D&D Dialogues 6.5: Taldarrin of the Twiceborn, Pt. 2

In my last post talking about my D&D character Taldarrin’s experience, we talked about his personality: how he goes out of his way to help people, but is on a constant quest to find his runaway/kidnapped daughter, and along the lines we’ve seen some red flags. And as before, I’ll explain the story chronologically as the rest of the party came to understand it.

We left off in the Tine Woods, where a small circle of druids is resisting the logging operation of the local wizard city Arx. Upon seeking a means to peacefully discuss a compromise, the party meets with Jog, the local archdruid, and happen across Rinn, the daughter Taldarrin hasn’t seen in nearly a decade.

He sees her lean figure and confident posture—the form of a woman accustomed to combat and hardship—but most striking to him is her new golden eyes. Taldarrin scowls and approaches.

“I see you have new eyes,” he says, scorn coloring his tone.

“I have,” she replies with the same hostility.

“You know I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“Have you now?”

“I couldn’t stay home when the Nightcrawlers took you. It didn’t feel right anymore.”

She shrugs. “Well, you found me.”

“Yes, and now we can go home together.”

Rinn’s laugh contains no mirth, and she shakes her head. “No, dad. I’m staying here. These people need me. Need us.”

Taldarrin nods. “We’ll see.”

(I’ll step out of the story here to make a comment. In this moment at the table, Taldarrin came to accept the fact that she would “need encouragement” to come home with him. I learned a lot about who he really is, and Kollin suddenly grew very interested in where this would lead.)

Taldarrin returns to the party and explains that Rinn is his daughter. When they ask what happened, he tells them about his history with her. When she was a little girl, Taldarrin’s wife was killed, and it shook the two of them a great deal. Taldarrin’s means of mourning was through a special ritual that attuned him to nature. By accepting the ‘soul of nature’, he became Twiceborn, allowing him to transform into animals. Rinn took exception to this, and they grew apart very quickly.

Eventually, a nomadic group of druids came: the Nightcrawlers. The Nightcrawlers are all lycanthropes, and they travel from druid circle to druid circle, taking the ‘lessers’ of the circle when they leave. Taldarrin saw their lycanthropy as a curse—an abomination and perversion of nature. To him, becoming Twiceborn was a blessing of the highest regard, and a heavy burden, too. Not only is lycanthropy an imperfect transformation, but it is often uncontrollable, and taints one’s own blood. Seeing Rinn’s new eyes came as no surprise to him, but it meant that he’d have to find a cure as well, once the two of them returned home.

But for now, he’d have to start there.

He went into the woods alone and cast Animal Messenger, giving a squirrel a secret message and describing its intended recipient. The squirrel dashes off and Taldarrin returns to the village.

While the rest of the party met spoke with Rinn (whose new name was Lys), Taldarrin strolled the village, meeting the denizens and getting to know them. There were about fifty people living here, ten of them being full, shape-shifting druids, and another ten of them were the Nightcrawlers that had taken temporary residence as they saw the Tine Circle through the ordeal of deforestation. (Taldarrin wasn’t present for this, but the rest of the party meet Lys, and it turns out she’s pretty cool. Some of the party are even vaguely interested in lycanthropy, despite Taldarrin’s obvious disdain for it.)

As the sun goes down, he once again excuses himself, this time departing for Arx.

Outside the gates, he finds Alan, the mage that spoke with the party when they had first come here to explain that druids were not allowed. Message received:

Alan,

I wish to discuss the issue of the Tine Druids. I have a solution. Meet me outside Arx at sundown.

                                                                                 Taldarrin of the Twiceborn.

“Uh, hey, what’s up?” Alan asks, cautious.

“I know how to solve the problem of the druids destroying your automatons,” Taldarrin explains.

“Oh, uh, okay. How?”

“There numbers are few. All you would need to do is show a display of force. They can’t face a full army. Scare them and they will have no choice but to flee.”

“Uh… alright.”

“But I want you to promise me something.”

“What?”

“You will not harm them. There does not need to be any bloodshed.”

“Okay. Uh, how many of them are there?”

Taldarrin sighs. This is the moment of truth. There is no turning back from this point, but he is resolved. Having no choice but to flee and the battle lost, he hopes his little girl will come home with him. “About fifty,” he admits.

Alan nods.

“No bloodshed,” Taldarrin repeats as the mage walks away, mumbling something about promotions.

Returning to the druids, he turns in for the night with everyone else. Carefully choosing his spells for the next day, he wonders how much time he has left, and he prays to The Great Oak that everything will turn out okay.

 

D&D Dialogues 6: Taldarrin of the Twiceborn, Pt. 1

This is the story of Taldarrin of the Twiceborn, an elf druid from a small druid circle, and my current character in our weekly campaign. (For the record, this campaign has met weekly pretty consistently for three months, so I think it’s almost our longest stretch of a single storyline in a long time!) This story is the beginning of the most intense roleplay I’ve ever had in a session of D&D (which I will be honest, is not covered in this post), and I think it’s made Taldarrin the best player-character I’ve ever had. I’ll tell the story based on the information the rest of the party had and when they acquired it.

Taldarrin is a simple man. For a good while in the party’s adventures, he’s been kindhearted and protective. He genuinely tries to seek the most reasonable solution in things, and in general I would say he does a good job. He knows death is a natural part of life, and has no qualms with killing if the person or thing is harming or threatening the livelihood of others. When he got involved with multiple coups/rebellions, he did so with discretion and realism, approaching the problem that would get the least amount of people hurt.

Throughout the party’s journeys, he’s also been very upfront with his goals. He is searching for his daughter, who was kidnapped by a group of malicious druids called the Nightcrawlers. She left their druid circle about eight years ago, and he departed soon after in search of her. He’s traveled halfway across the world in search of her, but there has been no sign. On the way, the party finds a teenager dabbling in necromancy, and Taldarrin makes a point of him returning home and trying to convince him that a quiet life with his parents is a noble pursuit. It doesn’t work too well, but it’s here that the party begins to see his true colors. He doesn’t really care what the kid wants for his life, he wants his parents to know he is safe, and for them to raise him better so that he doesn’t want to leave.

Weeks go by, and the party defeats a supposed god-king and battles with one of the party member’s evil mentors. They uncover an ancient petrified forest that used to be a druid circle. Taldarrin is fascinated, but they don’t tarry long, for they have places to be. This is where we get to the most recent two sessions of the campaign.

The next stop is a metal city called Arx, famous for its wizard’s college. Elaine, the party’s cleric who studied there, has clues that further her own goals, and wants to find out if the answers she seeks can be found there.

Upon arriving at the gates, however, the giant metal automatons halt Taldarrin, Cael, and Mike. The party finds out that the city does not allow druids inside its walls. And also apparently Mike is evil, unbeknownst to all of us (including Mike). Accepting this, the party decides to seek out the nearby druids who are giving the city trouble. Taldarrin thinks that he might be able to get the two groups to meet and discuss things peacefully.

They find the druids, who let them in because the party has druids among their ranks. Arx has been deforesting the region for some time, and the druids have been destroying the offending automatons, raising tensions between the two factions. At this point, Taldarrin’s plan is to set up a meeting with the ruler of the city as well as Jog, the local archdruid, and get them to find a compromise while he himself communes with nature to try to speed up the regrowth of the forest.

All of this is sort of thrown out the window when he sees Rinn, his daughter, living among the druids here. She has her hair cut short, she’s very toned, and her eyes show the golden luster of a lycanthrope.

 

I’ll be honest. The following conversation and ensuing roleplay was a day I had both been looking forward to and dreading since I made this character. My friend’s campaign leans more towards combat and action rather than conversation and roleplay, and our campaigns often run into long unrelated tangents or silly shenanigans (though the actual canon of our stories tends to be pretty level for typical fantasy stories), so asking him to roleplay a serious conversation between an estranged father and daughter was treading into uncharted territory.

What happened next will shock you!

Clickbait aside, turns out I had nothing to fear. He did a great job and played the character and conversation exactly as I imagined it to go. Tune in next time for what will basically end up being a specific retelling of what happened in our most recent session.

(Fun fact, this art is literally the miniature I use for Taldarrin! I just found this picture online and it matches the mini’s features exactly, though I have no idea what the origins are for either.)

Review — Battle Chasers: Nightwar

It’s been a while since I’ve played a traditional turn-based RPG. I mean, my favorite video game ever is Dragon Quest VIII, which was released over 13 years ago, and I honestly haven’t played many games in that genre since. (Dragon Quest XI still has no western release date, but it’s on the agenda.) So here’s a (mostly) spoiler-free review of the game!

So when I got my hands on Battle Chasers, it was like an itch that hadn’t been properly scratched in a long time. The last JRPG I’ve actually put time into is probably the original Suikoden, and it’s been several years. Now I didn’t know much about Battle Chasers going into it, I just knew that the art was cool and some online people I enjoy praised it. When I found out it was a turn based I was delighted.

This game was just a blast from start to finish. The opening cinematic(s) did a great job establishing the personality of each of the characters, and it did some interesting role reversals that were cool to see. As I played it, I found that the game really had everything I wanted: a meaningful progression of power (leveling up is really impactful to the experience), a sense of exploration, rewarding the player for being investigative, a clear sense of what being a completionist would entail (meaning “what can I do to see all there is to see?”), and challenging them with optional puzzles and quests.

This game was also a lot longer than I expected it to be. It took me 45 hours to beat it 100% (not New Game+), and if I had the time I would have no qualms with going through it again. New Game+ is cool because, while it isn’t necessarily “harder”, you can much more easily get Legendary quality gear and feel powerful, even if the monsters you’re fighting are 6 levels above you (when the maximum level is 30).

My favorite thing about this game was that it had time to put in lots of unnecessary things. All of the dungeons are randomly generated, so the puzzles you see the first time will be different when you revisit it. (This is a double-edged sword I’ll get to in a moment.) It has lots of side quest type things that feel rewarding. There’s also lots of cool lore books that are interesting reads, and the narration in general can be pretty sassy.
Ex: The game gives you an option to throw money down a well. When you throw 1000g in (a good chunk if you’re about a third of the way through the game), the narrative replies with something along the lines of “You have enough gold to feed an entire village for about a month, but you decide it’s best wasted by throwing it into a well.” It’s neat because this game very much adopts the philosophy of “just because your character can do it, doesn’t mean it’s the right choice to make”. A lot of the game actually seems to be modeled as a Dungeons & Dragons type adventure.

 

 

I do have two problems with the game, though. The first is that it can be somewhat unclear with the consequences of something. When you find an artifact, the game makes a big deal telling you that they’re valuable, which implies you should keep them, even though you have the option to sell them for a different type of currency. What it doesn’t tell you is that this is literally the only use for artifacts. They’re meant to be sold. Don’t hold on to them. What’s more, some of the optional bosses can be encountered accidentally if you’re “adventurous” enough, and there’s actually no way to know the power level of what you might be getting into. (There’s a mini boss in one area that’s four levels higher than the monsters inside, and he has a passive of reducing the party’s healing by 50% when you’re fighting him. He’s no joke!)

By far my biggest gripe with the game is how the “random” tiles in dungeons are placed, though. There’s a random encounter in the first dungeon with a skeleton, and you can choose to help him or refuse. If you refuse, he attacks you. If you help him, you can find him (randomly, again) in a later dungeon, and he attacks you there. Here’s the problem. Neither of these events are guaranteed to spawn in either dungeon. And what’s more, you have to do the first dungeon at least twice in order to take both options, because in both instances he’s a unique monster. So in order to fight every monster, you have to do it multiple times. The worst part is it was bugged for me, so I couldn’t go back to the first dungeon to fight him after I helped him in my first runthrough. So I had to do New Game+ in order to complete my monster book. This is terrible game design!

But really, it’s a fantastic game. I expected to beat it within 15 hours, but it had over 3 times that content for me. Overall it’s great, and it can be very challenging if you want it to be. Also, it has fishing. In my experience, every game that has time to add optional fishing stuff to it is going to be a good game.

D&D — Dialogues 3: The Law of Averages, Pt. 2

Two (in-game) days later. Our party had been rescued by a stranger (the paladin’s new PC), and taken to the secret base of the resistance. The leader, a ripped dwarf lady named Boulderback, says that she could use our help toppling the ruthless leadership of the dwarves currently in command. We owe the resistance our lives, for rescuing us in the first place, but its also personal. We lost a friend in that fight. They would have their help.

The party is instructed to go attack a guard tower at the same time as the rest of the resistance. A coordinated attack meant to be swift and decisive. Our rescuer, a female artificer, joins us for the battle.

Now, it’s worth noting at this point that out of character, I’m telling the monk in our party that Kallos is going to destroy these guys this time around. I (jokingly) argue that since Inflict Wounds rolled so low the first time it hit, the second time I hit with it it would have to deal at least 30 damage. It’s called the Law of Averages. Our monk remains skeptical. Plus, I tell him, it’s my birthday, so the universe has to cut me some slack. Kallos (and I) want revenge for being humiliated in that last fight. And this time, Kallos has a plan.

The party is in an open, garden-like area with statues placed throughout. These provide half-cover, and if we’re careful we can use them to sneak up on the guards.

Kallos casts Invoke Duplicity, making a perfect copy of himself behind a nearby statue. Then he sneaks towards it and fumbles a stealth roll (-1 Dex is a real killer).

As soon as the guards come out to investigate, however, our artificer engages. She deals an incredible amount of damage in the first round, nearly killing a guard right off the bat. The rest of the party moves in to engage while Kallos sneaks around the statues, still not quite involved in the combat.

While the guards are distracted with our warlock and artificer, Kallos sneaks up to the nearest one and casts Inflict Wounds. This time, with Invoke Duplicity right next to me, I have advantage on my attack roll, meaning I roll twice and take the higher number.

I didn’t need the advantage, though. I rolled a 20 on the first roll. I believe this is also Kallos’ first crit.

Now, in this particular session, the way our DM rules crits is “Double dice roll, then max damage”. So, if your attack would deal 1d6 damage, it would turn into 2d6, and immediately take the max without needing to roll, meaning it would automatically deal 12 damage. Inflict Wounds, of course, deals 3d10, so when it crits by these rules, I deal 60 damage.

Now, I didn’t have enough movement speed to get to the boss-man. This guy was just a lackey. He gets disintegrated. Literally.

At this point, the DM has me roll initiative, as I’ve entered the combat. I don’t roll very high, but I still move before the boss. So when it creeps up to my turn again, I walk over to him, and realize it is the same guard captain that killed my friend.

“Thought it tickled last time, did you?” Kallos says, casting Inflict Wounds at 2nd level again. I still have advantage, but again, I don’t need it. I roll another 20 on the first throw. 4d10*2, maxed, equates to 80 damage. (Again, for perspective, Kallos has 27 health. That amount of damage would take him down nearly 3 times over.)

So, having crit with Inflict Wounds twice in a row, he’s dealt 140 damage in one turn. Our monk is at this point nodding sagely. “I didn’t realize how powerful the Law of Averages was.”

Now, this guy doesn’t die. Instead, he does what anyone else would do when faced with certain death at the hands of dumb luck. He turns into a demon.

That’s pretty much the end of the exciting part of the tale. He turns all of his buddies into husks as he mind controls them using lampreys (which was, may I say, exceedingly gross). He keeps fighting Kallos, unwavering, and with his two attacks a turn (and terrible armor due to my wanting to be more sneaky this combat), he doesn’t do so well. And, I kid you not, the die that rolled two crits (not technically back-to-back, since I had advantage) proceeds to roll 4 2’s in a row.

So, needless to say, Kallos doesn’t last long against him. He falls unconscious, and I legitimately thought he was going to die that session. The rest of the party manages to pull through, however, and the would-be valiant end of Kallos Mortani instead became “That time Kallos wasn’t useless in combat”.

D&D — Dialogues 3: The Law of Averages, Pt. 1

(Story isn’t ready yet. Will post it tomorrow!)

 

This is one of those stories that prove insanely strange and awesome things can happen just by how you roll the dice. Hilarious characters and circumstances are great and all, but there’s something to be said for the occasional instances where statistics just… no longer applies. In short, this is the story of the time my level 3 cleric dealt over 100 damage in one turn. (And by coincidence, this session took place on my birthday, so I consider it a literal gift from the gods.)

Before we get to that particular session however, some background. Kallos (my cleric) and friends had just cleared out a tunnel to a nearby dwarven village. Upon arriving there, however, the half dozen guards at the gates immediately attacked us, after a brief and pathetic attempt at a peace talk.

The guard captain attacks first, and he has two attacks, meaning he is (at least) two levels higher than us. Considering that, and the fact that they also outnumber us, this sends some serious red flags. So what do we do? The same thing any respectable D&D party does. We charge right in.

Kallos tries fighting toe-to-toe with the captain, since he can easily heal himself if need be. With 18 AC and Mirror Image up, he can also soak up quite a bit of damage, hopefully giving the monk and warlock some time to pick a few off. Our paladin, who was right beside Kallos in combat, takes some savage blows dealt by the captain, who doesn’t seem interested in the many clerics running around right in front of his face.

The battle rages on, and our paladin is forced to disengage. It comes to my turn, and I have exactly one spell slot left. I can cast Cure Wounds on my ally, or…

Hoping to end things then and there, Kallos rushes towards the captain and grabs him, channeling powerful necrotic energy as he casts Inflict Wounds at 2nd level.

I don’t have high hopes for his ability to hit. Kallos has literally never hit with this spell, try as he might. It’s high damage potential (3d10 baseline) is pretty high, but you have to land the attack, and you have to be close enough to touch the guy.

Kallos, miraculously, rolls a 17. So he hits! And since the spell is 2nd level, he gets to add another d10 to the damage. So he has a potential of dealing 40 damage here. And for perspective, at this level Kallos has a maximum health of 27.

In order, the dice I roll show these numbers: 1. 2. 3. 4. A total of 10 damage. Less than half the average amount of damage 4d10 would normally roll. I could have swung my hammer at the guy and dealt more damage, for crying out loud!

Hopes and dreams crushed, the captain snickers. “As reward for fighting so well,” he says, “I’ll only kill one of you if you surrender now.”

We have nothing left. I’ve got no spells, and most of us are on the brink of death as it is. We’ve killed exactly zero guards. Having no other options, (and honestly getting the hint from the DM that this is the way he wants it to go), we accept. Our paladin’s throat is slit then and there, and we’re taken to the dungeon.

 

D&D — West Marches “Guild Hall” Campaign

I have a grandiose idea for a Dungeons & Dragons setting. Something that, if executed well, could hold an amazing standard for how the game is run among my group of friends. It changes the dynamic of the game a great deal, because it screws with the fundamental “game night with a group of friends”.  The idea behind the West Marches campaign is that you have a small community of people that set up periodic events.

Now, I won’t simply elaborate on what a “West Marches campaign” is supposed to be, though I’ll leave a link to the video I found on YouTube where I learned about it. Instead, I’ll just talk about my ideal implementation for the “Guild Hall” campaign, which has strong synergy with the concept of West Marches.

Imagine this. You and thirty or more people you like to hang around all want to play D&D. So instead of splitting off into five different groups that meet at various times, you make a group. (A Facebook group, a Discord channel, whatever. Ideally, though, I would want an entire website dedicated to it, complete with maps, forum channels, etc.) That’s step one.

Collectively, you all make a guild. The worldbuilders in the group can also get together and start to put together a cohesive map. Then, everybody makes characters. Every person in this 30+ group is a member of the guild. For this post, let’s call the guild ‘Froststar’. They all start at Level 1, with basically nothing. They have an abandoned warehouse that serves as the guild hall, sleeping on bedrolls and probably making friends with various rodents.

The goal of this campaign is to build the guild’s renown. You want Froststar to be the most popular guild in the entire city. Maybe even kingdom or continent. They have to pool their earnings, upgrade the guild hall, compete in Guild tournaments (not unlike Fairy Tail, if you’ve read/seen it). The guild starts at the bottom, but over time will acquire followers, build up their headquarters, and make a name for themselves.

“But wait,” you ask. “How is a group of 30+ people play D&D all at once?” Well, you don’t. That’s what the website is for. Here’s how it works. One member in the group calls for a session, and anyone that wants to jump in is welcome to. The games don’t happen weekly, but instead are handled on a case-by-case basis. This campaign could easily have three dungeon masters, as well. The only thing you’d need to do is compare notes after a session. (I imagine the DMs wouldn’t have characters in the guild, but I don’t see why it isn’t doable. All they have to do is be able to separate player/DM knowledge from character knowledge and you’ll be fine.)

By virtue of how this would work, pretty much all of these sessions would be one-shots. Everything starts and ends in the city, where the guild hall is, because you can’t have these five characters go to a neighboring city and have them also be a part of the next session. Because of this, a calendar where the DM(s) keep track of who is where and when would be essential. (Plus, a guild tournament where they compete against each other would be a yearly thing, so it is something Froststar should be planning around, and it can be the “topic” of those sessions.)

The number one danger with this set up is that people will inevitably gravitate towards specific people. Probably people they know better than others in the group. You don’t want the same people inviting each other to sessions over and over again, because that is the opposite of the hive mind mentality you want the Guild Hall campaign to be. You want to invite people that have abilities or characteristics suited to your goal. If you’re going to an ancient crypt, invite the hunter whose favorite enemy is Undead and the cleric who can Turn Undead. But if the group of 30+ people start splitting off into teams, that defeats the entire purpose of the campaign. So, how do you solve that? Simple: you can’t invite the same people twice in a row.

So, that’s the gist of the West Marches inspired “Guild Hall” campaign. The best part about it is that people can leave or join the guild without disrupting the flow of the in game world. Theoretically, you could set up a website with all the original members, and have it’s community be completely different ten years later, but thriving all the same. That fantasy really speaks to me, because that’s what Dungeons & Dragons is all about.

D&D — Who Tells the Story?

There’s something that a lot of beginning players don’t understand about D&D, and it can cause lots of problems based on the experience of the group, especially if your dungeon master is new to the role. In fact, this was perhaps my biggest problem when I first tried my hand as a DM, and since I wouldn’t consider myself to have been fun to play with until I had learned this lesson.

In a typical Dungeons & Dragons campaign, who tells the story? For the purposes of this, it is completely irrelevant what the story is. It doesn’t matter if the dungeon master is using a campaign they bought, or downloaded online, or if they are making something up themselves. Who tells the story? I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t the DM.

This is the problem many aspiring dungeon masters have. They write out their characters, they make a map, they set up a conflict. They might as well be the author to the story, and they certainly would be if they put all of their preparation into words on a page. But there’s a variable they often misidentify: the players. New DMs consider players the audience to the epic tale of elves and wizards. Of trolls and orcs. Of dungeons, and… well, dragons.

In most D&D campaigns, there is no audience. An audience implies observation with no interaction, which certainly isn’t what the players are. The player characters aren’t, or at least they shouldn’t be, obvservers of events and occurrences they can’t influence. Influencing an open and full world is pretty much the reason to be playing D&D in the first place.

Many novice dungeon masters consider the players to be crew members of the ship, while they themselves are the captain. The DM/captain steers the ship (well, more accurately the helmsman, but you get the idea), and the players/deckhands follow orders as the DM guides them to interesting lands.

That’s not what D&D should be. Instead, the players are the entire ship. Self governed, in fact. They may declare somebody captain of the ship, or they may otherwise take turns steering it. Point is, the DM doesn’t tell the boat where to go, the players do. So, what is the dungeon master in this metaphor? Simple: they’re the entire ocean. They’re the monsters that halt their progress. They’re the ports they stop at when they reach shore. They are the storms they brave when the skies aren’t clear. The DM isn’t the narrator. They are the driving force for the characters, who are narrating their own story.

If they’re anything like me, a new DM might feel a little attacked at this idea. Dungeon masters spend time out of the game preparing ahead of time, isn’t it more their story than the rest? My answer to that is, sure, it is your story. (That’s why, when I talk about the two campaigns I’m involved in, I refer to one of them as my campaign.) But it’s also their story. The dungeon master and the players are not against one another. It’s not (necessarily) an adversarial relationship.

The DM isn’t the captain of the ship ordering the players around. The DM is the ocean a ship of players must interact with and handle in order to survive.