The antagonistic force in many books, films and games are usually embodied by a singular entity. Darth Vader is the face of the Empire, as much as Lex Luthor stands as a symbol of the Legion of Doom. However, an antagonist does not simply have to be just one individual. Whilst singular villains can be more compelling as characters, in a setting such as D&D, a lone villain can often be engaged and tossed aside in a matter of a few rounds. Thus, it is important to engage our players with a larger more expansive threat. I am, of course, talking about the evil organisation and its place in a D&D campaign.
Welcome to From the DM’s Chair, I’m Shadowonthewall and today, we’re going to be talking about the seventeenth session of my D&D campaign: Dorvine, and the lessons I’ve learned whilst running it. This week, we’ll be revisiting introducing new player characters into a campaign and talking at length on how to establish an effective evil/antagonistic organisation within your D&D campaign. My dragon slaying adventurers are as follows:
Dion is Kassadin Lightfade, the Chaotic Good 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 Doctor Eddard Von Keppler, the Chaotic Good Human Cleric.
All character art drawn by Dion Russell, whose other work you can check out here: https://www.deviantart.com/floodrushforever.
Last session, the Fellow Vagabonds, minus Eddard, travelled to a barrow in the mountains and slew a mighty dragon that lived there. After pushed into a position by his patron between choosing her or his growing love for the half-orc Ouskarr, Teoku abandoned his pact with the Raven Queen, pledging a new pact with the mysterious sword spirit ‘Lux, the Kingmaker’ and confessed his love to Ouskarr.
Between last session and this one, I once more wrote a fiction piece to my players, something I’ve started regularly doing, to help build hype for the group, but also just to include some greater knowledge of what is going on in the world around. This one, in particular, revolved around an old acquaintance of the party being contacted by the Raven Queen after Teoku’s dramatic abandonment of her powers, bestowing him with his gifts and commanding him to hunt down her enemies. With all that said, let’s dive straight in:
Teoku finds it strange, really.
Everything feels the same. Ouskarr is still hanging around with Kassadin, the two of them currently harvesting a dragon carcass for parts. He can still cast his spells and summon a pact blade to his hand with a flex of his fingers.
Yet, things have changed so much.
Ouskarr loves him. The tingle still flows from his lips, leaving him grinning and laughing like an idiot. Love. It’s not a new feeling for Teoku, but this time, it feels more real than before, more concrete.
His patron, in turn, has changed as well. Now, instead of the cold and calculating presence of the Raven Queen haunting and dominating his every step, he instead feels the light tremor of Lux pulsing through his body, a fresh warmth in his heart. Even now, his patron whispers to him, gently soothing growing fears and trying to calm him.
“You really don’t remember anything?” Teoku presses.
“Bits and pieces,” Lux responds, “I remember…that I was Lux, called ‘Kingmaker’. I was wielded by Magnus, first of his name, leader of The Nine.”
“Sounds like a decent amount of info,” Teoku responds, “what are ‘The Nine’ though?”
“A group of knights, vassals of the first king of Dorvine.”
Teoku jumps, drawing his bat and pointing out at the voice. Nikita stands nearby, watching him with a curious gaze. Still in the hulking form from her potion of giant’s strength, she deftly sidesteps past Teoku’s place on the steps and heads to the back of the room, to the space where the plaque of the Raven Queen has crumbled into dust. Beyond, a crack opens up into a tomb.
“And how do you know that?” Teoku asks as she passes.
“Unlike you,” Nikita purrs, “I do my research.”
Teoku scowls at her. Nikita vaults her way through the crack, entering into the area beyond.
“Hey, you’re not supposed to go back there!” Teoku yells to her.
“And who’s going to stop me?” Nikita shouts back over her shoulder, “the dead?”
Teoku opens his mouth but a clever response dies on his lips. That was the Teoku that worshipped the Raven Queen, not the new him. He turns away, leaving her to her work. The quiet and calm voice of Lux calls in his ear.
“This is a tomb of brave warriors…”
“It’s not right that you take stuff from here,” Teoku insists, standing up. Nikita crosses the room, placing a massive paw under the lid of the sarcophagus that rests there.
“Don’t be so prude,” she bites back, flipping the lid in one swift notion. It falls to the side, echoing across the walls. Glancing within, the decaying form of a dragonborn rests, his scales wilting over the centuries. The voice of Lux whispers low.
“You knew him?” Teoku checks, before turning back to Nikita, “don’t touch him!”
Nikita rolls her eyes.
“Look at armour!” she argues, “it is fine, might sell good.”
Nikita tosses a black rod through the air, Teoku just catching it as it whizzes past.
“There. Go play. I’m working.”
“Nikita!” Teoku warns.
The tabaxi growls, throwing her mighty arms up in the air in dismay, before retreating away from the tomb.
“You and Lobster,” she curses, “always talking to voices in your head.”
Teoku pauses, considering her words, before turning back towards his spot on the stairs. The instant he turns away, Nikita glances round, chancing another approach towards the sarcophagus.
“Hey Kass!” Teoku shouts down to the pair, “might be a long shot but my new patron might be some magic talking weapon from old Dorvine. Can you ask if Ward knows a Lux?”
Kassadin glances over his shoulder to Ward, the greatsword’s pommel glowing like a blue eye.
“…Yeah,” Kassadin shouts back, “apparently so.”
The tiefling gives a smirk, raising a fist to the warlock.
“Hey cool, they know each other!”
“Ward,” Lux tests the word, “I believe that was the name of Arcus’ blade.”
“Hey,” Kassadin shouts up to Teoku again, “Ward wants to know if that means your sword wants a rematch?”
Lux sighs in Teoku’s mind.
“Yes. Definitely Arcus’ sword.”
The Vagabonds spend the night relaxing and celebrating their victory over the dragon. Ouskarr and Teoku snuggle up beside the fire, whilst Kassadin manages to encourage Yuvari to come sit with the group. After a long night’s rest, the group awaken early in the morning, fresh and ready. However, all is not well, especially when Kassadin and Ouskarr begin to realise a flaw in their dragon looting plan.
“Lady Grey,” Ouskarr pleads, “would you be so kind as to lend us your immense strength to help carry these dragon scales back to town please?”
Elizabeth raises an eyebrow.
“We kinda can’t carry them all of it by ourselves,” Kassadin puts in with an awkward shrug, “the blood’s pretty easy to transport…”
“Blood?” Elizabeth checks.
“It was Kassadin’s idea,” Ouskarr puts in.
“Man, you just love throwing me under the cart buddy,” Kassadin growls, “dragon blood is usually worth quite a lot, so we’re gonna sell it when we get to town.”
“And the scales?” Elizabeth checks.
“Oh no,” Ouskarr puts in, “the dragon scales are actually for Kassadin’s new armour.”
“I kinda need a new set after everything that’s happened,” Kassadin explains, “and well…dragon armour sounds really cool?”
Elizabeth lets out a long sigh.
“Fine. I suppose it’ll count as training.”
“That is the spirit Lady Grey!” Ouskarr cheers, “and I’m sorry for bothering you with such trivial matters.”
Elizabeth simply smiles at Ouskarr, hosting up a collection of the scales into her pack and heading out. The party follow her out, meeting up with their guide, the awakened cat Melas. Bracing against his sarcasm, the group struggle back out of the valley and follow their path from the previous day back to town. They arrive to find their new companion, Eddard Von Keppler, busy at work attending to curing the locals of their ailments in the small town of Restway. Whilst the group have been gone, the cleric has spent his time blessing the local’s homes and ensuring the area is protected from another incursion by Tarvirus the Husk, the necromancer who conquered Cinder’s Grove. With his black coins expunged and the dragon dead, the group’s business is concluded. Old man Mckinnel and his daughter, Nancy, thank the adventurers for their work and see them off on the way.
“It has been und pleasant experience,” Keppler says with his usual wide grin, “und also, I vill be taking your cat.”
“What?” Nancy calls in surprise.
Melas, donning a smile to match his new owner, clambers up happily onto Keppler’s shoulder.
“Hey, nothing personal sweetheart, but you know I never stay in one place too long. Besides, this guy appreciates my style,” the cat purrs.
Nancy tries to speak, but soon gives up, simply scratching the cat’s ear once more, before leaving him with Keppler and returning to her work.
“We,” Teoku speaks up from the cart, “are not taking that cat with us.”
“Yar, we are,” Keppler replies, hopping into the driver’s seat.
“No,” Kassadin calls, clambering on the back, “we’re not!”
“Yar we are und this is my cart, so there. Argument solved. Wünderbar”
With a crack of Schnitzel’s reins, Keppler urges the cart on, fully aware of Melas’ smug smiling face and the glares coming from the rest of the party behind him.
It’s dark when the Vagabonds finally arrive back at the village of Orlon, the only light coming from the Lonely Dragon tavern nearby. The streets are quiet, almost abandoned.
Eddard urges the cart to a stop as a loud cry fills the air. Ahead, basking in the light from the tavern nearby, two knights in black armour marshal against a small figure on the ground. A cleric stands among them, wrapped in a dark robe, commanding the pair. As the figure struggles, one of the knights reaches out, gripping her wrist and raising her up into the air. A gauntlet finds the figure’s throat, squeezing tight.
“Black Rose,” Kassadin growls, reaching for Ward.
Keppler reaches out to stop him.
“No, this doesn’t seem right,” he comments, “the Black Rose I know are good people und a solid pillar of the community. I vill go talk to them.”
Kassadin reaches out, trying to keep Keppler seated but the cleric is already out of his seat and off wandering towards the awaiting Black Rose.
“Hello!” he calls gleefully.
Immediately, a knight and the cleric move to intercept him.
“Black Rose business,” the cleric replies, “nothing to see here. Move along.”
Eddard ignores his comments, turning to see the woman the knight is holding. Deep dark skin, like a moving shadow, with short white hair. Clad in only a vest top and an under tunic, the poor girl struggles against her captors, cursing in undercommon.
“Und…vhat is going on here?” Keppler asks.
“This is an unholy monster that has crawled up from the depths,” the cleric replies, “we’ll sending it back to the abyss where it belongs.”
Keppler raises an eyebrow, advancing towards the group.
“Really? It appears to be a drow woman to me, hardly a monster.”
“Of course it’s a monster,” the cleric spits, “now stand down or else I will be forced to…”
Mid-sentence, the cleric finds himself silenced as Keppler advances, placing a hand over his eyelids and forcing it open.
“Perhaps your eyes have been infected und you are unable to see properly. Here, let me have a look!”
“What the hell are you…” the cleric begins to protest, but Keppler is at least six foot tall and heavy built, meaning no matter how the cleric struggles he cannot escape the trap, “stand down or…”
“Vone second,” Keppler insists, reaching into his pocket, “I have some tweezers here somevere.”
The rage bubbles over inside the cleric. He reaches back, his hand glowing with divine energy.
“I have warned you…”
“Too much talking! Silence!” Keppler swings his hand round and places his finger to the cleric’s lips. As he does so, the magic crackling from the cleric’s hand fades, leading to only a gentle slap to Keppler’s face. Eddard immediately grabs the hand and begins examining it, much to the complaint of the cleric.
“…” the cleric mouths.
“…” Keppler responds in kind, his silence spell working perfectly.
The Vagabonds in the distance watch as one of the knights and the cleric continue to tug at Keppler in an attempt to remove him from the scene, their silent struggle a strange pantomime.
“Wow,” Elizabeth mutters, “this is…new…”
“What are we going to do about her?” Teoku observes, gesturing to the struggling woman.
Kassadin simply smiles.
“Don’t know who she is, but if she’s fighting the Black Rose, she can’t be all bad. Let’s get in there.”
The Vagabonds slip from their cart and quickly close the gap between them and the Black Rose. Only Nikita and Ouskarr remain behind, with the tabaxi lazily lounging and watching the oncoming fight, whilst Ouskarr desperately searches for his axe among the sacks of dragon scales that now litter the cart’s floor.
The battle against the Black Rose is quick but effective. Keppler manages to stall long enough for the others to arrive, fending off numerous attacks from the cleric and the knight and only emerging with a few minor grazing. One of the Knight’s solid strikes finally snaps off Keppler’s silence spell but, by then, the battle is turning quickly in Keppler’s favour.
Kassadin races in and immediately grapples with one of the knight, locking the knight’s arms in place and placing his hands around the back of the man’s head. With a flex of his fingers, fire spews forth, engulfing the knight’s head in a cone of flame, a special benefit of Dormin’s curse. Keppler quickly joins in with the fray, summoning a spiritual weapon in the force of a mace and letting it pummel onto the knight’s head. The knight roars in pain, both from the blow to the head and his helmet burning hot from the flames, scalding his skin. As he collapses from Kassadin’s grasp, the fighter brings down the knight’s head upon his knee, a flash of his fiery strikes striking the last bit of damage needed to knock the knight down. As his comrade falls, the cleric turns to glare at Kassadin.
It’s the same cleric who was at Cinder’s Grove on the night of Husk’s first attack.
“You,” he snarls, “you little fiend, Delxipha can’t save you now…”
The cleric’s pompous proclamations are cut short as a well-thrown dagger from Yuvari pierces his shoulder. From there, the cleric is left to Elizabeth’s devices.
He never stood a chance.
With a great swing of her axe, Elizabeth strikes straight down into the cleric’s head, bringing his entire body down to the floor, almost parted perfectly down the middle.
Seeing the absolute carnage of battle happening around, the drow woman takes her chance to escape. She kicks out at the knight’s groin and manages to break free. The knight, enraged with the humiliation, abandons all attempts at capture and brings down his great-sword, intending to strike for the kill. To the group’s surprise, the drow woman is agile, even without her armour.
Rolling from each strike and scrambling back to safety, the drow woman keeps at a distance from the attacks, long enough for Yuvari and Teoku to provide reinforcements. The tiefling drops to her side and does her best to patch up the drow’s wounds, even summoning her own spiritual weapon to aid Teoku in his coming conflict.
Bracing himself for battle, Teoku summons his new spiritual weapon: a bat that shines a bright gold. With a muttered prayer to whatever God still held him in their favour, Teoku steps forward and swings. The bat spins in his grasp, flashing from gold to green to blue to red, until it blends into a shining vortex every colour of the spectrum. He swings forwards, the bat connecting with the knight’s groin. Yuvari’s spiritual weapon follows suit, slamming a war-hammer into the knight’s lower area. The Black Rose Knight crumples slightly, barely standing with a bloodied patch in his lap.
He strikes out fiercely in turn, catching a chunk of Teoku’s shoulder in his retort and forcing the warlock back. Luckily, by now, the other Vagabonds are swarming around to deal with the stragglers.
“Ah, you are a cleric as well,” Keppler observes, “allow me to show you how this is done then.”
Yuvari stares in disbelief as Keppler ducks alongside, completely taking over tending to her patient as his spiritual weapon clubs the knight around the head. The knight staggers backwards, just out of reach of Lady Grey’s axe, but straight into range for Teoku’s own attack. Once more, the soft whisper of Lux calls in his ear.
“Swing high, wide stance. It’ll help you hit better.”
Teoku follows Lux’s instructions, his golden bat once again flashing into colour as he swings it towards the knight’s head. Immediately on contact, the head snaps from the rest of the body, soaring off into a group of nearby locals, who scream and run from the violent display. As the last Black Rose Knight falls, Ouskarr comes running from the cart, great-axe in hand.
“What did I miss?” he asks.
No-one has the heart to tell him it was everything.
With the Black Rose defeated and the battle won, the group begin to flock round the newcomer…or at least, the space where the newcomer was. The drow woman disappears quickly into the dark, and it’s only after a lot of blind coaxing that she finally reveals herself.
“You alright?” Yuvari checks.
The drow woman nods, keeping silent as she studies the others.
“You got a name?” Kassadin asks.
“Kassadin!” Keppler snaps, “it’s impolite to ask a name without introducing yourself first. For example, I am Doctor Eddard Von Keppler, how do you do?”
The offered hand from the doctor goes ignored by the drow, who flinches away.
“She’s not the trusting type,” Kassadin observes.
“I’ll handle this,” Yuvari replies. Searching through her pack, she pulls out some spare leather armour and throws it over, whilst Nikita pads over, handing the drow a dagger and some light conversation in under-common.
“Erulissë,” the drow finally mutters, “my…name is Erulissë.”
“Well, Erulissë” Yuvari puts in, “red over there is Kassadin, edge boy is Teoku, big green is Ouskarr, the kitten there is Nikita and I’m Yuvari.”
“Hey!” Elizabeth chirps up from the back.
“And this wonderful lady who I keep casually insulting is Elizabeth Grey. Sorry, kinda tired.”
“Hey, I never get an apology,” Kass groans. He opens his mouth to complain further, only for Keppler to grab his ear and tug him to one side.
“Kassadin, come on, I need you to bury these bodies with me.”
“What?” Kassadin groans, “they’re Black Rose? Just leave em.”
The cleric gives Kass a firm pat on the head and points a finger at his chest.
“Ze Black Rose are still people. In my hometown, they visited all the time und I always thought zey were good people.”
Kassadin raises an eyebrow at Keppler’s words. He sighs and snatches a shovel from the the doctor’s grasp.
“So…just need to dig holes?”
“I can help!” Ouskarr puts in, “I like digging. I used to tend to the gardens at the Grey estate.”
“You were a gardener?” Kassadin checks, holding back a laugh.
“So was Lady Grey,” Ouskarr puts in, “how else do you think she learned to control her immense strength?”
“That,” Kassadin replies, “doesn’t explain anything.”
“Enough with ze chitter chatter,” Keppler puts in, “more of the digging.”
As the three individuals walk off into the field, beginning to prepare a set of fresh graves, Erulissë watches them from a distance, a scowl on her face. The surface folk are still very strange.
But, also surprisingly friendly.
“Come on,” Elizabeth signals to the group, “let’s get some rest.”
“You coming Erulissë?” Yuvari asks.
The drow pauses, glancing over the assembled party. Perhaps, in such a strange new world, it would indeed be safer travelling in a group.
“Yes,” Erulissë replies, following after her new teammates.
Aimee is Erulissë Durfain, the Chaotic Neutral Drow Rogue.
Mayhem and Symon meet the party within. The new thane and his regent are pleased to hear that a fresh convoy of supply will be coming to them from Restway and arrange for a payment for the group. With a few extra hundred gold to line their pockets with, the group settle in for a relaxing night. Erulissë is welcomed by the others, Yuvari, Elizabeth and Nikita talking with her through the night to make her feel more involved with the group. Despite how quiet she is, it appears the drow is at least more willing to trust them now than she was earlier. It’s a small victory that the Vagabonds are more than willing to accept.
Kassadin, meanwhile, talks with Mayhem, explaining to him his new idea of dragon scale armour.
“It’s expensive,” Mayhem admits, “but if you’re willing to pay, I’d seek out the Khan forge in Hearthome. They’re a good make.”
“Hearthome,” Kassadin checks, “that’s near Restway. We can head there, set up another convoy or see if there any more soldiers there that need our help.”
“Und Hearthome is my home town,” Eddard puts in, “I’d be more than happy to show you around.”
“Thanks Edd, that means a lot.”
“On the condition,” Keppler suddenly cuts in, “that you tell me if you’ve seen any scales on your travels.”
Kassadin’s face scrunches up in a look of confusion.
“Scales? Like dragon scales?”
“Weighing scales,” Keppler puts in, “it is imperative that they’re found.”
“Well, I’d be more than happy to help you look,” Kassadin replies, turning to Mayhem, “looks like we’ve got a guide. What do you say, Mayhem, fancy coming to Hearthome?”
“No,” Mayhem snaps.
The fierce tone in his voice cuts Kassadin off a moment, before Mayhem finally relaxes.
“Sorry, but I’m to stay here with Symon. Plus…Delxipha, she…when she alive, she refused to ever set foot in Hearthome. I’m not sure why, but I still wish to honour her wishes.”
The tiefling stands for the table, judging it to be late, and bids the group farewell as he takes Symon up to bed. Kassadin watches with mild curiosity.
“Weird,” he concludes, “wonder why she never wanted to go there.”
“Who knows,” Keppler cuts in, “we’ll deal with it vhen we have to.”
“Yeah, hopefully I can get some of that armour sorted. The dragon left quite a scar.”
“Scars?” Keppler chuckles, “please.”
He lifts his shirt, pointing to a bruise just below his rib-cage.
“Skeleton, tried biting me.”
“Get out of town!” Kassadin replies with a smile, lifting up his shirt in turn, “I got this one from a Water Elemental with a weird trident!”
“Zombie,” Keppler responds, pointing to another mark on his neck, “not contagious but hurt like hell.”
The two talk long into the night on the matter, slowly bonding over their wounds. As Keppler laughs at one of Kass’ stories, the tiefling lets a smile slip onto his lips.
Maybe Keppler’s Vagabond material after all.
The next morning, the Vagabonds head off on their own, Kassadin steering their way towards Hearthome. After a brief goodbye from Mayhem, with Nikita explaining that she left a present for Symon on his bed, the party prepare to set off piling onto the cart. Only the cart isn’t big enough for everyone. Kassadin and Yuvari are the only ones without seat. One to always take advantage, Yuvari hops onto Kassadin’s back.
“What are you doing?”
“Piggyback ride,” Yuvari grunts, “come on, it’s training.”
“Training?” Ouskarr calls from the cart, “perhaps we could try that too!”
“I mean,” Teoku mutters nervously, “I guess?”
And so, the cavalcade sets off, with Ouskarr and Kassadin running beside the cart, carrying Teoku and Yuvari on their backs as a form of weight training.
Five miles in, the boys realise their mistake.
Ten miles in, their stubborn pride refuses to let them give up.
Almost twenty miles later after their starting point, the pair are absolutely exhausted from their journey, barely keeping pace with the back of the cart.
“What’s…the matter…Ouskarr?” Kassadin pants, “getting…tired?”
“Only…tired…of…your…sass,” Ouskarr snaps back, trying to rally more strength.
As the group ride on, a cart looms in the distance, a farmer’s wagon carrying hay and other supplies. Kassadin is the first to spot it, and the fact that it’s been pulled over to one side by a small gang of bandits all dressed in red. He opens his mouth to inform the group, only for a flash of a glowing blue paw to strike at his leg and send him tumbling to the ground. Ouskarr soon fools suit.
From the cart, Melas gives a loud laugh, Keppler scratching behind the air.
“Vhat a charming prank!” the cleric observes.
The noise of their laughter attracks the bandits, who immediately try to stop their approach. From behind Keppler, Erulissë readies her dagger and Elizabeth reaches for her parasol. Before combat can break out, however, the pile of hay on the farmer’s cart begins to shift.
Rising forth from the hay is a young man with blonde hair, strong cheek bones and an attractive face with an easy smile. He disembarks the carriage, only to be immediately met by the bandits.
“You might want to surrender,” he informs them calmly, stretching as he rouses from his nap.
“Is this guy for real?” one of the bandits growls, “look, we’re the Hellfire bandits bub! We’re not just gonna give up because some loser in rags tells us to…”
Before he can finish, the man reaches into thin air, a great-sword flashing into his grip, before he brings the blade down upon the leader of the bandits. Instantly, the rouges panic and rush away, leaving the party stranded with the group of farmers and the stranger with the large sword.
“Is everyone alright?” the man calls.
“Yes,” Keppler responds, dismounting to meet him, “thank you for the assist.”
The man smiles in turn.
“The pleasure was mine, Doctor.”
Keppler’s ever-present smile swells into a great beam of pride.
“You know me?”
“I do,” the man replies, “forgive me, I’m out of uniform. Let me…”
The man pulls out a set of black plate mail from the hay and immediately begins suiting up. Before the group’s eyes, their strange new ally transforms into a very familiar threat, clad all in black with a purple insignia.
“Ulrico Sylvestra,” the man replies, “proud knight of the Black Rose, member of the Blackguard.”
“Oh!” Keppler responds with an enthusiastic smile, “see guys? I told you the Black Rose weren’t bad guys!”
The rest of the Vagabonds remain silent, glaring down this new stranger who has just wormed his way into their midst.
And thus concludes the seventeenth session of the Dorvine campaign. This session was a lot shorter than previous sessions and the next few sessions feature a few players dropping in and out whenever available. Life is hard and life is busy, and I do think that’s a good subject to touch on scheduling wise, but we’ll leave that for a later blog. For now, let’s look at the few developments that happened in this session.
Individuals help build up the personality of a big organisation.
The evil organisation is a brilliant approach to go for when creating villains. For one, you can avoid the tricks needed to pull off single villains, like running away or overpowering the heroes, due to the sheer number of members. Usually, it’s suitable for a big organisation to enter into conflict with the players but still have enough presence in other forces to continue being a huge problem even after the first encounter.
The Knight of the Black Rose, for example, are a great example of this, as are the Thieves Guild, Clear Skies, from the first few session of this campaign. Both organisations have a large presence in Dorvine and thus, the combats the players have had with them are able to be decisive but develop the overall organisation more. The corrupt nature of the paladins and their obvious evil ways despite their prayers to the God Pelor, a known Good god, has built a sense of intrigue into the organisation. In addition, through the small scale conflicts with these factions, the party have been able to learn more about how the group operate. Clear Skies, as a Thieves Guild, primarily work in the shadows with low-level extortion and other minor crimes, whilst the Black Rose operate publicly, harassing individuals in the street and trying to forge public alliances with major power bases. Little details like this help differentiate big groups, but also just help provide characterisation to an otherwise faceless organisation: The Black Rose is all about public praise and submission, whilst Clear Skies are the seedy underground criminals.
To help further develop organisations such as these, face characters help provide a great insight into the mentality of how these organisations can function. For example, Mr Big from the Twilight Club was a crook trying to disguise himself as a legitimate businessman, feeding into the deception. Ulrico, by contrast, was introduced in this session in an attempt to make the Black Rose more three dimensional amongst their contemporaries, a twisted band of paladins, yes, but one that once had a good heart at its core. The honour, goodness and humility that Ulrico exude are a departure from earlier shown versions of the Black Rose and leave the players with questions regarding how the organisation really functions and what the people working for the church believe in, as well exploring their own motives.
Little tricks like this are a great way to develop your organisation and flesh them out more for your player’s enjoyment. Plus, a hostile NPC who is not necessarily going to engage your player’s in combat, now that’s interesting.
Forcing your players to go faster can sometimes hurt the overall experience.
As a storyteller and overall lover of fictional drama, I always try to end every session of D&D on either a conclusive note or victory or a dramatic finish which gets the group hyped for next session. During this session, an optimal moment for the wind-down after the session happened at bar. Dion and the other players had also expressed a desire to do some more extended RPing. I, however, had scheduled the group to be introduced to Ulrico, whose introduction I tried to squeeze in at the end of this session by skipping a lot of RPing and forcing the group on their way.
In hindsight, this was just a bad move all round. Whilst Ulrico’s introduction was relatively well received by the group, I personally wasn’t happy with how it went and realised I had really effected my player’s agency by hurrying them along. Plus, whilst Ulrico’s introduction was nice, if I had waited another session to do so, I could have found a more active way to implement him into the session rather than narrate his arrival. This ‘active’ approach was one I took during the Cinder’s Grove fight in session 14, an experience really well received by the players.
Prior knowledge of the setting can help your players in the long run.
Aimee has been my friend for a long time and she mainly joined in on the campaign due to her lack of ability to attend other campaigns and the other party members wanting a chance to hang out with her more. As always, it was a choice checked by the players and something they actively decided on as a group. Aimee’s work schedule sadly meant she’d either be late to play most nights or wouldn’t be able to play for long (I really need to do a blog on scheduling sessions and stuff), so in a way, her appearance hasn’t had a chance to impact on the dynamic of the group yet. Either way, everyone agreed it was best to stick to the ‘sixth ranger’ limit after her inclusion.
Aimee’s main concern about joining the campaign, however, was her character, Erulissë Durfain. Erulissë was a character Aimee created to work primarily within the current ‘main world’ of Dungeons and Dragons: Faerun. As such, she was a Drow from Menzoberranzan, a capital of the Drow culture in Faerun, who fled to the surface after being betrayed by everyone she ever knew. Such a backstory is generic enough to be applied anywhere, but Aimee’s main concern about using the character in Dorvine was implementing her in an original world rather than an established one, such as Faerun. Luckily for her, the rules of Drow culture were practically identical for Dorvine but she lacked any familiarity with the place names or the names of the importance houses. Sadly, as I had lost a lot of previous notes I had, I couldn’t give Aimee much information for the character, but promised to brainstorm on her backstory and connections at a later date.
Though I didn’t have any prior knowledge to provide Aimee for the campaign, I feel that if I were more prepared and in a more ready position to offer her such, it would have improved the quality of her role-playing and given her a chance to firmly integrate her new character into the world. For now, she’s settling for her role as silent stranger until I can find the time to help her work on her backstory and the design of the ‘Underdark’ in Dorvine.
That’s going to be it from this segment of From the DM’s Chair. Join us next time as our party finally reach the town of Hearthome and we talk about creating rivals for our PCs and the importance of sharing player focus.
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. Constructive criticism is welcome.