Pyren Campaign Diaries 5: Return to doing this I guess?

Welcome back everyone! It's been a heck of a long time since I put one of these together. (Check out the new map it's so pretty!)

If you're new, I use this to discuss my current campaign set in a homebrew world.

If you are a DM like me you spend a considerable amount of time around preparing a session for your party. No matter the amount of prep that goes in I find that some sessions absolutely land while others I walk away with the feeling that I could have done a hundred things better. In my never ending quest to perfect DMing I tend to over analyze why it can go in either direction.

This most recent session was one of the better sessions.

The Best Friends Gang (or BFG I guess, what an awful name) was left in a cave with a dead Bheur Hag they killed the session prior in order to get a rare artifact at the request of a local priest. The Ring of the Final Frost. And it was now in their possession after an exhausting trip up the mountain and plenty of injuries. They debated whether they should stay put and rest up then, or try to push forward for the day.

Musty, the druid, suggested that he turns into an eagle and everyone hops in the pocket dimension ball they have and he flies them back. In a previous session I told them that wouldn't work because the winds were powerful here and that I also really didn't want them to. Which isn't my favorite thing to say as a DM. In fact you really shouldn't ever say it as a DM. But I basically needed to stop the idea before I had a good reason why. High winds and a chance to get attacked by something bigger were the final conclusion. But when then idea of walking back down the entire mountain was proposed I knew that no one would want to do that. Not only was the party depleted but honestly it's just not that fun to have a long return trip. So in summation I explained that the Bheur hag was causing the winds and as such, it'd be a lot safer to fly now. So the Eilennia the Cleric and Krusk the Eldritch Knight jumped into the pocket dimension ball. Embers jumped on Musty, now an eagle, and they were off!

This was shouted many times. Yes Im aware of how bad it looks. You have to deal with that. 

I had a scripted event at a location somewhere down the mountain so I informed them the furthest they could get with the time the Druid had would be to the location, Dragon Rock. They'd spent a couple of nights there from other adventures and knew it as a relatively safe spot to camp for a night.

As they approached there was a fire burning. The Tabaxi, who was riding the druid, decided that the best move would be to land near them and pretend he was a noble Tabaxi eagle rider.

They landed and greeted the people they could now see. 1 was a robed scrawny man with scars and scabs all over him. One of his eyes seems to be out of order. And the other, was a man wearing full plate armor that they had seen before. He was specifically after Krusk the EK the last time they saw him. Krusk ran off from the gladiator ring in a major city a little bit back. This guy was sent to get him. The last encounter ended when the miscellaneous thugs brought with him weren't enough. They never got any info though. The man was wearing full plate armor, helmet and all. If that's not the sign of a big reveal I don't know what is.

When the Tabaxi, Embers on the Wind of the Ever Shifting Dunes, (You see why I call him the tabaxi?) called out to the stranger he basically put on a show that he was indeed a Noble Tabaxi Eagle Rider. The mysterious man thought he looked familiar though. And with a 23 Deception check, Embers convinced him they'd never met. At this point the robed man, with a voice like Greed from Full Metal Alchemist, asked "Can I kill this one?" and was shot a look to back off. The mysterious man asked if Embers had spotted a Half-Orc in this area by the name of Krusk or Krush. Embers, recognizing that this could go badly very quick, told him he'd seen no such thing and with a pleasant but spooked goodbye, kicked off with his eagle and flew off into the night.

They went somewhere as far away as they could before the druid's wildshape ended. The party got out of the ball and had a quick conversation around "Who was that guy" to no avail as Krusk himself has no clue. Figures it's just a bounty hunter sent after him from his home town.

Recently there has been an eye ball, well now two eye balls, that Krusk has taken from orcs he's killed that talk to him. That may feel like a lot since I've not given any character development on this party in like 4 months, but the long story short is that he has a chaotic entity speaking to him through some orc eye balls and it tells him to do things.

When an eye in a jar tells you to steal something you don't question it. You just do it

On his watch for the night the eye told him to take the ring from the party. It was currently on Embers. I've been trying to make this feel interesting story wise so instead of just telling him I've been having him roll Charisma Saving Throws. I guess I need to raise the DC as he has passed every one. Turns out 14 isn't high enough.

Anyways, he resists just fine but as he tries to go to sleep he hears the voice in his head. The plan was to basically keep him awake for the entire night and give him a level of exhaustion if he didn't get this ring. There was some back and forth but eventually he went over, asked politely for the ring, then went back to bed. In the morning, another passed Charisma Save allowed him to just give it back.

I think this entire thing fell pretty flat for the player. I am having a hard time of making him actually fear the entity. I think my issue is I keep trying to hit him with the stick instead of giving him the carrot. Every time I give him a reason in the pursuit of power he leans into what the eye asks for. But not so much when it's screwing over his party. I have to respect that to some extent as he wants to be an evil asshole but not actually rude to his teammates. I think I need to set up some scenarios where whatever he is told to do is purely for the benefit of power.  The Saving throws should be reserved for silly in the moment things to push him towards the side of chaos. This is all in the direction the player wants. It's just hard to actually get the message across and force the change. This gives me some ideas that will come to fruition next session.

So the night goes by without issue and they spend the day getting back to town where they also had no problems. I think my dice are cursed for rolling random encounters.

When they get into town they find Lord Homart Erent, the ruler of the town of Boulo, out drinking with his people.

I am trying to make them really attached to Erent. His first mission for them was to take out a band of Orcs. Most of them were non-combatants and the party honestly slaughtered them. It was a little messed up and everyone admitted to it to some extent but I want that to be a character building moment for Embers. He was the true ring leader of it and showed no mercy. He compared them to some gnolls they took out at another point. I need to make him recognize that orcs are actually humanoid and just lead different lives. As they are basically just nomadic tribesman who are a bit more aggressive than others in this world. Embers has a lot to learn in this case though as he holds a narrow world view. Part of his growth will be having that view shattered slowly.

So the Lord Erent basically just takes them around town and drinks with them. Shares a few storied here and there. I am recently watched a video about how to make NPCs more likeable that had some useful tips I wanted to try out. So this Lord Erent always talks a big game about loving his subjects but I figured it'd show it a lot better if he was actually just out on the town meeting with normal folks.

They head to their inn, rest up for the night, and in the morning go to buy some horses for their trip to a different city, Talront, to pick up some quest items. Embers, a devout hater of the Water god Ausex, has had it out for the Water Cleric in the party. He named the self described "chunky camel" after her. He is pushing every button she has and I am waiting for her to break out of her shell and put her foot down. At some point I am worried I'll have to step in if she doesn't as he has great character reasons to take out his aggression on her. But if she just keeps taking it and never plays off of it I'm worried it will just feel like bullying without any character progression. I've actually talked with her outside of the game about it so it should be fine.

It's officially a war camel. Maybe he just sees her a strong and reliable? 

As they get on the road, a man with an awful Southern accent named Rothiem, stops them and asks them to go with him to Talront. He offers to pay them some money if they protect him. They all kinda chortled and basically told him to keep his money because danger follows them but he's more than welcome to come along with them. All he wanted was people to talk with and swap a story so it was fine with him.

He goes into a long tirade about how he found a talking sword and it gave him a quest to return it to the rightful owner. It's a seriously long story I wrote before the session so Im not going to go into details on it. If someone wants to story just let me know. I just wanted to make this guy feel like an actual person incase he dies on the trip so the party will feel bad.

His story get's interrupted at some point by some highway bandits. They try to shake down the party for 10 gold. This is a trap. Because any DM worth his salt knows that some punks asking for money are going to get killed. And they followed through just as expected. Instead of paying 10 gold to get them out of their hair, they had the thought that if they let this go on then they're basically letting them shake down others too. I am still trying to figure out how to have this bite them or be a lesson of some sort. For now it's honestly not wrong. I just think they should have to sit on it for awhile as they kill people they are much much stronger than.

The fight was over rather quickly. 4 thugs are no match for a party of 8.

Afterwards Rothiem commends them for how bad ass they are. Really butters the party up. PCs love being buttered up because they think they are the biggest bad asses in all the land. Sometimes to make them like someone you just need to have that person recognize it and give them the respect they think they deserve.

If you need to imagine someone it's just Scooter from Borderlands. All of my southern accents are just Scooter

More conversations back and forth into the night and the story in the morning leads to the final scene of the session. As Rothiem is telling his story he get's cut off with everyone hearing "Kruuusk" in the same voice I use for the eyeball.

The party turns around and sees the mysterious man in the plate armor and his creepy friend. And he pulls off his helmet to reveal...that it's Krusk's brother! Bum bum BAAAAAAAH. Krusk gives a "Oh what's up bro?!" and we end the session there.

I am expecting the party to be giving a bunch of OOO's and OH SHITS! But in reality they're like "oh neat" and make plans for next session. I was mildly bummed as I was hoping this was going to be a cool reveal. It's difficult to do these huge cool reveals I guess haha. This was the first time I did one and it fell flat. Afterwards I lamented on the scene trying to think of what I could have done better. What I have found so far is that these characters, despite being played for almost 8 months now, we are really just starting to learn about them. This is the first big background reveal this whole time. They aren't big on giving personal history on themselves to each other so in all reality no one has a huge connection to each others characters.

So what I have taken away from this is this after some contemplation and reading this article about How to Have Cathartic Adventures is this.

Sure this reveal didn't blow everyone away. But it's the first time we are actually getting a peak at a characters life before the party. This can be the first thing the group REALLY latches on to. And what happens next week is what will truly be exciting. As Krusk now has to choose going back to Alvengate and accepting his punishment, or fighting his brother. Which is definitely going to have some long term character ramifications.

So there's my lesson learned. Not every reveal has to be a huge reveal. But at least it feels like these characters are moving forward and being given some challenges to overcome that will define them! Making big reveals in the future that much cooler!

Embers after a long night of "keeping watch"

Alright that is everything for this week! I am hoping to get back into the habit of writing these as the reflection is honestly more inspiring than any amount of time I waste watching TV. Hopefully you enjoyed it. I know I hold off from giving too much details on what's actually happening in the story. I try to keep it more around my perspective as a DM. If you ever want to know more or hear about Embers slow but inevitable addiction to huffing elf memories that is currently forming just let me know and I'll be happy to ramble.