Life In 108 Degrees

#life #updates #pathfinder #pathfinder1e #birthday #dnd #dungeonsanddragons

This last month and half has been a lot of me working on a D&D adventure/campaign that I wrote for my birthday. In years past I've talked about wanting to make my friends and family get together and play DnD with me. Usually I back out because I figure no one actually wants to play. This time my wife took me seriously 🤣.

I know, I haven't done many updates to this blog in while, and the DnD Campaign is not the only writing I've been working on. My goal for the year was simply to write more. I have achieved that and I have been consistent in writing every single day; whether it's writing a legal pleading or working up and formatting a draft of a brief for work, or just an entry in my journal or “daily notes.” This has been the most prolific year of writing for me in a very long time... Probably since the semester in college where I had both PoliSci and World Lit back to back. Both classes were effectively just a steady stream of producing essays and papers.

Charley Crockett, anybody can pray for rain. You best get busy digging a well, boy!” ~James Hand

Mini Rant:

You may see me casually use the terms “D&D,” “DnD,” “Dungeons & Dragons,” and “Pathfinder” interchangeably. Without getting into ALL of the details about the different versions or editions of Dungeons & Dragons, any casual observer would not be able to tell the difference between any of the various editions. So with that in mind, I would say that my favorite version of D&D is Pathfinder.

The first edition of Pathfinder is effectively an unofficial 4th edition, or a continuation of the 3.5 edition of the rules. And probably more like a 3.75 edition. My evidence is the fact that Monte Cook (one of the authors who worked on the official 3rd Edition of D&D) wrote the introduction for the first edition of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. It's not a perfect role playing rule set, but it's an extremely functional one.

Turns out that a month and a half of writing works out to approximately an 8-hour adventure. Even though I hadn't really wanted the adventure to be quite that long when I wrote it, I also did not want any of my players to be bored, and I didn't want to be grasping for straws or tying to come up with story content on the fly while we were playing. So, I buckled down and started to come up with a story that I knew I was going to have fun writing.

Building a Campaign

None of the people playing had ever played before, so it was imperative to ease them into the experience. Players have to build the skill of mentally visualizing the actions that their characters are taking, and also getting comfortable rolling their dice. While there isn't a specific definitive starting adventure or campaign for D&D, there are some common themes that reoccur in most of the beginner adventures that I've read through. If you're familiar with the various Starter Sets/Beginner Boxes out there, then you have a general idea of how I went about constructing my adventure.

I opted for the “festival” or “carnival” games instead of an ambush. If you have an especially theatrical crew of thespians, this is also their opportunity to play around and find their character's voice, or play around with mannerisms, find the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities that make their characters unique to them.

To start the journey I made some handwritten notes that I passed around to everyone. They were written from the perspective of one of the main NPCs, Hooli, an accomplished alchemist who has recently passed away. As a player he's your friend, and the reason why you're giong on this journey. The letters establish that the players know Hooli, and through his bequeathment, the players are incentivized to have fun at the Drac's Fall festival. Effectively all the letters were the same, with the exception of a single paragraph which detailed a unique event that can be used by each player to get to know the other players.

This is Hooli ^. I had AI generate him. In fact I had AI generate most of the assets that I used during the adventure, and I even asked each of the players to give me a prompt to describe their characters. Hotpot let's you select a style, so there's a way to control the visual tone enough to where you can generate several images and they're (mostly) visually consistent with one another. And the things that it gave me which were off, I attempted to explain them away with in-game lore. For instance, I wanted Hooli to be entirely green, he is a half-orc after all. But alchemists are always using potions to change their appearances, or alter their bodies in one fashion or another. So it's not inconsistent with the character that I've created, and it makes the piece much more fascinating.

This guy here is Choncobar, a loyal follower of Iomedae, he's an ancient halfling at eighty-three. Also a good friend to Hooli. Choncobar was chosen as the executor of Hooli's estate. He meets the players at the docks of Freeport, and he can either be taken along with the party for his useful abilities as a Cleric, or simply be used as a guide to answer questions about the world around the players.

Best Laid Plans

Originally I started to build a random generation engine, whereby I would have a bunch of tables to consult depending on what the players wanted to do. The problem with players who haven't played before is that they don't know what they can and can't do, so there's a real problem with decision paralysis. Once the creative juices start flowing, it's a lot easier for players to start improving. So it was a mostly linear endeavor where the players are sort of funneled along down a pre-determined story. Until you have players who really want to flesh out their characters

Lost Mine of Phandelver and Black Fang aren't particularly fascinating fantasy stories, IMHO. That being said, the mechanics and structure are solid, so I spent quite a bit of time studying the design of those starter adventures while working on writing my own story elements. I also didn't use the default setting of Golarion (the one provided by Paizo, the publishers of the Pathfinder Core Rule Book). Instead I set the story mostly in Freeport: The City of Adventure—a phenomenal campaign book by Green Ronin Publishing.

I told everyone that the session would be Lord of the Rings -meets- Pirates of the Caribbean. That wasn't entirely accurate, I leaned much more heavily into my experience with the Elder Scrolls and traditional D&D, where all the different races are much more common place. I feel like Tolkien fantasy relies too much on humans being the “special” ones. In my game, we didn't have a single player who was a human, so there were no human NPCs either.

Venturing Forth

Once everyone was comfortable and we were done with the festival games, I introduced a natural disaster that sets up the main quest of having to track down an evil drwaven wizard who has captured a Time Dragon. Our evil wizard, Grakus, lives in the Darklands or Underdark, and so the players need to get underground somehow. A sewer dungeon seemed the most plausible in a somewhat urban setting, and it works as a nice starter dungeon. Most of the monsters for that type of an environment are pretty simple; ghouls, goblins, rats, giant centipedes, and creatures of that nature. It isn't just any sewer though, it's a magical dwarven sewer, and the entrance to the place the players need to go is heavily guarded by two gargoyles... Primarily to keep all the dangers that lie in the underdark from wrecking the sewers. Dwarven magic was chosen because they're always the best stone masons in any traditional fantasy setting. Also gargoyles are protectors, dwarven magic just works twice as good for these things, so the gargoyles try to prevent anything from entering or leaving.

My wife and her sister came up with the idea to fashion a trip-wire and use it on one of the gargoyles. That wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but the end result was the same. And that was about as far as we made it. Approximately 4 hours worth of gameplay.

If anyone is interested, I'll be happy to post more of the adventure. But even running it just the one time, I saw tons of areas where I want to improve my notes and change subtle things. I also want to build in some optional stuff for more experienced groups to use. Overall though, I think it was a success.