Monday, January 7, 2019

[Actual Play] D&D Campaign Re-cap, 2017-2018 - PART 1 [5e]

My current long-running campaign is a game of fifth edition D&D with some friends. We started it in 2017. The first long adventure took us about 12 sessions (in about 10 months), most of them conducted online (due to everybody living in different places), but with the "finale" (an epic 6-hour long double feature!) played out in person - which was actually a very nice thing.

So I'm writing a re-cap! I cannot do it session-by-session, because this all took part over the course of a year, and I don't have exact notes, so I will just summarize what I remember.

The setting is on the low-fantasy side of things, all homebrew, I flesh it out gradually as we go, adding in elements when needed. Tone-wise, I try to keep things weird and unusual; but not overtly horrific or grimdark.


  • Gawin, Dragonborn Ranger, who was brought up by humans, and became the protector/folk hero of his small village
  • Jandar, Tiefling Paladin, from the Order of Monos (an outdated archaic order of self-appointed judges and avengers; hated by most) (yes, he is Hellboy)
  • Tofu-san, Forest Gnomesse Monk, aficionado of fine herbs, calligraphy and meditation
  • Avi, Human Wizard, comes from a noble family, studies at a battle wizard academy, loves to party, dresses with style
All characters started at Level 1. Player-experience-wise, the group is quite mixed. Two people have been playing for almost 20 years (the players of Jandar and Avi). The two other player were essentially new to the game. Gawin's player started recently in another campaign. For Tofu-san's player, this was the very first experience of RPGs ever - so I ran a short intro/prologue for her.

Tofu-san's prologue:

It started with Tofu-san, a travelling hermit, camping in the forest. At night she was attacked by a small but vicious humanoid creature (a Fey darkling). They fought, and Tofu-san pinned her enemy to the ground and interrogated him. The creature turned out to be on a ritual mission: his task was to kill a person, in order to be initiated into the senior ranks of his tribe. Tofu-san let him go, but the creature attacked again. Tofu-san didn't want to kill him, so just tied him up and took away his weapons, and left him behind.

Some time later, Tofu-san fell asleep between the roots of the huge old tree. She had a vision or a lucid dream. In the dream, she was in an underground cave system. She explored it a bit, then followed a narrow passage, and arrived into an almost perfectly spherical small room. There was a hole in the ground. She knelt down and looked into the hole --- and she found herself staring into the abyss, the infinite cosmic void. She sensed a terrible malevolent presence between the stars, reaching towards her.

She woke abruptly, holding a polished pitch-black pebble in her hand.

Early sessions:

The early sessions were just Gawin, Jandar and Tofu-san. Avi joined later.

The set-up: It all started in a big city called Voln. Voln is menaced by a series of earthquakes, unnatural freak events. Part of the city was in ruins, people are in panic. Even worse, dangerous creatures swarmed forth from the underground crevices. The city council was in dire need of people to help secure the city and combat the monsters.

Jandar, Gawin and Tofu-san agreed to help. They had the motivations to do so. Partially because of the small fee attached. Partially for their own personal reasons. Jandar's Order has a collection of prophecies, and one of these prophecies tells about earthquakes and the "wisdom that hides in the rifts". Gawin's home village was also hit by an earthquake, and rotting undead spewed forth from the split ground. Gawin the folk hero fought them, and then decided to do the same at the city. Tofu-san had a feeling that the cavern she had seen in her vision/dream might be in the newly found passages under the city.

Thus, the first two or three sessions were spent exploring a dungeon, made up of parts of the city and its buildings that collapsed into the underground cavities. So it was a nice mix of architecture, transformed and mingled by the quakes, and natural caverns. One of the running themes was the correlation of what's overground and what's underground. Where it was possible, the characters tried to orient themselves based on what they see in the collapsed underground parts. They explored the remnants of a collapsed alchemist's workshop (fighting an ooze). They found some big underground caverns, with roots hanging from the ceiling - which they figured must have been somewhere under the city park - and got into some fights with some purple mushrooms.

They also found a corridor, leading up towards the ground. The corridor was weird, twisted. Just looking at it caused headaches for some reason. It led to a cellar, that had a huge magic circle drawn on the ground... The characters failed to understand its function, but broke it - just in case. They also copied some of the glyphs for further research. They understood that this cellar must belong to one of the city's buildings, but couldn't go up, because of the rubble covering the cellar's trapdoor from above.

I gradually started piling on more weird stuff. The fungal theme was expanded with mushroom-controlled zombie-like humanoids, who were guarding certain areas.  The players also found places where mushrooms were clearly "planted" and cultivated, by the unknown inhabitants of these tunnels. The characters killed a few fungal zombies, but also learned that by destroying the mushroom-infestation, the zombies revert back to non-aggressive (although sick and unconscious) humanoids. The group decided to save one of these ex-zombies, and took him back to the surface, where a small hospital was set up for earthquake survivors.

While exploring the passages, the characters also started noticing strange distortions of space. They called them "soft spots". Essentially these were small invisible portals all over the caves, which had random connections between them. If you squeezed yourself into one of the holes, you'd pop out of a different, randomly determined one, possibly in a different area of the dungeon. Alas, travel between these "soft spots" was dangerous: Jandar, for example, was attacked by some unknown force while traversing the black void inbetween two portals, but survived.

The group started experimenting with the "soft spots", and ended up in a hitherto unexplored hall of the caves, where they encountered some humanoids. They looked like the fungal zombies from before, but were instead sentient and, well, non-zombies. The characters tried to communicate with them. The humanoids answered, but they spoke a rather archaic and almost incomprehensible version of the currently spoken common language. So the players had to resort to using just basic vocabulary, which was understandable by both (like "home", "food"...). Basically they learned that these people live in a cave system, don't even know that there is supposed to be a city above them... They explained that they have their own city, somewhere even deeper underground, and showed the players that the passage leading there has collapsed due to the earthquakes, essentially cutting them off from their homes (their place is a guardpost of sorts, next to the mushroom farms).

The player characters explored some more passages of the dungeon. In the collapsed shop of a diviner, Mme. Xanadu, they encountered a group, led by a dwarf. The dwarf (who introduced himself as Veid) claimed to be looking for his brother, who disappeared during the earthquakes. The player characters promised to alert him if they find a dwarf in the tunnels. Veid and his companions retreated.

After some more exploration, they happened upon a cave area that Tofu-san recognized from her dream/vision. All the stalactites and other details were in place --- expect for one, the small spherical room with the "window" overlooking the cosmic void...

They backtracked and followed some other paths, and soon found a cave passage that led to the cavern that they accessed before through the portal. But the cave-dwellers from before were dead, their throats cut! The corpses were fresh, still warm, so the players looked for the assassins, and in the dark caves, were attacked by a small coterie of creatures. Tofu-san recognized not just the type, but one of the individual creatures as her attacker from back from the prologue. The Darkling came back to retry its failed initiation/assassination attempt, but this time with a couple of friends. After a tough and sneaky fight, the players killed most Darklings, but captured one. Turned out, the creatures got into the tunnels through a portal they found in the forest - under the tree where (as she recognized by the description) Tofu-san rested. The forest is actually a good hundred miles from the city, so the portals/"soft spots" system is bigger than they suspected...

With this, the players have exhausted most of the accessible passages, and returned to the surface, to claim their small reward - but also to think about what to do next. The cave system clearly held more mysteries then it first seemed, and the earthquakes didn't seem natural either.

To be continued...

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