Over the past few weeks, I've been running the Newham Shire/Arcadia campaign for my group. I've been having a blast and I think my group is having fun as well. Recently, however, I think I made a pretty big beginners mistake. Many of my story lines have been a bit more complex than the normal, "there be bad guys" type campaigns, and I really thought my players might appreciate a couple of encounters with clear bad guys that one doesn't have to feel so bad about killing. The second of these encounters involved a small band of spriggans (5 in total) who were demanding a toll in order to cross a bridge. I thought it was going to be a pretty fun, if a bit of a hard encounter and I spent a fair bit of time figuring out how the different members of the spriggan team would act and how to use their powers most effective.
However, in all my planning, I didn't expect that my players might not want to fight. Just as important, I couldn't see how these little guys (who dip their hats in the blood of their victims) wouldn't want either a very large toll from the players or their blood. This failure to think a bit outside of the box led to a rather awkward incident where my players rolled fairly high but it was well near impossible to get the result they wanted.
If I had thought about this possibility in advance, I could have done a much better job meeting my player's expectations. Their attempts to use diplomacy and intimidate could have been part of a harder skill challenge. The failure condition could be that they were required to pay an even higher toll or just that they would have to fight the spriggans. I would have felt better about it and I think my players would have as well. In the end, my players really appreciated the more difficult and challenging encounter, but I think it would have been an awesome encounter with the addition of the skill challenge.
Sarah's ancestral homeland, New Hampshire, is a peninsula connected to the mainland on the northern side and mostly protected from it by a range of nearly impassible mountains. A land of great beauty and magic, many wars had been fought by those seeking to rule the land. These wars greatly saddened some of the gods and they finally grew tired of the strife and destruction that made the land ugly. The gods sent word to the inhabitants of the land, warning them to flee north or else be buried beneath tons of glacial ice. The inhabitants fled north to the desert of discontent. It is said that the lake that formed there was created from the tears of those who had to leave and that is why the river that runs from it, the River of Sorrow, has such bitter water.
Glaciers covered the land for one thousand years. The gods hoped that all would forget about the magical place and it would once again be their playground. The glaciers left behind large lakes in the mountains, which still contain the magic from the glaciers themselves. This magic trickles its way from these lofty lakes in streams and falls and makes its way to the River of Sorrow, over time turning the bitter water sweet.
This river runs south to the Lake of Lost Memories, so named because ruins of the previous civilizations ring it. It passes through the Dwarven town of Andernach, built on the hills Krahnenberg and Engwetter. It passes under the great stone Dwarven bridge and onwards to the great lake.
In the center of the lake is an island with a tall tower. To the northwest lie the woods of the Eladrin, to the northeast, the elves, to the southwest, swamps and to the southeast, the city of Abernathy. Abernathy is a human city, their capital for the region. Humans have lived here just for the past 99 years and this was the first city founded, as much of the magic in the lower portion of the region is concentrated in the lake. Here is where the nobility dwells.
Further south of the lake, where the Sweet River (Süßwasser) runs into the ocean lies the port city Barmouth. Most of the town is inhabited by newcomers, involved in merchant trade or the ship building industry. The natural and magical resources from the rest of the region are shipped through this town and goods from abroad come through here. The ships built here are highly desired, as the woods are full of trees of exceptional strength and flexibility. The town is run by a council of 9, with the majority of the members appointed by the nobility who make their home in Abernathy. While the nobility is quite benevolent and try to allow the city to conduct its own affairs as much as possible, there is some tension because the newcomers want to rapidly expand the city boundaries and push ever closer to the woods and swamps of New Hampshire.
The humans haven't explored much of the woods, although some have traveled to the Eladrin city. The well trained eye can see a number of elven towns in their woods. Since they've been here for just 99 years, the human cities and towns aren't well built up yet, and the whole area has a colonial feel to it. The exception would be that the ruling Darkmagic family lives in an old stone castle left over from an earlier time.
As a new player, one of the hardest things for me to figure out is how much role playing the group is comfortable with. Sure, I'm not going to be great at it at first, but that's an entirely different thing from determining how much the rest of the group is amused by it. If I do too much, I'm worried that some people will get bored or upset that the DM is spending more time on my character. If I do too little, well the truth is I might as well be playing Avernum instead.
In addition to the amount of role playing, it's hard to figure out what I should include and what I should leave out. Even though I was a tomboy growing up and am most comfortable around guys, I still have a few, more stereotypically girly thoughts than most of the group. For instance, my character isn't looking for a shining white knight but she also has some romantic notions of adventuring since her parents met as adventurers. But that leaves me with a ton of questions. Can she have crushes? Should she blush whenever a handsome waiter asks her a question? Should she get her own room at the inn especially since one of her fellow adventurers is a bit of a heel? Can she hide behind the dragon-born whenever she sees a monster that really scares her? To me, these are important matters but I'm not sure how important or amusing they are to the guys.
So far, she hasn't done too much of that sort of thing. Most she's done is write in a letter to her parents that the paladin has good hands (which made him reply "but I'm celibate") and I've written about her henna tattoo. I'm sure I'll figure it out as time goes on and I'm sure Sarah will find a love interest or two (if only in her journal). But I would love to hear your thoughts.
Like many people, my childhood was filled with fanciful stories. One of my favorites has always been The NeverEnding Story. While I don't remember having the book read to me, I remember watching the movie quite clearly, especially jumping when the windows bang open. During my trip home, my mom borrowed the movie through NetFlix and we watched it last night. While I no longer had the fear/tension watching the movie, it was great fun to watch. I still want to ride a luckdragon.
Another nice thing about being home is that I now have access to many of the books that made up my childhood library. A rare treat for me was being able to read from the illustrated children's bible my mom kept in a safe place. We also had at least two big books of nursery rhymes, Hans Christian Andersen's and Grimm's fairy tales, and Aesop's fables. My brother and I would spend hours reading these and other books and playing out many of the stories.
We also made up stories. For a long time, my parents slept on two twin beds pushed together. Whenever we played on their bed, the two beds would start to move apart. We used to pretend that it was a bed monster, trying to swallow us up. The huge yard around our house became the battlefield of many an epic battle, sometimes even involving the Greco-Roman gods. And my brother would spend hours at the library, researching medieval weapons.
I think it's incredibly important that we encourage curiosity and imagination not only in children but in adults as well. It's why even though I didn't play, I loved hosting my husband's D&D games and before that, I would sit and listen to them for hours. When I found myself no longer creating stories in my mind, I started playing. I think my mind needs the escape and the mental exercise it gets from creating these stories. I just need to find the confidence to tell others what my mind creates.
I figured it would probably be a good idea to describe Sarah since I named this blog and everything after her :-)
Sarah Darkmagic is the eldest daughter of Stephen and Enna (Moonbow) Darkmagic. Her parents were great adventurers once, working with others such as Douvan Staul and his wife, Eliza. They gave away all that they could from their earnings to help those around them and, when Sarah was born, were poor in funds but rich in friends. They decided that the adventuring life wasn't the sort of life for a little girl and, so, gave up the adventurer's life and started a traveling magic show. Stephen, coming from the great wizarding family from New Hampshire, seemed like the star of the show but in reality, most of the show depended on the technical expertise of his wife. The skills she practiced and developed as the expert lockpick of the group helped greatly in running the "magical" equipment.
The early years were hard as they didn't have a great amount of savings and such shows require a fair amount of money for equipment and components. Although they felt bad about it, they trained their young daughter Sarah how to pick pockets, making sure to target only those who could withstand having their change purse a few coins lighter. And they always did their best to get their extensive network of friends to help the poor target out, perhaps with a free room or some free refreshments at the bar.
As time went on, the popularity of their show grew and grew. About six months ago, Stephen was offered the opportunity to have a daily show in a big city. After a long discussion, the family decided that this was an excellent step forward, as it would allow Sarah's much younger siblings to have the sort of stability that they had always wanted for her. However, this left Sarah with a terrible decision. She could stay with her family, but she would have to get used to an entirely different sort of life. There would be no more traveling and they obviously wouldn't need her to steal anymore (not that she ever really liked it). Or she could leave, trying to find a her place in the world.
After careful deliberation, Sarah felt that she had to leave. Through her family, she had a wide network of friends. Besides, if she stayed, there might be a lot of pressure on her to settle down in other ways. Her family held a huge going away part for her. Her father gave her a simple locket with pictures of the family inside. But he also enchanted it, so that whenever she held it tight in her hand, she could feel the loving warmth of her family embrace her and make her feel calm. Her mother presented her with a finely made dress so that where ever the road took her, she would always have the appropriate clothes. She packed these items, some clothes and basic adventuring goods, and her never-ending journal and left early the next morning before anyone else awoke.
She was only two weeks into her travels when an urgent letter came from her mother. A good family friend, Douvan Staul, was missing and his wife was terribly worried about him. Sarah remembered the weeks spent at their place when her parents traveled to the less savory areas. She knew that she had to find him even if she had no idea how. According to the letter, the last place he was known to be was Winterhaven and that is where she went.
This is a really cute cartoon involving two high school kids from different cliques getting together. Wil Wheaton does some of the voice work.
Last week I DMed for the first time. I've only been playing for a few weeks now, so it was pretty interesting to DM so soon but my brother is visiting in a few weeks and I volunteered to do that session. So there has been a lot of cramming going on. Currently I'm visiting my parents and am sitting here on the couch figuring out what I need to learn while he works on his character. So far I've been using these resources to prepare for the session:
Dungeon Master 4th Edition For Dummies (For Dummies (Sports & Hobbies))
Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide/Dungeon Master's Guide/Rules Supplement/ (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons)
Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook: Roleplaying Game Core Rules, 4th Edition
Player's Handbook 2: A 4th Edition D&D Core Rulebook (Bk.2)
I'm visiting my family this week and my brother and I decided to go to the local gaming store to see what they had in the way of dice and miniatures. It was a trip down memory lane, both good and bad. They had an Intellivision there which was my favorite game system when I was young, mostly because of the D&D video game it had. They also had a voice adapter for games like B-17 Bomber and a "computer." It was the first system I ever programmed on.
The bad had to do with the gaming group that was there. It's not really their fault. They were younger boys saying younger boy things. But it totally reminded me of why I didn't game when I was younger. My brother was really into playing. But unfortunately there wasn't always a great group of people around to play with. Often times the games would devolve into accusations of cheating. Finally, and hardest of all for me at the time, I often felt so invisible when I hung out with my geeky guy friends. Listening to them talk about this girl's chest or that girl's reputation made me feel like I didn't exist. At least when I played sports, we had stories to share about the awesome pass I caught or basket I made.
All in all, it was a good little trip down memory lane. Unfortunately I still haven't found that set of dire looking dice yet, but I'm keeping my eye out.
One of the main reasons I decided to give D&D a try was the podcast series they did, originally with the PvP and Penny Arcade folks and later with them and Wil Wheaton. Listening to the DM(s) lead Jim Darkmagic, Omin Dran and Binwin Bronzebottom through some interesting encounters was just so much fun that I figured it was finally time for me to give it a try. They recently released the last episode of the second series so I'll have to find something else to occupy my time until they do a new one. The artwork for each one is just awesome. While Jim Darkmagic is my favorite character, I really loved listening to Chris Perkins as DM.
Last night my husband and I watched the first episode of Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire. They basically act the way I wish I could when I'm playing Sarah Darkmagic. It's great thinking of them as level 1 players. I could totally see the crossbow guy accidentally hitting the fighter with bolts from time to time. Don't worry, he's a fighter, he can take it. It's not the best show ever, but it's pretty entertaining.
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