Dungeons and Dragons is the world’s most popular table top role playing game. Created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, it’s a fantasy based game where friends craft characters and join a Dungeon Master in an adventure of their making. Typically, due to modern TV and movies, Dungeons and Dragons is seen as a nerd game that only “losers” play. This is FAR from the case. Lots of well known celebrities like Vin Diesel, Joe Manganiello, Deborah Ann Woll, Steven Colbert and even Terry Crews play frequently. What was once thought of as a game for loners has become something that, if you enjoy fantasy and having fun with friends, almost everyone is willing to try.
I have been running my own personal D&D campaign for some friends of mine for the past couple of years. It started with me getting “voluntold” by a couple of my friends that they wanted to play and because of how creative I am, along with my improv skills, I was designated the DM (Dungeon Master). Okay, I can roll with that. So I dove back into some of the fantasy stories I read as a kid (Dragonlance, Harry Potter & Lord of the Rings) along with some of the newer ones (Stormlight Archive, Kingkiller Chronicle and Witcher) and fashioned my own homebrew campaign to run my friends through. Keep in mind that this was my first time and we opted to use the 3.5 version of the game, which we later found out, was probably the most math heavy version.
We had a couple of sessions that they seemed to really enjoy, the first one being the morning of the ABSOLUTE WORST HANGOVER OF MY LIFE. I could barely handle the water I was trying to force down while trying to quickly roll up a Warlock for one of the late joiners while fighting not to throw up all over my notes and books… Despite the arduous morning, the guys seemed to love the story I had crafted, and by noon (we started at 10), I was feeling okay and the story really started moving.
I coordinated one more game with these guys and through both my own fault for the poor design on the adventure and their idea to split up right away, the adventure last FAR too long, like 10 hours. The group was burned out after six and despite me saying we could pick it up later, they pressed on to finish the adventure. That group disbanded in large part after that and I joined another 3.5 campaign in my town with a few members Skyping in. For various reasons which I won’t get into, that game ended fairly quickly and I joined a 5e game that my friend’s dad was hosting at their Escape Room business on nights after they closed.
I deeply enjoyed this campaign and the group we had was fantastic. We had a healthy dose of humour and seriousness with lots of jokes while working through the campaign designed by Marcus (my friend’s dad). After a few weeks of meeting once a week to play, Marcus and his girlfriend Julie told us that they were planning to move to Timmins and that once they left the game would unfortunately end. Obviously we were a little sad but understood that it was a great move for them and helped them however we could to make the move a little easier. They had expressed that they wished someone here would pick up the role of DM and run either their continued campaign or a new one which they could Skype in to join. I volunteered to take up that task and the rest of the group, save for one rule whore (literally this guy would side track all of our adventures and only go by the rule book) who we kicked out, agreed to let me try and DM a new adventure.
I started using some of the plot threads from my 3.5 campaign and weaving in some new aspects in the first adventure. I asked my group when we were doing character creation whether they wanted to do a good or evil campaign. All but one person, our cleric, voted for the evil campaign. She eventually agreed but chose to use a neutral character, to still get some healing spells, and to avoid any unnecessary alignment issues. So I set them in a world that had been on the verge of a war for several centuries following their last big battle.
Thousands of years ago, the dark wizard Zargothrax allied the Eastern provinces against the King Balthar and the Western lands. Zargothrax used his dark magic to corrupt and enslave thousands and attacked the border town of Dundee. Balthar and his armies responded by attacking back and the battlefield of Dundee was where the war was decided. Using a Shardblade and his Shardplate armour, Balthar cut a line through the forces of the Plaguelands to get to Zargothrax. The two engaged in a vicious fight while the battle raged around them. Balthar used his Shardblade to cut through Zargothrax’s staff which broke his magic spell over a large portion of his enslaved army. The forces of good were victorious with Zargothrax and his army retreating. Zargothrax’s right hand lieutenant, Palian, shattered a crystal he kept under his armour containing pure magical energy and a massive explosion occurred. When the smoke cleared, Zargothrax and his armies were gone, the King was dead and his Shardblade was shattered into 5 pieces. The king’s army collected their dead, their fallen king and the pieces of his Shardblade before retreating to the capital.
Over the years, Zargothrax sent many unsuccessful raiding parties into the western kingdom to steal the pieces of the Shardblade so he could reforge it for his own use. The pieces of the blade were then split up and hidden throughout the kingdom with their locations being lost to time. As the tensions begin to rise once again between Zargothrax and the western kingdom; Zargothrax has recruited several mercenary forces from the borderlands to fight for him and find the pieces of the blades. Our adventurers are one such group that has been dispatched to find the pieces and return them to Zargothrax for reforging. The only lead they have is that the leader of the King’s personal guard, Lord Soth, was entombed somewhere near the border town of Solace and rumour has it that he was keeping the hilt with him for safekeeping.
My players enjoyed the hook and got right into the adventure trying to find the sword hilt and the tomb of Lord Soth. There were definitely some hiccups to their plan, lots of T-Rex illusions and a dead body being shoved into a chimney and lit on fire, but they eventually made it to the tomb.
My group consists of: a Kenku (talking human sized bird) Bard, a High-Elf Rogue, a Goliath (basically a half giant, like Hagrid from Harry Potter) Fighter, a Halfling Monk, a Gnome Ranger, a Human Wizard/Rogue and a Human Cleric/Fighter.
They nearly met their match while fighting some reanimated armour that guarded the sword hilt before they finally managed to beat them. Despite having four people in the party that are able to test for magical enchantments (Arcana Check), the tank of the group (the Goliath Fighter) decided to grab the hilt and instantly teleported the party to a large City surrounded by a cornfield.
Cue the murder hobos.
Two of the party tried to find out information about the Shardblade and the location of the pieces while the rest went to the town square to see what the commotion was about. Following a VERY botched rescue attempt at the public execution in the town square the murder hobos decided to fight their way out of the town. 17 dead guards and a jump from the town walls later, the murder hobos were hiding in a haunted cornfield. Cue my mashup of Children of the Corn and Scarecrow resulting with some gold and jewels being found and the group setting off for the location of one of the shard pieces in Flotsam.
Without going into too much detail, my group has really taken hold of the story and at this point I am just trying to find interesting ways to give them a challenge. Last week I had to run them into a Were-Animal cult that had taken over Flotsam and they still managed to win despite only have 1 silver coated sword and 7 silver coated arrows… How? I don’t know… but they got the first shard piece and some cool weapons which I found online and thought they would enjoy.
THE NEXT STEPS
I purchased the Dungeon of the Mad Mage adventure book which I will be incorporating into the story I’m running to give them a massive dungeon to run through. I’ve never used a pre-made adventure module before; but it does seem like it will help to alleviate some of the stress I have from constantly looking through the Monster Manual and forums trying to find things to throw at them that will be both a challenge but not one shot kill them. There is a fine line that I have learned to walk between a challenging encounter and having to fudge rolls (change the results of the dice) so as not to have a TPK (Total Party Kill). Finding that balance took some finessing especially going from 3.5 to 5e. The variation in monster and creature design and abilities is something of a learning curve. Things that would be considered a relatively low challenge rating in 3.5 might wipe an entire 2nd level party in 5e and vice versa.
I’m excited to keep this campaign going, and like I’ve said, I have a great group of people to play with who work off each other and make every encounter a hilarious adventure. Last week during the Were-Animal fiasco, our Ranger wanted to cast an illusion of the sun during the fight to confuse the enemies, I said “… sure but you gotta roll a crit” (a natural 20 on a 20 sided dice), and if he didn’t roll it in front of my eyes! The group laughed as I launched into an explanation of “For some strange fucking reason a goddamn sun appears in the sky over the battle confusing not just the enemies but the rest of the party as well”.
If you’ve gotten this far into the post that means you are either a fan of the game already, in which case, CONGRATULATIONS! Or.. you are curious about the game and want to see if it’s something that you would like.
Either of those options is a great answer. If you’re a veteran player and have cool idea you think I would like or could incorporate into my campaign, let me know!
If you want to get into the game or at least learn more about it, there are a couple of podcasts and YouTube channels I would recommend.
Matthew Colville has a great channel for those wanting to either take up the role of Dungeon Master for a pre made adventure or homebrewing their own. I have personally watched a lot of his videos and this guy is very knowledgeable about the game and has spent many years as a DM. Here is one of his first videos about running a game:
To see How a game is “professionally” run and follow along with a great over arching story, Critical Role is your friend. Matthew Mercer (known for voicing several characters including Leon Kennedy in the Resident Evil games and original animated movies) runs a great campaign as a DM to several of his friends and other voice actors like Travis Willingham (known for voicing Thor in various animated Avengers cartoons). They broadcast their sessions live every Thursday night and have begun an animated series detailing some of their earlier adventures. Check their page out here:
Their sessions are a little long but well worth the watch to find out about how the game is played. Also their budget for their second campaign was increased massively due to popularity. As a result, the production quality is much higher for the second campaign.
If you just want to find out about the character types and races and best builds for possible characters, I recommend Dungeon Dudes. They’re not as big as the previous mentioned channels but they’re very knowledgeable about the game and walk you through some character building and benefits of each class and race.
Finally I also recommend from Geek and Sundry, D&D Starter Kit. Geek and Sundry run a lot of various RPG type and table top game tutorials, but their 5e D&D Starter Kit series with Jason Charles Miller is fantastic. He takes new comers to the game through character creation and runs them through their first adventure. Here is the first episode:
For Podcasts, I will obviously recommend the Critical Role podcast which is basically just the audio of their Thursday night sessions. They’re great for long car rides alone when you need something to help keep you awake. The voice acting is top notch and Matt Mercer uses great music and sound effects to fully immerse you in the action.
One that I recently found and have been listening to is The Dungeoncast. The hosts Will and Brian take you through all aspects of the game from Lore to character creation and running a game. They’re passionate about the game and don’t hold back on their stories from some of their sessions.
Dungeons and Dragons is one of the best games that I’ve ever played. It incorporates not just your skills and knowledge about the game but it also helps to build strong friendships and get people to come out of their shell. I highly recommend that even if you don’t think it’s something you’d ever be interested in to give it a shot!
See you next week!