The adventures of a D&D 5e GM and her players, part 1

I figured I’d try something new. Something regular. Something that I can write about each week. But what could I write about every week? Well, I run a 5e D&D game in a 100% custom setting, so let’s give that a try. I will start by introducing the player characters:

  • Andarius Rhyn – A half-elven druid from a lost noble house.
  • Ownka Bronson – A half-orc bard, performer and seeker of knowledge. Identifies more with his human side.
  • Joey “Gruzark” Smith – A half-orc barbarian who grew up as a farm boy. Identifies more with his orc side.
  • Hank – A human ranger with a slightly naive outlook on the world

So, we’re jumping into things mid campaign. Well, not in the middle as we’re still in early days, but this certainly wasn’t the first session; therefore this may be a bit of a long post. The party are level 4, pushing on level 5.

So, what happened? Essentially there has been a lot of build up to this session in the previous ones. The party came across a town that was under attack by local wood elves, which was rather uncharacteristic of them as while wood elves were usually incredibly hostile to outsiders, they never really left their forests. The wood elves retreated as the PCs arrived and the mayor asked the PCs to help him take out the wood elf leader (who had a 500gp bounty on his head for his antics). Logically, what you would imagine people would do would be to help the mayor, end the aggression, claim the bounty and ride off into the sunset. However, these are PCs; normality doesn’t apply.

Afterwards, the town blacksmith ripped off the barbarian, as most of the town worshipped the god of commerce and he identified the barbarian as an easy mark. The mayor refused to help the PCs get their money back, as he was also a worshipper of the god of commerce. This made the PCs not like him that much and so they decided to investigate the wood elves. The elves did attack again, but after the PCs killed a few, the wood elves pulled back for reasons unknown. Joey tried chasing a druid who was trying to carry the some of the wood elf dead from the town. He was peppered by covering fire from nearby wood elves, but pulled the druid back behind a wall. She turned back into her humanoid form, casting a call lightning spell to take out Joey, but not before sustaining a nasty axe wound. Joey survived by making 3 death saves and stabilising (as he was down with no one around to help him).

Hank and Andarius went to investigate at the forest’s edge and Andarius was pulled in by some sort of compulsion effect, walking into the woods somewhat blindly. They were greeted by the same wood elf druid who had dropped Joey, appearing to be an important member of her tribe, and a brief parley was had. The elves asked the PCs to help them kill the mayor and accused him of corrupting their lands and summoning demons. This meeting was interrupted by an attack by a winged demon that almost killed Hank in the ensuing combat.

The PCs went back to town, rested and proceeded to do some further investigations in the morning, but were unable to find any concrete evidence. Ownka also managed to convince a cleric in town to at least see what happens and help the party. They met again with the wood elf druid and had another discussion which was rife with hostility, but Andarius somewhat managed to keep the peace between the two sides. They still offered to help the elves, as the elves assured that were they to corner the mayor he would reveal his true colours, but they only offered their aid in the event the mayor did show his true colours. The wood elf druid and the scout captain with the 500gp bounty on his head (who turned out to be a champion of the wood elven deity) infiltrated the town and met with the PCs to confront the mayor in the town hall.

As soon as they confronted him as he was doing stock of emergency supplies in the basement of the town hall, combat immediately started as the mayor recognised the wood elves and the wood elves immediately went on the offensive. It didn’t take long for the mayor to start summoning demons, summoning the same type flying demon that had attacked and almost killed Hank the first time around, though as he summoned it he called for help from the guards, accusing the PCs of being the ones to summon the demon. The PCs made quick work of the cultists present, but the tiger that had come out of the bag of tricks as well as Fiona, Hank’s wolf, was rendered unconscious by the flying demon’s otherworldly droning. The cleric that Ownka had convinced to help was immediately killed by the demon, but the demon was made short work of when the scout captain got a heavily damaging sneak attack critical hit. As the combat became more desperate for the mayor, he enacted his final gambit and summoned a far more powerful demon which immediately went for Andarius, as Andarius was casting spells that were problematic for the mayor’s second in command.

This second demon proved too much for the party to handle, afflicting Hank with a confusion spell that rendered him useless for a large part of the fight, as well as stunning Ownka, effectively rendering him incapacitated too. It took down Joey in melee combat after focusing its attacks against the barbarian who was recklessly attacking, and forced Andarius to fall back after losing his wild shape form. However, around this time it seemed that the mayor lost control over the demon and so it turned to escape the battle, anticipating it would eventually fall if it stayed. It brought Joey down and auto-critted with its last attack as Joey went down, causing two failed death saves. It then dropped the barbarian, used a fly spell and flew for the door, bringing Hank and Fiona down on its rampage out. Hank and Fiona both failed their first death saves as the wood elf druid healed Joey to get him back in the fight (after he passed his first death save, where a fail would’ve caused Joey’s death. The druid then brought Hank back up with a healing word as she dispatched guard reinforcements one by one with her quarterstaff under effect of shillelagh.

However, it finally happened. After failing her first death save, Fiona then got a 1 for her next death save, causing two extra fails and actually killing her off. Once the demon escaped, the party managed to kill off the mayor as the scout captain had constantly hounded him with Andarius getting the final hit with an ice knife spell.

As the mayor fell, the last guard went down to Joey’s non-lethal strike and the session ended. The PCs all reached level 5 and next session we pick up where we left off, with the party battered and bruised and in the middle of a potentially very hostile town.

Aftermath of mayor battle

The aftermath of the fight. Everyone is rather worse for wear, but that’s a lot of dead things!

But what happened to the demon that escaped? As it was summoned by other means it has not disappeared with the death of the summoner, so who knows what will happen next…


I really enjoyed GMing this session for my players. I had always planned in that the mayor was a demon summoning cultist who had managed to gain a position of power within a town and I’m hoping that this causes my players to realise that their enemies can be very sneaky without making them paranoid of every mayor they meet. I was also happy to finally start incorporating the general plot of the game into the narrative and start introducing it to the PCs, as this is their first encounter with demons in this campaign. There will be more encounters with demons to come, but now the PCs know that they are out there, especially as the strong one escaped the fight to terrorise people another day.

It was a long session, going from around 8pm to 3:30am for a grand total of about 7.5 hours, but it was worth it. None of us needed to go to work the next day (at least not in the morning) and I feel like everyone enjoyed it, despite this side quest being very dangerous and actually causing the first death in the party (Fiona, Hank’s animal companion).

Also, I appreciate this was a bit of a longer post, but I basically had to condense multiple sessions into this one to recap what had happened or “the PCs did some investigating, then attacked the mayor” would’ve seemed a little bit out of place. Next week will be a shorter post as I will only have to go over the one session!

Feeling deflated (somewhat)

Well, that was unexpected. I was really looking forward to running my session this week; my maps were made, my encounters weren’t too deadly as my PCs are still fledgling adventurers that I don’t want to kill with my creative boss encounters. I planned for a bit of moral ambiguity, which amusingly took me to a conclusion I didn’t think my players would take, and was super pumped to run the session. Everything was in place. Everything was wonderful.

There were obviously good points. There was some good tension between the players when I faced them with a moral dilemma concerning some captive aliens. I was honestly not expecting one of the players to free the Nurian captive and give her a vacc suit so she could escape the facility and survive on the surface of the toxic planet. The player who decided to try and uncover the planet’s history from the primitive patterns on the wall was another fun aspect, as I got to explain some of the lore behind this specific planet they found themselves on.

However, if everything was great I wouldn’t be feeling so down.

My players are not ideally suited for sticking together. I don’t want to railroad, but by this point it is starting to look like I may need to step in and provide some looming threat to keep the group together. The out of character tension was unfortunately thick this session, with players getting in each other’s way, causing more conflicts to spark up. While some of these in character conflicts are great and I love the crew dynamic at times, some of them seem to bubble over a bit too far and get uncomfortable.

One of the players also hated the more dungeon crawly aspect of the job. There were a series of caves the players had to go through and the enemies continuously failed their morale checks (as they were really crappy, but numerous. They were meant to swarm the PCs, but kept failing morale checks and ran away). I can agree that this dragged on a little, which is why at the end I just stopped doing morale checks and just made them fight to the death. The sole reason I kept the NPCs as these small pack animals was because I don’t like killing off players, unless they deserve it, that is, and that meant their morale score was utter garbage. I will be upping the difficulty now that my players have mostly hit level 3 and will be catapulting my players into the conflicts plaguing the universe a bit more. I can appreciate feedback, in fact I love it. I need it. As a writer, I need good feedback and the same is said for GMing, however after the level of planning I put in this week it has left me a little bit deflated. Also, only one of the PCs actually examined the walls in any detail, though was let down half way through by poor rolls. I had a lot of planetary history planned and no one even tried to find more out about it, but still decided the adventure was boring.

I was going to have the PCs stalked on their way back from these caves and subsequent facility they had to go into to help this trainee psychic complete his trials, hounded by Eridak hunting parties who remained on the planet surface after the war with the primitive natives and the aliens who lived on the surface before it was turned into a toxic wasteland. However, by this point I just wanted it to end. The energy of the group was depleted and I had already grasped that there was both negativity and tension running high since mid-session. I didn’t want to continue by this stage; quite the opposite to the start of the session.

I’m going to keep soldiering on for now. I will take the feedback to heart, but I’m certainly not doing any planning tomorrow. I just don’t feel like it. Maybe I’ll play some World of Warcraft, or maybe I’ll write some fiction. It’s my 2nd day off of the week, so I’d better make it a good one!

Also, it’s 3am in the UK. I think I should go to sleep…

The Meta

I think the thing that really irritates me about teacher training is the conformity. “As a teacher, you are always on show. As such, you have to be a professional both inside the classroom and out,” was something that we were told near the start of the PGCE, along with “make sure your online presence is totally professional and private because parents and students alike will Google search your name.” Now, I understand that to a point; after all, no one wants to have a teacher who goes out on a bender every weekend and passes out in the gutter, or has a public Facebook profile covered in photos from that hedonistic holiday to Marbella.

However, like all things to do with this course, it goes to the extreme. I’m the kind of person who prizes my individuality. I love being me; one hundred percent pure, unadulterated me. I like my (cyber)gothic style, I like my strangely coloured and/or designed contact lenses, I like my (limited due to hereditary hair volume. Women who complain about having too much hair should really consider themselves lucky…) out-there hairstyles. What I don’t like is having to slot into what I am going to call the “teacher meta” where you have to be as generic as possible so you don’t scare parents into thinking you’re incompetent and unprofessional. To eternally present this image of the perfect role model. I’m never going to be the one to go out partying and get drunk and act like a buffoon, but really? My individuality makes me unprofessional? Specifically, my individuality in my own free time makes me unprofessional? My individuality makes me a bad role model? I have a younger sibling, and this is the last thing I would want them to see. Not me being an individual, but the idea of individuality being seen in a negative light. As a budding fantasy/science fiction author, I know dystopias, and this is really starting to feel like I’m living in a dystopian society.

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Okay, rant over. I have come up with a new revelation this week. That revelation is that dice hate me. Last weekend, I managed to roll a double 1 in Stars Without Number, used a psychic power to re-roll and… rolled another pair of 1s. Double snake eyes? Really? Not only that, but on the Sunday, despite having ludicrous numbers amounts of talents and skills and stats that make my Imperial Envoy a social god (and utterly incompetent at just about everything else), an NPC managed to charm my character by rolling incredibly well against my utterly atrocious dice rolling, which basically made my character appear useless. For most of that session, nobody came to my character for anything. At all. Even when we had a diplomatic situation later on, the intelligence officer took it and nobody thought to contact the actual diplomat. What am I even around for? It was a rough weekend for roleplaying, but at least I manage to perform well in pathfinder, though as a sorcerer I don’t really have to roll to hit or anything like that; most of my spells auto-hit with enemies having to make saves to avoid damage, thus removing my utterly terrible dice luck from the equation.

I’ve also gone back to SWTOR, but as a totally new character so nobody in the galactic starfighter community knows who I am (apart from one guy that I told who is very nice and shares my views on both gunships and overly-competitive pilots). It’s great being the new player; there are no expectations to do well, no victimisation where half the team comes after you. It’s liberating and, dare I say it, fun. I’ve also been playing a lot of VoidExpanse recently as well. On hardcore mode. Permadeath is very worrying, but the way the game is designed it wouldn’t be too harsh if I were to lose and have to start again. I’m playing a trader type, so a lot of my XP comes from buying resources on the cheap, then flying them elsewhere and selling them for large profits. The XP gains for this are pretty decent and it doesn’t take too long as you can just autopilot and minimise; most of the time it doesn’t bite you in the backside. Come to think of it, I’ve been in a real “space” mood. Space is pretty cool though… I wish I had the time to work on my science fiction…

And finally, one month later…

I get my ass into gear and write another of these. Apologies for my disappearing act (sort of), the world decided that it was an opportune time to crumble around me (sort of). Got way too close for comfort to failing my teacher training, which would be a wonderful way to render my entire year as defunct. Nevertheless, things have settled and I am writing once again; and what a better time to do so than the week including International Women’s Day!

So, what’s new? Well, I think the largest thing is that I am seriously considering (translation: I am going ahead with it and hoping it works out) is a Masters in journalism. It’s what I actually want to do with my life, so why wait any longer? I’m finally in a position to follow what I actually want to do, so it’s time to put together the most kick-ass application I’ve ever done. It’s not a question of want by this point, I think it’s more a question of need. I’ve had 8 years now of doing the wrong thing, and then trying to repair the damage and gain some ground back. I finally feel like I am able to push forwards, and forwards I shall go!

In other news, I became a demon. No, not literally, but yes I am making a Metal Gear Solid reference. My Cyberpunk 2020 campaign has ended with a pretty intense finale that saw one PC die in a fiery explosion, one got tranquilised and forgotten about (the player wasn’t there and the GM wasn’t about to kill off a PC whilst the player was absent), one ran away, avoiding more close calls than I have fingers, and one… was me. Our party got caught by two corporations working together who wanted our VIP. Whilst everyone was arguing, I slipped away unnoticed (after critting an earlier disguise roll; I went from clean and corporate to Mad Max Fury Road). Two corporate teams showed up and attacked, so I hid in a dumpster and contacted my own corporate overlords and requested an extraction for myself and the VIP. Whilst everyone was fighting, my corporation sent in a clean up crew of 4 cyberninjas and extracted me. The cyberninjas cleaned up, as they were supposed to, grabbed the VIP and then we all flew away in the helicopter that they came in on. So yeah, I betrayed the party; I became the monster that I feared rather than breaking character. The guy who had all the near misses got out okay, as the journalist who wanted the story and helped us get across country was killed in the firefight, leaving this guy’s character (a media who also wanted the story), to write it and become a big time journalist. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that my character “won” the game, as she was deployed to a top secret facility in Switzerland to train corporate spec ops, her family were moved to a corporate-owned resort, which was both luxurious and secure, and she joined the corporate hall of fame where only like… 14 people knew of her achievements. As a covert operative, she would have it no other way! Oh, there was also the 500k advance payment. We’re going to be playing a Star Wars game now on Sundays, but we’re Imperial and limited to only humans. I am distraught by the prospect of being human in a Star Wars setting; I want to be a Chiss! Or a Mirialan. Or a Miraluka. Or a Twi’lek. Not a boring ol’ human.

I also had my first totally improv RP moment. So, my character in the Pathfinder game I’m in is very good at lying. She’s an elven courtesan with a serpentine bloodline that gives her magic and she learned that a trade prince was in the city, staying in the keep as a guest to the regent. Naturally, she decided to lie her way into the palace to go see this trade prince. Why? I have no idea. I did it because I could. Do I need a reason? Not really. Plus the GM wasn’t prepared for it, so he was on 100% improv as well. I had no reason to be there, but I did manage to get on the trade prince’s good side. Win-win.

On the topic of winning, I’m considering dusting off my Eldar collection and getting down to the local wargaming club. I don’t know why, but I’ve just had that urge recently; however, I am unsure whether I will as I don’t want to buy any more 40k models, but at the same time it’s hard to play Eldar as a “middle of the road” army. Either they are incredibly good, or they’re incredibly dead. I’ve been toying with the idea of an Imperium army with a central core of Militarum Tempestus and an Inquisitor. If they weren’t so ludicrously priced, I’d also put in some Sisters and have an old-school Witch Hunters style army, but those Sisters models are incredibly expensive! I think the main factor against me playing any more 40k is GW’s business model. Good job guys…

Another part of the past month (that’s why this is turning into a huge post. A lot can happen in a month…) saw me finally getting a Nintendo DS with Fire Emblem (Awakening. Fates isn’t out in Europe yet…), Monster Hunter 4 and Final Fantasy Explorers. Of the three games, I’d say Fire Emblem has been the most addictive; I love Fire Emblem so much. I’ve completed it on normal difficulty in newcomer mode, but I am now playing through it on hard difficulty in classic mode. Permadeath is scary, especially with critical hits flying about. I think I’ve managed to stave that off via level grinding the DLC, but those first few missions were far too tense; nothing hurts quite like losing a unit to a 3% chance crit…

Another gaming part of the last few weeks has been the release of The Division. Whilst I haven’t had too much time to play it as of yet, due to being incredibly busy with the whole not-failing-my-teacher-training business, but I do plan on playing a whole lot more and writing a more in-depth review of it. What can I say about it now though? Two hours in and I absolutely love it. It reminds me of the fun times I had in Defiance (which I have also been tempted to return to, but won’t with casual SWTOR starfighter and RP, The Division and TF2 taking up my gaming time. Being an adult sucks; I don’t have limitless time to spend gaming and writing about it!

I guess I should really finish this post before it gets too-… Where did these 1100 words come from?! Well, I’ll end it here by saying that I wrote another thing for my university’s paper. Go look at how I talk politics without actually stating my own beliefs.

This is my link. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Never talk about politics on the internet. That’s one of the more well-known rules of the internet!

Why do I hate Space Marines?

I wrote an article earlier about the Blood Angels vs. Tyranids box set, Shield of Baal – Deathstorm, and felt that I was perhaps a little too harsh on Space Marines without some sort of justification. Let me start by saying that I don’t hate Space Marines. Hate is a rather strong word and I feel that it does not accurately describe my feelings towards the pre-pubescent superhuman warriors defending mankind in the 41st millennium. For example, I do have my own chapter that I will be expanding on the table at some point in the future, but equally they will never be a primary army for me.

Firstly, they’re physically and mentally superhuman as well as being equipped with (almost) the best that humanity has to offer. There is no internal conflict, they are completely set in their devotion to the Emperor as a father figure, stalwart protectors of mankind and they go to battle prepared for everything. To me, this all just sounds like a recipe for boring. If I wanted to collect genetically engineered killing machines whose sole purpose is to fight for a cause, I’d surrender myself to the Hive Mind and collect Tyranids. I like my armies to have character. I like there to be models across the table that I can point to and talk about their out-of-combat exploits. I like there to be a person behind the model, if you know what I mean, not just another foot-slogging soldier. With Space Marines there is not much wiggle room; you have their early childhood, but Space Marine recruits are taken young before they develop too much, so beyond childhood exploits they do not have time to develop interesting backgrounds. When I look at the named characters in the Space Marine codex, none of them jump off the page at me; none of them strike me as particularly interesting or deep. Every single one of them just comes across as “Generic Space Marine Captain #29.” Their exploits are nothing particularly special and include nothing beyond having a good combat record. Whilst I know that this is true for most of Games Workshop’s named characters in the codices, it’s doubly reinforced by the nature of what it is to be a Space Marine.

Secondly, expanding on my first reason, Space Marines themselves are personality-lacking children with giant muscles and bulky weapons. Children are complex individuals, but with a Space Marine everything that makes a child an enigma is removed. They grow up during initiation, but… They don’t develop emotionally as a human. Sure, on the battlefield their brain works overtime and their physical body develops far beyond that of a normal human being, but deep inside, in the most human part of their brain, they are horrifically underdeveloped. Space Marines are no longer humans; they may as well be mechanical constructs. It’s something that I just do not enjoy about Space Marines as a faction.

Third, all their units are the same. If you look at a Tactical Marine, it is the same as an Assault Marine and a Devastator Marine, just with mildly different wargear. The difference is not large enough, with Devastators and Tactical Marines differing simply in heavy and special weapon compositions. Veterans are also the same, just with a few more special rules and fancy toys though their stats remain largely the same as their less experienced brethren. This, paired with their particular statistics, leads them to be a “jack of all trades, master of none” army. One thing that strikes me as odd is that Assault Squads are unable to take any special melee weapons apart from on their sergeant; even Storm Guardians have the option to take two power swords!

Fourth, and finally, it’s an all-male faction due to the nature of the implants. This just goes against my “can-do” attitude! Come on, who honestly wasn’t expecting this one?

So this is why I dislike Space Marines. I have RPed one in a Deathwatch game (Fantasy Flight’s tabletop roleplaying game) where I ended up playing a combat character because I tried to create a skill/social encounter based Space Marine and stumbled upon how OP the heavy bolter (or any fully automatic weapon) is in that system. What just intensifies the dislike is how they manage to be the most popular faction (by a long way!) in the Warhammer 40k hobby. If people want to turn around and say “well, Sisters of Battle can only be female, so it balances!” I will merely state what I said in my article about the new box set: Four factions are Space Marines alone, six if you include Grey Knights and Chaos Space Marines (though the latter has some interesting amount of diversity at least). Sisters are a single faction with miniatures made more than a decade ago and a codex with only slightly more choice than a Call of Duty campaign. It’s not the same boat, heck it’s not even the same ocean.

I just wish that Games Workshop would pay some attention to me as a non-Space Marine player… *sniffles*