An aspect I’ve yet to properly touch on in this blog is the act of roleplaying itself, a main part of why we even play Dungeons and Dragons. Being able to have a character and explore what makes them emotionally resonate is one of the great processes of playing D&D, slowly learning and developing your own character with each session. However, there are times when characters develop in directions that can come into conflict with a DM’s overall campaign plans, or sometimes a character’s arc can sometimes lead them away from the Dungeon Master’s grand designs. This is the interesting point where gaming and narrative meet: how to effectively cooperate with the two separate notions that we are playing a character in a story but also that we are playing a game with friends. This is also the factor we’re going to be exploring today.
Welcome to From the DM’s Chair, I’m Shadowonthewall and today, we’ll be talking about the fifteenth session of my D&D campaign: Dorvine, and the lessons I’ve learned whilst running it. This week, we’ll be focusing on roleplaying: how to make it interesting, why we do it and where do we draw the line between character and game avatar. My escapees from a conquered town of un-dead are as follows:
Dion is Kassadin Lightfade, the Neutral Evil Tiefling Fighter.
Joey is Nikita Tomasovna Nikinova, the Chaotic Neutral Tabaxi Rogue.
Lukas is Teoku Skia, the Chaotic Neutral Shadar-kai Warlock.
Beth is Lady Elizabeth Grey, the Chaotic Good Human Barbarian.
Jacob is Vedrir Tarrenstar, the True Neutral Eladrin Ranger.
All character art drawn by Dion Russell, whose other work you can check out here: https://www.deviantart.com/floodrushforever.
The town of Cinder’s Grave still smoulders in the dying light of the day. The thick mist of Tarvirus the Husk, the new ruler of the area, spreads out all around, eclipsing the blue sky from view. The Fellow Vagabonds watch in despair as people flee the city. As the crowd fans out, racing into the wilds and clambering onto carts scattering in every direction.
“Baggy!” Teoku calls out, “Baggy!”
The panther finds his way through the flow of people to his master.
“Has anyone seen Clacker?” Kassadin asks, pushing forward towards the gate.
“Kassadin, we don’t have time to look,” Ouskarr puts in.
Elizabeth is quick and pulls Kassadin back, gesturing to Ouskarr. Kassadin looks to the half-orc and then back once more towards the gate to Cinder’s Grave. The archway they had walked in the day before is crumbling and beyond, the howls of the undead and screams fill the streets as a dark fire grows within the confines of the wall. Kassadin swears. First, under his breath, then screaming loudly to the sky, kicking at the earth.
“This wasn’t meant to happen,” he growls.
“We go now yes?” Nikita suddenly puts in, gesturing to the fleeing carriages and people. Kassadin barely hears her words. His gaze pans across the chaos, the sifting waves of people running. He feels a pang of pain in his chest, one that resonates more stronger than he was expecting. His ordeal with Dormin, all of his battles to get here. He thought he had crushed it: the side of himself so eager to help others. Yet, in this moment, bathing in the sorrow of a fallen home, Kassadin feels a sudden surge of pity and regret as all of the refugees fan out.
“Our garrison is much like the Drunken One,” he remembers his mentor Windermire’s, words, “we do our best, and get everyone safe home at the end of a campaign.”
All Kassadin can do though is shake with rage at the destruction. Whatever darkness Dormin tried to seed in his heart ebbs and he takes a shaky breath, his features hardening.
“Never again,” he groans, strapping Ward back in his sheath and turning back to the party.
“Where are we going?” Teoku asks, ushering Baggy along to follow in Kassadin’s steps.
“We…we need to find Mayhem and Symon.”
“Mayhem?” Teoku calls, “Kass, do you not remember what just…”
“I know, I know,” Kassadin growls back, “he’s angry and probably hates us…but this…”
He glances back to Cinder’s Grove one last time before shaking his head.
“It’s just not right,” he finishes simply.
“Right?” Teoku wonders aloud, “what do you mean?”
“I don’t know,” Kass grunts, “it’s just…come on, let’s get going.”
Shouldering all his grief once more and letting go of the hate Dormin sliced into his heart, Kassadin lifts his heads and points after one of the cart tracks trailing off into the distance.
“There, we follow those.”
“Is that the right way?” Ouskarr wonders.
“Away from here,” Nikita’s heavy accent puts in, “and this is start, yes green boy?”
Ouskarr grunts, shouldering past the cat to join Kassadin.
“Lead the way,” he insists.
Kassadin nods and signals for the Vagabonds to move out, sending them marching along through the field. Despite the disappointment within him, Kassadin feels lighter with every step, taking a moment to count the forces behind him. Home is lost, long gone behind him. But he still has the Vagabonds, he still has people he’s willing to keep safe and protect.
He may still be Lightfade, but maybe Lightforge is still in there somewhere…
Dion is Kassadin Lightfade, the Neutral Good Tiefling Fighter
It take a good half an hour before Kassadin realises his mistake. The cart the group have been following westward actually belongs to an elderly couple, and not the young prince-ling and his guard. Disappointed, embarrassed but not deterred, Kassadin finally finds a new route for the party, cutting through the fields to join up with the southern road back to Orlon. As the day closes out into night, the group wisely decide to set camp for the night. It’s for the best really. Ouskarr is still exhausted and heavily wounded, Elizabeth having to carry him the most of the way. Teoku quickly sets up a tent for the half-orc and tucks him in before returning back to the party.
“He’ll…be alright in the morning…I hope” Teoku explains, “so…what we were gonna do for a watch?”
“Nothing,” Kassadin replies, “it’s…let’s face it guys, we’re exhausted.”
The group nod, the obvious wounds from their previous battle still playing on their minds.
“I have Ward,” Kassadin puts in, “he keeps an eye on nearby hostiles. We’ll know if anyone approaches…but right now, we all should get some sleep.”
A murmur of agreement flows through the camp. Elizabeth prepares her own tent, whilst Teoku takes a chance to snuggle up near Ouskarr’s tent, keeping an eye on his weary companion. Nikita curls up beside the fire and Yuvari takes a tent of her own opposite Elizabeth’s. With a moment of quiet to himself, Kassadin takes a moment to himself, walking away from the camp for a moment to himself. Tears come freely, and he rants to Ward about the events at the Seat and his worries of the coming days. Ward has little to offer in regards to help, but he is patient and finally, all of Kass’ tears have dried up, allowing the tiefling to return to camp and get some sleep of his own.
In the middle of the night, Kassadin wakes to a shuffling from Yuvari’s tent. Glancing out the tent flap, he sees Ward still sunk into the ground nearby Nikita, a silent watcher at his post. Across from the fading fire, Yuvari slips out of her own tent, fully dressed and bundled up in a travel’s cloak. She has her things packed away on her back, satchels and backpack full of as many supplies as she can carry. She slips out of the tent folds and steps onto the road, looking off back to the north. She begins to walk. Kassadin bolts out of his tent immediately, scrambling along the grassy knoll to stand behind her.
“Yuvari,” he calls.
Yuvari stops at her name, giving a low hiss at his call.
“Yuvari…what are you…”
“I…I was never good at goodbyes,” Yuvari replies, keeping her vision firmly fixed on the distance. Kassadin approaches, tilting his head.
“W-what? You…you’re leaving?”
“It’s the way it looks like it’s got to be,” Yuvari whispers in reply.
“No, no it doesn’t!” Kassadin snaps back, “what…what’s brought this on?”
“Nothing,” Yuvari murmurs, “it’s…nothing personal. It’s just…I’ve done it with everyone. I’ve gotten what I needed and left. Considering all that’s just happened, it shows I’ve been here too long.”
“Everyone?” Kassadin wonders aloud, “what? Why? Yuvari, you’re not making any sense.”
Yuvari finally turns. The moonlight shines across her face revealing a pair of watering eyes and a hardened look of despair.
“Kass, I’m leaving before you throw me away.”
Kassadin stares at her, a moment of pure confusion trapped in this isolated tension.
“What?” he gasps.
“It’s…it’s always happened,” Yuvari spits out, “every group I’ve met, every single person I’ve tried to get close to…at one point or another, it’s too much and they throw me away or give me up to the wolves. Every single one.”
Her gaze lingers on the floor for a moment, before she raises her head to meet Kass’ gaze.
“So I’d rather leave now before I ruin anything else for you.”
“Yuvari!” Kassadin shouts.
His voice carries, no doubt waking up his comrades, but in this case, Kassadin doesn’t care. The burning and bubbling in his chest swells out and over and all of his emotions start to come tumbling out.
“Yuvari, we’re not like them and we would never do that to you!”
“I killed her, Kassadin,” Yuvari yells back, “Delxipha. I’m the reason she’s dead. She killed Megs and…when I heard that, I was just…there was pain and anger. I couldn’t think I was just so angry. And hurt. And the pain just…it hasn’t stopped Kass. Even when she’s dead, even when it’s all over, I still feel hollow.”
Yuvari clutches at her chest, glaring at Kassadin across the way.
“I didn’t sign up for that!” she shouts, “I didn’t want to care about Megs and then she just wormed her way in. She set me free, kept me close. It was…she was like the grandmother I never had, this reassuring presence and when she left, I lost it. I’m never that emotional, ever. I don’t like it. I don’t like this.”
She flails in the air, her arms lashing out around her, before returning to her face to hide her tears.
“I…I’m always in control and now I’m not. I’m breaking and it’s…it’s not me. I’m not supposed to care, especially about people who are just gonna throw me away.So I’m going to leave before you abandon me or sell me out. Because I can’t live through anything like that again. I’ve been sold once, a slave. I refuse to do it again.”
She takes a step back but Kassadin follows, stepping two forwards and catching her attention once more.
“Yuvari, we would never do that to you. Ever. We don’t want you to leave. We’re your comrades.”
“And how long is that gonna be for Kassadin?” Yuvari replies, “until I mess up again? Until I ruin everything? Sorry, I’m not taking that chance.”
“Yuvari,” Kassadin breathes.
He’s on the edge of tears now too, fighting back all his urges to reach out and grab her. He wants to tell her how angry he is that someone ever treated her like that. How he wants her, needs her to stay.
But he can’t find the words and he doesn’t want to push.
If she stays, she has to decide to stay for her or else it’s all lost.
“You know,” he starts, unsure, “I felt alone when Dormin changed me. Adrift, like everything was the same but I had changed so much that I just didn’t have a place anymore. Then I met you, and it all felt better. You had Dormin too and it was reassuring to know I wasn’t alone anymore.”
Yuvari turns to glare at him.
“Oh, great. So that’s why I’m here? I’m your support blanket?”
“No, Yuve, you’re…” Kass’ speech descends into a growl as he calms himself down. He can’t get flustered, fly off the handle like always. This is all about delicate precision. It’s about honesty.
Think Kassadin, he begs to himself, think think think.
“Yuvari,” he finally starts again, “you’ve never had friends before, have you?”
Yuvari stops, considering.
She shakes her head.
“The fact that those people tried to sell you, tried to cast you aside. That’s not right and that’s not how friends are. But we are your friends. Megs, Megs was your friend. Teoku, Elizabeth, Vedrir: all your friends.”
Kassadin pauses to catch his breath.
“And me, Yuve. I’m your friend.”
Her tears flow freer now. She shakes her head, almost trying to shake his words away from her ears.
“Kass…you don’t want me. Look at Cinder’s Grove, I ruin everything.”
“I don’t care,” Kassadin insists.
“They’ll hunt me if they find out,” Yuvari replies, “and that means they’ll hunt you too.”
“I don’t care,” Kassadin snaps back, “I just need to get you back to bed.”
Yuvari raises an eyebrow.
“It’s…something my captain always said,” Kassadin puts in.
“Windermire,” Yuvari puts in, “you talked about him before.”
Kassadin swallows hard and nods.
“I want to be just like him. I’ve always wanted to be just like him. He always told me two things: one, look after your comrades and two, make sure everyone gets back to bed safe. I never really saw eye to eye with Megs, not really. That still doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have gone the extra mile for her. She fought with me and bled beside me and that makes her my comrade. Just like you.”
Kassadin steadies himself, breathing deep. Yuvari just shakes her head, the tears still brimming in her gaze.
“Why?” she breathes, “why does it matter to you? You should let me go.”
“Because I’ve already let someone else go precious to me,” Kassadin puts in, “and I won’t let it happen to you.”
Yuvari raises an eyebrow, curiosity shining through her despair.
Kasasdin sighs. There’s no other way.
“When I was…first revived as a tiefling, Dormin told me I was the only survivor…but he lied. Windermire came over the hill. He looked relieved, then horrified when he finally saw me. I saw the hope in his eye die when he realised what I’d become. Then Dormin repeated it again: “You’re the only survivor Kassie”.”
Yuvari’s eyes widen in horror.
Kassadin nods, his eyes watering in turn.
“I…I just…Dormin said I needed help…pushing…pushing…”
“Pushing the boat out?” Yuvari suggests, her face growing solemn in understanding.
“I killed him, Yuve. I killed the man I wanted to be. That sickens me, that I let him slip away like that. But I’m trying to be better. Better than what I was, better than what Dormin expects me to be and now, now I want to be better for you. Yuve, please stay. I promise, I swear, that I will never hurt you and I will fight with tooth and nail if it means keeping you and my new family safe…because…because end of the day…”
Kass breaks, the tears streaming down his face.
“A good man just wants to get everyone home and back to bed.”
Yuvari cracks at this point too, her sorrow, anger and dissappointment flowing freely as she cries. She lunges forwards, wrapping her arms around Kass’ chest and pulling him close as she cries, her tears dripping down his chest. Kass clings to her too and sobs helplessly, burying his face in her hair. From a distance, no more than a few feet away, Nikita and Teoku watch on at the exchange. The two share a glance before curling back to sleep, knowing smiles on their faces.
The pair of Tieflings hold each other for the longest time, just sobbing and letting all their emotions run free before Kassadin speaks again.
“Yuve, please stay.”
Yuvari sniffles. She lifts her head and nods.
The next day, the Vagabonds finish their journey towards Orlon. After a long night of rest, Ouskarr appears fully recovered, much to Teoku’s joy, and though Yuvari is as quiet as ever and clearly a little drained from the night before, she walks with the group, lingering around the front near Kassadin.
The small village of Orlon hasn’t changed much since they left, though the space is clearly much more busy. This appears to be the sanctuary that most fleeing from Cinder’s Grove have found, following after Mayhem and Symon’s cart. Upon arriving in the busy village, Kassadin heads back to the inn to find Mayhem, whilst the rest of the party split up. Teoku and Ouskarr take some time to explore the fresh tents put up to aid the refugees and find Baggy some food, whilst Elizabeth expresses an interest in aiding the locals with their troubles. Yuvari, still needing space, volunteers to stay away from the group alone and look out for Vedrir’s arrival. She suspects the eladrin can’t be far behind them and after the chaos, it’d be nice to reunite the Vagabonds. Kassadin agrees and leaves her be, before entering the tavern. Unknown to all present, Nikita decides to follow.
The Lonely Dragon has been completely taken over by Mayhem and the Cinder’s Guard. If Glynda and Myontiy have an issue with the newcomers, they don’t announce it. Delxipha’s death leaves her son as her heir and with Mayhem as the boy’s regent, the tiefling clearly has enough power to crush the two or reward them for their faithful service. Glynda hopes for the latter, giving food to the hungry guard on watch, whilst the rest gather round a map of the province on the table. Kassadin is reluctantly allowed through. A whisper flows round the room as he enters. Mayhem hears, lifts his head and taps Symon on the shoulder in warning.
In such a short time, Symon seems to have grown so much. His ailment with the coins is long since cured and yet his face bares an aged mark that makes Kassadin almost mistake him for a man full grown. His eyes are cold and even his usual innocent harmless persona, the tiefling can sense an undercurrent of tension and a keen intelligence lurking. If left to his own devices, the boy might even become as great a leader as Delxipha. The thought gives Kassadin pause, before he moves to meet Mayhem before the table.
“I thought you weren’t coming,” Mayhem says.
“I had a change of heart,” Kass explains, “we outcasts have to stick together after all, right?”
Mayhem gives a small smile, a lightness coming to his face that Kass hasn’t seen since the moment he saw Delxipha’s body.
“Yes we do,” he replies, “and trust me Kassadin, if you stick with me, you will be rewarded.”
Mayhem brings Kassadin over, introducing him to Symon, who revives the warrior with the expected honour of a lord but with the clumsiness of a child.
“You swore to the seat for my mother,” Symon explains, “I hope you’ll swear allegiance to me now.”
Mayhem looks at Kassadin expectantly. Under the pressure, Kassadin sighs and relents.
“I’m…not good with royalty or all that kind of stuff…but I want to help make things right.”
“I need allies and support now,” Symon replies, “I’m only asking, as my mother did, to confirm we can trust one another.”
In a show of good faith, Symon encourages Mayhem to bestow Kassadin with a broach of Cinder’s Grove, to show his actions are supported by the Thane.
“This is a risk, Kassadin,” Symon explains, “but if you serve me and our people well, I will see you rewarded.”
Kass scoffs, but a smile comes to his face.
“You already take like a lord, kid.”
“That’s because he is,” Mayhem puts in, “he’s your lord.”
Kassadin shakes his head but gives an accepting smile.
The odd tension is broken completely as Nikita makes her presence known. Springing from a spot on the wall, un-noticed by any of the guards, she lands besides Symon and points to a mark on the map before them.
“You, squishy, tell me what this is!”
Mayhem is quick to berate the guards for their ignorance and rush to Symon’s side, only for the boy to dismiss him.
Now is a time for allies.
Despite Mayhem’s irritation at Symon’s new nickname, the lordling takes to his new title with pride and talks Nikita through the map, pointing out various important landmarks and gesturing to old sites of interest that she might like. To Nikita’s utter surprise, the boy even tries to lay on the charm, clearly tricks he has learned from Mayhem’s instruction. She fights back the urge to lack and enjoys the boy’s attempts to butter her up, before simply offering him a supportive pat on the shoulder and an adjustment of the hair.
“So,” Kassadin asks, watching the scene with mild interest, “what plan do we have first?”
Symon sits back in his chair, giving the map a pensive stare.
“We’ve lost a lot of support and a lot of territory with the seat overtaken,” he explains, “already the old families of Dorvine are clamouring to claim the land of my mother. We need to start building a support network and trying to gain a foothold where we can. My mother gave you some missions before you departed, isn’t that correct, Kassadin?”
“It is ki-my lord,” Kassadin grunts.
“Then we’ll start with those,” Symon observes, “are there any that would help us in the local area?”
“There were reports of a Dragon near Orlon, sir,” Kassadin replies, “we could look into that?”
“Please do then,” Symon replies, “the locals have reported the beast was last seen in Restway. I can’t go help myself, I need to look after my people…but winning Restway’s support would earn us a modest income of food. We definitely need a supply convoy of sorts coming up here, we’re depleting Orlon’s granaries fairly quickly.”
“Of course my squishy,” Nikita agrees, before gesturing to another marker on the map.
“Perhaps,” the new Thane observes, “this might be an idea as well.”
He taps on the map once more, marking a few nearby ancient sites with his hand.
“Exploring the lost cities might yield something of value?”
Mayhem squints, easily guessing that this effort is some ploy of Nikita’s on the young boy.
“Perhaps,” Mayhem voices, “this could be pursued at a more stable time.”
Symon nods and Nikita fixes his collar with a smile.
“As you wish my squishy.”
Mayhem glances to Kassadin, who can only shrug.
“What can I say? We pick up the weird ones,” he explains.
Vedrir’s journey has been a rough one to say the least. After returning from his talk with Calvin, he spares a few hours to trance. When that’s over, he leaps up from his perch and off onto Butterscotch’s back once more, driving the horse out back along the main road. The journey is just as gruelling on the path back, even more so since Butterscotch is growing steadily more tired the longer the night drags on. Vedrir curses as he has to spur the horse on again and again when his pace slows.
A poor work horse might not be able to ride like this for long before Vedrir needs every mile the horse can give him. Butterscotch rides out into the fields. After a good few hours of riding, Butterscotch canters past the smouldering remains of Cinder’s Grave, the mere sight of the darkening clouds making Vedrir nervous. With a sudden echoing cry, a stream of blue light flies into the sky, shattering the darkness. Vedrir leads Butterscotch to one side, ushering the horse along the Southern path. He studies the earth, noticing the powerful strides of Elizabeth Grey in the road. When Butterscotch slows, Vedrir finally gives up. He dismounts his steed, removes her saddle and releases Butterscotch to wander free. He can’t afford to be slowed down any more. Every hour he’s away from the group is an hour that their chaos remains unchecked. Desperate, and still burning in a summer form, Vedrir begins to forge a new path, dashing along the road and hiding in the shadow. His legs pound against the ground, his chest heaving with excursion. The travel is going slow, however, so slow. Without a horse, he might not reach Orlon until long past sunset. Cursing, Vedrir urges himself on as quick as he can, desperately fighting the exhaustion.
A few minutes later, the sudden thundering of hooves sound back behind him. Vedrir turns, his fingers twitching for his foe, expecting a foe. Instead, Butterscotch comes to stop besides him, neighing and nuzzling gently into the eladrin’s face. Despite his anger, Vedrir spares a moment to smile and pat the horse affectionately.
“Bless you,” Vedrir mutters, before mounting the horse once more and continuing his long journey south.
Just as Kassadin and Nikita exit the tent, they spot Yuvari gazing off into the distance. She points along, gesturing to the cloud of dust approaching in the distance. Butterscotch rides full pelt into Orlon. Vedrir urges her to a stop before dismounting and rounding instantly on the party.
“Vedrir?” Kassadin wonders, looking over his bright red.
“What. Happened?” Vedrir snaps.
“Cinder’s Grove!” Vedrir presses further, “what happened?”
Kassadin looks away, unsure of what to say.
“I’ll tell him,” Yuvari insists, tapping Kassadin on the shoulder, “he needs to know.”
Kassadin reluctantly agrees and allows Yuvari to wander off, leading Vedrir into the field, a good distance from the town. Kassadin watches from afar. Teoku and Ouskarr join just in time to be briefed on Vedrir’s return…and to see what happens next.
Across the silent field, Yuvari turns to Vedrir. Swallowing all of her pride and despair, she confesses.
“Megs was killed by Delxipha. She summoned the Husk. Delxipha’s dead.”
Yuvari looks up to the eladrin, shaking her head.
“I’m sorry Vedrir…but…”
“What happened?” Vedrir asks.
Yuvari sniffles, raising her head to meet his gaze.
“She killed Megs…and…”
“What did you do?” Vedrir asks.
“I did it,” Yuvari whimpers, the words slipping from her lips, “I killed her.”
Vedrir knows. Of course he knows. However, hearing those words spoken from his comrade and seeing her honest face, the eladrin cannot control himself. A rage flares out in his chest, a whole host of negative emotions rushing into his mind. Collecting all of his pain and channeling it into his finger-tips, Vedrir reaches forwards to Yuvari. His hands slam around her throat and he pushes her to the ground, his thumbs pressing in on her throat. Yuvari lets out a panicked gargle, collapsing to the floor as Vedrir tightens his grip on her neck.
“You,” Vedrir growls through gritted teeth, “you ruined everything. We were safe, we had a home. And you killed it. You killed her!”
Yuvari opens her mouth, coughing as the grip tightens around her throat. Her hands lift up to fight back, only for her struggling to stop when she catches the pure hatred in Vedrir’s eyes.
“You ruined everything.”
His words sting. But they only sting because they’re true. Yuvari fights back her tears and relaxes her body as much as she can, giving in to Vedrir. Perhaps this is karma, payback for all the horrible things she’d done. Yuvari closes her eyes, taking her last deep breath, accepting her fate.
Sudden air rushes to Yuvari’s lungs. She pants, catching her breath and opening her eyes. A flash of light blinds her but when she recovers, the back of Nikita’s furred head meets her gaze. Vedrir is on the floor, nursing a nasty cut to the cheek, the cat shielding her body with her own.
“Get off the lobster,” Nikita growls. Vedrir flinches and growls, moving to stand. He glares at Yuvari, then Nikita. The anger and frustration flow out from his burning form, until, finally, the tension breaks.
Yuvari can barely muster a reply.
“I’m done,” Vedrir repeats, “I’m done with making deals with monsters.”
Vedrir shoulders his bow and strides back to the road. Yuvari breaks at his words, bursting into tears and resting her head in Nikita’s lap. Nikita nuzzles up to her, surprisingly warm as she strokes her hair.
“Now now, lobster, no wetting my fur,” Nikita says, wiping away the tears from her eyes.
“No,” Nikita snaps back sharply, placing a digit to Yuvari’s lips, “you are no monster, lobster.”
The tabaxi leans closer to her, nuzzling her and holding her close in a firm hug. Yuvari rests her head on Nikita, hearing her heartbeat through the mess of fur. It’s soft and comforting, almost making her forget the pain around her neck. With her lobster descending into more tears, Nikita pulls her close and nuzzles into her,
“Monsters do not cry.”
“What the hell were you doing?”
Vedrir lifts his head from the ground to stare at Kassadin running over to him. The tiefling is gripping firmly to Ward and his eyes are close to black in colour. He’s clearly doing his best to not strike back for Yuvari.
“Vedrir,” he growls, “killing each other. It won’t fix this!”
“I don’t care,” Vedrir growls back, “I’m done.”
Vedrir ignores Kass’ call and tries to shoulder his way past, only to get cut off by Teoku following up.
“Vedrir, what was that?”
Vedrir’s hand snaps out, grabbing Teoku’s wrist and shoving the warlock back into Ouskarr.
“I’m done!” Vedrir shouts, “I’m done with murderers and monsters and…all of you! I am done, with all of you!”
“Vedrir,” Ouskarr mutters.
Vedrir shudders at his own name.
“No, don’t want to hear it. I’m out.”
Vedrir turns, walking back towards where Butterscotch waits.
“Wait, you’re just gonna leave?” Kassadin calls after him, “we’ve still got to take down the Husk! We’ve got to…”
Vedrir spins on the spot, jabbing a finger at Kass’ plate.
“I don’t have to do anything,” Vedrir counters, “all I have to do is get as far away from you and this chaos as physically possible.”
“It was the coins though Vedrir!” Kassadin yells, “the coins did all this! They corrupted Megs, got in her head. She sneaked into Symon’s room, tried to give them to him! There’s no way any of us could have…”
“I showed her!”
The Vagabonds fall silent.
“W-what?” Kassadin chokes out.
“I showed Megs the kids balcony,” Vedrir growls back, “I showed her because, for a brief moment, I forgot she was a monster and thought she might be something else.”
Teoku tries to rush at Vedrir, but a glare keeps the warlock pinned to the spot.
“Then you did this?” Kassadin grunts, drawing Ward and pointing it at Vedrir, “you caused all of this!?”
Vedrir glances at the tip of Ward and then up towards Kassadin’s face. The fire in his expression dies and his skin fades into a cool white chill. Vedrir’s usual winter form stands before the group shaking his head.
“My father was right all along,” he mutters to himself, “you’re blind to your faults, quick to place blame…and not worth my time. None of you are.”
Vedrir reaches the road, mounting Butterscotch in one smooth motion, ushering the horse off out of town. The Vagabonds watch him go, disbelief in their eyes.
“Kass,” Teoku whispers, “he’s…not coming back, is he?”
Kassadin sheathes Ward and takes a deep breath, massaging his brow.
“Good riddance,” Kassadin growls out, “didn’t need him anyway.”
Mayhem exits the Lonely Dragon with Elizabeth just in time to see Vedrir’s departure. The Lady rushes after the horse, only to be quickly left behind.
“Was that Vedrir?” Elizabeth asks.
Mayhem doesn’t answer and instead, makes his way over to the gathered group in the fields.
“Where the hell is he going?”
“Far away from here,” Kassadin repeats.
Mayhem tilts his head to one side.
“Did something happen?”
“A disagreement,” Kassadin replies, walking over to Yuvari and helping her out, “we’re good now.”
Mayhem leans in towards Yuvari, spotting the bruising around her neck. He scowls, spitting on the ground.
“Good riddance to him then,” Mayhem replies, “to harm a beautiful specimen such as yourself, he must be lower than scum.”
Still a little overwhelmed, Yuvari can only look away and give herself a small smile of relief at the support. Kassadin notices and can’t shake the uncomfortable lurch of his stomach.
“You might want to move quick lobster boy,” Nikita purrs in his ear, “I see other people are noticing her.”
Kassadin pushes Nikita to one side and addresses Mayhem properly.
“Well, we’re one down, but that doesn’t change things. We’re still up for dealing with that dragon.”
“Then,” Mayhem replies, “you might be in luck. I’ve been dealing with…a gentlemen who might be able to help….”
Before Mayhem can properly finish his sentence, he finds himself pushed aside by a tall human in a battered old duster coat. Taking a moment to adjust his spectacles, the man with neat black hair turns and eyes Mayhem with disdain.
“As I was saying, it is imperative we collect more medical supplies. Zhese poor people are dying und ze Raven Queen sisters are doing nothing!”
Mayhem gives a loud sigh, looking over to Kassadin. The tiefling catches his gaze and immediately starts shaking his head.
“As a matter of fact, Eddard, these adventurers were just about to head out to Restway and establish a new supply route for us.”
“Really? Wünderbar!” the man replies, quickly turning to Kassadin, “you must let me accompany you und aid in ze quest. These people desperately need assistance that we cannot provide!”
“I’ll leave you two alone,” Mayhem concludes, patting Kassadin on the shoulder and roughly pushing him towards the awaiting man. The stranger offers his hand.
“Doctor Eddard Von Keppler,” Eddard introduces himself, “I am a doctor und cleric for Kelemvor. It is a pleasure to meet you!”
Kassadin looks from Mayhem to the strange new cleric, already beginning to peel back Kassadin’s grip to inspect the muscles in his hand.
“Ugh…Doc, you do know this is gonna be a serious mission, you know? Are you sure you’re gonna be…”
“Of course,” Eddard replies, “I am und season adventurer und I am looking forward to working vith you.”
He pauses briefly to inspect Yuvari, flexing a hand to heal the marks around her neck.
“Here frauline, let me help.”
As Vedrir’s choke marks fade from Yuvari’s neck, so too does Kassadin’s concerns for their new ally.
“Keppler, was it?” Kassadin says with a grin, “well, I guess, welcome to the Vagabonds.”
Jacob is Doctor Eddard Von Keppler, the Chaotic Good Human Cleric.
The newly formed Vagabonds find themselves some horses and make their way along the south-eastern road, doing their best to keep up their spirits. Megs’ death and Vedrir’s departure have left the group scarred, but at least the newcomers appear to be fitting in well and lifting spirits. Von Keppler is a man whose enthusiasm refuses to relent in the face of overwhelming despair and Nikita helps raise Yuvari’s spirits enough to distract her with teasing playful comments.
The group even rest for the night and have a decent sleep before finally touching down in Restway. A large patch of farming communities line a series of great hills to the West. Following the road down and along, the group finally arrive at the land of Old Mckinnel and his daughter, Nancy. The pair are willing to help, though Old Mckinnel himself is a jittery old man. Together, they brief the group on the dragon they spotted: a medium sized one that clattered through the barn a few nights back, carrying away some live-stock. The only witness is Nancy’s pet cat, Melas, who promptly descends from the rafters of the barn and eyes the group with curiosity.
“The hell are you guys supposed to be? An acting troupe?”
The group blink as one.
“Did…that cat just…”
“Yeah, yeah I did,” Melas replies, “I know it’s confusing to your poor tiny brain, but it’s okay, I’ll give you a second.”
Teoku’s face falls instantly into a sour look.
“Don’t like him,” he concludes.
“Seconded,” Kassadin grunts.
Keppler ignores the disparaging comments of his new comrades and crouches down to examine the strange four-legged beast.
“Fascinating,” he observes.
“Finally, someone with taste,” Melas comments, “you could learn a lot from him edgy boy.”
Teoku’s face flares red with rage. He kicks out at Melas, only to find his boot cracking on an arcane shield inches from the cat’s face.
“Good try,” Melas praises, “but no.”
Nikita quickly bundles the cat up onto her shoulders.
“Perhaps the cute little one could show us the way to the dragon?”
Teoku and Kassadin share a glance and a sigh as the spoiled awakened cat nests in Nikita’s arms, trying to ignore Keppler’s studying pokes.
“With any luck, the dragon will step on him,” Teoku growls.
Kassadin turns quickly to face Mckinnel and Nancy, asking them for any details on the dragon. Nancy explains, whilst her father raves about the horrors of dragon fire, that the beast seems to be making a home for itself inside an old barrow across the hills once owned by the Raven Queen. Teoku’s head immediately perks up.
“We’ve got to get there and get them out then,” he says.
Kassadin agrees, but before the group press on, he stops Nancy for a moment longer,
“Any black coins around here?”
“What?” Nancy asks, “black coins?”
“If a stranger comes through passing them out, don’t take them. They’re cursed, spread the word around your friends and workers.”
“I will,” Nancy replies, “but you might want to deal with Edgar himself. The poor man found one of those coins a few days ago. Stopped working soon after, stays in his old house other side of the field.”
Kassadin curses, gripping Ward and dashing across the field.
“Ward, we’ve got to…”
Kassadin stares off into the distance, where a small globe of mist has begun to form.
“Oh no,” he growls, quickly breaking into a sprint.
Teoku spots him running and soon follows after, quickly followed by Nikita, Keppler and a trailing Elizabeth, Ouskarr and Yuvari.
The group arrive just in time to glimpse Tarvirus through the fog taking another body into his clutches. He launches a flurry of eldritch attacks to scatter the party before disappearing once more, vanishing as the mist rises. Keppler shrugs off the necrotic attack and quickly approaches Kassadin.
“That vas un un-dead, ya?” Keppler asks.
“That’s the enemy,” Kass replies, “and sooner or later, we’re gonna take him down.”
Keppler nods, a small smile coming to his lips and a glint of light passing across his glasses.
His future path with the Vagabonds has suddenly gotten much more interesting.
After a long day of travelling, Vedrir finally settles in for a trance. He dreams for the first time in years, a familiar one. He’s racing through leaves, and branches, flying, before settling down upon a familiar space. The burnt red sunset of the faewild blazes about him and to his side, sat upon the branch of his great tree, Calvin the Firbolg turns his head to face him, his pure white eyes gazing upon Vedrir.
“I have considered and I have decided. You are broken. But that means you can be rebuilt. It would be my honour to train you in mastery of the Sight.”
Vedrir stares at the old man in disbelief and then sighs.
“Sure,” he grumbles, “what else have I got to lose?”
And thus concludes the fifteenth session of the Dorvine campaign. This session admittedly had a lot less combat than the last one, with the only aggressive dice rolls being a grapple check between Vedrir and Nikita (which quickly evolved into a battle of the NAT 20’s) and the ending attacks from Tarvirus. Yet, despite the lack of combat, this session was one of my favourite sessions and a great chance to get feature some intense roleplaying scenes. As such, the main advice for this session boils down to how to approach roleplaying as a DM and how to roleplay in a way to get the best out of your players.
Players should be able to play their characters how they wish and as DM’s, we should facilitate their growth.
When Dion suggested to me that Kassadin was going to change alignment, I wasn’t surprised. Kassadin had always had a potential for evil and darkness, but as the campaign plodded on, his noble heart became more and more obvious. It was something Dion himself had noted, marking that Kass could either be pushed towards good or evil in his actions depending on how the campaign progressed. On the one hand, perhaps this would have meant that he should have started as a more neutral alignment.
However, to be honest, I have never been one to mess with a person’s alignment, mainly because alignment has always been a fiddly part of D&D to me.
No other role-playing system has the concept featured and the idea that a person’s morality can be neatly placed into one of nine little boxes goes against everything I think as a person and a storyteller. Ultimately, however, alignment is still an important feature of D&D, one that has been with the game since the early years and functions as an important gameplay aspect, therefore necessitating its need.
Alignment should always be used to describe a character, rather than to dictate their actions as a rule-set. Whilst it is annoying that some characters put forward a false alignment and such, ultimately, the decision is moot and mainly serves to reinforce any future role-playing opportunities. I once had a player explain start as evil, despite not acting very evil and later changing their alignment to a question mark. For the sake of gameplay, I just considered this to be true neutral but, otherwise, decided not to mess with the system. She was happy to play her character and forcing her character into a box didn’t make my campaign any better or make her enjoy playing her character more. So long as she played her character with consistency, I was happy to work with whatever details she provided.
In the same regard, Kassadin’s turn to good made sense for the character and was a change that Dion wanted and I was willing to accommodate. A lot of DMs may have taken issue with this and even in past additions. shifting alignment usually results in losing a level. I think this reinforces a bad response to role-playing, punishing players for role-playing their characters and evolving them. Dion noticed Kassadin’s shift in morality and addressed it. Why would I want to punish great player choice like that?
This idea of celebrating good role-playing was the main reason I let Dion change his alignment in the first place, only addressing it now in hindsight. So long as a player does not abuse the morality system, come into conflict with the party or hinder the story by being insensitive and stupid, it is more than acceptable for players to evolve their characters naturally along the story as they wish.
Charismatic and devious as he is ruthlessly intelligent and witty, Melas is an awakened cat of extraordinary talent. Artwork by Dion Russell, whose artwork you can find here: https://www.deviantart.com/floodrushforever.
If you want your players to role-play, it’s critical that you lead by example and give them someone worth while to role-play off of.
My personal favourite moment of the session was the talk because Kassadin and Yuvari in a moonlight. I’d spent many a walk considering how Yuvari would approach her character after the events that occurred in Cinder’s Grove and these thoughts determined a lot of the things Yuvari said and the way she acted in the game.
Yuvari is perhaps my favourite NPC to play as in Dorvine. Whilst Ouskarr has his charm and other NPCs can be funny, menacing or anywhere in between, I find Yuvari to just be a good and interesting character, which is even more brilliant in that she came from nowhere, originally, just introduced to Kassadin’s attention by a simple question Dion made. As a DM, I changed details on the fly and now, fourteen sessions later, Yuvari has become a fixture of the campaign and a constant. To reach that, I made a character from the ground up and tried to make out as interesting, complex and as real as I could manage. Not an easy feat, perhaps, but it was greatly aided with a few guidelines already built into the system.
In D&D 5e, characters have four different features on their character sheets to help give the player a guideline of how to play them: Personality traits, Ideals, Bonds and Flaws. Examples for each of these are given in the books but in all honesty, I love encouraging players to come up with their own ideas to use when possible. Even when running NPCs, I find that taking the time to fill out this factor can help flesh out an NPC’s role in the grand scheme of your campaign.
For Yuvari, I tried to make a flexible, well-rounded character with my choices but also tried to put as many of her factors in opposition to each other in order to show her inner conflict. The key element and appeal of Yuvari’s character, in my opinion, is how guarded she is of her emotional state. Yuvari’s distance from the party and more silent demeanour makes her an unknowable addition to the party, always an enigma to the party. This made up her main personality trait: “I hide my true thoughts behind a cutting wit and a distant glare”. To help with her depth, though, I wanted people to care for her and the best way to do that was to give a reason for her outlook. This was something I explored in her main flaw, which reflected her broken soul and desire for connection: “I’m cold and unfeeling because of what others have done to me. I’ll never let that happen to me again.” This flaw helped establish an emotional vulnerability for the character, something Megs initially tapped into when setting her free. For her bond, I connected her to Kassadin through her relationship with Dormin: “I owe Dormin everything, he made me the person I am today.” Then, for her ideal, I juxtaposed her guarded state and her servitude to Dormin with openness: “I desire freedom above all things.” These four details point to the four contrary elements that I believe make Yuvari who she is: guarded emotions, a fragile heart, a willingness to please and an urge to be free.
All of these character details and conflicting emotions helped sell her to the party as a likeable character. At first, she was just the cool capable tiefling rogue, then they knew her as the angry girl, the loner cleric and finally, the broken girl desperately in need of support. By the time I had shown this side of Yuvari, the party already liked her as a character. Part of that I put down to me fleshing out Yuvari over the sessions and making her entertaining, and partly down to my own performance of her at the table.
I find that by trying harder at the table to act and roleplay, even if I’m not very good at being a female tiefling cleric/rogue, the players are more willing to respond to my efforts. Kassadin and Yuvari’s scene stands out so well in my mind because I was giving my all to express this character’s situation to the players and because I was willing to make myself sound like an idiot on the edge of tears, Dion was willing to do the same. Sometimes, that’s the real trick to good roleplaying: just letting go of your fear of social expectation and just having fun acting the part.
Respect a player’s control over their own character and work to collaborate with them on how to get the most out of that character in your story.
After the events of Meg’s death a few sessions prior, Jacob and I had an extended talk over the course of facebook. The subject was not an easy one for me, as Jacob was talking about the all too real possibility of Vedrir leaving the party. This was actually a first for me in my time as a DM. I’ve had players drop out and leave, or be pushed aside for one reason or another, but I had never had a player who wanted to swap characters like this in campaign.
At first, I was afraid that Jacob might have not wanted to play anymore, and then was worried that with Vedrir gone, so much good plot would go with him. I spent the next day wracking my brains with a way to make Vedrir stay, before ultimately retreating to my notes and the memories I had of the amazing D&D live-stream Critical Role. Half-way through the first campaign, one of the party players retired their old character to replace him with a brand new one, and the new character became organically incorporated into the story.
Remembering this story and how much I had enjoyed the player’s character arc, I ultimately decided to let the dice fall where they would and see how the story planned out. As you might have guessed from the post above, Jacob considered that Vedrir would be enraged at Meg’s death and even more so at the chaos in Cinder’s Grove and would retreat from the party, a dramatic move which left a lot of players stunned and enraptured by the drama.
Situations like this can occur in any D&D and sometimes, the results and process might not be ideal. I had a player in an old campaign trade character concepts because they wanted to try out being a monk, only to change back instantly the next session. The result was a forced in PC, who was just as soon forced out when the player returned his old character to the field. Speed-bumps such as this can occur in any campaign but it’s also important to realise that as much as you as DM want this campaign to be your epic fantasy with a great plot, the players are also looking to play a game and character customisation should be an element of that game. Changing characters might suck for your story, but they make your player happy, which is always good.
What really surprised me was that Jacob decided to make Vedrir leave the party because he figured it would be a great story element and wanted to stay true to his character and help develop my world. I’m honestly glad he did and as Jacob himself wisely pointed out, Vedrir’s story hadn’t ended and the character could still return at some point, hence my ‘end credit scene’ at the end of session.
But, of course, that is for another day.
The main factor of importance here is that Vedrir’s departure made for a fantastic role-playing moment and the introduction of Keppler was smooth enough for the players to instantly take to Jacob’s new cleric. A Dorvinian man, born and bred, Keppler was able to have a familiarity with the area that others couldn’t and I even told Jacob some information about a place where Keppler’s home could be and some other details about the space of Dorvine he knew about and inhabited. In addition, Keppler was also able to reinforce the party’s deficiencies and Jacob was able to play a completely different character to Vedrir, introducing a new dynamic to the group.
Overall, the change in characters gave Jacob a fresh character to use and allowed for both I and Jacob to develop a new stage of the story, both for Vedrir and Keppler. I’m really happy the way things worked and really glad I and Jacob cooperated to make the story and experience as good as it could be.
That’s going to be it from this segment of From the DM’s Chair. Join us next time as the party go to confront the dragon of the barrows, where we’ll be talking about running monsters, side-quests and moments that call for being light on the rules in game.
Until next time, thank you everyone for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s session of From the DM’s Chair. Please leave a comment. Positive Criticism is welcome.