January 16, 2014

D&D Campaign History - Part 3

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The story of my high-school D&D campaign continues with the characters beginning to inadvertently shape their world. Part 1 details the adventuring party’s origins and part 2 explains their rise to notoriety. We left the characters soldiering on the Isle of Dawn, but keen to destroy an artefact of evil as payment for the god Kiri-Jolith’s earlier help. At this stage there are 4 player characters all around level 7:

  • Greymarel – an alcoholic wizard
  • Kur-Tas Kai – a war priest of Kiri-Jolith, and the organiser of the party (if not de facto leader)
  • Talin – a brave, but occasionally foolhardy, ranger
  • Raven – a huge brutish warrior with spiked armour to match his demeanour

Here one of the pitfalls of open campaigns occurred. I had a home-brew adventure ready for the party where they helped break the grinding stalemate in the war on the Isle (based on an old World War I movie). However, the players weren’t interested. They considered their debt to Kiri-Jolith of greater immediate concern than duty to their nominal liege lord. Going with the flow, I had the party hear of a wizard in the plains city of Ithil who was an expert in magical artefacts. Sensing a hot lead, the party immediately deserted and headed back to the mainland.

Apart from accepting a local baron’s invitation to a wrestling tourney and helping some halflings catch an ambitious thief, the multi-month journey in game time (but only a few sessions in real-life) was fairly uneventful. Ithil was a grand city-state in the near dead centre of the continent the players called home. To the north and south unfriendly hordes of barbarians and monsters made travel risky so trade tended to go through the increasingly wealthy city. The party met the rumoured wizard and he agreed to help if they promised to rescue his son-in-law, a foolhardy princeling who had been captured by a dragon in the far north. After some negotiation, the party accepted this new quest, but would only complete it after the wizard had helped them. Agreeing, the wizard gave them the last know location of a suitable evil artefact – a lost city in the southern jungles.

Thus started the adventure Dwellers of the Forbidden City (map of the city above). On the way to the city the party met up with a thief and became instant friends (yes, a new player had joined the game). However, several sessions later he was left behind in the city (the new player had left the game). The players were quiet clumsy in their search for the artefact. Instead of playing the various monster factions in the city off against each other, they just blasted their way through to grab the artefact (a large chalice). This was a strong warning to me. Where previously the party had struggled, now they breezed through any but the toughest encounters, becoming overconfident in the process. I resolved to give them some very tough encounters in the future.

Returning to Ithil, the players prepared for the artefact’s destruction. The wizard would keep open a portal to a hellish dimension while the players travelled through, smashed the chalice in the dimensional gates and quickly returned. Of course it didn’t go to plan. The party easily destroyed the artefact, but then I threw the hordes of Hell at them, literally. There was an endless swarm of demons. They managed to work their way through a good number before realising the situation was hopeless and retreated back through the portal. However, I didn’t let it end there. The demons came back through the gates too, together with a demon lord – Orcus himself. Then followed a funny moment as Raven tried calculating how combat would go. Orcus was very powerful and would very likely kill his target with a single strike. However, I said the party would have the first action while the demons recovered from passing through the portal. Raven calculated that if he attacked and rolled a natural 20 (5% chance) to hit followed by a 99 or 100 (2% chance) on the critical hit table the he would kill Orcus and earn enough XP to rise 2 levels at once. Raven’s player spent some time thinking, but ultimated joined the rest of the party in running away.

Once at a safe distance the party decided to go save the prince kidnapped by a dragon instead of returning to the city. They thought the Ithil city elders could solve the demon plague by themselves (a conclusion I promoted). So the players just kept heading north. Thus began the worst adventure I ever organised. Their destination was a mountain beyond the arctic circle. I wanted to try communicating the desolation and isolation involved with the journey. Thus not much happened on a trip that took many game sessions. Talk around the table began to drift as the players found other topics to entertain themselves. It must have been quite boring.

Finally the party reached the dragon’s mountain. Easy to spot because it was inverted – larger at the top than bottom (so the top could act as a landing field). I had a large adventure planned out. Surely the party would realise the dragon and his minions were too powerful for their normal assault plan (as I had been hinting for some time) and would stealthily infiltrate the mountain. Instead they marched up the mountain and demanded an audience. “Hmmm, sure” said the dragon and in they went. I had no idea what they intended. Then Raven said, “I pull out my Arrow of Dragon Slaying”. I was dumbfounded. The players laughed. I didn’t remember such an item ever being available in my game. I asked to see the character sheet and indeed it was written there. Judging by its position in the equipment list it had been there some time (and there was no evidence of something underneath being erased). I asked where it had come from and he had a plausible tale that he had bought it on the way to Ithil the first time – the other players backed his story. Kur-Tas Kai said they had all been waiting for some time for me to take it away, but eventually concluded I must have forgotten about it. If the story was true I had indeed forgotten, but I couldn’t definitely remember one way or the other. So the dragon died quickly, the prince was rescued and many jokes were made at my expense.

Returning to civilisation, the party discovered Ithil in ruins – replaced by a growing demon incursion. The dimensional portal remained open and until closed the world was in great danger. The party planned to find a special artefact and use that to close the portal. This artefact was a sword which destroyed any magical item that touched the blade. I dropped hints that there were a number of such swords in existence. As adventurers who derived most of their power from an impressive armoury of magical items, this scared the party immensely (just as I had hoped). A short adventure later, the party had acquired the sword for the loss of only a few of their items. With Talin carrying this artefact (as he was the least loaded down with magic items), the party returned to Ithil aided by a company of paladins. The battle was long and hard, but not particularly varied. Wave after wave of demons broke against the party until they reached the portal and threw the anti-magic sword into it (thus destroying both the sword and portal).

Now the party were famous across the continent and fabulously rich. It was around this point the campaign took a rest. We still played games together, just not D&D. However, this is not the end of the story. After around year of other things, the campaign started up again for the last stage before fading away. Part 4 is here.

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