It had the majestic streamlined body of a dragon, the commanding roar of a king and the best name in the universe. The Sea Lion. The SEA Lion! A lion, king of the jungle and alpha predator, that comes from the SEA. If a shark had a brain or class, it would be a Sea Lion.
This tiny plastic figurine with a silly name hanging from a hook in the hobby game store had lit my fire. I was going to host my very own Dungeons and Dragons adventure, and the Sea Lion would have a part to play in my legendary tale.
So I gathered my friends, something much easier said than done. For weeks I battled the holidays, trips out of town, weekends with children and just plain not wanting to get up early on a Saturday. But finally the stars aligned and I was able to gather a group of my friends together in the same place for a couple hours to create characters. Later, we would actually play the game.
Out of five characters, two of them actually had something to their backstory. Ulfric, a sorcerer with wild and uncontrollable magic, as well as a name shared with the main character from Skyrim, has a son named Jasper to support.
… No, you’re thinking of the friendly ghost, Casper. Ulfric’s fictional son isn’t a ghost, at least not yet.
Then there is Sarek. A brave Paladin who shares his name with Spock’s father, from Star Trek. I started to get a Sci-Fi vibe from this group immediately. Living his life by the tenets of Xena, the legendary warrior princess, Sarek was a man of action. I was excited! Timid adventurers are boring, I was grateful to know that at least one member of the team seemed to be certain to take decisive action. Hopefully he will keep the story from getting stale.
My other friends needed help filling out their character sheets, so we left their backstories a little bland for the moment. But that’s OK, their character’s personalities will grow as they adventure. As things were wrapping up and my friends were leaving, a short parting conversation hit me in the head like a hammer of inspiration.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if there was, like, a Star Trek D&D?” one of my friend’s said. “Yeah! I would love to beam down to new planets and shoot people with ray guns.” (You know…) I thought. (It would be pretty fun to mix up science fiction technology and magic.)
That’s when I decided, I was going to give them a spaceship! It’s interesting, they can use it to travel to different worlds, it will remind them of their favorite Sci-Fi show! It’s perfect. There is also that often overlooked page of the DM guide that provides stats for things like handguns and anti-matter rifles. What better loot could they ask for?
So I went to work. I made the floor plan for a bad-ass spaceship, filled it with guns and other game breaking toys, and I made a dungeon. Nothing fancy, very basic really. A few rats to fight, some gold coins to find and some simple traps. Not to deadly or to challenging, the perfect warm up for our first game.
Yeah, I basically copied that spaceship from FTL. (Ssssssh, don’t tell anybody)
Now to tie it all together with a story. “Uhg!” I can hear them saying. Looking back, I’ve learned that this is a group that could actually care less… but I love world building! So tough. This is what I came up with:
The kingdom of Baeron is growing in military might and has drafted the majority of it’s citizens into it’s army, including the players. The kingdom owes it’s strengthened forces to recent technological breakthroughs by studying “ancient knowledge” that they have recently unearthed… (That means they found Sci-Fi stuff on a crashed spaceship they dug up! Did you catch that?) However they have learned all they can and must find a new source of kick-ass alien technology.
They turn their eyes to the neighboring Cook kingdom. Over in Cook they are celebrating their annual “starfall” festival. Their legends claim that the church in the middle of their town was built on a fallen star, and every year they party… because that’s just so damn cool.
So there you go! That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now they have motivation to do something. The kingdom of Baeron is going to send a secret mission into the basement of the church to steal and Sci-Fi goodies that may be there, so Bareon has them instead of Cook kingdom.
Everybody got that? Are we on the same page now? … Good. So here is where I made my fatal mistake… I added more story.
Damnit Travis! It was fine! It made sense, why did you keep going? Now it’s to much! I can’t keep track of any more details! Waaaaaah!
You have a point, crazy emotional me. But this next part is so cool! You will love it, give it a chance. You see, the kingdom of Baeron is going to betray the players! That way they will be motivated to keep the spaceship when they find it! I mean, that makes sense, right? Surely if I drop enough hints they will catch that… right?
Enter General Duke, the leader of Baeron’s military, and quest NPC. He tells the players that they have an important task: assassinating Prince Cook! He also hints that the players are just a distraction, the real mission will be to find the spaceship, a job which will be carried out by elite Baeron NPC’s who aren’t level one newbies, like the players.
Nobody picked up on the hints.
Oh well, I guess I will have to be more direct in the future. At least the story part is over and we can get to the adventure! Naturally they will have to go through my dungeon on the way to kill the prince. They will sneak through the sewers and then ambush him! Killing some easy monsters and picking up small bits of assorted treasure will get them into the flow of things.
They reach the entrance to the sewers, and I describe it to them. “The path ramps downward steeply for about 15 feet. It looks a little slippery.”
Their eyes widen. “It looks a little slippery.”
A little slippery.
The suspicion in their eyes is unmistakable, and their distrust grows. Only in Dungeons and Dragons can a simple adjective stop an entire group of warriors in their tracks. Why did he specifically mention that the ramp was slippery? Surely we will slide down to our demise. The floor must give way to spikes that are covered in acid! The ramp will eat our very souls if we are fool enough to proceed.
Here stands a group of fighters, sorcerers and rangers, equipped with halberds, fire breath and poison arrows. One of them worships Xena for goodness sake! If Xena were here, she would backflip down the ramp while doing that cool yell she does. She would even kill two or three bad guys by bouncing her chackram of the walls at the same time. What adventurer worth their salt is paralyzed with indecision over an obstacle equivalent to the tall slide on the playground?
Dear God No!
A couple of minutes pass, they discuss the carious lengths of rope they have and who may have climbing pitons in their starter packs. I can stand it no longer and I give them a nudge. “You could probably just slide down…?”
A quick acrobatics check later and everyone makes it to the bottom, and we all breathe a sigh of relief. For them the evils of the slide are behind them. For me the excitement of the rest of the dungeon awaits!
They come upon another room, and wisely take a peek inside before they enter. They see rats. D&D rats sure, bigger and meaner than real rats, but just… rats. I rub my hands together in anticipation, this is just what they need. An easy victory to build their confidence, and they will be happy to discover the few gold coins that I hid in the rat’s nests. Because, you know, that’s where rats put their gold coins.
“Let’s go another way.” They turn around and walk back.
What!? Are you kidding me? Can this really be happening? Would you like to just forget about the adventure, go home and have some tea? Well I’m not going to make it that easy on you! You are going to win a battle, and you are going to like it! I force them to fight some rats, they are guarding a key they need to open a locked door… conveniently. The fight goes well for them, but I am troubled that they keep forgetting what dice to roll. Like, over and over again, How many times before you remember which is which?
I glance at the clock, then at my dungeon map. We have already been playing for some times, this is taking to long and I want to make sure we get to the spaceship. With some disappointment I take out all the traps (they are to paranoid anyway) and the last floor of the dungeon.
I kept the Sea-Lion though, nobody is going to take that away from me! About 30 minutes later they reach the end of the dungeon, and emerge from the sewers at a carefully chosen spot, to ambush and kill the prince during his inaugural parade. Did I mention the prince was in a parade? It doesn’t matter I guess, they shot him with a poison arrow and he died. His guards were pissed about it, but they died too. So there they stood. In the streets next to a dead prince, mission accomplished. What’s next? It was my hope that they would get curious about the “ancient knowledge” and go looking for it, perhaps realizing that they were just the decoys.
No such luck of course, time for the hand of God to step it. They were swept up in the fleeing crowd of people and ended up at the church. You know, the same one from the story, the one they built on top of the fallen ‘star.’ The church that has a spaceship in the basement.
After some snooping around they find their way into said basement to find a room filled with dead people. There had just been a battle between the forces of Baeron and the forces of Cook, and both sides killed eachother! There is also a stairway to the next room. There is a stairway to the next room. I’m sorry to repeat myself, but I’ve found if you don’t specifically repeat important details, like the fact that there is a stairway to the next room, the players will miss it.
“I loot the bodies!” They excitedly go to work going through everyone’s pockets and weapons. That’s not really the point of this scene, but fine. I give them some spears and chain mail, maybe a shield. Whatever kind of stuff soldiers would have on them. “No gold?” they ask. “No gold.” I reply. They don’t give up. “Do they have any purses or pouches? Are any of them hiding anything?”
What, are you going to dig through their stomachs to find out what they had for breakfast? If you find an apple core, will you add it to your inventory? These are your fallen countrymen! Aren’t you going to ask any basic questions about what happened here? Aren’t you at least going to go into the next room to see what they were fighting for? They don’t. They ask if this is a good place to end the session, they are getting tired. Come on! Do you know how long I spent making this story? Aren’t you curious at all? You wanted some loot so bad, the freaking cave of wonders is in the next room!
I promise them that it’s almost over,I really want to get them to the end. Surely having their own spaceship will keep them excited to play next time. “So where do we go?” My heart sinks. Where do you go? Did I mention the staircase that leads to the next room? You literally have one option, have tried nothing and are asking for help.
I tell them where to go.
They find the spaceship and I am excited to describe it. This session has probably gone on for too long and they are too tired to investigate everything as much as I hoped they would. Before they explore the exciting rooms, they find their way into the cockpit and ‘jump’ the ship to a new planet. I end the session there, I figure that is a good cliffhanger ending. They didn’t even find any of the cool stuff yet.
I think I worked to hard on this.