The next biggest competitor for our time has been Magic: The Gathering. My one son was looking around online and "discovered" Magic. Wanted to spend some of his allowance on getting some cards. His brother and sister had been into Pokemon, but it never really interested him. Much to his surprise, I pulled a box of Magic cards out of the closet that I had nearly forgotten about. It has been over 12 years since I last played. I have over 20 decks built and ready to go, as well as a bunch of extra cards and several "idea" decks that are nothing more than a general theme put into a pile. Magic swept through our household, with 1 on 1, 3 player and two headed giant games taking up our gaming time.
The boys and I did sit down to play our Saltmarsh game, being about halfway thru The Final Enemy. Looking back, I hadn't been having fun running this one, partially because the boys were bickering the last time we played, and partially because this module didn't really fit our party. We loved The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh and Danger at Dunwater. The Final Enemy being a scouting mission wasn't a good match for a couple of boys that just wanted to fight things. So we decided to "fast forward" thru it. I declared "Mission Accomplished"! They collected the reward from Saltmarsh and collected some XP, but got no further treasure from the sahuagin. So next time we sit down they want to make use of the map and logbook they had found that will lead them to the Isle of Dread.
I have also been in a bit of a creative rut recently, and wanted to do something to shake things up. With my daughter over a couple weekends past, I wanted to go back to my "roots" a bit and play in sandbox mode. We have all been enjoying the Age of Worms a great deal. I'm looking forward to continuing it, since there is a bunch of fun stuff coming up that I've never run or played against.
So we made up a new group of characters. We decided to start off at 5th level. We didn't want to do the careful slog of the early levels. While 3rd level is a fun starting point as well, with everyone having subclasses in place, we went to the next major jump in power. 5th level brings 3rd level spells, extra attacks, as well as having the 4th level ability score adjustments or feats in place.
I dropped the bomb on them in the morning. Make a 5th level character, whatever you really want to play. Don't talk to each other, because I don't want anyone playing their 2nd choice to "fill a role". We'd run with whatever they came up with. The rest of the morning was a flurry of consulting books and my Google Drive files. (I have my Drive set up as my own personal "SRD" of sorts. Whatever rules I find from blogs and message boards I copy and paste into my folders that I've organized into the same chapters as the core three rulebooks.) I have tons of wonderful options there, and I said "anything goes".
This report was played in several sessions over a couple weekends and a week off I had after school let out for the summer. After the first, I really liked the vibe we were getting, and felt that this fit well into my imagining of Eska. So we did a few minor changes to make things fit.
We ended up with the following characters:
Ash. She's a fire genasi valor bard with the entertainer background.
Tulgasora. Originally a half orc bull totem barbarian with the bounty hunter background. Since there are no orcs on Eska, but my son liked the half orc mechanics, we reskinned him as a "savage hobgoblin", and not from one of the organized troops.
Pyric. Aasimar celestial sorcerer with the tinkerer background.
To round things out, I gave out additional starting money as "Wealth per Level" from the DMG, and I also rolled up a 5th level treasure hoard and split it amongst the group, giving out a ring of protection to Pyric, a ring of warmth to Tulgasora, and a wand of web to Ash.
As far as my DM prep, mostly with Age of Worms I had been reading each installment a week or two before we'd play, then review it again the day before or the morning of each game. At first I didn't really convert much, doing it on the fly and then making up full stat blocks after the fact and then posting them here. More recently I had been doing more prep before hand. Doing all the conversions, reviewing spell lists, ect. Overall putting more time in prep than I ever had before. I was experiencing some DM burnout as a result.
One thing that I've been bad at doing since starting with 5e is making use of Bonds, Flaws, Ideals, Personality Traits, Trinkets and background. I've vowed to change that with this party.
After checking out some of the Village Backdrops from Raging Swan Press, I simply asked the players "Where do you want to start? Cahill Abbey or Longbridge?" Based on name alone, Longbridge was the unanimous choice. I handed them the At a Glance printout, gave them a few minutes to read over it, and asked, "Why are you in Longbridge?". None of them knew each other before this.
Ash has been performing at The Merry Traveler, on the north side of the river. She has been critical of Baron Lorsh, the ruler of the southern bank of the river, and has has publicly insulted him. She was lingering outside of the inn when we started.
Tulgasora was waiting to pass through the northern gate of Longbridge. He was here to capture Iong, a goblin tailor who has been on the run because of some family debts.
Pyric was also waiting at the north gate. He had come to visit a friend, Bilner, a rock gnome tinkerer that has settled on Longbridge. Pyric has an idea for a crossbow that can transform into an axe when needed for melee, and hopes that he can use Bilner's shop to develop and then manufacture them.
The line to get into town had stopped. A farmer's cart had gotten stuck in the gate when the auroch pulling it got spooked. Ash watched on in amusement, while Tulgasora and Pyric came up with a plan. Tulgasora would lift and hold up the cart while Pyric removed a wheel and reassembled it once the cart was pushed free.
The three of them began talking after this and decided to have a drink together. After getting to know each other, they went about taking care of some business. Pyric went to meet his friend Bilner, and hammered out a deal to use his shop to develop his crossbow axe.
Some asking around found that Iong was running a shop on Longbridge, so the group went to pay him a visit. After a brief scuffle, Tulgasora had Iong grappled. Interrogating this goblin they group learned that it was actually Iong's brother, Striliax that had accumulated the gambling debts, and that he was hiding out in the small town of Cahill Abbey. Iong paid them 500 gold and a promise of the finest set of clothes for the bounty hunter Tulgasora. It seems that Tulgasora's trinket is an invitation to a formal ball in two years...
To group traveled to Cahill Abbey to bring in the bounty. On the way they were attacked by a smilodon. It pounced upon Ash and nearly killed her before Tulgasora wrestled it to the ground, eventually snapping it's neck. He kept the hide and now wears it as a cloak, Hercules style.
Once they made it to Cahill Abbey, they found Striliax in the Cahill Inn, gambling. Once they walked in, Striliax knew something was up and ran. He got away, but the trio tracked him to the ruins of the old church on the outskirts of town.
Since starting playing with my kids I've mostly ran linear adventures with them. This was the first time since my 2e days that I've run a game with the plot firmly in my player's hands. I've run this and some upcoming sessions using short, single locations or one page dungeons supplemented by random encounter tables. I'm a bit rusty with this technique, and play would slow at times, but overall we all have been having a great time.
Please check out my DMs Guild titles!
Airs of Ages Past, Nine magical harps from the Forgotten Realms
By Magic Masked, Nine magical masks from the Forgotten Realms
Bazaar of the Bizarre: Rings that Do Weird Things, Twenty-one magical rings
Grognard’s Grimoire: Sorcerers, Player’s options for the sorcerer class.