3.5 Wing Three

Richards

Adventurer
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 cliché, 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.
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 1: THE CRYPT OF ST. BETHESDA

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....
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 2 - IDYLLS OF THE RAT KING

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:
RULES FOR THE PROPER CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR DIRE WOLF PUP


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 you’re a half-orc barbarian, see if one of your adventuring partners will count them for you – they’re 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....
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 3 - THE TOMB OF CHAOS

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!
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 4 - SCOURGE OF THE HOWLING HORDE

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!
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 5 - GORGOLDAND'S GAUNTLET

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.
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 6 - THE MAD GOD'S KEY

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.
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 7 - STORMDANCERS

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 Münch. 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.
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 8 - WHITE QUEEN'S GAMBIT

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.
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 9 - THE HURLY-BURLY BROTHERS

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.
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 10 - PAKKALILIR

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

"Pakkalilir" was just about perfectly built for my needs for the day: it involved only a single foe, but one that was tough enough to keep three low-level adventurers busy fighting it for a while; said single foe was a monster who already had an official D&D Miniature made in his likeness; I had happened to notice that said D&D Miniature was available at my local gaming store (and thus a grell became the second D&D Miniature purchase in my life, for $2.00, I believe); and the adventure was written by Willie Walsh, whose adventures were always a blast to run. (He wrote in the AD&D days, and I had run a bunch of his adventures for my sons in our AD&D 2E campaign.) "Pakkalilir" also appeared in Dungeon #52, which was the same issue that "The Hurly-Burly Brothers" was printed in, making this double feature a no-brainer.

Since the creature's location wasn't immediately obvious, the PCs got to do some tracking, exposing Jacob (and Dan, for that matter) to the 3.5 tracking rules. (It would have been better if Chalkan, Jacob's ranger, was in this adventure, but Slayer had some tracking ability.) When they found the grell in its cave and started fighting it, Gareth was grappled by the creature's tentacles and levitated to the top of the ceiling, where Cal and Slayer were hard-pressed to reach the grell. But eventually they killed it, although it was kind of touch and go for poor Gareth by then. However, just as Jacob was soon to realize the downside of multiclassing, Logan was likewise starting to realize that his "front-line fighting sorcerer" experiment wasn't all that he had hoped it would be; Gareth, through careful feat, spell, and familiar selection had managed to hold his own as a fighter - but only as a fighter without the fighter's vast feat selection, which made for a pretty poor fighter indeed. Logan was already thinking that had Gareth been killed, he would probably have let him stay dead and try out a different PC concept he was eager to try: a human conjurer. But Gareth survived the adventure, and he hung onto him for a bit longer, anyway.
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 11 - IRIANDEL

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

"Iriandel" is another adventure from the pages of Dungeon, this one from issue #83. It was written by Tito Leati, who would end up writing several cool adventures for the magazine over the years. This one dealt with returning a unicorn's stolen horn after it was severed many years ago, causing a curse that the PCs must undo. It had some outdoor combats, which I thought would be a good change from all of the dungeon delving the group had been doing (although it had a bit of that as well).

This adventure stands out in my mind for several reasons. First of all, it dealt the party our first PC death, and oddly enough, in our group of two relatively brand new players, one player who hadn't gamed in decades before this campaign, and my son who had been gaming with me for close to 15 years, it was my son whose PC bought the dust. It was pretty much his own fault, too - the PCs were up against a group of three ogres (still a pretty challenging threat at the party's level at the time) and Akari charged them at the end of a round, leaving the three other PCs well behind him. The ogres all got to attack before any of the other PCs could respond, and so Akari found himself triple-smacked by ogrish greatclubs and well past -10 hit points. Vicki was actually misty-eyed at the thought of Akari's brutal slaying - not in full tears, mind you, but nearly there - and while I had been previously aware that she pretty much keeps her emotions to the forefront, I saw this as evidence that she was definitely emotionally engaged in the campaign. So from that aspect it was a good thing (her attitude, not Akari's death).

The adventure took two sessions to play through, and fortunately Akari had been slain at the end of the first session, so I had time to react so Logan wasn't stuck out of the whole game for the second session. There was a half-orc thief NPC in the first half of the adventure, a freed prisoner, who I did up a full set of stats for on a character sheet, and I had Logan run him as a fill-in PC for that one session only. It wasn't optimal, but it was better than him sitting the whole session out. Plus, since this was a magical adventure, with the alicorn having special powers and all (and the elven pantheon specifically looking to get the unicorn's horn back in place through mortal agents), I didn't think it would be too far out of place to have the elven gods agree to restore Akari to life at the end of the adventure. In thinking it over and then explaining my ideas to Logan, he agreed that it would be cool if the elven gods didn't raise Akari back as a human, but instead reincarnated him as an elf. (I'm sure they saw it as a "free upgrade" for services rendered.) So we did just that - after Iriandel's alicorn was placed back on the unicorn's head, it fused into place and began emitting a brilliant light, which coalesced into the shape of a glowing elven figure, none other than an aspect of Corellon Larethian himself. Akari's body had been wrapped in a tarp and kept in a barn in a nearby halfling village for safekeeping during the course of the adventure, and we had Iriandel (while being touched by Corellon's hand) channel energy through its alicorn and into Akari's tarp-covered body, which suddenly moved. When the other PCs helped get him out of the tarp, Logan revealed his new initiative card, which was a hand-drawn image of Akari now in elf form.

Shortly before running this adventure, I had been given a set of D&D Miniatures as a gift, and it included a giant owl. There's a talking owl in the adventure, which although is only normal-sized, its whole purpose is to relay information to the PCs. Since there was no combat involved, I went ahead and replaced it in the adventure with a giant owl (which is also able to talk), so I could use my Large mini in the game. The box also had a Devotee of the Silver Flame miniature (it's an armored paladin from the Eberron campaign), which Logan uses as his Akari figure to this day.

Logan quickly got tired of his hand-drawn initiative card (Vicki and Jacob had switched to images from the Wizards of the Coast website for Feron and Chalkan's cards), so we looked around on-line and found an ink drawing of an armored male elf with flowing hair that he liked, and we used that as his new initiative card. On the back, where normally it would say "AKARI", it said instead "AKARI REBORN".
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 12 - EX LIBRIS

PC Roster:
Akari, elven paladin of Hieroneous
Chalkan, half-elf ranger/cleric of Corellon Larethian
Feron Dru, half-elf druid
Rale Bodkin, human rogue​

If you have a copy of Dungeon issue #29, then I'm sure you remember "Ex Libris" - it's the one with the the shifting rooms that you have to move around in the correct fashion, like one of those number puzzles with 15 squares in a 4x4 grid that you have to move one square at a time to get the numbers all in the correct sequence. Written by Randy Maxwell, it's one of the coolest adventures from the early issues of the magazine, and one I had flagged as an adventure I definitely wanted to use in the campaign. Although the dungeon complex was a temple devoted to Oghma the Binder, a deity from the Forgotten Realms pantheon, it was easy enough for me to co-opt Oghma as an aspect of Boccob and call it good.

The temple ruins topside had some carrion crawlers roaming around, which gave me an opportunity to use the two green caterpillars from my plastic bug collection. Similarly, I was able to use the plastic skeletons from my HeroQuest game as the huecuvas, so from an "appropriate miniature" aspect I was doing just fine. Then the PCs went to the lower levels of the complex, which is where the shifting rooms were located.

I did some heavy modifying to the shifting rooms in this adventure. To start with, I cut the size of each room's dimensions in half, so instead of 16" by 16" square rooms, I had 8" by 8" square rooms. The reason for this was purely from a practical aspect: I knew that I could fit an 8" geomorph into a 9" by 12" manila envelope for storage (both to and from the game session and for posterity afterwards), which was much better (and less expensive) than had I made the squares the size called for by the author. (I'd have needed 15 pieces of posterboard to get 15 appropriately-sized squares had I done it the "accurate" way.) Also, since this was an AD&D 1st Edition adventure, I made quite a few alterations to the monsters encountered. One room was filled with various carnivorous plants, and where 3E didn't have stats available for a given plant monster I used another that was thematically appropriate.

Likewise, there's a room with another group of adventurers who join up with the party and then try to betray them when it's convenient; not wanting to have to run four additional NPCs (and knowing full well from past experience that Dan wasn't going to trust any of these new guys any farther than he could throw them), I replaced the whole group of them with one lone doppelganger, taking the form of Old Clem. When they met up with this phony Old Clem, I gave a plausible explanation as to why he was down here instead of upstairs guarding the horses: he said that a group of "squid cats" had shown up from out of nowhere and started eating the horses, and there didn't look to be much that he could do to stop them so he hightailed it down where he'd hopefully be safe. I was counting on Dan or Logan to know that a "squid cat" was likely to be a displacer beast, and to fill in the other players (which they did). This gave them something to worry about when they eventually left the underground complex, and took their minds off of any suspicions that Old Clem might not be who he said he was. Happily, it worked like a charm.

In any case, the players all loved the adventure (as I had been pretty sure they would), even with the prospect of a long walk home without their horses. However, when they got back to their encampment, hoping to find the "squid cats" already gone and keeping their fingers crossed that maybe some of their equipment would be in salvageable condition, they found their horses tied up where they had left them, placidly eating grass, and Old Clem sitting up on a tree branch with a fishing pole in his hands. (He had just invented "squirrel fishing" and was pretty pleased with his success thus far.) The other "Old Clem" - the doppelganger - had gotten stuck in the shifting rooms below and needed help to get back topside. It didn't really mean the PCs any harm, and while they were all walking over to the campsite, he had taken off at full speed in the opposite direction. Once the PCs saw the real Old Clem in the tree, they just had time to see the fake version running into the forest, shifting forms as he ran. They worried a bit about having released a doppelganger into the world to cause whatever mischief it might get itself into, and they were more than a little concerned about it coming back to get them, but they needn't have worried - it stayed as far away from the area as it could.

As a plot hook for this adventure, I had used Altamaic the Calm, an NPC cleric of Boccob from "The Mad God's Key." This gave the campaign a little bit of verisimilitude, and I already had an initiative card for Altamaic - wanting a hooded, robed monk (not a D&D monk, a historical one), I scanned in a picture of Destiny of the Endless from Neil Gaimen's "Sandman" comic book and used him. (Later, I'd return to the same source and use Matthew when I needed an initiative card for a raven familiar.) Anyway, I had Altamaic provide the PCs with the rumored location of a forgotten temple of Oghma that was said to contain a bunch of otherwise lost books and tomes, and ask them to go check it out and return any books and tomes that they found to the Temple of Boccob in Greyhawk City. This they did, establishing Altamaic as a recurring NPC, and one who would have many dealings with the PCs in the years to come.

Another recurring NPC I created at somewhere around this time was a gnome wizard/cleric who ran a magic shop, one Piddilink Dundernoggin by name. (I preferred the earlier editions' version of the gnomes, with their prodigious noses and ridiculous names.) He sold mostly potions and scrolls, with the occasional magic item thrown in for good measure (and he would often purchase unwanted magic items the PCs discovered in their adventures). Best of all, he often took shortcuts in his magical item creation, so you could occasionally find a really good price on a potion if you were willing to live with the unfortunate side effects (like a potion of cure light wounds that turned the imbiber's skin green and warty for 1d4 hours, or the potion of cure serious wounds that tasted so bad you had to make a Fortitude check to drink it all down, and then another to keep it from coming back up).

By the end of this adventure Chalkan, Feron, and Rale were just about at 6th level, with Akari (who had spent half an adventure being dead) lagging just a little bit behind. Still, I figured that one more adventure ought to get everybody up to 6th level, at which point we'd have seven 6th-level PCs and it would be time to merge the two parties (and allow Vicki to make up a new 6th-level PC, so they'd all be on an even front). Since the PCs were already away from Greyhawk City, it only made sense to throw an adventure at them that they could stumble across on their way home....
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 13 - PEER AMID THE WATERS

PC Roster:
Akari, elven paladin of Hieroneous
Chalkan, half-elf ranger/cleric of Corellon Larethian
Feron Dru, half-elf druid
Rale Bodkin, human rogue​

"Peer Amid the Waters" was another one of mine, this one from Dungeon issue #78, written right at the end of the AD&D 2nd Edition era. It took a little bit of effort to convert it not only to 3.5 but also to a higher level than it had originally been written for, but it wasn't all that difficult. The basic premise is that a magical item, one of a pair of conduit bracelets, gets accidentally activated underwater by a pair of nixie sisters, which opens a portal leading to the interior of an Egyptian-style pyramid. The pyramid fills with water, the nixie girls get sucked into it, and nobody's seen them since. The nixie scout party that went in to rescue them hasn't been seen again either. Worse yet, these young nixies are the only daughters of the tribe's leader, so the tribe's pretty desperate to find some assitance.

That was the plot hook I had originally devised for the adventure, and I stuck pretty close to it this time around as well, although I had come up with what I thought was a humorous way of getting the plot hook started. As the PCs travel down the road, I'd have a pair of nixies hail them from the shore of Stillwater Lake. The adventure calls for them to tell their story and ask for help, but I had decided in the meantime that these nixies only spoke Aquan fluently, and had only a smattering of knowledge of the Common tongue. Here's what I had envisioned:

A pair of green-skinned men, dripping wet, each about 4 feet high and built like a slender elf with webbed fingers, come running up to you from out of the lake. "Help!" one cries in halting Common, "You help us!"

"We...need...girls," the other explains, pausing to dredge up each word.

"Yes," agrees the first. "We had two girls...now, no girls. You help us get girls."

"We...need...girls...fast," emphasizes the second.
The whole point was that at first it would sound like the nixies were simply looking for dates, and that it would take a little bit of time (and roleplaying) to figure out exactly what it was the nixies were asking the PCs to do for them. However, Vicki inadvertantly put the kibosh on my whole plan. Once I started in with my "pidgin Common" act, she piped up with, "Wait, they live in the lake, right? So do they speak Aquan? I'll try greeting them in Aquan." Sure enough, Feron's Intelligence bonus had allowed her to choose several different languages at character generation, and she had learned Aquan before even starting her adventuring career. Oh well, flexibility is the key to good DMing....

I don't recall much about the specifics of how the adventure played out this time with this group, other than (unlike with my original playtest group, back when I originally wrote it) everybody got out of the pyramid alive, including the two nixie children. In fact, the most important factor in this whole adventure was that by the time it was over, all four of these PCs had attained 6th level, which meant that the next adventure would unite the two groups into one, and from that point on we'd be able to have each player decide which of his or her two PCs would be going through any given adventure. (Recall that Vicki would be making up a new 6th-level PC for this event.) Everyone added a sixth level of the character class they already had attained five levels in, with the exception of Chalkan, who was now a 4th-level ranger/2nd-level cleric. (Now that I mention it, I do seem to recall Jacob's disappointment that Chalkan had been unable to singlehandedly turn the mummies in the pyramid with his single level of cleric; he was already noticing that a multiclassed PC wasn't going to be as good at class abilities as was a single-classed PC.)

I can also pin this adventure down to a specific year, if not an exact date. This would have been somewhere around the vicinity of August 2007. At the time, Dan and I were still working in the same office. We had started working in that office together when he was transferred over from his previous job, sometime in 2004. (I had been in that office since the previous year.) At that time, both he and I were Air Force Majors. I officially retired as of 1 March 2007, but as luck would have it they were looking at converting one of the Major's billets in my little six-person office over to a civilian slot, and the timing worked out just right that I was hired to effectively replace myself. Dan retired from the Air Force in the late summer of 2007, and did me the honor of asking me to officiate at his retirement ceremony.

The ceremony went well - I gave my little speech encapsulating his 20 years of dedicated service to his country, he gave his speech thanking his family for supporting him throughout his career - and it was at the reception afterwards, when we were all snacking on cake, punch, and various delicious nibblies that Vicki came up to me and told me, with great excitement in her voice, that she had pretty much decided on either a barbarian or a wizard for her next character.

Since we're on the subject now, let's discuss her next PC. After puzzling which of her two character concepts she wanted to run with, the fact that we already had a barbarian, Slayer, in the group led her to try out a wizard PC. (That, and I think Vicki enjoys the flexibility of running spellcasters.) She had a condition, if it was okay with me, though: she wanted her to be called a "witch" instead of a "wizard." I was aware that Pathfinder had come out with a witch character class, and I also knew that Mongoose Publishing had come out with a book entitled The Quintessential Witch, but I resisted the impulse to pull either of those into the campaign, and stuck with my campaign decision that this would be Core Books only, for the ease of my new players. Plus, I think the desire to be called a "witch" mostly stemmed from Harry Potter fandom, which was fine by me.

So, Vicki's second D&D PC was a human witch (wizard in all but name) by the name of Delphyne Babelberi. For her backstory, we jointly decided that her parents had been killed when she was little, she had been raised by her maternal grandmother (a "witch" herself), who had taught her all she knew of magic and had now sent her off into the world to make her own way and find her own destiny. She had a raven familiar named Ignacious, or "Iggy" for short.

Next adventure, I'd have to find a way to get these two groups (three groups, really: the original group of three, the second group of four, and now Delphyne) of adventurers together into a unified whole.
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 14 - CHALLENGE OF CHAMPIONS II

PC Roster:
Akari, elven paladin of Hieroneous
Cal Trop, human cleric of Kord
Delphyne Babelberi, human witch (wizard)
Slayer, half-orc barbarian​

I had a pretty good idea that I'd be using one of my "Challenge of Champions" adventures to get the whole group together, as they were perfectly suited to my needs. After all:
  • They were sponsored by the local Adventurers Guild, and what better way to integrate eight different PCs into a group than by ushering them all into the same Guild?
  • The Challenge of Champions series were each a series of ten puzzles, which played to Vicki's strengths as a puzzle solver.
  • Anyone could sign up to enter the contest, and if you didn't happen to be a group of four (the required team size) you'd be placed in with a group of strangers to form a four-person team.
So, that's exactly what I did. The only real decision I had to make was which one of the Challenge of Champions adventures I wanted to run. The main problem with all of them was the same: my son Logan had run a PC through each one already, having been one of my primary playtesters at the time (the other one being his older brother Stuart). Still, that was easily fixed, as I made him promise not to "solve" the scenarios using his prior knowledge from having already gone through the adventures. I figured I'd game the system as much as possible by using one of the earlier adventures in the series, and since I really liked the "puzzle hook" of the last scenario in the second one, "Challenge of Champions II" it was.

I told each of the players that they could run whichever of their two PCs they wanted. Logan opted for Akari, having already decided that Gareth was an "experiment that failed." Dan and Jacob each chose to run their original PCs, possibly because it had been a while since they'd run them. Vicki, however, was eager to try out her new wizard ("witch") PC, Delphyne Babelberi. So I decided that for this contest, you weren't allowed to enter as a team; rather, you signed up individually and were assigned to a particular team by the age-old method of drawing names out of a hat. As luck would have it, these four PCs were grouped together, and we decided that if they placed high enough in the contest, they'd be offered slots in the Greyhawk City Adventurers Guild. Furthermore, if they got in (and I already had decided that, barring a horrific end score, they'd be getting in), their other four PCs would likewise have earned high enough scores to be offered a slot in the Guild. (After all, there was no way around it: each player could only run one of his or her PCs in the Challenge of Champions; once they'd run their first PC through, they couldn't very well run their second PC through, since the players would already know the solutions to the 10 scenarios. Four PCs would just have to compete "offscreen.")

They did about as well as I had expected - that is to say, very well indeed. Dan got off to a bit of a rough start by having his PC fall into a pit that had been covered over with the illusion of a solid floor, but this was caused by an assumption on his part on just exactly where the clue he had been given was telling him it was. (I even gave him a Reflex save to avoid falling in, but he failed it, and so was declared "dead" for that scenario, and earned no points for that one.) But it was pretty smooth sailing from that point on, and Vicki pretty much aced all of my word-based puzzles, while Dan's prior experience on the workings of (A)D&D spells and magic items aided greatly on that front. (Logan was equally skilled, but was holding back at my request, to give those who had never gone through the adventure before a shot at solving the scenarios. I had made him a deal, that if the party was completely stumped at the 10-minute point - each scenario lasts up to 15 minutes of real time; I had a stopwatch and everything - he could have Akari get a sudden inspiration as to how best to proceed, but I don't think it ever came to that.)

So, at the end of the adventure, all eight PCs were ushered into the Greyhawk City Adventurers Guild, and I had my unified party at last. Here's how I decided to structure the Adventurers Guild:
  • The Guild was divided into "wings" of 8 adventurers. Our 8 PCs comprised "Wing Three."
  • Each wing was a section of Guild Headquarters, comprised of the following: eight bedrooms, two bathrooms, a communal living area, and a kitchen. The doors to the eight bedrooms were all lined up alongside each other down a long a stretch of hallway, and despite the cramped positioning of the doors each led into a different extradimensional room, each a square with 30-foot sides. The bedrooms came equipped with the standard bed, dresser, writing desk, and storage trunk, but could be customized to the inhabitant's liking.
  • Each member of a wing wore an Adventurers Guild ring. (I let Jacob design the logo for the Adventurers Guild between sessions; he came up with a sword and a wand crossed over each other in the middle of an equilateral triangle.) Each ring, at creation, was fused with one other Guild ring, so instead of eight separate rings there were really four sets of two rings each.
  • When activated (by a rapid double-touch, not unlike the method by which Spider-Man activates his mechanical web-shooters in the comics), the Guild ring teleported the wearer back to the common living area of their wing.
  • If the wearer of the other ring in the set was touched to the ring that had just been used to teleport its wearer back to the wing's common living area, the "fresh" ring could be used to "lock onto the coordinates" from which the ring's mate had just teleported. (Obviously, the rings were passed out so that each player's two PCs received a complete set. This was an easy way for the players to swap off PCs during the course of a given adventure.)
  • The rings could not be used to teleport between different planes. They could, however, be activated (by someone who knew how) by other than the wielder. This could come in handy in sending a slain PC back to Guild Headquarters and allowing the dead PC's partner to teleport in and take his or her place.
  • Originally, the rings each held one charge and had to be recharged after each use, which cost 3,300 gp. (Much later in the campaign, I made the rings self recharging, although they could still only be used once per day to either teleport back to Guild Headquarters or trace the teleport of the other ring in its set.)
  • Each ring was personalized by the carved inscription of the wearer's name on the inside of the band.
Effectively, that meant that for each adventure, the players would decide which of their two PCs they'd be running for that session. The other four PCs were on "backup duty," hanging around their wing in case they were needed to "bink" back to replace a returned PC. (I don't remember who first coined the term "bink" to mean "use the Guild ring to teleport," but it's a term we use to this day.) The initial expense in recharging a ring meant that they would really only be used in an emergency, but this was a nice way (I thought) to prevent a PC death from forcing the dead PC's player to sit and watch everybody else running through the rest of the adventure. Of course, the system wasn't infallible (if the slain PC's body wasn't retrievable, there'd be no way to activate his or her Guild ring), but I figured it would serve our purposes pretty well. (And I have to admit it really has. Not only has it made it easier to prevent PC death from keeping the player out of the rest of the game session, but it's really given this campaign a much different feel than any other (A)D&D campaign I've ever run.)

By the way, as a final comment, you now know why I've chosen to call this campaign "Wing Three." However, the fact that I chose "Wing Three" over any other possible number has a small story attached to it. Dan and I both had the same first job in the Air Force, back when we were brand new Second Lieutenants. We were both trained as missileers at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and then were each assigned to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, where we pulled combat alerts over the course of four years of crew time. Each missileer would be sent to the field on the average of every three or four days or so, to spend 24 hours in a launch control center monitoring 10 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles with his crew partner. Dan and I were in different squadrons - he was in the 740th Strategic Missile Squadron, and I was in the 741st - and our respective crew times weren't exactly the same (although they overlapped; I got to Minot in June 1987 and he got there sometime in 1988 or so), but Minot AFB is where the two of us first met.

So what's the significance of that? Each of the ICBM Missile Wings is given a numerical designator; Minot is "Wing 3."
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 15 - WAR OF THE WIELDED

PC Roster:
Akari, elven paladin of Hieroneous
Chalkan, half-elf ranger/cleric of Corellon Larethian
Delphyne Babelberi, human witch (wizard)
Rale Bodkin, human rogue​

Binked in:
Cal Trop, human cleric of Kord
Feron Dru, half-elf druid​

This was the first adventure where the PCs were all working for the Greyhawk City Adventurers Guild, and as it turned out it was the first time some of them opted to activate the power of their Guild rings. "War of the Wielded" was another adventure that was on my "I want to run this some day" list, because it had a really cool plotline: the PCs are drawn into a war between two competing thieves guilds, each with a handful of aligned intelligent weapons. It was written by Michael Kortes and appeared in Dungeon issue #149, the next-to-last print edition. While originally written as a 5th-level adventure, it included suggestions on scaling it up for a higher-level party, and I followed those suggestions with no problems.

However, I did do a bit of restructuring to the city that this takes place in. The adventure places it in a coastal city; I saw no reason not to port it over to Greyhawk City, even if it meant moving Greyhawk City to the edge of the Nyr Dyv (I've always hated that name; in my campaign, "Nyr Dyv" is not the name of the lake - however, since the name has never actually come up in game play, I haven't really bothered renaming it yet) and making it a lakefront city. After all, I'm certainly no Greyhawk purist - I merely use the "default" campaign settings of Greyhawk because that's what's mentioned in the Core Rulebooks. With two new players, I didn't want them to have to "translate" what they were reading about the standard gods into my own pantheon, for example. I've read a little of the "standard" Greyhawk City from the boxed set of the same name (from back in the AD&D days), but the city in my campaign world bears little resemblence to the "real" one other than sharing the same name. In later adventures, I'd squeeze the Styes into the slum section of Greyhawk City; my Greyhawk City doesn't have all of the crazy "laws" passed by Xagyg the Mad, and in fact I'm only vaguely aware that there's even a ruler of the City - although I do know there is a Council of Noblemen and a Council of Guilds that run much of the City's day-to-day affairs.

Anyway, I wanted to take advantage of the fact that there are two thieves guilds fighting each other, and that both have plenty of hired muscle, to reintroduce the character of Irontusk the half-orc, who first ran into the PCs in "The Mad God's Key." (If you recall, Dan had an odd fascination with wanting to have Rale pull out Irontusk's eponymous iron tusk and wear it around as a trophy.) I thought it would make perfect sense for him to have been hired on by one of the guilds as extra muscle, which would give me an opportunity to allow Rale Bodkin to bask in his weird dental fetishes.

As events transpired, no such luck: Rale got heavily wounded early in the adventure and had to "bink" out, being replaced one round later by Cal, who finished out the adventure. That meant that during my big final battle between the two warring thieves guilds, with an oversized fiendish rust monster thrown in for good measure, it was Cal who encountered Irontusk, not Rale. Furthermore, as it was Rale with the dental fetish, I didn't even bother pointing out to Dan that this was Irontusk; Cal had never met the half-orc before and it meant nothing to him that he had a fake tusk made out of iron. (And thus I was learning that planning adventures for an unknown group of PCs every session was going to bring on some unforeseen complications.)

The fiendish rust monster was subdued and knocked out rather than slain outright. Despite some talk of trying to tame it for their own use, eventually it was decided that the beast was just too dangerous around a group that relied heavily on metallic objects, and they opted to sell it instead. Fortunately, there was a logical buyer right there in Greyhawk City: one Lord Henway, who ran a zoological garden of sorts, with all kinds of exotic creatures on display. He agreed to purchase the oversized rust monster from the group for a hefty sum.

Rale did get a cool sword out of the deal: a luck blade - a +2 short sword that grants its wielder a +1 bonus to all saves, grants its wielder one "reroll" of a die (but then he has to accept the second die roll result), and had at one time granted its former wielder several wishes; that power has been used up but it's rumored to have a "final wish" that would completely destroy the blade if activated. (I planted this last bit in as a future "escape from death" card with a penalty for use - namely, the loss of a cool magic sword.) For reasons known only to himself, Rale named this sword "Liverwurst."

My records indicate that Delphyne was also forced to "bink" back to Headquarter in this adventure and get replaced by Feron, but I don't recall the circumstances. I do recall that we were using her Feron initiative card to fill in for Delphyne since Vicki hadn't yet decided on an image for her, and then she decided that the image of Iggwilv from the cover of Dungeon fit her mental image of Delphyne close enough. So after running the adventure, I went home and built a Delphyne initiative card using the Iggwilv image.

It's worth noting that at this point our gaming group had dropped down (temporarily) to three players, as Logan was off to college. We vowed that we'd keep running his PCs for him in his absence so they wouldn't get behind the others in the XP department, and that when he was home on vacation we'd try to get a gaming session in. (Logan was really looking forward to summer break!) The original plan was that we'd switch off each session as to which of the three players was running Logan's PC, but Vicki quickly opted out of that deal (she didn't want to be responsible for getting another player's PC killed), so we pretty much switched off between Dan and Jacob pulling double duty with one of their PCs and one of Logan's. And when I say "one of Logan's," what I really mean is "Akari" - since the rest of the group had long since figured out that when given the choice of bringing along an unarmored sorcerer who wielded a greatsword on the front lines or an actual front-line combat machine who by the way could also heal himself, the decision was a fairly easy one.
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 16 - THE BUTTERFLIES OF DOOM

PC Roster:
Akari, elven paladin of Hieroneous
Cal Trop, human cleric of Kord
Feron Dru, half-elf druid
Slayer, half-orc barbarian​

"The Butterflies of Doom" was an admittedly silly little adventure that I had originally created as a homemade adventure for the old HeroQuest board game. (After we had gone through all of the adventures that came with the game, I started making up new ones.) I took the basic idea - that a surge of wild magic had warped a wizard's mansion and all of its inhabitants into strange creatures and odd magic effects - and converted it to D&D 3.5E. I had even submitted the idea to Dungeon; oddly enough, the editors didn't think it met their current needs. (Imagine that.)

There's not going to be much to this write-up, sadly, as I don't recall much of the specifics. I remember there were stretches of corridor in the mansion where gravity worked in different directions. I recall the wave of wild magic had been caused by an experiment by the mansion's owner (a wild mage by the name of Palliphron Vex) and his apprentices involving no fewer than five rods of wonder. (Furthermore, one of the rods survived and is carried by Feron Dru to this day, although she only uses it as an absolutely last resort.) The effects of the surge reached all the way to the front lawn, creating the two swarms of carnivorous butterflies that led to the PCs investigating the goings-on in the mansion, and also infusing the two stone lions guarding the steps up to the front door with opposing personalities: one insulted anyone who came near with near-obscenities, while the other apologized obsequiously for his partner's behavior. Inside, some of the bed linen had manifested into sheet phantoms, and while some of the apprentices had merged into a chaos beast and others had morphed into a gibbering mouther, some of their personalities had been shunted into Palliphron's duckbunny familiar, who was rescued from the mansion and eventually took on a consulting position with the Adventurers Guild. (He did, after all, possess pieces of the personalities and memories of four different wizards. He took the name "Quiffington," an amalgamation of pieces of the names of the four wizards merged together.)

At one point, a mermaid fell from the ceiling onto an animated dining room table, and after defeating said table the PCs managed to hoist the grateful mermaid up through the ceiling back to her home on the Elemental Plane of Water. Before departing, she gave Feron a dolphin necklace, which grants a +5 bonus to Swim checks.

All in all a weird little adventure.

I did try something new map-wise for this one, though. Since the "dungeon" was a wizard's mansion on the outskirts of the city (after the "giant chicken incident" of several years back, Palliphron was asked by the Greyhawk City Council to relocate to the edge of the city for the safety of its citizens), and the PCs could see the size and shape of said mansion, I drew an outline of the mansion on the back of a large sheet of desk calendar, then created individual room geomorphs that I "plugged in" as the PCs explored the building.

I got to use two butterflies from my "plastic bug" tube for this adventure, each representing a separate cloud of "Butterflies of Doom."

And that's about all I can relate about this one. Oh, wait - I did include two other monsters in this adventure for Jacob's benefit, thinking that no 11-year-old boy would be able to resist a crap golem or a urine elemental. I was right - he thought they were hilarious.
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 17 - START AT THE END

PC Roster:
Akari, elven paladin of Hieroneous
Cal Trop, human cleric of Kord
Delphyne Babelberi, human witch (wizard)
Slayer, half-orc barbarian​

"Start at the End" was one of the free adventures that you could download from the Wizards of the Coast website; it incorporated one of the free "Map of the Week" maps that were also available on the site. (I believe both may still be available in their older sections.) It any case, it was written by Rich Redman, and I chose it specifically because it featured a dragon guardian, and I felt it was about time I had the PCs face up against a dragon in this game that we'd been playing for several years now. (It was a fairly small dragon, suitable for a group of 6th-/7th-level PCs, but still.)

Before I get to the adventure itself, I need to discuss initiative cards. This was the introduction of Delphyne's initiative card, and up until now Dan was still the only holdout, continuing to use his hastily-sketched-in-pencil drawings for his PCs (Kord's symbol for Cal; little more than a stick figure backstabbing another figure for Rale). This time, I was ready for a little gag. I had gotten hold of a digital photo of Dan, and I superimposed his head onto a drawing of a human rogue from the Wizards of the Coast site (it's the guy with the little rat-tail of hair hanging forward on his shoulder) to use for Rale. Before I started the session, I threw down the stick-figure Rale initiative card that Dan had been using and said we could continue to use that one, or we could use this one instead - and dropped down the Dan/rat-tail-haired hybrid. It got a big laugh (which I had been hoping for), and Dan decided that he'd use it from then on. Then I slapped down my new Cal Trop initiative card, which was the same picture of Dan's face, superimposed upon the cover drawing of the Lost Worlds combat flip-book of a human fighter with shield and sword. (I had Photoshopped the sword out of his hand and replaced it with a mace, and slapped Kord's holy symbol onto the shield for good measure, then drew on a goatee to top it off, as Dan had been experimenting with a goatee since retiring from the Air Force.) I explained that they looked similar because Rale and Cal were cousins. I then further explained that Cal had two siblings, and threw their initiative cards down onto the table to the sounds of laughter as I introduced them: his goatherder brother, Trip Trop (the same photo of Dan's face slapped onto a commoner holding a goat under one arm), and his sister Yvonne "Von" Trop (the same photo of Dan's face slapped onto an image of Julie Andrews from "The Sound of Music"). In each case Dan's face had the same hair as the "undoctored" version of the photo I had used for his siblings.

This wasn't just for the sake of a gag, however; I used Trip Trop as the plot hook to get the PCs into the adventure. Trip wrote to his brother Cal about a bunch of local people having gone missing in the past few weeks, and would he and his adventuring band be willing to look into it if they had the time?

I bought another D&D Miniature for this adventure: it called for four xorn, so I picked up a xorn to demonstrate what they looked like (and used game pieces to represent the others - brown, gray, and black). I also stocked some area-appropriate magic items in the last room of the dungeon, namely the three ivory goat figurines of wondrous power (it being goat country, after all). Cal ended up with the goat of travail; Slayer got the goat of terror, and Delphyne wound up with the goat of travel.

Akari was run by either Dan or Jacob. He was starting to manifest a bit of a split personality by this time; when Dan ran him, he was much braver but took to talking in a slightly British accent; when Jacob ran him, we had to occasionally overrule his more cowardly actions as not staying in character. (Jacob had taken to playing it safe for his PCs whenever possible, possibly stemming from the "a rust monster ate my sword and armor" incident back in "Gorgoldand's Gauntlet.")
 
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Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 18 - RANA MOR

PC Roster:
Akari, elven paladin of Hieroneous
Cal Trop, human cleric of Kord
Feron Dru, half-elf druid
Slayer, half-orc barbarian​

NPC Roster:
Balama Theron, human rogue/wizard
Hurm Feros, half-orc fighter​

I absolutely loved "Rana Mor" from the very first time I read through it, and was absolutely determined that I was going to run it one day. That day finally came when it was time for us to go through our 18th adventure. "Rana Mor" was written by Rich Baker and appeared in issue #86 of Dungeon, and to this day remains one of my favorite adventures of its level. I loved the way it used an exotic locale (a set of ruins in a steaming jungle) and the way that it created different aspects of the standard 3.5 pantheon. I appreciated the variety of monsters it managed to fit in, and the very scale of the ruins themselves.

In fact, the scale of the ruins caused my first decision on how to deal with the maps. The maps in the magazine were all on a 10-foot scale, whereas I (and my players) had become used to an inch representing a 5-foot square. I knew if I simply drew up the geomorphs showing 1-inch squares representing 5-foot squares, I'd make a hash of things in no time at all, forgetting that one square on the map in the magazine was not equal to one square on the map on the table. My solution was to draw out the geomorphs in 2-inch squares, so that a square on the geomorph exactly corresponded to a square as drawn on the DM's map in the magazine. It was easy enough to look at where in the 2-inch square your PC's miniature was located and decide what actual "5-foot-square" he was on.

However, I tried something else new with the maps of the ruins. This time, taking a cue from the "fill it in as you go along" method I had used for "The Butterflies of Doom," I plotted out large areas of the Rana Mor ruins (as much as I could fit onto the back of a page from a desk calendar), drew the outer walls, and brought along a Sharpie marker so I could draw in the interior walls of each room as the PCs explored it. I figured the PCs would know the general shape and structure of the building they were entering, but wouldn't know the interior layout, and this method worked out pretty well for this adventure.

I stocked some magic items of my own creation into the ruins of Rana Mor. One was a stone carving of a winged tiger; if you channeled a 5th-level (or higher) summon monster or summon nature's ally spell into it, it would become an actual winged tiger, much in the same way that a figurine of wondrous power comes to life but then later reverts to statuette form. I also created a staff that did the same deal with flame blade by channeling an appropriate level spell into it. Both items ended up with Feron Dru, who to this day...has never used them. Wait, I take that back - she may have used the staff once. [Edit: This was true for the majority of our campaign, but in our last adventure session I ran an adventure written specifically around the stone tiger carving, and a band of Rana Mor ghosts that were trying to get it back. So Feron's been prompted to remember she has this, and even named the winged tiger "Linus."]

To get the PCs on the adventure, I actually used the Adventurers Guild. The adventure's supplied plot hook is a quest to find the "Rain Tiger," a magic gemstone with mysterious powers; I actually made it a Guild-sponsored quest that had been assigned to Wing Three. It turns out that there's a hidden teleport circle in the bowels of the Adventurers Guild Headquarters of Greyhawk City; stepping through it leads to a similar circle in the Adventurers Guild Headquarters on another continent entirely. The adventure calls for an NPC named Balama Theron to take the PCs on her ship as far down the river as she can and then leave them to follow the rest of the way on foot; I made up a character sheet for Balama and let Vicki run her as well as Feron. (Balama was a fairly low-level rogue/wizard, but she had a wand of magic missiles that was put to good use.) I turned Balama over to Vicki not only so our only female gamer could run the female NPC, but so Vicki would have the experience of running a second character at a time; Dan and Jacob were getting that experience in spades by swapping off who got to run Akari each session.

There was a memorable quote in this adventure. While the PCs are still on Balama's ship, the Starchaser, they are attacked on two sides by a group of natives (some of them spellcasters) in their canoes. Dan, who as you may recall chose to create a cleric PC specifically so he could keep his son Jacob's half-orc barbarian "in the fight" for as long as possible, used some "buff up Slayer" tactics instead of going for the offensive spells. Slayer soon found himself not only the proud recipient of an enlarge person spell (boosting Slayer's strength and making him Large sized) but a water walk spell as well. That was all it took for our little half-orc to regain his long-forgotten taste for front-line fighting; the natives soon found themselves up against an evilly-grinning, 12-foot-tall half-orc racing across the river at them, brandishing a greatsword as long as their canoes. After chopping one canoe up into kindling, Slayer grabbed up one floundering native by the ankle and used him as a club against his cohorts. And that's when Jacob ad-libbed his now-immortal line for the hapless native/club: "I hate my job!"

The whole table, players and DM alike, burst out laughing, and Jacob basked in his moment of glory. It was one of our funniest lines, and I'm glad it was Jacob who came up with it, because I had been worrying a bit as to whether he was enjoying the game.

I also had a bit of preparation fall flat on its theoretical face. One of the natives, Saeng Ki, was a woman wearing face paint that made her face look like a skull, and she had a tiger animal companion; I even went to the trouble of making her her own initiative card, since she had been depicted in the issue's artwork. Since Slayer had brought along Fang by this time, and Jacob had evinced the same sort of "I don't want anything bad to happen to him by bringing him into combat" attitude that had been plaguing Slayer for some time, I gave Saeng Ki's tiger animal companion a magic collar that he could activate once a day by swatting its gem stud, which would then heal it to its full hit point total. (I had intentionally created the magic collar for Fang's benefit, realizing that he'd be the only one who could use it after they slew the tiger.) Well, the "magic collar" of my plan went exactly as anticipated, but the "make an initiative card for Saeng Ki" I could have done without, as she stepped into view and was promptly cut down before she could do so much as utter a single word.

"Rana Mor" took us four sessions to finish. Those ruins were huge, and there was plenty of action before the PCs even got to the ruins (plus some extra action after they had finished up in the ruins, like being chased by a reserve troop of natives all the way back to Balama's ship, and an encounter with a Huge fiendish spider that had created a web across the river since they had last traversed it. (Logan had been purchasing D&D Miniatures by the boxload and had scored a Huge Fiendish Spider with one set; I couldn't resist.)

Perhaps because I enjoyed this adventure so much, it ended up sowing several different future plot hooks. I liked the fact that the Adventurers Guild had expanded into this other continent and vowed to do some more with the concept. I liked Balama Theron, her half-orc first mate Hurm Feros, and the Starchaser, and vowed that our campaign had not seen the last of any of them. (In fact, I had an immediate idea as to how I could incorporate Balama into a future adventure, although it would be years before that idea got implemented. Still, into my campaign notebook it went.)
 
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Have only gotten through first couple posts, but just wanted to say this sort of summary where you see how a campaign develops is very interesting. Thanks for posting it!
 

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