Tuesday, December 6, 2016

D&D With Kids Part 2: The Gates of Karak Norn

When we left our intrepid band of kid D&D players in the first episode of D&D With Kids, the party, Kriv the dragonborn fighter, Foxy the human druid and Adrak the elf rogue, along with their animal friend, Scruffy the wolf, were just entering the lower entrance complex of the dwarven city of Karak Norn.

They encountered a handful of goblin sentries (more on that later) and defeated them handily, so the second session started in one of the main halls.

Right away I ran into a bit of an issue.  Iris' friend Julius, who is 6, wanted to play too.  I didn't want to spend a bunch of time making a character, so I was initially stumped, but then I ran upstairs, printed a Beast Card for Scruffy.  I forget where I got those, but whoever made them did a great job!

So Julius had a fairly simple character, and played Scruffy to great effect.

Dyson's Darking Depths
I used one of +Dyson Logos excellent maps for the entrance complex.  They had reached the diamond-shaped chamber in the center.

I decided that I didn't want this to turn into a combat-heavy dungeon crawl, so I was thinking about ways I could make sure that didn't happen.  I decided (nebulously) was to have factions - the goblins, a dwarven guardian of some sort, and some kind of animals.  Also I figured on incorporating some way the kids could scare off the goblins.  Little did I know they already had me covered!

When they explored the diamond-shaped chamber, they found that the two attached rooms on the north walls contained working dwarven ballista, used for room defense.  They investigated them but didn't do much else, then moved on to the large chamber to the north.

The Dwarf Guardian
I decided that this room would have the dwarven guardian.  The central area looked like a statue, so I put a huge dwarven golem on the plinth.  When they entered and I described it, the thief, Adrak, immediately headed over to touch it, despite Kriv's warning that it looked dangerous.

The golem awoke, and after a short conversation, offered them a deal.  Get rid of the goblins - don't care how, and the golem will open the gates to the city.  They agreed, then headed off to find the goblins.

I made it clear at this point that there might be a lot of goblins, and if they attacked mindlessly, I would kill their characters.  It sobered them, so they came up with a plan.  Kriv and Foxy manned the two ballista in the entry hall, and Adrak volunteered (with Scruffy's help) to lure out the goblins so they could shoot them with the ballista.  Not a bad plan...

The Goblin Chief
Adrak entered the room to the right of the diamond-shaped chamber, which proved to be a dwarf boot-room, and encountered 3 goblins, one of whom had an alarm gong and mallet.  Adrak doesn't speak Orcish or Goblin, so he didn't understand when the goblins asked him who he was and why he was there and where the sentries (amember them?) were.  He didn't make any hostile moves, so they went and got Grung, their chief - you could tell he was chief because he wears the BIG HAT.
Grung!
Grung spoke enough common to negotiate, and the kids got a real kick out of my goblin voice.  After
much laughter, Adrak negotiated with Grung that the goblins would leave and meet the party on the other side of the mountains, whereupon the party would give the goblins 25% of the treasure they found inside the dwarf city.  Grung didn't understand %, but agreed when Adrak explained that meant "most of it".

Adrak told Grung that the sentries were "asleep" and "wouldn't wake up", but panicked a bit when Grung headed off to yell at the sentries for sleeping on the job.  Grung yelled at them for a bit, but they didn't wake up, since they were dead, and Grung started to get mad, but turned and realized that two huge crossbows were pointed at him.  He immediately surrendered unconditionally.

Kriv speaks Orcish, so it was lots of fun to have Grung switch from broken Common to fluent Orcish.  The kids all laughed when he went from "No KILL GRUNG!" to "Ah, you speak a civilized language.  There is no need for bloodshed, I surrender unconditionally."

Faced with the threat of the crossbows, the Goblin chief agreed to leave, especially once Adrak confirmed that the "most of it" deal was still in effect.  About 50! goblins filed out, driving home the point that fighting would have been a baaaaad idea.

Couple of notes on running games with kids here.  First, they can come up with some pretty great plans.  Second, funny voices and accents go over really well.

The party then returned to the golem, who confirmed that the goblins were gone and opened the gate to the dwarf city.  It warned them that the city was long abandoned, and that it had no idea what they would find.

God of Fish
Beyond the gate they found a large cavern full of water, with a number of large square stone columns emerging from the water.  It appeared to be an ancient bridge that had been taken down by the dwarves.

The water was deep and dark, and the columns were too far away to jump to.  They discussed several different ways of bypassing the water, but having Scruffy with them made everything harder.  I reminded them that Foxy can change into animals, including possibly a fish.  Foxy immediately jumped into the water.  She wanted to change into a goldfish, but I reminded her that if there was anything dangerous in the water, it might be nice to have teeth, so she changed into a giant pike instead.

Probably RAW (Rules as Written) this wasn't something she was allowed to do, but when you play D&D with kids Rule of Cool ALWAYS wins.

I stole this next part from Matt Colville's excellent Youtube series on D&D.  Stealing cool ideas for your game is good.  You should do it more.

Swimming through the water, Foxy soon encountered a small, shiny fish with lots of pointy teeth - a subterranean quipper (basically a piranha).


Foxy decided she wanted to talk to it, so she cast Speak with Animals.  Again, not rules as written, but a great idea, so she was able to talk to it.

It seemed surprised...  "Are you good to eat?"  it asked immediately.  "No," replied Foxy, "I taste terrible and am poisonous."  The fish then yelled into the darkness "NO GOOD TO EAT."

"Awwwww..." chorused hundreds of other quippers from the darkness all around...

Foxy was roundly congratulated for a good answer by the rest of the group.

The fish then asked "Are you God of Fish?"  They had never seen a fish so huge before, nor a fish that could speak quipper.

"Yes." answered Foxy promptly.

Foxy got another round of congratulations for that answer.

The quipper swarm assembled and then intoned in unison "What would you have of us, Oh God of Fish?  Do you desire offerings?"

Foxy then instructed the fish that, yes, she would desire offerings and that they should not eat anyone on or in the water for the next day.  The fish agreed, and began bringing coins and treasure up from the depths of the pool.

I described this like a scene from a disney movie.  Fish darting about, banging into each other, carrying treasure, one fish inside a helmet swimming into the wall, 10 fish dragging a sword back and forth because they were all swimming in different directions.  Disney scenes and physical comedy are all good when playing D&D with kids.

I also had the fish ask if the should "bring up the chain" since I wanted to give them a way to bypass the water.  Turns out I shouldn't have bothered, but Foxy said yes, so the fish brought up a chain that, when pulled from above, ratcheted up a set of climbing chains that would allow people (short people) to climb between the stone pillars.

LOOT!
Then I did some random treasure rolling, and they found:  110 gp, a +1 Longsword of elvish made, a Helm of Elvenkind (as boots, but a helmet - cause I described a helmet in the fish scene), a Brooch of Shielding and a Ring of Water Walking.  After some discussion, they decided Kriv should take the longsword, Adrak the helmet, Foxy the brooch and they tied the ring to Scruffy's collar.

Kriv's new sword
Doing a quick image search on your phone and showing the kids pictures of what their new items look like is a great way to build enthusiasm.  But if they want to describe it themselves, keep that description!

Into the Deeps
Using the chains and the now water-walking wolf, they crossed the water and explored a bit, finding a small dwarven temple, then a tunnel leading deeper into the mountain.  The tunnel led several hundred yards, then ended at a square vertical shaft, with metal cables hanging from the middle.  The kids immediately recognized it as an elevator shaft.



Kriv had the great idea of dropping a rock to listen for the distance to the bottom, and the brief length of the fall convinced them they could climb down.  Adrak and Foxy are both quite agile, so they had no problem climbing down, but Kriv volunteered to carry Scruffy down, and managed to roll well too.

Julius asked if he could roll, too, so of course, he could, since everybody else was rolling dex checks.  He had a little trouble, but made it.  Good general rule - try to make sure everybody has a chance to roll dice.

At the bottom of the shaft they found an elevator platform, a large tunnel with a stone pipe along the side, and a complex-seeming piece of machinery with a lever that did not seem to do anything other than produce a gurgling noise. Deciding to check on the destination of the pipe, they followed the tunnel as it slowly sloped upwards.

They noticed as they went that the large stone pipe did not angle upwards, and so it slowly receded into the floor as they continued.  Finally, at the point where the pipe was level with the tunnel, the tunnel opened out into a huge cavern containing an underground lake.  The pipe stuck out into the lake water some distance.

We hadn't actually had any combat in the session so far, so I decided to put a fight down here.  A fight and a puzzle, actually, but definitely a fight, since Kriv's player is very combat-oriented and it gives everybody a chance to roll some dice.

The first thing they noticed was a number of tall, pale-skinned creatures standing on top of the pipe, apparently fishing with long bone spears.  Kriv immediately threw a javelin at them.  Since this was designed as a combat encounter, I ruled that was fine, and gave the party surprise.  Kriv threw the javelin, Adrak and Scruffy charged forward and Foxy used her Thorn Whip spell to grab one of the creatures (Grimlocks) and haul it off the pipe into the water.

Next round, Kriv charged with his battle axe, Scruffy pulled one of the Grimlocks to the ground, and Adrak stabbed another.  Foxy, though, couldn't really decide what to do.  Knowing that she had one use of her animal shape left, I suggested, "You could change into a bear and attack them."

The result of that suggestion
Grizzly bears are... really tough.  3 attacks, lots of HP, high damage.  Also Foxy had new dice and was rolling pretty well.  So yeah, Grimlock butt got kicked.  She was so effective that I'm actually a little worried that Kriv is going to be unhappy about no longer being the party asskicker.  I'll have to look at that.

Letting each kid have a real chance to shine, and making sure that those opportunities really come up are critical when you are playing D&D with kids.  Adrak's player likes sneaking around and being athletic.  Foxy's player likes animals and interacting with them, Kriv's player likes BATTLE.  Knowing this and factoring it into adventure design is really important, and I foresee a potential problem considering how effective a Circle of the Moon druid can be at handing out the the hurt.

Within a few seconds the few remaining Grimlocks (these are aquatic Grimlocks) were swimming away under the water.  The party realized the pipe was blocked with rubbish, and decided to clear it to see if that would cause the lift to start working.  As they worked, Scruffy started growling and Adrak noticed white shapes moving in the water.

Suddenly, a huge, albino crocodile with several Grimlocks clinging to it lunged out of the water, and another battle began.  Foxy was still in bear form, and grabbed the albino gator by the head, shaking it lifeless and tossing it into the wall.  General mayhem (atten-hut!) followed, and the defeated Grimlocks fled.

With the pipe unblocked, the party returned to the strange machine.  They couldn't really figure out what to do at this point, so I had them make Int checks to see if they could figure out the machine.  They succeeded, opened the valve, threw the lever and the platform began to rise, taking them up into the darkness of the abandoned dwarf city of Karak-Norn.

I set up the machine to be a fairly simple puzzle, but I think it was made more difficult because I just described things. If they had a model, I'm sure they would have figured it out easily.  The machine is basically 4 parts:  A tube to bring water, a valve to shut off the water, gears to turn the crank, and the crank that raised the platform.  They had to clear the tube and open the valve, then throw the lever that activated everything.

At the end of the session Kriv and Foxy went up to level 3, Adrak is a little ahead in XP, so he stayed level 3, and now I have to figure out a way for a wolf to go up levels, because Julius would like Scruffy to go up levels too!

It will be a while before our next session, but hopefully we'll get more gaming in the new year!
















Tuesday, November 29, 2016

5e Content: Trade Aspect of Mael

For my 5e game, I nabbed a bunch of additional Domains from +Samwise Seven RPG.
http://samwise7rpg.blogspot.ca/2014/10/cleric-domains-for-dungeons-dragons-5e.html

http://samwise7rpg.blogspot.ca/2014/10/cleric-domains-for-5th-edition-dungeons_23.html

Personally, I feel like Gods having a single Domain is a bit too simplistic, and doesn't really reflect how gods were worshipped historically.  In the Greek/Roman religions, gods tended to have a lot of regional variation and different aspects, which were venerated depending on the location, season and activity that you were engaged in.

So in my campaign, most Gods have 1-3 different Aspects, and a player can choose which Domain they want to follow for that God.  The more powerful/popular a god is, the more aspects he/she/it has.

One of the players in our game is a priest of Mael.  Mael has 2 (and sometimes 3) aspects.  His primary aspects are Trade and the Sea.  Yes, I stole Mael from Steven Erikson.  Shameless theft is an Improvisational Building Block too.  Also Mael is one of the best characters in the books.

Some not-so-nice folks also worship Mael (or seek to placate him) in his aspect of the Storm.

My player worships Mael in his aspect of Trade.  Temples of Mael are all over the Colony, and Mael is one of the greater gods of the Empire, since it is a ship-based neo-colonial power.

I did encounter a couple of issues with the Trade Domain as presented by +Samwise Seven RPG, so here is my modified version:

Trade Domain

Priests of Mael in his aspect of Trade are one of the most important priesthoods of the Ruywick Empire.  Most cities of any size have a temple of Trade, where the priest provide legal advice, accounting and bookkeeping services, scribes and magical contracts.  They advise rulers and masters of business, and act as adjudicators with legal authority to resolve trade and contractual issues.

As you would expect, the Church of Mael is incredibly rich and powerful, with influence in all parts of the Colony and the Empire.

Priest of Mael in his less-fancy robes.
Cleric Level1st Domain Spell2nd Domain Spell
1stCharm PersonExpeditious Retreat
3rdEnhance AbilitySuggestion
5thCalm EmotionsProtection from Energy
7th
Dimension Door
Guardian of Faith
9thDominate PersonTeleportation Circle

1st Level – Bonus Cantrip. You gain the Prestidigitation cantrip.

1st Level – Skills of the Trade. You can choose two of the following skills: Intimidation, Perception, Persuasion.

2nd Level – Channel Divinity: Barter. You gain advantage on all skill rolls associated with making a deal or trading.

This one was a little bit hard to adjudicate initially because the initial version contained "or getting yourself out of a “jam.”".  That meant quite a bit more leeway on what exactly you could use this skill on, but really, it adds too much flexibility.  Cutting it down to just deals and bartering makes it more manageable.

6th Level – Channel Divinity: Binding Contract. You can create a magical contract. Any intelligent creature that understands and willingly agrees to the terms laid out in the contract is effected by a Geas spell enforcing the terms of the contract until the conditions laid out in the contract are completed. The psychic damage dealt by this contract is non-fatal, but intensely painful, and can trigger up to 1/day.

The contract can be destroyed by the priest who created it, and if the contract is broken by any party (including the priest), then all parties are immediately aware that the contract has been broken, and by who.

This one is a complete replacement for the initial power, which was "create counterfeit coins" that disappear in a few hours.  How fucking up the economy and making people not trust currency is a God of Trade thing completely escapes me, so I yanked it and we replaced it with this, which is much more interesting and has a bunch of in-game ramifications.

8th Level – Words Are Greater Than the Sword. Once per Long Rest you can convince a creature not to attack you. You can do this twice at 14th level.

I'm probably going to have to replace this one too, but level advancement is slow in this game, so we'll get to that in a year or two.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

DM Lessons: Mea Culpa

I play a fairly house-ruled version of D&D 5e with lots of more old-school elements to it. One of the most noticeable elements is my Modified XP and Levelling Rules. Different classes have different ways of turning treasure into XP, and carousing is a pretty common one for all the martial-style classes. When you carouse, you spend money, it turns directly in XP, you lose time and you roll on the d100 carousing table which I grabbed from... Reddit.

As somebody who is very interested in keeping RPG gaming a safe space for everybody involved, let this be a cautionary tale.  I screwed up, and hopefully, this will help somebody not screw up.

First off, my group is a bunch of white males. I'm a white male, and these are primarily my friends from university or high school. Most of us have been playing rpg's together for a looong time. We have broadly the same sense of humor and (I think) similar expectations for our games.

We did have a new player in the group last night, though, and that's where the my mistakes started. Actually, my mistakes started earlier when I didn't REALLY read the carousing table I grabbed. I mean, I read it, but I didn't pay a ton of attention to it. That table contains some pretty rape-y elements. It's all implied - nothing like "you were sexually assaulted", but a lot of "you wake up in bed with" and "you wake up naked with" entries.

It's at this point that I keep wanting to say things like "taken the right way, it's mostly funny", but that's a cop-out. It's trying to avoid responsibility for paying attention to the elements and material that I'm bringing into my game. Material that, frankly, doesn't really make my game a safe place or a fun place.

So that was my first mistake - I didn't review and think about my material. My second mistake was that I didn't make the context of the material clear and I didn't talk about it with the new player. We've used the carousing table before, had a fun time with the results and treated it mostly like the throw-away stuff it's intended to be. But I didn't make that clear or understood. I also didn't clarify that the results of the carousing table are in no way binding.

If a player wants to run with them, that's fine. If they want to use them as an opportunity to role-play or start a character arc, that's fine. If they want to treat them like a Simpson's throw-away gag, that's fine too. Although truth be told, that table has more Family Guy style material than Simpsons.

But I didn't make that clear. I just told him to roll on the carousing table. He ended up rolling a 67 on that table, which is "You wake up in a nobleman’s barn. You are wearing a saddle and there are whip marks on your buttocks. You are 1d10 sp richer."  Which could be a funny situation to be in, but could also be a very traumatic and horrible situation to be in.

The player interpreted this as me telling him that his (female) character had been drugged and sexually assaulted.  Which is not a thing I'm interested in having happen in my games.  Plus, the rest of us, who had used that table before as a light-hearted interlude, were laughing.  So at that point, my game is not a safe place AT ALL.

This is also the point where I keep wanting to say something like "it was made worse by the fact that he was playing a female character" but that's also a cop-out.  It wouldn't have been better for that to happen to a male character.  It's poor taste material that I presented badly either way.

It took some work to sort the situation out.  Work I should have done beforehand, but didn't because I made assumptions about everybody being on the same page with the material and the tone of the game.  I fucked up.  It's the kind of session that could easily cause somebody to quit a campaign, and the kind of miscommunication and assumption that would definitely make a table at a Con or game shop an unsafe place for players.

This is also the kind of mistake of communication and tone that I see lots of gamers pooh-pooh as "overreacting" if somebody points out that gaming isn't a safe place.  It isn't overreacting, it's the kind of feedback and critical thought that we as a community of gamers have got to listen to, to think about, and to do better on.  I hope to do better in the future.

DM Lessons: Random Tables

I use several random tables in our weekly D&D campaign. Often, the tables give me something interesting/funny to build on, but last night I had decidedly mixed results from the tables, so I thought it would be interesting to talk about that.

In general, random tables are great Improvisational Building Blocks. They provide a basic framework that you can build upon with other pieces from your toolkit, and as always, the complexity of what you build should be directly related to the level of interest that the players show for the event.

For the first example, I set up a series of regional daily encounters to go with my Moving Groups in the Wilderness rules. I roll each day, and there are a number of positive, negative or encounter events that can happen. One of the events on the table is "Eerie singing draws somebody into the woods. They are not seen again. -1 group member."

I actually rolled this result during the first trip the party made through the forest. One of the freed prisoners they were escorting was a skinny little local named Harlock, who we had already established had lost his family. When the party woke one morning, Harlock was gone, but the party Druid and Paladin were able to track him, and heard the faint singing.

If they hadn't cared and just moved on, I wouldn't have had to do anything. Just another mysterious event in a haunted forest. But they did care, and investigated, so it was time to expand the event.

One of the main Improvisational Building Blocks that you should have as a DM are Factions. I have several factions of Fey in my campaign, so I decided (since I didn't want this to be an automatic combat encounter) to use the Summer Court. They are self-interested and somewhat alien, but not hostile by default.

So the lost fellow had been lured through a portal to the Feywild. I got a chance to describe the Feywild, and expected that the paladin and druid would retreat. Interestingly, they didn't. The paladin entered the Feywild, bargained with the Dryads and checked to make sure the Harkon was ok and wanted to stay there. Harkon did, so the paladin left him to it. The fey were impressed at his chutzpah, though, and he got a sweet magical glaive out of the deal.


So now, with all that behind us, on the SECOND trip through the forest with a group of people, I rolled the exact same event! What are the odds of that? (About 1 in 4, really, since I rolled 3 times on 12-entry table). Of course, this time they had different people with them, including 3 prisoners that they were unsure what to do with.

In a fit of player-character inspiration, the paladin escorted the 3 prisoners through the forest to the portal and walked them through. They were entranced by the music, and the fey welcomed them as they had before. A potential problem was resolved (the prisoners) and a deeper connection with the Summer Court fey was formed. To the point where the paladin is now an Oath of the Ancients paladin... who worships the Raven Queen. This should be interesting.

The second instance of random tables results was not nearly so positive.

Edit: http://kootenaygamer.blogspot.ca/2016/11/dm-lessons-mea-culpa.html

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Lost Library of Calacorius 1: How it Happened.

Mages.  They're always messing around with things.  Stuff that you aren't supposed to mess with.

Like gravity, or dimensions.  Fuckssakes, people, things are put in different dimensions for a REASON.

This is, of course, the reason that Mages tend to have a fairly short life expectancy, at least compared to most things that can alter fundamental laws.  The ones that don't blow themselves up or get eaten by something from 6 dimensions over, though, they often accomplish some really amazing things.

The other factor to consider is that the sort of person who is willing to tinker with forces that might best be described as "indescribable" is probably somewhat... eccentric.  Also driven, and focussed...

Fine. Nuts.  Mages are usually nuts.  And the ones that aren't nuts to start are generally nuts by the time they come in contact with a few non-euclidian beings or non-pythagorean angles.  Human brains just don't process that shit well.

Along the way, though, these driven, focussed folks often create pretty amazing things.  And one such person was the Archmage Calacorius.

Like most obsessed people, Calacorius had a single diamond-hard thought.  He wanted a Library.  Not just a petty collection of scrolls and recopied books, not him.  He wanted a Capital L Library filled with all the books ever written in all of history.  Yes, I know that's impossible.  Nuts, remember?

Calacorius started his library by building an extra-dimensional space.  That allowed him to expand as
much as necessary.  Soon, the work of expansion bored him - he was more interested in acquiring books than building bookshelves, so he created a series of librarian enchantments and golem servitors and empowered them to file and expand the Library.


Like most hoarders, he didn't give a ton of thought to organization.  His magics allowed him to find nearly anything within the space, so he just gave them the keys (so to speak) and had them get on with it.

In the early days, he had a grand old time of it.  He scryed, travelled, acquired.  He deposited dozens, hundreds, thousands of books in his Library.  Sometimes he even read them.  Usually when he was studying ways to get more books.  Nuts, after all.

As time went on, he ran up against some limitations.  Time being a big one.  Also entropy, which is pretty much the same thing.  Also the fact that lots of books simply didn't exist anymore, or were too well protected from his scrying, or hadn't been written yet.  That one was a real stumper, but nothing a really, er, driven Archmage couldn't sort out.

Sure he couldn't get his hands on books that didn't exist, but in all those lovely dimensions, there was probably a similar book that DID exist.  Monkeys and typewriters.  All that.

So Calacorius started adding to the enchantments of the Library.  He set up the ability for it to create portals.  He built complex enchantments that identified and located really rare books.  Unique ones, lost ones, hidden ones.  The spells found all sorts of amazing stuff in adjacent dimensions, similar timelines and hidden sub-basements of reality.  Enthralled, he began to follow the portals to retrieve these treasures.

He didn't come back.  Which is a thing that happens when you dick around with dimensions.  Duh.

By that point, though, it wasn't that big a deal, at least not from the perspective of The Library.  The Library had things to do.  Vast aetherical engines powered it, magical constructs maintained it, it expanded itself, and it had a goal.  That diamond-hard idea was baked into every spell that made it.

Must. Get. Books.

So it did. It searched across the planes and dimensions.  Finding, retrieving, archiving.  It began to grow.  And it began to change, as things do, when left unattended.  Many of the books it contained were magical, and as anybody with half a brain knows, magical things don't tend to just sit around doing nothing.  Especially if you put them next to thousands of other magical things.  Stuff happened.

Coming Next:  Using the Library in your game.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

DM Lessons: Improvisation Building Blocks

Sometimes, you can really force yourself to think on your feet if your players decide to do some investigating and look deeper than the surface of things.

In our last Over the Seas and Far Away session, one of the players went off to his temple to inquire if they have any work. As the DM, I want to remind players of the horrible system of oppressive slavery and corruption that the party is working around the edges of. So he does have a job, alright.

Job is: escort these clearly innocent virtual slaves to their new life of hard labor in a logging camp. Temple is getting paid to transport them.

Player winces, but hey, might be something interesting here, so he does some investigating as to why these prisoners haven't been moved already. "Let me see their paperwork".

Instantly, he's getting paid a bunch more because this shit is shady. Also there are about 50 of the prisoners.

So now as the DM, I have to think up several things.

1. Why haven't the prisoners been moved?
2. What makes this shadier than usual?
3. How can I make this scenario more interesting?

One of the keys to running an effective campaign (sandbox or otherwise) is to have done enough worldbuilding that you have components to put together to flesh out a scenario like this. I improvised thusly:

The prisoners haven't been moved because there are a lot of them, they are dangerous, and the company that contracted for them hasn't sent anyone to get them.

This is shadier than usual because the prisoners aren't from the usual prisoner's channel, and everyone knows it, but are being paid to ignore that.

How can I make this more interesting?  The prisoners are of the same persecuted minority as one of the characters.

I need to put this all into context now, so I start pulling worldbuilding from my back pocket. In the Empire, the half-orcs are a persecuted minority, and lots of them live on the fringes of the Empire.

Transported are only supposed to be convicted criminals, but the amount of labor needed in the Colony has created a thriving secondary market for "off-brand" Transported.

Half-orcs are strong and tough, making them more dangerous than standard prisoners.

So now the party has to transport 50 or so angry half-orcs a hundred miles through fairly dangerous forests and deposit them in the same sort of logging camp they LITERALLY just rescued 50 people from. Irony is fun.

Now, this is a really important DM tip: if you set up a scenario, don't get at all tied to YOUR solutions. Just sit back and see what your players come up with.

In this case, one of the players is a half-orc, so make friends is the answer. They spent hundreds of sp getting them blankets, food and clothes, and promised to free them from the logging camp after delivery. The prisoners were suspicious, so Wrenaldo, the half-orc in question, accepted their offer to temporarily join the coffle and get rescued with the rest of them.

Happy day! At least for me. Not sure they're going to enjoy this.

Monday, October 17, 2016

D&D With Kids: Into the Northern Wilderness

D&D with Kids! Session 1: Adventures in the Northern Wilderness.

The daughter and nephews are now all old enough to play D&D. So the 7, 9 and 14-year olds sat down with me on the weekend to play full-on 5e for the first time.

We made characters first. The oldest played a Dragonborn Noble Fighter named Kriv, the younger nephew played his old character, a Wood Elf Rogue named Adrak, who used to be a librarian, and my daughter created a Human Druid who was raised by wolves named Foxy.

The game started with Adrack finding an old book that described a hidden temple in the Great Northern Forest that supposedly contained a great treasure. He recruited Kriv and Foxy to go with him to recover the treasure.

The group left from Port Tanner on the Black River and headed north to Shale Pass, the only route through the northern mountains.

They decided not to travel on the road, and Foxy's skill in the forest led them easily through the wilds. On the 3rd day, they encountered and Owlbear trying to raid a wolf den. The party helped the wolves defeat the Owlbear, then Foxy healed the wolves (and Kriv), and cast Animal Friendship on the alpha female. The female detached a young male (quickly named Scruffy) to accompany the new member of the pack and make sure she didn't get into trouble. They also got an Owlbear pelt.

The following day they encountered a camp of the Ulthar tribe, locals who proved friendly. They traded the Owlbear fur for some amber necklaces, and when Leos, the leader, offered them work, they took it. Apparently a huge beast-man has been attacking Ulthar hunters, and Leos offered them more amber to kill it.

They were guided first to the Ulthar village, then to the valley containing the lair of the creature. A critical success on Foxy's scouting roll meant they discovered the creature (a Yeti) came to the same spot each night to drink from a stream, so the group set up an ambush.

Using Kriv's high strength, they positioned a boulder above the pool, then Foxy and Adrak worked together to track down a mountain goat, which they killed and placed as bait.

When the Yeti came down to drink, it was lured under the rock by the goat, but the plan almost failed when Kriv couldn't move the rock. Adrak raced to his aid, and they dropped the boulder on the Yeti, then quickly finished it off before it could get back up.

They then plundered the Yeti's cave, finding some jewelry and a magical pendant (a Periapt of Wound Closure). They also found a strange engraving far back in the cave, a map leading to "the gates of Karak-Norn".

Returning to the Ulthar village, they got more amber in payment, and also got more jewelry made by the tribe, a spiked collar for Scruffy and Yeti-horn and tooth necklaces. The shaman identified the pendant for them, and they learned that the mountain shown on the map was about 3 days travel east.

The party decided to check out the map location instead of continuing through the pass to the temple. They travelled to a mountain pass where they discovered and opened the gate to Karak-Norn, an ancient dwarven city.

They explored into Karak-Norn, encountered and handily beat some goblins, and we called it for the day. They all leveled up, and fun was agreed to have been had. Then my daughter and the younger nephew headed off to the basement to continue to play make-believe as their characters.

Success!

Things I learned:
1. Simplify the character sheets. I used simple 5e sheets and they worked OK. None of the kids are super readers/writers yet, due to age and some learning disability, but they are good enough if you make things simple.

2. I'll be adding spell cards, animal form cards and probably equipment cards to the game for the next session. Should make it easier for everyone.

3. When making characters, if kids are having trouble picking, let them flip through the Players Handbook until they find something they like, then make that. Iris liked the female druid on page 67. Art directors, take note.

4. Framing choice of action and possible benefits/repercussions is CRITICAL. Kids can easily make decisions if you spell out the possible results of different courses of action. Give them a reasonable number of options and their sagacity will surprise you.

5. Give them help. I added Scruffy the wolf to the group so I could have a kinda-sorta DM PC, but not one they could ask for advice. He warns them of dangerous situations by growling or showing reluctance, which makes them thing about what they are doing.

6. Go with it. If it's fun for them to spend half an hour designing jewelry for the local tribesfolk to make them, that's a good use of time. Further, have them draw the jewelry on their character sheet.

7. Be generous and kind. More magic items are good. Levelling is very good. Their plans succeeding is awesome. Listening to them tell their grandparents about their characters and the game is immensely rewarding.