Well, I’ve well and truly managed to get my DnD game off the ground, and have two sessions of the new campaign under my belt. I ended up using my “Leylines” campaign setting; a semi-modern world in which people are bonded to physical channels of arcane power and given a measure of magical ability. A lot of modern concepts, from indoor plumbing to mass transit, are available, but not for long; the entire campaign idea is based off the fact that early into the campaign the Leylines will lose their power, causing a governmental collapse in the country they’re located in. From there on, the campaign will be about what they decide to do with their strength after recovering their powers, as well as unraveling the mystery surrounding this world-changing event.
Overall, we have a group of six; five players and myself as the DM. Two of the players have played 4th Edition with me before, but neither are very familiar with the rules. The other three are all new to the 4th Edition rule set, two of them being new to pen-and-paper roleplaying games altogether. In the two sessions we’ve played, however, I’ve only managed to get four of us together at any one time; we need to work on confirming a schedule further in advance for now on in order to ensure we don’t have to break up the party any more than necessary.
As for the sessions themselves, our first one began with one character in particular, Tyranis, a musclebound traveler of mysterious origin who, seeking favor with local government, ended up accepting a task from the local militia. A small mountain village, isolated from surrounding territories and with a total population of under 100, hasn’t been heard from in over two weeks, despite their reliance on trade with the surrounding territories to support themselves. Men had already been dispatched, but as of yet none had returned, and they needed someone to go and check up on them. I had taken a somewhat firmer role than usual in getting the story started this way, which I’m generally not a fan of, but since so many of our players were new I wanted a scenario that would give them time to establish their characters and grow used to the system before I really gave them total control over their character’s role in the world.
Tyranis gathered supplies for the trip, and as he exited the city, he ran into the next PC at the town gate. A disheveled hillbilly sporting a weaponized banjo, Cletus is a naturally intelligent man who has been held back by his heritage; he failed at an attempt to become a knight in his home country of Selenne, and then became a vagabond much like Tyranis himself. He didn’t inform Tyranis of any of this, however, as he was far too busy being physically thrown out of the town by the militia; he traveled East in order to see the ocean, as he’d never been able to try swimming before, and ended up diving into a local water reservoir, which the guards didn’t care for terrible much. As they shared the road, Tyranis and Cletus talked briefly about who they were and what their destinations were, before Cletus offered his assistance in the task at hand.
Despite all the worry, the pair actually managed to reach the village proper without trouble, but found the streets deserted and another stranger at its gate. Jeung-Shi, a knight of Selenne much like Cletus had once hoped to be, had set out in order to try and bring peace and justice to other areas of the world when he had left his home country. Hearing rumors of the village, he’d come here to investigate, but a sense of unease had overwhelmed him at the town gate, halting his progress as he began trying to puzzle out why no one was walking the village streets. Tyranis and Cletus introduced themselves, but the real conversation started when Tyranis and Jeung-Shi, who were played by a pair of best friends, began developing an inside joke about their amazingly impressive muscles. It would later grow out of proportion as they began describing missed attacks against them as them flexing the attacks away, much like Tomitake himself, but Cletus snapped them from their interlude with an awkwardly improvised song sung by the actual player.
The trio then entered the village, finding a lot of evidence of violence but no actual corpses or people to speak of. They ended up investigating and exploring a lot more than I’d expected, but as I created scenarios of what had happened in each individual house and presented the evidence of it to them on the fly, it made for a great build-up of what was to come later. Tyranis suggested zombies may have been the problem, and after finding a second story window that had been broken inwards, instead changed his hypothesis to zombie ninjas. Seeing the sun beginning to set, however, they began to grow worried and ended up holing up in one of the abandoned houses that looked as if its occupants had managed to flee from when whatever happened had started. Tyranis and Cletus revealed their unique Talents, the magical ability granted to them by the Leylines, as being cryomancy and hydro manipulation respectively, as they teamed up to freeze the doors shut and create layers of ice outside that might crack and alert them to anyone approaching the building.
Jeung-Shi was especially troubled by a discarded pile of children’s dolls in the corner of the room as they settled down to rest, and eventually it was decided that Tyranis would take the first 4-hour watch. It only took two hours for signs of trouble to appear, however, as a light tapping began on the window of their room. Tyranis cautiously woke the others from their slumber, and they began rapidly discussing a plan for finding out what was out there. . . but they deliberated too long, and soon the tapping ceased, only to start up again on the window of the room next door. Jeung-Shi cut a hole in a dresser they’d blocked the window with to peek through, but as they continued deliberating on what to do the window next door broke with a crash and the table they’d rested against it was thrown to the floor. The tapping, and after, a heavy slamming began hitting the door to their room then, but their fortifications proved enough to keep whatever was outside at bay. Tyranis briefly wondered why they never heard the glass cracking outside, but his answer went unanswered when eventually all noise ceased. A little scared and hesitant to leave the safety of their room, they eventually decided just to continue with their original plan and act in the morning. Unfortunately, whatever was outside their door had other plans, as human cries for help from the village’s center plaza drew their attention to the North.
Jeung-Shi, still thinking about the girl’s discarded dolls, rushed forward without pause, ruining any hope for surprise they may have had. Charging into the clearing at the village’s center, they found an overweight, middle-aged man apparently strapped to the posts of the village well. . . no, not strapped, but held, and held by a floating aberrant creature that existed as little more than a mass of writhing tentacles. Around it lay the corpses of ten other villagers, and noticing an actual threat, it dropped the man into the well and turned its attention to the party. Jeung-Shi charged forward, striking it with his war pick as he realized that the monster was only halfway in their plane of reality. A maddening cry erupted from it as he did so, and the corpses around him rose as if pulled up on a marionette’s strings, lumbering toward the party in a loping gait. The beast them immobilized Jeung-Shi with a touch and swung around to get closer to the other members of the party as the zombies surrounded the hapless Warden. Cletus and Tyranis became too busy defending themselves to aid their Defender, but he proved more capable than they had imagined as he ended up striking seven of the creatures down with a single stroke. The player actually included herself in a blast, hit every last minion enemy, and rolled a natural one when she attacked herself.
Breathing gouts of fire, Tyranis incinerated the rest of the undead creatures along with their puppetmaster, thanks to the psychic assaults Cletus’ music had inflicted upon the aberration. They then retrieved the man from the well, who introduced himself as Edmund and invited them back to his house. He explained to them that he’d been hiding in his pantry for the last couple weeks, living off his food stores until he ran out that morning. He’d tried to flee under the cover of darkness, but the creature had noticed him then, and caught him as he was running across the town. Tyranis and Jeung-Shi shared their rations with him, as Cletus asked and took one of the man’s hammers, before they took the time to ask what had happened to the rest of the town. Visibly perturbed by the memory, Edmund shakily explained that it had been Hector, a local boy who never had been any problem before then, who had brought them to the village. He’d disappeared into the mountains for a day, and when he returned, dozens of those tentacle creatures had been clutching to him like kittens on a curtain. They had spread throughout the village, seemingly much to Hector’s dismay, and had killed or captured just about everyone in sight before Edmund had locked himself in his pantry in order to avoid ending up with the same fate. When pressed for information about Hector’s current location, all he could say was that he had disappeared in a series of underground caverns South of the village before he’d come back with those things. The group then stayed the night with him before leading him to the road at first light, and sending him with some gold on his way to the city for shelter.
The trio arrived at the caves and made an attempt at stealth. They were all fairly successful, and even spotted a pair of humanoids hiding in the darkness as they entered, but Tyranis blew their cover when he attacked the hanging stalactites above in order to try and clear them out, in fear that they might fall on them if they entered the room. It was metagaming, I later realized, in response to an earlier campaign when I’d had a building collapse around them, but that wasn’t the case here; the stalactites were actually meant to be a hard-to-predict hazard that the PCs could use to their advantage. In either case, when they noticed they were spotted the humanoids emerged from the shadows to reveal themselves as mutated monstrosities; villagers who had tentacled creatures attached to their heads and whose arms had changed into thing, fleshy tentacles tipped with bone-barbs. The villagers were still alive, and pleased with them for the release of death as their bodies were moved into combat position against their will. Above, another pair of monstrosities emerged, these ones small, agile tentacle masses with beak-like mouths hidden within.
Mechanically, they were fight modified Wererats and Stirges, but with the way I adapted them to psychic weaknesses and such it gave them the same feel as the other creatures. The mutants tore into the party, one of them jumping a small chasm to corner Tyranis in the back while the other worked with the “mindflayers” to pin down Cletus and Jeung-Shi up ahead. They fought in an unorganized manner, and Cletus’ player kept trying to hit things with his banjo rather than use psychic attacks that the creatures were weak to, and things got even worse when that same player tried to use the stalactites to his advantage. He aimed directly above one mutant’s head, and because I was randomly determining the size of each collapse, he ended up bringing down a huge chunk of the ceiling on everything but Tyranis and his mutant, dealing massive damage to the party. They got their act together after that, with Cletus using slides to break the “mindflayers” grapples while he focus-fired with Jeung-Shi to down the enemies around them. Tyranis killed his own mutant at around that time, and the trio were eventually able to team up and destroy the last remaining creature, a mutant who whispered thanks to them as Cletus killed it with one last surge of song.
The session ended there, as it was beginning to get late and everyone’s energy levels were dropping as the clock switched into the a.m. Overall, it went better than I expected. The improv investigation section before combat began was a lot of fun for everyone, as was the tension that it had created in the following encounters. Jeung-Shi is determined to find the little girl and bring her back alive, or punish whatever took the child’s life, while Tyranis seems to have evolved into the party’s natural leader. Cletus’ player seems to finally be getting the swing of things in the 4th Edition system as well, and had a lot of fun doing his Southern accent, playing banjo music via Youtube, and improving his bardic songs at the table. Unfortunately, of those three, only Cletus’ player would be able to make the next session along with our two missing players, but I’ll get into that later. This post is long enough already, am I right?