Looking Back, Sarah's First Appearance

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 03 April 2010

With a year under my belt, I've been looking back at my blog post and game session notes from my very first D&D game. It's been interesting reading them, as both were the first things I had written for approximately 8 years. My blog post seems so strange to me because I remember that I had curtailed my writing for fear that I would just appear to be silly on the Internet and my session notes lacked the sort of flowery and descriptive style that I love. Both speak volumes about how nervous and unsure I was of myself at the time, as I tried to do something I had never done before in front of people I really like and respect.

Due in large part to my insecurities, my prep for that first game was intense. During work, I listened to first series of the PvP/PA podcasts again and again. I would highly recommend them to any new players since many of the basic rules are explained as they come up during the game, making it a great tutorial as well. Since I wanted to surprise my husband with my character, I spent lunches and breaks reading the Player's Handbook. Fortunately, I worked from home at the time, so hiding my activities wasn't that hard. Even with that preparation, I remember how intimidating the character sheet appeared. I'll be honest, I could not figure the darn thing out. I finally found a spreadsheet online that made things a ton easier as I tried to figure out AC and basic melee attacks and the like.

Beyond creating a character sheet, I knew I also had to create a character. This part was really easy for me. I decided that since the podcasts were the reason I would start playing, that my character would be a cousin of Jim Darkmagic. I also knew that our particular party needed a rogue as they had been begging me to play one for a good month or two. Ok, maybe not begging, but I think at least one member asked every week or two. And after thumbing through the Player's Handbook, I really liked the half-elf race. So now I had to draw together Jim Darkmagic, a half-elf, and a rogue. For me, this part was rather easy. I love creating stories, songs and even silly rhymes. If you're interested, I wrote a bit of Sarah's background here.

With the background story items done, I asked my GM for a few special mundane items for character flavor and created stories for the rest of the items Sarah had on her. The first special item was a Locket of Everlasting Warmth. Mechanically, it does nothing, but storywise, the locket was created by her father Stephen. Whenever she clasps it in her hand, Sarah fells surrounded by the warm love of her family. It seemed perfect for an insecure woman out on her own for the first time. Her second item was a never-ending journal so she could write and write without fear of running out of pages or having to get rid of older journals. Beyond that, she had a set of fine clothes, a going-away gift from her parents so that she would never encounter a situation where she lacked the proper dress, a henna kit so she could reapply her tattoo of Sehanine, and a long sword, from the wife of the missing Douvan Staul, in hopes Sarah could use it to help find him.

Finally, the big night came. I was so incredibly nervous. Two of the four people at the table knew of my plans and my husband was not one of them. I did my normal wife of the host chit-chat before the game and settled down on the couch to "read" while they started their game session. I impatiently waited for my cue, the time I was to come and introduce myself to the party.

Fortunately, they were in a position where such an introduction was easy to do. They were running through Keep of the Shadowfell and were currently waiting outside a waterfall. The elven ranger, Lucan, heard Sarah's approach first, and warned his party. Once the GM described the situation of a young half-elf woman appearing from the wood and announced that it was Sarah's turn, I approached the table. Many of the players were a bit confused by this announcement. Trying to project but failing terribly on the account of nerves, I said "Damn, looks like I missed all the action again." My husband turned to look at me with a bit of a blank expression, as if I was there to get a hug or to tell him I was going to head to the store. I let it hang in the air for a beat or two and then said, "Sorry, where are my manners, my name is Sarah." With him still a bit shocked, I pulled my chair up to the table with my character sheet and pencil in hand (I hadn't had the chance to get some dice in the mean time).

With hasty introductions accomplished, we turned our attention on the waterfall. I don't want to spoil the fight for anyone who has yet to play Keep on the Shadowfell but let's just say it's a pretty hard fight. I rolled initiative pretty well which was a blessing and a curse. As a rogue, going first gave me some bonuses, but it also meant I got myself into trouble pretty quickly. Soon Sarah was surrounded with no easy way out. At first, I panicked a bit, which is exactly what my character would have done. Eventually, I gathered my wits and begin using her powers that pushed enemies around. That enabled our paladin to get close enough to heal her and then switch places with her. From there, the tide began to turn and I'm pretty sure I was able to bring down some more of the enemies. Perhaps just as important, my crazy defender-like antics meant the ranged striker and wizard were able to get some great shots off without being harassed.

Although it may sound strange, my first game wouldn't have been as exciting to me if it wasn't for that encounter and my mistakes. Likewise, if the GM had pulled his punches and gave me a free pass instead of having the enemies surround me, there is a good chance I wouldn't have continued with the game. When that situation happened and no one rolled their eyes or made fun of me, I knew that I had found my group and that I would be back to play. And well, you guys know the rest.


And aren't you glad you took the leap? I wish I had notes from my first sessions! Now all I have are hazy half-remembered feelings of sheer terror.

Yes I am! And I'm glad that I made writing a part of my character's story.

Great post! It's nice to see what someone just starting to play was thinking going into it. Couple of questions - Why did you wait to play? What did the PvP/PA podcasts change for you?

I think the number one reason I didn't play is that the older rules systems didn't appeal to me. 4E emphasizes that player characters are heroes from day one. It may seem silly, but that one little change makes a huge difference to how I approach a game and my comfort level while playing it. The emphasis on balanced encounters also helps. While I'm new to playing D&D and pen and paper role playing games, I've been playing computer ones like Avernum for years. Avernum itself has gone through a similar transformation. In the first version, it was pure luck that you didn't die when leaving town. Then there was a time period where there were lots of skills to invest in, which often lead me too full of angst to really enjoy the game. In fact, I'm really interested to try out the newest, and last, of the line, Avernum 6. I just haven't had time yet.

The other part of my story to wait has to do with my very early experiences with the game. My brother is a big 2nd edition player and he has a pretty common outlook on D&D that doesn't always mesh with mine. So I really needed the opportunity to see the game in a completely different light in order to want to play.

That change of perspective came with the PvP/PA podcast series. There were no fights over whether or not something was ok to do. Things were slightly unbalanced but still a lot of fun. The rules seemed pretty easy to pick up. It just felt like a lot had changed and that the game had morphed itself into something I wanted to play. I know not everyone likes the changes, and I hope those people can continue to find material they really like and play the version of D&D they find most comforting and fun.

That makes sense. I started right about when the first edition war was going on (the 1e-2e switch), and burned out pretty quick on that old-school style (though 33 year old me wants to give it a go). 4e brought me back as the kind of game I wanted from D&D, so I understand where you're coming from.

It's difficult to get someone who's got a negative impression of the game (any edition) and get them to look at it with new eyes, so it's good to hear people's stories.

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