Kicking off a new campaign is always fun. New settings, new characters, new adventures. Wander-Lost is no exception. As the Matrix of GMship gets passed around, it’s fascinating what each GM focuses on during campaign introduction, character creation and the first few sessions. Nicole, our GM, started us with a forum thread.
Since the inception of the most recent incarnation of our role-playing group1, we’ve been fans of downtime threads. In the bright spotlight and hustle of a session, it can be easy to lose a grip on the anchors of one’s character. These threads allow us to refocus and explore characteristics that don’t always surface. A player can take time to formulate an appropriate in-character response.
The thread begins under the great oak at the heart of the town, the various volunteers meander in and introduce themselves to the other characters and players. While many discussions were had about mechanics of the characters prior to play, there was very little discussion about the personalities. So this thread is our first impression of the characters. For Chase, I decided to focus on three things, her generally optimistic outlook and her quirk of fiddling with coins, and her mastiff companions, Artemis and Bastion.2
The characters spend time arriving, making introductions and establishing relationship ties. The conversation focuses on their reason for assembling, the magenta storm, and the selection of their first destination. Prior to the thread, Chase has established friendships with Amanodel and Joanna, and met Neill and Dóin. That leaves Cathaoir and Allister as the unfamiliar companions which poses some difficulty as Cathaoir is presented as a grim, survivalist and Allister an eccentric fatalist. Both these personalities will naturally lead to some conflict, which is good for development but I kind of wish Chase had some stronger ties built in to help overcome the inevitable arguments. The characters settle on seeking the knowledge of The Silver Order in Colthyr which will take them north via Dalrun.
Before delving into the session itself, I’ll note that I very much missed having a full character creation session. While we offered up early concepts at the close of Mars 2076, and had some small discussions in Slack, some things are just easier to establish in real-time. We wrote backgrounds and crossover stories but we mostly built our characters in a vacuum. Nobody’s quite sure of what supplies and tools the other characters are bringing with them. Considering the nature of the campaign, a survival and exploration setup, it’s difficult that we didn’t prepare our equipment as a group. That’s partially on the players, we probably should have communicated more, but even when the topic was touched on in Slack and in the thread, few responded with any concrete details. On to the session!
As a campaign of exploration, it’s very important to understand the basic unit of time and what actions can be performed in that unit. Nicole explained that there are several paces: explore, cautious, normal, hustle, sprint. Additionally, we can opt not to move and instead forage, trap, hunt, fish or gather herbs. I believe these cover all the bases, at this point, I can’t think of anything else we’d need to do in the wilderness but that’s the joy of playing, sometimes players come up with something unexpected.
Nicole sets the scene, the group is assembled in the center of town, ready to set out on their mission. It takes a little bit to decide on a course of action but one of the players reminds us that in the thread we decided to set course for Colthyr and Dalrun. One thing I would find helpful is a map. Even if it’s not completely uncovered or filled in, our characters would likely have an idea of the general layout of geography. Chase was born, raised and has spent a good portion of her adult life in Colthyr. But I as a player have no idea where it is in relation to Oakheart and our current location. A visual aid would allow the GM and the players to have a shared reference precluding the need for the players to constantly pester the GM for a reminder of where we are and where we’re headed.
We set forth and spend four hours3 climbing out of the valley and onto the trade route to Dalrun. We come upon the cairns that mark the former edge of the ward that protects Oakheart. Immediately we notice that the road is overgrown and Allister and Amanodel decide to investigate. And here the mechanics of the four hour blocks get muddied. Are we exploring? Are we moving? I think it’s clear the group is willing to spend a few minutes to check out the oddness but the goal is still to reach Colthyr to gather more information. But Allistar and Amanodel wander off without the full group and come upon a giant wasp’s nest. Allister returns the to bulk of the group, but then Amanodel does some more wandering.
Now I definitely believe both these players are playing to their character’s traits, but I found it frustrating. I think I would have been on board if we as a group decided to inspect the site further but it just kind of happened. Amanodel goes nosing around a giant wasp’s nest alone and somehow manages to avoid an encounter. As a GM, I would have, and in the past I have, forced the encounter. It would quickly set the tone that the wilderness is dangerous and all hopes of survival and discovery lie in the groups ability to work together.
Eventually, we regroup and continue on the trade route. At a distance, we sight our first wagon since leaving Oakheart. We spend time investigating the cart, finding metal shrapnel and dried blood leading away from the wagon. We engage in a bit of debate about investigating further, setting up camp or pressing on. Eventually, most of the party agrees to track the ambushers. In a great exchange, Amanodel casts Speak with Animals and she questions a few birds. We deduce we’re dealing with a group of kobolds and locate their lair. We setup our own ambush and lure them out with some Minor Illusion noises.
Nicole has put together an outstanding map for this encounter. Nothing unusual, just a solid map with enough space for movement but no more. The only difficulty is that the lighting setup doesn’t work as intended, so we get a bit of a pass on our lack of darkvision for some of the characters. This encounter was solidly tuned, several standard kobolds with a pair of advanced kobolds. It takes two rounds for us to gain the upperhand. Amanodel’s Moonbeam at the entrance of the den thins the herd before it can even reach the main group. The focus fire of Chase, Dóin, Joanna, Cathaoir and Neill bring the encounter to a close rather quickly. But not before Nicole reminds us that this isn’t a cakewalk. A kobold trapmaster scurries out of the den and launches a grenade at our spellcasters, Allister and Amanodel. Allister fails his Dexterity saving throw and is knocked unconscious at 0 hp. Ama on the other end, not only succeeds on the Dex throw, but manages to hold onto her Moonbeam also. Unfortunately, the trapmaster escaped back into the den. To wrap up the encounter, Neill, an Open Palm Monk, knocks the kobold chief prone. Chase snaps her whip with a sneak attack and steps back. Realizing I’m technically dual wielding the whip and the hand crossbow, I shoot the chief in the face to close the encounter.
Chase was solid in this combat. I made two errors, one for my benefit and one for the GM’s. First, I moved a square too far in one round, allowing me to close the gap a round too quickly. Second, I closed the gap too much. Chase can hit enemies ten feet away because of her whip. I should have had her step back after hitting the chief, so he would provoke opportunity attacks from Cathaoir and Neill if he decided to pursue Chase. With Stefan and Casavel, I really don’t worry about positioning too much. They’re both carrying high armor classes and often want to be the target of the enemy attacks. Chase’s AC is considerably lower, though still on the high end of the party, which means I can take some attacks but I shouldn’t make it so easy on the GM. Also, Chase taking the majority of the attacks from the chief was beneficial for the whole party. Chase probably has the most hit points, but the chief was dishing out poison damage to which Chase has resistance reducing the damage by half (or three quarters if there’s a successful saving throw).
And that’s where we concluded. Overall, this was a good introductory session. We have some group dynamics to smooth out but that is something that can’t really be solved in the first session. The new thread is occurring right after the combat ends, so we’ll get to see how the characters react to their success. I’m looking forward to the next session already.
My testing post is dated 16 October 2014, so now two years!↩
My post was up before I had decided to drop the mastiffs from the campaign.↩
She termed these four hour blocks watches. I think she grabbed this term from somewhere else but it’s kind of confusing. I’d probably use block, but that doesn’t feel like a very good in-game term.↩