07 July 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 11 - Favorite Adventure You Ran

I have run many, many adventures since I began DMing in the 80s.  So many that I'm sure there are more than a few that I no longer recall, either through time or the sad truth that no DM can run wickedly memorable adventures every single time for thirty years.  I've read the entire series run of GI Joe from Marvel, and I assure you for every super-memorable issue, there's another issue I can't recall off the top of my head.  So it is with DMing.

If I have to pick one D&D adventure that was extremely epic, I'd have to pick one that was epic on a couple of levels.  I ran a 3.5 campaign that was incredible.  I had just two players, my wife Mary and my best friend Randi.  Mary played a continuation of the first D&D character she ever created, Cyndi of Kelvin, a fighter and non-canonical daughter of Baron Desmond Kelvin, head of the Order of the Gryphon in Karameikos.  Randi played Illyana, a Traladaran girl of a rogue-type background who leaned more toward the gypsy archetype than the general slavic archetype suggested by the Mystara books.

This was the campaign where I merged Ravenloft into Mystara by connecting the points in the Altan Tepes mountains that form the northern border of Karameikos where it meets Darokin.  I reasoned that the Barovian people in Tracy and Laura Hickman's original I6 - Ravenloft were of a very similar background to the Traladaran people of Mystara.  So, in my version of Mystara, Barovia and Castle Ravenloft were located in those mountains before Strahd's deed caused himself and  his surrounds to form the first realm in the Ravenloft demiplane.  So the Vistani and the Barovians of Ravenloft both descend from the Traladaran people.  Strahd, as a warrior-conqueror-dude seems of a very similar tradition to King Halav, but where Halav became a Traladaran Immortal through his bravery, Strahd achieved an immortality of his own through evil.

So, Cyndi and Illyana had met by chance on the Duke's Road running east from Specularum toward Luln.  A group of black wolves with glowing red eyes chased them into the same area, but before the women could fight their way out- the mists happened.  The mists transported them to Barovia and into Ravenloft.  The REAL campaign started then.  Cyndi and Illyana made friends- some of the best NPC personalities I'd ever created.  They traveled around the Dread Realms, encountering all sorts of ancient evils, including the Death Knight Lord Soth himself and a spirit that occasionally possessed Illyana.  Soth, seeking release from his prison-realm of Sithicus, tried to use Illyana and Cyndi in a bid to destroy Strahd, reasoning that as the first Dread Realm if Barovia somehow fell, the rest of the demiplane might come apart at the seams, dumping its denizens back to their original planes.  Cyndi and Illyana thought they had outsmarted Soth by accepting his offer and his information on how to get into Castle Ravenloft- their intention was simply to escape.

Now, the particular adventure of this campaign that I consider the very best I have ever run occurred during this foray into Ravenloft, and before the PCs and their new allies - including a two NPCs who would become romantically involved with the Illyana and Cyndi - returned to Mystara to thwart Strahd's attempt to invade his old home reality with a mysically summoned conjunction of the realms.

What made this particular adventure so amazing?  Well... it was a perfect storm of awesome.  First, I had a two player group, both of which had a deep investment in their characters and their campaign.  Mary had played Cyndi on and off for eight years, and Randi tends to crawl inside her characters as a matter of course if a campaign lasts long enough.  This allowed a kind of depth I don't often see in our groups.  Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of great players- but running as many games as I do for a game club means entertaining the masses becomes the primary goal.  Shifting groups, larger than optimal groups, factors that sometimes stunt RP opportunities.  In this case, I had two committed players who allowed for a much more detailed world to be drawn around them.  Mary and Randi didn't mind RPing a scene where they were just sitting around a campfire with their NPC allies and talking.  They spoke in character a LOT - which can be an uphill battle with some of our club members.  The stories of Cyndi and Illyana got to be center-stage, rather than any conflict or combat.

Second - the burgeoning relationships in the adventure led to in-game marriage and the first in-game child I've seen born outside a Pendragon campaign.  The NPCs were superb, the players cared deeply for them, and that deepened the story further.

Finally - this particular game session took place in a very special way.  Mary had bought me tickets to the Huey Lewis & The News concert in San Antonio.  They were playing, along with Chicago, at the Verizon Ampitheater.  We got space on the berm.  We arrived early, and played some D&D at the Chili's near the venue, then went on to the concert as early as they would let us in.  We spread out our blanket and pulled the D&D books back out and played until the concert started.  It was incredible.  My wife, my best friend, a great D&D campaign, and my favorite band for my birthday.  Life, that day, couldn't have been any more awesome.  And that's the favorite adventure I ran.

Come to think of it, I tend to remember the campaign as a whole, so it's hard for me to come up with which actual details happened at the concert.  I know it was after the Soth encounter and before the run on Castle Ravenloft to escape back to Mystara...  but the whole day was just such an incredible blur.  Great game.  One of the best.

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