Friday, 9 October 2015

Starting my new 5e D&D campaign...

"I've always wanted to play D&D and never had the chance."

This phrase implies a barrier to play that I have never known. Based on what I've heard from others I was lucky that no one stopped me because I was too young or doing it wrong or whatever. I don't understand the wall that keeps someone from our silly little hobby but I am happy to cut a hole in it and wave them on through.

Last Monday was full of firsts. It was the first session for my new group. It was my first time running Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons. More importantly, it was also the first time ever that my new group played an RPG.

We went with fifth because they have copies of the 5e Players Handbook and wanted to play the latest, greatest version of the world's most popular role playing game. As far as the editions go, fifth edition is probably my favourite. It has a good balance of streamlined rules and extra parts that can be used or not without breaking anything. If I have to run D&D (and for these guys I did) I'd rather run 5e than any of the older versions.

The character building system for 5e really shines with new players. It presents solid choices and each choice leads to another. I found the background section particularly useful. It allowed them to quickly flesh out their characters, giving them a grounding in the world. We ended up using the suggested bonds as inspiration, creating a shared history that bound them together.

(The Gazetteers and old adventures print up into a nice A5 booklet!)

After we got the characters all done I asked them about what they wanted out of the world. For people steeped in the genre like we are, the possibilities are virtually endless. As newcomers they were looking for a "Traditional D&D" experience. They wanted all the D&D stuff like elves, goblins, dwarves and dragons. Intrepid heroes pushing into the uncivilized wilderness to explore forgotten temples in search of adventure and treasure!

As we talked I got a feel for what they wanted and suggested we play in the "Known World" that was used as a backdrop fro the "B" and "X" D&D modules. The Grand Duchy of Karameikos was my introduction to the world of D&D so it's a joy for me to share it with them. It features pockets of civilization stretched across a vast expanse of untamed wilderness full of monsters, ancient ruins and mystery. The open nature of the original setting fits the modern style of sandbox play I prefer and it will give them control over their characters' fates. It also gives me plenty of room to place some of my favourite locations and adventures from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. To give them a balanced experience, I plan to use the better classic adventures like (B2) Keep on the Borderlands along side the best the OSR has to offer like Death Frost Doom. Other play will be stuff of my own and the things that develop out of their decisions. I'm wicked excited about this campaign! I don't know how long it's going to last, but I can keep us going for years!

The group is excited to play the Keep on the Borderlands. Our next game will start with them heading up the Duke's Road from the Barony of Kelvin. Perhaps on the way they'll come across a cornfield that is suspiciously lush for the time of year and investigate. Maybe they won't investigate and I won't get to use Tales of the Scarecrow after all. Who knows?

(Some of the stuff my players could stumble into over the course of the campaign.)

I'm looking forward to leaving trails of rumours and other breadcrumbs to all the corners of the sandbox. The classic modules already have their place in the Duchy so I just need to dust them off (or print them out) and read through them before they get there. That's settled, but the stuff I have from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, especially the older adventures that don't fit the new assumed real-world historical setting, can be placed anywhere.

Some of them are obvious choices. The town of Pembrooktonshire is crying out to be placed on the edge of the Black Peak Mountains north of Threshold. The hidden country of Voivodja (A Red & Pleasant Land) needs to be cradled in the Altan Tepes mountain range. Nestled between the Duchy, the Empire of Thyatis, the Emirate of Ylaruam and the Republic of Darokin, it is well positioned to secretly influence the many countries of the Known World. Rumours of the ruins of the great palace of the vampire lords that ruled Karameikos during the dark age point toward those mountains. There might be stories of gardens full of treasure for anyone brave enough to follow the Volaga river to its source.

Speaking of the Republic of Darokin, Vornheim needs a home. Corunglain, the northernmost city, seems a natural spot. Foreboding and dreary, next to the Broken Lands while sitting astride important trade routes. That's the locale that mixes melancholy and wealth together to produce Vornheim! The mountains that border Darokin and Rockhome is probably the best place for The Hammers of the Gods, an old LotFP adventure centred on the Dwarves. I bought it strictly to find out the big, bad secret of the dwarves. Maybe I'll get to use it and my players will find out too.

The Grinding Gear is another old one, with its goblins and stirges, that could be used as is anywhere around Threshold. Likewise the Black Peak Mountains could hold the little cottage from Death Frost Doom. I think I'll place it near the Lost Valley of the Hutaaka and weave into that story. Still, it might be better in the Altan Tepes Mountains, near the frost giants and Castellan Keep. I have time before I spring that one on them and I can put it pretty much anywhere if I wait until play delivers us a macguffin worth the effort.

The horror-show adventure Forgive Us could fit in any town in the Duchy on a trade route (nearly all of them). The same could be said for Death Love Doom, bu if I use that one it will be on the outskirts of Specularum. That adventure would be a good impetus to get the players to leave the Duchy for a while and head south to the Thanegioth Archipelago and the Isle of Dread (X4) or the Isle of the Unknown. Perhaps they would even go as far as the southern continent to find Qelong. I was going to put Qelong on the western edge of the map, on the other side of the Malpheggi Swamp where the Atruaghin Clans are supposed to be, but I'm thinking that's a better spot for the Slumbering Ursine Dunes (by Chris Kutalik and the Hydra Cooperative).

What I'm really going to have fun with is the God that Crawls. It can be placed in any remote location but instead of St. Augustine of Cantebury as the cursed monster prowling the maze it could be Halav, the first king and saviour of Traladara. Gnoll warlocks could have captured him after their defeat and used a ritual to transform him into the crawling monster. Zirchev would have captured him and placed him in the holding place for the cursed Blackmoor artefacts for everyone's safety. Petra built the original Traladaran temple on top of the maze so Halav could be cared for. That's probably the easiest way to work the adventure into the setting. The secret would not undermine the Church of Traladara if it got out because it only increases the suffering of Halav for his people, but it would completely destroy the Cult of Halav who depend on the idea of the Duke as the reincarnation of Halav. Halav can't be the Duke and a monster at the same time. But if he can be restored he could lead the Traladar back into a golden age. That's something the Thyatian ruling class might want to keep a lid on.

(Inside foldout image from The God That Crawls by Jason Rainville)


I'm hoping to get that one in right after they are done with the Keep on the Borderlands. It would be nice to do it earlier but I'm not sure they will take the bait and head off the Duke's road to some remote village while they have a goal in mind. It will likely depend on how things go in the first encounter.

I'm excited about this hybrid setting! All this material blends well and gives me a lot to work with before we add the influence of the players who may change things as they go knocking bout the world and looking for trouble and making assumptions about how things work. There's no better source for material than the paranoid musings of the players after all.

The rush of ideas came after I printed out the old Gazetteer for the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. I wanted to read through it to give the Keep a world to have a place in. The more of these old Gazetteer PDFs I read the more I am impressed with the Known World setting. It has its own rich history and intrigues but nothing is so important that it can't be tweaked or changed to taste.

My big challenge will be adapting the experience awards in the adventures to suit 5e. I'm reading through my new DMG in the hopes that I can figure out a fair way to assign experience since the adventures I'm using where designed to use treasure as the main source of XP rather than the conflict. I'm hoping there's something in there like the old Palladium System had or the 2e optional experience system that rewarded good ideas, RP and problem solving. If not, I'll come up with something based on what I've done in the past, test it out and we'll have an exciting blog post about experience points in 5e D&D!

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend here in Canada we won't have another session for a week-and-a-half. You can expect a session report sometime after that. Good or bad, I'll be talking about it.