Arcana Unearthed: Plague of Dreams, part I

After having finished my preparations, and getting the party together, we begin.

[Warning! Spoilers ahead.]

The adventure begins in the small town of Gahanis, roughly in the middle of Dor-Erthenos, or the lands of the Diamond Throne. Gahanis is a mining and commercial town in the foothills, know for the quality of their ore. But it seems they are having problems with bandits.

The characters are contacted by the Jaren, a highly secretive trade guild, with a proposal to kill two birds with one stone: the bandits have stolen a book that is of value to the Jaren. However, the bandits left a survivor in the raid that took the book, and that survivor identified two bandits as local residents of Gahanis who must have been feeding the raiders information. The Jaren believe they are currently hiding out in Battlehome, an old, abandoned Giant fortress a couple hours hike outside of town. If the characters could capture the bandits, retrieve the book, and keep the whole thing hush-hush, they would be well rewarded.

A cursory background check into the two bandits turns up the fact that one is a warrior and one might be a low-level Runethane, so it would be best to watch for traps. With that out of the way, it’s off to the Keep.

Battlehome turns out to be part dungeon crawl, part background spiel. The main historical event in the Arcana Unearthed setting is the war between the Giants and Dramojh, which lasted 200 years and ended about 350 years ago. Prior to that, most of the races of AU (with the exception of the Mojh, who didn’t exist, and the Verrik) had been enslaved by the Dramojh for over a thousand years; even the Dragons had fled before their power. But the Giants fought them, eventually exterminating them and then taking on the role of Stewards of the Land.

Battlehome is a Giant fortress from the time of these battles, so it has lots of interesting background flavor – an intricate and interesting defensive network, as well as Giantish living quarters. There are also a few fairly low-level adversaries, including some flying dire bat things and some Goblins. While none of these seriously threaten the party (and they actually avoided the most serious encounter), the damage adds up, and by the time they are facing down the two bandits, things are a little tight. But they manage to beat them over the head with saps and take them prisoner. While they find some maps and accounting records implicating the prisoners in the bandit raids, they fail to find the critical book – only a hint that it has been removed to the Lake of Lost Voices, a place of dire reputation to which no reasonable people from Gahanis travel.

This was my second attempt at actually running a game since college, and I was a bit anxious since my most recent attempt to do a D&D session was not, I felt, particularly successful. I felt it went OK overall, although I think the party missed some of more interesting stuff in the module by not doing much background research in Gahanis before heading out to the Keep, and then once in the Battlehome things got a bit bogged down at times. I took away a few lessons from this:

It’s good to give the party a little bit of meta-game information up front. If people are expecting a classic D&D-style dungeon crawl (which this does appear to be on first inspection), of course they aren’t going to bother with doing a background check on the Jaren, asking around for what people know on the Keep, etc. – they’re just going to head out and start killing stuff. I think it’s OK to let people know ahead of time what to expect from the module in terms of the meta-game.

In our D&D group, we do a lot of drawing. When the party enters a room, we tend to draw stuff out on a battlemap and play out all the battles as tactical games. When the party is in a dungeon-like setting, we tend to draw everything. I think doing this was a mistake for this module. In most of Battlehome, there is a lot of ambiance but not much real danger – except for the couple high-end encounters, there are only some minor skirmishes, but not much that’s worth actually pushing around metal. In order to keep the pace moving, I think it would have been better to just describe everything as the party explored it, allowing the party to give meta-commands (like, “we’d like to explore the central tower”), and then just running it as a narrative if there wasn’t anything threatening in the central tower instead of the classic: “You see a door. What do you want to do?” “We listen at the door.” “Nothing” “We open the door” “There’s a room with some stuff in it, and another door”. This is unnecessarily time consuming. I could have instead just given a running narrative, with the characters interjecting stuff as they had additional questions or more things they wanted to do, and that would have made the whole thing run more smoothly. And several of the skirmishes could have been run abstractly rather than getting out the grid.

The other thing I wish I had done was to provide all the characters with some basic personality sketches. I don’t know what they would have been exactly – maybe something along the lines of “Lito is a lighthearted guy who enjoys telling tall tales and taunting his enemies” – but given that many in the group were basically new to roleplaying games, I think it would have helped. They wouldn’t have to be long; something simple and specific would do. I know when I go to Origins, the characters I get usually have these background sketches, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with it when it’s more of a rambling background piece instead of talking about the character’s actual personality.

Still, though, all things considered, I think it went well; people seemed to have fun, and most have signed up to continue playing. I learned a lot of good stuff too.

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One thought on “Arcana Unearthed: Plague of Dreams, part I

  1. Pingback: Arcana Unearthed: Plague of Dreams, Part II | Illuminating Games

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