[I’m going to refer to the players by their characters’ names, for the sake of privacy. I’ll also probably use some words you shouldn’t say in front of kids. Not many of them, though.]
The group are fairly new to D&D. Thorak has played before – she played Wutang in my last campaign, and played Thorak for a few sessions in a Hoard of the Dragon Queen campaign that didn’t last very long (alongside me playing a Gnome Warlock called Alvin). She’s had a lot of exposure to D&D through watching Critical Role, too, but that’s the extent of it.
Ha’an has played, but not since AD&D in the ’90s. From what I understand he played quite a lot, but he’s not familiar with anything post-2nd edition. But that’s fine, because 5e feels a lot like 2e – especially the way I run games, because I cut my teeth on ’90s AD&D, played a bit of 3e (but not a lot), and skipped 4e entirely after reading the core rules. So, yeah, I run 2nd edition games with 5th edition rules.
As for Wartsnall and Pstan, neither of them have ever played before. Pstan is a big video gamer, and both of them have played board games with me for a while, but this is really outside of their comfort zone. They were both keen to play, though, and that’s all that matters.
In the last campaign I ran, I tried to stay away from the standard tropes of D&D. Partly that was because I knew some of my players had seen them before, but it was also because I was sick of them. But that’s not really fair to new players. Part of the fun of D&D – for me, at least – is embracing the cheese and the ridiculousity (is that a word? it is now) of a lot of the game. Things like Gelatinous Cubes are stupid – but they’re also awesome. With this game, I wanted to embrace those cheesy cliches that have fallen out of fashion a little bit. I wanted to get back to what made me fall in love with D&D in the first place.
With that in mind, the game began in a tavern. The party had been in Tarnswood for about a week, each arriving separately, all looking for work. After finding not much of anything, they of course fell back on drinking – and, recognizing kindred spirits, they had gravitated towards one another and become drinking buddies.
The group started to get to know each other. It soon became obvious that both Thorak and Pstan were somewhat lacking in their mental facilities; Pstan wouldn’t stop talking to the mouse on his shoulder, and Thorak wouldn’t stop talking to his ale. Oh yeah – and Pstan was wearing a dress. A pink one. It’s really quite lovely, even if there is a dwarf somehow stuffed inside it.
As for the others? Well, Wartsnall took no time at all about establishing himself as a sexual deviant, sneaking off into corners to pleasure himself whenever he thought nobody was looking. Yes, it appears I’m running that kind of game. We’ll see how that goes.
This left Ha’an as something of the de facto leader of the party, given he was the only one not immediately off-putting to strangers. (Having said that, how often do you see a 7-foot-tall dragonborn carrying a lute around?)
After Ha’an used his mage hand to spill drinks standing on the bar from across the room – for no other reason than that he felt like it – the party found themselves shuffled out of the tavern by the not-at-all-impress bartender – though he did tell them that if they were bored, they could seek out the druid Baenre Osario, who lived in a grove in the vast forest to the east of town and occasionally came to market for supplied. He had heard that she needed a job doing, something she couldn’t do herself, and it was his opinion that the group would be better served looking into that than getting beaten up by him and his regulars.
Seeing the logic in his words, the party traveled out of town to seek Baenre. As they moved further into the forest, they began to see that the foliage was spotted with disease and slowly dying. And after pressing on further – eventually coming to a small clearing where they set up camp and started to rest for the night before pressing on to Baenre – they discovered that said foliage seemed to possess a will of its own, as the dying roots and vines pulled themselves up into vaguely humanoid shapes and attacked.
The first combat was not graceful, or strategically sound, and nobody came away from it feeling good about themselves. It was, quite simply, a clusterfuck. Thorak charged in, rage boiling from him and his axe swinging wildly – and rolled natural 1, after natural 1, after natural 1. He stomped around, angry and bleeding, as the blights hacked in to him with thorns and vines.
Pstan the Berserker was oddly placid, resisting the urge to rage and instead going off the look at the dying vegetation while the battle raged behind him.
Ha’an was a little more useful, inspiring his friends with songs about fire, before unleashing a torrent of flame from his mouth. This immolated a few of the blights, but it also set the forest burning.
Wartsnall, meanwhile, had vanished into the shadows, circling around the clearing to try and come at the blights from behind. Unfortunately for him, Ha’an aimed his cone of fire directly at the spot where Warts was hiding – and interfering with himself while waiting for an opening – and the halfling was quite literally caught with his pants down.
Blows were traded, blights were felled, until Pstan – finally raging – launched himself over the fire in the middle of the clearing and sank his axe into the final blight, splitting it in two.
Licking their wounds, the party rested as best they could, and in the morning they pressed on. An hour or so later they came to a lush, verdant section of the forest – this could only be Baenre’s grove. There they met the tall, otherworldy elf who tended to the place.
Baenre told them that something was infecting the forest, spreading blight and disease wherever it touched. The fight with the blights still fresh in their memory, the party had no trouble believing her story. She told them that she had traced the source of the blight to an abandoned temple to a forgotten goddess of nature, deep within the forest. Inside the Temple of Leaves, she told them, was both the source of the blight and an ancient magical item that would help her to destroy the source. She believed that the source of the blight was deep inside the temple, but that the item – which she called the Javelin of Leaves – was located somewhere on the surface. She asked the party to retrieve it for her, since she needed to stay in the forest working her magics to try and hold off the spread of the blight. Once they brought the Javelin to her, she said, she would be able to work stronger magics that would allow her to venture into the temple and destroy the source of the blight.
The party agreed – but not before haggling over their reward, and being scolded for setting a portion of the forest on fire – and Baenre reiterated her warning. “Do not venture down into the depths of the temple,” she said. “Evil festers there, and you are not strong enough.”
They left Baenre in her grove and traveled further into the forest, eventually coming to the overgrown entrance to the temple. A small clearing held a well, some trees, and a rusted portcullis that blocked passage into the rest of the temple. From their vantage point on the ground they couldn’t see much of the rest of the temple – the vegetation and trees were too thick – but they could make out glimmers of what seemed like glass far back behind the trees.
Sensing danger, Ha’an bade the group stand back while he investigated. He stepped up to the stone archway that led into the walled clearing, looked around – and, seeing nothing immediately threatening, cast Thunderwave into the clearing. As the enormous crack rumbled through the temple and the surrounding forest, the ancient stonework of the archway above him broke apart and fell, and he only barely avoided the falling masonry.
And, as the dust cleared, something growled from behind the tree. Something large, brown, and bear-like.
The second combat went much like the first, as the group disgraced themselves in new and interesting ways. Eventually, though, they found that allowing Wartsnall to get a sneak attack in could stop a fight in its tracks, and the bear fell.
Behind the tree they found that part of the wall had collapsed into a burrow in the earth where the bear had made its nest. Thorak ventured forth into the darkness, and while he investigated, the group debated whether there was anything dangerous down there – and whether Ha’an should clear the burrow out by filling it with his fire breath. While Thorak was inside.
Eventually they decided that that would be a bad idea, and Thorak returned un-burned – and escorting a miserable-looking half elf named Selwyn. Selwyn told them that he was also an adventurer, and that he had also been employed by Baenre to retrieve the Javelin. He had made it as far as this entrance, but the bear had cornered him in its nest and refused to let him leave.
Sensing that Baenre hadn’t told them the whole truth, and sensing also that Selwyn wasn’t entirely trustworthy, the group tried to gain some insight into whether they were being lied to. His story seemed to make sense, though, and he didn’t seem too dishonest, so they helped him to heal up and sent him off into the forest to return to town.
Now the temple stood before them. Thorak lifted the portcullis, and they ventured inside. The interior of the temple had obviously lain undisturbed for some time; it was choked with creepers and thick vegetation that had somehow thrived despite the lack of natural light, but it was riddled with the same signs of disease that were creeping into the forest outside. Naturally, more blights attacked, and this time the party managed to see them off quite handily – though there was a moment of panic when Ha’an threatened to once again breathe fire, even though the room they were in was covered with vegetation.
Seeing off the blights, the party pushed on into a room even more choked than the last. Motes of dust floated in the air, and the whole scene was actually quite pretty – until they realized that the dust was poisonous spores, and that the vines along the floor were intent on grappling their legs and dragging them down under the thick vegetation that coated the ground.
Eventually they forced their way through, where they came to another portcullis – this one raised – that gave way to a large glass dome housing an enormous tree. Deep cracks marred the stonework underfoot, and across the chamber another portcullis barred access to a stairway that led down into the rest of the temple.
And, at the base of the tree, resting on a simple stone dais, they saw the Javelin of Leaves. It was made of a deep, almost red wood, and carved with intricate designs invoking the ancient nature goddess the temple was built to glorify.
Seeing no danger, they made their way to the base of the tree and seized the javelin. And, of course, the tree sprang to life, swinging at them with its branches and turning the vines in the room against them. After a hard-fought battle that nearly saw the death of Wartsnall, as he was flung across the room by one of the tree’s mighty blows, the group managed to hack enough holes in the tree that its limbs fell still.
Feeling victorious, the group turned to leave – only to find Selwyn blocking the exit. As they moved towards him he dropped the portcullis, sealing them in the dome and demanding that they hand over the javelin. Ha’an had other ideas, though – he released another thunderwave that shook the building. The party watched in horror as the cracks in the ground began to spread, before the floor fell out from beneath them and they all began to fall.
And that’s where the session ended.
If you enjoyed this, go check out the map for this week, along with the stats I used for the Hangman’s Tree and the Javelin of Leaves.