Playtest Campaign: Dread, The Dead, And The Downpour


My group and I have been fairly active with the 5th Edition playtest. We have run a number of one-shot games, and I ran a short campaign with the December packet. We spent a few weeks playing board games (Eclipse and Middle Earth Quest, for those curious), but now we're ready to get back into some D&D.

The previous game had been heavily dungeon-focused, with a boom town built next to a dungeon and a 'gold rush' dungeon plundering theme. This time around, I wanted to run something with a lot of atmosphere. I settled on gothic horror, and I drafted up a quick pitch. My group loved it, and they came up with some delightful character concepts. With said characters in mind, I set about detailing the setting.

I should mention that the advice from ENWorld was also instrumental in bringing the setting to life! Special thanks to all the people who contributed in this thread:

Setting Information

For the playtest report to make sense narratively, a little has to be known about the setting. There's a lot of it, so I apologize in advance for the wall of text.

Ten years ago, it started raining. It hasn't stopped.

The people of this town have learned to adapt. They grow giant mushrooms now, and raise goats and chickens. They wear long coats and leather boots, and wide-brimmed hats. Wooden covers have been built over the major walkways. But the rain persists. Some days, only a light trickle falls from the ever-present clouds. Other days it's a torrential downpour. Ditches line every street, many of them five or six feet deep. The river drinks enough water to prevent an actual flood, but it's rare to find a patch of earth not turned to mud.

Why don't people leave? Some have. But creatures move in the woods these days, and many carriages and wagons have been found shattered, ripped open, and bloody on the side of the road. Many more have simply vanished without a trace. There are precious few who brave the roads between the local towns, which are only a day's ride apart. But reaching beyond the rain? That's a week's travel, and few dare attempt the journey.

Even before the rains, this was a land the gods had forsaken. While wizards often ply their arcane craft, divine magic is nigh unheard of, the stuff of myth and fable. Wizards are a part of life, helping to build and maintain structures in this place. They are valued members of the community. It is not uncommon for academics to arrive, seeking to unravel the mystery of the eternal downpour. Most leave disappointed. Some remain, hoping their perseverance will be rewarded.

Divine magic can be disguised as arcane, so long as components are used. But everybody knows that mending the body through magic is witchcraft. And witches are dangerous.

Campaign Locations

Croft is the largest town, with a population of two hundred. The buildings are made of stone, and many are two-level structures with sturdy tile roofs. The town used to be home to nearly five hundred, but that was before the rain. Over the years, many tried the road. Some succeeded. Some did not. But the woods have grown ever more sinister, and those miserable souls who call Croft home won't brave the woods any longer.

Beacon sits a day's travel north, atop a tall hill. The town is home to a hundred souls, and it takes its name from its tower. The flame at the top is well-fed by the coal dug from the earth. Over the years, it has become the sun for the people of the Vale, visible except in thick fog. Beacon is the site of an old quarry, where miners dig stone from the earth. Once a month, a caravan brings the stone to Croft for storage.

Ivy Manor is the home of Count Edward Von Stout. The Count keeps to himself, ever since his son was one of the first to leave after the rains began. The manor is stone and walled, more a keep than a house. The Count is rarely seen these days, and he keeps only a token staff; a butler, a couple of maids, and a handful of guards.

The Characters

Ursula Woodcutter - Female Human Barbarian 3 - Guide Background -
Taciturn and stoic, Ursula is a woodcutter. She took up the dangerous task after the death of her father in the woods, and she's been the one supporting herself and her half-sister, Tea. She is a lady of few words, and while she might once have been pretty, an encounter in the woods with a half-seen adversary she barely fought off has left her with some nasty scars.

Tealanalessa - Female Half-Elf Rogue 3 - Commoner Background - Read Lips and Stealth Focus
Before he married, Ursula's father saved the life of an elf woman, and in that moment of passion, Tea was conceived. Ursula's father never saw the elf again, but one morning, a young half-elf was brought to his door by an elf who told the man of the mother's death. Despite being the elder, Tea feels like the younger sister. She has been working at the tavern, and is a gentle, caring soul. Before the Downpour, she worked at Ivy Manor in the service of the Count, and she was in a serious relationship with Prince Anduin. But when he disappeared, she was heartbroken.

Jorick Von Rinehart - Male Human Druid 3 - Noble Background - Vault and Track
The Von Rinehart family is a clan of werewolves, naturally born and fully in control of their gift. They have been the silent, secret protectors of Croft since its founding, though only recently have they been truly tested. Jorick is the most promising young member of the family, along with his younger twin siblings, Callan and Clara.

Sybilla Van Witte - Female Human Cleric of the Lifegiver 3 - Sage Background -
With the death of her grandmother, Sybilla is the last living member of the Van Witte family. Once one of the prominent founding families, the Van Wittes were often mayors of the town. But Sybilla's brothers and father perished on an ill-fated expedition to go to the outside for help, and with her sickly grandmother's passing, Sybilla is the last. She is a historian, and a notary; she writes wills for the people of Croft, and records the events. She keeps her divine gifts a closely-guarded secret.

Archibald - Male Human Evoker Wizard 3 - Sage Background -
An outsider who travelled into Croft with the merchant one week ago, Archibald is an eccentric evoker. He wields a long rifle, and he uses it to channel his magic. It is a wondrous device, and it has made him a curiosity in the wizarding world. Some of his rivals see it as a crutch or gimmick, while others see it as progress. Either way, Archibald has been keeping a low profile in Croft, anxious not to upset the locals.


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Session One - Ribbon's Eve

Our session began on the morning of Ribbon’s Eve. The people of Croft were preparing to celebrate; all day long, they would drink and eat and rail against The Downpour, splashing in puddles, singing and shouting, and showing that they would not be cowed by the constant rain. And in the evening, the pageantry would happen.

Historical Interlude: Ribbon's Eve began two years into the Downpour; it's been going on for eight years. With the population dwindling, and the rain showing no signs of stopping, the townspeople realized they were in a desperate situation. So they started a festival called Ribbon's Eve. All day, people would go outside and splash and shout and make noise to show the rain they were not cowed. An hour before sundown, the unwed ladies of Croft would go inside to doll themselves up, and go to the mayor's manor. There, the menfolk would enter, each with a ribbon tied around their arm. The ladies would be scattered throughout the house, also with a ribbon about their arm. The men would tie their ribbon around the arm of a girl, beginning a period of courtship. The courtship concludes in a month's time at the Maiden's Dance, where the man presents a gift to the courted lady. If she feels the gift is suitable, she accepts it, and they copulate. It is considered bad form to decline a gift, or to decline an offered ribbon. It is also considered shameful for a man to still have his ribbon at the close of the festival. Married men are permitted (even encouraged) to participate in the festival, and most unwed ladies are strongly encouraged as well. Some call the festival 'The Ribbon Rape'.

Jorick Von Rinehart was standing on the front steps of his home, looking out at the falling rain. His great grandfather Moag was sitting on the porch next to him; he had the distinction of being the oldest man in Croft (he’d lost count at a hundred, but nobody else came close). Jorick’s younger siblings stood with him, the twins Callan and Clara. Clara was teasing Jorick, asking if he’d tie a ribbon about his arm and participate in the evening’s festivities. Both the twins were eager to do so, but seeing their stoic older brother squirm caused them much delight.

While they talked, Jorick’s aunt came walking by with Sybilla Van Witte on her arm. The matronly lady was making every attempt to convince Sybilla to tie a ribbon that evening, and join in the festivities. “Some people marry after Ribbon’s Eve,” she said. To Sybilla, it sounded like the closing of a cage. The aunt left her with Jorick on the front steps, where Clara shifted her teasing to Sybilla.

Across the square, Archibald stood under one of the walkway covers, watching the rain pour down. Being a stranger to town, he was observing the festival with a curious eye. He carried his rifle over his shoulder; a strange item, unfamiliar to most of the villagers. He had spent much of the week keeping to himself, but this festival would offer an opportunity to see Croft at its best. Before long, Ursula and Tealannalessa appeared, walking with Tea's friend Katrina, a red-haired barmaid at Croft Public House. Katrina was gently teasing Tea and Ursula, suggesting they both tie ribbons that evening. Tea was considering it, but Ursula flatly refused, giving her one-word answers with little emotion.

It was a regular gathering in the square in front of the Von Rinehart home. The Von Rineharts were under cover at the porch with Sybilla Van Witte, while Archibald looked at them across the square, sticking to the covered walkway. Tea, Ursula, and Katrina were all standing outside, moving for cover. But before they could hide away, there was an unwelcome sight.

The elderly mayor Phillip Van Tallow is a clever, kind old man who runs Croft with a fair hand. His grandson Calvin shares the shrewdness, but none of the kindness. A striking man in his mid-thirties, Calvin marched into the square, flanked by two of his mage friends; the intense, bald Jameson Godrin, and the beautiful Annabelle Candice.

A war of words began as Calvin Van Tallow began to tease Ursula about not being feminine enough to participate in Ribbon's Eve. Jorick Von Rinehart came to her defense, and soon Calvin and Annabelle were verbally sparring with nearly everyone. Jameson Godrin walked over to gaze at Sybilla; he had strange, grey eyes and a deep stare. He asked her if she would tie a ribbon, though whether he was expressing interest in the young Van Witte or trying to spook her was up for debate. Either way, Jorick eventually got the best of Calvin, and he gathered his friends and left in a huff.

Jorick invited everyone inside, and they stepped into the interior of the Von Rinehart family home. It was like a hunting lodge; antlers hanging everywhere, thick stone walls, and a massive, roaring hearth. Sitting near it, everyone dried off from the rain, and they talked about the coming festival. Archibald was introduced; most of the characters had not yet met him in town.

But Ribbon's Eve is a festival best spent out of doors, so they made their way outside and enjoyed the day. On this day, the streets of Croft came alive. There were covered fire braziers, where meat could be grabbed, and ale aplenty. There were all sorts of people singing and laughing and fooling around. One of the farmers, a mischevious man named Harkken Woal jumped full-bore into a ditch in an attempt to splash Sybilla. He invited Ursula to join him in the chest-deep ditch, to attempt to splash Annabelle. The mage proved too quick to be soaked, though she was splattered, and she stormed off in a huff. Ursula shared a rare smile.

"I'm going to tie a ribbon on her tonight," Harkken told Ursula with a grin. Winning Annabelle didn't seem like a likely thing, but by the way Harkken laughed, he probably knew it.

Tealannalessa found the festival fun, but she gravitated towards the warmth of the blacksmith. Garret Amberstone, the blacksmith's apprentice was there, and the two exchanged pleasantries. Eventually, however, the characters filtered in to Croft Public House which was serving hot cider for the festival. There, they sat by the warm fire, and talked a little more. Tea finally gave in to Katrina's pressure; she would tie a ribbon. Sybilla and Ursula were both disinclined. But Clara and Callan managed to talk Jorick into it as well.

Finally, the time came for the ladies of Croft to prepare themselves. And so Tealannalessa retreated with Katrina, and they got themselves ready for the pageantry. As did Clara, Callan, and Jorick. The ladies made their way to the Von Tallow estate, where the evening's festivities would take place. Katrina expressed a desire for Callan to find her, and begged Tealannalessa to let them linger in a room close to the entrance. Ursula joined them, despite her lack of ribbon. Katrina begged Ursula to intercept anyone who wasn't Callan.

Outside in the rain, Jorick and Callan were preparing to head inside. Jorick was reluctant to participate, but Callan reminded him how shameful it would be to still have his ribbon at the end of the night. "It reflects poorly on our family, dear brother," he said with a grin.

Jorick reluctantly agreed.

They headed inside, and immediately came upon Tea and Katrina. Callan tied a ribbon around Katrina, which made both quite happy. Jorick lingered but a moment, talking with Tea. Archibald was outside near the tavern when he heard the boy running up, nearly out of breath and exhausted. He stopped him, and the boy caught his breath enough to cry, "The mill! Bullywugs are attacking the mill!"

Knowing he wouldn't be enough to stop them on his own, Archibald ran to the Van Tallow manor. He burst through the front door and shouted the warning. Jorick left immediately, with Ursula, Katrina, Callan, and Tea in tow. Tea paused to snatch a bow from a pedestal; she'd need a weapon. Sybilla joined them in the street, carrying a spear that she wasn't quite strong enough to use effectively. The word was spreading through the Van Tallow house, but the mill wouldn't wait; the characters moved out to the mill, which was a fifteen-minute walk south of Croft.

Behind The Dice: I was thrilled with how the first part of the session went. 5th Edition is a very light system, and it was easy to use skill checks throughout the roleplay and meeting up. Tea in particular was a master of stealth, so she loved to remain unseen. The first two-thirds of the game had a lot of PC and NPCs being introduced, so it wound up being a bit heavy overall. But in the end, the game was richer for having introduced a world and its inhabitants. Giving Croft some faces the players care about only makes things stronger when the town is in peril.

Voidrunner's Codex

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