A couple weeks back, I mentioned that an impromptu D&D group had started coming together around me, as well as why I was wanting to invest time in playing a weekly D&D game, despite everything going on in my life.
Well, it happened, and things got weird quick.
First off, the group didn’t end up being as large as expected. Four players, with a fifth and sixth who wander in and out. The main four, however, are pretty well solidified as the main party, with occasional help from allies in the form of the other two.
My boss, her brother, son, and and the son’s girlfriend, are my primary players. My boss’s niece, and a co-worker unrelated to the rest of them pop in and out wen they get the time. Of the total of six players involved, only two have experience playing D&D recently, with a third who played twenty some odd years ago.
Only one of the two who have played before, has played with me as the DM. The others have a very different experience with D&D, where most of the game revolves around combat, leveling quickly, grabbing as much loot as possible, and moving on to the next combat encounter. As a writer, my D&D games tend to be more character and story driven, with combat for flavoring. Many combat encounters can be avoided entirely in the games I run, with good use of social skills, such as Persuasion or Intimidation.
Basically, only one person at the table knew what they were getting into when they sat down.
Since most of the people playing had never done so before, I prerolled some characters for them. My boss ended up with a Tiefling Rogue, her brother with a Half-Orc Fighter, the girlfriend with a Human Cleric, and the son with a Gnome Wizard. The niece got a Dwarf Barbarian, and the co-worker got a Dragonborn Sorcerer.
The prerolled characters let us jump right into the story, and allowed them to experience play. Which turned out to be a good idea, as the rolling up of characters might have taken a while, and left them feeling bored, or worse, confused. Diving in head first worked out better, as they get to learn the game by actively playing it.
To say anything went the way I expected, however, would be a vast understatement. Players, even new ones, have a way of throwing you curve balls.
Before we get to much into what happened during the first two sessions, let me give you the same setup I gave them. It’s a pretty simple scenario, or at least, it should be. Players also have a way of complicating things greatly.
The adventure begins in the town of Marshgate, a medium sized farming community, home to some 600 people of various races.
Located in the south eastern most corner of a kingdom known as the Domain of Tassius, Marshgate straddles a wide, slow moving river called Arum’s Run, which provides the land with both its abundant fertility, and ease of irrigation. Two drawbridges join the halves of the town, granting access to the cargo ships that make frequent runs to transport the grains and vegetables Marshgate grows in abundance to the rest of the Domain of Tassius.
North and east of the town is sprawling farmland. During the journey to the town, you saw for yourself the large fields, and the extensive variety of crops. It’s not surprising to learn that Marshgate is one of the most important supplies of food to the rest of the kingdom, despite being so remote.
South of the town, the river spreads out into a wide delta, before feeding into a vast inland sea called the Bondock. Roughly the size of the Mediterranean, the ocean features a scattering of islands, home to a number of pirate crews that like to prey upon the frequent merchant transports that sail those waters. Trade between the Domain of Tassius and their southern neighbors is vital, and lively, but also perilous for those making the trip.
Between the Bondock and Marshgate, some twenty miles south of town, the delta creates a vast marshland, both in length and depth. Most trade travels to the east, to the sprawling port city of Fortier’s Landing, as the marsh, commonly called Shadowmire, has never been fully explored. Many who enter, desiring to map the place, have never returned. Just what dangers lurk there has never been discovered.
West of town lies a vast forest. Originally called Taraturm by the Elves, it is generally referred to as the Everrun these days. Stretching for several hundred miles to the north, and feeding into the Shadowmire to the south, Everrun is a dense, dark forest the runs many miles deep, before crawling half way up the mountain range that marks the eastern border of the Domain of Tassius.
Kalem’s Spine, a high, nearly impassable range, is said in myth to be formed of the actual spine of a God who was betrayed by his brethren, and thrown down to die upon the world. Knowledge of Kalem is relegated to myth and lore these days, though he does still have his followers. Strange cultists who seek a way to raise their God from the dead, for reasons that only they know. While they are only encountered infrequently, they are known to be creators of chaos and misery.
It is the Everrun that draws you to Marshgate, however. Since leaving home, some of you in search of glory, others for fame, some for wealth and power, and some to find themselves in the wider world, you began to hear rumors. Following them you learned that Marshgate has, of late, been besieged by troubles.
For the past few months, the children of Marshgate, from late teens, down to as young as nine and ten, have vanished in the night. Not every night, but frequently enough that it is no case of runaways. No children younger, and none older than seventeen, has gone missing, making the entire thing somewhat ominous.
The Baron who oversees these lands, a man named Roland Merchfort, lacks the resources to deal with the problem, as well. Much of his own standing army has been called up to aid the King’s Army in a long, slow war with the eastern Vanthock Empire, a strange land, ruled by fanatical worshipers of some God not known in the Domain of Tassius. Fervent in their desire to bend all worship to the deity, Vanthock punishes all who practice heresy in their eyes, converting by fire and sword.
While the war is little more than a standoff for now, several clashes have occurred, and the ruler of the Domain of Tassius has needed every able bodied man and woman. This has left Baron Merchfort without the manpower he needs to deal with the strange happenings in Marshgate. Faced with the growing fear and anger, he has done what many nobles in the past have done, and sought adventurers to come to his aid, with the promise of gold.
As you chased down this rumor, you learned it to be true. It seems Baron Merchfort has found evidence that suggests a tribe of Goblins has come to make the Everrun their home, and is taking the children for slave labor, or worse, food. He has promised a substantial reward to any brave souls willing to delve into the deep forest, dispatch the Goblin tribe, and return with whatever surviving children they can find.
Just as you each left home for reasons of your own, so to have you come to Marshgate, answering the Baron’s call, for reasons of your own. What awaits you in the Everrun remains to be seen.
After arriving in the town, a few questions directed you to a large tavern known as the Entwined Roses, a placard out front emblazoned with three roses, their stems wound about each others standing as the only way to identify it to outsiders. It seems this is where the townsfolk come to hash out the problems the community faces, while getting a bit drunk. An unofficial secondary town hall, one might say.
Considering the mayor of Marshgate gathered his own children and went on a long vacation, leaving the people to deal with the dangers they faced on their own, you understand the sense of tension of you feel almost as soon as you arrived, and see more clearly as you enter the Entwined Roses.
Where most taverns you have been to a loud and boisterous, this one is almost silent. The patrons sit huddled at their tables, barely touching their drinks, speaking in whispers and hushed tones. Now and then, as each of you enter and find a seat, their eyes will turn to you with suspicion.
The fear these people are in is most obvious by the presence of a stage to the east side of the tavern, which sits empty now. You get the feeling the Entwined Roses is normally a much more jovial place than what you are seeing, and that no one is in the mood for music.
Behind the bar hulks a mountain of a man. Easily six and a half feet tall, with massive shoulders, and powerful arms, despite the generous beer belly he sports. Bald, with thick hair on his forearms, and more than a few scars, he scowls about the room, his gaze lingering on each of you, as if to measure the danger you pose. He doesn’t say anything, just stands there, polishing a dirty glass, with an even dirtier rag, and has been since you arrived, some ten to fifteen minutes ago, watching the crowd, all of whom await the apparently imminent arrival of the Baron, and a chance their loved ones can be found and returned home.
As the players settled into the story, I took a moment to let them explain a bit about their characters to each other, and to themselves. I’ve always found that letting a player explain how their characters sees themselves and the world to be a good way for them to develop that first sense of attachment to the character.
The Half Orc Fighter, Dia by name, was raised an orphan, before being taken in by a mid level member of the mafia. As she grew into an adult, she gained a certain level of fame for her abilities as an enforcer. That all came to an end when her adopted father was murdered for reasons she doesn’t know, sending her on the run. Left with a feeling of guilt for her past actions, and where it has taken her, Dia seeks to make more of herself. She is Chaotic Good.
The Tiefling Rogue, Genesis, spent her life swindling people out of whatever she could in order to survive. A con artist by nature, she has always found it easy to live off the weak wills of the foolish people in the world. When she found herself becoming a mother, all she could think of was how hard it was going to be to pull a good con with a baby on her hip, and gave the child up. A few years later, she came to regret her decision, and tried to find the child, but the people she had given it to were long gone, and she could find no trace of them. Motivated by a desire to see her child again one day, and be able to look them in the eye, and see in pride in their own, she has set out to change who she is, and become a better person. She is Chaotic Good.
The Human Cleric, Serada, was raised in a temple, taken in after her parents died, and knows no other life. Dedicated to the Goddess of Beauty, Poetry, and War, Kirranima, Serada devoted her life fully to the church, and trained her mind and body hard. However, until now, she has never stepped foot outside the temple grounds, and all she knows of the world beyond i what she has read in books. She is ill prepared for dealing with the reality. She is Lawful Good.
The Gnome Wizard, Halo, is a former solider, who saw far too much of the horrors of war. A broken man, he keeps the world at arms length, and has devoted himself to learning all he can about Necromancy, for reasons he would never tell another soul. Distant, stoic, and reserved, he prefers to operate in the shadows, rather than get involved directly. He is Chaotic Neutral.
The Dwarf and the Dragon born come in later, so we’ll get to them when they show up.
How It All Went Wrong
I let the players start off by doing whatever they wanted. It’s a good way to set up the immersive aspect of the game, as well as how free and wide ranging their choices are.
Dia decided to have a word with the barkeep, a man named Clarence. Despite his gruff looking exterior, he has a high, squeaky voice, and a very genteel, southern way of speaking. Dia gave her best effort, but ended up laughing at him, though she quickly turned the potentially dangerous situation to her advantage, avoiding a bar fight in the process.
Serada… sort of stared at Dia before accidentally propositioning her. It was awkward for everyone.
Genesis tried her luck by speaking to a woman sitting alone at a table, and discovered that one of the missing children was her son, Harris. After accidentally encouraging the woman to deal with things by doing more than drinking, Genesis had to quickly talk the woman out of setting the entire Everrun on fire. Her persuasive abilities are a double edged sword, it seems.
Halo gave talking to an Elf a try, but that guy turned out to be a kooky conspiracy theorist, so Halo abandoned him, and tried rounding the other players into a party. Lucky him, they agreed.
That was also were things started going a little crazy.
At Halo’s suggestion, the party headed out to scout the forest, and found a strange road. They followed it a bit, but decided to call it a night after only a brief bit of exploring. I was deeply thankful, for reasons you’ll see shortly.
Utilizing Genesis’s skill with persuasion, the party got a heavy discount at a luxury inn, the kind of place merchant lords tend to stay, and got some rest, preparing to meet with the Baron the next day.
Before that, Genesis decided to go hit Clarence up for some more information, and learned that she should talk to a man named Richie, who likely knew more about the dealings of the town than anyone. As it turned out, that’s because Richie is the local crime boss, a Halfling with a strong Marlon Brando streak to him. More importantly, she learned the Baron may not be such a nice guy after all, and has a lot of criminal dealings. All of which, by the by, I had to pull completely out of my ass. It worked out well enough, but left the players with way more information than I wanted them to have at that point.
Dia, meanwhile, found her way to a local underground casino, and had a chat with the floor manager, a fellow named Dominic, who also directed her to Richie. Before she could get there, she ran into Genesis, and learned what the Halfling had told her.
Halo, meanwhile, went to buy a healing kit, and had a run in with Clerics who sensed his darker nature. Serada just sort of stood on the corner offering to chop firewood for pay.
Soon after, they met with the Baron, a pompous blowhard who exaggerates his empathy for Marshgate to a sicking degree. Were the people not worried over their children, odds are, they’d notice, but he came with promises to return as many as possible, so they ate it up.
Genesis then bullied him into quadrupling the promised reward, as well as getting 250 gold up front. Gonna have to watch that one. She rolls like the devil when using social skills. Lot’s of 18’s and a few natural 20’s.
The party was then joined by others the Baron had already hired. Doug, Chad, Thom, and Stevie, or as I call them, the Frat Boys. They talk like frat boys, except Stevie, who’s constantly high on weed.
This quickly led to a confrontation between Doug, the other party leader, and Serada. Doug made some unpleasant comments about her gender. She got a critical hit on his face with a backpack.
Yes. Really. He told her to carry his stuff and tossed his backpack at her, so she picked it up, rolled an attack, and got a nat 20. Did 10 points of damage to him with it, too.
Just when ya think ya seen everything in D&D.
The party followed Doug and his band of idiots into the forest, and despite getting lost for a bit, found the road and followed further than the party had the previous night. They came upon a clearing, and what appeared to be a Goblin encampment, prompting Doug to decide they were gonna break all the Goblin’s stuff, then kill the Goblin’s when they returned.
This turned out to be a trap. A large, wooden spike filled trap, which dominated the center of the clearing. Doug and the Frat Boys died an ignominious death. Had the party re-conned any deeper into the woods, they would have encountered the Goblins digging the trap, far earlier than I had anticipated. Not sure what I would have done then.
As the party decided what to do about that, they were besieged by a small group of Goblin archers and sword wielders, lead by an arrogant Goblin in full plate that appeared to be custom made for him. This was the small force left behind to deal with anyone who survived the pit trap.
After a brief skirmish, they got talking to the Goblin leader, and discovered he was a Paladin of Kirranima, from the civilized Goblin city of Una, further to the west of the forest. Like Marshgate, Una has been dealing with a rash of kidnappings of their own children, and has reason to believe it to be the work of slave traders.
Despite some initial bickering, the party eventually decided to remain near the clearing while the Goblin Paladin, Garo by name, went back to Una to seek the advice and guidance of the Council of Elders. Garo left them with a Goblin archer named Pizo, in case they decided to leave. Pizo could come back, and tell Garo the party was gone, sparing him a long trip back for nothing.
That settled, the party decided to camp in the clearing for the evening, which is where I decided to wrap up the first session.
Now, so far, it doesn’t seem that bad, right? For the most part, it wasn’t either. Despite Serada’s player not understanding what Lawful Good meant, and that D&D isn’t like a video game, where you can kill and loot anything without consequence, and Halo nearly starting the party and Goblins fighting again with a poorly timed attempt at Intimidation, things move along more or less how I expected.
Session 2 is where it really went nuts.
After bringing everyone back up to speed, we picked up right where we left off, with the party camping for the night. Dia took first watch, and caught some weird blue light flickering from the pit trap. Waking up the others, they investigated, as Doug, Chad, and Thom crawled out, now zombies.
Serada got choked by Thom, then just by his arm after Dia lopped it off in an attempt to save her, forcing Dia to save her again by yanking the arm off before the poor Cleric could be suffocated by a severed zombie arm. Sadly, she got reduced to zero hit points a moment later when Doug sucker punched her with a critical hit.
Genesis took on Chad, hitting him with a couple daggers, and a solid blow with her rapier, but to no avail, and was also reduced to zero hit points. Dia faced three zombies, and was loosing ground fast. Halo did firebolt one, before a Dwarven barbarian named Hera came crashing in, having been woken from where she was camping nearby, and she and Dia finished off the last two.
Dia glimpsed Stevie watching, but he faded into the forest too quickly for her to do anything about it. I’m pretty sure Dia’s player was the only one who caught that bit of foreshadowing that something else is coming their way, though.
Halo stabilized Serada and Genesis with the healing kit he picked up earlier, and their conversation with the newly arrived Dwarf woke Pizo, who had slept through the whole fight. Nobody thought to wake him, but Genesis talked him into forgiving them, and he shared some healing potions he had.
Pizo, quietly being the life saver. Totally not appreciated, either. Poor guy.
With the rest of the night passing uneventfully, the party decided to head back to Marshgate to see if they could figure out what was going on. Genesis talked Pizo into going with them, despite his feeling it was a terrible idea for a Goblin to be caught lurking about the edge of the town that thinks Goblin’s are eating their children.
Genesis and Dia decided to wait until night fall to try and scope things out, while Hera was to head into town, and try to garner some information. A solid plan. Until Serada decided she wanted to go into town, too.
This part ends with a dead guy in the bathroom, by the way.
Basically, because Serada is a Cleric, and is wearing full plate armor, she’s not very stealthy. This worked against her as she tried to sneak through town, and ran into one of the Baron’s guards, thanks to a truly awful Stealth check. The guard recognizes her, and tells he she is to be detained and taken to the baron.
Serada, for some reason, thinks he means to kill her, and decides to try and persuade him not to. She gets a nat 20 on her check, then just makes puppy dog eyes, pouts, and asks him not to hurt her.
Why, I have no idea.
Still, a nat 20 is a nat 20, so the guard takes her pout as a come on, and asks what’s in it for him. Serada, not picking up on what she’s done, offers him five gold pieces to look the other way, which just insults the guy. After almost getting arrested anyway, she offers him sex.
Again, I have no idea why.
This leads to them going to a nearby public outhouse, a large building of five or six stalls. Kinda like the bathrooms they have at parks. She tries again to talk him out of the sex, by asking him to take her to the Baron, which is what he was going to do in the first place. The guard thins she means for a threesome, and gets kinda weirded out. Serada decides she’d rather not do a guard in a public bathroom, and tries to knock him out, leading to a fight, where she ends up killing him.
In a public outhouse. Without having checked the stalls first.
She then stole his sword, for some reason.
Somebody is going to hell, is all I’m saying.
She decides to head for the local temple, and freaks out a young clerk named Newman, before meeting with the head Cleric, who for some reason doesn’t believe her rambling story of the Baron being evil and trying to kill her. Never mind she has no proof, save for a vague letter that could mean a lot of different things.
Oh, and she’s still covered in the guards blood. That wasn’t weird at all.
Meanwhile, Hera learned she was terrible with directions, when she got lost in the town, wandered around for two hours, and eventually found herself back at the camp Dia, Genesis, Pizo and Halo had made. Eventually, she found her way to the temple, and met up with Serada, by intimidating Newman into taking her to the Cleric.
Which is when Serada told Hera that she had killed a guard in a bathroom. In front of Newman. Who freaked out. So Serada accidentally threatened him, and when I had her make an Intimidation check, got a nat 20.
Kirranima is so going to have words with her. In fact, her holy symbol became heavier, and burned her skin in a sign of her deity’s displeasure at all this.
Hera and Serada decide to retreat back to the camp, but not before paying a visit to Clarence, and learning the Baron is staying at the Mayor’s mansion while in town. Something Genesis and Dia confirmed soon after, along with the sizable number of guards he has with him. One of which, Dia successfully intimidated into forgetting he saw both of them watching the house.
Oh, yes, and Halo bought a map of the Barony from a slightly befuddled old Elven cartographer, and got a bit of a history lesson about the area in the form a a very rambling story. Still, he managed to do it without killing anyone in a bathroom, so I call that a success.
Upon everyone joining back up, they took a look at the map, found the seat of the Barony was a city called Ashford, some 150 miles to the northwest. Serada immediately wanted to go there to break into the Baron’s house and steal everything he owned, which got her yet another warning from her deity, and sent her into a fit of fervent prayer.
Halo and Hera headed into town to watch the Mayor’s mansion for the night, while the rest decided to make camp, and we called the session to done, before Serada could go on a full blown killing spree.
New players often surprise the DM, by thinking outside the box. We DM’s tend to get comfortable with seasoned players thinking a certain way, and reacting to certain situations in a predictable manner. New players are a true element of chaos, as you never know what they are going to do.
Like nearly kill somebody with a backpack, then accidentally seduce a guard into a bathroom, where they murder him.
Or nat 20 their way into the good graces of the local mob boss.
At this point, I have no idea what the party is going to do next. While I know where the kidnapped children are, who is behind it, and the larger picture of what is happening behind that, the players are still fumbling their way around, trying to figure out what to do next.
Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be spectacular, or horrible, either one.
Though, at this point, I half expect Serada to end up changing alignment and abandoning her deity for an evil one. That girl has some serious issues.
For now, however, the party is still on the right track. They just don’t know how close they actually are, and how close they actually came to finding it all out, far sooner than I expected.
Should be interesting to see what they do next.