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Role-Playing Games

Musings on all things related to RPGs

In the beginning…

I played my first RPG game in the late ’70’s and it was, of course, Dungeons & Dragons. The red box set. My friend had the game and, with the rest of our gang, we started battling monsters and saving townsfolk. We then quickly moved to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. We even played Runequest and Stormbringer. It was glorious. It was fun.

Now I get to share the adventures with my family, my son in particular. And this blog will (hopefully) chronicle our journey together through Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, and other RPGs. It truly seems they’re making a comeback. The tried-and-true, pencil & paper, tabletop RPGs. There are so many different kinds of RPGs, and different settings, available. I believe there is something for everyone.

This isn’t to take away from VTT sites like Fantasy Grounds and Roll20, and the myriad resources now available to DMs and players alike. I hope to use them myself. When I do, I will let you know about my experiences, both good and bad.

And without further ado, let me tell you about this campaign I’m starting to create for my son and his friends…

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Chapter Prep Time

Right now I’m only a single chapter ahead of my party. I think I’m going to keep it that way. This way I don’t spend time on something the party probably won’t experience. As we all know: there’s no telling what your PCs are going to do.

To date I’ve been crafted each chapter to end on a cliffhanger. I told them to imagine a big “To Be Continued…” floating in the sky. And, to date, this has been centered on their decision on which path to follow after the ‘big event’ of the chapter.

I haven’t formalized a chapter plot because I don’t want it to be predictable. However, so far, there’s been a ‘big event’ and then a decision point. This has worked well because of what I wanted to do, but I see this will probably not work in the subsequent chapters.

One thing I need to keep in mind: this is a quest campaign that is time-boxed. I need to start helping my PCs do the investigative work required. I need to start encouraging them, reminding them, they have something to do with a deadline. Chapter 3, the chapter I’m currently defining, will start laying this groundwork.

As for chapter length: I’ve not tried to fit a chapter into a single length of time. I’ve tried to focus on the story and where there might be a natural end-point. Now game sessions, I’m trying to keep those to around 4 hours. A chapter can have as many game sessions as is necessary.

And I’m trying to stay keenly aware of “over preparation”. As I understand it this is when every single detail is mapped out, typically at the chagrin of your PCs. However, I also feel this phrase is subjective. I do prepare a ton for my NPCs to make it easier for me to play them, like an actor to a role. However, not every NPC gets this treatment; some NPCs don’t really drive the story forward. As for encounters, sometimes I’ll only have a monster or two defined and set the PCs against them. Sometimes I’ll have more elaborate plans, not as a script but as a contingency. Again: you have no idea what your PCs are going to do, or not do.

TTFN

Adventurer Introductions

Our character rolling session/session 0 was a success! We spent about 4 hours generating characters from scratch, or, more accurately, my son and son-in-law spent about 4 hours. With my DM/GM hat on, I officiated the session. I did have some ground rules:

  • No exotic races
  • Generally ‘good’ characters
  • The characters had to be related, or best friends

And then we generally followed the steps in the PHB (Players Handbook).

It was quite amazing how they worked together, to ensure their characters complimented one another. Good on them!

After they named their characters, I plugged them into the companion campaign site: To Rescue Chauntea’s Fire and Sword (be sure to follow along).

Because I wanted them to feel ‘heroic’ I had them create 3rd level characters. I also allowed them to have the maximum number of HP for their Race/Class.

EDIT: This actually occurred several months ago. I guess I forgot to hit the ‘Publish’ button. 😦 We’re actually into Chapter 2. I need to update the campaign site for Chapter 1, too.

Terminology

It’s time for a small terminology change: chapters. I’m constructing ‘chapters’ to the campaign story. We will RP each ‘chapter’ in one or more gaming sessions, or just sessions. Within each ‘chapter’, there will be 1 or more combat encounters, or just encounters.

This campaign will have many chapters. These chapters, for the most part, will be in support of the main quest story line. I plan on developing some side-quests for this campaign, therefore they’ll have their own chapters, too.

Each chapter, again primarily, will be to move the main story forward, or backward as the situation warrants. Therefore each chapter will have 1 or more encounters. An encounter will be an opportunity for the party to interact with the world around them. This could take the form of combat, but it could be just about anything.

Each chapter will have 1 or more sessions. I’m loosely planning on each gaming session to round about 4 hours. If we complete a chapter within that time frame: great. If we don’t, that’s great too.

And, in terms of preparation, I’m about 1 chapter ahead of the party. Meaning, we plan to start the next chapter this week because I have it planned and detailed enough to support a gaming session. However, I also have the next chapter broadly defined. My goal is to have the next chapter planned and detailed enough for the next session 1 month after the completion of the ‘current’ chapter.

That’s it for now. I’m busy creating hand-outs for my PCs and me for our next session.

Campaign Kick-Off…

…is tonight! Characters will be generated tonight!

Admittedly, I don’t have the entire campaign defined. I had always planned on creating/defining ‘on the fly’, staying 1 to 2 encounters ahead of the PCs. But I’m at point where we can do the character-rolling session. This session kicks off the campaign.

The next encounter is about 75% defined; the general plan is defined. I need to fill in some blanks, define some specifics, and prepare for PC-madness.

However, tonight: we’ll go over what is and what isn’t allowed for the PCs; we’ll go over the backstory and why the PCs are taking on this adventure; we’ll define PC backstories; we’ll start the campaign at the Inn of the Dripping Dagger.

I’ll also introduce the PCs to the campaign blog, too.

Let’s have some fun!

Holiday Season is upon us…

Life, Reasons, and the Holiday Season has greatly diminished my progress to date. Couple that with vacillations on the setting and timeframe of my Campaign and you know why I haven’t recently generated any posts. However, I have a slight reprieve until after New Years and this now my plan:

  • Character Rolling Session on 6 January
  • Initial Encounter on 3 February
    • Generally defined by 6 January
    • Fully defined by 20 January

Going forward I’m going to use “2e” Forgotten Realms Map (The Atlas), backed with information from the Forgotten Realms Wiki, to source my locations and encounters. I will be using the 5e Rule set, to include Monster stats, when running the campaign.

Additionally, because I will be using the Forgotten Realms calendar as a campaign component, the setting will start 1372 DR, 1 Nightal. When it makes sense, I will be using local weather conditions for the various encounters.

When it comes to the various encounters my original goal was to be 2 encounters ahead of the currently ‘active’ encounter. I have already failed to meet that goal. Therefore I’m planning on being 1 encounter ahead of the ‘active’ encounter.

Campaign Notes

From what I have defined, I will share: The initial encounter will start in Waterdeep, but will continue in the Mahir Jungle.

It is during the Character Rolling Session, Encounter 00 will take place. I will introduce the party to the back story. I will enlighten them as to why they are partaking in this grand adventure. The back story will deposit them in from of the Inn of the Dripping Dagger, in Waterdeep. From there they will begin the campaign-proper.

Stay tuned…

One step forward; two steps back

With the backstory completed (I might even pare it down), I turned my attention to mapping out the Main Quest. I was immediately struck with the “grandness” of my grand plan: would I be able to accurately portray the myriad locations I have planned? I think the short answer is: No.

OK, full-disclosure: The adventure is going to start in Waterdeep…in an Inn. Yes it’s cliched. Yes it’s been done a hundred million times. But my adventurers are new. So I want to give them the “full” experience.

I then mapped out the backstory; coming up with a baseline for travel by horseback. I then started scouting locations a suitable distance from the starting point. I thought about having the next step in their quest take place in Taoshin, of Kara-Tur. I went to the Forgotten Realms Wiki and was immediately disappointed. I expanded the region search and was presented with a map. I had hope. However, I have my self-imposed constraint to make each location/encounter “accurate” according to common lore/canon. I needed to find more information on Kara-Tur. With Wizards of the Coast not producing anything “current” (as in for 5e), I started to doubt my grand plan. I started considering paring down the scale of my adventure.

I haven’t completely given up hope on Kara-Tur. However, until I get more confidence (read: information), I’m going to select my next 2 locations within Faerûn. There is enough real estate to meet all of my encounter-related conditions.

One other thing: I’m shooting for our first session to take place in December. The adventure is going to take place in Ukatar (November); I’ll be keeping track of adventure time because it’s going to factor into the encounters.

Backstory Complete

I completed the first draft of my campaign’s backstory, the impetus for our intrepid party’s adventure. And, according to the Tome of Adventure Design that’s the first thing that needs to be completed. It has a list of 9 items that make up a “Masterpiece Adventure”. And that is precisely my aim with this new campaign/adventure.

Coincidentally the next item on the list is: Location. And that’s the next item on my internal list. However I don’t have a single location to define. This adventure is going to span the known Forgotten Realms. Whether revealed or not, the initial location is Waterdeep. And, depending on the choices and successes of the party, the final location is/might be/could be Goldenfields.

Main Quest

I have to map out the locations for the main quest. These will be the points between A (Waterdeep) and Z (Goldenfields) should the party stick solely to the Main Quest. And in my loose notes I want to try every kind of encounter: city, dungeon, forest, castle, temple, on the sea, under the sea, etc. And, if possible, different seasons.

Note: Just because I say I want to do it, doesn’t mean I’ll actually do it. I’m battling time and, eventually, party interest and enthusiasm. My first rule is: keep the adventurers engaged.

For each main quest location I’ll be answering these questions:

  • Why is the party here?
  • Where are they going next?
  • How will they accomplish this?
  • What are the ramifications for not going?

There may be more questions, hopefully not fewer.

Side Quests

After I get the Main Quest locations mapped out, I’ll start considering the addition of Side Quest locations. This also requires I define some Side Quests.

I haven’t spent time thinking about the Side Quests other than I want to tie them into the Player Character’s background and/or motivations. I feel I can setup some inter-party conflict with the Side Quests.

I’ll need to be mindful on “degree of difficulty” and ability to reintegrate into the Main Quest for each Side Quest. While Player Character death is always possible, I’d rather it didn’t happen in a Side Quest. But it could happen.

Maps

I’m already gathering some resources for the location maps I’m going to need. I’m also considering using map tiles and miniatures. I haven’t decided on the specific execution of these ideas though. I have a feeling I’m going to experience some “perfect is the enemy of good enough” moments.

Once I start sorting and deciding on maps I’ll post a link to the resource(s).

Music

This is a new element for me. For this I have zero experience. However, I’ve been really lucky in finding some play lists in Spotify. I have also found some ‘dark ambient’ music producers. I have a feeling this aspect of the campaign definition is going to be time consuming; I need to not overthink the music.

I’m planning on creating my own play list with the music I want to play. I want each piece to set the mood, enhance the encounter. I also need to find some ‘filler’ pieces that can be played when the party is in between encounters.

Under Construction

Inspiration strikes at odd times.

I’ve been working on the campaign, but I’ve also been working on a “campaign-related” blog/website. It seemed like a natural extension to this site. However I could have also been inspired by other folks. For example: Blaine Pardoe is chronicling his D&D Campaign. I’m excited to follow his and his adventurer’s progress. (I found his site by way of the Google+ Community: G+ Tabletop Roleplaying Games).

My self-imposed goal is to have the companion site “read” like a fantasy adventure story/novel. The plan is to update the campaign site shortly after the RL (real life) sessions. I’m excited for it for 2 reasons: 1) friends and other interested folks can follow the adventure, and 2) my son will have a permanent record of this adventure he’s about to undertake.

I will share: working on the companion site has really helped me define the campaign backstory. I’m really excited about that (don’t let me fool you; I’m excited about all the things I create).

Until next time…

Scouting Locations

I now have a Goal, with Motivations, I can use to define the party’s Mission for this adventure. I’m very excited about the selection. Additionally, after I have some more details on the Mission, I’ll finally be able to ‘name’ the campaign. Plus, I’m going to start mapping out the over-arching narrative, figuratively and literally, over the coming days, weeks.

My current plan is to start scouting locations in the Forgotten Realms. I want to also pay attention to the distances and modes of travel. Sometimes we’ll be able to ‘role play’ through the traveling. Other times the party will have activities with which to engage.

I readily recognize the enormity of the task before me. That’s why I’m going to map out, at a high-level, the entirety of the campaign, locations and notes. And, instead of diving into the details of each encounter, I will focus on 2-3 encounters at a time. My goal: have up to 2 encounters ready to go while the party works through in a session or more.

There are numerous resources available to help with locations and maps. I have my handy-dandy The Forgotten Realms Atlas. That’s my ‘go to’ resource. There’s also a Forgotten Realms Wiki. I recently learned about Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. It’s the latest information on the Realms tailored for Dungeons & Dragons 5e.

I will use those for my “Big Picture” location scouting. I will be looking for various terrains and regions as each bring their own unique encounter opportunities.

When it comes time to pick more detailed maps I’m going to first look at Dyson’s Dodecahedron. The gentleman behind the site has a wealth of maps, many of which are freely available to use. After that, “Google’s my friend”, and I’ll peruse the Google+ Communities. I’m not worried about these maps.

 

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