3.5 Wing Three
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  1. #1

    Wing Three

    I've had several people suggest that I ought to do up a Story Hour of my D&D 3.5 campaign, and until recently I didn't think it was really doable. For one thing, my players' characters are as high as 16th-level right now (with one just on the cusp of hitting 17th), and I haven't kept scrupulous notes about the details of how each adventure went. Some of the best Story Hours I've read involve the DMs taping their game sessions so they can go back and accurately recount the actual dialogue, who attacked which monster in what manner, and so on. I've done none of that, and my memory isn't good enough to dredge up the events of campaign sessions from some six years back or more. So really, it would be pointless for me to try to go back and recapture all of that data - it's gone, and gone for good.

    Furthermore, while it's gotten to the point recently that I've been writing my own adventures for the campaign, when we first started out I relied heavily on published adventures, some from standalone products but the majority of them from the pages of Dungeon magazine. I wouldn't want to spoil those adventures for anyone who would be later running a PC through that adventure; that would just be mean.

    However, it recently occurred to me that all of the above really only means that there's no good way for me to create a standard Story Hour, one that tries to depict the events that occurred in each adventure in the campaign. It doesn't mean that I couldn't create a different type of Story Hour, one that was more behind-the-scenes and explored not so much what went on in each adventure but rather how and why we played the way we did. I think it might be interesting to see how our campaign has changed over the years, as it evolved from a simple hack-and-slash dungeon crawl to pass the game on to the next generation, and slowly became more focused on character development and ongoing storylines rather than just being a collection of (mostly) published adventures. (It will be interesting to me to look back on all of this, in any case; hopefully it will be of some interest to those of you who decide to give it a quick perusal.)

    So, since the first half of our campaign consisted almost entirely of published adventures and I won't be able to recall the specifics of what happened in each adventure, I'll just give a basic overview of the adventure itself, point out some highlights and any changes I made (and why), and give the status of the PCs at the end of the adventure. Later - and in the few instances earlier on where I made up the adventure myself specifically for the campaign - I can turn this more into a "traditional" Story Hour, where I recount the specifics of the adventure in a fictional account. (Be warned, though: the first time I'll write up a "traditional" Story Hour session won't be until our 21st adventure.)

    So, to begin: it was around 2006 or so when my co-worker Dan and I were discussing, at work, the fact that we had both played AD&D when we were kids. He had last played AD&D 1st Edition, whereas I had continued on with AD&D 2nd Edition, converted to 3.0 and 3.5, and had been running a campaign for my two sons, Stuart and Logan, that had been put on indefinite hiatus when Stuart went off to college. Dan had two sons as well: Jacob, then 8, and Joey, then a mere 2 years old. Dan was the one who came up with the idea that I should run a D&D campaign to get his oldest son involved in the game. I thought it was a great idea (in truth, I was jonesing for some D&D action since the campaign I'd been running was put on hold; we still got in an occasional session when Stuart returned home from college during vacations, but our gaming sessions were few and far between), and when I mentioned it to Logan he was in as well (he was jonesing as bad as I was; we had previously toyed with the idea of some one-on-one sessions, but the idea wasn't particularly appealing to either of us). So one Saturday afternoon Logan and I drove over to Dan's house and they rolled up some 3.5 characters.

    We showed Jacob his character options, and he, being a typical 8-year-old boy, went for a half-orc barbarian whom he named Slayer. Admittedly, it was a bit of a clich, but he was eager as all get-out and I approved heartily at his enthusiasm. Dan opted for a human cleric of Kord and chose Strength and Luck as his two domains, realizing that every party needs some healing and that way his PC could ensure that Jacob's PC kept healthy and in the fight, which I thought was a commendable attitude. He named his PC Cal Trop. Okay, then, I could see this wasn't going to be a very serious campaign, but that was fine. Logan took the opportunity of a new 1st-level character to try an experiment he'd been wanting to perform: was it possible, he wondered, through rigorous feat and spell selection, to run an arcane spellcaster as a front-line fighter? He chose human for the extra feat so he could have Toughness to go with his Martial Weapon Proficiency; made sure he could cast both mage armor and shield since he wouldn't be wearing armor (and thus became a sorcerer rather than a wizard so he could cast more spells per day); and even went with a toad familiar because he desperately needed those extra 3 hit points (and this after he put his highest ability score into Constitution for the bonus hp). He named his PC Gareth, and when he couldn't come up with a good name for his toad I suggested Joanna (can anybody guess why?); he accepted the logic and we had our three PCs.

    (Incidentally, the PCs' stats were generated by rolling 4d6 six times, dropping the lowest die in each case, and assigning the six values into whichever stat the player wanted. I wanted Jacob to have the ability to run any character class he wanted to be, and I didn't want the decision paralysis that point buy might bring to an 8-year-old playing D&D for the first time in his life.)

    Dan brought out a dice bag full of some old, unpainted lead minis he had from his earlier gaming days, and he and Jacob each chose one for their PC. Logan used the plastic barbarian mini from our old HeroQuest board game, the gateway drug I had used to ease my boys into D&D back when they were 10 and 8. I presented Jacob with a new set of dice in a plastic case (a tradition I was just then starting for when I introduced new players to the game), explained the differences between them and when each one was used, and we were ready for some gaming.

    Incidentally, since this whole campaign was basically just going to be an introduction to D&D for Jacob, I didn't feel it necessary to try to make a unique game world. The 3.5 Greyhawk default world would work just fine for my purposes, so that Jacob wouldn't have to worry about anything that wasn't already there in the Player's Handbook - no new deities to worry about, for example; we'd just use Boccob, Kord, Moradin, and the standard pantheon. Furthermore, I resolved that this would be a "core only" game using only the three rulebooks. Again, this was for simplicity's sake - no need to overwhelm the poor kid with all of the complexities that a D&D game could eventually incorporate.

    Now I just needed to pick out a first adventure, and we'd be all set.
    Last edited by Richards; Sunday, 25th October, 2015 at 04:11 PM.
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  2. #2

    For the first adventure, I chose something simple: The Crypt of St. Bethesda by James MacDuff, a mini-adventure published by AEG. You may recall those: they were the size and shape of a standard 8-1/2" by 11" piece of paper folded in half lengthwise, and each was 16 "half-pages" long - short, simple, and perfectly suited for a couple of hours of adventure. This particular one had a carrion crawler on the front cover; even better, it was an "old school" carrion crawler, not the poorly redesigned version foisted on unsuspecting gamers in the 3E Monster Manual, now suddenly (and inexplicably) complete with teeth and eyestalks. The Crypt of St. Bethesda called for 5-8 PCs of levels 2-4, but I was able to scale it down fairly easily to make it suitable for three 1st-level PCs.

    Since this was apparently not going to be a very serious campaign, I didn't bother with a whole lot of backstory; Cal and Slayer had met up and decided to adventure together, and that was all the character history that was needed. I placed Gareth as a prisoner in a bandit's lair in the small dungeon complex that they were checking out; he had been captured by the bandits for snooping around their lair. (This kept Logan's PC out of the limelight for a while, so Slayer could pretty much run the two-man show and "get his feet wet" while Jacob learned the basics about combat and exploration.) When Cal and Slayer slew the bandits, we got a little roleplaying in as Gareth was questioned to ensure that his being tied up in their lair wasn't some sort of trick to infiltrate a bandit into their midst. After being rescued, Gareth joined the team and their adventuring party was now three in number (four, if you counted Joanna).

    Back then, we were strictly a "map the dungeon out on graph paper as you explore it" operation, with the minis placed on the table merely to show orientation during combat. (As it turned out, the tablecloth in Dan's kitchen was made up of a plaid pattern with nearly inch-long squares, which made it easy to use as a stand-in combat grid.) For the monsters, I had a box of game tokens of various colors which I used when I didn't have anything more appropriate. (I did bring a handful of both plastic skeletons and plastic zombies from the HeroQuest game, for use as the skeletons and ghouls that were called for in the adventure. Likewise, I had a little plastic spider that saw use in that game as well.) Logan was the dedicated mapper of the group, a role he had pretty much taken on in all of our earlier campaigns as well.

    Even from this first adventure I used initiative cards, a habit I had gotten into since my sons and I first played 3.0 and were introduced to the concept of cyclical initiative. For the monsters, this was a simple deck of cards; for each battle, I'd assign each of the monsters a black card (so the skeletons might be represented by the Ace of Clubs, and if a spider joined the fight it might use the Eight of Spades). For this first game session, I assigned each of the PCs a red face card; they got to pick between the King or Jack of Hearts or Diamonds. At the end of the session, I gave each of the players a blank card - it was an index card upon which I had traced a playing card from my deck, then cut it out so it was the correct size and shape - and told them to draw their PC on the blank side. That way, in future games, I could use their cards with their PCs' likenesses to represent them. Using the initiative cards was easy: I jotted down the initiatives of each combatant (clumping all of the same type together, so all 5 skeletons acted on the same initiative count) on a piece of scratch paper, then organized my "initiative deck" so that I could call out whose turn it was, then place that card at the bottom of the deck after he made his move. Holding an action meant turning the card sideways so I could see that he still had an action to take before his next turn if he wanted to take it. And once a monster was killed (or all of the same type of monster was killed), his/their card was removed from the initiative deck.

    Overall assessment: well, we all had a good time, so that was the main thing. Jacob had a blast, and he had pretty much figured out the main rules by the end. (Dan and I had jointly decided that the best way to teach him the game was through instant immersion, rather than trying to explain everything ahead of time. It made this first adventure a bit slower-paced, as we explained how each game mechanic worked as it came up naturally in play, but he grasped each concept faster with a relevant example at hand to help him visualize what was going on.) We all agreed that this had been fun enough to continue on a regular basis, although at the time I just envisioned the campaign as a series of dungeon crawls with no real ongoing plot. But that was fine: I had a full run of Dungeon magazines chock-full of adventures, so I was sure I could keep the PCs in dungeon crawls for quite some time. Finally, I could see that Dan and I were going to have to get used to our respective playing styles; he had up until this point only played AD&D 1st Edition (and that some 20 years or more ago), but it was fairly easy to see that he was used to a more adversarial DMing style than I was using. His older campaigns from when he was a kid apparently involved NPCs constantly trying to stab the PCs in the back at every turn, and DM fiat must have been flung around with some regularity. (In fact, to project ahead in the campaign's future a bit, this would be a concern for some time; Dan proved to be a much more paranoid player than I had encountered in a long time. No NPC of mine was ever taken at face value, and Dan often tried to find the "hook" that I would surely use to screw with the PCs in any given adventure. Naturally, this made it rather difficult for me to run back-stabbing NPCs!)

    As for the rest of Dan's family, 2-year-old Joey would peek in from time to time to see what all the dice-rolling was all about, and I let him play with some of the plastic monsters I had brought when they weren't otherwise in use. He also sat on my lap from time to time and helped me roll dice. Dan's wife, Vicki, peeked in from time to time to see that Joey wasn't causing us any grief, but he was fine. (In fact, I shortly became Joey's favorite non-related adult visitor, according to Vicki.) She seemed to view the game as an interesting oddity, but nothing all that exciting. However, that would change over time....
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  3. #3

    For the second adventure, I wanted something a little longer, so I went with the very first in Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics line, Idylls of the Rat King, by Jeffrey Quinn. This was a 32-page standalone module, taking place in a four-level silver mine. The maps were all pretty much rooms and corridors at right angles, perfect for use with the various Dungeon Tiles I'd picked up for my earlier campaign with my two sons, and the monsters were mostly creatures that could be used with the plastic figures that came with my old HeroQuest game, plus it was designed for character levels 1-3, so it seemed a perfect fit. In addition, the whole Dungeon Crawl Classics line was designed to feel "old school," so we'd be playing right in Dan's comfort zone. (Remember, although he had AD&D experience from several decades ago, he was learning the 3.5 rules along with his son.)

    This time, we played at my house, in our kitchen. I got to see everyone's initiative cards for the first time. Logan's was a drawing from the waist up of Gareth. For Cal's initiative card, Dan had simply drawn Kord's holy symbol from the Player's Handbook. Jacob had drawn an evilly grinning half-orc barbarian in typical 8-year-old boy fashion. Each was drawn in pencil. Oddly enough, Joanna had the best-looking card of the bunch, but that was only because Logan's PC in our previous campaign had also had a toad familiar (that campaign had started under the 3.0 rules, where a toad familiar didn't just give you 3 extra hit points but rather 2 extra points of Constitution, which made it arguably the optimal choice of the standard familiars available). All of the PCs in that campaign and their associated animals (including a bronze griffon figurine of wondrous power) had their own full-color initiative card in colored pencil, so Joanna kind of stood out there a bit, but oh well.

    As intended, this adventure took us three different sessions to plow through. The mines were filled with lots of goblins and some skeleton and zombie servitors. At one point, getting into the cinematic feel that a D&D game can bring about, Jacob had Slayer pull open a door, only to find a startled goblin standing there about to open the door himself from the other side. Just because it felt like a good idea, Jacob had Slayer punch the goblin in the face with his fist instead of running it through with his greatsword. He rolled, hit, did damage, and I described the goblin as flying backwards into the room, wetting himself in mid-arc before crashing to the floor. That elicited a cry of "I love this game!" from an enthusiastic Jacob, which would be music to the ears of any DM.

    The mines took several days for the PCs to get through in-game as well, so Jacob was introduced to the concept of finding a place to camp out in and fortify while the PCs rested up. In fact, we ended one session with the PCs doing just that, so I took the opportunity to add a little to the goblin strategies beyond those documented in the module. The goblins, by this time, were aware that there was an adventuring party down there in the mines with them, as they'd found ample evidence in the form of slain (and looted) goblin bodies. I figured it would be fairly easy for them to track where the PCs were holed up, and to make plans accordingly. So between sessions (we were playing about every other weekend at that time), I hunted up some scrap cardboard and made some simple crates of various sizes, all scaled to the PCs' minis. When they exited their out-of-the-way chamber the next morning, the PCs found that the goblins had built "walls" out of stacked crates blocking off a section of the tunnel, and stationed skeleton archers in front of the crates. Goblin archers stood on top of the crates, ready to duck down behind cover if the PCs gave too much of a defensive response. So basically, the PCs were in a dead end hallway being peppered by arrows, with no way out other than storming the crate wall and its defenders. That put a little fear back into Jacob, since by this point Slayer had not been particularly threatened by any of the goblins, skeletons, or zombies they'd encountered thus far. It was a good tactical lesson, too, and a demonstration that the game world doesn't just go "on hold" because the PCs have stopped adventuring for the day.

    In any case, by the end of that adventure Jacob had mentioned offhand how cool it would be if Slayer had a pet dire wolf. I don't recall if this was a reaction to having seen the druid and ranger animal companion sections in the Player's Handbook or if it was based more on the "Lords of the Ring" movie trilogy. But, always eager to keep the game engaging for the 8-year-old whose introduction to D&D was the whole purpose of this campaign, I added a short encounter at the end of the adventure. Upon exiting the silver mine, the PCs heard the sounds of ferocious battle from the forest nearby. It turned out that an owlbear (because I happened to have a lead miniature of an owlbear from my earliest campaigns as a kid) had stumbled across a dire wolf cave and had been devouring the pups within while the mother was out hunting. Then the mother dire wolf got back and a fierce battle ensued. By the time the PCs arrived, the mother dire wolf had been slain, the owlbear was wounded, and after the PCs had managed to kill it, there was one wounded dire wolf pup still alive. Slayer rescued it, Cal healed it with spells, and we arbitarily decided that it would reach its full adult size when Slayer had attained 8th level. Jacob named the dire wolf pup Fang. (Of course he did!) And shortly thereafter, I found myself at my comic/gaming shop making my first ever purchase of a D&D Miniature: a $1.00 timber wolf, to represent Fang the dire wolf pup. The next time we played, I gave the wolf mini to Jacob in an old check box, upon which I had pasted a photo of a wolf and the following caption:

    1. When feeding your dire wolf pup, never stand in between him and his meal...unless you want to become his next meal.

    2. If you decide to feed your dire wolf pup by hand, be sure to count all of your fingers afterwards. (If youre a half-orc barbarian, see if one of your adventuring partners will count them for you theyre more likely to be able to count that high!)

    3. Your dire wolf pup will respond positively to you if you give it lots of yummy snacks. When you visit him, it might not be a bad idea to toss him a tasty treat...like maybe a screaming goblin.

    4. Dire wolves respond best when you give them fierce, tough-sounding names. Fang is an excellent choice. Mr. Poopsie-Woopsums...not so much.
    We decided that the PCs would pay to have the dire wolf trained, so they hunted up a retired dwarven adventurer who agreed for a fee to train Fang. Cal went through Slayer's backpack and found his sweatiest article of clothing, which was used as part of Fang's bedding so that he'd associate the scent of "sweaty half-orc" in a positive light.

    Despite Idylls of the Rat King being designed to take PCs from 1st-level to 3rd, the fact that the PCs had already been through one adventure previously, plus the added encounters I threw in, plus the fact that most adventures are written with four PCs in mind while our little party had only three (and thus all XP was being split into only three pieces, not fourths), meant that the PCs had all attained 5th level by the end of this adventure. As it would turn out, we only had one more adventure ahead of us before our tiny little dungeon crawl campaign would take an unexpected turn that would completely reshape the way we played....

  4. #4

    For the third adventure, I wanted to get back to the shorter, finish-the-adventure-in-one-session format, so I went with The Tomb of Chaos, a "Cooperative Dungeon" I had discovered, of all places, right here on EN World. It was produced by Creative Mountain Games, and consisted of a single-level tomb with 21 encounter areas. So another dungeon crawl, perfectly suited for the type of campaign I was running at the time. The adventure was geared for 3rd-level PCs, but I had three 5th-level PCs - close enough, and easily adaptable.

    Right away, we determined that Fang was not going to be accompanying the PCs, as Jacob's real interest was in Slayer having a grown dire wolf when he hit 8th level, so he didn't want to take the risk of something happening to Fang as a pup that would preclude him from ever reaching full size as an adult. Fair enough, I thought, but I had apparently kind of wasted my time hunting up a timber wolf miniature to represent a "puppy Fang" who, it appeared, was not to be adventuring after all. (It all worked out, though, as a future PC ended up with a timber wolf animal companion, so the "puppy Fang" mini was eventually put to good use.)

    This time, we were back to playing at Dan's house, at his kitchen table, after having spent all three sessions of the previous adventure at the kitchen table at my house. That meant an inquisitive 2-year-old Joey wanting to get into our dice and minis, but this time I had come prepared. I had gathered up another old check box (those things are handy!), made a big label on it marked "JOEY," and filled it with 8 or 9 different plastic dinosaur and bug minis that I had accumulated. (By this time, I was actively looking for figures I could use in the game. I wasn't thrilled with the "blind buy" aspect of the D&D Miniatures line, so I was working on buying stuff I knew ahead of time I could use. Tubes of bugs and dinosaurs worked well, as green caterpillars made functional carrion crawlers, spiders and scorpions would always be useful in a D&D game, and even if I wouldn't be using dinosaurs all that frequently an ankylosaurus made a useful rust monster stand-in and a digester was easily represented by a velociraptor.) So Joey sat by me at the table happily playing with the ladybug, brontosaur, and dimetrodon while we went about our D&D business.

    And Dan's wife Vicki spent a bit of time watching us play as well. She had started to take an interest in this game that her husband and son were spending so much time playing. At the end of this adventure, the PCs were all at 6th level, and we came to a decision: starting next session, we'd have Vicki playing with us as well.

    By this time, Dan had purchased a 3.5 Player's Handbook for himself, so they had a copy at their house between gaming sessions. He felt he was comfortable enough with the rules to help Vicki make up a new character at home by the time that we played again. However, deciding that it would probably be best for her to start out as a 1st-level PC and learn the rules from the ground up, we came to a decision: we'd place these three PCs on hold, set them to the side, and start the campaign over again at 1st-level. Then, when they'd all advanced these second-wave PCs to 6th level, we'd have them meet up with the initial PCs, and from then on each player would choose between their two PCs as to who they wanted to run each session. (For Vicki, after she'd advanced her first PC to 6th level we'd just let her make up another 6th-level PC, so everyone would be on the same footing. There was no other real way to get her second PC "caught up" with the rest of the group.)

    So here's what we ended up with:
    • Vicki's first PC was a half-elven druid named Feron Dru. Vicki was definitely attracted to the spellcaster type of PC, and since nobody had run a druid yet in our campaign she wanted to give that a try. Although I was trying to keep house rules to a minimum, I gave her half-elven PC bonus Martial Weapon Proficiency in one bow and one sword of her choice. She chose the longbow and longsword. Feron's animal companion was an eagle named Nocturna.
    • Dan's new PC was a human rogue named Rale Bodkin. I was pleased to see that this wasn't a "joke" name like "Cal Trop" had been; maybe I could turn this campaign a little more serious over the months. However - again based on Dan's AD&D 1st Edition heritage - at first he tended to run Rale like an AD&D thief, with "stealing from the party" as a normal bit of the day's business whenever possible. Personality-wise, Rale was a bit of a coward, preferred to hang back in safety while the rest of the party leapt into combat, and occasionally talked like a drugged-out hippie. Plus, he took the opportunity to hit on his wife's character whenever possible; it was frankly pretty humorous seeing Vicki roleplay Feron Dru as not the least bit interested in Rale's advances.
    • Jacob decided on a half-elven ranger named Chalkan, who would be taking a wolf animal companion when the time came. He would be concentrating on the "archer" style of ranger. When I asked if there was any family relationship between the two new half-elf PCs, I got an emphatic "no" from both Vicki and Jacob. Okay then.
    • Logan's new PC was a human paladin named Akari Naruchi, although that last name didn't make it onto his character sheet and we pretty much never used it. Logan had been studying the Japanese language, and apparently "Naruchi" meant (according to his Japanese-English dictionary, in any case) "curse-blood." On his character sheet he put "red" for eye color, stating that there was some fiendish blood back in Akari's ancestry, far enough back that it would have no game impact. (In other words, Akari wasn't even close to being a tiefling.) I was surprised at this choice, and initially wasn't going to do anything with this information until I realized that of the seven PCs in this campaign thus far, this was the only bit of character backstory I had received. So I filed it away as an interesting fact for possible inclusion later in the campaign.
    I passed out new blank initiative cards for the players to draw their new PCs on and reveled in the fact that for the first time since 3E had come out, I was finally going to have a four-player group. That would make it so much easier to find appropriate-level adventures!

  5. #5

    PC Roster:
    Akari, human paladin of Hieroneous
    Chalkan, half-elf ranger
    Feron Dru, half-elf druid
    Rale Bodkin, human rogue

    It was time to start over with brand-new characters, and I decided to go with a Wizards of the Coast module this time, Scourge of the Howling Horde by Gwendolyn F. M. Kestrel.

    The new initiative cards were interesting: Logan drew Akari's head and did a bit of light pencil shading; Chalkan was represented by a drawing of an arrow, I believe; and Dan did a quick drawing of a simple figure stabbing another simple figure in the back. As for Feron Dru, Vicki had gotten on the Wizards of the Coast website and found a PC portrait of a long-eared elf and printed it out as her initiative card. The problem was, all of the other cards were the size of a standard playing card, and hers was easily a good 4" by 6", much bigger than the others and difficult to use for that reason. At the end of this session I hunted up the image she had used and printed out a scaled-down version, and this became the template for my initiative cards. From this point on, I'd capture a digital image, scale it to the right size, and print it out on normal paper. Then I'd get a playing card (I habitually used one of the jokers, since we never used them for card games, pretty much sticking to 500 Rummy and Knock Rummy) and trace the shape around the image. That would then get cut out and glued onto the blank side of a lined index card, then cut out again. I'd write the name of the creature (or PC) on the back of the card, then cover it with clear Con-Tact paper, and then cut it out a third time, this time leaving about a 1/8" border around the card. Jacob shortly found an image he wanted to use for Chalkan and another for Slayer, so I made up new initiative cards for them. Dan stuck with his existing initiative cards, as did Logan (for awhile at least). And I decided to start building a "monster deck," so from this point on I started making initiative cards for the monsters the PCs would encounter in each adventure. This had the advantage of allowing me to decide what my monsters would look like. Not liking the 3E ogre illustration, for example (he always reminded me of that full-body Muppet costume that wore rags and had a thick, protruding lower lip), I used an image from an adventure module I had picked up but never actually ran. Likewise, my carrion crawlers would look like the Tony DiTerlizzi illustration from the 2E Monstrous Manual (still my favorite monster tome of any edition).

    But getting back to Scourge of the Howling Horde: Vicki had a fairly good time of it, although we pretty much "threw her in the deep end and forced her to start swimming," having her ignore the game rules at first and just tell us what she'd like to have Feron do, then explain how that particular rule worked in the game and walked her through it. She was hesitant to have Feron attack anyone at first; I distinctly recall the PCs in a room after slaying some goblins and having a pair of female hobgoblins come rushing in. Vicki's PC was the first to react, and she didn't want to hurt the hobgoblins because she had no way of knowing for sure whether or not they were evil. Jacob, considering himself an old pro by now, was yelling at his mom, "Just kill them! They're hobgoblins! Hobgoblins are evil!" And sure enough, they were, and Feron helped kill them, although I think Vicki still wan't sure that was necessarily the best way to proceed. (Now, after years of gaming with us, she can be as bloodthirsty as the rest of my players.)

    Vicki got involved in the roleplaying fairly well, and started getting the grasp of the basic combat game mechanics, but her biggest hangup - one that would haunt her for her first dozen gaming sessions or so - was remembering which dice were which. I'd ask her to make a saving throw by rolling a d20, and she'd look in confusion at her pile of dice (I had bought her a set of dice, part of my new tradition) until Dan or Jacob would hand her the d20 from her dice pool. We also had to keep an eye out so she wouldn't accidentally make an attack roll using a d12.

    The end result, though, was that she had a good time with this first adventure. Dan had provided her with one of his old lead miniatures for her character, and she used that for several adventures until she went out and picked out a Feron Dru miniature from the local gaming store that better fit her PC (it was a female elf shooting a bow, which she uses to this day). We had a new gamer on our hands!
    Last edited by Richards; Monday, 30th December, 2013 at 12:46 AM.

  6. #6

    PC Roster:
    Akari, human paladin of Hieroneous
    Chalkan, half-elf ranger
    Feron Dru, half-elf druid
    Rale Bodkin, human rogue

    For this adventure, we played on the dining room table at our house (our kitchen table was better suited for up to four people, and now we had four players and a DM), and had decided to try a combined D&D session/two-family dinner. So that meant that Joey played with our vast collection of Duplo and Tyco blocks (we still had a chest full of the things from back when our boys were little) in the family room under my wife Mary's supervision while we gamed in the dining room, and we gave her a 45-minute head's up when we thought we'd be winding down on the adventure. That concept worked better with an adventure I'd already run before, so I chose to send the PCs through "Gorgoldand's Gauntlet" from Dragon Annual #5. The advantage: I had written the adventure, and so I knew it in and out. The disadvantage: Logan had already been through that adventure with his older brother Stuart in our original 3.0 campaign, so he'd be going in with prior knowledge. Still, I figured it would be okay; I just swore him to secrecy and had him promise that he wouldn't help with solving the puzzles. (For those unfamiliar with the adventure, it's basically a series of puzzles with a few combat encounters sprinkled in; the Gauntlet is an old adventurers' training facility that has been more or less abandoned by the high-level wizard who ran it, and it's since been infested by jermlaine.)

    I needn't have worried; Vicki proved to be a puzzle-solving wizard in her own right. One of the puzzles involves a stairway with one word on each of the stairs. Vicki had the puzzle already figured out by the time I had placed my hand-drawn diagram on the table and read the accompanying boxed text. That earned her high-fives from Dan and the admiration of the group.

    Jacob had his first major problem with the game, though: a rust monster destroyed not only Chalkan's longsword but his armor to boot. Jacob went storming out of the room and over to the family room (ostensibly to check on his little brother, but really to hide the fact that there were tears of frustration leaking out of his eyes). Mary talked it over with him, though, pointing out that it was better to lose some replaceable equipment than have his PC get killed, and he eventually agreed and returned to the game shortly thereafter.

    Finally, I had my first major problem with Logan in the campaign: while I had gotten a promise from him that he would let the other players solve the puzzles (a promise, I should point out, that he kept faithfully), I had neglected to extract a promise from him not to grab up the good loot since he knew ahead of time what it was, where it could be found, and what it could do. There's a "future plot hook potential" +1 longsword, Hoardmaster, to be found among the loot at the Gauntlet's end, and as soon as the PCs got to it Logan had Akari grab it up with a gleeful cry of "Dibs!" (Jacob had initiated the "Dibs!" rule several adventures ago, so the precedent had kind of been set.) I scowled at him for his unpaladinlike behavior, but I let it slide because this was, at this point, just a beer-and-pretzels type of game, nothing too serious.

    Akari the paladin earned his first nickname in this adventure. At one point, the PCs are crossing a water-filled chasm that houses a merrow (aquatic ogre). They had hammered in metal pitons at either end of the chasm (one PC had made it across on his own, probably Rale by climbing along the walls in typical "1st-Edition thief" fashion) and tied a rope from piton to piton. Akari tied a smaller rope around his waist, over the chasm-spanning rope, and around his waist again, not trusting his lack of Climb skill points and his hefty armor penalty. Everything was going well until he realized he hadn't accounted for his armored weight and the general slackness of the rope; by the halfway point his legs were dangling in the water (he had failed a Climb check and his legs had fallen off the rope he was traversing), attracting the merrow, who grabbed a leg and started tugging him into the water. Akari eventually survived and made it to the other side - I think they only drove the merrow off rather than killed it - but not before earning the name "Teabag."

    I did something for this adventure that I hadn't before, that turned out well enough that it also became my new standard. In previous adventures, I either just mapped out the rooms on a sheet of graph paper or else laid out Dungeon Tiles to show the areas the PCs were exploring. This time, with sufficient preparation time, I went ahead and made my own geomorphs of each room out of cardboard. I took a large piece of cardboard (the backing of an old desk calendar that I had saved for this very purpose), measured out 1" squares with a yardstick, drew the areas I needed, and cut them out. Once done, I stored them in a large manila envelope with the adventure's name written on the front; now, if I ever have an opportunity to run "Gorgoldand's Gauntlet" for another group, I have everything already at hand. (And we have my wife's 5-year-old nephew living with us; he was under a year old at the time we played this adventure, and in fact spent a chunk of it propped up in his car seat chair on the dining table, gurgling at us as we played. Still, I can envision running a D&D game for him and his friends another 4 or 5 years down the road....)

    Dinner, as I recall, went well, and we decided this would be a cool thing to do every once in a while.
    Last edited by Richards; Sunday, 9th December, 2012 at 05:46 AM.

  7. #7

    PC Roster:
    Akari, human paladin of Hieroneous
    Chalkan, half-elf ranger
    Feron Dru, half-elf druid
    Rale Bodkin, human rogue

    This was an adventure from issue #114 of Dungeon, and I wanted to run it because it was a cool adventure and as it was written for 1st-level PCs, I wanted to use it before my new set of PCs got too high in level that modifying it would be too onerous. I don't recall the specific reason, but I found myself home alone for a long weekend - my wife had likely taken the rest of the family back to Illinois for a visit, and I didn't have enough leave saved up to go with (I was, at this point in time, still an active duty Air Force Major). I remember it was a heavy winter, and we actually had a snow day at work, so I was unexpectedly home all day with nobody else in the house - sounded like a good opportunity to create some extensive geomorphs for the next adventure!

    This time, I got even more creative than just cardboard shapes as a geomorph map. The adventure starts off with a chase through the docks of a city (I don't recall which city, but it didn't matter; I had changed it to Greyhawk City, the home base of my PCs), so I decided to hunt up my stacks of construction paper (my wife and I used to help out at the boys' grammar school, and I was often a bulletin board decorator) and make a decent map of the dockside area. I used six sheets of construction paper as my background; blue for the water, beige for the ground, and I made brown docks and moored boats, different colored roofs to denote the buildings, and even made a rowboat that the PCs could borrow and move around the map. All but the rowboat were glued down onto the main construction sheets, such that I could fit each sheet into a manila envelope for storage but lay them out in a 2-by-3 fashion and have a large map for the chase scene.

    Later in the adventure there's a bit of a cavern crawl, so for this section I used cardboard and cut out the geomorphs as I had done for the previous adventure. And here's where I learned the value of flexibility: I discovered that if I tweaked the sizes of a few of the twisting caverns I could cut them all from the same piece of large cardboard I was using, and thus they'd all be the same color. (Had I stuck to the exact specifications of each chamber, I'd have run out of room and one of my stone chambers would have been a different shade than the others.)

    We ran this adventure back over at Dan's house, and it went over very well. Jason Bulmahn's "The Mad God's Key" is rightfully praised as one of the better 1st-level adventures to ever see print in the pages of Dungeon, and we had a blast with it. The chase through the docks was exciting, and there were a few moments in the caverns at the end that still stick out to me to this day. The PCs end up fighting two evil cultist clerics in a room filled with ankle-deep blood, and one of them is controlling the skeleton of an owlbear. Akari was doing only fairly well in hitting his enemies down there in that room, and then one of the clerics cast blindness/deafness on him, robbing him of his sight. From that point on, Akari had only a 50% chance of even successfully hitting anything he was targeting in a given square. (The method we use for this is to allow the blinded PC's player to attack as normal, and then if he hits he rolls a d6, while we intone "Wouldn't it be odd if that hit actually missed?" - if he rolls an odd number, then the hit actually missed.) But as luck would have it, he was on fire with his longsword once he was blinded; I don't think he missed even once. It got to the point where Akari's out-of-character nickname became "Zatoichi," after the blind swordsman of Japanese movie fame.

    There was also something that happened earlier on, when the PCs finally caught the half-orc, Irontusk, they were chasing through the docks. After they had captured and interrogated him, Dan decided that Rale wanted to pull out the metal tooth that gave Irontusk his name. That didn't sound like something that a surly half-orc would put up with, so I had Irontusk tell Rale to pound sand. I think that Dan really wanted Rale to have that tooth, though, and I kind of felt bad about it after the fact; not that I had told him no, but that I hadn't even really given it any consideration at all. Nowadays, I try to at least consider any proposition that a player puts forth; this time, I had more-or-less handwaved it away as not happening without any consideration at all, and I think I kind of disappointed Dan by doing so. (I later on resolved to give him another shot at Irontusk's tooth, but it didn't work out as I had planned. Oh well.)

    In any case, since the cultists had stolen a book about how to create new types of undead and the book was never recovered (or maybe it was recovered with some pages missing - I've since forgotten), I filed away that fact as a future plot hook, figuring that I could bring one or both of the cultists back at a later time as some new sort of undead the PCs had never encountered before. And I actually did so, some years later, but by that time the players had no recollection of who these two guys were. Live and learn - don't wait too long to make return appearances by former opponents.
    Last edited by Richards; Saturday, 5th January, 2013 at 03:49 AM.

  8. #8

    PC Roster:
    Akari, human paladin of Hieroneous
    Chalkan, half-elf ranger
    Feron Dru, half-elf druid
    Rale Bodkin, human rogue

    "Stormdancers" was another Dungeon adventure, this one from issue #86 and written by Ole Mnch. It was a short little encounter, perfect for a quick gaming session at Dan's house, and dealt with the inhabitants of a wizard's tower causing problems for a local treant.

    Since the treant is really only the plot hook for the adventure, there was no real need for me to have a treant figurine at the table. Nonetheless, I took it as a challenge and determined to have a proper sized treant, not the teeny-tiny treant miniatures I had seen at my local gaming store. So I gathered up some paper towel rolls, my stack of construction paper, and had at it.

    The result was, to say the least, disappointing. So disappointing, in fact, that immediately upon returning home from the adventure, the treant was pitched unceremoniously into the trash.

    I do recall that Vicki got a big kick out of the adventure, or I should say more appropriately out of her spell choices for her druid PC, Feron. She hadn't really prepared the produce flame spell that often before; she had it prepared for this adventure, though, which coincidentally involved some ice mephits. There was another incident of her having the exact spell for the given situation (I've since forgotten the details), but it prompted a "Get out of my head!" comment from me, which delighted her to no end.

    Akari managed to cement his "Teabag" nickname in this adventure, this time by climbing through the wizard's tower's upper-story window with a rope around his waist and the other end secured at the window he was crawling through; the interior floors of the tower were missing, he fell off of his perch and ended up dangling at the end of the rope and had to be rescued by the other PCs. He was a pretty good sport about it at the time, but he later decided to name his horse "Teabag," hoping to deflect the nickname off of himself and onto an inoffensive animal.

    It didn't work.
    Last edited by Richards; Saturday, 5th January, 2013 at 03:49 AM.

  9. #9

    PC Roster:
    Akari, human paladin of Hieroneous
    Chalkan, half-elf ranger
    Feron Dru, half-elf druid
    Rale Bodkin, human rogue

    "White Queen's Gambit" was an adventure I had originally submitted to Dungeon only to have it rejected, mostly due to the number of player diagrams it required (which would have eaten up too much of the page count). I later submitted it to Mongoose Publishing's Signs and Portents magazine (back in the days when that too was still a print magazine) and they printed it in issue #2, but I have to admit that it didn't turn out very well there - they had no more room for the extra player handouts than did Dungeon, so they condensed several of the puzzles involved to the extent that they were pretty much ruined. In any case, I still liked the adventure, and it was very much in the same vein as "Gorgoldand's Gauntlet" - a puzzle-heavy adventure, this time an exploration of the tomb of an entity that long ago called herself the "White Queen," and provided divinations to those who would seek her out. The ruins were located on the inside of a jagged projection of rock half a mile or so from the coast. I knew Vicki had enjoyed the puzzle-solving aspect of "Gorgoldand's Gauntlet," so I thought this would be a good idea for the next adventure.

    I don't recall the plot hook I used to get the PCs to the sea coast; following a treasure map, no doubt. (Again: beer-and-pretzels game - no heavy thinking involved, although I was slowly starting to think that this campaign could become more than that.) The PCs stopped off at the fishing village within sight of the upthrust rock and hired an old fisherman to row them out there. On a whim, I decided the fisherman's name was Old Clem, and he, being a relatively poor fisherman, was mightily impressed by these obviously powerful adventurers who were hiring him for a day's easy pay. (A solid gold piece just to row them out to the Rock and stay there until they returned, and he could even bring a rod and reel and fish out of the boat while he waited! What a deal!) It took some convincing to assure Dan that I wasn't going to strand the PCs there (again, he had apparently been burned one too many times in his AD&D 1st Edition past by double-crossing NPCs run by adversarial DMs), but they eventually climbed up the rough winding stairs that wound up the outer edge of the Rock, and found the temple at the top where the White Queen had once run her oracle business. They fought a giant praying mantis on the way up, which allowed me to use one of the plastic bugs I'd bought a whole tube full of for a couple of dollars.

    Once they found the way to the temple's interior (it involved the first of several chess puzzles, which activated a hidden set of stairs leading into the ground below), Vicki proved her puzzle-solving mettle was still going strong, as the party pretty much allowed her PC to figure everything out and they just helped take care of the monsters and traps they encountered along the way. At the end of the adventure, they encountered the White Queen herself: a gynosphinx, now trapped as a ghost and destined to remain bound to her lair until someone could solve her riddles and take all of the treasure she had coveted in life. I added a little to her demeanor since having originally written the adventure, and ran her as a world-weary ghost all but certain that these latest adventurers would fail to free her spirit, just as all of the previous few who had made it this far had in the past. I still remember her improvised dialogue when she first manifested before the PCs (who were more than a little concerned that they were up against a gynosphinx ghost, something way beyond their ability to handle in combat): "So you have entered my tomb, defeated my traps, invaded my final resting place, and now seek to slay me so that you can plunder my vault of a lifetime's collected treasure?" (Short pause.) "Thank the gods, it's about time - I only pray you're successful."

    Since I didn't want to waste the opportunity to throw a sphinx riddle at my players, and since I had recently written an article on that very subject ("Riddles of the Rhyming Sphinx, Dragon #271), I decided to go whole hog and force each player to solve a riddle - that way, I got to use four riddles instead of just the one. (Because really, how often are PCs going to encounter gynosphinxes over the course of their careers?) Each player had to answer their own riddle, although the ghost allowed them to converse amongst themselves, which allowed Vicki to come up with most of the answers. The riddles correctly answered, the gynosphinx's spirit happily vanished into the afterlife, and the PCs got the creature's amassed loot.

    As a final little surprise, I had Old Clem - who, as promised, was still waiting for them when they returned from the Rock - sign on as a full-time hireling. He was an excellent fisherman, a halfway decent cook, and he could look after horses fairly well even if he wasn't all that great at riding them. Since Jacob had had his ranger, Chalkan, pay Old Clem the gold piece for his services as a rowboat captain, Old Clem considered himself to be in the direct employ of Chalkan (although later, when we merged the two groups of PCs, Old Clem would generally accompany whoever was going out in the field). I found an image of a happy-looking, toothless old man using Google Images, and that became Old Clem's official initiative card (although he didn't see a whole lot of combat in his illustrious hireling career, as he generally stayed in camp with the horses and whatever animals the PCs didn't want to bring into the adventure site with them).

    One chamber in the tomb was lit by a whole series of continual flame candles; Feron keeps a bunch of these in her backpack to this day.

    Finally, somewhere about this time Jacob decided he wanted Chalkan to be able to heal others and turn undead, so he became the first of our PCs to multiclass. He soon learned that it wasn't his brightest move, as Chalkan could now cast cleric spells and turn undead but nowhere near as well as Cal could, and likewise he could be a melee combatant but nowhere near as well as Akari could. That tended to be a bit frustrating for Jacob, who rather enjoyed it when Chalkan was in the spotlight, and here his plans to get more action for Chalkan were having the opposite effect. Still, it was a valuable lesson for a new player, but one that wouldn't quite sink in just yet.
    Last edited by Richards; Saturday, 2nd March, 2013 at 02:43 AM.

  10. #10

    PC Roster:
    Cal Trop, human cleric of Kord
    Gareth, human sorcerer
    Slayer, half-orc barbarian

    The next adventure session was somewhat of a surprise for me, because Dan suggested we run an afternoon's worth of short adventures with our original characters. It seemed Vicki was going to be out of town over the weekend visiting a cousin, but he didn't see why that had to prevent us from playing D&D. I figured I had an entire backstock of adventures from the pages of Dungeon, and I was sure I could find us an adventure or two.

    So the first one I ran that day was "The Hurly-Burly Brothers," from Dungeon #52. This was a short adventure by Kevin Wilson, and was perfectly suited for an hour or so of entertainment. The monsters were all something I could improvise with the figures I had on hand: the two ogre brothers were represented by some large generic game playing pieces I carried around with my gaming gear; I had a giant scorpion from my tube of plastic insects and arachnids; and the roc, although it took some imagination, was eventually represented by a Mothra figure I had purchased some years ago. (I'm a big Godzilla fan from way back.)

    The plotline was short and sweet: a PC gets grabbed up by the roc and delivered to the ogres, who decide to feed him to their trapped giant scorpion. Since Jacob was a big fan of the spotlight, it only made sense for me to allow the roc to target Slayer of the three adventurers possible. That's when I discovered there was an important distinction I was overlooking: Jacob likes Slayer (or Chalkan, whoever he's running at the time) to be in the spotlight doing positive stuff; he does not like him being in the spotlight in a negative way, with his life in danger. In fact, over the course of the four adventures he had played in thus far, Slayer had somehow evolved from a bloodthirsty combat machine to a delicate flower who didn't want to get killed, didn't want to lose his equipment, and didn't want enemies targeting him, yet still wanted to be the guy to come up with the great plans and have everyone focused on him. (Jacob was probably about 9 at this time.) In any case, I only bring this up because there was a point in this adventure when Slayer was at desperately low hit points and another scorpion sting was likely going to result in his death. Jacob was frantic and almost in tears, and Dan, his father, had to have Cal jump in and pretty much expose himself to multiple scorpion attacks to save Slayer. But save him he did; Cal and Gareth managed to kill the scorpion and eventually both ogres; the roc was out of the picture almost immediately after having delivered the scorpion chow to the ogres.

    And after that, we moved immediately to the other adventure we had planned for that day.
    Last edited by Richards; Thursday, 18th July, 2013 at 02:19 AM.
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