My D&D Campaign - What's it all About?

I haven't talked about DMing much on the site yet, but I've been running Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition for nearly a year. My players nearly unanimously requested I run an evil campaign so they wouldn't be tied down to that pesky sense of morality we all have. I'd like to write up some more about running the campaign, but I think I'd better give you a summary of where things are at.

Like I said, my players have been asking me to run an evil campaign for them for quite some time. I was getting burned out on 4e, and hitting level 13 really convinced me that my fun with that system was played out. Don't get me wrong, I like 4e, but I was having no fun with it after the characters hit level 11. I wasn't too keen on the idea of running a campaign for evil characters. My biggest fear was that at some point they'd show up in a town and then just murder everyone for fun. That wasn't the kind of campaign I wanted to run. My players should be murdering monsters, not villages. In the hopes of starting things off right I came up with a couple of rules for my players.

  1. The campaign will not be about a group of evil adventurers moving from town to town killing everyone they meet.
  2. No chaotic evil characters.

The first rule was a goal for me, which I'd also present to the players. The second was an alignment restriction to get my players to create characters that could work together as a group. Honestly, one of my biggest pet peeves is character who refuses to work with the group. My players agreed to my conditions. As terrible as they are, they're all right.

While I was trying to figure out how I'd run this campaign, I came upon the Way of the Wicked adventure path. This seemed like a pretty good starting point, so I picked it up and started reading through it. Nearly a year in, I've thrown out most of the adventure path and the group is going to be defending their evil stronghold from the approaching army lead by Lord Thomas Havelyn and his son Sir Richard Havelyn. Oh, and the brass dragon that's flying around.

The Players and their Characters

Here's our group of evil doers, and the players who are running them. The group has been pretty consistent for nearly two years, which is pretty great. 

Oryn the Wizard (Jason)

Oryn is an elven wizard who lusts for power. He's not terribly good with people, and he's pretty heartless.

Jason, who is running Oryn, really gets into the crunchy bits of the RPGs we play. Oryn is a reflection of his desire to create a powerful character with a lot of options.

Geln the Barbarian (Trina)

Geln is our dwarven barbarian who really likes hitting stuff really hard. She's a straight shooter, and has little patience for protracted planning sessions. 

Trina was a bit nervous about starting up an evil campaign, and is still squeamish about certain aspects of it (let's talk about them orphans). That said, she's our barbarian and still loves smashing things. Especially angels.

Tai Lung the Monk (Jim)

Tai Lung is the half-elven monk who has recently become a bit of a mad scientist. He's been collecting odd bits of creatures throughout the campaign, and is starting to put together poisons with them.

Jim, like Jason, likes the crunchy bits of creating characters. He's been looking forward to the higher levels of the campaign when his monk will start doing all sorts of terrible things to monsters.

Akmenos the Cleric (Mark)

Akmenos is a tiefling follower of the evil god Asmodeus. He's been on board with the Cardinal's plan from the very beginning. However, he recently picked up the Book of Vile Darkness and has been bragging about how he's now becoming a god. We'll see how Asmodeus feels about him carting around a holy relic from Vecna.

Mark is the player in my group who really keys off of interacting with the NPCs. This can be a bit dangerous at times because that's one of my favorite things about running an RPG.

Brand the Bard/Cleric (Troy)

Brand is a half-elven bard who recently converted over to Asmodeus and is now a cleric in his name. He's pretty good at nearly everything, and is always there to help out his companions. That is, when his companions aren't being terrible and yelling at him.

Troy, who plays Reudan in our Shadow of the Demon Lord campaign, seems to be pretty happy doing anything in an RPG. 

Recent History

The group took over an ancient fortress hidden in the forest south of the town of Farholde a while back. They've been performing a ritual in order to call forth the plague demon Vetra-Kali so they can get the Tears of Achlys from him. Their benefactor, Cardinal Thorn, wants to use the tears to decimate the populace of the land. That's basically why the group is doing what they're doing.

The group has been building up the stronghold, recruiting kuo-toa, collecting more orphans, helping mind flayers, and generally taking care of business. Events have been pushing toward a large conflict, which will be happening in our next session. A pair of paladins are now leading a small contingent of troops on the stronghold, and there's a brass dragon flying about.

The paladins are on their way because the group had taken a cleric captive early on after taking over the stronghold. This cleric was rescued by a group of adventurers, who were tipped off about the stronghold (unknown to the group, though they're figuring this out). That cleric was taken back to Farholde and put under the protection of the paladin Lord Thomas Havelyn. Fearing that she would spill too many secrets, the group infiltrated the church with the help of their spy Anaxibia Ghostfinger. Unfortunately, the cleric was watched over by an angel, which the group promptly slaughtered. With the cleric back in their stronghold everything appeared to be quiet again.

Lord Havelyn was not standing still. He left Farholde, only to return several weeks later with his son, Richard Havelyn, who was also a paladin of renown in the land. The two of them were leading 200 soldiers, and they were heading directly to the stronghold. You see, the cleric that had been recaptured told Lord Havelyn everything she could about her ordeal. That, and the dead angel in the church convinced Lord Havelyn that something terrible was going on.

And I thought a brass dragon would be fun to throw in the mix.

Wrapping Up

So that's where things are at. I'll be dropping some more posts about the campaign here as things move along. We've been meeting every other week, though it ebbs and flows with holidays, work, and other real life stuff. I've got a lot of thoughts about GMing, and they change on a nearly daily basis. I should start writing some of it down.

Year of the Demon Lord - Sage the Necromancer

Sage unceremoniously dropped the dagger into her backpack, nobody seemed to notice as she did so. The red glow from the blade illuminated the interior of her pack. It wasn't a warm glow, there was something sinister about the power that hummed within the blade. There wasn't time to deal with it now, Sage cinched the pack closed and hurried to help with Reudan.

The young man had foolishly attempted to exorcise a spirit with the blade Sage had just hidden away. She had been a bit surprised when Holgar, the dwarven priest of the New God, had actually blessed the blade at Reudan's request. She had expected a bit more wisdom from the dwarf. Things had not turned out well. They had feared the spirit had killed Reudan, but the boy was starting to come to when Sage joined Holgar by the fire.

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

The rest of her traveling companions eventually found their way back to the fire near the ruins of the tower. Runt threw more logs into the fire, building it up and warming their camp once again. Just outside the fire's light, the spirits of the tower continued about their business and ignored the group.

Everyone was a bit nervous about the continued presence of the spirits, but soon it became just part of the scenery. Buckets sing-songed himself to sleep, reciting an odd ballad about a tree whose bark would protect him from evil ghosts of the long dead past. Fox's constant clicking and whirring next to Buckets slowed to a calming pace as the rest of the camp settled back in. Sage laid her head on her pack and pulled her blanket up against the cold of the night.

Sage's eyes fluttered open. The fire had burned to embers, the spirits were no longer walking about the ruin. She could still hear the slow metronome of Fox's gears clicking away. Her head, an ache split through it right behind her eyes. She threw back the flap of her pack and reached in, digging for the vial of lavender oil she carried. A quick whiff of that would dampen the pain a bit. As she dug around the pack her fingers brushed the hilt of the dagger and the blade began to glow again. Forgetting the headache, Sage wrapped her fingers around the hilt and removed it from the bag. Reudan stirred as the dagger's light dimly lit the camp up.

The dagger was ancient. Upon closer inspection Sage found the hilt was intricately carved bone, lacquered with a dark resin that highlighted the tiny skulls adorning it. The blade was cool to the touch, unmarred by time, and still sharp. It was an item of great power, and it's secrets were unlocking in Sage's brain.

Sage studied the blade, feeling its magic out. It was a rotted, filthy power that corrupted the natural way of things, but it was powerful. She reached out and took hold of the power. Calm washed over her mind as she realized death was just a door, and all you needed was a key to unlock it. She had that key now, death wasn't something to fear.

The power of the knife triggered something else. Deep within her mind were hidden memories, locked away by the magics of her creation. The necromantic power seeped through her subconscious, peeling apart the layers of fae magic the Betrayer had used to create his only changeling. Sage could feel time clearing before her, but her genesis was still obscured by the shrouding magic of the Betrayer. 

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

The sky was beginning to lighten when Sage regained her senses. Her traveling companions were beginning to stir, they would be hitting the road again soon. She tucked the knife into her belt, the blade no longer glowing.

Gameplay Summary

At the end of the first session, Sage had pocketed the dagger Reudan had used to anger the spirit in the ruin. Our GM, Marc, informed us that the dagger would provide access to the Necromancy tradition, and give a bonus to casting spells from it as well. I wasn't planning on going into necromancy, but the dagger being in Sage's possession at the end of the session seemed like a good reason to just go with it. This was her story justification for discovering the Necromancy and Divination traditions, which I picked up for her level 1 Magician Novice Path.

Impressions of Shadow of the Demon Lord

I got to participate in a game of Shadow of the Demon Lord last week and wanted to write down a few things about the experience. The game was a lot of fun, and Marc did a great job as the GM. We had several rules questions, but he kept the game moving along. He also rolled with what the players were doing, which turned the session on its head a bit at the end; in a good way. The game just released on Drive Thru RPG, so you can pick up the core book as a PDF for $20 right now.

The Positives

There's a lot to like about Shadow of the Demon Lord, so I'll stick to the stuff I really enjoyed here.

Character Creation

Building characters with the random tables is a ton of fun. First of all, character creation is really simple. All you have to do is pick an ancestry, adjust your stats once if you like, choose two professions/languages and that's it. We took the option to roll on the random background tables to generate histories for our characters. The tables provide some flavorful tidbits, and weaving all of them together really gives you a more interesting character in the end. When I run this for my group, we will definitely be rolling on these tables to build up the party.

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

Boons and Banes

One of my favorite things about the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons is Advantage and Disadvantage. It's such a simple mechanic that really communicates to the players that they have a significant asset or detriment on their roll. Shadow of the Demon Lord has a similar mechanic with Boons and Banes. Basically, you roll an additional d6 for each Boon/Bane you have on a challenge or attack then keep the highest roll from those d6s. If you had a Boon you add that to the d20 roll, or subtract it if it was a Bane. One of our players, +Brian Ries, gave us a run down of the math which and thought it was interesting that rolling with +2 Boons was very similar to rolling with Advantage.

It's a great mechanic that feels important when you get it as a player.

Combat can be Lethal

First of all, nobody died in our first session. Reudan, our naive human follower of the New God, nearly ate it in the fight he picked with a spirit. The orc, Runt, also took a massive hit for 8 points of damage which would have instantly killed my character. Perhaps it's because we were level 0 characters that it made the combat feel more deadly, but standing toe to toe with an angry spirit felt like a very bad idea. Even now that I've leveled up my character only has 11 health, which isn't much.

Leveling Up

We gained a level after the first session, so we all got to choose our Novice Paths. I was thinking of building up a rogue, but Marc had dropped a fancy dagger that would boost someone's necromancy powers. Since I had pocketed the dagger at the end of the night in order to keep it away from Reudan, I figured it would be a good reason to turn my character into a magician. It was a quick update, but now my character is set for a few levels. Once I get an Expert Path my character could change significantly. I really like the fact that I can adapt my character however I want as we level up.

The Neutrals

We've only played one session of Shadow of the Demon Lord, so there are a few things that I'm not sure about. After we get a few more games in, I'll have a better idea of what I think of these items.

Non-random Initiative

You don't randomly determine initiative in this game, which I think I'm a fan of. However, the players will always be able to act before the monsters. This concerns me because of experiences I've had in other systems where having the players go first results in a huge pile on of damage and effects that renders monsters completely unable to do anything. Sometimes that happens in Dungeons and Dragons and it can make a potentially interesting fight fall pretty flat.


There's a reward the GM can hand out during the course of play called Fortune. Once a player receives it he can expend it to succeed at any roll, give another player +3 Boons on a roll, or convert any player's d6 roll to a six. It all sounds pretty great, but we had a brief discussion about it after the session and I wasn't sure how I felt about it afterward. Unlike the XP reroll mechanic in the Cypher System, or Savage Worlds bennies, Fortune guarantees success for yourself, and probably for others. I suppose, it's probably a rarer resource than XP or bennies are in the aforementioned systems, I'll just have to see how it plays out.

The Bad

There really isn't much bad here. Shadow of the Demon Lord is living up to what I was expecting so far, and I'm seriously considering running it next year when the physical book shows up. I do have one complaint, but it isn't that big of a deal.

Level 0 Characters

Making level 0 characters is a lot of fun, playing them is not quite as much. Your character won't have a lot that they can do, and they'll feel pretty powerless. It is a great way to introduce the game to new players, and the feeling of being completely powerless is fairly unique these days. That being said, however, once players have figured things out there isn't much left to do with a level 0 character. 

Wrap Up

Overall, Shadow of the Demon Lord has been great. I'm having a ton of fun getting my character up to level 1, and I'm looking forward to the next session. Until then, I'll just have to content myself with discussing the game which has also been great. Oh, and I'll also have to keep myself occupied with my 5th Edition campaign and the Achtung Cthulhu game I'm a part of. I think I've got plenty of stuff to do until October.

If you want to read more about Shadow of the Demon Lord, check out James Walls' impressions as he built his character for the campaign on his blog Living 4 Crits. There's also Marc Plourde's site, Inspiration Strikes, where he has been posting about the campaign as well. And there's Troy Pichelman's site where he's got a write up for his character's background.

Year of the Demon Lord - Session 1

Pregame Notes

We just wrapped the first session of the Year of the Demon Lord campaign that Marc Plourde is running. Our group of six strangers has nearly solidified into an adventuring party, and we're all getting into the swing of the game. I'll be putting together a first impressions at some point, this post will be a session report. I was slightly late to the party, and my USB devices all died midway through the game so things are a little spotty in certain parts.

Be sure to check out the Year of the Demon Lord summary that I'm updating. You'll find a list of the characters as well as a history of all the posts regarding the campaign.

On the Road

The campaign opened upon a merchant caravan traveling along the roads between Broad Oaks and Blackwater Ford. Sage had been enjoying her time on the road, making friends with the merchants who she was traveling with. There were several odd characters that were also part of the caravan.

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

The young man, Reudan, had ingratiated himself with most of the caravan after a few days. His zealous devotion to the New God was slightly irritating, but he was polite and helpful and Sage found those qualities far outweighed his religious leanings.

Another follower of the New God was part of the caravan, the dwarf Holgar. He may have been devoted to the New God, but he mostly kept to himself. Sage appreciated his calm presence.

Buckets, a goblin who could always be heard singing about the wagons, defied categorization. Sage was fairly certain he never once spoke anything true, though his foolish antics often masked the cleverness in his eyes. He also carried a clockwork on his back which he referred to as Fox, but he never revealed the mechanical creature's purpose.

And then the orc, Runt. He really embodied the orcs that threw down the Empire; strong, confident, ready to take charge when it was necessary.


The roads are not safe these days, and of course the caravan was ambushed by bandits. Arrows rained down from the forest upon the caravan, killing guards and merchants alike. Sage dove under her wagon in an effort to escape the volley of arrows, and the attention of the bandits that were bursting out of the woods and onto the road. As the rest of the group scattered about the wagons, Sage made a mad dash to get away from the bandits.

Reudan and Holgar hurried merchants to safety while Runt tried to spot the head of the bandits in the hopes of ending things quickly. Buckets, possibly in an attempt to frighten the bandits into leaving, gutted one of the dead guards and began dressing in his entrails singing, "You've unleashed the plague!" Sage could swear she saw the madness gleaming in the goblin's wicked smile as she scrambled to get away.

More bandits crashed onto the road. The guards would not be able to hold out for long. Seeing the futility of the situation on the road, the rest of the group turned tail and ran after Sage. 

Runt, recognizing the goblin's dark speech, tried to scoop the goblin up as he ran past. The gore, however, had made Buckets far to slick to pick up. Seeing Runt's hands slide off the bloody goblin, Reudan called out, "No, just grab the entrails, they're wrapped around his neck!" It was a much more effective way to drag the goblin out of certain death.

All this time, Fox was discarded and forgotten on the side of the road. The clockwork boy had not been wound up and would not be moving on his own any time soon. Thankfully, Holgar hoisted the clockwork as he ran by rather than leave him to the bandits.

Out in the wilderness

Several hours passed as the group wandered through the woods, shaking off the bandits and attempting to steer toward Blackwater Ford. They stopped for a bit in a clearing, feeling confident the bandits were no longer in pursuit. The problem now was to get some idea of where they were, but the trees were so thick there was no way to tell what time it even was through the canopy.

Buckets volunteered to perform a spell that would point the group in the right direction, but he would need some blood to power it. Sage cast a dubious look at the little fae creature, fairly certain he was up to no good. Runt, however, quickly volunteered to provide the blood for the ritual. After a bit of scraping, singing, and gesticulating, Buckets excitedly pointed out into the woods and declared the direction the group should take. Just to verify, Runt scaled a tree to get a better view of the area.

Runt dropped back to the forest floor with a look of irritation on his face. Buckets' sense of direction was a bit off, earning him a swift rebuke from the orc. With that, the group was off in the correct direction to get them to Blackwater Ford.

Ghost Busting

Eventually, the group came upon a ruined tower in the woods. With light fading fast, it seemed like a good place to set up camp. Unfortunately, upon inspection the tower was falling apart more severely than the group had hoped for and there would be no way to get a good look around on it. It was, however, a good place to set up camp.

After only a few hours of rest the group was awoken by an unsettling sight. Several spirits had appeared about the ruins of the tower, seeming to go about their mundane affairs as though they were still living. It was a rather shocking sight and it seemed to break poor Reudan's nerve.

"Abominations!" Reudan screamed upon witnessing the spirits. He and Holgar then began praying for the spirits to move on, their presence was an affront to the New God. The spirits took no notice of their antics, and continued about their business.

"Reudan, I believe there is a plant that can be found in this forest that could ward off the spirits," Sage suggested. She suspected the spirits were harmless apparitions and was hoping to get some sleep.

"I don't want to ward them off, I want them to move on!" Reudan cried in desperation.

"Yes... move on. That's what I meant," Sage replied with little conviction.

Before Reudan could protest further a deep red glow from within the rubble of the tower caught his attention. Casting aside a small pile of rubble he came up with a dagger whose blade was glowing crimson. Obviously, he took this for a sign from the New God and got Holgar to bless it. 

Glowing dagger in hand, Reudan approached one of the spirits and plunged the glowing blade directly into its face.

It didn't turn out well.

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

The spirit reacted violently to the attack and attacked the young man who had tried so hard to help it move on. Reudan was no match for a wrathful spirit and fell to it's blows, though he was not fatally wounded. Hoping to keep the spirit from killing the boy, the rest of the group rushed in and eventually banished the spirit. Buckets wisely hid away in order to avoid looking at the spirit. With the creature gone, Sage quickly secreted the dagger away hoping to keep it away from Reudan once he came to. At least now everyone could get some rest.

Wrapping Up

The first session was a lot of fun and I'll be posting my impressions of the system before too long. Be sure to check out Marc's write up, he's got a lot of details in his summary and a lot of thoughts from the GM side of it as well.

Year of the Demon Lord - First Steps

I backed Shadow of the Demon Lord on Kickstarter a while back and was surprised last week when the PDF of the core book showed up in my email. I pulled the PDF down and started reading through it, and mentioned it to a friend of mine who has been running a D&D 5th Edition campaign. He wanted to know why I was interested in it, and I gave him a brief answer. Basically, Shadow of the Demon Lord was designed to be fast paced and allow for a campaign to unfold in just a handful of sessions. As I read through the book I got really excited about the system and just had to talk a bit more about it. Coincidentally, Marc Plourde had posted some initial thoughts about it and I swallowed my typical anxieties and weighed in. Eventually a campaign got organized.

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

(c) 2015 Schwalb Entertainment, LLC

Character creation

Once I invited myself into the game, which is actually surprisingly out of character for me, I switched over from reading the setting and GM chapters and focused on all of the player options. The brief amount of time I had spent in the character creation and advancement chapters left me impressed with the simplicity and potential depth it presented.

On its surface, there are only four major choices to be made for your character. At character creation you select your Ancestry, also known as your race. This gives you several starting stats which you can tweak once, and a few special abilities and background details.

Once you hit first level, because starting characters are level 0, you choose your Novice Path. The Paths are basically classes and there are only four to pick from at first level; Magician, Priest, Rogue, and Warrior. The Path you select will change your character at a few predetermined levels, and it is very clearly laid out how those changes will be made. You generally get a stat boost, along with some new abilities. Sometimes you'll choose special abilities for magical traditions and spells, but that big choice sets you on a path.

You'll further refine your character at third level with an Expert Path, and again at seventh level with a Master Path. Four big choices, with a bunch of little choices along the way.

For the campaign, Year of the Demon Lord, we opted to roll on all of the character creation tables to get random backgrounds. I decided to go with a changeling and rolled up a changeling who had taken the identity of an older human woman who had a political career and was doing pretty well for herself. I took all of the details and quickly sketched out my character's back story and ended up with a fairly optimistic character living in this desolate setting.

On with the campaign

Everyone has their characters rolled up and submitted, and this is over a week before the first session. I guess it helps when most of the players are GMs themselves. I'll be posting here with follow ups to the sessions, so expect something around the 14th for the first session. Be sure to check out Marc Plourde's blog, he's the GM of the campaign and already has some stuff about it on Inspiration Strikes. In addition to Marc's site you can also get James Walls' take on the campaign and how his character Buckets is doing.