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Retrospective on a 8+ year long AD&D campaign.

Imperialus

Explorer
It's been ages since I've posted here but got to writing today and figured I' share. Some folks here (mostly from CM) might remember me but D&D and I have sort of gone in different directions for the past few editions so I haven't been around much. If you are interested in sticking around for a long and rambling post about a D&D campaign though then hey stick around.

My main group is just starting to reconvene after a pause since before X-mas so I've been giving them some thought and I just kinda started writing. Decided to post my thoughts here just to get them out there. Maybe someone will find them interesting. I'm more than willing to expand on well whatever really if you have questions. I've debated turning it into a full Storyhour since my DM has actually kept session by session writeups in a word document that has now grown to the size a doorstopper fantasy novel... I guess what inspired this was that I was a little bit worried that the group might be falling apart since I think we were all suffering from a bit of burnout. It'd be a real shame, we're at the denouement of what has been the longest running campaign in my life. We're 8 and a half years into a game that originally started out as a B/X game, which has morphed into a B/X, Labyrinth Lord, AD&D, kitbash. One of the original PC's is an "ELF" from the redbox while my current PC is a ranger with some bits and bobs from Unearthed Arcana. It's pretty strict by the book D&D as well. For example every scrap of treasure we earned has been randomly rolled as we discover it. This means that my Paladin's holy avenger was actually rolled on the magic item table. We've had hard fought battles where we walked away with a few coppers and other fights where we rolled in treasure like nobody's business. We've gone from 1st to 9th level, and 3 of the characters actually got every single point of experience to do so. We've had 8 players (plus the DM) over the course of the game with 3 of us having been there from the start.

It's been an interesting game and extremely... "traditional" I guess is the best word. It's been 100% homebrewed (so I mean big kudos to my DM on that front), and draws a lot of inspiration from Conan and has never been afraid to rip off the pulp's pretty heavy. In fact the premise of the world is that it is a Pre-History for the Hyborian age. There's been no massive overarching plot just a series of largely unconnected dungeon crawls with one fairly major story arc where we got into a nasty underground battle for control of a town for at least a year of real world time which included an event culminating in my Paladin burning two old women and a cat (which was a polymorphed Type VI demon) at the stake (how's that for a teaser to keep you reading? I'm a WRITER!). Other than that though, the focus has been dungeon crawls again with a major focus on tropes. I think this has been a big part of what has kept the campaign going. Every dungeon has been different and almost acted like a minicampaign in and of itself. I think that a major storyline can become burdensome over time which is actually a problem I occasionally find myself running into with the biweekly Dwimmermount campaign that I've been DMing for the past year or so.

The campaign kicked off with an ancient abandoned fortress dug into a hill. Yep, probably about as traditional as you can get. Well technically there was a mini dungeon that we finished in a month or so that mostly served as an intro to the game. The larger fortress was a cool dungeon and one that I think served as a really good intro to the campaign. At the time I was the only person in the group who had ever played D&D before, the other group members consisting of my wife and a couple of the girls she worked with. This was pure B/X D&D. First level, high death count, dagger throwing magic users, fighters with 4 HP, Save or Die poison, the whole nine yards. It was brutal, the only thing that kept us going, and out of a TPK was a house rule where we were allowed to burn 'karma' points upon dying wherin we had to take a shot, at which point we could make a saving throw in order to survive with 1 HP. A couple levels down, we found an artifact, a chair that let you go up a level by sacrificing a humanoid. Of course it made you Chaotic, but whatever. Pretty much everyone used it to short circuit up to 2nd level. I mean what was an alignment shift when compared to an extra D8 hitpoints? By the time we emerged, we were all between 3rd and 4th level. Thinking ourselves finished with the first dungeon we pawned off a copy of the map to some random adventurer we found in a tavern for a few hundred gold. This bites us later...

After that we did a few smaller dungeons. I think largely this was because my DM wasn't really prepared for the idea of the campaign going beyond a few weeks or months at most. One involved us excavating a hillside in order to bypass a heavilly trapped tomb entrance. There was another one where we cleared out a wizards tower and my first PC died. It was also where we introduced the first AD&D character as his replacement. My DM still puts the turning point of the campaign where we officially left 'low level' at around this point. We managed to take down a random encounter dragon and rolled insanely well on the random loot table at which point we rocked into town with 20,000 gold and started getting magic items commissioned. Ran it as by the book AD&D where we paid out massive sums in order to hire wizards to craft the items. It seemed to work well as a money sink and let us get some gear that made our characters a lot more self reliant and got us to a point where we could bash away at bigger challenges. At this point we heard that the fortress we had 'cleared' had been taken over by a warlord calling himself the 'blood lord'. The dude we sold the map to had found the artifact where he could level up crazy fast by killing people. Oops...

Then we ended up transported to the unseelie court. I honestly don't remember how or why. I think we were supposed to find something to help us defeat the blood lord. This was interesting because it was a fairly extended wilderness adventure. It wasn't super long, but this is where we started adding more AD&D stuff and I introduced my Paladin PC named Belvidere Du Kurg who had been trapped in the unseelie court as a slave for several hundred years. Fun with time travel at the end of the adventure. since there was a really weird time paradox where Belvidere ended up transported 20 years into the past.

Then there were some more smaller adventures. We dealt with a fire giant fortress, and an abandoned dwarven mine. We were firmly in the mid level by this point probably between 5th and 6th level for the most part. A lot of this was designed to basically level up in order to prepare for a...

Return to the fortress with new and nastier occupants. The party reunited with Belvidere who had used his knowledge of the future to become a religious prophet. He raised an army to fight the 'blood lord' and re-founded his religious order. This let us muck about a bit with some mass combat. We used war machine from the Rules Cyclopedia. This was kinda cool simply because we were pretty big fish in the pond at this point. One of the PC's got knighted (even though she wasn't 9th level yet).

At this point my DM and I realized we were kinda loosing the rest of the group. It was kinda the Belvidere show and the other players were getting a bit tired of it. He decided on a major change of scenery so we went on a trip to Sygia where we raided the lair of a lich. This is the only dungeon of the campaign that we have failed to 'complete'. It was a rough one. Very remote, and in fairly hostile territory. It was at least a weeks voyage by boat to a town that worshiped Set so we could only get the most basic of services there and there was no going back to friendly territory. The town was followed by a 3 week overland hike. Even though we were all around 6th or 7th level at this point we had a pretty rough go. It was also probably our longest crawl in terms of real world time, and because we were so far from civilization even making it back to town to gain XP and level up was a major undertaking. Getting casualties back to town to get raised involved a frantic invisible ride across the desert. We hit the final level of the dungeon, and realized we were up against a lich at which point we tucked tail and ran. By the time this was done we were all starting to hit the 6th-8th level range.

After that I suggested we take a break from the dungeon crawls and I think it might have saved the campaign from the frustration at the lich dungeon. It ended up becoming what was probably the most memorable part of the campaign, at least for me. It has unoffically been dubbed "The Saga of Belvie-Town". We ended up getting commissioned by the emperor to travel to a hamlet in the remote corner of the empire on the far end of a massive swamp called Slug Town. There had been a large earthquake some months ago and suddenly Massive amounts of gold were getting shipped out of there and into the coffers of the (mustache twirlingly evil) duke who controlled the region a "Lord G-Had" (yes that's a pun) who has a history between me and the DM stretching back for almost 20 years now, having been a PC in the first campaign we played in together. Anyhow we were sent to 'express' the emperors interest in the town and given pretty broad discretionary powers in how to do so.

We do a it of research in the northern dukedom's capitol and figure out that huge numbers of 'criminals' are being sent to slug town as slaves. The town used to be known for rare slugs that would be rendered into love potions and the like for rich folks in the south. It was a dangerous, unruly, frontier type town right on the very fringes of civilization. Now though slaves would go up, and carts of gold jewelry carved in weird alien shapes would come back. Anyhow, we get up there and discover that G-Had is well and truely in bed with all sorts of unsavory goings on. We realize that the owner of the inn where we are staying is actually a spy for Had himself, they have an open embassy with the so called 'troll lord' of the swamp, and the 'criminals' are herded into a building in the center of town never to be seen again. We later discovered that they were actually being traded to creepy Cthulhu fish men in exchange for the gold. Lots of underground sneaky sneak stuff going on to try and suss out who we can trust, charming or eliminating key people, and getting set up to perform a coup. It ended up being a massive game of wits between us and the DM as we tried to get the pieces in place to simultaneously eliminate the mayor and his inner circle, take out the troll embassy, prevent anyone from getting a message out for help and keep the city from descending into total chaos in the aftermath. We ended split into 3 different groups. Our magic users and heavy hitters took the mayoral palace in a surgical strike eliminating the mayor and his family, while our bribed militia members led by Belvidere took control of the barracks for Had's soldiers. The third group consisting mostly of hirelings, who whipped up a mob against the trolls and ended up burning the embassy to the ground. After that it was just mopping up. We had to finish securing the town. Our thief hit 9th level and began forming his guild in the town and created a monopoly on the slug trade. We got a message to the emperor and declared the town a 'free imperial city', fended off an attack from the Troll Lord and drove the fishmen back.

Once the town was more firmly under control we went out and finished off the Troll Lord. At this point Belvidere hit 9th level and I decided to retire him. The fight for Slug Town had taken a toll on him as a character. There were more than a few times he started crossing the line from Lawful Good to "Lawful Neutral when that's more convenient". Sure the two old ladies he burned to death in the square were evil as hell. I mean they summoned a Balor, and by executing them along with several of the members of the mayor's inner circle the party was able to clamp down on resistance before it started but it wasn't really 'good'. The other PC's had done some decidedly evil acts over the course of the coup and subsequent martial law and it was getting harder and harder to handwaive it away. Started up a new PC, a ranger called Cadwin. I got my DM to ok the idea of him being Chaotic Neutral which fit the moral flexibility of the party a lot better. Basically it Cadwin is a semi-feral swamp dweller with teeth filed into points who believes he can gain the strength of his enemies by eating their flesh.

I'm kinda handwaiving this whole battle with the Troll Lord. It probably took close to a year of real time, though our playing frequency has slowed somewhat over the past year or so. More interruptions, and it seems like they last a bit longer each time. It was actually a pretty cool fight against a very, very powerful enemy force. There were ogre cavalry on tartaura lizards, dozens of trolls, a dragon, and tribe of human cannibals. The Troll Lord himself had the Eye and Hand of Veccna. To make along story short we manipulated the cannibals through an illusory vision of their god into attacking the trolls. Didn't do much to the trolls but it eliminated the human threat. Then got into a protracted guerrilla war with the trolls. We crafted booby traps and scattered them around the fortress, killed isolated patrols, set fire to their food ect. Managed to winnow their numbers down to almost half before we made our open assault.

At any rate, that gets us pretty much to where we are now. Also near slugtown there was the ruins of a cloud castle. We've discovered that it's actually inhabited by Pazuzu so we've decided that a good way to cap off a campaign would be to kill a demon prince. Our last session saw us begin the infiltration of his castle. I even hauled Belvidere out of retirement with the intention of him making a suicidal charge against Pazuzu since I figured a fight with a demon prince would be a pretty epic send off for a Paladin.
 

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Legatus Legionis

< BLAH HA Ha ha >
AD&D for the last 8+ years!

Wow!

And I think most of us know how hard it is to keep a group together and interesting in the same game/campaign for that long.

The one thing my earlier groups got used to was using the random roll tables in the DMG. The players had it memorized as we had used it so often.

Then with Luckstones added to the mix, it got boring (from a DM's point of view). Sure lots of treasure/coins/etc. The only thing interesting was when we had to roll for enchanted magic weapons.

Did your group ever had such a problem?

Has your DM ever thought to use the full tables from the Encyclopedia Magica instead?

I found it really made rolling random treasures all the more interesting.
 

Imperialus

Explorer
AD&D for the last 8+ years!

Wow!

And I think most of us know how hard it is to keep a group together and interesting in the same game/campaign for that long.

The one thing my earlier groups got used to was using the random roll tables in the DMG. The players had it memorized as we had used it so often.

Then with Luckstones added to the mix, it got boring (from a DM's point of view). Sure lots of treasure/coins/etc. The only thing interesting was when we had to roll for enchanted magic weapons.

Did your group ever had such a problem?

Has your DM ever thought to use the full tables from the Encyclopedia Magica instead?

I found it really made rolling random treasures all the more interesting.

The item rolling never really got boring, largely because if you actually roll treasure tables then magic items are bloody rare. What keeps the gems/coins ect interesting is the fact that by about the mid point it became more about the XP than anything else. Gold for XP is the primary mode of advancement in AD&D so it gave even mundane treasure a sense of purpose.

We never did start including the Encylopedia Magica stuff. Not really sure why, just never felt the need to.
 

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