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Player Character Blogging: D&D 5th Edition, Session 1

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I know I said I’d be heading back to real policyblogging soon (and I have a blog post on health care stuff handwritten, I just need to type it up), but since everything’s horrible and the world’s on fire, I thought it would be nice to do something fun for a change.

As you may remember, a while back I put up a series of “GM-Blogging” posts chronicling my time running “Masks of Nyarlathotep.” Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, that game went on hiatus.

Fortunately for fans of reading about roleplaying sessions, one of the members of my original group decided that they would like to try running a game as DM. So we’ve moved over from Call of Cthulhu to the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition for an urban investigation-focused game set in a Fantasy version of San Francisco (complete with an overbearing Magitech sector and skyrocketing inequality). Our party consists of:

  • “Honest Tomas” Rhymer (played by yours truly), a half-elf rogue/Fey pact warlock. Inspired by Moist von Lipwig from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, he’s a mostly pacifist con artist who got on the wrong side of a powerful Archfey, the Duchess of the Dark Side of the Moon. As a result, his soul has been hidden somewhere in the world and he has a year and a day to get it back (before unspecified bad things happen to him)…but to make things interesting, he’s been unwillingly declared the Duchess’ judicial champion, so that any spats she gets into with her fellow powerful supernatural beings means he gets unexpectedly attacked by horrible monsters to settle the dispute and is suddenly finding himself possessed of strange magics to help him win these fights. If he wins the fight, the Duchess sometimes sends him a clue as to where his soul might be…
  • Telfer, the Fantasy Catholic Cleric who’s also a closeted Sorcerer who can’t help his obsession with Wild Magic no matter how much the Church condemns it. Currently on “sabbatical” from the Church for undisclosed reasons, brought into the group by Tomas, who’s suddenly very interested in the subject of his immortal soul. While his god may be sending him visions that his sabbatical quest is to save Tomas’ soul in the non-metaphysical sense, his obsession with forbidden (i.e, Wild Magic and Warlock Pact Magic) sorcery is also growing. Which will win out?
  • Sera One-Horn, Tiefling Bard/Warlock and Rock Goddess. Sold her soul to the original party fiend Rockus in exchange for the Power of Rock, which she shows off every other knight at the Rancid Goat. Something of a local celebrity as a result of her hit single “Orkf*cker,” which has proven to be something of a crossover hit between the goth crowd, the preppies, and the orks who are hoping the lyrics aren’t metaphorical or ironic in any way. Helping Tomas come to terms with his new lifestyle change, and trading tips on how to sneak successfully and use a rapier effectively for Hexing lessons.
  • Lysander, Lawful Good Paladin working with the City Watch…Arts and Antiquities Division. Essentially Simon Pegg’s character from Hot Fuzz, Lysander is one of the few honest elves in the Braxtonshire City Watch and surprisingly avoids Lawful Stupidity through bringing in CIs/Consultants/Deputized Watchmen like the three idiots above, who he met through Tomas in Tomas’ guise as a mostly-honest merchant of arcane antiquities. Undergoing rapid promotion due to a series of successful cases which all get solved in a 24 hour period, despite a shocking amount of property damage although surprisingly few casualties.

Come join us, won’t you?

Our first session begins with Tomas having 363 Days Left to find his soul. He’s currently hanging out at the Rancid Goat, trying to simultaneously pump Telfer for information about Sukkoth (the Lawful God of mending and order)’s views on the immortal soul while trying to get some information from Sera about how this whole warlocking business works. Sera, fresh off a kickass set that ended with a command performance of “Orkf*cker,” begins to think that there might be something up with this half-elf.

Sera One-Horn (or close enough)

As we’re all at the table, Telfer is bullied by three classmates from Cleric Academy, Chad, Brad, and Thad. While Lysander successfully intimidates the bigoted preppy clerics into going to the bar, Tomas’ decides to screw with them a little and cheerfully introduces himself to Chad with the old two-handed shake (despite Chad’s ineffectual bigotry) and relieves the cleric of his gold and his class ring in the process. (Nat 20!) Tomas orders a fresh round for the table with Chad’s money and this time they can afford the top shelf stuff.

Perhaps in some sort of Karmic retribution, it is at this point that Tomas’ Bond activates, and he’s suddenly faced with a judicial duel as a small gnome in bamboo armor comes up to him and introduces himself as the Judicial Champion of the 666th Viceroy of the Para-Elemental Plane of Birdshit, and then tries to stab Tomas to death with knitting needles. Tomas instinctively blasts him into unconsciousness, suddenly learning that he can cast Eldritch Blast, and the bouncer carts the gnome away. As that’s happening, though, Tomas suddenly experiences a vision from his Patroness and gets a Clue that his soul is…not floating in water. (DM’s are about as inscrutable as Fey, in my experience. Previously, Tomas has received a Clue that his soul is in a wooden jewelry box/phylactery with an unknown symbol on the clasp, and knows that the phylactery will open for me if I find it. Where that box is, is anyone’s guess.)

Meanwhile Lysander is approached by a half-orc City Watch sergeant, O’Shag Hennessey. She reassigns him from Arts and Antiquities to Narcotics, tasking him with a mission of tracking down the mysterious “Hangtooth,” a drug dealer who’s been selling magical drugs to the Halfling community, without dropping any bodies – this point is emphasized quite strongly. Which means the rest of us are now Deputized Watchmen, although at least we get paid.

The next day, the group heads out to the Halfling Quarter (aka Tinytown), which is a Deadwoodesque shantytown out in the suburbs of the city, where we quickly realize that a party consisting of a half-elf (Tomas), an elf (Lysander), a human (Telfer), and a Tiefling (Sera) rather stand out in a crossroads market where the median height for adults is about 3’0”.

We persevere, however: Tomas takes a spin around the whiskey tents and is pointed in the direction of a local crack house, Sera is busking and finding that there’s a bit of cultural miscommunication between the more folk-loving halflings and her heavy metal stylings, and Telfer fruitlessly looks for books on forbidden magic and ends up noticing addicts going into a local crack house. (Telfer’s player took a Feat that gives him a bonus to Perception checks and makes it impossible for him to be Surprised.)

Tomas sneaks up to the crack house and overhears the password, but Lysander makes the call instead that we’ll go in through the basement. Sera conjures up some illusionary barrels to help the rest of the party pass their Stealth checks as I crack the lock and we all sneak down into the basement. Unfortunately the barrels couldn’t help Sera’s Stealth check once inside the basement, who knocks over a jar with her tail and starts a small fire, which alerts the half-orc guard who drops the folding stairs down into the basement to see what’s going on.

At this point, we go into combat for the first time. While Lysander and Tomas hide behind the folding stairs, trying to respectively handcuff and Charm into surrendering the guard, Sera’s unsuccessfully tries to use Tasha’s Hideous Laughter. Telfer, being a bit of a high-strung naïve person, racially profiles the half-orc in the midst of a Wild Magic surge and ends up critting on a Fire Bolt, which burns a hole through the half-orc (there’s the first body) and the side of the house, setting it on fire.

Image result for D&D fire bolt

In the ensuing chaos, Lysander heroically tries to put out the fire while Tomas books it out of the basement to watch from a safe distance. Sera more pragmatically robs the corpse, finding a vial (of what turns out later to be Fantasy HGH) stamped with Hangtooth’s logo, then steps out of the crackhouse to play some bardic music in the hopes of distracting the crowd, but really because a burning building makes for a hell of a set dressing. Wracked with guilt, Telfer summons water to put out the fire and begins to reckon with the fact that he’s just killed someone for the first time. Meanwhile, safely hidden in the market square, Tomas examines the bottles he stole from the basement.

The Halfling crowd, having been lulled by Sera’s music into not rioting over a Season 1 Episode 2 of the Wire-esque poorly conceived police raid gone horribly wrong, begins to disperse and Tomas rejoins the group. As we gather around the smouldering remains of this shack, we are approached by a Halfling teenager, Checkum Threenuts, who offers information on Hangtooth if we help him trash his parent’s house (which has an alarm system, he notes) to cover up the fact that he totaled his pony while suffering from affluenza.

Image result for halfling

The group now decides on what our plan of action will be: Lysander insists that we need to stay at the basement until a wagon from the City Watch arrives to cart away the drugs, so that we can at least present dope on the table to explain why there’s a dead half-orc in a burned-out crack house (actually, it turns out that the throw rugs and other accoutrements means that this is really more of a crack home). Tomas and Sera are down with the idea of robbing the kid’s house in exchange for information on Hangtooth, especially since there’s probably more info somewhere in that house. The decision is made that we’ll send Checkum to the local City Watch station with a message to send a wagon, while Lysander guards the crime scene, and the Rogue and the Bard case the Threenuts household.

And there Session 1 ends…

 

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  • I pulled my old AD&D books off the shelf from 30 years ago and paged through them. Many an adventure back in the day!

    • Helmut Monotreme

      I’ve been rebuilding my AD&D library. I scored a (post lawsuit) Dieties and Demigods at the used bookstore last week.

      • Linnaeus

        I had a pre-lawsuit version. Now gone, sadly. I’ve been rebuilding my 1st ed library, but only through pdfs and scans, not hard copies.

        • Helmut Monotreme

          I’m always on the lookout for a pre lawsuit edition, and I suppose I could probably score one off of ebay pretty quick, (I’m also looking for a Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader rulebook) but then I don’t have an excuse to stop in every used bookstore in town whenever I drive by.

          • Captain_Subtext

            I actually have a pre-lawsuit edition. The cover is a little torn, but otherwise it’s in good shape.

          • Sadly, old RPG books and games go for crazy amounts of money on eBay these days. Speculators have gotten into the market, which ruins it for those of us who actually want these games to read and play.

    • AD&D 1st or 2nd? I was a 2nd kid, myself.

      • 2nd. I’ve got the old DM’s guide, Player’s Handbook, and Monster Manual.

        • Captain_Subtext

          Same.

        • I still remember getting my PHB and seeing that fighter on the cover with his winged helm. It was my reward for doing summer SAT math classes.

  • Murc

    Good stuff, Steven.

    May I ask, what’s the gloss that’s allowing this party to function together? Is it just hand-waved, like many adventuring parties that logically should have a fair amount of intra-party conflict, or did you all sit down and work out backstory?

    Lysander, Lawful Good Paladin working with the City Watch

    Ha!

    I played a lawman with holy magic powers named Lysander once myself. One of my favorite Amber DRPG characters.

    Small world.

    Meanwhile Lysander is approached by a half-orc City Watch sergeant,
    O’Shag Hennessey. She reassigns him from Arts and Antiquities to
    Narcotics,

    … this City Watch is very strangely organized such that a Sergeant can make on-the-spot personnel changes of this nature unilaterally.

    O’Shag Hennessy may be the greatest half-orc name ever, tho.

    Telfer, being a bit of a high-strung naïve person, racially profiles
    the half-orc in the midst of a Wild Magic surge and ends up critting on a
    Fire Bolt, which burns a hole through the half-orc (there’s the first
    body) and the side of the house, setting it on fire.

    Without knowing what was rolled on the Wild Magic table, and speaking as a GM myself, this seems like something of a dick move on the part of your GM.

    A crit should almost always be an unambiguously good thing except in very specific cases. Critting with Fire Bolt, which is a basic offense cantrip, shouldn’t just mean you hit the guy, it should mean you did precisely what you were planning on doing; hit the guy without doing any collateral damage. Unlike, say, Fireball, Fire Bolt is a fairly precision and controlled spell; it can’t even set items that a person is wearing or holding on fire. Declaring that you’re being penalized with a burning building because you rolled too well seems out of line.

    As we gather around the smouldering remains of this shack, we are
    approached by a Halfling teenager, Checkum Threenuts, who offers
    information on Hangtooth if we help him trash his parent’s house (which
    has an alarm system, he notes) to cover up the fact that he totaled his
    pony while suffering from affluenza.

    Man, I’m surprised Lysander didn’t just bust this guy right then and there.

    • Chris Reid

      Telfer here: It was more a “let’s get some interesting character development going here” decision on my part. I decided I wanted to RP Telfer occasionally losing control, since he was raised with a lot of lawful-based religious education, and has been taught that his wild magic powers are either sinful or at best, something never to be indulged. So I figured he just freaked out and attacked. I like where the DM took it, since it has set off some interesting character introspection.

      But yeah, if I’d been meaning to just wound or disable and the DM said “nah, you toast him”, that would have been mean. All in all, it was a big net positive for the story :)

      • Murc

        Ah, I read ya.

        Good times all around, then!

    • So:

      1. Why are we together? Mostly, Tomas links them all. He brought Telfer along, he went looking for Sera to get info on warlocks, and he knows Lysander through the Arts and Antiquities dept. But mostly we’re all working for the Watch b/c we’re unemployed.

      2. It is highly suspicious, and you’ll see more in Session 3. I have a sense that someone in the govt is looking for plausibly deniable patsies…

      3. Wait for Ep 2, Lysander comes up with a very Lawful Good solution.

  • Matty

    Sounds really fun! I like the idea of fantasy San Francisco.

    • Yeah, it’s a neat hook. I’ve been leaning into it by adjusting my backstory slightly so that Tomas’ father was an Eladrin Wizard who abandoned his mother, which was the foundation for a sense of grievance against Wizards…amplified by the fact that he was rejected for admission to the Hermitage (basically, UCSF + UC Berkeley + Unseen University) because he didn’t have any money.

      You’ll see more in Session 2.

  • stepped pyramids

    Para-Elemental Plane of Birdshit

    Love it.

    We just had a session of 5e last night. I’m just running the campaign from the Starter Set, which is good albeit very conventional — it’s set in Forgotten Realms and has a pretty standard “your employer went missing and while investigating it you learn bandit and monster activity has become suspiciously organized of late” low-level plot hook. It’s been years since most of us played tabletop so I’m keeping it pretty grounded for now.

    I’m looking forward to getting to level 3 where a few more options open up for the characters, especially our fighter.

    • Nice! Yeah, I’m really looking forward to going up a few levels so that some of the class perks open up and I can start doing some cool stuff.

  • MariedeGournay

    God i would love to find a game near me. Sarah One-Horn sound badass.

  • brucej

    That was a thing of beauty…including the obligatory ” I cast a fireball into the dungeon room we’re all in” stupid magic user trick.

    Awesome setting too.

    • Oh, the fire vs. room size thing comes up again.

    • Murc

      Pedantry: Fire Bolt, in 5e, is not at all the same thing as Fireball. Fire Bolt is a basic offensive cantrip meant to be usable almost anywhere; it doesn’t have a ‘splody aspect to it, you just hurl a mote of flame at someone and if it hits them, it hurts them.

      It can’t even set a person or their effects on fire, although it can set other flammable things on fire.

      That said, Wild Magic can cause… fun times.

      • brucej

        I see…I absorbed D&D when it was three little tan books and there was this really cool supplement ‘Greyhawk’. My books all have ‘Advanced Dungeons and Dragons…TSR’ on the spine, and I don’t think I’ve cracked a rulebook in 20 years let alone kept up wth the manifold editions. Still play in an PBEM campaign, but it’s much more role- than rule-playing. We trust the DM to make all the rolls etc.

  • Jonathan Roth

    My group just finished off an epic year and a half campaign a couple months ago. What started as a slightly tounge-in-cheek traditional campaign to save Averos from The Nightmare got a matrix-style twist, as our “true selves” woke in a world conquered by Mind Flayers and aberrations, where we had been entertainment in the Psi-net.

    Right now we’re taking a breather and playing Masks while the last GM’s wife finishes up prep work on her custom 5e scenario. We’re all going to be tiny!

    • That’s a hell of a twist.

      • Jonathan Roth

        Yeah. Spent the second half of the game trying to hunt down the embers of dead gods, and wound up creating a monotheistic deity.

        Also gave me a chance to play a trans male half-orc barbarian as a side character.

  • Randle Aubrey

    This needs to be a teevee show lol

  • Ethan

    This was great, very dynamic consequences and an interesting party/plot set-up!

  • pseudalicious

    I’ve only had a chance to read the character descriptions and I’m already in love with this. I wish it was a whole book series I could read. Or a tv show. ORCFUCKER FFS! Amazing. If you ever decide to adapt this campaign into some other medium, please tell us. And if you need someone to write it for you, I’m free.

  • jackd

    Reading a good RPG report always makes me wish I could play at *your* table. Thank you, Steven.

    My 1st edition AD&D books (including a pre-lawsuit Deities and Demigods!) are in a storage box, but after a nearly thirty-year hiatus I discovered Pathfinder Society Organized Play and coincidentally joined a home game group about the same time. RPGs are a delightfully consuming hobby.

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