Sunday, 20 October 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to Andavia - A Campaign in one Session.

It'd been a good long while since we'd played some dnd. Earlier this year we'd attempted to restart but ultimately failed to have a schedule that we could all meet. As a result our weekly dnd sessions fell into a hiatus, one that we'd failed to resume. Finally, by mostly taking the rest of my friends by surprise, I'd managed to get them to agree to a single session campaign.

I'd actually had the whole thing worked out for a while now, it was actually supposed to fall in between The Sand and the Dead it Left in it's Wake and Bleaker'sGambit, but it turned out we didn't need to fill in the time. As a result I re-worked it as a quick introduction for a group of first time players, which also never came about. In the end it served as something quick to get the group together again.

The premise was pretty straightforward; The group were lost in an enchanted forest and come across a Wizard's Tower. Said wizard agrees to help them out of the forest if in return they recover his spell book from a feral elf girl that had stolen it. Knowing what the group was usually like I said that the forest was protected by a magical spell that would prevent them from leaving and only by finding the book would the wizard undo the spell. They would probably just have tortured the wizard into showing them the way out otherwise.

The session played out a little like an old episode of Knightmare. I'd brought along some Rory's Story Cubes for some added random events. If you haven't seen these then you should really check them out, they're great for some ad-hoc campaigns. The group's first stop was the haunted ruins. The ruins themselves were dotted with slabs on the floor, some of which were booby trapped, some of which weren't. Entering a room resulted in me rolling a story cube to decide what was within and, to be honest, worked out extremely well.
For example in one room I rolled a dice and it came up with a shield, thus I decided that they would find a stone shield which may become useful later. Another room I rolled some cogs, telling the group that the room contained the mechanism for a portcullis. Putting two and two together the team could deduce that the shield was part of a locking mechanism for the ruin's exit and sure enough they figured this out when confronted with a statue of a knight.

Another thing I introduced for the use with the Story Cubes was the periodic appearance of ghostly fire. Putting ones hand in the fire would result in the roll of the dice, sometimes they'd get something useful, sometimes not so much. It was a pretty good way of preventing myself and the team from writing ourselves into a corner.

After an encounter with the elf girl and failing to hit her with a throwing knife the group come across an orc village. Earlier I'd told the team that they had infinite coin as they wouldn't be encountering anyone to buy things off. Thinking themselves clever, they used this to bribe their way into the orc village. Fair enough, shortly after they encountered the tribe's well spoken chief, who told them that they'd need to do something for his people in return for info on where the wild elf lives. Again they attempted to bribe with infinite coin, only to be told that the coin was now worthless as the economy had just been flooded with the stuff. Rule one: never try to outsmart the DM.

So instead the group had to find another way to appease the orcs. Option one was to find out why a nearby tribe had turned hostile. Option two was to fix a mechanical well that had dried up. Option three was to steal an artifact from another rival tribe. With Nazrin being an artificer, it made sense that they'd pick option two.
It turned out that the well wasn't actually a well, it was an ancient complex of stone outhouses. Cue the group joking about how the orcs had been drinking out of toilets and me repeating “It's fine! It's clean! They haven't been used in thousands of years! You can practically drink out of them!”. The area was scattered with clues and options to fix the mechanism, but most of the group missed these. Fortunately there was another brazier of 'ghostly fire' nearby, which they used to randomly obtain some 'strange gel', which they could then use to fix the mechanism and get the toilets working again.

They return to the village only to find the chief being threatened by a mysterious Inquisitor, also on the trail of the girl. The orc agreed to reveal her location, and the humans left. Choosing to stick around, the chief told the team that he gave the humans the long way round, and then tells the team how to get to her quicker.
The group make their way to a river, and notice the feral elf girl again. Kenzi fails to hit her with another dagger and she runs away. This was a little important since they were supposed to have tried to hurt or capture her by now, with a successful hit being met with a random spell being cast to counter it, showing that she was impervious to damage. Without witnessing this, things would make a little less sense later on, which you will see.

The group lasso a rope across the river and climb over. Using my story cubes once again, I determine that a sea monster lurches from the depths, prompting a quick combat encounter. Finally across, and making their way upstream, I roll the cubes again and they find themselves face to face with a traveling minstrel who they promptly murder rather than deal with his riddles.

Finally at the summit, they find the elf girl's cave and climb their way up to confront her. The group doesn't use their time particularly well here, with only Damon managing to gain a little of her trust. Running out of time, the Inquisitor and his cronies arrive and take her hostage. He explains that she is a new kind of wild mage who can cast spells just by touching the wording, making her very dangerous to be in possession of the wizard's book.

The Inquisitor explains the damage equals random spell conundrum, and states he has a special gun that will kill her outright. The group has no problem with this no matter how hard I try to pull their heart strings. The girl, mute though she is, tries to convey that the Inquisitor does not know the full picture.
They still decide to let him pull the trigger, leading to catastrophic results. The girl creates a black hole that consumes everyone, with only Damon passing a strength check to hold onto something. At this point, had Damon not managed to hold on, or gain a little of the girls trust, then it would have been game over. Yes I am that uncompromising. Fortunately Damon manages to plead with the girl, who casts a white hole that farts Nazrin and Kenzi back into existence.

Finally realising the extent of her powers, they manage to negotiate the spell book out of her hands. They return to the wizard who gives them a reward and undoes the spell to get them out of the forest. Thanks for playing.

What Worked:

This was one of the tightest run sessions I'd ever done. None of the solutions seemed restrictive or railroaded, nor too obvious or too obscure. Both I as the DM and the players made the most of the humour derived from flooding the orc's economy and the toilet complex. the Story Cubes were a fucking godsend and added an extra dynamic to the game that made it feel that little bit more fresh and that little more unpredictable. As with my previous campaign, I made use of the Lords of Magic soundtrack, which seems to have a piece of music for every environment.

What Didn't:

I'd say the only weak part of the session was the climax. I hadn't done enough earlier on to clue the group into the elf girl's power set or give them a reason to want to dislike the Inquisitor. Once again I'd created a scenario where I wanted the team to empathize and they failed to do so. Lesson learned I guess, don't get too attached to characters if you're going to give the players the opportunity to murder them.

Final Thoughts:

A quick fun session that proves that you can keep a dnd campaign at only one session long and still include everything you want to. Certainly likely that we'll be using this format again for future games.

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