D&D — Campaign as Storytelling

Hello again, friends. It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Dungeons & Dragons directly (or at least not something that had a specific correlation to my Aleor campaign), and I’ve been having some thoughts I’d like to share.

Obviously, I’m a storyteller. I’ve been writing for about a decade now, so I theoretically know my way around a plot. It’s been interesting to explore plot development through what I would consider to be my first real experience as a dungeon master. Aleor isn’t the first campaign setting I’ve done, but it was made to be in the world of D&D, and is built to be a ‘world’ much more than a place for stories to exist in.

The problem with that last part is that I still want those stories to happen. I have visions. Dreams, if you will, of amazing scenes and climactic moments to share with my players. Before the campaign even started I had an inkling of an encounter involving the three party members fighting alongside (or as?) good-aligned dragons against a big bad. Part of the problem with cool ideas like that is that I can still do that in this campaign, but the location that encounter would happen in hasn’t even been mentioned in passing to the players. As in, they aren’t geographically close enough to have even heard of that place.

Now, I know you’re just going to yell at me to move that encounter closer if I want it so damn bad, but there’s the rub. Aleor is a world full of cultures, and that location was built with that encounter in mind, and simply moving three powerful dragons to another place in the world just because it is more conveniently timed on my part would ruin the entire pacing of the story. They are only level 5 at the moment, after all. Level 5 characters don’t get to be allied with powerful dragons.

But the thing that frustrates me quite a bit is that the current arc of the campaign—the story they are wading through right now—has some really cool moments and scenes I’ve been looking forward to for months, and I want nothing more than to skip to the good parts. But I can’t. Things need to take time in order to make the narrative flow well, and in order to give those moments the most impact.

It’s a little sad, because I obviously want to make the “in-between” sessions and encounters interesting and meaningful. I’m very leery of turning the campaign into “The Encounter of the Week”, just stringing combats together and arbitrarily throwing suitable creatures at the party to fill in the time.

I don’t care what’s guarding the door, but I can’t wait to reveal what’s behind the door. Problem is, if I don’t make that guard interesting (not powerful—interesting), then the reveal will just be neat rather than amazing.

D&D should be about the fun moments you create and the stories you tell afterward. I’m trying so hard to tell interesting stories, I just get so impatient!

D&D — Why Do You Play?

Dungeons & Dragons means a lot of different things to different people. It might mean wish fulfillment of getting to be your own Mary Sue. Maybe it means number crunching and being as powerful as you can be (which is wish fulfillment in its own right). Maybe it means escaping reality by doing good and saving the princess. Or maybe it just means hanging out with friends.

I think everyone comes to role-playing games like D&D because it’s the ultimate sandbox in a lot of ways. Depending on who your dungeon master is, the only think limiting your abilities is your creativity—you can do what you want, as long as it’s not impossible within the rules of the world (which may or may not coincide with the rules of the game). “Choices are infinite—consequences are mandatory”.

For me, D&D is about two things. I love the escapism it provides in allowing me to pretend to be people wildly different from myself, and since I’m a storyteller at heart, it also lets me feel like I’m part of a crazy adventure in a fantasy novel than simply writing one.

I feel as though I’m in a weird minority in the community. The vast majority of people I’ve interacted with in regards to D&D aren’t (particularly) interested in the story, or when they are, it’s always in the framework of their character. For me, the story and the character are often two separate entities entirely. I built a character that is fun to pretend to be, not one that has an intricate backstory that has strong connections to the world they live in.

I have a few friends that with whom I share D&D stories on a regular basis. I’ve certainly considered inviting them to the game that I run, but deep down I know that they wouldn’t have any fun. At its current state, the Aleor campaign is a lot of talking to normal townsfolk rather than an epic adventure of heroes and villains, and I can’t accommodate a player who wants to be a Jedi.

Finding the D&D group that you mesh with is tough. Since everyone’s playing for different reasons, the obvious, most accessible group to you may not be the best one for you. It may not even be the right one, and since the type of person to be playing the game tends to be the sort of person who doesn’t make a habit of socializing with strangers, it becomes very difficult to find the perfect fit, because for you that perfect fit might only be online with the help of meetup groups like Roll20.

For me, Critical Role is the pinnacle, most ideal version of what D&D could be. Other streams are entertaining, but in my experience, none of them are stories being told the same way that Critical Role is. If I wanted to mess around and goof off at a table with a bunch of friends, there are dozens of different board games we could play with way less effort. Dungeons & Dragons is the only one that allows me to alter my identity.

D&D — Aleor Campaign Diary 1: The Night of Fire

(Here is the first of a series of posts retelling the story of my most recent campaign. I’m going to translate this into mostly narrative, but there will be a few D&D terms as well.

If you’d like to read the Lore intro to Aleor, you can catch up on it here.)

Our story begins in a tiny village called Soulrest. Little more than a pitstop, Soulrest is famous for its large inn, being a convenient place to rest for travelers between the region of Eastbend and what remains of the once-great Aloran Empire to the west. The town counts its population in the hundreds here. Everyone knows everyone else, and the most notable thing to happen in the span of a few months is when Ubin, the de-facto mayor, was uncharacteristically nice to some people.

There is no adventuring here. At least, not yet. But at year’s end the town gets excited for their yearly bonfire: a ritual called the Night of Fire. This holiday is held at the top of the ruined tower that overlooks the village, and a great bonfire is lit where townsfolk throw away things they no longer need in preparation for a new year. Jeremy Squips, a traveler from Eastbend, is staying at the inn when he hears about this event. He had planned on continuing on, but decides to stay an extra night so he can enjoy the festivities.

Our players, not yet heroes (or even adventurers by any means), are Balgraff Greyhand, the dwarf blacksmith, Sieg Warsen, son of the inkeeper, and Buck Holder, son of the cobbler.

Many of the townsfolk gather at the top of the old tower. Ubin has lit the huge bonfire, and its height allows it to be seen for miles. Then, one by one, the people go up to Ubin’s large red orb, touch it, then throw something into the fire. Not everyone does this, but a good many folk do. Jeremy chimes in with a bit of music to add to the festivities. Buck is given a box by his father to throw in. He doesn’t know what was inside, but he takes it. As soon as he touches the orb, it cracks, and for a moment everything stops. Ubin rushes up to him, but when he inspects the orb, there doesn’t seem to be any missing or sharp pieces, and Buck appears unharmed. The wise old elf appears clueless, but Buck swears he saw him nod to himself ever so slightly.

The Night continues until a loud explosion centered in town fills the air. They look to see the Happy Camper, the local general store, going up in flames. Everyone bursts into action, but none are as quick to act as Buck, Sieg, Balgraff, and Jeremy. They hasten down the hill and start doing all they can to fight the fire, throwing water pails at it and smothering it with whatever they can find.

When all is said and done, the fire is put out, but not before it destroyed the town’s beloved store. The smithy and inn were on both sides of the Happy Camper, and they sustained a bit of damage on their own. It’s a bad start to the new year, and to top it all off, Jeremy comments that he saw hooded figures running into the nearby forest immediately after the explosion…

To be continued…