It's always a sad thing when your Dungeons and Dragons campaign ends. Especially when the end comes unexpected or even when it is expected, but too soon to give real closure. That's what happened to my last group. It was my first campaign as a DM, and my first real campaign anyway, so I thought I'd like to do a sort of post mortem on the campaign. Some great stuff happened, we had a lot of fun, and I'd like to think that, were it possible, we'd still be playing
It started with my associate and I deciding that it was high time we finally started a real game of D&D. We kind of argued a bit about who would be the DM, because we both had some great ideas, but in the end, I decided it should be me because 1) I would actually do it, and 2) my family obligations require me to stay at home in the evenings. I'm a huge fan of the idea that the host is the DM, giving that person time to prepare the game before anyone else shows up. It also makes forgetting things a non-issue, since players need only show up with their dice and character sheets, and of those, the only one can't be replaced is the character sheet, which can be left with the DM
Anyway, this was our idea, but nothing came of it right away. But, my birthday was coming up, and since my wife loves making a big how-to-do about birthdays, she made me think of a fun-filled day of activity. Well, there was really only one thing I wanted, and nobody could turn down a birthday request, right
Two people showed up. But, undeterred, characters were rolled up, and we discussed some of the differences between 3.5 and Fifth Edition, and began playing.
Let's start with the character that ended up as the leader of the group. A lawful-good, blue Dragonborn Paladin named Trogdor. He rolled pretty high in most of his stats, and was a really old school treasure hoarder
Next was Zane, a wood-elf Ranger. Zane was the typical "audience member" player He enjoyed the game, and would role play if something really caught his attention, but was happy to be the silent guy in the back of the party, muttering suggestions to the others. This worked really well with Trogdor, who had the clearest idea of who he wanted to be--rich.
And finally, Helder Dotsk, a human Moon Druid who, in an attempt to understand nature more intimately, sought a werebear, and contracted lycanthropy. By day, she was a timid human, but by the light of the full moon, she transformed into Charm Bear, an equally timid bear that would crush her enemies. We simply used the rules for Wild Shape to give her bear form a sense of progression early on
The players started in the employ of the King's Army. The country had been at war with their southern rivals, and these three were there. They were new players, so I didn't make them think up extensive back-stories for why they were there. It was good enough to say they were there for gold, glory, or whatever and leave it at that. Sometimes, a simple starting hook like this is good enough. With the enemy's camp on the horizon, the army laid down to rest. When the players woke up, the three of them were in a damp cave. It took a bit of fumbling around before they found their gear, and the way out of the cavern (room?) they were in.
On their way out of the cave, the players were ambushed by some kobolds, but easily bested them. Don't tell anyone, but there was no real reason to fight these kobolds. They just lived in the cave and were surprised to see humanoids. As they explored the cave, they found that it was also a harpy's lair. Two harpies attacked and, now let's remember, these are first level, very new players with no items, they were mostly wiped out. But so was the harpy (the other one was already dead)! So, I gave our werebear Druid a sort of second wind. As she fell unconscious, she transformed into her werebear form, and was able lay the final hit on the harpy.
After tending the other fallen characters, and a long rest, the players exited the cave and found themselves in a mountain range. They didn't know how far they were from the front lines, but they knew the nearest mountains were over 400 miles away from where they were. Trogdor decided to tear the wings off one of the harpies, hoping they would be worth some money down the line. He strapped them to his back, and off they went, in search of civilization
They made their way down the mountain, and came across a mining village. It was a small village, and nobody wanted harpy wings, but they were happy to hear that the players had killed the harpies that had been menacing them, and so threw them a party
The next day, they players left along the only road out of the mountains, hoping to find some clue that would lead them back home. Along their way they came upon a farmer, and I only mention this because it was not at all the type of encounter I expected. The farmer had a few sacks of potatoes he was taking into the mining village to sell. He was only asking for a few coppers for each bag, and as expected, Zane was uninterested. Trogdor wanted to haggle with the poor guy, but Helder decided she would just buy them from him. I guess she liked potatoes.
Trogdor, not liking to lose for any reason, decided he would offer more for the farmers potatoes. This started a bidding war at the table that ended when the two agreed that they would each buy half of the farmers potatoes for 1 GP per sack. What a world.
The next thing of interest that happened came a few days later, when the party found two women at the side of the road, asking for help. They were sent to scout an old tomb, but their escorts had turned on them and run off with their gold. The women didn't have anything for the players, bout could promise them a great reward when they made it back to the city with news of what was in the tomb. So they enter the tomb of Randall Thor, fought some skeletons, some carrion crawlers, and a few other undead creatures, before coming upon an enormous horde of gold coins.
Now remember, they were new players. They saw a mountain of gold and jumped, and to what should have been nobodies surprise, the gold was cursed. Touching the gold sent a searing pain through the players body, and caused the to drop it if they didn't succeed on a DC 15 CON check. If they did manage to hold on, they got 1d4 burning damage. So they decided to leave it there.
Until Zane had an idea. He sort of muttered it to himself, and only Helder heard it. "Could we," they wondered, "Use the cursed gold fuse the harpy wings onto Trogdor?" Ahh, barely even second level and we're already attempting dungeon surgery. It took a few Medicine checks, and there was a magical mishap causing small saplings to erupt from Trogdor's back, but they did get the, may I remind you, ROTTING harpy wings cauterized to Trogdor's back. From that point on, every time we played, he asked when he'd be able to fly. What a silly billy. A harpy's wings could never lift a Dragonborn, let alone in full plate, but he was a pretty imposing sight.
Over the next several days, Trogdor's infection got worse, until he was visited by a vision of Hextor. The god had seen his plight, and was very interested in turning this brute into a fearsome pawn. Disguised as a meek man of good intentions, he told Trogdor of an apostle of his who would be able to cure his sickness, and that when he thought the time was right, he would contact Trogdor again to help him learn to fly
At this point, I wanted to set up a series of quests that would taint our lawful good Paladin, but it would later turn out to be unnecessary. They came upon a town at dusk, but they saw the column of fire long before. Rushing to the aid of the town, they found it in ruins, burned to the ground, but saw three half-orcs running away. They chased them down, and attacked from behind. The half-orcs did what anyone would do when they're under attack, and fought back. Two were killed before the party started questioning the last. After asking why they burned down the town, the half-orc told them he and his friends were part of the town guard, sent to chase down the group that was responsible. Oops.
Time for an aside: I had intended the players to fight these guys, but not kill them. They were supposed to become rivals of the players, chasing them down to pay for letting the arsonist get away. When the players killed two of them, I thought it was great. The last guard would have to travel through hell to get his friends back, and the three of them would have a blood feud against the players. Of course, since he had to go through hell, I'd have to shelve these guys for a little while
Through the Mists
At this point, I got a copy of Curse of Strahd. I wasn't planning on playing it right away, but as I read through the book, I found it too compelling. I really wanted to put my guys in Barovia and see what they did. So we talked it over, and the next time we played, the players found themselves talking to a Vistana. Always on the hunt for a bargain, they asked the guy what he had to sell. I hadn't planned on this. So I said he had some tobacco, some rations, a couple of daggers, and a creepy plush bear, with a tag that read, "Is no Blinksy, is no fun!" I had intended only to introduce them to the idea of Blinksy, but they took it as a mystery to unravel. Those of you who know Curse of Strahd know there isn't a mystery here, but it was pretty fun seeing them put all these clues together, only for the huge anti-climax later on.
Oh, I guess I should mention: There are spoilers for Curse of Strahd in the rest of this post. If you plan on playing a Ravenloft campaign, you might want to stop reading now
So, they arrive in Barovia, and don't really know what to do. They found the Death House, and after going through it got the deed to the windmill. I had no idea this was to be the set up for my favorite bit of role playing to date
Most of their time in the village of Barovia was fairly by-the-book, except for their investigation of the church. At this point, Trogdor was pretty upset about nobody fight Strahd. He wanted to lead an uprising (at third level) and take on Strahd. Of course, nobody would join him. When they found out about the priest Donovich's son, he had had the last straw. He threw the boy out in the as-broad-as-daylight-gets-in-Barovia, and gave Donovich an ultimatum. Help us fight Strahd, or watch us kill your son. Donovich refused, of course, telling him, "You cannot fight the devil Strahd. He is the ancient, he is the land." Trogdor decided he would use his lightning breath, yelling, "I AM THE LAND!"
The lightning breath hit the church, and it burst into flames.
The whole village turned out to help put it out, and it took well into the evening. Donovich was too afraid to say anything, and hurried his vampire son to a hiding spot away from the villagers, and said nothing about who started the fire.
That same day, the party met the night hag, Morgantha. She was out selling her dream pastries to the townspeople. If you haven't read CoS, Morgantha's pastries are a sort of magical drug that send you into a dreamlike trance. She addicts parents to them and, when they can't pay, takes their children back to her windmill to grind them into more pastries.
When they found the windmill, Old Bonegrinder, Trogdor recognized it as the windmill he had the deed for. They entered, and talked to Morgantha, who told the party that she was stuck here in Barovia, just like everybody else. She had given up, and just wanted to be left alone to her business. "It isn't much, but it's all I've got." The players knew at this point that Morgantha was a night hag. And they had a pretty good suspicion of what she was doing. Unfortunately, there were no children there, and when asked where they went, Morgantha only replied, "The children come to help me", which was true, the children did do chores while at the windmill, "And then I send them home to their parents." Also technically true, since she did send them back. As Dream Pastries
Unable to find any evidence of wrongdoing, they decided to let the hag live, but Trogdor told her he was now the owner of Old Bonegrinder, and that she would either have to leave, or start paying rent. Of course, she didn't like this, so she took him to court. Yeah. They went to Castle Ravenloft, met with Strahd, who is King of Barovia, and thus has duties like holding court. Strahd was amused, and decided that, since Morgantha had been living in the windmill for 400 years tax free, Trogdor could have it, if he would pay back-taxes on the property. I don't remember what the number I came up with was but it was astronomical. Eventually, the matter was settled by one-on-one combat between Trogdor and Morgantha. She eventually yielded, and Trogdor was awarded possession of the property.
They agreed to a rent of 28 GP and five Dream Pastries per month. Trogdor now had a taste for property.
When they made it to Vallaki, they made friends with the Vistani camped outside. They entered the town and found the Burgomaster about to kill Lars for serial unhappiness, and broke out in a fight with the whole town. They saved Lars' life, but were banished from town. Lars became the groups loyal follower, and pointed them in the direction of Mordenkainen. They waited out his Mind Blank, and when they were able to talk to him, he agreed to help the players, but only after he found his spell book. For the time being, he told the players that he has heard some rumors that the priest in Vallaki had been acting strange lately and that they should check him out
After agonizing about how they would hide a dragonborn in Barovia, they decided to borrow a small wagon from the Vistani camp, and sneak into town. Helder and Zane would blend in easily enough, and with Trogdor hidden in the wagon, they could make their way to the church without incident. Or so they thought. Lady Watcher recognized them, and asked the party to her house to gauge their willingness to help her take over the town. When they found out she was an ally of Strahd, they killed her, and released her insane daughter into the town. In the resulting commotion, they forgot to hide Trogdor, and were spotted by some townspeople. The Burgomaster came by, and was going to sentence the four of them to death
Trogdor got up, and gave a rousing speech. He talked about the injustices the Burgomaster had brought to the town. He pleaded with the people, asked them if the constant festivals had been of any help in the fight against Strahd. He implied that the Burgomaster was the reason the town was in danger in the first place, and that if the party was let free, they could stop Strahd. The guards agreed. The people agreed. And the town rioted
The Burgomaster of Vallaki was killed in the riots. The people, seeing how Trogdor had stood up to save Lars, a man he had never met, and fully believing that these people could stop Strahd, decided to make Trogdor the new Burgomaster of Vallaki. It was only then that they came upon Izek Stranzi. Izek the Burgomaster's loyal and terrifying henchman, fought, but was defeated. Trogdor took one look at his demonic, fire-blasting hand, and decided that another surgery was in order. Hextor looked down and smiled on this abomination and let the surgery go off without a hitch.
The party stayed in Vallaki a few days, but eventually had to move on. They left Lars as the town Governor, and went of in search of the powerful artifacts that would help them fight the Devil Strahd
In the real world, time had been passing. Zane's player had met a girl, and they were spending a lot of time together, forcing him to miss game days. At the same time, Trogdor's player got very sick, and eventually lost his job. The game started to fall apart. We got together a couple more times after that. They players made it to the Wizard of Wines, and did some fairly standard stuff there, but eventually Trogdor's player got a job on the other side of the country, and the party ended.
A lot more happened than what I posted here, but these were the big details of the campaign. I don't think anybody cares about the fights with wolves, or the Tarrokka reading the party got. I also left out the time they used Dream Pastries to mug a group of Vistani, then when confronting them again, Helder, not understanding how the spell Bless worked, gave them extra strength, because it wouldn't quite fit the funky flow.
Hextor never got to reveal his plan for the corrupted paladin. The guards from the burned down town never made it back to face off against our heroes, and Trogdor never learned to fly. Strahd was never defeated, and Barovia lies in darkness to this day.
It was the most fun I've had around a table, and I don't think a first campaign could have gone any better. It will take a lot for the next game of DnD I play to live up to that mess.