Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons Master

I started playing with my sister's teen friends when I was three (reportedly as a street urchin, and then as a wizard's cat familiar).  I spent a lot of my childhood "playing pretend" in many ways, with varying level of structure.  I started playing one-offs and visiting roles in other people's games around sixteen, but I had a job and no car... so nothing stuck until I was an adult.  I've played in many, many campaigns since I was about nineteen years old.

I've recently started DMing a group with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, set in Forgotten Realms.  There is a staggering amount of information to take in... and that's what I've been doing for the past six weeks.

I've never really DMed for a campaign.  I've goofed off with friends in casual RP that I narrated.  I ran a few d20 Modern one-offs on Roll20 when it was brand new.  I had no confidence in my ability to run a game.  I still, really, wouldn't say I do.

Recently, a couple of the players from those Roll20 sessions elected me their DM -- and wanted to play.

Knowing these players had seen a hearty amount of Acquisitions Incorporated, Critical Role, and the like could make any Baby DM nervous.  I'm no Mercer or Perkins.

I started off doing solo-sessions with my three purely online players.  A railroad ride through their immediate backstory, highlighting what I could about areas in Faerun (Icewind Dale, Candlekeep Library, the Lizard Marsh, the Misty Forrest, and The Seven Stringed Harp in Secomber).  Weaving the information they'd given me about their characters into a narrated experience, setting some groundwork.  I used these sessions to explain the origin stories, plot hooks, and NPCs their backstory had helped me develop.  I thought of these as being very similar to the origin stories in Dragon Age: Origins or the in-town prelude of Oregon Trail (right after character creation).  My three real-life players, in the same group, had individual conversations with me establishing their immediate history and character concepts.  This may not have been as rewarding, but being done socially, face-to-face, it was decidedly more casual.

My players are about half-experienced, and half green.  In fact, we probably have every plant metaphor in the group, sprouts to perennials.  As a result, I'm running an intentionally Trope-a-rama style campaign.  I want to highlight as much "Forgettable Realms" culture as I can to give some exploratory aspects to the world, but I'm also abusing the shit out of every RPG trope if it's good for the story.

My Player Characters: the very bardy bard, the broody storm sorcerer of the swamps, lawful-good paladin of justice, earthy-crunchy noble elf wizard, the dwarf blacksmith cleric, and a cocky blade-dancing anti-authoritarian.

Combining classic intros, "The Awkward Inn" and "Adventuring Company Coworkers," my players filed into the town on their own, on their way to meet with the recruiter for The Wayfarers (the aforementioned adventuring company)... at an Inn.  All expenses paid by the company, each player got their own room, a set of fine clothes, hot baths, and an unlimited tab for food and drink... but meals are communal affairs in the main room, at certain times.  Everyone gets to know one another, socially, as they wait for the last of the recruits (PC and NPC) to trickle in.

How I wrote the first session: "If the players do nothing, Secomber will suffer a potentially lengthy public trial on a man innocent of the crime of which he's accused.  The morale of the town will suffer as the trial is divisive and wrought with gossip.  Furthermore, the real killer escape justice."

Then I filled in some details, just brainstorming... wrote what the crime really was, and how it happened.  Donald DuBosc, husband of Cecile, is the town leatherworker.  They were happily married until recently.  Donald developed a drinking problem and began having an affair with a young lady in the town.  He feels immense guilt over this, and wants to move to another town.  He's arranged to sell his business, but his wife doesn't want to move.  Furthermore, his mistress also doesn't want him to move.  Town gossip is fuzzy, from overheard arguments between the married couple, as to which wanted to move or stay.  Donald and the mistress have an argument, at his business, about his leaving.  This leads Donald to drink himself to sleep, in his shop, that night.  In a rage, the mistress barges into the family home and kills Cecile.  Then, panicked, she rabbits toward the nearest major city (Waterdeep) to escape justice.  In his guilt, Donald succumbs to justice.
I deemed that the First Scribe to the Lord of Secomber was a politically ambitious man that wanted a position closer to Steward.  I played the Scribe as snobby and scheming, toward the players.  A big slimy fish in a small pond.  As a result, he acts as the ringleader, mover-and-shaker, and voice of the lead prosecutor in this tale.  He's a charismatic man, by all townsfolk accounts, and a strict father.  However, his daughter Lissie has began to secretly rebel.  Sneaking out to taverns, having an affair with the town's leatherworker, and plotting to run away to Waterdeep with her friend Vanna the serving wench.

I think I subconsciously wrote The Amy Fisher Story in Secomber.

First session tested Roll20 map and combat functionality, gave the players a chance to RP a bit, and solve a mystery (clues given during origin stories).  Highlighting Secomber's unusual public trial process, I presented a man accused of killing his wife.  He declared innocence of this crime, but in grief did not protest his potential penalty.  Everyone had to share clues, and gather more, before they could save the wrongfully condemned man from death. One piece of evidence was just outside town, and the gathering process brought about a small hobgoblin ambush. Then, depending on what evidence was presented, they might have to testify (less ideal) -- or submit them to authorities discreetly (as some of the evidence was scandalous, this would be better for town morale).

Next session I had a few options available (trying to provide a small sandbox to the players) -- but the players took the path of chasing down the real killer (who had fled).  This was my first custom dungeon, and it was kinda painful.  I made too many narrow passages, the group split immediately, and a couple of my players got to do very little but walk around.  The entire session was spent, basically, dungeon-crawling in a crappy dungeon.

Our third session fell on April Fool's Day.  Read more about it, here.