Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Long Game

...and hey, I didn't die, but I almost did!

Dallas Kasaboski
In case you're just joining us, we here at D4sign just started a new campaign, now revealed to be called The Long Game, and I was worried about my character's survivability. Surprisingly, we fought a dragon, yeah that's right, and it was one of the most intense sessions ever.

If you have been following along, or you just got caught up now, you'll probably get tired of me saying it, but every week delivers a fantastic story, flavoured by DM and players alike, and with some lucky dice rolls and ample strategy, we have survived some incredible experiences.

Just a sample of the excitement of this last session, here are the thoughts from the DM,
"Finished what was quite possibly the most exciting and intense D&D session I've ever run. I was on the edge of my seat, and I'm the DM!"
So, because of that, and because it's a habit, I've decided to provide updates on this campaign. For those who play, it will be a good reference. For those out there on the internet, we hope it will be entertaining and perhaps give you some ideas for your next fantasy/story/roleplaying experience.

We were sent to the country of Albus to kill a dragon which had been pillaging and was being followed by a group of kobolds. We had already made it to the village, warned the citizens, and essentially weaponized their town by laying traps. We then took out a scouting party which gave us some more information on the kobolds' tactics.

Moving along, we came across a second scouting party which was in the middle of tearing apart a campsite. Remembering some of the lessons of the last fight, Tong (the Monk) made his way around the kobolds and cut loose their drakes, which the kobolds had been using as mounts in the last encounter. As the kobolds were getting over the shock of this, we attacked, in a well-coordinated and impressive manner, if I may so.

It was a good fight for a few reasons:
  1. I didn't drop unconscious, as in previous sessions.
  2. My Diving Challenge was used effectively for both engaging AND damaging the enemy. (more on that in a moment)
  3. It was quick, and all the players had fun and all the characters performed their roles admirably.
The first point was obviously relieving for me. As the defender, I am supposed to take damage in place of my fellow companions, but dropping unconscious a lot can be a major detriment to the fun of the game. However, this time, with the combined stealth, surprise, and character placement, we were able to quickly dispatch the group.

With some explosive kicks, fire and phantom bolts from the shadows, and some divine retribution from me, we were able to take out all the kobolds but one, who we knocked unconscious, tied up, and interrogated. Some of the more flavourful moments of this encounter included the planning to set the drakes free, the area burst by Alvyn (the Wizard) which hit most of the kobolds, set a tree on fire, and was depicted quite effectively (using a combination of Tai-Chi and Gun Kata), the always awe-inspiring handstand-crane-kick maneuvers of Tong (the Monk), and my Divine Challenge finishing a kobold via a lightning bolt delivered by Kord, my character's god of storms and battle.

After interrogating the kobold, we learned that the kobold's leaders, some shamans, located in the centre of the kobold troop, had flares which when lit could summon the dragon. Not wanting to fight the dragon and the kobolds at the same time, we made our way toward the kobolds who were continuing to advance on the village.

Due to a rather unfortunate stealth check, Kalgar (my character), crashed through the woods drawing the attention of some of the kobold fighters. With some quick thinking on Alvyn's part, we made our way up into the trees, Kalgar simply throwing a rope over a branch and climbing up, while Tong's crazy acrobatic moves sent him and Alvyn high into the canopy.

While watching the kobolds look around but thankfully never look up, we had the idea that if we could get a flare, we could summon a dragon on our own terms, like back in the village which was clear of people but trap-laden. We moved amongst the treetops, and had the idea to do what we called The Mission Impossible. We tied Alvyn so that he was hanging from my rope like a harness and lowered him down by the passing kobolds. With an ability to turn invisible and some good dice rolls, Alvyn was able to steal a flare without being noticed. It was a tense moment and everyone was standing, hovering over the table as we waited for the die to stop rolling.

We waited for them to pass, left the kobold scout we had interrogated before untied but unconscious, we scurried well around the kobolds and ran back to the village.

Because I had forgotten to get a picture before we started playing, I redrew this from memory:

The (horribly drawn) skull in the bottom left is a grain silo which Alvyn had triggered to explode with fire. The red squares are pit traps dug and concealed by Kalgar, and Tong boarded up the rest of the buildings and helped Alvyn plant kegs of alcohol (found in the inn) so that the inn was also ready to explode at a flame's notice.

So, we light the flare, Alvyn hides in the shadows being the very stealthy gnome that he is. Tong and Kalgar await the dragon. Something the DM had been mentioning the whole time but I forgot to mention until now is that the kobold shamans kept spraying incense everywhere which smelled of extremely fresh peppermint. The reason it's important is because as the dragon loomed overhead, it looked at us and yet seemed disinterested, until Alvyn used prestidigitation to give the air the same smell.

Circling back and landing on the grain silo, the dragon demanded to know what we were doing and where the kobolds were. The dragon refused to speak Common and as the only Draconic-speaking member of the party, I had to translate. The players did a great job of holding their hands over their ears and humming so they couldn't hear the conversation. I really enjoyed this feature because while it made them feel a little less involved, it made me feel a little more special and the misinformation due to second-hand conversation can make for some interesting plot and character points later.

I told the dragon that we heard about its pillaging and that it must end. The kobolds were on their way, but we called the dragon here to stop its reign of terror. When the dragon, a young and white one, said we were in no position to stop it, I claimed that the dragon had never put itself in a position to be stopped; that it was attacking innocent and powerless people and while it may have gained food, a following, and some trinkets, it really hadn't won anything.

That hit a sore spot.

As I challenged it to open combat, the dragon leapt off the grain silo and charged at us. At exactly that moment, Alvyn unleashed a firebolt which caused the silo to explode, causing 77 damage (10 d10s!) to the dragon and half of that to Tong and Kalgar. In retrospect, we should have moved back a lot more, because the damage dropped both of us and the dragon wasn't even bloodied. Additionally, we were not exactly at our full strength to begin with because all this kobold-hunting and dragon-summoning had taken place on the same day.

So, the dragon, terribly upset, turns to look at Alvyn (not so hidden in the inn), and flies to the top of the inn, ripping off the roof. In a mad-dash and totally awesome maneuver, Alvyn dove out the window, (from the second floor of the building), fired another burst of fire at the kegs, and used his Mage Hand to smash a healing potion into Kalgar's face, all while flying through the air!

The kegs exploded, sending a whooshing torrent of fire up at the dragon, bloodying it and causing it to become enraged. With just enough health to live, and offering a quick prayer to Kord, Kalgar healed Tong, and moved over to the other side of pit #1. In a flurry of rage, the dragon raced over, reeled back his head and breathed a horribly chilling breath, causing all the players great damage, and almost killing Kalgar (the dragon scored a critical hit and I was only 1 point of damage away from death, the kind even D&D players cannot come back from.)

With a spin-kick, Tong flipped back up, (and after the dragon critically missed Tong!) Tong hit the dragon with an incredibly focused flurry of attacks pushing the dragon slightly into our first pit. Sadly, the spikes at the bottom didn't damage the dragon as it was still mostly on land, but Tong ran north, around one of the buildings. Enraged, the dragon followed him, crashing through buildings, clawing, snapping, biting. In his rage, the dragon managed to break Tong's arm, and get a nail stuck in its own eye.

With Alvyn and Kalgar dropped unconscious, it was up to Tong to make his way back around and smash another jar of healing into Kalgar's face. (It's important to remind our readers that Kalgar has the Lay on Hands power which can heal people which is why he's been the priority for keeping conscious.)

As the dragon made his way back around to the pit, Kalgar brought Alvyn back to the point of consciousness.Then, he spit shards of glass from the potion into the dragon's face, retreated, drawing the dragon away from the party. Alvyn used his Grasping Shadows power to slow the dragon down so that it couldn't simply charge Kalgar.

Leaping over the pit, Kalgar turned to find the dragon hot on his trail. Shaking off the sleep spell Alvyn had just cast on it, the dragon fell into the pit for more damage. Not withdrawing at all, Kalgar tossed his boarding axe into the dragon's shoulder, challenging it to face Kord's might.

Drawing the dragon around the southern end of the inn, Alvyn, who had moved inside for tactical reasons, could see the shoulder and wing of the dragon ripping along the walls, sending timber flying. Rushing the front doors, blasting them open with arcane energy, he whirled around hitting the last support beam of the inn with two wand's worth of energy, causing what was left of the building to tumble onto the dragon.

Racing around, jumping over pit #1, the dragon hoped to finish Kalgar off. Tong, leaping in with another insane stunt of monastic acrobatics (yeah, that's a thing apparently), flash-kicked the dragon who critically missed Tong twice in a row! As this happened, Alvyn's Phantom Bolt smashed into the dragon pushing it back into the pit. Finally, with a cry of retribution, Kalgar made a running leap at the dragon. The dragon tried to bite him in mid-air, but Kalgar wrapped his khopesh around the dragon's neck, pinned his javelin into the dragon, screaming full into the dragon's face, dealing the killing blow.

With just enough life left to speak, the dragon warned us that his father, the emperor of Albus, will avenge him. He also said that his pillaging was inspired by the upcoming advance of the Adamantinan army. An army which, he thought despite his father's insistence, would wipe out most of Albus.

Well, all of this came as quite a revealing shock, to say the least. The emperor was "known" to be a human male, and to have been one of a long lineage, dating far back in history. This new bit of information added to the mural we saw in the labyrinth of a white creature taking the thrown from the ancient emperor who's labyrinth it was. Plus, the idea that the emperor would be after us AND that Adamantina was making to advance into Albus, this was all scary news.

But the fight was over, and with only a quarter of the town destroyed! Remember that drawing of the town before the dragon came, well, this was the actual map used and what it looked like after the fight!
You can see not only an impressive array of dice, but our characters (Kalgar, Tong, and Alvyn in clockwise fashion starting above the red circular dragon token). You can also see the horribly ruined grain silo in the bottom left and the holes in the buildings made by explosions and the dragon!

As Tong put it, "The villagers may be upset, but there was no loss of life among their kind."

We knew the kobolds would be upon the village soon enough, and we realized that they were simply following strength, so we met them outside of the village and told them to stand down. We told them that their dragon was dead. Confused and skeptical, one of the shamans made his way into the village to see for himself. As he went, Alvyn tried to cheer the kobold up by saying that there are other, stronger, forces to follow (like us). Kalgar stayed with the kobolds, praising the strength and virtues of Kord and chastising the kobolds for merely stealing when they could be doing something more. Upon the shaman's return, Alvyn left him with some information as to where to contact him should they wish to follow those stronger than their dragon, and Kalgar and Tong unleashed a terrifying display showing the kobolds that we meant business.

After that, we caught up with the villagers, told them the tale and gave them some gold for the damages. We then acquired some horses from some contacts Alvyn had and made our way south to Chalybs, the city-state headquarters of the Doomguard. The Doomguard is a secret society, of which Alvyn is part, who work to keep the peace between the many countries by acquiring, destroying, and hiding weapons of mass destruction.

Along the way, the players filled the gap of traveling time (said to take 7 weeks) with information concerning what their characters do when not in combat and how they get along. It was a really great, organic process. Tong performed martial and mental practices, involving some intense acrobatics, smashing logs with insane feats of strength and focus, reading, and praying to his god Ioun for knowledge and wisdom. Alvyn, ever concerned with his friends and the group, cooked, offered treats to cheer people up, and (because of his backstory) drained off any excess magical energy at the end of the day. Kalgar, raised in the navy and thus very neat and tidy, cleaned his scale armour (now scarred in an X fashion because of the dragon), honed his khopesh, and told tales and crude jokes he heard while at sea.

The great part about this group is how willing we are to build on things, and work together. Party cohesion is a really important factor in a group of players in a campaign setting. For short adventures or encounters, it can be okay to have a group of individuals with their own traits, motivations, and only held together by plot points and locale. But, in a campaign setting, where the adventure takes place over a great span of time, distance, and character growth, you need to have a party which works together. Players need to be willing to work with their party in AND out of combat. They need to try to make their goals align with that of the group, and make their characters unique, but not to the point of alienation. I have played quite a bit of D&D over the years and I have been in great groups, but I have been in some bad ones. Where the game was okay, but the players were not working together and everyone felt alone at best, and even angry at each other at times.

This group is very good at working together. Aware of the challenges and advantages of maintaining party cohesion, and featuring some incredibly creative people (plus me *mock humility*), our group is fantastic at weaving character development and story together, amongst the entire party. For example, Mike (playing Alvyn) made the joke that we had seen Tong (played by Alex) and his crazy morning ritual of flip-kicks and splitting logs so many times that we could recite it, stating that our characters would do so, in a flippant but supportive kind of way. Kalgar (played by me), one day moved a log away from Tong so he couldn't split it, causing him to pause in the middle of his routine, hop sideways a few steps, and continue the practice chuckling as he did so.

Alvyn's cooking was too much for Kalgar and Tong to handle. Due to Tong's monastic life, and Kalgar's life at sea eating hardtack and preserves, neither were very good at eating foods rich in flavour. They liked them, of course, but could barely eat it. So, Alvyn laughed, rolled his eyes, and made the food a little more bland-tasting. Kalgar, not having a great perception skill and not the greatest with people, belatedly realized the hospitality offered by Alvyn and thanked him for it, stating that it wasn't necessary as he had his hardtack, biting the food in a rather unappetizing way. Alvyn piped up saying he makes the food because of Kalgar's horribly looking food.

It's stuff like this which really rounds out a D&D game. We call it flavour, others call it filler, but really, it's the glue, the canvas, the gaps our imaginations fill which powers the D&D experience. You can have a great story, and not get too far in the game. You can have a great fight, but it boils down to numbers and dice rolls. However, with the right amount of imaginative context, you go from game to adventure. From a session, to a shared experience among friends. You make the story truly interactive, and thus wonderfully unpredictable.

Upon asking the DM about the session later, he laughed and said we didn't want to know how much of it was improvised. I told him that I'm glad he's open to change, and to improvisation. He said he hadn't thought of us stealing the flare, and had thought we were going to fight some more kobolds. He went with it because it was cool, made sense, and because the dice rolls worked out. Because of his firmness with the rules, but openness to improvisation, we were able to have that "exciting and intense D&D experience" he mentioned earlier.

We leveled up, truly feeling like we earned it after our many encounters, and as always, we look forward to the next adventure. I hope you enjoyed reading and I hope to see you here again soon.

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