Sunday, March 8, 2020

Kicking off the Family Campaign

[This is not exactly a series, but it’s a report about my ongoing D&D campaign with my kids.  This is the first proper report, but there was also a sort of prologue that you could read if you haven’t already.]

So, I previously described how my daughter decided to invent her first D&D characer at age 7, and how that spurred a whole campaign that we finally started to do what I called “flashbackstory” sessions for.  Well, this week was the first official session of the “Family Campaign,” where each of my children’s characters finally met each other for the first time.

Since I’m always a little irked by the standard cliché of “you all meet in a pub,” I went with an entirely different cliché: “you are all summoned by a mysterious benefactor who wishes to call in his favors.”  I mostly justified this by having inserted the initial favor into the flashbackstories, so that, instead of feeling like a tired plot device, it would feel like an organic outgrowth of the story-thus-far.  At least I hope I achieved that.  The kids seemed to enjoy it anyway.

I kicked it off with a short encounter that the benefactor figure, whose name is Hervé and who is sort of the fantasy equivalent of an alien-pretending-to-be-human, engineered as a sort of audition.  I wanted to throw them together fairly quickly and let them work out their group dynamic, plus I knew there was a butt-ton of exposition coming down the pike, and I didn’t want them to get bored by dumping it all on them before anything exciting happened.  I designed this encounter to be just a bit hard, but certainly not deadly, and it turned out to be way too easy, so obviously I’m going to have to up my game on the GM side.*  They pulled a classic divide-and-conquer technique (which I wasn’t really expecting from a group so unused to working with each other), had a few good rolls, I had a few really bad ones, and at the end of the day those bad guys never really had a chance.  Interestingly, they decided against outright killing them, even applying some emergency first aid to one who seemed like he might slip away from his greivous wounds.

Then we did our long exposition, which I tried to make as entertaining as possible by framing it as a story, and also because I gave their mysterious benefactor an insane accent, which sort of migrates around from French (Monty Python and the Holy Grail style) to Eastern European (Vlad the Impaler style) to Spanish (Puss in Boots style).  I thought it would be an interesting way to emphasize that they couldn’t pin down the accent, and also it means that my accent can never really “slip,” because then I can just say I did it on purpose.  Plus I get to mangle English expressions just for fun (e.g. “Congratulations! You all have passed with the colors that fly!”).  Of course, besides my own desire to have a good time, it’s also designed to keep them entertained while I have to talk for long periods of time, which I think I mostly succeeded at.  I think perhaps my eldest was losing focus a bit by the end, but the younger two seemed to enjoy it pretty well.**

So, other than that, we did a little journey planning and that was pretty much it.  I’ve never been the type of GM who likes to handwave away travel time (“oh, you’re gonna walk to this place halfway around the world? should take, let’s say, a couple days”) or even travel details (“you guys ready to depart? okay, you travel for three months; now you’re there”).  I mean, imagine if you removed the “travel details” from The Lord of the Rings ... you’d hardly have anything left!  Travel is where a lot of cool adventures happen, and where some of the most important character bonding takes place as well.  It matters to a story what method you travel by, and which route you choose, and how long it takes to get there ... at least, I believe it does.  So I let the kids plan out their route to get to the magic item they’ve been sent to retrieve (or “the MacGuffin,” as my eldest correctly identified it).  Of course, no matter which road they pick, whether they choose to walk or ride horses or swing through the forest like Tarzan (an actual option, given this particular group), something exciting is bound to come of it, so I’m happy to let them work it out for themselves.

Mainly it was a chance for each character to meet the others, and it went far better than I expected.  Let me give you a brief rundown of the characters my children have developed.

My youngest is Corva Ravenstone, who you may recall from last post.  She’s a classic “jungle princess” archetype, raised by a tiger and with a little blue monkey constantly chittering on her shoulder.  She doesn’t care for people, for civilization, for sleeping in beds, and she’s about 16 years old.  But, since she’s been looking out for herself since 5 or so—tigers don’t coddle their children, you know—she’s quite competent.  She’s a half-elf with blue armor, a big honkin’ bow, and the ability to speak to all animals.

My middlest is Zyx, a changeling from the world of Eberron, which is the only place in the D&D multiverse that changelings are found.  A changeling is a creature who can change their form to look like anything they like, within some broad size limitations.  They can’t be giants, and they can’t be halflings, but pretty much anything in between is fair game: human, elf, dwarf, half-orc, any hair color, any eye color, fat, thin, male, female ... anything.  As you can imagine, changelings don’t have the same concepts of gender, and identity in general, that other people do.  They have a tendency to develop certain forms that they favor, and they give each its own name and history.  There’s even a cool racial feature where you choose a particular identity and you are really good at some skill—but only while in that form.  Zyx’s parents moved them to a whole ‘nother world, Ixalan, when they were just a baby, where they also grew up in a jungle, but a very different one: instead of tigers and monkeys, Zyx grew up with merfolk and feathered dinosaurs.  There, they learned to be a druid, and was content enough with that life, until somehow both parents and druid mentor disappeared within a few weeks of each other.  Zyx doesn’t spend much time looking like themself though: he can be Jon Wood, a very non-descript human man in his mid-thirties, or she can be Moon, a fierce shifter with short white hair and yellow eyes, or she can be Xoc,*** an orange-skinned merfolk teenager who’s really great at alchemy.

My eldest is Isabella, a human who was raised in a creepy cult that turned out be to riddled with lycanthropes.  Her father was the cult leader, who turned out to be a werewolf, and, when she came of age, he bit her, and now she’s a werewolf too.  She soon ran away and has spent the remainder of her life trying to control her condition, and has now reached a point where she can enter a battle rage, changing to her hybrid wolf form, and not rip her allies to shreds.  Mostly.  Interestingly, she’s the oldest (although all Zyx’s forms appear older, Zyx themself is only 15, a year younger than Corva), but also the most sheltered, since she was never on her own until she left home, which she did at a much older age than either of the other two.  She’s capable of handling herself, certainly, but there’s also an innocence about her that contrasts with her bestial nature.

So far, it’s too early to know for sure how the intra-party dynamics will shake out, but we see some early indications.  Isabella seems somewhat disconcerted that a “child” will be accompanying them, even though Corva is no younger than she was when she left home.  But perhaps she sees herself in the younger girl a bit.  Meanwhile no one even knows how old Zyx is, since they’ve only met Jon and Moon so far—for that matter, no one else even knows Zyx’s actual name!  Corva just seems excited to be a part of all this, and no one at all seems concerned that, within the first few hours of meeting, one of their new friends turned into a werewolf.  And they’ve still yet to meet the mysterious fourth member of their party ...

I’m feeling pretty excited about where the story is going.  There will be some secrets revealed, and some dangers faced, and some dangers handily circumvented, and some new abilities discovered.  Hopefully some friends will also be made along the way.

Perhaps I’ll drop in here to report the progress from time to time.  I think it’s a story worth sharing.


* That means “game master,” if you’re still not a D&D person and you still didn’t read the prologue blog post, which contains a footnote nearly identical to this one.  In this particular case, though, the relevant part of being the GM is that I’m responsible for choosing all the enemies they’ll have to fight.
** Which is a bit backwards from how I thought it would go down, to be honest.  But probably it was because the younger two are more easily amused, while my eldest was looking for more substance.  Hopefully this situation will improve as time goes on.
*** Pronounced “shock,” if you care.  Due to a bit of linguistic nerdery, we decided that “X"s in Ixalan are pronounced as “sh,” meaning that instead of “ICKS-uh-lan,” which is how most people pronounce it, we say “EESH-ah-lahn.”  We’re weird that way.

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