I’ve been playing D&D a long time (getting close to 30 years now) and I’ve been playing with the same group for most of that time. There are only a few of us left (4) and we are dispersed, so much so that I game via skype & Maptools these days. As you might guess we have a lot of gaming baggage these days. Incredibly we are just about to start our first 4e campaign! Not that we haven’t been playing 4e since it came out, it’s just that aside from running through the first couple of modules to get the hang of it all, we transitioned all our existing campaigns from 3e to 4e so we’ve continued existing games and not had a chance to start a brand new one until now.
Whilst usually I don’t centre a campaign around a character, this paladin is something of a “last man standing” from an ancient campaign started in the late 80s using 2e rules. Needless to say the campaign has not always run but there has been a sense of continuity with a very slow PBM being played between myselfand the paladin’s player (who posts here as Prism) throughout the 90s and early 00s.
The campaign has run in 2 main phases with a great deal of downtime. Phase 1, saw the campaign start in Greyhawk but with the PCs being drawn into the misty realms of Ravenloft soon afterwards. There were about 4-5 characters at this point, though I’d struggle to remember them as it was so long ago and I’ve lost most of my early campaign notes. Prism’s paladin was created as human of Suel birth full of arrogance and swagger. Nevertheless, the character also possessed a couple of interesting flaws which might explain his longevity – characters with flaws are always more interesting than those without. Who doesn’t find Clark Kent dull in comparison to Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne?
Firstly, Tarlock Rhola, had been knighted for saving some local Duke’s son from bandits and given a command position. In his arrogance, however, Sir Tarlock didn’t realise that he’d been over promoted and promptly got most of his first patrol killed by giants. He resigned his commission and went to join the City of Greyhawk militia. Secondly, Tarlock's Suel blood sometimes brought a battle frenzy upon him. In this blood haze of rage he could tell neither friend from foe and lashed out at anyone close in battle. Ironically, the red mist only descended when his allies were in trouble though sometimes but often resulted in Tarlock hurting them more than their enemies.
This first phase of the campaign took Tarlock and various associated through the Misty Realms, including the most difficult published adventure I think I’ve ever run: Castles Forlorn, which is a time-shifting, investigative nightmare to run and my players similarly found difficult to play. IIRC the players retreated from the castle leaving the inhabitants to their fates.
By the late 00s Tarlock was still adventuring in the Misty Realms of Ravenloft. He yo-yoed between 6-9 level due to the joy of fighting undead creatures with energy drain abilities. He also had various statistics drained at different times by other creatures. He had very few items and actually gave away his most magical sword to another character! In short, he was a proper Ravenloft character, down beaten, jaded and always battling against the odds.
He was following a plotline that took him in search of an extinct line of paladins and the hope of obtaining a Holy Avenger. This plotline slowly played out drawing to a close the second phase of the campaign. Eventually, Tarlock found his Holy Avenger but the Dark Powers of Ravenloft could not brook such an item in their realms in the hands of a paladin, so they (literally) kicked him out. At this point in time, I returned Tarlock to Greyhawk and back onto a regular campaign footing, thus allowing other players in the group to join.
This third phase of Tarlock’s campaign is driven by his return to Greyhawk. In one of these final adventures in Ravenloft, Tarlock was killed during a battle in a library in an adventure inspired by the book/film, “The Name of the Rose”. Whilst this could have been an ignominious end to the character – killed by bookcase is not a heroic epitaph – I decided instead to bring Tarlock back as a revenant (we were in 4e now and the race had recently been released in Dragon so I thought it would be interesting to make use of, particularly with a view to bringing Tarlock back to Greyhawk). So now Tarlock is an undead paladin of Heironeous, which sounds a bit weird, but who better to undertake some black ops on behalf of the good guys at the end of Greyhawk Wars...?
In the first session I had a simple objective of getting the players introduced and familiar with their new characters. Even Tarlock’s character was slightly new as we played so infrequently I usually allowed a partial rebuild to allow Tarlock’s player, Prism, to take advantage of new powers etc. that had been released in the meantime. So long as he kept to the spirit of Tarlock’s character I was generally happy to allow most (legal) changes.
For the new players (who I will refer to as Elras and Midge), I had laid down some simple character generation guidance in attempt to keep the PCs with a Greyhawk feel. The rules were fairly simple:
- Start at 10th level Tarlock would be 10th too; retraining option after every session until reach 11th thereafter normal progression.
- Players such use the “Starting at higher level” rules on p.143 of DMG but with a few house rules; in summary:
- Choose a race: stick to Greyhawk tropes for races, e.g. human, elf, dwarf, gnome, half-orc, half-elf, halfling (Greyhawk is a retro-, non-progressive setting!)
- Use an array/point buy for stats
- Choose powers/feats – any general class/feat/power is available for selection, i.e. not ones detailed in FR or Eberron or other world source books
- Choose equipment – you are entitled to 3 magic items (1 x 11th, 1 x 10th, 1 x 9th, you can substitute a lower level item for any of these picks), plus 4200gp that can be spent on anything (rituals, other magic items, residium, etc.) plus any mundane equipment you like. Any general magic items are available for selection during character creation, i.e. not ones detailed in FR or Eberron or other world source book.
- DM approval required.
- Should not be evil or worship an evil deity
- Should come from Vesve or its vicinity, e.g. Highfolk
- Note that adventures are based around doing some “black ops” for Heironeous and some social and subtle skills and powers may prove useful
The two players “new” to the campaign (both had played in the first phase of the campaign in the 90s) chose to play:
- An essentials halfling thief, named Lindal Tosscoble, played by Midge. I don’t really get the “Essentials” line (too old now) so it would be interesting to see how this character went.
- A gnomish cleric of Ulaa, named Ulfur Sverrir, played by Elras. Surprisingly, Elras had chosen to reinvent his original character who survived phase one of the campaign. I didn’t advocate this for story reasons – too coincident for starters – but I was eventually persuaded. Worth noting that Midge tried this angle too but found his original character concept, a psionic-sorcerer kenku, too changed in 4e from 2e to interest him.
So I had players, characters and a starting point – Vesve Forest. This choice was driven by my selection of adventures for this campaign arc. I used to write my own stuff but Real Life takes its toll these days, especially with young children in tow, and I had collected a number of “Tarlock” adventures over the years that I thought would make good scenarios for a paladin who has learnt, begrudgingly, to investigate and not necessarily take everything at face value. Whilst he can investigate he realises that as a paladin he is not very good at it and usually ends up kicking in the doors when he has a few shreds of evidence of malfeasance.
The first adventure I wanted to run was taken from an old Dungeon and was set in the heart of the Vesve Forest I loved the premise of the adventure (which I will give more details of once the players have completed it) and it had a brilliant BBEG. It needed few tweaks (few monster substitutions and treasure tweaks) and a few skill challenges writing but otherwise was good to go.
BTW I’m using Anna Meyer’s brilliant maps of Greyhawk as source: www.ghmaps.net/
So the first session took place. The PCs met and after a bit of a Mexican standoff agreed to collaborate in tracking down the missing gnomes. The first couple of encounters were standalone intended to allow the PCs to test out their characters, throw powers around and learn to fight together.
Starting higher than 1st is always a challenge I think and it’s good (unless you’re a complete cheese monkey) to see how those powers that looked so good on paper actually work out in an adventure. The PCs started at 10th so there plenty of potential to have made the wrong choices which would hamper you later on, particularly with Paragon class selections beckoning at 11th. So I allowed Midge and Elras to change a power or feat or skill selection after every encounter for the first level of play. This would mean they could rapidly change those bits of their characters that weren’t working for them. For Prism I wasn’t so generous, I allowed him his usual rebuild before play option and then that would be it, back to standard retraining rules for him. Seems cruel but Prism is a cheese monkey so I have little pity for him.
For the most part the objective of the first session was successful; the PCs got it together and beat up on some random encounters. They learnt a bit about their characters and also managed to reach the site of the main adventure. I learnt a few things too about them:
- Revenants are extremely hard to put down. Tarlock took over 200 points of damage against the werewolves (he only has AC15 at the moment as he had no equipment other than his Holy Avenger) but never went unconscious!
- Essentials thieves can’t miss. Lindal has +19 to hit! But they also do unspectacular damage (about 20 points) despite being able to sneak almost every round. They are relentless but without daily powers to drop a 4W plus effects attacks on something seem pretty dull in comparison to their non-essentials equivalents. Time will tell though.
- Clerics are always useful. Healing powers are great. I don’t expect to be scraping this party off the ground at any point but the next adventure might test that theory...
Next blog we’ll have a look at what happened when the PCs reached the Serpent Mound and some of the adventure conversion issues I faced when looking to run this 3e adventure as a 4e adventure.