also added a well-known character (at least to me): the town sage, Fonken. Fonken was a character I ran for Curse of Strahd, a Dale Cooper-esque gnome wizard (from Twin Peaks); one of my friends also compared him to Ray Stantz from Ghostbusters. We never finished that adventure, so I thought it might be fun to have him retire to a small town and help out adventurers that pass through.

So I had my plot: the group had to protect the woman and return the Banderhob through the portal. I first needed triggers to get through each stage of the adventure. I ended up kind of simplifying this. The townsfolk quickly tell the group the Banderhob’s target was captured by bandits, to give them some direction early on. And after the group was in town for a bit the Banderhob attacked and Fonken saved them; this gave him a chance to  give them the information about the monster. When the group rescued the monster’s target, the people responsible for these events show up to explain and kind of apologize. I guess I could have had my group do more investigation, but I didn’t want to get too bogged down.

Now I needed the set pieces for the two main events: finding and protecting the Banderhob’s target, and defeating the Banderhob. For the former, it was the lair of a bandit group that had “kidnapped” the woman (she was just visiting the bandits, in my lame attempt at humor). For the latter, it was the dungeon of a hag that had summoned the Banderhob.

For both of these, I basically used the random dungeon tables in the DMs guide (although I re-rolled results that didn’t make sense). One thing that came up for the bandit lair was a dungeon buried in a series of hills; this sounded appropriate to the setting so I went with that. And I populated it using the tables, although I figured out the basic “flow” of the dungeon first; all corridors converged on the circular “throne room” of the bandit leader. I re-rolled till I got dangerous but light-hearted obstacles in the dungeon, like a reverse gravity pantry or a talking tapestry.

For the hag’s lair, I rolled a castle submerged in a swamp. This sounded nice too, and I adapted it to make it submerged sideways and twisted. I went with more sinister sounding rolls for the dungeon itself, as that fit the atmosphere better. And for both dungeons I used appropriate wilderness encounters (forest or swamp) to populate the group’s trip there.

Then there was the boss battle. I decided to make it a multi-stage battle (although that didn’t completely work out, as I discussed in my earlier post). The first stage was relatively easy—a straight-up battle with the Banderhob and some ghouls. That ended quickly, and I was kind of going for the end of Ghostbusters—when they defeated the villain but a sense of dread was still there, growing. The second stage had the Banderhob reappear through the portal with some darkmantles attacking as well. This is where the group defeated the Banderhob, but the third stage would have had everyone take on an effect of Shadowfell (its home plane) and fight the Banderhob as well as the hag.

Finally, there was the ending. I loved the old video games where defeating the boss wasn’t enough; you also had to escape. So I went for that, with the sinking castle. In the end, I made it a little too easy. It may have made for a good dramatic ending if one character fell, just as they thought they’d won.  To be honest, I was kind of worried about upsetting the players (as we are a relatively new group).

And then I wanted an anti-climactic ending back at the town. I love old Westerns where the hero saves the day, but the villagers don’t want him around anymore. And that was kind of what happened to my group; the town was appreciative, but just wanted them to leave.

So that was how I put this adventure together. As I’ve said, it wasn’t perfect, but I had a lot of fun (and my players did too). I hope this can be of some help to others thinking through their own home-brew adventures.

“A shadow in the woods” walkthrough, part 2

Last week I presented the first part of my home-brew D&D 5e adventure, “A Shadow in the Woods.” The adventurers got wrapped up in a complicated plot of murder and real estate when they were attacked by a Banderhob, a monster summoned from the Shadowfell to kill a particular target. After securing its target, the group prepared to seek out its origin and return it to its proper plane of existence…

The group decided to send Lorana to Fonken, the town sage, to keep her safe. They would then into the swamp to find the witch, carrying the locket in the hopes the Banderhob would follow them. They’d figure out the rest later.

After resting, the group headed into the swamp. [at this point, we were running out of time in our gaming session, so I moved quickly through several encounters meant to establish the tone]. They found signs of corruption that didn’t match the townsfolk’s pleasant descriptions of the swamp, like a dug-up tomb, an abandoned hut, and a strange batlike creature that didn’t belong in this world (a darkmantle, from Shadowfell). The group’s mood sagged, and Jon and Rogar both became apathetic, which Adrian realized was a sign of exposure to Shadowfell.

The group came out into a clearing full of petrified soldiers [a random encounter from the DMG]. At the far end, they saw a weird triangular stone hut, in front of which stood an old woman.

Assuming she was the witch, the group accused her of summoning the Banderhob (they’d gotten tired of negotiation). She denied it, and started to go back in the hut when Rogar fired an arrow at her. It missed, but enraged her, and she turned into her true form; a night hag.

Combat broke out, and the group pretty easily defeated her [either I got the CR wrong or I didn’t use all of her abilities]. Before they could kill her, she cast plane shift and disappeared into the ether. Inside, the group found some treasure, filthy and disgusting cooking supplies and bedding, and a weird trapdoor in the wall. At this point, Rogar realized they were in the top level of a castle that had sunk diagonally into the swamp. After taking a short rest, the group headed “down” into the castle.

Act III

While investigating the hut, Jon looked into one of the witch’s notebooks; something he saw in there terrified him, and he ran screaming into the swamp. A few minutes later, a dragonborn fighter, Balazar, walked out of the swamp to see what the cleric was running from. He decided to join the group as they ventured into the castle [we had a player switch-out]. Adrian looked at other notebooks, and found indications the hag had opened a portal to Shadowfell housed in the ruins of the castle, and used Riben’s request as an opportunity to test it.

Because of the weird angles, they had a little trouble keeping oriented, but Lenore was able to guide them. At the bottom, the corridor twisted as it went on in a confusing manner, and here and there mud had broken through. The group came to a dead-end blocked by mud; Lenore hit it with her sword, and a mud flow knocked her off her feet, causing minimal damage but covering her in mud. The group decided to be more careful.

They headed further in, and walking through an open door, stumbled on a man in splint armor (a veteran), wielding two longswords. He threatened them, telling them to give him their gold or he’d kill them. The group scoffed, and charged. They didn’t see the weretiger hiding in the shadows, who began firing his bow.

Bark took some serious hits from the weretiger, but the group managed to surround the veteran and take him down. The weretiger then fled, dodging the group’s blows as he ran by them into the corridor. Rogar caught up with him and tackled the weretiger to the ground, but the weretiger threw him off and ran around a corner. When the group caught up, they saw he had climbed up a mudslide that blocked the corridor and clawed his way into the mud.

Lenore decided she’d try to follow him. She climbed up easily enough, but grabbed onto a load-bearing chunk of mud that caused the entire mudflow to collapse on her, so she was mud-covered again [I ruled it would require strength and intelligence checks to climb and figure out how not to bring down the mudflow; she succeeded in the strength and failed on intelligence]. The group gave up on the weretiger, and pushed on.

They arrived at a pristine library; a quick search revealed a few spell scrolls. Moving on, they came on a room that looked like a workshop, but one wall had collapsed and a lava flow covered half the room, with a chunk of floor serving as a bridge to a door at the other end.

The group headed towards the bridge when they were suddenly attacked by the bat-like creatures they encountered outside. These darkmantles cast darkness as they fall on their targets, trying to wrap around their head and smother them. Lenore and Bark were both hit, while the other darkmantles fell to the ground. Rogar and Balazar stomped a few, then helped Bark free himself as Lenore tore hers off. Lenore tried to grab one of the darkmantles as it flew away but she missed and nearly fell off the bridge; she grabbed a piece of rock, but slipped on that as well and would have plunged into the lava if Rogar hadn’t grabbed her [a few failed dexterity checks]. The group killed the rest of the darkmantles and moved on.

They descended further into the castle, the corridor confusingly twisting and rising and falling in an unnatural manner. At one point, the wall looked weak and brittle, but they left that alone. The group came to a room in which several ghouls and a ghast were lurking and easily killed them. They found a closed-up planar portal, and thought they may be close to a portal to Shadowfell.

The group found another room that looked like an armory, but was submerged in ankle-deep water. While exploring, Adrian stepped into an obscured chasm and sunk; Rogar pulled him out, but not before he gulped in some of the dirty water and became sickened. The group explored a bit more, wisely deciding to map the increasingly twisted and confusing corridors, before coming into a large, circular room.

In the center of the room was another planar portal, this one pulsing with liquid shadow; the portal to Shadowfell. The room had signs of ancient work; an alchemical apparatus in one side, and a guard table and arms rack in another. The adventurers prepared themselves for the Banderhob to arrive, taking a short rest.

It eventually appeared out of the shadows of the doorway, strode into the room, and attacked. It bit Bark, half-swallowing him as the rest of the group surrounded it. Bark turned into a bear to try and break out, but remained stuck. Eventually, Balazar helped him get out. The group then surrounded the Banderhob and struck it until it disappeared into shadow, although not before several of them took serious hits.

Before they could recover, the portal pulsed and shot out tendrils of shadow, which formed into the Banderhob. As it moved to attack, a swarm of darkmantles flew out. The group fought off both when Lenore decided to try and push the Banderhob into the portal. Her effort succeeded and it fell in; after they threw in Lorana’s locket the portal closed [this unexpectedly cut short my boss battle, see my last post].

Suddenly, the tower started shifting and rumbling; the group heard a noise Bark identified as similar to quicksand. They realized it was sinking into the mud, and ran. Using their map, they retracted their steps even though the castle was repeatedly twisting and bucking around them. At one point while climbing a set of stairs the castle bucked up and Rogar flew back down the hallway as the rest of the group held on; he told them to keep going, and they ran, with Rogar trying to catch up behind them. At another point a spray of mud hit Balazar and nearly knocked him out, but the rest of the group helped him along.

Finally, they made it to the passage back into the witch’s hut. As they were climbing out the castle pitched forwards, and Adrian flew into the wall, nearly knocking himself out. The other grabbed him and dragged him into the hut. [I used a table with random directions the castle pitched, and had the players roll dexterity or strength checks to hold on]

Things got worse when they made it to the witch’s hut. The whole castle starting spinning dizzyingly and sinking. One window opened up to the outside but it was obscured by mud when the castle rotated. The group decided to start jumping out. Bark went first, and let a rope back into the hut. Lenore managed to climb out before the rope got tangled in the spinning. Balazar then jumped out, and Adrian used misty step to teleport out when the ground was in view. This left Rogar. As the castle was about to sink into the mud he leapt…and missed, slamming into the wall. He then leapt again as the last of the daylight appeared through the window…and missed again [two bad acrobatics checks]. The castle was now completely submerged, still spinning.

Rogar waited till the window was close to what he thought was the surface and jumped again, clawing his way out of the mud [I didn’t want to let the character die]

The group was now out, and safe. The castle sunk, the ground shuddered, and all the mud displaced by the castle’s movement sprayed over the group, covering them completely. They returned to Red Hill, where—after a natural 1 on a negotiation role—they were driven out of town as troublemakers.

A little richer from the treasure they found, but covered in mud, the group continued on their way.

Next week I’ll have thoughts on creating and running this adventure.

“A shadow in the woods” walkthrough, part 1

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I recently completed a home-brew D&D adventure, entitled “A Shadow in the Woods.” It wasn’t perfect, but I had a great time writing and running it, and I think my players enjoyed it too. As I did with my posts on my home-brew Star Wars:EOTE adventure, I’ll walkthrough what happened in a few posts before writing a concluding post with my thoughts on the process. And I’m all about transparency, so I’ll highlight a few of the parts I didn’t think worked out. Hope you enjoy.

This involved the same group as my A Great Upheaval sessions (see these posts for a walkthrough). We had Jon, a human cleric of Lathander; Rogar, a dragonborn ranger; Bark, a forest gnome rogue; and Adrian, a human warlock. They were joined by Lenore, a half-elven fighter (a new player to the group). We met at the great Killer Rabbit Comics and Games in Williston, VT.

Act I

After saving the day and uncovering hints of the giants unrest, the group set off into the wilderness. They ran into Lenore, who gladly joined them, partly for a taste of the excellent ale they received as a reward for their last adventure. The group got to a half-days’ march from the town of Red Hill when they decided to camp for the night [this is loosely set in the Forgotten Realms, but I really just wanted some connection to the previous adventure].

As the group was finishing off the last of the ale, shadows at the edge of their camp formed into a horrific giant humanoid toad-like being; what they would later learn is a Banderhob. It strode into camp, stepping on Bark, injuring him. The group rushed to attack. The Banderhob was too quick for them, biting Lenore and half-swallowing her and nearly killing Adrian with its claws. The group managed to free Lenore and inflict some damage, at which point the monster dropped something by their fire and strode off into the night.

The shaken and injured group decided to rest before following the monster, but they investigated the object that fell. It was a locket with a carving inside and an inscription, “to Lorana, the ‘princess’ of Red Hill, from Dad.”

The next morning they headed into town. On the outskirts, they came across the ruins of a farmhouse that looks like it had been smashed in; Rogar determined it was a recent attack. They moved on and arrived in the town, a small settlement that grew around a crossroads. The group first talked to Riben, a farmer who is the cousin of Lorana—he told them she had recently inherited a large farm just outside of town, but had disappeared (likely captured by a nearby bandit group). They interacted with other members of the town, including a tiefling inn owner (who told them of a witch in a nearby swamp), the priest, a snooty tavern owner, the mayor and the sheriff. They learned in their conversations that Lorana had planned to sell the farmland—which the townsfolk were upset about—and the sheriff had been tracking the bandits; he provided them some intel on their possible location. The group was urged to wait until the town’s sage, Fonken, returned from a trip.

A day or so after arriving in town [I waited till they seemed ready to move], in the evening, the group heard screaming. They joined the townsfolk rushing in its direction to find the Banderhob attacking a house with the family trapped inside. The group attacked; Lenore got half-swallowed again, and the group looked close to losing when a blue light shot out and hit the monster. The monster faded into shadow, and a gnome wizard (Fonken) walked out of the darkness. He urged the group to follow him to his tower to try and understand where the monster came from.

The group told him what they knew and showed him the locket. He determined it was a Banderhob, which is a monster summoned from the Shadowfell by a hag to go after a particular target. Fonken guessed that when it lost the locket it became confused on its targeting, and focused on the town. He sensed a greater tie to Shadowfell in this Banderhob than in others he’d encountered, and thought that even if it was killed it may keep respawning. The group had to either give it Lorana or get it to return to Shadowfell. He guessed there must be a portal somewhere nearby.

After comparing notes with Fonken, the group decided to pursue the bandits who kidnapped Lorana, then investigate the swamp to see if the witch may be involved with the Banderhob summoning. They took a long rest, and set out in the morning.

Act II

The group set out early in the morning for the half-days’ march to the bandit’s likely location. The town sheriff told them he suspected their hideout was at the end of a ravine off the main road, just before they would reach out an outlying settlement [I had prepared encounters in this settlement, including a bandit spy, but the group never went there]. The group found the ravine, and headed into the forest.

They first came on a giant elk blocking their path. After Bark respectfully communicated it via his speak with animals spell, it moved on [this was a random encounter, but the group thought it had some greater meaning]. The group then found a half-elf ranger eating lunch by a campsite. After talking with him they realized he was with the Harpers; he liked the rugged nature of this area, and wanted to make sure the bandit activity didn’t threaten the townsfolk; he also worried about it necessitating greater government involvement. The ranger asked the group to collect some intelligence on the bandits, and he would meet them back in Red Hill to pay them.

The group continued on, encountering various crude signs warning of great danger ahead. They came to a clearing with three hills in it, and climbed to the highest, where they found a tunnel into the hill [I designed the bandit camp as a dungeon crossing three hills, with an entrance in each hill]. Adrian turned invisible and went in to investigate. He found two goblins sleeping in the entryway, and started to go further when he made a noise and woke them up, although he managed to escape before they found him.

Jon then decided to call down to the goblins and ask if they had the woman [as I noted last week, I did not expect this]. The group heard a commotion, then an orcish voice called up and asked them to surrender. The group tried to negotiate with the bandits, but eventually the orcs and goblins charged.

Out of the tunnel came conventional orcs and goblins, but also two Nurtured Ones of Yurtus, a diseased orc that explodes when killed, sickening all those around. The group quickly dispatched with the attackers, although Bark and Jon were covered in orc goo. They then entered into the tunnel.

The main entryway had doors in each corner, and the group went to the left. They came first to what looked like a gaming room—a type of billiards table and boxing gear were in there—that was empty. The next room was a banquet room that was also empty, although as they started to leave the shepherd in the tapestry started talking to them. It gave no useful information, but they had a pleasant conversation. They then came on a pantry that was suffering from reverse gravity; Lenore flew to the ceiling, and had to struggle to get back out.

After these odd encounters, the group found some of the bandits. A room full of alchemical supplies and acrid dust housed several kobolds and a human mage. The group attacked. They handled themselves well, although Rogar became seriously hurt when the mage and kobolds ganged up on him. Several of the group also started hallucinating; Lenore thought she was giant, and Jon thought he was in a different room. The realized the bandits were creating hallucinogens in the room, which affected them in the combat [I adapted some of the DMG’s random dungeon effects to create the drug’s effects].

The group then climbed a set of stairs, with a tapestry on the wall. Bark was intrigued, so he stopped to look and see if it would talk. Unfortunately, looking at the tapestry triggered a trap [from a roll on the DMG’s dungeon trap table] and the stairs opened up; Bark and Rogar fell into a pit of spikes. Bark managed to grab the wall, but Rogar tumbled down, taking serious damage.

The group pressed on, and came into what looked at one point to be a large throne room. In there was a human man, a hobgoblin, and several assorted human and goblinoid thugs. Sitting by the man, drinking wine, was a woman. They realized this was Lorana, and after talking with the group (the bandit leader was friendly) realized she wasn’t kidnapped. The bandits tried to mug her while she was in the woods, but she proved a powerful fighter and they invited her back to their hideout for a feast.

With Jon taking the lead—despite his low charisma—the group convinced Lorana to come back with them to stop the attacks on the town. The bandits tried to get the group to put a magical listening device in the sherriff’s office, but they refused, so he let them go if they promised not to tell where they were hiding [this was a kind of social interaction deadlock, and I didn’t want to drag it out].

The group returned to town late at night, when a group of men surrounded them. They found out this was a group from the Lord’s Alliance. The men told the adventurers that Lorana’s potential buyers were the Zhentarim; the Lord’s Alliance wanted to stop this group from gaining a base in this area so they asked Riben (a new recruit) to deal with her. He decided to have the witch in the swamp summon the Banderhob so he didn’t have to kill her himself.

The Lord’s Alliance hadn’t intended for so much carnage (even if they did want Lorana) dead, and were willing to negotiate with the group. Bark suggested the Alliance buy Lorana’s farm, so she was able to still profit but the Zhentarim were kept out. They agreed, and slunk back into the shadows [this was another kind of failed encounter, as I didn’t do enough work on it]

Tune in next week for the adventure’s conclusion…

5 Things I wish I knew before my first D&D home-brew session

I just finished running my first home-brew D&D session at the excellent Killer Rabbit Comic and Game store in Williston, VT. I’ve run several published D&D adventures, and run a home-brew Star Wars: EOTE adventure (which I discussed in earlier posts), but this is the first time I’ve tried out my own ideas in D&D. I’ll have a series of walkthrough posts soon, but first I wanted to present a few general takeaways on the process.

These started as notes to myself (a newer DM, who gets the rules but is still learning how to run the game), and I thought others may be interested.

 

  1. Keep it simple

I, like most newer DMs, felt pressure to prove my creativity. I wasn’t creating a world (this was set in Forgotten Realms), so I wanted to express myself through the plot itself. It was a straightforward “stop the monster threatening the town” story, but there was complex political intrigue, red herrings, an open-ended structure and difficult moral choices.

It basically worked, but it was tough. The open-ended structure led to some unexpected events, which can be difficult for a DM to improvise. Handing out the necessary clues sometimes distracted me from game mechanics (and vice versa). And the red herrings led my players to head down the wrong path (which I guess was kind of the point, but I’m not comfortable enough as a DM to do that often).

Again, it went well, but for my first adventure I wish I’d had a simpler plot. There is pressure on DMs to not just create great dungeons, but to come up with compelling mysteries and memorable social encounters. We should keep doing this, as it broadens the scope of D&D. But for our first home-brew adventure, a well-thought out dungeon crawl with some good puzzles and memorable NPCs can help us hone our craft before trying a sandbox thriller.

  1. The players will screw up all of my plans

I knew this, and have been told this so many times, but I forget how supremely players can mess up what I’m doing. Some of this is natural—the game is open-ended and based on creativity, so players may readily come up with solutions to encounters that I hadn’t thought of. Some of it is also mischievous—players like to do things their own way, not follow the DM’s lead.

Two quick examples will illustrate. In one mini-dungeon (a bandit camp dug into a hillside), I’d prepared an ambush. The entryway was guarded by sleeping goblins, and when players became confident and rushed ahead, they’d bump into a guard room of orcs and ogres. But the players had their warlock turn invisible and investigate, then, when he reported back, they shouted down to the goblins to ask if they could come in. So I had to think up how goblins and orcs would negotiate instead of running my great ambush.

The second was the boss battle. I had prepared three stages, following The Angry GM’s advice. The boss would appear defeated, but reform and attack with new powers or allies in each stage. The goal was to get the boss through a portal to Shadowfell. The group’s fighter decided she would try and grapple and shove the boss into the portal. Her roll worked, and I didn’t want to say “no” (see below), so the boss battle was kind of easy.

There’s nothing to do about this, besides being adaptable…and not placing your boss next to the portal it needs to be shoved through.

  1. Work out how encounters will resolve

This sounds obvious, but can be easy to forget. When creating monsters to fight, you want to think about their motivations and goals, otherwise it’s just attrition-fight after attrition-fight. This is even more important when it is a social interaction or clue-finding encounter, as there are several different ways it can be resolved.

This came up a few times in my home-brew adventure. One encounter involved the group “rescuing” a woman from the aforementioned bandits, although she hadn’t actually been captured. I had to improvise what the bandits and woman wanted, as I hadn’t completely written this out. At another time, members of a law and order society show up to intimidate the group into following their plan. Again, I was a little vague in my notes, and had to resolve this in an ad hoc manner.

These encounters may be fine if you’re ok with improvising through social interactions. But I suspect many newer DMs (like me) aren’t, so some guidance is needed. The published D&D adventures have “Development” sections in encounters that can go multiple ways, and a brief write-up like that will help a lot in the future.

  1. Don’t be afraid to let characters die

There were a few times the players were overwhelmed. In one fight I had way too many monsters so the group started falling. And after my failed boss battle (see above), I had the group try to escape the dungeon—which was actually a castle submerged sideways in mud—before it sank. This was really fun, as various characters got knocked over by mud flows or sailed through the air when the castle shifted. It proved difficult, though, as poor dice rolling could cause characters to end up buried alive in the castle.

In both cases I helped them out. In the first, I tweaked some die rolls to save them. And at the end of the escape encounter, one player flubbed his acrobatics check to jump through a sinking and spinning window. Every else made it. Technically, he should have just sunk with the castle, but I felt bad and let him jump into the mud and claw his way out.

Some of this is being a newer DM, as I am afraid of my players getting mad at me. But in the future I will let characters fall—it adds urgency to the game.

  1. Lay out all ground rules in advance

This is kind of similar to the well-known Same Page Tool, a set of guidelines to calibrate different modes of play. But this is more about making sure the DM’s preferences for a lot of unwritten or optional elements of play are known.

In this case it had to do with multi-classing. In between adventures the characters leveled up. One player asked if he could multi-class his character and I said no, as there wouldn’t be any opportunity to learn a new class while the group was travelling between adventures. I didn’t realize that another player had multi-classed his character without asking, though. This wasn’t a big deal, and the first player wasn’t upset, but in the future I’ll make it clear that any multi-classing requires an in-game explanation.

So when starting a new home-brew it’s worth thinking through any situation that would require the DM to make a ruling, and set it out in advance. This includes Unearthed Arcana content, classes and races outside the PHB, use of feats, among others.

So those are some things I wish I had known before I started. To be fair to me, I did some things right, which may also be useful to newer DMs. Here are a few (briefly):

  1. Prepared an adventure portfolio

I scanned relevant pages from the Monsters Manual so I could easily access states, and printed out the maps and adventure module I wrote. This way I didn’t have to flip through multiple books while running encounters.

  1. Never said no to players

This really got to me with some previous groups—we’d keep raising possible actions with the DM and he’d say “no, that wouldn’t work,” over and over. So with my group, I never said no. Some things I knew wouldn’t work—like casting a spell through a dimensional portal—but I didn’t tell them unless they performed the relevant knowledge check. Others I didn’t want to work, but if they rolled well enough we figured it out. And some ideas I hadn’t thought of, but I let them try. This made for some pretty fun failure scenes, like when a fighter tried to run and grab a flying monster but rolled a natural 1, resulting in nearly leaping off a bridge into lava.

  1. Adapted based on player feedback

After the first session of this adventure, one player noted the combat was a little one-dimensional, as I was relying on groups of similar monsters. So I changed this up in the concluding session by having different types of monsters fighting together. This isn’t always possible (especially in published adventures) but it’s worth trying to incorporate player feedback into session as you go.

So there are my takeaways. I’d be happy to hear any thoughts from your experiences.

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, The Lightsaber I, concluding thoughts

In my last two posts I presented a walkthrough for a Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (EOTE) adventure I wrote. This is a great gaming system that lets players be part of the seedier side of the Star Wars universe, playing as rogue and smugglers who inhabit the Outer Rim. Unlike the D&D mechanics, which involve numerical calculations, EOTE uses custom dice. These dice gives the Game Master (GM) and players resources to craft a narrative together.

In this final post of the series, I have some thoughts on GM-ing EOTE for the first time, and on running an open-ended adventure.

EOTE is in some ways good for new GMs and in some ways bad. It’s very abstract; you use range bands instead of distance, and setback, boost and difficult dice instead of modifiers. So there are fewer tables to memorize than in Shadowrun or even D&D. At the same time, it’s very narrative and interactive. Each dice roll includes failure or success but also advantages and threats; advantages and threats give benefits or raise challenges beyond whether or not something succeeds. So the GM must be able to interpret this on the fly. For example, a slicing attempt might succeed but with threats; one could decide the player gained the information he sought but alerted a rival hacker in the process. And then there are destiny points—chips the players and GM flip to give their side an advantage. The person using the destiny point must come up with a story reason to use it, like a character remembering he’d learned details of Rancor anatomy giving him a boost to an attack or finding an extra grenade in his backpack. This is fun, but can be a bit much to handle alongside the normal tasks of running the game.

And as I mentioned, I tried to make this as open-ended as possible. The group had to retrieve the lightsaber, but they could do this on behalf of the Empire, the Rebels, the criminals, or even themselves. They also could have returned it to the old lady. Unfortunately, they chose what I saw as the least likely option—working with Oparro—and I hadn’t exactly planned how this would go. It worked out, but I stumbled a bit to figure out what to do. Also, I had a big speech planned for the old lady that would give some backstory for why she had the lightsaber and set up the next adventure. The group had no interest in talking to her, and ignored her.

So open-ended adventures can be good, but the GM needs to stay on his or her feet and be prepared for the unexpected. You also need to fight the urge to force the group to do what you want. If the plot can only be resolved in one way, then the adventure isn’t interactive enough. It’s difficult to write a complex RPG adventure that leaves room for player choice, but it’s worth it.

I also had a few thoughts on the mechanics. Both the group and I made judicious use of destiny points. The party was able to rig up a bomb during the ambush of Oparro by flipping a destiny point to find bags of explosive materials. And I used a destiny point to make their attempted betrayal of the Rebels harder, causing their speeder to stall out. But in the end I made this adventure a little too easy for them. Despite the setback dice I gave them for speeding through the swamp, they still caught up to the lightsaber thief before he reached the old lady’s hut (which would have screwed up my ending). And I was afraid of Donaldo’s ship destroying them as they escaped, but by decreasing the difficulty I took away some of the ending’s tension. I’d remember this for the next Episode…