Tag: Adventurer’s League

The Deep Mines of Published Adventures

I’d like to give you a bit of a peek “behind the curtain” regarding where inspiration comes from and how basic materials from other sources can lead to new ideas and new directions in storytelling. This past weekend, I put together a one-shot D&D adventure for Seattle fans of Critical Role. While I did re-watch some favorite episodes from the first campaign of the series, and read up on a good deal of material in the Tal’dorei Campaign Guide, considering this was a one-shot, I wanted to make sure that the adventure had direction and balance. With that in mind, I turned to my time acting as a Dungeon Master for the Adventurer’s League.

The two Adventurer’s League modules that I took as my basis were “The Waydown” and “The Occupation of Szith Morcaine”. They’re from the same season of the Adventurer’s League, the “Rage of Demons”, and thus had a lot in common. Both were delves into the Underdark, both involved strange beings to both interact with and fight against, and both were influenced heavily by the machinations and madness of the demon prince known as Graz’zt.

But the Adventurer’s League modules take place in the Forgotten Realms. This was an adventure in Exandria, on the continent of Tal’dorei. This lead to some questions for me, as the Dungeon Master: where is the Waydown on Tal’dorei? How are drow, duregar, myconids, and so on different in the world created by Matt Mercer? And what would Graz’zt want with Exandria?

I am, of course, not going to answer that last question here. This is going to be more than a one-shot, much to my delight. But I will say that, since these two adventures were related by the overarching “Rage of Demons,” it wasn’t difficult to tease a few bits apart, remove things that didn’t work, and weave them together into one coherent adventure with Tal’dorei flavor and and plenty of places for a party of adventurers to go.

One of the things that saw me moving away from Adventurer’s League was that in a short, two- or four-hour session, it can be very difficult to get into character, establish rapport with other players — or, if you’re the DM, any players. On the other hand, the published adventure modules are adjustable for all sorts of parties in terms of difficulty and rewards, and the through-line of start to middle to end is very easy to follow. With the change of setting and a longer session time, this flexibility made the matter of adding more narrative storytelling a straightforward one.

Now that the party’s established, and these initial adventures are completed, we can move on. While it can’t be called entirely original, considering the involvement of Graz’zt and the very nature of where Tal’dorei came from, the storyline and character hooks I have in mind are all mine, informed by my fantastic players and rooted in the desire to tell a great story woven through with emotion and character.

I also run a game on the occasional Thursday night, and we’re going through the 5th edition starter set’s “Lost Mine of Phandelver”. Again, however, this adventure has been transplanted from the Forgotten Realms to a campaign setting entirely of my own design. The world of Levexadar is my first real attempt at something like this, and as a result, I’m still tweaking things and looking to published materials. On top of the Phandelver resources, I’ve incorporated some adventure and setting trappings from the previous edition of Dungeons & Dragons. You could say I’ve “filed off the serial numbers”, and I don’t feel bad about that. So far, it’s made for a good story.

When it comes to role-playing games, you can delve deep into the fertile veins of published materials and find all sorts of things to tell a story of your own. I find my thoughts turning to parts of the Tomb of Annihilation hardcover and materials even older than 4th edition as elements to use in one or both of these campaigns. The echoes of the familiar in unexplored territory can both comfort a player, and present an opportunity to surprise them. And if you manage to surprise your players, get them invested in the world and the story, and anticipatory of what’ll happen in the next session or even the next minute, you’ve got a great game of Dungeons & Dragons on your hands.

500 Words on the Adventurer’s League

Of late, (almost) every Friday night, I take a long trip from my flat to West Seattle so I can join in the occasionally madcap shenanigans known as the Adventurer’s League.

For the uninitiated, the Adventurer’s League is the ‘official’ organization for players and DMs of Dungeons & Dragons, sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast. Participants log their adventures, XP gains, and magical items to maintain a relative power level. There are three tiers of play, based on player character levels. New players start with characters at level 1 and work their way up the tiers, trying a smattering of different adventures every week as they progress.

To what end, you might ask? The advantage of the Adventurer’s League is that you can take an official, logged character to any League venue and game, and fit right in. No need to explain any odd stats or homebrewed items to your new DM. You can review a logsheet at any time, make sure things are on the level, and start rolling dice from there. It could be a friend’s house, a coffee shop, or a huge gaming convention. It doesn’t matter. Got that +1 breastplate and your holy avenger logged and approved by another DM? You’re in.

Speaking of DMs, being a Dungeon Master for the Adventurer’s League has perks all its own. When you run an adventure, you don’t just get the satisfaction of helping your players have a good time, even if you kill their characters. You also get rewards to apply to characters of your own. Dungeon Masters can be hard to come by — the DM experience is ultimately rewarding in and of itself, but it can be incredibly intimidating. There are incentives given just to get someone behind a screen at the table. After all, you can’t have a Dungeons & Dragons adventure without someone to populate the dungeon and bring those dragons to life.

Most of all, however, beyond the experience points and whatever else players and DMs gain, the Adventurer’s League is a wonderful way to meet new people. Tabletop gaming, more often than not, is a collective experience, and everyone has something to bring to the table. Meeting like minds who contribute to a wonderful night of adventure and magic helps create a feeling of community. It helps people feel like they’re not alone. It draws people out, and encourages them not only to engage their imaginations, but share it with others. That, in and of itself, is a beautiful thing to me.

This happens with most D&D groups, of course. But when gathering at home, most of the players know one another, or get to know one another fairly quickly as they meet regularly. In the League, this happens with strangers. Every week. And everyone benefits from it, and walks away having had a good time.

I know this isn’t always the case, but so far, my personal experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. In spite of my worries, I plan to keep making the trip every week.

Adventure Review: Quelling the Horde

“Quelling the Horde” (DDEX03-09) is an Adventurer’s League module set during the Rage of Demons story arc. The story it tells is a classic one: farms and homesteads are getting sacked by goblins, and adventurers are needed to rise to the challenge. This time, some of the goblins seem to fancy themselves as ‘knights’. Calling themselves the Skullspike Clan, they gruesomely drive metal spikes into their heads to resemble crowns, and ride on death dogs and giant toads during their raids. Something is definitely driving them to this madness, and it’s up to the players to discover that something.

There is a misprint, in some editions of the adventure, claiming it is optimized for five 1st-level characters. However, in its opening text, this claim is for five 3rd-level characters. This can confuse some DMs, and lead to sticking points. For example, a party of mostly 1st-level characters encountering the scarecrows at Callidell Homestead as written can struggle mightily, especially if none of the party has fire-based attacks. It’s definitely something a DM should be aware of in preparing to run the adventure.

That aside, the adventure is a solid one. There’s opportunities for investigation and interaction before hitting the main feature, which is the Skullspike Caves. There are goblin antics with training different mounts, an encounter with an incubus, and the final confrontation with Agrak, leader of the Skullspike goblins. There are connections to the Underdark that tie the adventure into the greater Rage of Demons story tableau, and the adventure is flexible enough that it can stand on its own or be part of a larger campaign.

[star rating=”3.5″]: Would run again with some modifications and a better handle on keeping the party moving.

500 Words on Refocusing

You may notice that things look a little different here. A bit more fantastical. More dragons. Maybe the implication of a dungeon.

It’s not an illusion. I’m refocusing my endeavors outside of the job hunt on D&D.

I’m still carving out time for the novel, as head weasels and real-world obligations allow. I’m still on the hunt for a dayjob to cover my rent and the other expenses of living, and I still want to make a (hopefully) significant mark with my words. In terms of hobbies, however, it’s been a very long time since one has given me the sort of creative impetus and deep satisfaction that Dungeons & Dragons has proven to provide in the last few months.

I think a big part of it is the collaborative storytelling. Everyone coming to the table is there to have fun, to work together to create that environment, and to cheer each other on as the epic story grows, changes, and builds. The DM does not exist above this experience, as some divine or diabolical overseer. They are a part of it, narrating the tissue that connects the players to the world and each other, as well as playing referee when conflict inevitably ensues. And I love filling that role. I do it just about every Friday night, for the Adventurer’s League.

I enjoy playing, too, and I’ll be doing that on Friday nights on occasions as well. And the characters I’ll be playing will be getting stories and profiles here. So, too, will go reviews of the materials I use both as player and DM. Advice for my fellow DMs, thoughts on what’s exhilarating or frustrating as a player, comparisons of the current edition to older ones — it makes for a lot of material, and I’m going tap that vein.

Not only does it make for fun and interesting content, it prompts me to write more. It’s like a warm-up before the big lifts when working out. My hope is that with a few hundred words every day, I’ll be ready to write at least a thousand in the novel. It’ll be the initial incision in carving out more time to write more. A positive feedback loop full of words.

Planning for, running, and playing games of Dungeons & Dragons provides me with a surprising amount of focus. Moreso than most of my other endeavors, from coding to video games. I think a lot about the stories I and my fellow players want to tell, or will tell. I understand the math involved. I dream up new characters, monsters, and dungeons. My mind works at a good clip with good ideas coming thick and fast.

I may never make a ground-breaking video game. I doubt I’ll develop the next killer app. But I’ll tell great stories, as I’ve always dreamed. From a table of a few friends, to readers all over the world, I will be a storyteller. And maybe that’s the way I can, and will, truly make a difference.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

Special thanks to Geek & Sundry, Critical Role, and Matt Mercer for helping to inspire these things.

Songs of Cornell: Just Getting Started

There really wasn’t anything Cornell Starblossom liked more than a lively tavern at night.

Night was when everybody shook of the day’s responsibilities, relaxed, and loosened their laces, especially their purse strings. The half-elf was adept enough with bandore and thelarr to maintain a decent enough lifestyle with just a few hours of song every night. What really got him attention — and tips — was his voice. Unlike the instrumental skills, honed by years of study at the College of Fochlucan, he’d been born with a melodious voice with good range and solid timbre. He’d trained that too, to be sure. From participating in hymns to Sune with his mother, to literally singing for his supper all up and down the Sword Coast, he’d built the stamina, clarity, and expressiveness to handle a night’s worth of song, much to the delight of patrons and approval of tavern owners.

He sang songs of pure love, loves lost and regained, learning to love one’s own self. He sang ballads of heroes long gone and the battles of mighty nations. He sang of dragons, dire portents, and powerful magic. Most of all, he sang to the individuals in the tavern, rubbing elbows with men and sitting beside ladies, all the while keeping a fine hat in view for the depositing of coin.

It was getting late at the Clover Wall Roadhouse when Cornell wrapped up his encore. He felt tired, but satisfied. After recent ordeals, he was glad to have time to simply ply his trade and get to know the locals, especially those in high standing. The blacksmith in particular had been of interest to him, in terms of acquiring better means of protecting himself. Having done that, he resolved to spend the next tenday involved in nothing but good song, good food, and pleasurable company.

He was thinking about the feisty redhead who’d invited him to her chambers in a few hours as he counted the night’s coin. Just enough for his upscale rooms and meals to last him until tomorrow night. He leaned back with a smile. He had no taxes to pay, no lands to manage, no manor to worry over. Just him, his music, and the road. It was freedom, and he valued it highly.

“Oi. Knife-ears.”

He blinked, slowly, and looked up at the source of the voice. It was a burly, smelly human, beefy hands in fists. A thinner, weasel-faced human stood behind the first, sneering at Cornell.

“Gentlemen.” Cornell’s voice came out in his easy drawl, an affect picked up from his youth in Daggerford and time on the road. “Got some feedback on th’ set? I’m always lookin’ t’ improve.”

“We bet good money on you in the arena, flower-muncher. We want it back.”

Ah. So these two were from the Redplumes. Or, at least, had supported the Redplumes in their assault and kidnapping of innocents along the road. Especially non-humans. Cornell’s smile faded just a touch, remembering the roar of the crowd, the frothing of the quipper-infested waters…

“Ain’t my fault you bet on th’ wrong odds.” He paused. “Were they good odds that we were gonna bite it? I shoulda placed a bet on us, myself. Might’ve been able to help you kind gents.”

The beefy one slammed his fist into the table. “We will have coin, or we will have blood!”

“Oi.” This was the barkeep, wiping down his bar, looking up from tending to his last few customers. “Keep it down or get out. No fighting in my place.”

Cornell gave the barkeep a nod and a smile, and got to his feet. “You heard th’ man, gentlemen. Care t’ step outside?”

The two humans shared a vicious grin and moved to the door. Cornell handed the barkeep his coin — “for my rooms and board ’til tomorrow night” — and followed, running his fingers over the feather in his hat before putting it on his head. He thought about the rapier hanging from the left side of his belt, and the new crossbow on the right. It was his bandore that he hefted onto his left shoulder, however. As he walked to the door, he did a quick check of the tuning of the strings, plucking one or two to get the notes just right.

As soon as they were outside, he saw Weasel-face pulling out a pair of crossbows not unlike Cornell’s new acquisition: built for a single hand, quick to reload, deadly with good aim. Ham-fist’s weapon of choice was a hammer with a long haft and a heavy-looking head. They grinned. Ham-fist opened his mouth to speak.

Cornell looked squarely at Weasel-face and gave the bandore a quick riff.

this may hurt a little but it’s something you’ll get used to

The discordant melody and minor chord made Weasel-face’s eyes go wide. Screaming in panic, the man dropped his crossbows to clutch his head in pain, and turned to run as fast as he could. Ham-fist whirled to yell an imprecation, and that’s when Cornell drew his crossbow, aimed, and shot the human in the back of the thigh.

Howling, Ham-fist went down.

Cornell walked over, hanging the crossbow from his belt, and drawing his rapier. He placed the tip of the blade under Ham-fist’s chin, and lifted the human’s face towards his.

“I’m no killer, nor am I thief,” he said, his voice grave and even. “But I am a Harper agent.” Cornell lowered his instrument to the ground gently and opened the left side of his jacket, showing the badge he wore underneath. “An’ you are a threat t’ the common folk, or at least those who ain’t like you.” He put a little pressure on the rapier, a tiny bead of blood appearing on the man’s white skin. “I suggest you grab your friend an’ leave. Don’t let me see you here again. Remember: we’re watching you, racist.”

Ham-fist nodded, or at least did so as well as he could with a rapier at his throat. Cornell smiled, stepping back, and sheathing his weapon. Ham-fist stumbled to his feet and jogged after Weasel-face.

Cornell took a deep breath, and let it out again. While he had no taxes or land, he did have his responsibilities. It was the Harpers who had sponsored his entry into Fochlucan, kept his mother safe, and appraised his father, an elf wizard and adventurer in his own right, of Cornell’s progress. And there was the whole empathy-for-the-common-folk thing. Growing up half-elven wasn’t easy, especially in areas in the North of the Sword Coast mostly dominated by mainline humans. He could empathize with so many of them. It was part of the reason why stories of the Harpers had always appealed to him, and why he now wore their emblem.

He adjusted his hat and headed back for the Roadhouse, bandore on his shoulder. The night, much like his journey across Faerûn in search of story, song, and worthy causes, was just getting started.

Mondays are for making art.

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