A Blast from the Past – Campaign Recap from 2005

This is a repost of a post on my LJ, posted in December 2005. I am posting it here because there are some rumblings that LJ might be going under and because the backup website I’ve been trying to use is slow as molasses because everyone else is trying to use it, too. Also, I think it’s kinda amusing. It’s been cleaned up of nongaming stuff, LJ-tags have been changed to the real names of the players in question, which I doubt anyone minds but if they do, they can contact me and I’ll change them.

The Full and Complete Account of Events That Transpired in 2003 Over Several Months in My Campaign

Now, I would like to take a moment to address some malicious and slanderous lies that have been spread about my DMing. I am not a killer DM. The vastly inflated death tolls that have been bandied about in certain circles have more air in them than alleged 250,000 slain in Kosovo. I am being made out as the Nicolae Ceauşescu of northern Faerûn. Sure, PCs die in my campaigns. They live by the dice, and occasionally they die by the dice. What they do not generally die of is my DMing. In most of my campaigns, the death tolls have been quite moderate – about one dead PC every four or five sessions. Our sessions are generally pretty long.

There was one campaign, though, and I cannot stress enough that this is a singular anomaly on my record, where the PCs died in droves, like lemmings being plunged off a cliff by Disney moviemakers. Inside the span of five levels and three discrete adventures, a total of sixteen PCs perished. There are a lot of tales and memories about this campaign, and a great deal of misinformation as well.

Here, I present to thee the precise manner and circumstance of each hero’s fall, by my own recollection. Let the matter be now laid to rest.

The first to fall was Gluippo Glommin, a chaotic good, glib-tongued rock gnome bard/rogue played by Hannu. The diplomat’s silver tongue that had saved the party’s collective bacon in at least one prior occasion was no use against a mimic in the ruins of Jzadirune, which chewed the gnome up good before dying. This was sheer bad luck coupled with a degree of carelessness.

The encounter with the mimic also claimed the life of Patrik’s chaotic good shield dwarf fighter/barbarian, Barundar Shieldbreaker. The dwarf was stuck to the mimic’s adhesive skin, but it was not the aberration’s sharp teeth that did him in, but the sharp blade of his boon companion and fellow adventurer, the elven ranger Chaledras. Same as above, plus bad tactics.

The third to fall, the following week, was Stefan’s manic depressive, chaotic neutral half-drow cleric of Eilistraee, Farazh Culabrad. Possibly tired of his life as being the only man in the priesthood and still not getting any, he fell in battle against dark stalkers. This was bad luck coupled with a deathwish.

Finally, the comrade-killing Chaledras, chaotic good moon elf ranger, got what was coming to him when the poor stupid bastard whipped out and drank a healing potion right next to a still functional and quite hostile gnomish mining construct that promptly took advantage of his lowered defences and drilled a hole the size of the Sistine Chapel through him. His final hit point total stood at -21, which is impressive at third level. Chaledras was played by my little bother. This was just stupid.

History repeated itself the next session when Chaledras’ replacement, the neutral good human fighter Kerlas found himself wounded in battle against a similar construct, and took a step back to enjoy his curative drink. However, the brave warrior forgot to take into account the pulveriser construct’s reach, and was killed in precisely the same manner as the elven ranger. Kerlas was also played by my little bother. This was damn stupid.

Number six was again one of Hannu’s characters, the chaotic good pixie sorcerer Messi. The little fey was annoying everyone, including its player, and by popular vote it was decided that Hannu should introduce a new character into the game with all due haste. Poor little Messi found himself being dragged by a strong air current through a steam-operated gnomish ceiling fan. This was a DM-facilitated character switch.

The next character death happened in the Malachite Fortress below the gnome settlement of Jzadirune. A strange undead costruct of bones and chains claimed the life of Oiodin, a chaotic neutral half-elf fighter played by our German exchange student Jonas. This was just the dice falling where they may in an exceptionally deadly encounter. It might be noted that the party at this point averaged 4th-level, while the adventure I was running was designed for 1st-3rd levels. I really didn’t need to take any steps to increase challenge to appropriate levels.

Then died Ascar, Mikko’s greedy, chaotic neutral human rogue/wizard, who was fumbling with a locked chest with the stated intention of secreting away the items within without being noticed by the rest of the party. Alas, the man never found out what was within the chest as the acid trap killed him. This was poetic justice facilitated by the dice. He deserved it, but I didn’t do it.

From the Malachite Fortress, they pursued a suspicious dust genasi rogue into the wilds of the Underdark, where they – just in time for Halloween – found a subterranean fortress inhabited by warring tribes of kobolds and goblins. This was patterned after the adventure module The Sunless Citadel, which is one of my all-time favourite starter modules, and one most of my players at the time had played through. Therefore it was a bit of a surprise to them when the usually amiable kobold Meepo turned out to be fire-resistant and nearly bit the paladin’s arm off. The paladin wasn’t the first to die here, however. That distinction went to Arveene Amalith, Patrik’s second character to perish, a chaotic good human cleric of Sune, whose head was smashed in by a skeleton in a routine skirmish. Sometimes a bit of bad luck is all that it takes.

The above paladin, the courageous shield dwarf follower of Moradin Somphalen Sa’avar was killed soon afterwards under the sacrificial dagger of the kobold leader Yusdrayl, who gave his still-beating heart to the Great Cthulhu. This was Hannu’s character. I suppose that was mostly me, but by this time none of us were taking the death toll seriously.

During Somphalen’s comrades’ ill-fated rescue attempt, my little bother’s newest incarnation, the chaotic neutral half-orc fighter/barbarian Gruk, got into a wrestling match with the tentacle-faced kobold sorceress. All were surprised when she cracked open the half-orc’s brainpan and feasted on the grey matter within. They were even more surprised when it actually affected the half-orc.

After dealing with the Cthulhu-worshiping kobolds, the adventurers went after the goblin cult of Hastur. This battle against a Chosen of Hastur goblin and his strange cohorts finally spelled doom for Tikru, a ghostwise halfling fighter/psychic warrior played by Lari. It should be noted that Lari hadn’t at this point played in the campaign for several months and the only reason the short guy was still alive was because I hadn’t wanted to fade him out and we kept forgetting he was around so he missed about half the battles. At his time of death, at fifth level, he still averaged about two points of damage per hit, when he could hit anything.

One of Mikko’s characters quietly expired at around the same time. I do not recall the precise conditions of the star elf sorcerer Larkend Glamsyen’s demise, but they probably revolved around him being greedy or selfish. Or just really bad luck, since he had 11 hit points and no armour class to speak of. Mages are fragile things and must take steps to protect themselves from the cruel and dangerous world, or this will happen.

Once the group finally got out of the wilds of the Underdark, they numbered four – Hannu’s human druid Mosse, Patrik’s nimble strongheart halfling monk Ombert Bramblefoot, Jonas’ gnomish priest Aerd Beddok, and the strange, high-elven wizard Falewyn Althus, played by Risto. In the wilds of the North, they stumbled upon an orcish encampment. The orcs were about thirty strong, while the adventurers numbered four. They had the chance to just sneak off and be on their way, but they decided to attack. Though the initial fireball volley was devastating to the orcs, they rallied fast and Mosse and Aerd were hacked apart in close combat. Even though Ombert could clear away the orcish archers harrying their flank, he made a fatal misstep when trying to jump over the great fire pit to aid his companions in battle – and fell in. Falewyn fled, and lived, and retired from adventuring a nervous wreck after seeing sixteen of his companions perish. Eighteen, if you count the two from the previous campaign he was in. That elf got around a lot. He’s now been in three games of mine. I’m starting to get fond of the pointy-eared git.

There were two other characters that survived the campaign, it should be noted. The first one was Warh Gerforh, Hannu’s necromancer who I arbitrarily took over as an NPC after he turned blatantly evil and never did get around to bringing into a confrontation with the party, and Argath, the latest in Mikko’s long line of morally suspect characters. He was a psion imprisoned in the orc camp who snuck off during the battle and was never seen again.

So, there it is, in all its sordid, grand guignol detail. An account of events two years in the past that still get dredged up every time my campaigns are spoken of. Like Falewyn, it just won’t die. Somehow, it’s always the bad things that are remembered. Nobody ever remembers the good games, like the Imperial invasion of Albion or the chase from the icy wastes of Kislev to the smog-choked streets of Nuln after a Chaos artifact. When recounts of old tales are called, never does anyone speak of “Thirds of Purloined Vellum”, “Raiders at Galath’s Roost”, “The Forgotten Forge”, “Gorgoldand’s Gauntlet”, “The Valley of Snails” or The Ruins of Undermountain. What always rises to the top are the true meatgrinders, such as the events above or one of the times when Hannu took the screen and Samuli managed to cause a Total Party Kill by messing with the wrong paladin.

There must be a way of making adventures and campaigns memorable for things other than the massive loss of character life. Let’s face it, nobody likes losing a character, especially in a meaningless battle, such as Arveene above. Even I felt bad about that one. It stalls the game and in the end breaks suspension of disbelief when a new character has to be introduced some time soon. In the tunnels of Jzadirune they encountered so many other adventures that theories began to form about an evil cult spreading maps to the place like ad fliers ‘cross the length and breadth of Faerûn. The core party was like a Katamari ball, the way it gathered up other adventurers it ran into. In addition, it results in series of paper-thin characters with no depth of personality that are either rehashes of the same old cookie-cutters or oddballs with no explanation for their high strangeness.

I can think of a couple of ways to make the adventures remembered, such as Living Greyhawk’s adventure record system, which leaves you with concrete proof of your participation in that particular adventure and some reminders as to the exact events. It works, too. I can remember cool stuff from each and every LG adventure I’ve played. I can remember jumping off the balcony of an exploding wizard’s townhouse in Nine Lives, and getting our asses handed to us by a competing adventuring party from Almor in Lance of Osson. Then there’s writing a dramatised campaign log, which I’ve done in the past and will start for this campaign.

On an intellectual level, I grasp the elements that will make for an excellent game that’ll (in theory) get talked about for years afterwards. Fluent storytelling, focus on the game, roleplaying, memorable NPCs, cinematic and fast-paced battles, engaging plot, challenging puzzles. The theory of gaming is easy. It’s the execution that’s the hard part. I’ve always avoided thinking of roleplaying as an art form, because while that may occasionally be true, it evokes images of Luminescence and feels pretentious, but there is a kind of art to all DMing. One must be able to juggle all the elements of a game, keep the in-character and out-of-character and the story and the rules all in balance while keeping up the interest of the players. It is also always a learning process, and to be a truly good DM, one must be able and willing to improve on old methods and learn from mistakes that are not always obvious. Post-game analysis and player feedback are your friend. Some things, such as fluent narrative and NPC roleplaying can only be learned through practice.

I’m getting the feeling I’m rambling, so I’ll stop here and go see if I could get some sleep. If someone actually got something out of that, good. If someone has something to say about it, even better.

Damn, that’s a long entry. How the hell I could never produce text at this pace during NaNoWriMo?

2 thoughts on “A Blast from the Past – Campaign Recap from 2005

  1. Pingback: My Gaming History « Worlds in a Handful of Dice

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