The Alchemical Spark of Quarantine and Gaming
When quarantine first set in, it was painfully obvious to me that my job and my (extremely late stage) capitulation to the admittedly deeply adorable world of animal crossing would not be enough to meet my needs. Once the masks were made and the work began to settle into a routine, I knew what I had to do.
I needed structure, and a way to connect with people. And that led me to the obvious choice: It was time for a new campaign. Time for D&D.
But not just any game would do. It had to be the perfect campaign, like nothing I have ever done before. A game worth the running.
It was time for r/lfg. From there I found a solid set of players fairly easily. I knew that my idea wouldn’t be for everyone and that self selected out a lot of players who would not have been a fit. Truth be told, it was my first time using LFG and I don’t regret it.
I went with a dueling campaign. Two parties in one game. A good party and an evil one, each playing of different nights, and each with their own goals. The same goal, though neither knew it at the outset. And both impacting the world that the other played it.
The map was small, with only about five locations of obvious note (though some more did appear as the campaign went on) and the near inevitability of running over each other’s deeds. They would have to impact each other.
The Opening Gambit
We began with the setup information. They’d seen the world building information and my anemic map. They built their sheets and we had a diverse cast.
The Good Party**:
– Mortimer: A Vox Bard (for those of you not familiar with that race think 6 foot tall preying mantis man with a lot of instruments and broken common speech.) He referred to himself in the third person and loved to make cinnamon buns of varying quality.
– Sally: A gnomish artificer who was usually in her favorite invention, a mech suit that allowed her some nice bonuses to offense and defense designed to fill the parties Int deficit.
– Raze: A (mostly) teifling barbarian with a love of bigger, badder gear
The Evil Party**:
– Drelicia: A wood elf monk who loves sweets and punches
– Razeal: Asimar paladin, literally insane. He has a deep southern accent even though his player does not. It may be the most consistent voice acting I’ve ever had from a player.
– Dan: Evil cleric and opportunist extraordinaire
– Warforged Cleric: Not bright, but very dedicated to the God of Murder. I’m keeping the PC name to myself as the player had to bow out halfway through and I did not get consent first. I will mention his death later on though, as it is germane to the story.
– Kal: A fighter who happened to stumble into the evil party at the wrong moment and was conscripted under threat of violence by the paladin (he came in mid-game after the warforged player left)
The ‘Good’ party started out first. Wandering the capital city, and finding themselves answering a call from the king for adventurers. Strange things had been happening and someone was needed to go and investigate the source of the disturbance.
One solved puzzle and a salary offer later they were on their way with an NPC ranger. Off to cross the forest and make their way to another town to see what was wrong. They never saw the king, never entered the palace and went on the good word of a general who has his offices on the lower levels.
The evil party was introduced to their boss with a bit less fanfare in her own secret lair in the north*, a surprisingly sweet woman named Cordelia with ambitions to have a series of magical reliquary. She stated clearly that she would use them to satisfy her ambitions for the throne.
At this point, the party knows two things about Cordelia, she has a field of charisma around her that makes her very hard to say no to, and she genuinely seems to like all of the player characters as people.
When it Stopped Going To Plan
Things got out of hand quicker than I imagined. Forests were burned down, things that should not have been let out were released from their cages. People died. And those deaths were glorious.
One of our evil party, who had to leave for professional reasons, went out defending a city from an onslaught of paladins. Yes, you read that correctly. Our bad guys were defending a city of innocent citizens from an aggressive force. A force, that I feel I should add, was set upon these innocent citizens by the good party (through ineptitude and not malice) .
They traveled in an interesting parallel for weeks. Each burned down a piece of forest. Eventually both defended a city (the bad guys succeeded, the good guys failed) and they both encountered the same creatures.
Oh, and that NPC rogue didn’t last too long. Our poor spy ended up badly injured and eventually quite mad. Her second personality won the fight and she joined Cordelia’s household.
The map altered as they discovered and destroyed new things. At this point, it was like the good party was bad (burning things down with impunity, leaving people in dire straights and feeling good about themselves when they blew up victims of a genocide), and the bad party was good (feeling bad when they drugged someone, not letting a lech do his thing and even saving a good aligned paladin). It was getting harder for me to manage than I would have liked to admit.
Loving The Game Just As It Is
Eventually, and far too early for my plans. The good guys discovered the truth. The king was a false king. Cordelia was the rightful ruler looking to regain her throne.
This, was meant to be late game content. Much later than it had been revealed. This is how the good party and the bad party found themselves working for the same people. The good party was still a bit suspicious of her, but they were seeing it through.
Cordelia kept them mostly separate from each other, though they did choose to work together twice. And it did more to sew the seeds of discord than I ever could have by putting them on opposing sides. They kept secrets, made betrayals and stole from each other.
It was delightful.
In time, I learned to cope with the changes to the world. There were a few sessions that I felt were rougher than I would have liked them to be. No DM is perfect, and my players were very forgiving of the times we circled. Though I will admit that some of those were not all my fault.
But I was laughing and smiling more than I had in a long time. It was the first time I’d felt that way with a party in a long time.
And we learned about some things that weren’t in the plans. The evil party adopted an orphan, her child’s body warped and reshaped into a large, black-winged, bird skull headed undead beast. Her name was Annabelle and our evil party (monk particularly) adopted her as their own.
Fiction, Art and A Growing World
As we hit the late mid-game of our summer campaign things began to coalesce and not just in the game. My players were growing more comfortable and beginning to show bits of ourselves to each other.
One of our players is a talented artist (though I don’t think shes admitted that to herself yet) and the other is a bit of a word smith. They began to draw their characters and write them fan fictions.
I responded in kind, with some of the lost bits of lore that we were never going to get to in game. And in that lore, the secret of the reasons behind Cordelia’s warmth were discovered. Our monk had been her childhood best friend in the other version of reality.
We also had a significant death for our cleric. The boss couldn’t do enough to truly resurrect him in time, but his spirit was able to be preserved, and a new body was made. It took a few weeks, but it was worth the wait.
The Final Game
The last game came recently. Both parties in one place, a palace siege with an army of zombies and a regiment of paladins to make their way through before the final fight.
They had their boss with them, but she was going to be out of the fight. She needed to focus on managing the zombies in the first part, and casting the spell with the reliquaries in the second one. That meant in the second half they had the added task of defending her on top of the main fight.
500 dead paladins later (a mix of my parties accomplishments – a T-Rex polymorph- and the health dose of zombies finally getting in melee range) they made their way into the palace and into the boss battle: the king, the general and two supporting paladins.
They, and a late entering zombie dragon, eventually won the fight. A fate card was used to undo some nasty tricks. The world was falling in on them as the spell Cordelia was casting with the reliquaries wove on. The sky was turning black and gold and dipping down to meet the ground. Engulfing all of the world below as the party sat and watched, uncertain of their fate.
Once it was all over, and the happy endings were had, there was a rain of celebratory gifs and the celebrations of an ending well earned.
What Comes After
After the epilogue, the new world map was revealed. It has my trademark jankyness as you can see. But this time, it was janky in watercolor. Never let it be said that I don’t try to improve.
One party will continue their game into the fall. The world had changed, Cordelia was upon her throne. But was all well? They won’t find out until next week, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. I rolled for it, and lets just say that Cordelia (like all of us) is a fallible person like the rest of it, and not everything has gone according to plan.
Now I wait, seeing if they choose to face this new world with their familiar characters, or if the venture out into a new world of modern technologies and sudden international diplomatic relations to contend with with new friends at the side.
*you should consider that once they were taken to her home, they never entered that lair again, and never inured about the various undead wandering its halls. So sweet and trusting for evil players.
** as both parties switched out players sometimes, I am listing them as the PC that I think had the biggest impact on the party. The list would be much larger if I didn’t.