Tag Archives: story

Killing in the Name of: Dungeons & Dragons and the unbridled passion of slaying the adventuring party – A few lessons learned

For the last three gaming sessions, I’ve been guiding my players as they attempt to uncover and solve the mystery surrounding the small fishing town of Sharholme. People have gone missing. There’s a taciturn lighthouse keeper who no one likes. Weird and exotic fish are turning up in the nets of the fishermen. What did it all mean?

Well I’m not going to give you all the details, where’s the fun in that? No, I’m going to give you an insight into when the adventuring party were fooled and the Dungeon Master commits to running the adventure to its inevitable end, whether that’s the final encounter or much sooner!

‘Some of your characters may die towards the end of this adventure – I’m testing the adventure on you guys.’

These were my first words when describing the adventure idea I had to my players, a week before they started. Perhaps subconsciously I was giving them a clue to play tougher or optimised characters, or perhaps I was trying to defend myself from any fallout that may occur if it all went wrong. Whatever the reason, the very next gaming session we started the adventure.

The beginning was cryptic – they were called north, along  the Sword Coast by a voiceless whisperer who would not allow them to rest unless they were moving. A brief stop at Candlekeep is all they needed. Get there, and perhaps some clues could give them answers.

But they will never know.

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The first adventure was to warm them up. I was going to let them be goddam heroes and throw small hordes of easily defeated monsters at them. I was going to give them hostages to break out in a daring escape, maybe face off with the enemy leader and thwart the even stranger, deadlier nemesis who defines the backdrop of the narrative.

Alas, it was not to be. They believed they had reached the final encounter. They had not. The Prince Under the Reef was not the monster’s commander as they thought. I’m chuckling as I write this because some of them will only realise as they read this… yeah, it gives me an amusing tingle.

The adventuring party had, in fact, only reached the third to last encounter in the natural dungeon setting. They had suffered some terrible wounds and faced some unsightly horrors, many of them surprises. Up to this point they had advanced in a somnambulistic way perhaps thinking that, being the first part of a what was promised to be a long running campaign, they would have it easy. To some degree this was right.

grey skulls piled on ground
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Allow me to explain:

As a DM I had done my research, read endless articles by other DMs & GMs, consulted the oracle that is Reddit and gone back to basics. I even wrote this article, which, if any of them had read it, may have given them a clue into what to expect. I threw low-challenge creatures at them, made the monsters act in a fantastically pulp manner, unthinking but not to be mocked.

Then I hit them with a monster whose challenge rating was a single point higher than their party level. He was a large humanoid, fighting on even terms. He didn’t even rush them, instead he paused and waited to see if they would parley, to see if they could talk to him and see if they could find peace. They outnumbered him but they seemed tired – his minions had carried out their task of killing the adventuring party with a thousand paper cuts. All he had to do now was thrust his trident into the open wounds and finish them off.

What followed was five rounds of bloody mayhem.

The bird-man monk fell first, the priest next, followed by the halfling rogue who couldn’t quite dash into cover, leaving the archer as last-elf-standing. It was a bold gesture to cast away that bow and draw a long sword, after-all, the enemy had thrown his trident at them previously, disarming himself in the process. Both combatants were heavily wounded.

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Taken from media-waterdeep.cursecdn.com 6/2/19

The elf stood little chance.

While the fight continued, his comrades bled to death on the wet subterranean sands of the oceanic grotto. Some would stabilize but be useless to sway the flow of battle. As the sun’s final rays set against the turbulent waves above, my heroic adventuring party slumped to the ground in a final gasp below the waves.

As the DM, I had defined my dungeoneering destiny and finalised the characters fates by not holding back. I had lulled them into a false sense of security and then pounced upon them with a well calculated challenge. Or so I thought.

The daft thing is: I expected them to get to the final encounter and then suffer tremendously through a terrifying race across an underground, underwater grotto ala Indiana Jones’ cinematic dash, avoiding natural traps and pitfalls as they barrelled along heroically.

In a nutshell, the DM did not hold the player’s hands and guide them through. I realised that if there is to be any fun in the game, it has to be risky. I knew this already, but the temptation to guide the players through the story had flattened the experience for me… it had simply lost some of its fun.

As for the players, well the fun reached a happy height above our gaming table. Although they were getting ripped to pieces, bleeding all over the place and possibly facing death (well, actually they did) they all seemed happy to go along with it.

Here’s the kicker for the players though – that challenging encounter left the monster with just twelve hit points. TWELVE! That’s one good or two average hits with a long sword… but the dice rolling was poor, and I was using my specially reserved Dungeon Master Dice. They never let me down.

So there you have it:

Dungeon and Games Masters, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and kick their arses if it’s all going wrong, you’ll all enjoy it!

And Players; never trust the DM. Ever.

We’re sly a bunch.

J.D. Ferris

NaNoWriMo Day 1: Unexpected Lessons.

The first day is done. Well, there’s plenty of daylight left but I powered through last night and got to my word count by about 4AM. It was nice to feel so motivated, so I kept telling myself that I could write this piece afterwards to document my experience, which got me to the end. You have to find ways of justifying the effort to yourself, especially if you have problems with motivation like me. We’re getting there.

I had the bare bones of my story in my mind and some scant notes, but I didn’t really know how I was going to flesh out the character development. So that was my goal going into it, using the narrative ideas I’d come up with as a vehicle to develop those ideas, I found that not knowing myself really helped me present those ideas to the reader in a cogent way, and by the end of the first 1680 words, I found that I knew who my protagonist was, what she cared about and developed her relationships with her parents.

It’s quite amazing what you can get done when you sit down, have a plan, and put the work in.

I hope this article format is interesting. If anyone has any questions or wants to talk about their NaNoWriMo experience, I’d be happy to start a dialogue.

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NaNoWriMo Prep: You Can Do It.

The month has gone by in a blur, our anticipation peaks as all the carefully collected and fleshed out notes (Ha!) are ready to come together to provide a much needed shove when we finally tick over to November first.

My technique has been to come up with an idea, write about two pages of notes, then let the rest of my ideas bounce around my head until I know exactly where I’m going with the story for the first few chapters. As a writer I’m definitely more of a “fly by the seat of my pants” type instead of meticulously planning everything out. When I get into the zone, I tend to just link the main plot points together with prose that tends to just flow out.

I don’t care about names, or the facts of my world, or even if I introduce a character only to forget about them five pages on. This thing is going to be about getting your thoughts onto the page any way you can. If you find yourself staring at the page for any extended amount of time, then stand up, get some fresh air, eat, do something different to bring you out of that frame of mind because you’ll soon feel defeated. If you do take a break, then be sure to come back to it in the same day or you’ll feel awful the next day with more to do and it won’t be long before you’ll hate the process.

If you get through the first week and you’ve hit most of your targets then you’ll feel fantastic and I think that is the point at which you’ll know if you’ve cracked it. But always remember your story, when you’re not writing, write notes about the plot points you’ve introduced and where they could go. You want to be able to look back on your novella and think “That’s pretty clever” at least once or twice.

You can do this. The biggest problem is finding free time. If anyone demands you leave your cave in the middle of writing, or tries to organise some event on a day you need to knuckle down and get some writing done, then either tell them that you’re trying to become the next best selling author or bring your laptop and be prepared to get dirty looks from some people as you sit in the cinema typing your manuscript.

Be the writer you want to be. Part-time writers are no writers at all. You need to sacrifice yourself to some degree to make this happen. And yes, I am mostly writing this for myself, I just hope it resonates with some of you, because I’m nervous and scared and hope it’s good. Even confident people struggle with stuff like this. You can do it though, I believe in you.

Author of “Emilia The Witch” for NaNoWriMo,

J.A.Steadman.