What? Whaaaaat? Really putting the wonkiness in Wonk here, after last week’s little doozy. But yeah, there are still a couple Adventure Logs left before I put a feather in the cap of my last attempt at running Dungeons and Dragons. This is the penultimate Adventure Log, from a series of sessions run in August of last year that led to an intriguing conclusion.
Paelias had, like the others, been stuck in the woods. Unlike the others, he saw the wearing of trails happen before his eyes. Time was flying in front of him. And unlike the others, someone pulled him out. It was not a laughing woman who Paelias encountered, but rather an older halfling named Paul, who brought him to a residence in the forests of a more chaotic section of the Feywild. Paul spent most of his time in the Prime Plane, but found himself on the other side while gathering components for a project he was working on with some other Wizards.
The group wanted to open a permanent gate to the Feywild, but Paul was cautious. If the group was wrong about the consequences of this project, the result would be, as Paul put it, “an apocalypse the likes of which the world has never seen.” Paelias was concerned, but not really sure how to react. Last he remembered, he was boarding a boat outside of Port O’Rock, leaving the city on New Year’s Eve under the cover of darkness. Paelias spent a couple days back in the Feywild, but according to Paul his grip on the plane was weakening. On the third day, when Paelias went to sleep he woke up somewhere else.
On the top floor of the Wand of Lightning in Third City, Elliot, Ander, and Hugh were shocked to see Paelias awake. It had been nearly three months since they had seen the Eladrin at all, and Ander and Hugh barely remembered him. Elliot, of course, was inclined to recall a fellow fey, bringing the group’s total up to three. Paelias didn’t get much of an introduction, other than hearing he was in Third City and that Alstern and Renard turned out to be frauds. After that, though, there were errands to attend to.
The group visited the investor which the laborers who contracted the banishing of the Bodak had promised to introduce them to. The investors were looking for help for another project, this time out by the Prelate-Kavi Beacon, an ancient structure in the mountains. The investors were also interested in a potential stake in property in Glebhavern, but the party either wasn’t ready to sell or didn’t have the permission to yet. Nonetheless, the meeting was cordial, and the investors could be a valuable future contact.
The second errand was one where Paelias immediately showed his worth, though it took a few days. Upon meeting with Buzzo the goblin smuggler, the group immediately set forth a list of magic items they were pursuing. Over the next week or so, the group secured their desires, and managed to sell off a few more items as well. Paelias had a formal arcane education which went a long way in getting fair prices for the items and finding what they wanted. At the end of their mercantile tour, though, he disappeared once again.
One person who reappeared in his place, though, was Paul. Paul was now certain that his compatriots were going to end the world, and used his wizarding connections to find out that another wizard was buying and selling magical goods. This had to be Paelias, and indeed following the lead led him to the party, though after Paelias was back into the Interface between the Feywild and the Prime Plane. Paul led the party to the basement apartment where his compatriots were building. Then things went wrong.
There was an explosion, and an ice hag wandered through the now somewhat-stuck portal. The party had a tough fight, but were able to defeat the singular hag. The remaining activation stone for the gate was on the feywild side of the gate, so Elliot used his man-portable ballista to destroy it from the Prime side. The gate eventually closed, but not before three hags flew out. The party ran to the Dihlstrad Castle in old town, which the hags had frozen shut. After hacking through a block of ice they were met with a devastating cone of cold, and beat a hasty retreat.
Paelias ran into Paul again in the interface, who tried to explain what happened. The gate was closed, but hags had made it through, and he, unlike Paelias was stuck there. He handed a scrying stone to Paelias, and asked Paelias to help rescue him once he was back in the Prime Plane. Indeed, Paelias left, waking in the same bed as before. He thought it was a dream, until he felt the stone in his pocket…
It was snowing in Third City, only two weeks before the summer solstice. This, as some experts would say, was bad. The party was surprised and relieved to see Paelias and Hrive return to them, but before they could start planning, there was a knock at the door. As they opened the door, they were pushed back by a brace of four honor guards and a large dragonborn shivering in a massive cloak.
“What did you numbskulls do?” bellowed the Dragonborn.
After some attempt at explanation, the Dragonborn retrieved his manners and introduced himself: this was Lord Sansama, governor of Third City. He found the party after listening to eyewitness accounts of the gate exploding the night before. It wasn’t a very formal investigation, rather he opted to try the only Adventurer’s Tavern in the city when looking for a group of foreigners with weapons and proximity to trouble. The group wasn’t able to get much support from the governor’s manor, though they were given any potions of cold resistance that hadn’t already been handed out to the vulnerable cold-blooded populace.
One thing Sansama did do was take the scrying stone from Paelias; he was going to get Paul himself. Without much time to waste, the group headed back to Dihlstrad Castle, opting to scale the walls instead of loudly breaking through the ice. Even with their attempts at stealth, frozen corpses burst back to life on the ramparts, alerting the coven of hags to the party’s presence. The hags immediately began flying loops around the castle grounds, and Elliot immediately jumped onto one of the Hag’s brooms. He threw the Hag off, but the broom kept climbing without her. She, in the meanwhile, polymorphed into a bat to fly gracefully down. Realizing how the math was panning out, Elliot jumped off the broom before it could climb any further, and grabbed the bat, not getting much in the way of air resistance but at least bringing the hag down with him when the polymorph was dispelled.
The party spread out among the ramparts to avoid the area of effect spells, while Elliot and Ander fought on the ground. Thanks to some barbarian rages, sleep spells, and a lot of magical healing, the Hags were eventually defeated. As the snow melted, Sansama gave his approval.
“If you’re really the numbskulls that did that, then I guess you’re not entirely idiots, and I appreciate it.” Later that evening, there was word that the court wizard had found Paul using a natural fairy door. Hopefully there would soon be answers…
Turns out this series of sessions actually follows an editorial about maybe playing games other than D&D quite well. Dungeons and Dragons, like most games, can be stretched in a multitude of directions. It’s not false to say that you can run pretty much any scenario you can conceive of in D&D, however it’s also not false to say that you’ll often wish you didn’t. These two sessions represent two different broad approaches to running D&D: hanging out there with no rules support, and folding back in to where the mechanics carry you.
In the first session, with the exception of the extended magic item shopping trip, everything that happened was run on the strength of my notes and my NPCs. I could have run a version of this session (until the very end) in pretty much any system I’ve ever run. In the second session, we see an extended encounter with hags that leaned heavily on the 5e combat system for the enemies, abilities, and pacing. How the characters interacted with the environment was dictated by the rules, what happened with the polymorphing bat was dictated by the rules, and the outcome was dictated by the rules. One of these two sessions was much, much easier to run, and yes, it was the combat with environmental interaction that took nearly three hours to play.
There are places in any game where the system doesn’t help you, and often it’s really big places, like talking to people. D&D, as a ruleset, is designed around skill tests, combat encounters, trap encounters, and character progression. Out of those four, only two (combat encounters and character progression) are truly emphasized. The next ring out from D&D, where things like Zweihander and Runequest lie, the emphases are actually almost the same (albeit often more love is given to skills), even if they’re executed differently. The next ring out from that you have things like Burning Wheel, where the lens is shifted and now skills are more important than combat, and social conflicts enter the realm because they have the same amount of rules support as combat conflicts. Then you get out to Fate where every conflict is modeled the same, be it swordfighting or firefighting. Then you get to games like Fiasco where the outcome of scenes matters more than conflicts, and so on.
Each ring out from D&D we go is a much larger part of what RPGs are capable of, and an inversely proportional market share. This gives D&D and games like D&D a set of widely shared vocabulary that makes it easy for players to understand each other. It also means that we’re playing in a very small sandbox. Even as I tried to make this campaign my own, as I rewrote the species list and harvested houserules and poked and prodded at everything, I still just ended up running D&D.