(I am not happy with the game session recaps I have done to date. I want to tell the story, and I want to explain my design process, but combining the two goals has just made for long and hard to read posts. For this post, I am going to try posting the text I wrote for the in-game calendar in Foundry, which I will then supplement with my design notes. Hopefully this is a better solution.)
Session 5 - Making a Name - Mirtul 16-17:
The rest of Mirtul 16 was spent cleaning up after the battle with the undead. After a quick examination, Arco informed the party that the supposed human female was in fact a yuan-ti pureblood. This was evidenced by the scales on her arms and the slender, forked tongue. After setting up a tinker's display with a repeating message near the pile of undead corpses, the party returned to Malar's Throat. They talked briefly with Screaming Wind and the Tymoran priest, Lateef Heyns, and then Screaming Wind escorted the party and their journalist charges back to the city gates.
Once in the city, the young scribe Kara gave Strider a quick kiss on the cheek and ran off to Popnes to make sure the story would be included in tomorrow's edition of "The Port". They decided to spend the night at the Thundering Lizard, where Isa was greeted with great fanfare and appreciation. The crowded tavern was filled with locals, but the party was able to secure rooms. Before retiring for the night, the party looked for a suitable mark to extract a few coins from. Isa decided to challenge the reigning arm-wrestling champion to a match for 5 GP. After getting egged on by Arco and softened up by Burgell, the burly blacksmith heartily accepted the challenge. As they locked arms, Isa flew into his Barbarian rage and easily bested his opponent. Overall, the party was up 4 GP, with Isa up 5 and Burgell down the 1 GP to the loss that encouraged the blacksmith to accept Isa's challenge.
The rest of the evening in the tavern was spent on a hero's feast, complete with steak, river eel, and greens. After the meal, Isa elected to spend extra money to have a room by himself; Del, Anemin, and Burgell shared a room; Arco elected to sleep outside where he could breathe the fresh air and see the stars.
In the morning, Burgell was disappointed to see the news in "The Port". While it was clear that Zhanthi paid for the party to assist with the undead in Malar's Throat, the article still raised questions about why foreigners were paid instead of native Chultans. In addition, the story about saving the girl highlighted the damage that was done as much as the heroic feat that was performed.
After breakfast, the party headed back to Zhanthi's. They were greeted by Kores, who was very happy with the news. Apparently the comment in The Port about not using Chultans was not troubling to him. He gladly paid the full 100 GP. The party elected to give 10 GP to Strider, keeping 18 GP for each of them.
The next stop was Wakanga's. Wakanga's villa was similar in layout to Zhanthi's, but was filled with books on shelves and tapestries on the walls. Wakanga was happy to meet with them, evidently due to the recommendation from Zhanthi. As he enquired about their reason to be in Chult and to call on him, the party mentioned that their friend Nelison had contracted the Death Curse and that Remallia asked them to investigate.
At the mention of Nelison, a round-faced bearded individual walked into the room. Questioning the party about Nelison, it was clear this individual knew him, even if he did not know that Nelison was ill. After a few minutes of discussion, the new participant in the conversation introduced himself as the famed author and explorer, Volothamp Geddarm. Anemin quickly becomes ecstatic and giddy with the knowledge he is in the presence of someone so knowledgeable.
The party shared with Volo the gifts from Nelison, including the stone etched with the maze that was gifted to Arco. Volo and Wakanga briefly conferred, and then escorted the party to a basement room with a large version of Arco's stone. They explain it as portal of some sort, and teleportation circle that can be activated by recreating a specific pattern in the stone's maze. The only problem is that they only know of the pattern for this particular stone.
After reviewing the stone, Wakanga asked the party to deliver a rug to Zhanthi. The party is completely suspicious of what was enclosed in the rug but had the professional courtesy to not examine it.
Walking through the early morning streets of Port Nyanzaru, the party decided their next course of action is to head to Fort Beluarian. While planning their next steps at the Thundering Lizard, they were approached by a tall human male looking to discuss some assistance the party can provide him.
This was a fun session to run, but I was concerned how the players would react as it was completely role-play. Feedback was positive, which was a relief.
The party's decision to not go back to Zhanthi to continue working for her presented me with some challenges. I was thinking of Zhanthi as a quest hub for Port Nyanzaru to help them gain experience and money, and to drop a few plot elements for them. However, even as deserting Zhanthi closes some avenues, others open including fostering some resentment with and towards Zhanthi.
Another fun aspect was the ability to really introduce the broadsheet. I decided on the fly to call it "The Port". The copy the party bought during breakfast on Mirtul 17 had the following stories:
The dinosaur races in Port Nyanzaru have a good reputation with player and GMs for being a fun experience, however my party was never interested. I even tried to tie in a bit of mystery with the missing jockey, but they were not interested in that either. The storyline about Jobal was suggested to give them a reason to visit another Merchant Prince and to force a decision regarding a guide. With Arco being a ranger with a Favored Terrain of Jungle, they decided a guide was not needed.
The last two stories were about their actions, and it was great to see their reaction. "Hey, why aren't we seen as heroes?" My intent was to show that actions have consequences, and that the characters would not be universally loved and lauded. Mission accomplished.
I really liked planting the element of the stone in Wakanga's villa. This idea of the "Webway of Ubtao" was taken from reddit just as I was preparing the campaign. This is perfect because the party can essentially teleport around Chult at low levels, and the slog of a jungle hex crawl is lessened if the party can quickly travel back to Port Nyanzaru. In addition, as a GM I can drop a webway maze into any location in Chult that make sense to the story, and it provides an avenue to explore the culture of Chult in greater detail. This will be something I will compare and contrast between Camp Righteous and Camp Vengeance later on.
The last point is about Volo. If you recall from the write-up for Session 0, 1, and 2, I had the common NPC Nelison provide Del with an autographed picture of Volo. Here is the specific wording of the gift Del received.
Del is drawn to people of power and influence, but it was Anemin that jumped all over the opportunity to interact with Volo. In a classic "I'm your biggest fan!" moment, Anemin was completely focused on doing whatever Volo suggested. This was completely unexpected but completely wonderful because now Volo is not just a purveyor of knowledge before fading out of sight, but a major draw for one of the characters. We will hear more from Volo in future sessions.
The session recap posts so far have been quite long, longer than I think is useful for an ongoing series. I did want to provide rationale for the design choices and my thought processes, and this lengthened the posts significantly. As we go through the next few session recaps, I anticipate they will be much shorter as the major and minor premises of the story are now established. I will still provide links to useful sites and supplements in case there is interest in pursuing some avenue I used.
This session started immediately after the conclusion of the chase scene. Girl rescued, hero status to be confirmed, everything is good, or so they thought. However, as I summarized at the end of the session 3 recap, there were numerous annoyed individuals to deal with. Luckily for the party, a man in blue and yellow robes approached with two bare-chested men with leather bands tied around their biceps. The robed man introduced himself as Kores, one of the senior aides to Merchant Prince Zhanthi. Kores had observed the heroics of the party and offered an audience with Zhanthi at their earliest convenience, implying that a group so adept at helping the young girl would be able to provide assistance to initiatives important to Zhanthi. Kores then proceeded to address the locals, pressing coins into palms both to help offset the damages but also to impress upon them that Zhanthi was on their side.
Departing from Kores and the locals, the party headed to the Thundering Lizard for a meal and to find lodging. The hardcover adventure mentions the Lizard, as it quickly became called, but without a great deal of detail. Luckily, there is a fantastic supplement at DM's Guild to flesh it out. For less than two bucks, the supplement provides some interesting proprietors, a nice map, an intriguing plot hook, and a great menu. I highly suggest picking this up if you think your party will visit the Lizard.
During dinner, they recognize that two of the official guides are dining in the Lizard. Isa approaches Musharib because his intriguing posting on the Message Board. Musharib's promise of adventure with a subtext of glory at Hrakhamar was the first hint of what is really important to Isa. In the discussion with Musharib, the possibility of fighting fire newts was a huge draw for Isa.
Sold on Musharib's quest, Isa attempted to convince the rest of the party to proceed. The desire to meet with Zhanthi and the reluctance to move on the first opportunity that was presented to them won out, and the party stayed in Port Nyanzaru.
They decided to visit Zhanthi the following morning. Strider was unclear of his role, but Del offered up another 1 GP for his services for another day. As a result, Strider joined them for the reception with Zhanthi, something that was completely foreign to Strider.
In the meeting, Zhanthi offered 10 GP to each member of the party for their efforts to rescue the girl. This included Strider which clearly was a serious windfall for the guide. Zhanthi offered the party additional work, including a request to have the party cast Zhanthi as a leader that cared about the commoners in Port Nyanzaru.
This was an opportunity to tie back to the notice on the Message Board that requested help in Malar's Throat. "Clear the undead out of Malar's Throat. Inquire at Temple of Tymora." was posted on a note on the Message Board, and Zhanthi suggested that they provide assistance to Screaming Wind, an advocate for the poor in Malar's Throat. Zhanthi agreed to pay the party 50 GP for their assistance, and an additional 100 GP if they were to get Zhanthi's assisstance mentioned in the broadsheet news daily.
The broadsheet was something I created to provide hooks to local news stories that would be of interest to the party. As they walked up the pier, I described two rail thin boys shouting something. The lesson learned with this was that there was no reason for the party to approach the boys. Two screaming boys is not something one typically seeks out. In the future, this plot element needs to directly interact with the party. They should be able to catch phrases from the boys, which would then draw them over to buy a copy of the broadsheet.
Back to the party, they quickly jumped on the opportunity to make Zhanthi looked good and brainstormed ideas on how to do that. They settled on asking Strider to find a scribe and an artist to come with them as they battled the undead in Malar's Throat. In other words, the fantasy RPG equivalent to embedded journalists. The resourceful Strider quickly found two individuals to assist, a writer named Kara and an artist named Philo. Bolstered with the additional people, the party headed to Malar's Throat.
At the Temple of Tymora, the head priest Lateef Heyns introduced them to Screaming Wind. I borrowed the name and inspiration for Screaming Wind from the Adventurers League supplement, "A City on the Edge". This is another supplement available on DM's Guild. There are some good hooks in this supplement and in an Adventurers League with a requirement to play a specific story with specific objectives, I can see this to be useful. However, I did not use anything from it beyond borrowing the name for Screaming Wind. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Conveniently for the party, Screaming Wind was about to head out to search for undead so she suggested they would head out southeast if the party wanted to go southwest. After a short walk, the noise of the jungle silenced and the party was beset by a few zombies. In addition, a yuan-ti pureblood joined the attack. The undead and abomination were no match for the party, and the battle was soon over.
The end of combat signaled the end of the session.
In the previous post, I covered my thought process and design choices to kick off the Tomb of Annihilation campaign I am running for a group of friends. Given the breadth of material that was used to kick off the campaign, that post was super long. I doubt any future posts will compare in length because the majority of the design choices have been discussed.
Session 0 and 1 were focused on logistics and building the rationale to have them come together as a party. Session 1 and 2 through them into combat, and therefore at the start of Session 3 I asked the party to spend some time describing their character. Here is what came out of that:
The end of Session 2 had the party disembarking their ship on the pier in Port Nyanzaru. Immediately after leaving the ship, the party meets Zindar, the dragonborn harbor master. This is the only railroading I forced on the party in this session. After talking to Zindar, what they did was completely up to them.
Zindar commiserated with the party about being attacked by Aremag and was interested in their news of pirate activity. Zindar delivered the first quest hook in the form of information on the pirate bounty. He also suggested that he would like to talk to the party and that he could often be found at Kayla's House of Repose. For those of you who are familiar with the official hardcover adventure, it should have been Kaya's but by the time I noticed my error, I had too many hooks to change the typo.
With Zindar behind them, I provided the party with the following description of what they saw and experienced walking up the pier.
You walk down the long pier with sun blazing overhead. Much of what you experience is familiar but there is also much that is exotic and unknown to you:
The party focused on the Message Board which was fine of course, but I was hoping they would interact with the food vendor or the boys who were selling a broadsheet called "The Port". The job of a gamemaster is to present the party with options and roll with their choices, so the Message Board definitely fit that description.
The Message Board mainly consists of items directly from the hardcover adventure. I had to create the images for Kayla's and the Thundering Lizard. The note for Fantastic Foragers was my own creation as I want to play up the importance of the jungle as a resource. I enjoyed creating the crumpled-up note for River and Flask, since they are operating outside of the official market created by Jobal. I created Journal Entries for each of the official guides and in the Text section of the Journal Entry I provided information on where the guides would likely be. I wanted to give the party reasons to see various locations in the city. One example is Qawasha, who I put in the Old City and not Fort Beluarian because Shago will be there.
While contemplating the Message Board, the party was approached by a self-styled tour guide and font of information, the third person speaking Strider Phon. Strider quickly impresses himself on Del, who hires him for the rest of the day for 1 GP. Strider shows them around a portion of the city and takes them shopping.
The shopping trip is the first occasion for the party's personalities to be displayed. Burgell is quite focused on his gear, so he buys a shield. Arco spends times in the shadier areas of the market looking for lockpicks. Anemin shows his desire to learn anything and everything and goes to a woman selling books. He picked up a copy of "Friar Albert's Guide to Surviving Traps: Chalk, rope, torches and a sturdy pole are your best friends. And a brain." Thanks to DND Speak for the great random book generator.
Isa's personality also really started to show in this session. He leads off every introduction with "Yes, it is me, Isa Wolfram. It's a pleasure to meet you as well." even before the other party can say anything. This is quickly becoming a memorable part of the game. The socially awkward and unaware Isa has made several facepalm events already. In a moment somewhat out of character for Isa, he was really interested in the information about the Chultan plants from vendor at Fantastic Foragers.
After that, the party left the market. The session to this point was completely roleplay so I through a chase scene at them.
Ahead of you, a young girl carrying a burlap satchel weaves in between adults and pack dinosaurs. Suddenly a three-horned dinosaur turns sharply, its thick tail whipping suddenly toward the girl. With a sickening thud, the girl is hurtled into the flank of passing dinosaur towing a heavily-laden cart. Startled, the dinosaur bolts, tangling the young girl's arm in the ropes. The girl screams for help as she dangles precariously. If she falls, she will certainly be trampled by the large rear feet of the dinosaur or run over by the wheels of the cart.
The party of course reacts quickly to rescue the girl. I told them that we would use a modified version of the standard chase rules. This is what I provided them in a Journal Entry.
In situations like this, the difference between a long-legged barbarian and a short-of-stature gnome artificer becomes readily apparent. Trying to chase after someone with Isa's 35' of movement is significantly more useful than Burgell's 25'. Burgell immediately realized that he would not be able to keep up, so he commandeered both Strider and a nearby bipedal dinosaur and looked for a shortcut to intercept the dinosaur and girl. Isa quickly caught up, and Del and Arco both shot at the harness in attempts to decouple the dinosaur from the cart. Anemin vaulted off nearby carts and awnings and closed the distance with the dinosaur as the result of a good rule and judicious use of Inspiration.
Rewarding characters for ingenious solutions is part of a good chase scene, but this should be offset with complications to make things interesting and potentially harder. The Tomb supplement "Encounters in Port Nyanzaru", available on DM's Guild, has a nice complications table that adds some good spice to the chase. The chase did get a little crazy though, with most turns in each of the four rounds of the chase resulting in rolls of 10 or lower, meaning that complications were added at an alarming rate. Examples of the complications were people that were knocked over, and damaged vendor carts were damaged and slowed down progress. "Encounters" was a decent supplement, and the complications table and inspiration for this chase scene was worth the five bucks spent on the supplement.
In the end, the party rescued the girl but with the annoyed individuals, the damage to the harness and cart, and the "borrowed" dinosaur, Session 3 with the party as both heroes and scapegoats.