Evening falls over the dust choked streets of Portage. Day laborers saunter, unhurried, with heavy packages and crates slung over their shoulders or dragged behind them in simple carts. Occasionally a pack of dirty children scamper into the street, playing the sorts of games that make sense only to them.
Amidst this crowd, drawn through various mechanisms, strange individuals roam the streets. They survey the scene, take note of the squalor and resign themselves to move on to the next opportunity. One by one, at one of the two intersections in town, they see a notice:
Adventurers wanted, for daring deeds and heroic undertakings. Prior experience strongly preferred. Meet this evening, at the Knights Crossing Inn. Serious applicants only. See Avyx Baltarran.
One by one they tear the slips off the bottom of the notice, expecting this to be yet another caravan guarding job, but likely the only way to fund their way out of town.
The Knights Crossing Inn turns out to be a well situated building situated at the other intersection in town, on a road built in ages past, connecting two bridges to the empty plains across the River Sto. The Innkeeper, a surprisingly open faced Dwarf who introduces himself as Belkin points them to a low crowded room. A tremendously tall Tiefling woman greets each individual as they enter, her blue hair nearly touching the beams. Food has generously been provided by their host, so each should feel welcome to dive right in.
The room fills, mostly with peasants and local tough-guys. But here and there, sitting apart from the boisterous crowd (mostly looking for free food) are more serious applicants. All remain silent, except two: a young Halfling woman darts in and out of the crowd sampling food and talking incessantly, and a young Human man in an outrageous cloak performs simple tricks with fire for an enthusiastic and increasingly drunk group of farmhands. The Halfling looks hard at the human and promptly starts giggling, something about his cloak she finds hilarious (the mystical runes are in fact, gibberish, as revealed by her Arcana check).
Eventually a pompous well dressed figure enters the room, flanked by two elaborately garbed guardsmen. Avyx calls the room to silence and explains that this man, Hjeldin Barkavaad has offered to hire a group of mercenaries to deal with a group of bandits hiding in the Desolate Plains.
He explains that in order to expand Portage, and revitalize its economy they need to exploit the fertile plains across the River Sto. Unfortunately, past attempts to do so have met with disaster, as the bandits (feeling threatened) swoop down and burn the farmsteads once the guardsmen leave. Barkavaad can’t afford to hire guards to permanently patrol the entire Eastern bank of the Sto, so he is hiring a dedicated crew to wipe out the nest of Bandits. He will simultaneously send out a portion of his guard to sweep the river south of town, to deal with a bandit excursion that has been threatening barge traffic between Portage and Sto. He offers 10 gold pieces for ever bandit ear, which will be distinguished by a particular gold earring favored by this group of bandits.
Barkavaad explains that an informant has let them know that the Bandits are based out of some ruins two days walk into the plains, and a good portion of the bandits have left the camp looking to seize some shipments of Dwarven goods scheduled to head down-river the next day.
At the prospect of having to actually fight, some of the local bad-boys beat a hasty retreat, shoving large amounts of food into their pockets first. However, five agree to stay along with a group of loners, easily the more dangerous, better armed, and competent. The Reeve, after one of the guardsmen whispers into his ear, insists that the young wizard (who had earlier been performing parlor tricks) accompany the guards down river, leaving the rest to assault the main hide-out. He doesn’t listen to any objections, insisting on this tactical support of a wizard for his personal guards.
The group, uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the others agree to set out the next morning. Norge, decides to treat the heroes and their unskilled assistants to Dwarven hospitality, buying round after round. He and Belkin spend the evening reminiscing about their mountain home, while the others drink themselves silly. A plan was reached regarding the unskilled peasants, out of fear that they would just get in the way or run away; they would use them to search for traps before the party went down any dungeons. The human Paladin Peredu sets off to his room to sleep, promising to wake the others at first light.
Avyx-Tiefling Warlod and leader of the hill-attack party.
John bon Jonne – Human Wizard (sent south with the town guard, and absent for this quest)
Norge – Dwarven Cleric of Bahamut
Peredu Ivorson-Human Paladin
Mairwen- Half-elf Rogue
So this was the very first moment of DMing, the first moments of the Campaign, the first time any of us had played D&D (except Norge). To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I decided to go with the “drummer needed” style of introduction because it required the least work on my part, and of my party. I let them decide how and why they were in town, and why they accepted to offer, and just went from there. It was a little tongue-in-cheek, winking at how silly most adventuring parties get their start, but it served a purpose.
I promptly made a giant mistake after gathering them into the Inn, I said “okay…go.” No one spoke. crickets Awkward. Familiar flushing on my neck. It was 5th grade all over again.
I can only assume that lack of familiarity with “how to play,” nerves about being “that guy” (you know the one who affects a British accent of sorts, puts on pointy ears, and is just a little too into it), and not really knowing “what to do,” all contributed. Anyhow, after enduring the silence, and having my own freakout, I tried to poke and prod responses with little in the way of a result. Avyx half-heartedly started to explain what she was up to, but nervously trailed away to nothingness.
“Enough!” I thought, “I’ll cram more exposition down their throats!”
At this point, however, I was just as nervous. How can I weave an engrossing story (because just shoving them into dungeons isn’t fun), without crossing the same line. So I kind of brought in the town mayor, gave them a contract, and shoved them out the door “in passing” as my narrative style. All third person, no direct dialogue “he tells you to go in this direction” “he says he doesn’t know that” etc. etc. I snuck in a little flavor, but probably could have balanced it a bit better. Oh well, it’s a learning experience for all. At this point it was a symbiotic relationship of suck…I sucked at telling the story, they weren’t responding, further decreasing my ability to tell the story.
I sent John away awkwardly because I wasn’t sure what to do yet with my character. On the one hand I definitely wanted John to be a presence in the group, but this was our first session (and my first time DMing) and I didn’t want to get too distracted with my own turns and fail in my story telling role. I went back and forth about including or excluding John, and at the last moment decided to send him away, quickly making up an excuse about a second bandit excursion to the south. That wasn’t important, what was important was to get my character out of there so the party could focus on themselves and their interactions with each other as players and with me as DM, not try to balance when I was DM and when I was John. I did have a contingency plan for if I had John sent away, which would be revealed at a later time.
Oh well, once I started narrating, things got moving a little better, except for those damn peasants. They had been introduced for local flavor, with the intention that the party 1) wouldn’t want to be burdened with incompetent help, or 2) want to share the loot. Instead I ended up with 5 untrained peasants, who I promptly named Tom Dick Harry Peter and Paul in their group. I was horrified as they decided if all else fails they could use them as cannon fodder.
Oh well, I quickly came up with a plan for how to use them, at least the adventure was underway…