A D&D event in Hungary – Dawn of Heroes

Last Saturday I finally managed to participate in an organised D&D roleplaying event in my country, called the Dawn of Heroes. I have been there before, but it was years ago, it was nice to be on the other side of the paravan for a change. Probably it was my main motivation when I asked my group if they wanted to give it a try. It was a time well spent, we had a great day of roleplaying, had good laughs, got to chat with other roleplayers.

Dawn of Heroes has been going on for quite a while now, this year it will be celebrating its 5th anniversary. The event started out small, with a few groups of players sharing a common interest. They wanted to involve more people by creating great adventures, and bringing tables together for a day of adventuring. There are 3-4 events organized every year, with a growing number of players, this time one club was not big enough to host all the participants. Fortunately, both Cantina Klub and HammerTime Cafe welcomed the hordes of geeks at their tables.

This time, the groups could even choose the league they wanted to join. The Player’s League was meant for the casual groups, who wanted to ephasize on roleplaying and playing out their characters, not worrying about the time limit, just lookng for a good time. In the Competitive League the groups were given points for succesfully revealing secrets, getting on with the story, killing monsters, and so on, in the end eventually crowning the team who had the best score. This way every player and group could get what they were looking for, a great idea from the organizers.

This Saturday 86 players entered the event, and 15 brave Dungeon Masters told their groups the same module: The New Lord of Windcliffe. This module has been written for this occasion, just like all the others told before, and again, it was quality work. This time the tone was set a bit darker (hence we started at 6th level), a bit in honor of Curse of Strahd. Despite the lack of time (about 7-8 gaming hours) to complete the module it was great fun to play, the story was well estabilished, dynamic and not restrictive at all. After the event my group said that they would love to give it more time and play it through properly. I agreed to run it for them sometime later, when the module can be downloaded and I would have some time to read through and prepare. I think it tells a lot of the adventure, when a group wants to play it again, through several sessions.

The modules after these events are free to download so everyone can read it through, re-play them or DM it to another group. Unfortunately it is only available in my native language, Hungarian, but I have been thinking about translating this one to English sometime later in the year, since so far I liked this one the best, and I think it deserves a broader audience. Although it was only my second participation at the Dawn of Heroes, I always read the modules of the ones I missed, I’m especially looking forward to reading this one.

Our group owes a big thanks to our appointed DM, since we made quite a… well, let’s say, strange… group of adventurers. All of us brought the character we wanted to play at that moment, not really caring about party balance or optimization. Also, our aligment was leaning towards evil, but we stopped at Chaotic Neutral, just to have a little chance of cooperating and not kill eachother in the first hour. We were far from disruptive though, it was just not the usual lineup of characters. With a party of a Cleric of Talos, two assassins, two wizards (a necromancer and an evoker) and an eldritch knight, we were destined for a TPK, but we managed to hold on until the final battle, where eventually we all met our doom. It was no problem though, we all kinda knew it will end like this. It can’t be too good for a party when my Cleric of Talos has the best AC (17!), deals the most damage (with the constant use of Call Lightning in stormy weather), almost the only one who has social skills (but is too much of an arrogant bastard to use them effectively) and refuses to use healing spells. But we still had a blast, and that’s what matters. Our DM was really patient with us, in fact, he was a partner in playing this style of gaming, letting us play our alignments and going with the flow. He also liked puns, which was a brownie point in my eyes!

I hope it won’t take years again for me to be able to get to the Dawn of Heroes again. I think this event has proved that roleplaying is still not dead in my country and it’s worth organizing meetings such as this one. Who knows, maybe some tables will be run in English in a few years if there are some players from other countries living in Hungary who would like to test themselves against the mastermind of the module-writers…

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3d6, in order? – Rolling characters

A couple of weeks ago I saw a video about rolling characters the old-school way, 3d6, in order. It was really refreshing to see someone defend his point of view and could support his claim with solid reasons. I liked how Noah told examples of making the best of the worst, and he was also very thorough about this topic, with many great ideas.

My view is very similar, I have rolled 3d6 in order a few times and those were my most loved characters. It was fun to come up with a reason for those one or two poor stats I got. As an example, when I was playing Rappan Athuk a few years back and rolled my character the classic way, I rolled 18 Strength but a Constitution of 7. Quite contradicting to say the least. So I came up with the idea of a barbarian who had to take a magical potion upon his rite of passage, which granted him superb might, however, it left his health damaged quite a bit (and also his intellect, since I rolled an 8 for that). It was fun playing him, with bulging muscles but only with a primal cunning and stamina issues. He did really well and didn’t die, it was a great session with some good laughs.

I like to have my players roll up characters as well, although I’m a bit more lenient with the method. For Rappan Athuk I had them roll 3d6, in order, but I let them roll all 1-s again, and let them have two series of rolls and choose the better one. Now thinking about it, I may have been too nice. Still, two players got a 6 for their Charisma, which is not much of a big problem usally, but they still went ahead and tried to come up with a good reason for that score. All the other stats were pretty decent, and with racial bonus they could even feel powerful with good main stats for their classes.

I have noticed as well that many players are afraid of just going with such a gambit, and prefer to use point buy, or choose to play another system. I understand them, they don’t want their characters to suck (at anything, usually), since the character is usually our fantasy badass version whom we like to see succeed, overcoming obstacles confidently, and so on. Fortunately after a while most players get mature enough and want to mix things up a bit and then the miracle happens: they want to do 3d6, in order. That’s usually the point when roleplaying improves for many players (or even roll-playing becomes role-playing). I have also been through this “journey”, playing it safe, then after a while I just got bored with always playing “the same character class” and decided to go with rolling characters instead of point-buy.

As a DM, I like rolling up my NPCs as well, it can help giving them a little more personality, maybe even a weak spot or a defining feature which the players will remember them by. Of course it would be too time consuming to do this for every single one, but I found it a good method to spice my campaign up a bit with such NPCs. In my current Rappan Athuk campaign I’m running, Rex the Henchman is such an NPC.

I think the most important thing a DM needs to do is to convince his players to give 3d6 a try, and help them with ideas how to explain a bad stat, let them feel that it’s not the end of the world if they have an ability score of 6. Of course, if half of the abilities are at -2 modifier scores, a wise DM would let the player roll a new series…

Burdens of being evil

Mostly when I DM and even when I finally manage to play D&D, most players are usually of Good or Neutral alignment. Which is completely understandable, since we are mostly that alignment in our real lives and some players are not comfortable even roleplaying an evil character.  However, for me it offers a lot of possibilities to try my wings at a type of character which I’m definitely not, it’s kind of a nice challenge for me if I get to play an Evil alignment.

I think the reason why most players don’t like to play an evil character is that they are afraid of destroying other players’ fun. And it can be true if not played well, since these characters are usually self-centered, somewhat cold and cruel, with little regard to other lives. Probably one evil character is okay in a party if he’s not Chaotic Evil with an open megalomania while the rest of the party is not Lawful Stupid.

The more players play evil characters, the more likely the game will get out of hand, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible to have a fully evil party. Of course, the players need to compromise and build the party together to estabilish a common bond or hierarchy before even beginning the game. I think Neutral Evil and Lawful Evil could work well together as a military hierarchy or as members of a guild, where strict rules could prohibit characters turning against each other during a quest. I’m quite sure there would be arguments and threats between the party members, but the rules mostly keep them from turning against each other and start a fight to the death.

When I play an evil character I like to go for Lawful Evil, usually playing a tyrant-type of a character. He still abides by the rules (well, at least, SOME rules), and if he is the party’s leader, then he’s just a bit more strict and a bit more cold as a Lawful Neutral, which can still keep the party going with only minor conflicts (and threats). Of course, as I play I’m purposefully acting less evil to make it compatible with the adventure and the rest of the party, but still trying to get as much out of it as possible. It also helps if the setting is purposefully darker and there is a bigger room for the character to play his alignment. The usual rule is true I think, a character can only play his alignment as much as the DM allows. So this kind of play also needs an open DM with more routine in storytelling to deal with the purposefully more sinister and selfish acts of an evil character. And it needs a lot of maturity from both sides to really bring out the difference between the alignments. Probably not for those who like to run around, stealing everything, killing or raping anyone they encounter…

Rappan Athuk II. – This level stinks!

Finally we managed to hold our second session of Rappan Athuk, the party managed to explore the first level of the dungeon before deciding to head back to Holden and rest for a day or two.

This is what happened on the very first level of the dungeon:

  • As the odors of the level struck him, Nim had to step back a bit and get rid of his breakfast discreetly
  • The party disappointedly acknowledged that there is almost nothing left to plunder in the first few rooms, although Father Magnus found some alms among the bones
  • The priest was adamant on purging this place and burned the bones and rotting coffins they found as they advanced from room to room
  • Galidian searched every inch of the dungeon for secret doors and traps, and his efforts paid off, he found the collapsing staircase, the enterance to the latrines and also a secret door to some loot and an overly excited ghast
  •  They found the “legendary” dung monster in the latrine (where else?), after a couple of unsuccesful attempts to find its weakness, the party decided just to take the needed sample and make a run for it. Fortunately Dungie was busy munching on Malakai’s spare hand axe and didn’t pursue
  • Two wererats, Fiilaar and Jarvik were waiting for them with their giant rat minions just before the stairs down to the second level, but all of them perished against the fierce warriors and the magic of Father Magnus and Nim. Victory came at a price though, Malakai got cursed with lycanthropy, but Galidian and Nim found the hoard of the wererats, most of which they kept for themselves
  • The party decided to call it a day and returned to Holden to collect the reward for the dung sample, Galidian managed to negotiate 4 healing potions out from the alchemist
  • He also paid Rex the remaining 30 gold they owed him… in coppers
  • Malakai headed to the shrine of Tymora to get the curse removed. The priest agreed to free the dwarf from lycanthropy, but only if he vowed to recover the bones and shield of Saracek, one of the greatest paladins of Tymora. Malakai agreed and was bound to this quest before the altar of Lady Luck

Loot: 3151 cp, 901 sp, 143 gp, an broken ivory statue of a horse (worth 25 gp), a scroll of Counterspell, Helm of Comprehending Languages, Lesser Robe of Blending, 2 vials of purple worm poison

The DM’s note: I descaled the strength of encounters and made less wandering monster checks than it was recommended in the adventure, since I wanted to get on faster with the exploration of Rappan Athuk and rather had my players enjoy the unique features of the dungeon and let them roleplay. With this I made the place a lot less deadly, but that’s something I can live with, we all had good fun, and that’s what matters. My players are rather cautious, which is great, since they could have died still, despite the fewer dangers. Of course, the lower levels will challenge them more than this one…

What keeps them going?

Reading some discussions on forums and blogs lately reminded me of some things why a story can get flat, and how some campaigns just run out of steam after a while. It happened to our group as well several times, and it probably will happen again in the future. I think one of the main reasons can be the wrong type of campaign for a certain type of characters.

I usually run two types of games, either I want the characters to go through a full, detailed story I wrote, or I just create a setting where they can go after their own heads, only throwing in adventure hooks every now and then. I usually prefer the latter, to see what interests the players. If they bite on one of the hooks, that’s a good start, maybe even to build a campaign on. In the first case I rather ask for characters fitting the adventure, so I wouldn’t have problems keeping the players on track.

The reason why I try to figure out the players’ or their characters’ tastes is to tailor the adventure to them. Even with the regular players around the table, the dynamics of the team and the motivations of the characters vary. Just a few factors that can make any great idea fall off a cliff:

  • Alignment: you wouldn’t really want to ask the mostly chaotic party to enforce the laws of the local lord, would you?
  • Religion: some players just don’t like religion involved, some would go on a holy quest. You can determine it with a simple adventure hook from the local priest.
  • Class: it’s great that you have everything lined up for the local noble’s quest, too bad the bard decided to lay his daughter last night…

The list goes on, but these are the most common factors in the party I think. It’s worth to have some adventure hooks prepared, but depending on your players and their motivations you can go for a complete sandbox if they are proactive enough, or if you are running a megadungeon then you should just toss them a few quests and let them loose. It’s all about keeping the players motivated, whether it is loot, story, uncovering secrets or having their own tavern. If you find the thing that keeps them going, you can build a whole adventure or even campaign around it and your players will be more than happy to play along with your plans. I think many DMs neglect this, and just focus on telling their own story, making the players feel it’s more about the DM than them.

I usually try and focus on my players and their characters, so everybody could have a great time, all characters can have their time to shine and be the hero of the day. And it’s true for darker settings, it’s worth to let the paranoid character play out his affliction and just wave a torch at every shadow, because “something moved there”. It all adds up to the flavor and atmosphere of the game. And it should be the players who add this with their own words and their actions, not just the DM narrating everything they do. This helps everyone feel more being part of the story, and not just being a pawn on someone’s chessboard.

Children of Moradin – I. Winged kobolds!

My dwarf campaign finally got on its way, and what a great start it was! My players did their best to get into their characters, we managed to finish what I prepared for my players by the end of the session, what else can a DM ask for?

Here are the heroes of the campaign:

  • Thorgar Redhammer, Cleric of Moradin’s Fire
  • Tormodan Horren, Paladin of the Legion of Ancestors
  • Bärin’Dour Irongrip, Apprentice Wizard of Groimdäll Icebeard
  • Borin from the Clan of Clanging Cannons, Master Engineer
  • Dimwar, Barbarian who is yet to get a name for himself

The story started in the small town of Millerstone, where a small group of dwarves lived after having to abandon their old home, the kingdom of Silver Vein a good fifty years ago. A comet crossed the sky about two months ago and many thought it was a sign to find a new home in the heart of a mountain again. The dwarves called the meteor Moradin’s Spark.

Bundragur, a veteran warrior and leader of the dwarves of Millerstone sent for the young dwarves and asked them to meet the Rockmawer brothers who went out a month ago in search of a legend. They should have come back or at least sent a message by now, and the old dwarf was getting worried about them. As Thorgar and Tormodan just came back from a pilgrimage, they weren’t really enhusiastic at first, but a few tankards of dwarven ale quickly raised their spirits. Borin received a gift from his father, a gunpowder horn, gauded with silver, bearing his name in runes. Bärin also got a little gift from his master, Groimdäll Icebeard, a wand of magic missiles with a few charges left in it.

The group set out the day after, but Thorgar was adamant on celebrating the morning prayer for Moradin at the shrine. His booming voice echoed throughout the town as he praised the Allfather, blessing the dwarves in his name.  Then the company took off towards the town a Phandalin, taking the road to the northwest. On the second day, late in the afternoon they found a cart with two humans shot in the back and the mule also had arrows sticking out from its neck. Thorgar recognised immediately that the arrows were of kobold work, while Dimwar found a cape tossed aside on a hill, near the forest, bearing a dwarven brooch. Upon further tracking the party found tracks leading into the woods and after a few hours of tracking they found a cave enterance. Just as they were about to enter, a chunk of honey-comb fell in front of Tormodan’s feet from above and soon a bear charged from the trees. It wounded the paladin, but Borin felled the beast with a single shot of his boomstick.

Finally they entered the caverns and found some really neasty surprises inside, the crafty little beasts were prepared for the intruders very much. Dimwar “found” a pit trap first and twisted his ankle in the process, but from that point forward, the careful dwarves managed to disarm or avoid all further inconveniences, except for the moment when the kobolds threw two boxes of giant centipedes in front of them. Tormodan couldn’t stand insects in any way, so even after emerging victorius, he kept whacking at the carapaces. In a large hall they were bombarded with rocks by the inhabitants, a lucky shot almost crushed Thorgar’s skull, and after Borin shot down a winged kobold they fled towards a tunnel to the west. Bärin and his friends didn’t fall for the trick and didn’t pursue, but rather took the other tunnel to the east and what a good call it was! They not only managed to avoid fighting a pair of giant spiders, Khyz and Nax, but also found the youngest of the Rockmawer brothers, Nudrek.

After the party managed to get out of the tunnels they wisely decided to collapse the enterance with the help of Dimwar’s dinamites. The young barbarian watched the destruction with tears of joy in his eyes. Nudrek (or Noodle, as Borin called him from their childhood) told them, that they indeed found some clues to the enterance of the legendary Wave Echo Cave, and he was sent as an envoy by his brothers to ask for the help of some of his sturdy brethren. Borin assured him that they will do what they can to help him and his brothers and they pressed on to the troubled town of Phandalin…

The DM’s note: I took the time in the beginning to build the mood for the campaign, and just wrote a short, introductory adventure for the first session, linking it with the Starter Set’s adventure, the Lost Mine of Phandelver. I won’t be telling the exact same story, but Wave Echo Cave and Phandalin are solid foundations at least for the next few occasions, probably even more. I leave it up to my players where they take the campaign. I am not pushing the story towards combat or dungeon after dungeon, if the guys feel comfortable just playing their characters and offer many great opportunities to move things forward only by roleplaying, so be it, I’m trying to be prepared either way.

A thing I learned over the years is that you shouldn’t be disappointed if the players aren’t going in the direction you want them to, or if they don’t explore evereything you designed for them. In this session they purposely went the other direction, didn’t let the winged kobolds lure them to the spiders and hence they missed the only loot opportunity of the game, but they stayed alive. On level one, the loss of even 3-4 hit points can be a great deal to a character. They were already a bit winded from the traps and the bombardment they took from the nifty little kobolds, so they tried to avoid further complications and they made a good call!

Also, a final note: you could see that there were only two “real” battles during the session, against the bear and the centipedes. The bombardment was rather a cutscene than a real encounter, after one of their kin died the kobolds retreated, trying to leave the dirty work to the spiders. I tried to emphasize the craftiness of the kobolds, I wanted them to annoy the dwarves, who intruded into their domain, and I succeeded in doing so. Fortunately the players didn’t mind at all, and played along, grumbling at the cowardness and tactics of their foes.

Guild of the Dungeon Masters

Wizards of the Coast decided to create its very own surface for D&D fans all aroud the world to create, upload and sell their very own materials for their beloved game, the Dungeon Masters Guild. Personally, I welcomed this initiative, although for me it’s quite clear, that WotC will win the most with it, but hey, finally the fans and aspiring living room authors (myself included) have their shot at making their very own published adventure and maybe get a little renown without having to worry about getting scolded for using official, copyrighted materials.

I won’t go into details about the pros and cons about joining this community and publishing here, since I didn’t delve too deep enough into this topic and I think it’s still to early to get anything else than impressions about it. I will try and summarize what this opportunity means to me, what my concerns or aspirations would be if I ever decided to publish and upload any materials to the Dungeon Masters Guild, which I am really tempted with.

I think as an amateur writer and DM, this would be an ideal opportunity to just try and see where I would be at if I uploaded one of my own ideas for a huge community to see. I think there would be at least a few people who would download this material and hopefully be nice enough to rate it. A few sentences of feedback would be great as well, to see if there was something in particular which they liked/disliked. Also I wouldn’t dare to ask for money and set a price for my very first “product”. I would just set the “pay what you want” option and be done with it, and just feel honored if someone eventually decided to pay for it. So altogether the Dungeon Masters Guild would be the perfect place for me to try my wings at designing adventures, backgrounds, etc.

At first I don’t think I would have too much concerns. Okay, people can plunder my ideas, use them as they wish, but as an amateur it would be more of a compliment than a nuisance if I saw any of my ideas reappear in a different context. Also, WotC would take half of the money I could get for my beautiful PDFs. But again, as an amateur, who has a job and takes role playing as a hobby so far, it isn’t that much of a problem. I would be surprised if I got any money from “pay what you want” anyway! Of course, if I were a publisher or someone who makes a living from RPGs (not too many of those out there I believe), I would definitely think otherwise.

To summarize, as someone who enjoys coming up with new adventures, writing a bit for himself and just loves do dive into the fantasy world from time to time, this new opportunity would be one of the best to see whether I write as good as I think, or have good enough ideas, to get other people’s attention. All this a hypothesis for the time being of course, but hey, who knows where life takes me?