There is a level of expectation that comes with Dungeons and Dragons, as well as most hobbies in fact. If you do something regularly enough, there comes to a time when that feature is added into your schedule: Monday is D&D night, Wednesday is posting for the DM’s chair, etc. Scheduling, in itself, isn’t a bad thing, it’s nice to be organised and know what’s coming up in your life but it does add a hint of expectation that some people don’t consider. When Monday rolls round again, it’s D&D night. Even if you’re tired from work, lacking in inspiration and have nothing planned. Expectation means that you have to run, or play, D&D on the day of the week everyone can. For lots of online chats and message boards, I’ve seen people asking about how to get a group and how to start playing D&D but everyone is so fixated on getting organised to start a game going, no-one considers that there’ll ever be a point when people hit the wall, when people are tired, stressed and ultimately, just don’t want to play D&D. No-one ever asks the question of what do you do when it’s time to take a break?
Welcome to From the DM’s Chair, I’m Shadowonthewall and today, we’ll be talking about the twenty third session of my D&D campaign: Dorvine, and the lessons I’ve learned whilst running it. This week, we’ll be talking about taking breaks, in and out of the game and with a few extra tips for roleplaying in your campaign. My freshly assembled Drunken Garrison 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.
Aimee is Erulissë Durfain, the Chaotic Neutral Drow Rogue.
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 celebrated Fabletithe in the aftermath of defeating Cailen, Eddard seeing the mechanical madman off for good. After a day of shopping, relaxing and partying, the Vagabonds attended an official coronation for Symon, where the young heir was raised as the leader of Cinder’s Grove. With their various buisness’ concluded, all that was left was to head to the local tavern of ‘The Silent Knight’ for a well-earned drink.
The Vagabonds steal a booth to themselves at the tavern and all find a seat, with Kassadin quickly returning from his errand bringing along Faeriel from the Church of Kelemvor. The Dragonborn had been hiding in her room praying to Bahamut when Kassadin had rudely barged in. The invasion of privacy left the tiefling a bit red at the cheeks but otherwise in a good mood as the group settled down for the night.
Symon, fresh to his seat of a thane, was allowed to try a first drink, considering he was a ‘man’ now, unwisely starting with a vodka shot that went straight to the poor boy’s head. The affair meant that their thane needed taking back to the church meaning that Faeriel was only allowed a quick reprieve from her prayer.
Squatted around the table, the Vagabonds and their cluster of NPCs: Yuvari the tiefling Cleric, Ouskarr the half-orc Fighter, Symon’s guardian tiefling Mayhem, human cleric Louise Hasselvander and General Huxx the goliath, all prepare for the heavy night of drinking ahead and the next stage in their adventures.
Considering that the party haven’t had much of a chance to stop since Cinder’s Grove, a result that has sadly left both Nikita and Eddard feeling adrift from the group as a whole, Kassadin suggests that they all take part in a truth or dare drinking game, in an effort to get to know each other and bond, with the optional forfeit of ‘the dirty pint’ at the centre of the table. The idea catches on, though Kassadin immediately regrets his choice when Elizabeth asks the first truth
“Which member of the party would you say you’re most attracted to?”
Things get even worse when his attempts at deception are foiled by a zone of truth spell courtesy of Louise. With a sigh, Kassadin resigns himself, taking a quick sip of his drink for some liquid courage.
“Yuvari, you’re a wonderful girl…”
Yuvari herself turns away from the proceedings, a tinge of extra pink to her cheeks.
Next, Kassadin tried to turn the tables on Nikita.
Kassadin smiles. Just as expected.
“I dare you to go around the room and steal the most valuable thing you can find.”
The other vagabonds are a little annoyed at the suggestion, especially Keppler, and Kassadin’s insistence that they’ll cover Nikita if she gets in a fight completely ignores the central issue for the cleric. Nikita, however, has a simple reply.
“Can I be seen? Am I allowed to get spotted?”
“I mean,” Kassadin began, “I guess but…”
Nikita stands up and calls to the people in the room, garnering their attention.
“Who here would like to help a beautiful little feline win over against heartless lobster in bet?”
A flash of her eyelashes gets a stream of men to their feet. Nikita gestures to them, smiling.
“Kassadin, I give you the most valuable thing in this room: the love and attention of Hearthome’s people.”
Foiled, Kassadin slumps. The game continues as expected for the next few rounds. Nikita uses all of her turns to ask for more information on Eddard, his reason for travelling with the party and, who, in the party, would he give his life for…
“Louise,” Eddard answers without hesitation, “und my search for the scales of Kelemvor is solely out of a need to recover them. My father, may Kelemvor keep him, kept many a dangerous artefact in the vaults. I want to find out who would take it, why and retrieve it.”
“And what do the scales do?” Elizabeth asks.
Eddard and Louise share an uncertain glance.
“We,” Louise finally replies, “don’t actually know.”
“But it is dangerous,” Eddard insists, “dangerous enough that we must find them.”
“Then I will help however I can,” Nikita replies simply.
From there, Eddard turns to address Elizabeth. To everyone’s surprise, the lady chooses dare. She soon regrets the decision.
“For the rest of the night, you have to speak in rhyme.”
Lady Grey pauses in surprise, before reaching out for the dirty pint. The group fall silent as she picks up the mixture, the forfeit, and knocks it back. Kassadin, who has seen what a dirty pint did to his last garrison, cheers and starts to sing.
“Oh, we like to drink with Lady Grey, cause Lady Grey’s our mate. And when you drink with the garrison, she downs it all in…”
Before Kassadin can continue, the tankard slams against the floor. The group stare in shock at Lady Grey. There’s no redness to her cheeks, no panic in her face and her entire form still appears proper and upright. Whatever effect the sheer amount of alcohol should have had on her has clearly been squashed by Lady Grey’s powerful constitution.
“Oh, it does taste a little sharp,” Elizabeth observes.
“She’s a monster,” Kassadin mutters, “a god damn beast of a monster. If I couldn’t get more scared already…”
Elizabeth takes her turn next, throwing a dare at Yuvari that even the tiefling wouldn’t expect.
“I dare you to not be passive aggressive and to only say nice things about people for the whole night.”
As Kassadin howls with laughter, Yuvari forces a smile and compliments Elizabeth on her choice through gritted teeth. Then, Yuvari turns on Keppler.
“Dare,” the cleric replies eagerly.
“Keppler, I dare you to drink the dirty pint.”
Eddard shrugs. Elizabeth has seemed fine from the drink. What is the worst that could happen?
That’s the last thought in Eddard’s brain before the full swig of the pint smashes what little focus was remaining in Eddard’s head, leaving him a drunk hyper mess of instinct. As Keppler staggers his way to the bar and back, sloshing the new dirty pint around as he moves, the Vagabonds can’t help but take a moment to appreciate how powerful Elizabeth’s stomach must be that the pint hasn’t affected her at all.
This fact only becomes apparent when more members of the Vagabonds find themselves downing the pint. Kassadin and Ouskarr both have to take forfeits from their dares. For Ouskarr, this leaves him passed on the floor in his own drool. For Kassadin, this leaves him an inebriated target for the rest of the Vagabond to toy with, until Yuvari revives him with a restoration spell (and a kiss to the cheek, though Kassadin hardly notices).
As the evening winds down, and people’s drunken stupors begin to subside, truths and dares flutter between the group, gaining new insight into the minds of their companions. Nikita confesses that Alexei is her rival and a pig, whilst Eddard asks Yuvari about what she wants.
“Elizabeth wants prominence, Ouskarr is following her. Teoku, though he may be sleeping, is with Ouskarr. Kassadin wants his dragon armour…”
“Kepp,” Kassadin growls.
“Und Nikita seeks to uncover the past. What about you, Yuvari? What do you want?”
Yuvari pauses in thought, before replying simply.
“I want to be free.”
Eddard raises an eyebrow in reply, prompting Yuvari to continue.
“My whole life I’ve always felt like I’ve been doing what other people want me to. I want a chance to do my own thing, forge my own path…live without being tied to expectation or demands.”
Her hand grips her holy symbol and Kassadin wonders for a moment how much Dormin has affected her life, before Eddard nods in reply and moves the conversation along. In the end, it’s back to Kassadin again. Surveying the scene, Kassadin realises that Mayhem has said nothing for the entire encounter. Unlike Louise, who has been enjoying time with Eddard, and their Drow companion Erulissë, who is sulking in her own sullen corner, Mayhem has simply remained silent, staring into his glass for the evening.
“Mayhem?” he asks.
“Truth,” the tiefling purrs.
“Who are you most attracted to at this table?”
“Nikita,” the words emerge from Mayhem’s mouth even before Kassadin has finished asking, “I find that a personality can be just as sexy as an appearance and Nikita has both.”
“Damn straight,” Nikita replies, moving closer towards the tiefling and giving him a soft smile. Mayhem returns the look before refocusing on Kassadin once more.
“Now, I choose you Kassadin,” Mayhem replies.
Kassadin nods, opening his arms wide.
Mayhem’s smile fades.
“I want to know what happened that day in the Cinder’s Seat.”
Kassadin’s intoxication fizzles out as soon as he sees the cold look in Mayhem’s eyes. The entire table becomes quiet and cold. Yuvari looks off into the corner, whilst Eddard and Nikita lean forwards, curious.
“I was busy trying to protect Symon when Delxipha fell,” Mayhem went on, “I want to know happened.”
All eyes turn to the tiefling fighter. Kassadin swallows hard. He remembers being at home, lingering in the shadow of his domineering presence of his father. Frequently, Dominus would use zone of truth when interrogating his boy on his day. It taught Kassadin one important lesson. Zone of truth has a time limit. Louise’s spell had ran out minutes ago.
“I didn’t see.”
Sadly, Kassadin is no liar. Mayhem gives the man a pained look.
“Kassadin, I loved Delxipha. She was the first woman I ever truly loved. She died and I was unable to stop it. Imagine if something happened to your Yuvari and I was not telling you what it was. Please. I need to hear you say it.”
Kassadin curses his luck. Yuvari doesn’t even raise her voice to correct Mayhem on ‘your Yuvari’. She’s too busy trying to fend off a panic attack, looking between the two tieflings. Mayhem stares unflinchingly at Kassadin. He trembles, only for Nikita to grab his arm in support. She and Eddard are now just as interested in this as he is. Kassadin looks to the rest of the group and considers, swallowing his pride.
“Mayhem…you know…that name you told me I wasn’t supposed to say, on the battlements?”
“Dormin?” Mayhem growls in reply.
“He…he’s…” Kassadin feels a warm grip around his throat. Dormin’s presence in his soul causes his words to flounder before he finally finds the will to speak again. Kassadin braces himself, willing himself to carry on. To keep Yuvari safe, he has to try and take the bullet. Even if it means condemning himself for Delxipha’s death.
“It…it was him…him through me. He has the power to possess…us…and…”
“Us?” Mayhem checks.
His head turns to look to Yuvari. She is unable to meet his eye. A dawning realisation comes to Mayhem’s face. Not a sharp horrified look, he’s been distant the whole night, but a simple acceptance, as if he has finally seen the impossible.
“You…” he breathes, “he was right…”
“It wasn’t her,” Kassadin puts in, moving to stand closer to him, “it was…”
“It does not matter. I will do as my thane has commanded…”
Kassadin reaches back for Ward. The sword hums in reply, yet gives no alarm as Mayhem stands. He is not a hostile. Mayhem continues to stare down Yuvari, glaring.
“I did not see,” Mayhem explains, “but someone did.”
The table is silent. Then, realisation hits. The one person left in the throne room.
“Symon is a kind boy,” Mayhem begins again, “It is his one weakness as a ruler, it is why I must be his strength. He saw your actions, but between the chaos of losing his home, his mother and having to re-establish himself as a thane, he had no time to process such an event, such a grief. That was, until yesterday.”
Mayhem looks off into the distance, nodding as if the time were centuries before. It feels like it with the tension around the temple.
“Yesterday, when we talked, he confirmed that you saved him, Yuvari, and helped him escape Cailen’s tower. He says your actions showed him something that his mother tried to teach him long ago: that revenge is a poison.”
“If I killed you, Kassadin would kill me. And I assume Nikita would kill Kassadin.”
“You had better believe it,” Nikita mutters, her grip still firm on Mayhem’s arm.
“Then Ouskarr would defend Kass, and if anything happened to Ouskarr…well, we all saw how Lady Grey handled the dirty pint.”
Elizabeth is silent, the joke at her endurance not entirely welcome in the context. Mayhem refocuses on Yuvari.
“Symon believes that by taking revenge on you, he would only cause more pain and suffering, suffering he now wishes to prevent as thane. As such, by his now royal decree, you have been excused of your hand in Delxipha’s death, Yuvari. Cleared of all charges.”
The majority of the Vagabonds relax, though Eddard, Nikita and Louise still appear uncertain. Mayhem, however, isn’t finished.
“You said, Yuvari, that all you wanted was to be free. Yet now I am certain of your crime, I can tell you that it is impossible. With Delxipha’s blood on her hands, the weight of her ambition, potential and the pain of her death are now resting on your shoulders. And from that, you will never be free.”
The words finally break Yuvari’s composure. She slumps in her seat, suppressing her sobbing and hiding her eyes behind her hand, not wanting anyone to see her tears. Kassadin snaps.
The command is short and sharp. Enough to confirm for Mayhem that is, indeed, not welcome any longer within the tavern. With a simple nod, he stands and departs. Nikita quickly follows after him, leaving behind a cold silence in her absence. Mayhem’s words have cut straight to the heart of the Vagabonds and now, looking about the room, even if Symon has spared Yuvari, the damage has already been done.
There is doubt in Eddard’s eyes as he stands up and leads Louise out of the tavern and into the night. On the bitter note of defeat, the Vagabonds decide to retire for the night. Most of the Vagabonds return back to the church. Yuvari, in turn, purchases a room in the tavern and goes to hide. Kass manages to pass her Ward for support but, once more, he finds herself locked out of her room and her life. Slumping down against the wall, he falls into a troubled sleep, worrying on the future of the Vagabonds.
And thus concludes the twenty third session of the Dorvine campaign. This session was another session based on addressing some previous concerns from the players, though it did end on a rather big dramatic revelation. Speaking of revelations:
Subversion is always a good idea in your stories.
Yuvari’s aid in the death of Delxipha has always been a moment in the campaign that I’ve been eager to capitalise on. It causes a nice bit of drama for the players, has great political ramifications in the world and was a spontaneous event determined by unlucky rolls and NPC action. However, when working on a story, a core element for dramatic storytelling is the subversion of expectation. The ‘plot-twist’ is predicated on this narrative notion: something occurs which drastically alters the plot and changes the context of all events previous to it. A loyal character revealing themselves as a traitor, a secret plan no-one saw coming, or even a villainous victory out of left field are all great examples of subverting expectations.
Plus, from a story standpoint, I realised that if Yuvari’s actions were treated with the same contempt as has already been explored in the story through Vedrir’s leaving of the group, the players would get bored or even irritated as the personal plot of a random NPC came to take more precedent over their own without much meaning. Shortly after Delxipha’s death and Vedrir’s departure from the ground, I decided to draft my own little twist, subverting my player’s expectations and showing a new angle to the story. Whereas Yuvari and Vedrir’s relationship devolved into a statement on guilt, anger and tragedy, this time I wanted to explore the theme of forgiveness.
Symon pardoning Yuvari for his mother’s murder was dramatic for the players and had a strong reaction, even more so because it was in line with Symon’s previous actions and character. He avoided contact with Yuvari but was also shown to be kind and friendly, a truly good person. This scenario left for more interesting plot potential but also served as a dramatic surprise for the players that left the session on the ultimate bitter sweet moment. When working on your own story for Dungeons and Dragons, I recommend also keeping subversion in mind. Exploring new themes in your story and developing new concepts can help better your own narratives and develop your world for the better, as well as lead to more interesting progress.
If you want to be better at role-playing, the first step is to just go all out.
This session of Dorvine was much more relaxed than previous instalments. The main reason for that was that the entire session was purely based on role-playing. The player characters got to interact with one another, develop an unbreakable bond and, perhaps most importantly, become closer as characters. Throughout the entire process, the one thing I realised was that whilst role-playing, my players and myself were all too willing to go all out and let the character’s takeover. Elizabeth drank the pint expecting failure, but I think Beth mainly chose to have her do it because she was willing to let her character get embarrassed and drunk. Instead, she critically succeeded and terrified the other characters. People just willing to have fun and dive in at the deep end makes playing D&D and stuff like acting so brilliant.
For DMs and players struggling to role-play, my main advice is to throw away any sense of anxiety and just a take a leap into the character’s shoes however you can. Say stupid things, use a stupid voice and you’ll be surprised exactly how it will affect your players. An onlooker watching the campaign unfold confirmed something I’d suspected: a lot of Ouskarr’s characterisation came from the distinct voice and mannerisms I gave him. Probably the reason Ouskarr has ended up as such a beloved NPC is just because of my own willingness to make a fool of myself in the hopes of entertaining my players.
Never be afraid to take a break, either in story or in real life.
Dungeons and Dragons is fun, so much fun. It’s probably my favourite hobby, but in the same way that you can’t have Christmas every day, there is such a thing as too much D&D. Being a dungeon master is a lot of work, as fun as it might be, and sometimes it’s acceptable to realise you’ve reached your limit. At the time when this session came around, I was exhausted. Only, I didn’t quite realise it. Both of these heavy role-playing sessions served as a relief for me, a chance to not plan D&D and focus instead on other things. For the players, as well, it was the first time in a long while when they weren’t leaping from adventure to adventure and finally had a chance to stop, take in what was going on and, most importantly, have fun. Moments like this, lulls in the action where players get to just be players, is a necessity for long-term gaming.
However, all of this faces a The moment D&D starts becoming a ‘commitment’, it can stop being fun and if it stops being fun, it’s alright to stop and rethink. Sometimes, people just need a moment to catch a breather.
Of course, sometimes it’s the act of playing D&D itself that might cause stress. As I said myself, I was running out of energy working on a weekly campaign none-stop for twenty something weeks, juggling blogs and work and other stuff. Sometimes the answer then is to leave D&D alone for it. In relation to this blog, however, this becomes a problem: well, if we’re not playing Dungeons and Dragons, then what’s the point of this lesson?
Well, there are two things you can take from the idea of needing a break. The first and most important one is just to look after yourself. As patronising as it might sound, your needs and life take precedent over some silly role-playing game, even if it is one we all love and enjoy. Coming to the end of this year, I was finding myself more and more drained from running the game as a dungeon master ever single week. I wasn’t alone, either. A few players were in a similar state of exhaustion and apprehension. Most wonderful time of the year as this is, it is also the most stressful and doesn’t make for the best chance to organise any social gatherings. The run up for Christmas was the perfect time for myself to take a break from Dorvine for a while, plan a few ideas and refine things before coming back. The players felt the same way and one week, instead of playing, we all just jumped online and had a chat. It was really fun, even if I was just writing most of the time, because it also reminded me that these are people I don’t just hang out with to play a game. These are people I’ve reconnected with or been introduced to that I enjoy hanging out with and want to get to know more and that time talking with them was just as fun as us playing Dungeons and Dragons. Plus, with the break, I am more than excited to jump straight back into Dorvine with all cylinders firing when the new year rolls around.
If you really don’t want to take a break, if your players are desperate to play or unsympathetic (firstly, if they’re unsympathetic, that’s just being a poor sport), then my second piece of advice to read from this is an old known phrase: a change is as good as a rest. One week, Jacob, Dungeon Master extraordinaire that he is, ran us the first part of what will probably end up a three part ‘one-shot’ campaign. Though some of the group realised they wanted a complete break from D&D, for myself, it was nice to have a chance to be a player again. My Dragonborn Bard, Salazar Wilkington (of the Wilkingtons) was a lot of fun to play and other players realised that getting a chance to play a different character was a great way of relaxing after the long running nature of Dorvine.
And speaking of taking a break, this is the part of the blog I’ve been dreading. As one might be able to tell due to the delay of this blog, I’m also getting a bit exhausted writing From the DM’s Chair. This doesn’t mean I want to stop, but it does mean I need to take a break to refresh myself. Until Christmas is well and over and done with, this is probably the last DM Chair you’ve going to have for a while whilst I try and relax, recover and celebrate the holidays with my family and friends. When we come back after the new year, I’ll be taking a break from the continued Dorvine campaign to talk about something else I’ve been wanting to talk about regarding Dungeons and Dragons. Fear not, I do plan on coming back to Dorvine recaps once again when we’ve played a few more sessions, but, as I mentioned earlier, a chance is as good as a rest.
So, until the new year, that’s going to be it from this session and, I suppose, season of From the DM’s Chair. Join me next time, after the holidays, where we’ll be leaving the shores of Dorvine for a while and talking about how I approach running adventure modules, including a few hints and tricks I’ve learned along the way. Happy holidays everyone and I hope you have a good year filled with many a natural twenty.
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.