Beginning a D&D campaign is a daunting experience, especially when your entire experience role-playing is in a few Pathfinder games. Dungeons&Dragons’ latest edition is by no means an overly complex game. Most of the rules are explained in a clear, forthright way, and both the Player’s Handbook(PHB) and Dungeon Master’s Guide(DMG) are excellent books, introducing both the basics necessary to begin, as well as plenty of intermediate and optional rules — especially in the case of the DMG.
This first session either introduced or continued the stories of several characters from a short-lived summer sit-down with a group of six people, which relied on the Pathfinder ruleset and was quite the challenging first outing for me as a Dungeon Master.
My players were happy enough with it, or so they told me, but more importantly, I got to plant the seeds to what I envisioned as the main conflict.
The player characters found themselves on the Tenebrae island, the land of the Einhorn Duchy. Ruled by Duke Gregor Einhorn and his family, the Duchy began as a sprawling human colony. Soon enough, races of myth and legend, unseen since a war three thousand years in the past, make contact with the Duke and his people.
Cautious at first, eventually the Duke opens his lands to these strange creatures. Elves, dwarves, gnomes and more began mixing with humankind. That was the jist of my description for the setting of the game.
We see many fantasy worlds, especially D&D ones, which are entirely comfortable with a plethora of races mixing together, brushing shoulders against one another. I wanted to explore a world in which this diffusion had just occurred — that’s the main reason as to why I chose to put a single restriction on any half-elves my players were interested in playing. They could be no older than 22-25. (Somewhat vague, but giving too many details from the get-go backs you into a corner a wee bit.)
The main conflict I spoke about wasn’t anything too original — the Empress’ mage was checking in on the Duke. He didn’t want to be too obvious about it, so he asked one of the Empress’ soldiers (fighter PC), Captain-lieutenant Kalis Dargon, to investigate whether the Duke was planning to break away from this far-off Empire.
Kalis’ player(S.) is the most experienced D&D player at this point, having played since 4th edition so I gambled on anchoring the main plot to his backstory, on which we worked on together. I reckon doing a lot of that with most of the players who had the time and will to do so — three out of the original four’s backstories offered focal points at various times over our game, and continue to weave the story threads.
Nothing’s worse than a static world in which your players’ backstory has no meaning.
Faced with the need to get close to the Duke, our players explored the city of Moranth. Soon enough, they discovered an opportunity — the Duke’s son had disappeared during one of the last undead att–oh, did I mention the undead?
Aye, the undead were another thread of the conflict I had begun weaving for my wee lads. Nothing too original at all — the ancient dead awake, no one knows why, they begin attacking the smaller villages outside Moranth; they come from the seas, the fish is diseased, the ship of our human adventurers is the last ship to enter Moranth’s harbour before a blockade is enforced.
The blockade worked in two ways — first, it gave an in-world reason for my players’ characters not to just up’n’leave the island when the going gets tough; second, it created yet another, unspoken objective. Those characters who might want to get home now had another reason to disentangle whatever’s happening on the island.
Our group of adventurers discovered Boris Einhorn’s fate soon enough. Information about him was richly rewarded by the Duke, himself. Find his body, and…Bob’s your uncle. Probably not quite how the ‘Information wanted’ posters were phrased, but it’s been awhile.
They spent their sweet time considering how to go about finding the young Prince’s trail, discussing their plans loudly and in the center of city. Someone noticed, of course. That someone decided to place a little something in Logen’s pack.
Logen Thum is the company’s warlock/witcher; while using the warlock class, his backstory heavily borrowed from the Witcher universe. I allowed it because…who doesn’t like witchers in their universe? He’s a bit of an arse, though, and not nice to women at all. Something about spending all his life in a warrior monastery must’ve done its damage to the lad, but his heart is golden, and that’s all that matters! The lad who plays Logen is also one of my closest friends, so of course, I hand him an awful lot of rope and giggle as he hangs himself.
I’m a great friend.
At any rate, I asked P. to give me a perception roll, and he rolled high enough to tell that someone had tinkered with his pack; Logen sees a flash of movement and goes chasing the figure down. The rest of our adventurers follow.
He got the thief, blast his lucky die rolls! Surprise, surprise — the thief is a teenage girl who’s somewhat surprised to have gotten caught but there’s a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.
The twinkle vanishes as Logen punches her in the stomach once, a second time — the rest of our adventurers catch up at last and Kalis, horrified, realizes that this girl is none other than the daughter of Duke Einhorn, and the heir apparent to the Duchy, now that her older brother’s disappeared.
Next up: An introduction to the rest of our characters, a lot more story, and behind-the-scenes decisions and a Dungeon Master’s reasons for them. Stay Tuned!