Sunday, February 18, 2007


Note to self for future reference: If you're going to get together with friends every couple weeks to play Dungeons & Dragons, make sure it's a simple enough campaign to keep track of things from session to session, especially if you can get together to game only one every three or four weeks. A 12-part epic is probably not "simple enough."
I've been playing D&D with a group of friends in Branchburg for about two years now. It started out with just the DM and three of us players, but as time has gone on, we've added two more players, and what appeared to be a fairly straightforward campaign has become far more complex than I had imagined. Credit for that surely goes to the two players who have traded off DM duties from time to time. It's the first time I've played D&D since I was in high school, meaning it has far more advanced rules, and it's a much more involved game than the sort of random encounters Chris Adomshick and I used to settle for when we played.
My character is a spymaster named Parker Gaiman, more or less based on the classic Lee-Ditko Spider-man, with a dash of the recent innovations by J. Michael Straczynski, and a twist of Peter Parqaugh from Neil Gaiman's "1602," from which I got some of the particulars. Parker is a from a fairly small kingdom called Wendyg, where he worked for the crown in matters of intelligence. When his mentor failed to avert an assassination attempt on the queen, he and his proteges fell from favor with her successor.
In Parker's case, that meant a form of exile similar to what Garak experienced on "Deep Space 9." Although he is no longer officially on the payroll of the crown, he remains in service to the king and reports things that he has learned the past two years while he has been in the premiere city-state on the continent. It's a win-win for everyone -- Parker is hoping to earn his restoration to royal favor by his continued loyalty, while the crown not only benefits from the information he provides, it also enjoys plausible deniablity if he is caught.
When I wrote Parker's backstory, I decided on a lark to incorporate some of the banter we'd been having about the world we would be operating in. The city was a big one, like New York. It was an important cultural center, like New York. It was probably one of the most significant cities in the continent, if not the world, again, like New York. So I decided to refer to the big city where Parker was laboring in exile as a carpenter, as "Nuyork."
The name stuck, and in time, we revealed that Nuyork had five boroughs. We only identified a few of them, but we still crack up whenever we cite their names: Quins, Brucklinne and Haarlam.
The game started one night in Nuyork when Parker met up with the other two PCs, a human named Galin and an extraplanar fellow named Inquill. Magic in this world has been suppressed and disbelieved in for hundreds of years, owing to cataclysmic "Magic Wars" that happened centuries earlier, but each of us was drawn to Nuyork because of something unearthly that was happening there to raise the city's profile steadily higher at the expense of its lowerclass and of neighboring cities, counties and nation-states.
Eventually we learned that the author of the evil was a fellow named Vorden, a councilor to the king. Parker, although he had learned a great deal about the city under his cover as a carpenter, had been unable to find any secret ways into the castle, and no one was allowed through the front door anymore. Part of Vorden's ways involved turning the lower-borns into stew and using the black magic from their murder to drug the remaining population.
Our ally at getting in was a fellow named Fromm, part of a resistance to Vorden and his ilk. Fromm knew of a secret entrance through a chapel behind the castle. We made it in, nearly got killed by hordes of undead creatures, and finally located a magical key deep in the chambers under the chapel, with the help of another PC called Rowena. Rowena, like Inquill, was extraplanar; she also had a serious fixation on the undead.
As I say, our characters finally got the key and escaped the dungeon, but not all of us. Rowena literally was torn in two by an undead giant, and we took the treasure we found, along with her remains, to Fromm and used it to hire a cleric who could resurrect Rowena.
That was the first arc of the campaign story. One of the highlights of the campaign was when Inquill, a lawful evil ur-priest, in response to what he considered our untrustworthy behavior, insisted we all sign a contract that spelled out our obligations to share information, treasure, discoveries and such things. This is no joke, by the way -- Anthony, the player behind Inquill, actually drafted a contract that we bickered over for the better part of half an hour, defining such things as the death of a party member and our legal obligations to that person's remains and soul, and so on.
A point of lesser interest but greater relevance was the discovery of Parker's gift, one of true sight. Periodically, for reasons he can't explain as yet, he will see things exactly as they are. Magical illusions are cast aside, magical natures are revealed, and so on.
At that point in the story, the entire party experienced a disconnect in our memories, and we found ourselves with Rowena, and two other fellows, without Inquill in sight, at the Inn of Glad Tidings in the midst of a party in our honor. We never did figure out what we were being honored for, though, as werewolves attacked, killed one of the local dignitaries and ran amok all over the grounds.
The werewolves were only the start of our problems, though. We soon realized our memories had been tampered with in more ways than we realized. Galin and Parker had no idea who S'Blackstunn and Lorinarth were, and although they recognized Rowena, she had no idea who they were. Neither did S'Blackstunn and Lorinarth. And then it turned out that Lorinarth is an impulsive pyromaniac with some fire elemental ancestry. Once we were outside, someone complained that it was too dark, and he promptly lit a tree on fire, during the dry season, starting an out-of-control fire that devastated the countryside.
Oh, and Galin was bit by a werewolf, on whose person he found a note that seemed to described Parker as the chosen one of prophecy, before whom gods would fall.
Most of our next few sessions was spent running around a hive of caves, trying to figure out where we were, what was going on, and being attacked by werewolves. This last item in particular led to the most memorable moment I've ever had in role-playing games. In these tunnels, which were barely five feet high, meaning our characters had to crouch the entire time they moved through them, Rowena used her clerical spells to summon a Celestial Lion to help with the fight.
This proved to be impractical for a few reasons, the biggest of which is that a Celestial Lion, when it stands erect, is far more than five feet high. The poor beast was able to take out the werewolf in front of it, but then it was unable to move, or to turn around when another group of werewolves attacked it from behind. Rowena returned it to its plane of origin, but not before it was savaged from the rear. Somewhere out there in the multiverse is a Celestial Lion with a severe grudge.
The group dynamics at this point became increasingly interesting. Parker and Galin still worked together, owing to their history together; and S'Blackstunn and Lorinarth also worked together, for the same reason; but Rowena was the only person in the party whom everyone would trust to work with them. By the time we returned to the Inn of Glad Tidings to keep an appointment with a Count Drusillus, we were viewing each other with paranoia and suspicion, following and spying on one another, and generally not getting along or willingly sharing information with the whole party. At one point, Parker even split off from the rest of the group and went his own way.
It turned out that we actually were not far from Parker's home country of Wendyg. The next step of our journey led us to County Drusillus, which borders Wendyg. There we discovered that the count's daughter, whose name I can't recall right now, recently had converted from whatever the prevailing local cult was to a newly revived cult of a wolf deity named Fenron. Parker, although he was from the area, had never heard of this cult, but he did recognize that Fenron was likely a corruption of the name Fenrok, a wolf deity who had been worshiped in the area hundreds of years earlier, but whose cult had died out.
The count's mission for us at this point was to rescue his daughter, who he was concerned had been seduced and led astray by Tarron, the charismatic founder of this cult, and who had broken off her betrothal to the son of a prominent nobleman, whose marriage would have helped boost the county's standing.
It was at this point, incidentally, that we discovered that in our missing period, Inquill had taken over Nuyork and now was ruling as its sovereign. There was also a war afoot, with pretty much everyone else fighting Nuyork and things now at a stalemate.
Anyway, more stuff happened. Exploring the shrine of Fenron, we discovered Abyssal creatures in the sewer, as someone had seen in a dream; eventually we found the count's daughter, and we once again split the party as three of us went through a portal into another plane and Lorinarth and Parker stayed behind. They eventually went through as well, after getting some of the count's best soldiers to come with us.
The portal led to the Beast Plains, where Tarron had set up his armies and was pretending to Fenrok's place. We also discovered that Galin had contracted lycanthropy, and Fenrok was now using him to thwart Tarron's ambitions, which he did, at least for the time being. Tarron it turned out was a lich; through a clever manuver, his corporeal form was destroyed. Parker freed a woman bound to Tarron's service through a stone of dark magic -- necromantic, actually -- and was given the chance of tremendous necromantic ability if he would only sacrifice one of his companions. (He refused.)
This stage of their journey complete, our characters walked through another portal and emerged in the Astral Plane of all places, where far below they saw the titanic body of a dead god, chained in the Abyss. This is important, since two of the characters had dreams connected to a god who had died and now was returning to life, to the great dismay of his former worshipers.
And then Anubis appeared in the Astral Plane, sent everyone to Sigil -- a ring city built around the World Tree -- and there we recalled the events from the missing period of our journey, which we are roleplaying now.
I don't expect anyone to care about this, really. I'm just writing it down so I have it committed to memory in some format. (My favorite memory from this leg actually is a joke I had made about rescuing a princess from the werewolf king. It was a joke I made before discovering that we were essentially going to be called upon to do just that, except that Tarron is not really a king or a werewolf, just the leader of a cult of them.)
On this new (old) leg of our journey, Galin, Parker and Inquill arrivied at Sigil, where Inquill dumped his companions for perceived breach of contract and  they discovered someone who appears in all ways to be Rowena, except that she has no recollection of them and instead of the undead is obsessed with aberrations as the ultimate evil. Also joining us for the first time were S'Blackstunn and Lorinarth. For kicks and for contrast, since Parker and S'Blackstunn hadn't got along at all in our post-amnesia stage -- they had been the most mutually suspicious of the entire groip -- I decided that they should hit it off right from the start, and in fact Parker has been more than willing to follow S'Blackstunn's lead many times.
Parker's been having a bit of a hard time getting used to the idea that he has left his native plane of existence, that he is now in a city built in the shape of a giant doughnut around an ash tree that provides structural support for the entire multiverse, and that tree is somehow being threatened. In short, he's a little out of his league.
To make it more complicated, he's started seeing bizarre things with his True Sight, and something appears to be moving him around at key moments without his consent. This happened once in a fight with monsters, so that he was able to kill a fairly nasty beast from behind; and it happened another time in his quest to find a portal that would take him back home. I suspect he's going to experience a total collapse of his paradigm, at which point he's going to need to find a way to incorporate all these new experiences he's been having.
Also problematic is Rowena. She's clearly the person he and Galin just paid to have resurrected, and yet she also claims to have no memory of him. Something weird is going on there, and it's definitely diminished the amount of trust he has in her.
And since we've been on Sigil, we've actually been through two portals. One took us to the Abyss -- making it the third time the campaign has connected with the Abyss -- and another took us to a damp subterranean chamber in Parker's native dimension, although we ended up going straight back to Sigil right afterward through another portal, and the way back home appears to be blocked once more.
Interesting stuff going on, at least to have played it. I doubt this is of much interest to anyone in its present format, but I'm hoping it will be of use to me as the campaign continues.

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