Friday, 28 September 2012

Rocky's First D&D Campaign - Session 2 Recap

When we last left our adventuring party, they were being released from jail under contract from the Sutulak City Guard to solve a string of murders and disappearances committed in recent weeks. Captain Warrik gives the party 100 gold each as a stipend for the work they will be doing, as well as a basket of Everlasting Provisions and a Bag of Holding for the group's use. In addition, the party (using The Pilgrim's Diplomacy skill) asks for some sort of written declaration that while they are investigating, they are acting on behalf of the City Guard and are authorized to do whatever they want, so long as they're not killing people randomly. They also ask for the silvered dagger Ulric used to kill Jamie, arguing that it might be useful to know where he purchased it, or if he used it elsewhere.

Warrik gives the party some leads to start with. The local Brothel is a hotspot of underworld activity, so somebody there might know more about local events. They could also examine Jamie's body at the nearby morgue, or the Green Dragon Inn crime scene. The Marketplace district would be the place to go to find a Blacksmith, and the local Mage's Guild would have info on Ulric if he is a member. The group also asks if they can still use the Inn as a place to rest, and Warrik admits that the crime scene is technically just the downstairs area, thus the upstairs rooms are still clear.

With that, the group leaves the Jail and decides to start in the Marketplace, since they have a pocketful of gold to spend. The Marketplace is a big district, since Sutulak still functions as a major trade city. Within the district, the shops and vendor shacks are grouped by class. The party moves through the fine goods areas and goes looking for the shadier areas. Specifically, The Pilgrim is looking to acquire some thieving tools. After a couple shadowy alleyways, the party finds a small stand off a dirty road operated by a couple men garbed in tattered cloth and torn hide. Pilgrim asks if they have any "unconventional" wares, and after some negotiation he produces a shopping list. Lockpicks, footpads, a glass cutter, grappling hook, the usual tools of the trade. The traders put several items into a small burlap bag and hand it over in exchange for 80gold. This makes Pilgrim suspicious because the total value of all those items is more than what he's paying. However, he doesn't pass a Perception or Insight check to notice anything is amiss, so the sale is made and the traders find an excuse to leave.

The party decides to go to the Blacksmith next. However, on the way, a Passive Perception check is passed by Freyja, Azryn, and Clastoptera, who notice they are being followed by a couple of unrecognizable figures in the crowd. They inform the rest of the group, and Pilgrim chooses this moment to duck into a nearby alleyway to pee. The party continues down the street, and the figures follow Pilgrim into the alley. Pilgrim is standing against the wall in the middle of the alley as the figures approach him from behind...and from up ahead, boxing him in. Upon closer inspection they turn out to be a pack of goblins. Several lackeys, some thugs, a Bugbear for muscle, two lieutenants, and a gang leader. The gang had observed Pilgrim dropping gold in the Marketplace and they're looking to take what's left. Pilgrim (truthfully) informs the gang that he doesn't have much left, so the gang leader notes that his armor must be worth something, and orders him to strip. Now.
I love easy maps.
Pilgrim obviously declines, if only because his human disguise doesn't extend over his entire body. The gang begins to advance on him, but the rest of the party doubles back just in time and engages the rear pack of goblins. Pilgrim rushes to join his friends, providing flanking bonuses to several attacks. This pisses off the Bugbear, who takes one heavy war pick to the back too many and turns on him. Bugbear fixes Pilgrim with a Predatory Eye, then nails him with his Skullthumper Encounter power, which lays him flat out and dazes him. He's severely wounded, and the goblin lackeys around him are taking easy pokes at him to finish him off. Oizo makes use of his racial ability to telekinetically drag Pilgrim out of harm's way. Azryn starts cutting down lackeys left and right, Freyja casts Icy Terrain to trip up some enemies and Clastoptera changes into various beast forms to rip into the goblins. The goblin leader sends his lieutenants into the fight, who manage to do some damage to Oizo and Azryn before they ultimately go down, along with the rest. The leader, upon seeing the rest of his people cut down, flies into a rage and rushes the party alone. He's four levels above the group, but alone, so there's no guarantee of success. Pilgrim takes a Second Wind to recover some health and take a shot at the leader, but a quick sword slash strikes him down and leaves him unconscious and bleeding to death. Azryn and Oizo attempt to flank, but the goblin leader shifts each turn to focus on one opponent at a time. Clastoptera takes long range shots while Freyja tends to the dying Pilgrim to stabilize him. She feeds him a Health Potion to heal him back to fighting condition, and he rejoins the fight. The goblin leader continues his rampage, attacking anyone who approaches and slowly backs away to keep the fight on one side. He makes it to an alcove to keep himself from being surrounded, but Oizo uses a Lightning Lure to pull him out and he finally goes down under a combined assault.

The party strips the goblins of weapons, gear, and gold, then flags down a nearby guard to explain the situation. The notoriety of the gang coupled with Warrick's letter makes it easy for them to handle the situation, so they're free to continue onward. The Blacksmith's shop is simple, a one-level building with a basement forge. The shop walls are lined with racks of weapons and armor, sorted by type and material, so that customers of different classes and styles can easily find what they're looking for. The shop owner is a stout old dwarf with dark hair and a trimmed beard, who eyes up the party as they enter from behind a long wooden countertop. First things first, the party lays down the collected weapons and gear from the goblin gang and gets it all appraised to sell it for gold. Among the weapons on the wall lays a large shining hammer behind the counter. Arcana checks by Freyja and Oizo notice that the hammer is enchanted, and bears an Arcane Mark with the name Bo Do. After a History check, they remember that there were legends of a small Dwarven village where a family of masterful weapon smiths lived. They had ancient knowledge of metallurgy and enchantments, and crafted weapons that tore through armies like a stone through wet paper. The process took months to turn out a single weapon, thus the demand far exceeded the supply. Fights broke out over the prized weaponry, leading to a riot that eventually destroyed the town. Many members of the Do clan were killed, and the rest went off to parts unknown. There's no way to know if the hammer was made by this particular Blacksmith, or simply acquired by him. Upon inquiry, the Blacksmith simply remarks that the weapon is not for sale. It hasn't been used in a long time, and he hopes never to use it again...

Changing the subject, the party produces Ulric's silvered dagger and asks the Blacksmith if he knows about it. As it turned out, the Blacksmith admits to having silvered this dagger for Ulric earlier in the month. Apparently Ulric needed it for some ceremonial purpose, but beyond that he doesn't know. Clastoptera lets slip that the knife was used to kill Jamie, and the Blacksmith is stunned silent. For a long moment, he has no words, lost in thought. Eventually he snaps out of it and informs the party that city law requires all weapon smiths to take customer information when deadly weapons are purchased, in the event they are used to commit crimes. Given that the party has Warrik's letter, the Blacksmith provides the party with Ulric's home address. As the group goes to leave, the Blacksmith adds two pieces of additional information. One, Ulric wasn't alone when he came for the weapon, and two, he smelled of meat.

The party's next stop is a Magic Shop. By which I mean potions and spells and wands, not handkerchiefs and trick cards. As the party approaches the shop, an easy Passive Perception check lets them catch some noises from within the shop. Specifically, angry shouting. "Put it down!" "You put it down!" "Drop 'em!" "I'll drop you first!" And so on. The party busts through the door, weapons drawn, to find a mexican standoff taking place between two wizards and a band of thieves.
Did I mention I love easy maps?
The shop features multiple shelves of books and potions, as well as various magical and ceremonial materials. Tall shelves are spaced throughout the shop, with a long wooden counter at the far end. Behind the counter are two wizards, one old and short with a long white beard, hefting a long staff. The other is taller, younger, with slicked back blonde hair and a wand raised at the nearest bandit. The thieves themselves are a mix of human bandits wielding maces and a pair of elven archers. A quick discussion between the party has them deciding to side with the wizards in this fight, so they get a surprise round against the thieves. Oizo, Azryn, and Pilgrim rushed forward to engage the bandits in melee while Freyja fires Magic Missiles at range and Clastoptera mounts a nearby bookshelf to lay down spells from on high.

Pilgrim unleashes his Cloud of Darkness to conceal his attacks, preventing the bandits from coordinating their attacks and keeping the fights 1-on-1. Clastoptera takes an arrow in the arm from an elf archer, who catches a face full of hornets in response and is stung to death. Another bandit manages to get around the shelves and engage Freyja directly, who backs off from melee combat to blast him with her staff. Azryn chops his foe in half with his great axe and Oizo buries his blade halfway through a bandit's head. Pilgrim uses a non-lethal attack to take one of the bandits alive, knocking him unconscious. Editor's Note: As I later found out, you can't just call your attack non-lethal and do the same amount of damage whenever you like. You have to declare it before you roll, and you get a -4 to your attack roll. Also, during the fight Clastoptera makes Stealth rolls to steal random items off the shelf, grabbing an unidentified potion and book without being detected.

The fighting done with, the party announces themselves to the wizards, who are thankful for the assistance. The old wizard is Vink Sardo (bonus points if you get the reference), and the young apprentice is Aric Blacktree. The party wishes to question the survivor, and Sardo offers the party use of his basement lab.

At the end of the session, the party gained enough XP to reach Level 2. They'll be gaining a Utility power, extra HP, and they may choose to retrain one feat, power, or skill training if they wish. Here's hoping things keep going smoothly!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Rocky's First D&D Campaign - Session 1 Recap

As the story proper begins, we find ourselves at the Green Dragon Inn. The main floor is a bar with rooms upstairs for guests. It features a full bar, a raised area for VIPs, a small stage for entertainment, full kitchen, and room for 30+ patrons. Once a high-class establishment, it has since fallen into disrepair as its original owner employed slave labor to keep the place running and abandoned it when that was no longer an option. It's current owner is Jamie, a friendly and chatty effeminate elf of undetermined gender. He/she's happy as can be with his/her little operation, which consists of him/herself and his/her waitress Harriet, a young Dwarven woman who also sings on the tavern stage on slow nights. On this particular night, there are roughly a dozen patrons in the bar, either seated at the bar or in groups at a table, taking in the show or chatting amongst themselves. A group of young nobles are seated at the Lord's table, basically slumming it for an evening like teenagers in Tijuana.

In through the front doors comes our heroes, in order of their seating at my table, left to right: First is Clastoptera, an Elven Druid, who enters and takes a seat near the stage, taking in the show and waiting on a drink. Clastoptera's player has played some D&D but was a little soured on the experience because her previous party contained a couple of prima-donna players who loved to steal the show and take all of the focus. Hopefully I can give her some opportunities to shine in this campaign and make her feel like a vital member of the group.
Thanks, DeviantArt!
Next comes a figure who appears to be a human in simple clothes, but is actually a disguised Drow Avenger who we will refer to as The Pilgrim at his player's request. He approaches the bartender and asks if there is any work in the area. Jamie responds that there is always work available in Sutulak, and in fact he/she is having a slight *whisper* rat problem *end whisper* that he/she would love some assistance with. Jamie asks The Pilgrim to take a seat with a drink on the house and he/she'll get back to him later in the evening. The Pilgrim's player is an experienced DM in his own right, so I found myself relying on his knowledge a lot in the first encounters. Thankfully he's quite helpful and doesn't constantly challenge me by quoting the rulebook. When I don't know something I'll typically just improvise and look it up later, rather than slow the game down by flipping through the book.
Without the disguise.
As The Pilgrim takes his seat, an Eladrin Wizard enters and also approaches the bartender. She introduces herself as Freyja, and she has come to Sutulak in search of her missing parents. Freyja's player is easily the most eager of my group, and this is also her first game of D&D. She came prepared with a simple back story and goal for her character, and I will do my best to accommodate her without derailing the main quest or turning her into the focus of the party. Improvising my response, I have Jamie tell Freyja that Eladrin are still pretty rare in Sutulak, but there is an older couple who recently moved into the Upper Class residential district. He/she invited Freyja to sit and have a drink while he deals with his other customers and later he/she'll be free to sit and chat with her all about them.

Never let me choose your portrait.
Through the doors of the tavern steps a robot. No, really. 6'6", 200lbs and change, a Warforged Barbarian named Azryn. Recently freed from servitude and not sure what to do with his newfound independence, he apparently came into the tavern just to hang out. However, when he attempts to take a seat at a nearby table, I ask Azryn's player to make a Strength check. Here's the quick summary on Skill Checks: Every character has skills in different areas, and sometimes in order to accomplish a task you need to succeed in a skill check. In this case, I was concerned that the flimsy wooden chair wouldn't be able to hold all 200lbs of Azryn's Warforged ass. So I asked Azryn's player to roll a Strength check, and he failed. The result was that the chair cracked under his weight and he crashed to the floor. This had no impact on the overall story, but I thought it was a fun little distraction that gave some depth to the world around the players and introduced a key mechanic to the newbies (of which I happen to be one myself). Jamie came running over to make sure Azryn was alright, surprised to find a Warforged being in his tavern. Azryn apologizes for breaking the chair and asks if there is any work to be found in the area. As with The Pilgrim, Jamie quietly speaks of his/her own little rat problem and asks Azryn to wait a while. He/she offers Azryn a drink, but since Azryn doesn't drink or eat, Azryn simply observes the singing waitress.

It's a boy! All six fingers and four toes!
Finally we have Oizo, a Githyanki Swordmage. Oizo's player isn't much for roleplaying and prefers combat to any sort of acting. In-character, Oizo enters the bar and just takes up a spot near the door, leaning against the wall and observing the area. I'll try not to force Oizo into any major roleplaying situations, but I do have to establish his personality for the benefit of the group, so he'll have to get into it just a little bit until the action picks up.

He's basically a Jedi. No, really.
After the introductions are made, there is a loud crash from the Lord's Table as a wooden wall bursts apart and a horde of giant rats emerges. The bar's patrons immediately flee the area, dropping their drinks and sprinting for the door. The rats spread out and start attacking the closest things they can find, which consists of the party, the waitress on stage, and the bartender at the bar. Azryn and Clastoptera are seated near the stage, so they intercept a pack of rats before they can get to the waitress, who has fainted with fright. The Pilgrim and Freyja take on the rats who come into the main dining area, Freyja letting loose with bursts of magic while Pilgrim hacks away with his heavy war pick. Oizo is too far away, so he charges forward and telekinetically leaps into the fight (as his racial ability allows him to). Clastoptera shapeshifts into a swarm of bugs and starts swarming the rats in her area while Azryn chops one in half with his heavy axe. Freyja is overcome with a swarm of rats, but teleports herself away to escape further attacks. As the battle starts to shift in favor of the party, one surviving rat flees back for the hole it came through, but Clastoptera uses an ability to create a terrifying sound from within the hole. This scares the rat into running in a different direction, and Oizo puts it down by throwing his sword at the rat in a spinning arc that chops it in two. Lengthwise. He then recalls the sword to his hand Jedi-style.

With the battle concluded, Harriet the waitress is still unconscious and Jamie has regained his composure, having spent that entire fight standing on top of the bar screaming in terror. He offers the party free room and board for exterminating the rats, though Pilgrim employs his Diplomacy skill to earn a permanent room at the inn for the party (which is actually the Honeymoon Suite). With that, the party retires to bed while Jamie sets to work disposing of the rat corpses and repairing the hole in the wall. However, several hours later in the dead of night, a scream is heard from downstairs followed by a dull thud. The party awakens and comes back downstairs to find a band of robed thugs standing at the bar. Two bandits wielding maces, a fat guy with a club, and a mage who is just emerging from the kitchen. The bandits insult the party and attempt to intimidate them into returning upstairs, but the party makes their Will checks and stands their ground. With that, the bandits attack. Freyja moves first, casting her Magic Missiles and moving off to the side for a better vantage point. Oizo rushes into combat and throws his sword at the fat guy, who is a simple minion and drops in one hit. He is then flanked by the two bandits who swing away at him with their clubs, landing glancing hits. Pilgrim joins in to distract the second bandit, as does Azryn. Clastoptera is off to the side as well, throwing fireballs. The bandit mage leaps onto a nearby table and casts Dancing Lightning, striking Oizo, Pilgrim, and Freyja with bolts of lightning. Freyja responds by casting Icy Terrain, making it difficult for the mage to move around, and Pilgrim rushes over to engage him. Oizo, Azryn, and Clastoptera continue their assault on the two bandits while Freyja and Pilgrim deal with the mage. As the first bandit falls, the two surviving enemies decide it's time to run, and start heading for the door. The mage manages to stun Freyja and Pilgrim with a Thunder Burst and makes it to the door, but is knocked out by Azryn who charged to catch him at the last second. The second bandit sprints past and escapes into the night.

I constructed these encounters according to an XP budget system recommended by the DM guide. Basically, take the number of party members you have, multiplied by the relative XP value of a standard enemy at their level. In this case, 5 x 100 = 500. For these first two encounters, that was the measurement I went with, and it seems to be working pretty well. I just had to make sure to have some variety among the monsters so that the fight isn't too easy or difficult and there are no obvious weaknesses to exploit. For harder encounters I'll increase the budget, which will mean more difficult fights but also greater rewards.

Anyway, with the fighting over the party decides to take the unconscious mage to a table, tie him up, and demand answers. Meanwhile, Oizo is elected to bring the two dead bandits to the manager's office to strip them for gear and look for clues. He drags the bodies into the room, only to find Harriet sleeping on a bedroll, still unconscious from the excitement earlier in the evening. He succeeds on a Stealth check not to awaken her while he is searching the bodies. The mage is awakened and refuses to talk, spitting at them for being unclean non-humans. Freyja decides to use her Prestidigitation power to change Azryn's appearance to make him appear bigger and more demonic. While this is a little more elaborate than the Prestidigitation power is capable of, I allow it because it's an interesting idea. As a result, Azryn gets a bonus to his Intimidate check, and gets the mage to talk. The mage, Ulric, was hired through an intermediary to kill the bartender. Freyja goes to the kitchen to search for Jamie, finding an enchanted silver dagger laying in a pool of blood, with bloody drag marks leading to an icebox. Opening the box, she finds Jamie inside with his throat slit and sigils carved into his face, arms, and chest. Freyja attempts skill challenges on the dagger and body, using Arcana and Religion respectively. She fails to identify the dagger but succeeds in determining that one of the symbols on the body relates to an ancient god called Zarus, who favors humanity over all other races and promotes domination and subjugation of all inferior species.

In response to finding the body, Freyja calls out for help. This was actually a problem between me and my group when I had to explain what meta-gaming is. Basically, characters within the story must act in a manner that is consistent with their characters and the situation. When I asked Freyja to pass an Arcana check, I was checking to see if Freyja noticed that the dagger was enchanted. She failed to notice this, so she wanted to call Oizo over to attempt his own Arcana check. However, this is not an appropriate reaction because even though Freyja's player is aware that there is something hidden in the room, her character does not. Thus, her character cannot act on information she doesn't have, even though the player does. Similarly, Oizo needs a reason to stop what he's doing and go into the kitchen to have an opportunity to examine the knife. Freyja can't just say: "Hey Oizo, come here and look for magical enchantments! I didn't find any, but I know they're here!" That's meta-gaming, and it just sucks the fun out of the adventure.

However, finding a body is reason enough to call for help, so Freyja yells out. This gets Oizo's attention, and he goes into the kitchen and succeeds at his Arcana check to identify the blade. It's silvered and bears an Arcane Mark identifying it as belonging to Ulric. However, Freyja's shout first wakes up Harriet, who finds herself in a room where a guy with a sword is stripping two bloody corpses naked. She freaks out and runs out of the room into the main dining area, where she finds the rest of the party interrogating the mage tied up on the table. She runs for the door, but Azryn gets in the way and uses his Intimidation skill on her to get her to stop. He's still demonified from Freyja's Prestidigitation, so he scares her so hard she faints again. At this point, all the screaming has attracted the attention of the city guard, who bust through the front door with a dozen men, ordering everyone to drop their weapons.

The mage on the table is quick on the draw, immediately begging for help and insisting that these monsters came in and slaughtered his friends and the bar owner. The party gives their side of the story, but the guards simply arrest everyone and drag them to jail for further questioning.

On their way in, the party sees the waiting room, a small courtyard for executions, guard barracks, a small courtroom, and a holding area lined with cells. Each member of the party as well as Ulric the mage are locked up in individual cells. The guards immediately peg Clastoptera as a Druid and Freyja as an Eladrin, so they're fitted with Dimensional Shackles so they can't shapeshift or teleport to escape. However, Clastoptera attempts a Diplomacy check to convince the guard not to cuff her because "the shackles are itchy". This was a pretty lame excuse, and the guards have good reason not to comply. However, her player actually rolls a natural 20, which is the highest possible result. Thus, she succeeds in convincing the guard not to restrain her, though she's still in a cell along with everyone else. Their weapons are taken and placed in a wooden lockbox at the far end of the holding area, though Clastoptera again convinces the guards to leave her totem, a small bundle of bones and sticks.

The captain of the guard, Captain Warrik, interrogates the prisoners. He starts with Ulric, who gives his story: He and his friends were in the tavern for a drink when these monstrous freaks showed up and just started killing everyone they could find. All his friends were killed along with the bartender, and they were in the process of torturing him when the guards showed up. Warrick notes that some parts of his story are corroborated by the testimony of the waitress (who saw the corpses and the demon robot), but he wouldn't have seen the murder of the bar owner in the kitchen from the dining area, and the blade used in the murder actually has his name on it. Ulric fumbles through another excuse, but Warrik isn't having it. He turns to the party and asks who else wants to tell him what happened. Freyja is the only member of the party with Charisma benefits, so she's elected to explain the events: The party was staying upstairs for free as payment for exterminating the rats when they heard Jamie's scream and came downstairs. They found four men in robes who attacked them, and they defended themselves, leaving one alive to question him. Warrick notes some consistency in their story, but also points out a flaw: She mentioned four bandits but there were only three found at the scene. This in addition to their interrogation of Ulric, stripping the other bodies, and their presence in the kitchen casts some doubt on their innocence.

Unable to decide either way, Warrik decides to take the night to think it over and come back to them in the morning. The party takes a short rest in the cells, while Ulric spits at them and promises that the worst is yet to come. After a while, one of the guards comes in along with a group of thugs and looks everyone over. He sneers at them and remarks that there have been a lot of these murders in the city lately, and a lot of people would love to see them put to an end. Maybe if they make an example of some prisoners they can put fear back in the populace and keep anyone else from starting trouble. The guard unlocks all of the cells using a switch at the entrance. Ulric makes a break for escape, but he's immediately attacked and beaten down by the thugs, who then move in on the rest of the party.

This encounter was a major challenge for the group for two reasons. One, I went over the XP budget for this one. Two, the party is almost totally unarmed. Even so, they manage to put up a damn good fight. Clastoptera still has her totem, so she can cast her spells as normal. Freyja and Oizo are closest to the weapon locker, so they rush for it and attempt to break it open with a joined Strength check. Their first attempt fails, but together they manage to break it on their second turn and retrieve their weapons. Meanwhile, Pilgrim casts a Cloud of Darkness to blind the thugs closing on him and run past them to escape the holding area. He provokes attacks of opportunity as he runs past enemies who are not blinded, but manages to make it through with only glancing wounds. Azryn just starts punching dudes, as is his way.

The guard in charge draws his crossbow and nails Pilgrim as he's running away. Out of options, Pilgrim takes a risk and runs into the guard quarters to call for help. This was hilarious because the rest of the players were very much against this plan, since it would likely result in even more enemies to fight. Pilgrim busts in and yells for help, which rouses the guards into action. He's unarmed and asking for help, so the guards aren't immediately hostile. They run for the holding cells, and as the guard in charge of the assault notices he's being interrupted, he immediately orders his goons to stand down. Captain Warrik arrives and once again demands to know what the hell is going on. The rogue guard gives his story, that the party had brought these hired thugs in to stage an escape. The story isn't even remotely plausible, given that the party was actively fighting the thugs and went running for help. Warrik arrests his own guard and the hired thugs and calls the party into the courtroom to speak to them.

The session wraps up with Warrik explaining the situation in the city to the party and asking for their help in investigating the murders. After some negotiation, the party is allocated 100gold each, as well as a bag of holding and a basket of everlasting provisions. When we come back next time, they'll begin their search.

When I started writing this campaign, it was basically a murder mystery. I just had to tweak it a bit to make sure it wasn't nothing but a lame CSI ripoff (naming the guard captain Warrik didn't help, though I did get points for King Steve). Everything up to this point has been fairly structured so that the party didn't really have much choice in where they were going. Next time, they'll be free to go wherever they like, and I'll just have to adapt to their decisions. We'll see how that turns out...

Rocky's First D&D Campaign - Intro

It has been a while since my last post (this is starting to become my catchphrase...), which I had only made to fulfill a project requirement. I'm still working on graduating from text into full video, but for the time being you'll have to settle for reading my inane ramblings instead of watching them. So, what have I been up to lately? Well, I've been finishing up with my Bachelor's Degree, working full time, and going on a bit of a retro gaming binge with classics from the 16 and 32 bit eras. I also recently got into pen-and-paper RPGs with the biggest and best of the genre, Dungeons & Dragons.
Let's face it, are you really surprised?
For those who are unaware, Dungeons & Dragons is a role-playing game in which players take the role of various heroic adventurers (paladins, wizards, barbarians, rogues, etc.) and embark on a quest which is set up by the group's Dungeon Master. Each character's vital statistics are recorded on paper and the adventure plays out via narration from the DM, with input from the players who are acting in-character during key scenes. Combat encounters are structured as turn-based exchanges between the player characters and a group of enemies controlled by the DM. Attacks and other actions are governed by the rolling of dice to determine the success/failure of each action. It's complicated, but once you get the hang of it it's a fun and creative game.

I've played the game once before, but when my friends and I got together to start a new game, I was elected to run the game as DM. Probably because I'm organized and a creative storyteller. Either that, or they just didn't want me on their team. Kind of ironic, as you'll later see. Anyway, the publishers of D&D, Wizards of the Coast, regularly publish several campaigns that DMs can utilize for their players. A campaign constitutes a full adventure for players to undertake, consisting of an inciting incident or "hook" to get the characters involved, a series of events and challenges for them to deal with, a story to tie it all together, and rewards for completing those challenges and the main quest. However, I decided to put in some additional effort and write my own custom campaign for my players. Time will tell if this was a really stupid idea, since this is my first time as a DM, but so far it's working okay.

Editor's Note: For anyone who might ask, I'm using 4th Edition rules. D&D has gone through several changes over the years in terms of rules and game mechanics. Some people prefer 3.5 Edition because it's more specific and offers greater creative opportunity, but I can't speak to that. I've only ever used 4e, and I'm comfortable with it, so all y'all can deal with it.

Each of my five players had their characters ready ahead of time, using either the official D&D Player's Manual or the online Character Creator that Wizards offers. If they hadn't, we would have likely spent the first hour or so making a character for everyone that suits their tastes. Typically, each member of the party should serve a specific function, as outlined by the game mechanics. There are Strikers (focus on dealing offensive damage), Defenders (focus on attracting enemy attention and taking hits), Controllers (focus on using special abilities to affect the enemy's movements and actions), and Leaders (focus on maintaining the party with healing and enhancement abilities). A good group should have one of each to cover the bases. A group with no Striker won't be able to dish out damage, a group with no defender won't be able to take it, and so on.

So let's get into the first session recap. I provided the group with background information on the setting for the adventure. The city of Sutulak (which I appropriated from the D&D book Cityscape) has a population of just over 10,000 made up of mostly humans with sizable communities of other races such as elves, goblins, dwarves, half-orcs, and so on. It was once known as The Slaver City because it functioned primarily as a trade community where various commodities (legal or otherwise) could be sold, and slave labor was their major export. A large stone wall surrounds the city, 50ft high and 6ft thick, with five gates set around the perimeter as the only means of entry/exit.
Here's where my story splits off. In recent years, there has been a major upheaval in the way Sutulak operates. The presiding King, Steven Arroway, was convinced by the plight of the slaves held captive in his city to declare slavery illegal within Sutulak. This mass emancipation came at a dire cost, as the economy of the city collapsed overnight. Without their primary export, Sutulak saw the departure of many traders and business owners who saw their profits vanishing before their eyes. However, while some of the former slaves elected to leave as well, others remained and took over many of the businesses within the city. Slowly but surely, Sutulak began to improve as a spirit of co-operation encouraged the various races to work together. Embassies to the Elven and Dwarven nations were established first, and others were soon to follow. All friendly races were welcomed to this new beacon of civilization.

But there is a dark shadow moving over the city and its inhabitants. In recent weeks there has been a string of murders and disappearances. People are abducted off the street by unidentified figures in black robes, either to be found brutally murdered in a secluded area or not found at all. The city guard are at a loss to find the culprit, and tensions are running high among the citizenry. Pro-human activist groups are making accusations towards some of the recent non-human immigrants, who respond with indignation and anger. If the situation isn't resolved soon, the conflict could escalate to a full-scale race war.

Next post I'll get into the recap for the official start of the campaign, which includes the introduction of the characters and the first few encounters.