RPGs 3G: Growing Up Cali, the Great Smokey Mountains, and Greenwich Mean Time
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    3G: Growing Up Cali, the Great Smokey Mountains, and Greenwich Mean Time

    In 2002, some WizOs and wizards.com patrons got together to start a D&D campaign. Ergeheilalt, Tisca, and myself agreed to DM the campaign in a round-robin format, trading off between adventures, or if real life interfered with game preparation. Ergeheilalt set the game in his homebrew world of Thimtona, everyone rolled up 1st level characters, and away we went.

    Choices for online gaming were limited in those days. None of us was interested in a message board play-by-post game, as we all wanted that real time gaming experience. On wizards.com, the chatroom was open to everyone, and the ISRP rooms were open to everyone, so we couldn’t monopolize either place for a private game.

    I don’t remember whose idea it was to use IRC (Internet Relay Chat), but we settled on
    mIRC as our interface for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it allowed us to communicate in real time. It had a number of features that benefited roleplaying, including changing your screen name (handy for DMs playing parts, so the players knew which NPC was speaking), private chat windows for “note passing” between DM and players, and a dicebot that handled all the rolling involved in D&D. It also made it extremely easy to save logs of the sessions, in case someone couldn’t make it to a game or we needed to refer back to some event to refresh our memories.

    Ergeheilalt was in high school when we started playing, and eventually he needed to buckle down and make sure he graduated, as well as start college hunting. The DM mantle passed to Tisca, who only ran a few sessions before bowing out of the game completely. That is when I became DM.

    When I took over the campaign, the party roster stood as follows: Lucius Varrelialus, paladin of the Northern Alliance, dedicated to the god Xeoz; Pasha Varrelialus, druid of the Northern Alliance, wife of Lucius; Sakor Gersason, priest of Gersa; Orisen Leafsong, elven archer; and Jetith Morqueroth, a monk of unknown origins. The heroes had just saved the Northern Alliance from an otherworldly assault and were recovering from that battle. I needed to decide where I wanted the heroes to go from here, so I assessed the situation.

    The adventurers were on a world of Ergeheilalt’s creation, worshipped gods of his creation, and traveled through lands with which he was intimately familiar, but I was not. He tried writing up some notes for me to plan ahead but, as I pointed out earlier, he was busy transitioning to college and couldn’t be relied on to answer my questions in a timely manner. After one or two sessions on Thimtona, I made a decision of which I’m not proud, but ultimately worked out for the best – I destroyed the world.

    I have a confession to make (and I made it at the beginning of the
    previous article in this series). I love the latest “thing” that comes out for D&D, and I want it all. I want to play it all or run it all, even though I realize that’s not possible. At the time I took over the Planehopping campaign (that’s what it’s come to be called), I was itching to use Planescape, Ravenloft, and Spelljammer, but couldn’t settle on what to do first. So I decided to use all three at the same time.

    The heroes vanished from Thimtona and reappeared on the Infinite Staircase an instant before their planet was destroyed by the Eater of Worlds. After wandering the endless stairs and examining myriad doors, the heroes emerged from that planar pathway into the World Serpent Inn, meeting Mitchifer and the inn’s staff, the Skurra.

    Warning! The following contains spoilers about the Planehopping campaign, some of which is not yet known by the players, even 10 years later!

    The Eater of Worlds I lifted straight from the
    Wildspace Spelljammer adventure I wanted to run. I thought the players would like to solve the mystery of their planet’s demise, if not exact revenge. The Infinite Staircase and the World Serpent Inn were both from Planescape, the former from the Tales of the Infinite Staircase Planescape supplement and the latter from the 1st edition supplement Tales of the Outer Planes and updated for 3E D&D ( http://www.wizards.com/dnd/files/World_Serpent.pdf ). The Skurra hailed from Ravenloft’s Carnival supplement for 2nd edition, fresh on my mind because the authors, John Mangrum and Steve Miller, were both regular visitors to the wizards.com chatroom.

    The World Serpent Inn deposited the heroes on a nameless world where I could introduce two new player character races to the campaign, the adu’ja and the t’kel, both from
    Dragon issue 317. While the adventurers followed the plot of The Forest Oracle, the adu’ja set about terraforming the planet, eradicating humanoid infestation. Jetith’s player left the campaign, and a new character joined the group – a t’kel named Nexx Redscales.

    For some reason, I was thinking about masters and servants when I introduced the adu’ja and t’kel to the campaign. The adu’ja are a plant race, and I painted them as a master race above the menial labor necessary to make their grand scheme a reality. The t’kel, a reptilian species, were servants of the adu’ja, carrying out their commands. At first, the heroes thought the adu’ja were kind and helpful, but when the truth was learned, the party had to flee the world – but not before introducing the concept of planar travel to the adu’ja.

    I related all of the above as back story because of one important point. When the heroes fled the adu’ja, I started running
    The Great Modron March from Planescape. That was in 2004. It is now 2012, and we are STILL playing The Great Modron March.

    One of the drawbacks of 3E was an increased need for a tactical space, a battlemat to judge distance between combatants, the area covered by spells and effects, blocking terrain, etc. (4E pretty much made the battlemat a requirement to play, but we’ve not converted the campaign to the current edition.) When you’re playing a tabletop game, the DM can describe the surroundings, the players can state where their characters are and what they do, and you can use scratch paper to mark positions if necessary. However, when we played on mIRC, we found it increasingly difficult to keep track of who and what was where from round to round in a battle, let alone from session to session. Mapping programs were in their infancy, but we used what we could find to draw crude diagrams for battles, posting them to websites for all to see and reference from turn to turn. This slowed the game’s progression (though not as much as play-by-post.)

    To compensate, I focused on the storyline and poured a lot into NPC development. The players also made an effort to develop connections between each other and the NPCs they met, resulting in rich roleplaying sessions where, more often than not, we never had to use the dicebot or break into combat. The anonymity of the typed word made the roleplaying much easier to enact, and the players felt a greater freedom than I’ve ever experienced in a tabletop game. Pasha was played by my wife, Patty, but her character was married to Lucius, played by Aerosatar, who lived in England. Orisen was a female elf, but she was played by Firedale2002, who was male. Ergeheilalt was barely 20 but played a fat, balding, middle-aged cleric whose god was dead. Nexx fathered a child in-game and was left to deal with the infant after its mother disappeared.

    The most important thing is that the players enjoyed the game, and they still do, so the pace of the storyline doesn’t bother them. Don’t get me wrong; there have been plenty of sidetreks as the modrons marched around the multiverse. When Bastion Press released
    Oathbound, it instantly captured my attention, so the four-horned feathered fowl took a personal interest in the party. The heroes eventually learned it was the fowl that plucked them from their doomed world and set them loose in the multiverse as pawns in a greater game. The heroes have rebelled against those quasi-deities, pledged to forge their own destinies, and continued to battle their enemies from plane to plane.

    Ten years after the campaign began (but only three years in-game), the party has Pasha, Sakor, and Orisen still members. Lucius was driven mad and is now consigned to the Gatehouse in Sigil in care of the Bleak Cabal (see
    3G: Ghosts, Ghouls, and Goblyns for more information on that), replaced by Farrendel Dlardrageth, a cybernetic fey’ri from the future (more on him in a future article). Nexx retired from adventuring life to care for his son, Xenos. Elecia Rhell, an air elemental-touched sorceress, and Kaiya Alaera Settasia Kores’soth, a human barbarian, both joined the party and have their own backstories interwoven into the tapestry of the campaign. The adu’ja are still a thorn in the party’s side (no pun intended), and the modrons still march for reasons unknown.

    I’ve had no success in convincing my players to convert to 4E, but I’ve made better progress convincing them to upgrade their technology. Although we still use mIRC (mainly because our wiki archivist insists it’s the easiest way to keep logs – we have them all), we now use
    MapTools for combat. (They’re not willing to use the chat or dice rolling features yet, but I keep repeating “baby steps” to myself.) And most recently we’ve added TinyChat to our arsenal of online tools so we can hear each other’s voices and see each other’s faces. For the sake of the logs, most of the roleplaying is done through typing, but combat goes much faster now with both visual and audial enhancement.

    Our latest session was Friday. The party decided to take the fight to the Tacharim, who have been harrying the modrons during their march, only to find the Tacharim stronghold called the Flower Infernal under assault from the adu’ja, who think a gigantic plant would make a good base of operations for their conquest of the multiverse. Little do our heroes know what awaits them within the base, where Doctor Valran experiments on the Tacharim soldiers, giving them 4E powers never before seen in 3.5E D&D. And Farrendel’s past (which is the future) will finally be revealed, as I weave “Face of the Moon” into the campaign from
    Dungeon 201. (I told you I can’t resist the shiny new stuff.)

    Although we’re scattered across the world, stretching from California to Tennessee to merry old England, we’ve managed to keep this campaign alive for ten years. The lives of the heroes have been played out in cyberspace, there for all eternity. Here’s to another ten years.

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