Dream Sequences in D&D

Throughout the world, the use of dreams as a plot device is prominent. It does not matter whether the material is truth or fiction, a story from Africa or a fairy tale from Germany. Dreams are everywhere because they are an effective way to relay information to readers and listeners, or, in our case, players. Have you ever used a dream to set the stage for an event to come? To tell your PC’s something integral to the plot? To throw them off the trail of a vile enemy?

In D&D, dreams are an effective tool for Dungeon Masters.

In yet another prelude session for my upcoming Caught in Galen campaign, I used a dream to unite some of the player characters together. During the dream, they explored environs impossible to find in the location the campaign begins, so it gave every a taste of other parts of the world. Their city-based characters slid down a dune in a windy desert and battled scorpions there. They fought the rapids of a raging river, nearly dropping down a massive waterfall while a storm danced above them. They found themselves on a large chunk of fair, green country floating in the sky. The dream allowed me to put them places I otherwise couldn’t and face them against foes that wouldn’t otherwise be found in the city.

The dream also allowed me to foreshadow future events and characters in mysterious ways. In the case of Caught in Galen, I won’t go into details for fear of spoiling my players, but you can see this all across fantasy. For example, in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, the main characters constantly have dreams foreshadowing future events. Jon Snow dreams of walking below the crypts beneath Winterfell constantly and screaming he’s not a Stark, hinting at something truly awesome below. One of the most mysterious factions in the series, the greenseers, experience prophetic dreams as their main ability!

Some dreams can combine the first two facets and allow the characters to accomplish or try to accomplish the unimaginable. Do you want to throw a red dragon against your third level party? Do it in a dream sequence. Does the party want to see how an encounter with the lich lord might play out? Perhaps a prophet induces them with a dream-battle against the villain. I somewhat employed this in my example in the form of a horde of aberrations constantly chasing after the group. If they were caught, they were dead. They never fought the monstrosities, but the threat was there.

Take care using dreams, however. Sure, you might be able to do awesome tasks related to the story with them, but the players probably want something more. The dreams need to have measurable effects. They might gain a boon or charm from the dream. Perhaps they obtain a magical item from it. In my example, the characters each gained a point of inspiration to start the campaign with and a minor magic item. The dream sequence did not only enlighten them with great information, it gave them interesting items with a unique origin story.

This only goes for entire quests or adventures or sessions in dreams, though. Dreams are a great way to spend a few minutes in a character's head. The dream can be contained to that character and that character alone, alluding to some prophecy they are a part of or filling them with fear from a powerful, outside entity. In a past campaign, one of the characters constantly dreamed about a volcanic eruption and the awakening of a fire primordial. It was scary. It was effective. Was it alluding to the future? Well, it never happened in that campaign, but that character is now a character in Caught in Galen. I opened his session zero with that same dream, a reminder that this primordial might still be a threat. It's a Chekhov's gun of sorts. In that same campaign, a different character was haunted by a night hag constantly. Some creatures (like night hags and the quori in Eberron) are able to affect dreams from the outside. And what's to say there is a magic-user called a dreamologist who can weave and twist the dreams of his enemies and allies?

Concisely, though, what can you accomplish with dreams?
  1. Connect the characters in an interesting way.
  2. Foreshadow future events.
  3. Let the characters battle unimaginable enemies.
  4. Give them fulfillment even though nothing happened in the “real world.”
  5. Use them to single out a character for a few minutes and allude to something.
  6. Utilize monsters with dream-affecting abilities and make up entirely new creatures related to dreams.
If you are interested in using dreams in even more interesting ways, I highly recommend reading about Eberron’s Dal Quor, quori, and the Dreaming Dark faction. Keith Baker did something stellar with this concept and I am definitely incorporating a lot of it into my world. There are two pages in Rising from the Last War that are especially useful in describing how all three relate to each other.

Until next time, stay creative!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Dungeons & Dragons: A Lifetime For Improvement

Dungeons & Dragons is a hobby one can have over a lifetime. From a person’s first foray into the world of dice-rolling and dungeon-delving, to their hundredth encounter with a dragon, D&D does not get stale and it constantly evolves. It is a game in which people are meant to have a grand adventure, interact with flamboyant characters, and leave the worries of the real world behind. However, that does not mean one cannot continue to improve session after session, campaign after campaign. In fact, becoming “better” at D&D covers a wide berth of definitions and it is something every player and Dungeon Master should aspire to do.

As I am looking at starting my fifth D&D campaign, I’m jotting down everything I think I can improve at. It’s a long list. I recognize that there’s plenty I’m not great at, some stuff I do quite well, and a select few things I excel at. Nonetheless, I can improve on each and every one of those things, and make my D&D experience better as a result.

Pillar Improvements

So, with this next campaign, I am going to try and improve on at least one aspect of D&D per session and a few pillars of D&D throughout the entire campaign.

I’ve found being conscious of my weaknesses helps me become a better DM. If I know where I’ll probably falter, I know where to focus my energy during preparation or during a session. It might sound strange, but if I know when I’ll fail, I’ll fail to a lesser extent.

For example, I think my top three weaknesses as a DM are:
  1. Tactical combat
  2. Dungeon descriptions
  3. Being upfront and clear with my players
In my next campaign, I’ll be focusing on these three pillars first and foremost.

I know I have issues with tactical combat, especially with large numbers of foes. I need to learn how to control them on the battlefield better and how to utilize their abilities to their full extent. Many times, I’ll run into the same trap of just swinging weapons at the party over and over, but I want to pursue more interesting, tactical battlefields from now on. To accomplish that, I’ll be preparing strategies beforehand for some encounters, reading over the 4e Monster Manual which has tactics inside it, and scouring the internet for information about monster tactics. The goblins shouldn’t simply rush the party with short swords while two goblins support with arrows from the back; the goblins should surround the party, the warriors engaging and disengaging the lumbering party members while the goblin archers pepper the weaker members with arrows from partially covered, high-up vantage points. Over time, I will improve and be able to move on to another pillar, tactical combat firmly cemented in my mind.

Dungeon descriptions are another poor area for me. How to describe them, truly? I’m in the process of reading all of the 5e adventure modules, which should surely help, and I’ve read lots of advice on this. I think I’ve just run too few dungeons to improve at this, but in this campaign, that won’t be an issue — I’ll have lots of room to practice! Right now, my strategy is going to be focusing on four aspects of the dungeon chamber: a sight, a smell, a noise, and its inhabitants. From those four things, I will build a description that isn’t too long and grasps my players attention. I don’t want them to enter a dark and decrepit crypt with four zombies and a skeleton inside; I want them to enter a crypt layered in thick dust that smells of decay and has four, moaning zombies and a one-armed skeleton whose scratching the old stone wall inside. I’m looking forward to this. Dungeons are integral to D&D and I’m ready to shower them with all the love they deserve.

My final great weakness is being upfront and clear with my players. I’ve written a lot on here about standing up for yourself as the DM, ensuring players don’t bully each other, and keeping the game flowing smoothly. The truth is, sometimes I don’t follow my own rules. It’s not for lack of knowing about them, of course, it’s because I become timid or scared to speak up. It’s an issue, an issue buried deep in my psyche. Why am I afraid to speak to these people who are all playing in a world of my own design? Why am I terrified to enforce a rule when they’re all sitting around my table? While I can’t place it exactly, I think it has to do with a fear of being fought back against, ridiculed, or just not listened to. I shouldn’t be fearful of that, my players should respect me. In this next campaign and all future adventures, I’m going to be more up front. Screens shouldn’t be at the table, it’s distracting to me and others; you should generally know what you are going to do on your turn; pointless squabbles and pointless player versus player actions are not tolerated, this is a collaborative game — disagreements need not play out through sword and blood.

Even writing all this out is helping me improve. I know what I need to improve on, what I need to do, and what an improved me will look like.

I encourage you to take the same steps as me. Write out your three biggest weaknesses and pledge to work on them throughout your next campaign or adventure. Then, at the beginning of every arc, look back at your progress. Are you improving? Is it helping? Are new problems arising? If you think you've permanently improved on a pillar, remove it and add a new one. As the campaign grows and changes, you will to. At the campaign's end, you'll be a better DM or player, I guarantee it.

But that’s not all.

Session-Sized Improvements

Remember that I mentioned I’d try to improve on at least one aspect of D&D per session? You should try that too!

In addition to three fundamental pillars of improvement, take note of one part of D&D to improve on every session. They can be big or small, conceptual or concrete. What matters is you’re actively taking steps to make your D&D game better. You’ll notice and your players will as well.

In my next campaign, here are some “single session” aspects I’ll strive to improve:
  1. Combat dialogue
  2. Connected plot threads
  3. Foreshadowing
  4. Female voices
  5. Boss encounters
  6. Travel montages
  7. Character development
  8. Demon lore
  9. Fast combat
  10. Chase scenes
  11. Interesting weapons
  12. Playing on player types
Write out some of your own, and remember to attach them to the notes of your next session! After the session, decide whether you succeeded in your pursuit or failed. If you failed, remember to go back and try to focus on this new aspect again. In good time, you’ll achieve the level you were striving toward.

In Summary

D&D is a game that can be played over a lifetime. Thus, infinite improvements can be made to the way you play. That doesn’t mean you need to change the way you’re playing, you just need to be incremental adjustments that improve the happiness of everyone at the table. Try to do this in two pursuits:
  1. Establish your three biggest weaknesses as a DM or Player and work on them throughout a campaign. At the beginning of every arc, reflect on how you’ve improved.
  2. Attach an aspect to improve on to every session of your campaign. These things can be small or large, and you can improve on them time and time again.
Well, I’m off to go plan the beginning of Caught in Galen and decide what to focus on for the first session. I can’t give too much away here as my players might be reading this article, so I’ll just write one word: callbacks.

Until next time, stay creative!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Player Character Cameos from Previous D&D Campaigns

It's Saturday afternoon. The powerful party enters the icy caverns. They are confident the final key to the gnome prison hides within, a leftover of the deceased beholder who once held it close. As they stride across the slippery stone, there’s a flash! A creature whizzes past them, experts of combat and perception, without being seen. Their eyes track its blurred movement as it dashes up the wall and onto a stalactite high above them. It stops, holding a colorful orb — the final key — in its palm. As fast as it reached the stalactite, it drops to the ground in a single movement, landing in front of the party. The creature is a pale-skinned elf with deep purple eyes and stark white hair. “Friends of Primedordus, are you?” the elf asks. The party nods, still stunned at the elf’s dexterity. “Well, then you must be looking for this.” he says, lifting the orb up toward them. He takes a step forward and gives the orb to the warlock, who asks the elf for his name. “White Crow, a very old and dear friend of Primedordus.” he responds. “And it’s time for me to go, I wish you well in the end of your journey. Tread carefully, this is when the greatest mistakes can be made…” With that, White Crow lifts a pristine gem from his belt, grasps it close, summons a portal of mystical glass, and steps through with a final glance toward the party. As quickly as the elf appeared, he faded away.

I’ve ran a few campaigns in my homebrew world, from the Savage Front to the Dead Isles of Altarin. With each campaign, my world’s history grows. The events that take place in them become canon, as do the actions of the player characters. Alongside both of those things are the player characters themselves. When a campaign in my world, Eldar, ends, they don’t fade into the background — they stay in the world. Not only do they stay in the world, they have a lasting impact and might continue to change it for decades to come.

Players love that.

Players, I’ve found, especially love when their current characters encounter their old characters in one form or another. Think of it as a cameo of sorts.

When my players encountered their former characters in the Frozen Expanses of Iskryn campaign, they were shocked and excited. Here were their previous characters running about the world, still adventuring and impacting it day by day.

If you’ve played multiple campaigns, adventures, or even one-shots in your world, try to find a way to incorporate previous player characters into current games! Doing so makes the world feel alive and gives weight to the players’ actions.

Of course, their previous characters’ actions should have effects on the world already. If a party devastates a cult to a dead god, that cult’s presence should be significantly lessened. If a demon lord is slain in the Abyss, its soul swept to the wind, it should remain gone. If a party saved a city from a horde of incoming hobgoblins, there should be statues of them in the city square or bardic tales of their heroism sang in the present.

But I’m not talking about that aspect of old campaigns. I’m claiming that old characters should show up in current stories.

Let’s look at a few ways to accomplish that.

Tales of Their Exploits

One easy way to remember old characters is to establish evidence of their existence throughout the world.

Perhaps the party is passing through a popular inn and they hear a bard sing about their previous characters’ exploits. There might be a detail or two wrong as well, and a lot might be embellished! The players will know that.

There’s also a chance a famous sage wrote down their story and the tome became a treasured read across the land, from the coast to the green inland plains. The characters in the present could encounter this tome by chance or by design. Something inside it might be pertinent to the present day, or they might stumble upon it while scouring an ancient library for clues about a mystery cult. 

Don’t feel like you need to force it and make it obvious, though. The bard’s song need not mention them by name. The tome does not need to be named The Adventures of Primedordus and Aku; it can be titled The Frozen Expanses of Iskryn: The Epicenter of All Conflict; the song could be in the first person.

The players will know what’s happening and they’ll love it.

Remnants of the Past

There are concrete ways to reference previous characters and heroes without encountering them in the flesh.

Previous characters probably wielded powerful artifacts or ancient weapons. Let them reappear in your current campaign! This can spark the party’s imagination, wondering what happened to the previous character and how the artifact left their side. This was an incredibly long mystery in a game franchise called Guild Wars. Between Guild Wars 1 and Guild Wars 2, a legendary sword appeared in the hands of the one of the new main NPCs without any inkling as to how it got there. This mystery encouraged discussion and speculation for many years in the community. You can accomplish the same in your D&D campaign!

Besides former items, previous characters might have children who are alive during the campaign. The current party can run into them as patrons, allies, or even villains.

Speaking of villains, maybe the villain from a past campaign wasn’t killed or banished forever. They might show up again, requiring the current party to retrace or reinvent the old party’s path to victory. In fact, it might even lead the party to track down each of the old party members...

Actual Encounters

The former two approaches are great, yes, but the best way to give a cameo to old player characters is to have them show up in the new campaign for a valid or believable reason.

Maybe the party needs powerful allies against a powerful foe. Perhaps they run into an old PC by chance at a great gathering of leaders. They might even face off against this former player character whose turned to darkness after doing so much good in their early life. There are lots of possibilities!

It’s important that you are confident in pulling this off, though. If you don’t think you can do the former PC justice, don’t do it. You don’t want to tarnish their reputation with a cameo.

On top of this, you need to ensure the old PC doesn't outshine the current party. There needs to be a reason why they can’t stay and help the party, eliminating the threat with ease. Be prepared to present the reason because the current party will likely ask them to stay awhile and help.

In Summary

Player character cameos from previous campaigns is a great way to show off a living, breathing world that your players have an effect on. Great ways to accomplish this include:
  1. Gracing the world with tales of their past exploits.
  2. Allowing the current party to encounter remnants of old PC’s past.
  3. Including old PC’s in the current campaign as allies, villains, or patrons.
Until next time, stay creative!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

The Most Important Parts of D&D Session Zeros

Before beginning a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, it’s important to hold at least one session zero. During this prologue session, the Dungeon Master should collaborate with the players to mold the world to them, their characters to the world, and the characters to each other. However, before running this group-wide session zero, there is another type of session that can greatly contribute to the success of the campaign: one-on-ones. This type of session zero is held between a single player and the Dungeon Master. During it, they collaborate and create the player’s character and introduce the character to the world.

Group session zeros and one-on-one session zeros are stellar ways to ensure the success of a D&D campaign. As I am in the process of beginning my next D&D campaign, a campaign I want to be the best I’ve ever run, I’m taking the opportunity to gaze back at the lessons I’ve learned from campaigns past. The following sections explore the most important parts of each type of session zero, as well as what to avoid when running them. The focus is on one-on-one session zeros because I already wrote an article about group session zeros long ago.

One-on-One Session Zeros

A one-on-one session zero is similar to a question and answer session between a player and Dungeon Master, followed by a brief escapade into the world the player’s character will be playing the campaign in. Before holding it, the player should have an idea of the character they want to play. Knowledge about the character’s class and race is necessary, but anything further than that simply soothes the process.

In the session, begin with a question and answer portion. The Dungeon Master should begin with surface level questions about the character, information that gives away little to nothing about their motivations. During this time, the DM and player should spar back and forth, the DM representing the world and the player representing their character. Together, they build the character and connect it to the world, piece by piece, story by story. Potential questions are:
  1. Who are you?
  2. Where are you from?
  3. Where do you live?
  4. Do you have a profession? If yes, what is it?
  5. Are you friendly with anyone nearby? Give them a name, a description, and a personality.
The next step is prying the character open. The DM should ask questions that reveal more about the character and its relationship to the world and the campaign’s initial plot. This makes the player think about their character’s thoughts about the world and the world’s thoughts about their character. Unknowingly, they’re making their character deep and complex, something Dungeon Masters usually enjoy. Potential questions are:
  1. Why are you in ?
  2. How has affected you?
  3. Who do you love?
  4. Do you know anyone who wants you dead? Give them a name, a description, and a personality.
  5. What is your short term goal?
  6. What is your long term goal?
  7. Who is your patron deity? Why?
To close the question and answer portion, let the player tell you anything new or ask you anything else about their character and its background. If you have anything else to add, go ahead and do so.

With the questions and answer portion concluded, the next step is to run an actual but brief session of D&D between the player and DM. This is the character’s first foray into the campaign world. Here, actions matter. But what actions should they take? These type of sessions are meant to let the players discover what it’s like to play their characters in front of a single person, the Dungeon Master, and see how they react to the world around them. As the player becomes accustomed to their character, it’s the Dungeon Master’s job to weave together and interesting opening plot. Remember the nonplayer characters you created with each player during their session zero. For each one-on-one, drop an NPC made by another player into that player’s session zero. Ian might create an arrogant half-orc cleric named Zaburk during his Q&A session, but I can use the half-orc in Jessie’s one-on-one actual play session.

Without even touching or creating a plot, these characters have a connection despite not knowing each other. Unless you plan on starting a campaign with the party being aware of each other, perhaps even adventuring together already, these loose connections are vital. On top of them, you can sway them all toward a unifying opening scene or goal of the campaign. End these actual play sessions on a strong note or a cliffhanger, leaving each player wanting more but surely knowing where the next session — the first session of the campaign — will begin. They may know where everything kicks off, but they won’t know how.

Somewhere in this section, make sure to include one combat, one social interaction, and one exploration encounter. The combat allows the player to feel out their characters combat skills and gives you the opportunity to give the session stakes. They need not be death, but they could be the respect of a rival, the possibility for a lesser magic item, or story to boast about to potential companions. The social interaction gives the player a chance to interact with the people of this new world, to see how they view it, and how others receive their character. During this interaction, try to sneak in some foreshadowing about the campaign’s opening moments if you can, but don’t fully spoil them. The exploration lets the player make an evident impact on the world, adding a piece of detail that wasn’t there before. Let them create a ladder leading to the rooftop of the inn, a guard outpost just down the street, or a backdoor to a large apartment complex. Here are the notes for one of my latest campaign's session zeros. They might help!

As I mentioned before, the one-on-one session should conclude in a satisfying way that sets up the beginning of the campaign. The player should know where the campaign will begin, but not how it will begin. They might be going to meet a shady confidant, a notable merchant, or a desperate brother, but they don’t know how the encounter will play out or how they’ll meet their eventual party members. The unknown is part of D&D’s excitement, hinting at what it might entail is fine and often rewarding; revealing it completely is a poor move.

Group Session Zeros

Group session zeros are when the Dungeon Master and players all gather to discuss the campaign as a whole, flesh out the world a bit more, and possibly connect their characters. It’s a preface to the rest of the time they will be spending together, an opportunity to learn more about each other and the world before they dive head first into a grand adventure. I explored this topic in an article a few years ago, so I’ll link it here. If you want a summary of it, here you go:
  1. Before meeting as a group, talk to each player privately. This is accomplished in the new system I propose, running one-on-one session zeros with each player. During them, build the character, connect them to the world, and get a sense for what the player wants from the campaign.
  2. Come prepared. This goes for both players and Dungeon Masters. Players should bring their character sheets, dice, knowledge about their character, and an excitement to create and contribute to the campaign. Dungeon Masters should arrive with information about the setting, all the proper materials, and a sharp, open mind.
  3. Hold a group discussion about the campaign’s focus. The group should talk about what they are open to and what they aren’t, mostly about what they aren’t. Do you want a sandbox or an on-the-rails campaign? Do you hate exploration? How gory can combat get? Are revolting and sensitive topics like torture or slavery allowed? Iron all this out during session zero and ensure no one is afraid to have a voice.
  4. Establish the setting. If the players aren’t already accustomed to the setting, ensure they are. Give a brief description of the area and its surroundings and talk about iconic individuals. Introducing six truths as described in Sly Flourish's Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is a great idea as well. Creating trinket tables unique to your campaign is a stellar idea as well, one I love to use every campaign.
  5. Allow the players to contribute to the campaign. Finally, the Dungeon Master should ask the players a few questions about the campaign and world. What’s a creature they’d like to face? What’s an item they’d like to see? What’s a plot twist you think would be interesting? What’s a location of wonder in the world?
At the end of the group session zero, make sure everyone’s characters are ready to go for the first session of the campaign. Double check the character sheets are filled out, clean the dice, and prepare everyone’s minds to immerse themselves in a world of their own design.

In Summary

The weeks leading to a new campaign can be used to ensure the campaign is as fun and epic as you want it to be. Pay attention to the most important parts of session zeros: connecting the characters to the world and each other and ensuring the players are excited about what the story the campaign will tell. Take the following actions to do so:
  1. Run one-on-one session zeros with each of your players. The first part of each should be a question and answer session about the player’s character. The second part should be an actual play segment in which the character explores the world for the first time and the player becomes accustomed to their character.
  2. Connect each player character to each other during their session zeros. Use NPCs one player made in another's session zero and ensure everyone's session zero ends in a manner that will unite the entire party come the first session.
  3. Hold a successful group session zero. Together, your group should talk about what they want from the campaign and contribute a few pieces to the world. This ensures the campaign has the legs to last.
Building our campaigns with session zeros in mind makes everything better and easier. We get a glimpse into our players’ minds and allow them to contribute to the campaign and world before it begins. This not only gives us ammunition to use in the campaign’s early moments, it ensures the players — and their characters — are connected to the campaign the moment it starts.

Until next time, stay creative.

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Caught in Galen Approaches...

Caught in Galen is approaching. I’m nervous and excited about it. Every week, I’ve been running a session zero with a different player. All of them have gone well and there’s only one remaining before the altogether session zero. With every session, I’m learning more and more about each player, even though I’ve already played with all of them before. When you play D&D alone with someone, you really see how they think and what they enjoy, at least in the context of their current character. Thanks to this, each session is helping me prepare the burning sandbox that Caught in Galen will be, one step at a time.

In between each session, I’ve been building out my array of tools for this campaign as well.

I created a region guide that details the campaign, the central tension, some iconic NPCs, and the starting point, following the advice I laid out in this article from last year. 

I’m keeping track of a campaign compendium, a spreadsheet that stores information on each session, all NPCs in the campaign, and stats on every session. I wrote an article on that this year — it is my most popular so far! 

I’m writing an in-depth campaign journal. Each entry in it briefly retells the story of the individual sessions. Currently, it is up-to-date with both prologue sessions and all the session zeros.

I have a personal in-depth dramatis personae in which I keep information about all the NPCs — ones the characters have met and ones they have not met. There’s mostly secrets, flaws, and future plot ideas squirreled away in there.

I am also building a campaign canon glossary. Within are all the terms that appear in the actual campaign, from people and places to artifacts and orders. I might write an article on it in the future. We’ll see!

I also wrote out the grim portents and level outlines of Caught in Galen, alongside its six truths as advised by Sly Flourish’s Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master. I like how it made me think about the future and what might happen. I know that D&D is extremely malleable and many of the plots and places I planned out won’t appear, but it was interesting to think about what could be.

In addition to the aforementioned parts of Caught in Galen, I’m constantly creating characters, writing lore & history about the city, building on Eldar, and thinking about the campaign’s villain.

Each day, the campaign draws nearer. I ended a long campaign two weeks ago; I’m about to end another in a few weeks. I have mixed feelings about the situation, but ultimately, I’m excited to begin Caught in Galen. It’s the next saga in my world, it’s a new group of players I think will mesh well together, and, potentially, a stellar story to retell to all of you. Each session zero went very well. Jason Urso met with a peculiar sapphire dragonborn who shared some of his goals regarding aberrations. Roy of Riverside slew a ravenous undead rat and learned about a new opportunity. Luna faced down her past and prepared to pursue a better future. Ignus Rinas protected those he cares about and struck a deal with a helpful human. Only Flux’s session zero remains, along with the group-wide session zero. I expect both will go as well as the rest.

As I said, Galen approaches. I hope you’re all ready for the greatness that’s about to unfold. I'm off to conjure up an interesting and innovative way to kick off the campaign.

Until next time, stay creative.

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

The Frozen Expanses of Iskryn

After the success of the Dead Isles of Altarin, my group was prepared to undertake a new adventure in a radically different climate. We said our goodbyes to the tropical and sunny archipelago where undead monstrosities once ruled and greeted the icy tundras and snowy forests of the far north with a warm embrace. The second campaign in the world of Eldar was the Frozen Expanses of Iskryn. At the time of the campaign’s genesis, I was wholly unaware of the struggles it would have to overcome and the new lessons about Dungeon Mastering, planning, and management I’d learn during it.
Here’s the compendium for the campaign: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1QNDvHcSh0NfdE-PkHlQLEgLVBaYW9Z0I7M93P5pZuLw/edit?usp=sharing

It’s less detailed than my other compendiums because I started the entire campaign compendium concept long after this campaign began. Still, it contains some information about the campaign.

This article is an introspective and retrospective of the campaign. It explores the entire campaign, from its story and characters to the lessons I learned as a Dungeon Master and a person along the way. It's long. It's rambling. It's peppered with pictures of my actual notes, scribbled on and filled with ideas that never made it into the world itself.

If you're a fan of D&D tales, you'll enjoy this look back at my friends' trek through the frozen expanses of Iskryn.

An Iskryn Overview

Let’s start this introspective with an overview of the campaign. Doing so will give you a preview of the topics we’ll be discussing. The Frozen Expanses of Iskryn was the second campaign I’ve run. It started on April 7th, 2017 and ended on April 25th, 2020. Overall, the campaign lasted 29 sessions. That averages a little under one session every month for three years. The campaign began with five players, including myself, and fluctuated between nine and three for the remainder of its life. The characters created were level one and finished their adventure at level 14.

There were two players who participated through the entire campaign. Their characters were Aku, a firbolg warlock with a fierce hatred of the elements and a trapped fey patron, and Cloud in the Eyes, a blind tabaxi arcane archer destined to kill Yeenoghu. Both had a single character other than those; Aku joined in session four after his player’s old character retired (but showed up later in the campaign), and Cloud in the Eyes joined after his player’s character was killed and unable to be resurrected. They made this campaign. I might have been the Dungeon Master, but their stories, actions, and attention created this campaign; I love them for it.

At the end of the day, I’m happy with the campaign. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be, not because of the players or what their characters did in-game, but because of the circumstances in the real world that deeply affected the story as a whole. I made many mistakes and I learned greatly from them. I wholly accept that.

Let’s delve deeper into the Frozen Expanses of Iskryn, beginning with the first act.

Act I: The Corruption

The campaign began with four players and me, the Dungeon Master. I made sure to run a session zero with every player, letting them feel out their character and understand the world they were playing in. Each of them went well at the time, but looking back, I think they were disconnected. Some of the plots I introduced fell off the face of the world for one reason or another. There was also nothing unifying about them. One-on-one session zeros are a chance to tie various player characters together in a satisfying way. As I’m going through the individual session zeros for my next campaign, Caught in Galen, I’m achieving this and it feels great. Anyway, back to Iskryn. We started after holding all four session zeros with an interesting first session.

As many other great campaigns, Iskryn began in a tavern, but that was accompanied by a failed opening narration. I had this wondrous idea in the early days of the campaign that I’d open each session with a bit of retrospective narration, as if I was telling their story far in the future or reading it from an ancient tome, each time as a different person. While the idea was cool, I didn’t execute it well and stopped trying it after the first session. After the narration, each player introduced their character and the party slowly formed. They met in the Silver Bear Inn, some of them ready to meet a sage named Gitro. He did eventually arrive, but his arrival was accompanied by a gang of humans with patches of soiled fur. They tried to kidnap Gitro, but each member of the party intervened and a battle ensued. As they killed the humans, they discovered their blood was oily black and their rage was insatiable. Something was amiss with them. This began the first plot of the campaign, the corruption of creatures across the icy region of Bassel’s Vale. The party found themselves tangled in it, trekking across the town of Piken to stop members of this lycanthrope cult, the Sanguine Paw, from achieving their goals. Of course, the characters' goals interfered with the cult as well. Rob Tully, a beastmaster ranger, knew the cult well and was destined to cull their rise; Artieom, a member of a good-natured wildlands tribe, sought to protect what his devastated people once did; Dani Dregon, an arcane trickster, believed the cult was behind the capture of her two eggs (she was an ancient dragon who'd lost her power and was polymorphed into a halfling); Mithdartis, an ice elf wizard of the frigid fjords, was under the impression that the cult's leader owned an artifact he needed to progress his studies. They heard of the Woodsmaster and culled one of his operations in a bakery called the Crescent. In the underbelly of the establishment, the group fought a powerful, demonic creature of dog-like appearance and found a wereboar goblin, who they cured of his foul corruption. The group needed a guide through the nearby wilderness to an ally of the Woodsmaster and the Sanguine Paw, a corrupted giant named Legrogg. This cured goblin became that guide and a steadfast member of the group, even though only one of the party members, Dani, took care of him and genuinely enjoyed his company. Boarhead was born that day, and he’s a character I will never forget playing. After raiding the bakery, the party lost Artieom as a member and gained a new one: Aku, a firbolg warlock whose patron was locked in a mysterious place.

From Piken, the party departed for the Goblin Barrows, where Legrogg awaited. En route with their goblin guide, they encountered wild beasts, saved a village named Damor from Sanguine Paw assault, battled the Woodsmaster for the first time, freed an efreeti from an eternal prison, befriended a handicapped hill giant named Mebigg, and ventured into the Goblin Barrows. Inside the dizzying series of snow capped hills and rocky outcroppings, they discovered Legrogg’s lair, a large cavern behind a great waterfall. There, they fought a representative of the Sanguine Paw and snuck deep into the giant lair, evading goblins, trolls, giants, and ogres all the way through. In a rite of sacrifice, Aku destroyed the elemental blade he looted from the efreeti's stone prison and annihilated the weaker beings of the lair. That left only Legrogg to be dealt with. The corrupted giant was handily defeated, a fight I was upset with for multiple reasons. With the giant’s death and the discovery of possible help in the north, the first act ended.

The first act started strong but stumbled a few times. Play was regular for awhile, every week or two weeks, and everyone showed up. Then, in the fourth session, two people joined the campaign with new characters and one of the original players created a new character. Talk about a mix up! I didn’t do a great job of integrating them, but I tried my best. The story was ramping up then, causing the addition and subtraction of characters to truly mess up my planning. No matter, we went onward and awesome adventures were had! The delve into the Crescent bakery dungeon was great, from the battle with the yeenogdemon to the establishment of a friendship between a goblin and the party’s arcane trickster. Leaving the town, Piken, increased up the tension. As the group arrived at Damor, this village under siege by the Woodsmaster and the Sanguine Paw, we lost two members. Then, a session later, we lost another; all three of them came and went for a few sessions after they "dropped out" but I see it all the same. The group was down to three players and one DM in the blink of an eye, all due to scheduling conflicts. They were busy with some other aspect of life or just couldn’t play, so I let them leave or come and continued on. Everything went well through the Legrogg fight, which wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I didn’t play the giant well enough; he was a beast of fury and passion, yes, but he was also somewhat intelligent. That wasn’t shown at all. In the session Legrogg was killed, I let another new player join in...and she got the killing blow on the villain as well. I understand it’s D&D and the dice fall where they must, but that was a real bummer. Legrogg had been built up to for quite awhile and then a new player comes in and finishes him off. Great for her, probably not for the rest of my group. And, of course, the very next session, she left the group, citing the inability to play consistently. Onward, though, to the second act!

Act II: The Magus and Beholder

Act one was the introduction to the characters, the setting, and the overarching plot. Act two saw the deepening of the primary plot and lots of other madness. It began as the group trekked north to the Seventh Spire. There, they sought more knowledge about this foul corruption, the Sanguine Paw, and the Woodsmaster from a wizard called Magus Sint. On the way there, they fought Magmaphor, the efreeti they freed in an earlier adventure, gained their old party members back again, fought the Woodsmaster near a hag’s abode, and ensured the Goblin Barrows were ruled by someone they trusted: Mebigg the Beastmaster. Once they arrived at the tower, they held council with Magus Sint and their old patron, Gitro, discovering that the Sanguine Paw and the Woodsmaster sought something lost to time. They were searching for a gnomish artifact or location that held souls of long disappeared beings. To find it, Sint believed they were bolstering their gnoll armies in the far north and preparing to bring the demon lord Yeenoghu into the mortal world. Their best option, they all agreed, was to find this mysterious gnome thing before the Sanguine Paw could act. In the Seventh Spire, they researched and discovered a ritual of divination to find the lost place — but it required multiple lunar aspects. They knew one lurked in the far north in a buried sanctuary of Bjornar, god of the urson. That was their next stop.

The party barreled through the frozen north, to the Gashnought Devastation and the location of the buried sanctuary. After weeks of searching the region for it, they uncovered the entrance to the shrine and entered it. Within was a tainted temple crawling with demons of Yeenoghu, remnants of a battle lost long ago by the servants of Bjornar. In this astral space, the party desperately dueled the powerful fiends and lost both Boarhead and Rob Tully. They also discovered and befriended the lunar aspect of Bjornar, who they explained the entire situation to. Afraid that Yeenoghu might enter the mortal world and ravage it like in the days of yore, the aspect agreed to assist them with their ritual. After everything concluded in the sanctuary, two members decided to stay behind and guard the ancient shrine of the bearfolk god. The group departed the sanctuary, resurrecting Boarhead but not Rob Tully, and journeyed back to the Seventh Spire. On their way to the tower, they found a tabaxi named Cloud in the Eyes, an arcane archer yearning to eviscerate Yeenoghu and his followers for transgressions against his people; the tabaxi joined the party. Weeks passed and the party arrived at the mage tower, seeing the slopes surrounding it filled with tents of humans, dwarves, elves, and halflings. They were refugees of Piken; the town was being ripped apart from the inside by agents of the Sanguine Paw. As the party assisted Magus Sint, their homes were being devastated by the Woodsmaster’s cult. Nonetheless, they entered the Seventh Spire, ready to return the aspect to Sint. In a twist, the group discovered using divination magic that the halfling magus was double crossing them, planning to use them to find the aspects and take the gnomish artifact or prison for himself. In private, the party decided to betray Magus Sint before he could betray them, but an attack on the Seventh Spire hurried their course of action. Minions of a great beholder they’d heard of before, Relueick, assaulted the mage tower. Eyeballs, trolls, and purple worms ravaged the tower, killing sages like Gitro by the hundreds. Luckily for the group, Relueick wanted the same thing as they now did: to find the gnomish thing and to take out Magus Sint. Together, the party and minions of Relueick entered Sint’s study and a portal to his fortress in the Nine Hells — a great structure of emerald and ooze. Against the magus of ooze, they were handily defeated but saved by Dani's connection to a famous archdruid, Gwenavine.

Teleported thousands of miles south to the Isles of Altarin, the party recovered from their battle with Magus Sint. In Altarin, they gained three new party members who would travel back north and help fight the Sanguine Paw and the magus of ooze. They took an airship to Azudon’s Reach, met with a respected archmage, Primedordus, and confronted Magus Sint in the renowned, massive spire of magic. In a flurry of plane shifts, the party teleported from Azudon’s Reach, to Magus Sint’s emerald stronghold, and back to Piken — the ruins of Piken. Demolished by the hordes of the Sanguine Paw, Piken was no more and most of its citizens were taken as prisoners. Gnolls still haunted the ruins and they party took it upon themselves to cleanse them. While eliminating them, the group discovered a massive excavation site. Before entering, the party's new members departed, eager to brave the wilds of Iskryn before venturing into the maw of the Sanguine Paw. Inside the excavation site were gnolls, a recently uncovered statue to Yeenoghu, a strange talking door, and the Woodsmaster. For the third time, the party battled the Woodsmaster, a once angelic overtaken by the hunger of Yeenoghu and a seemingly single purpose. They overcame him and banished him to the Death Dells again. They were left exploring what laid beyond the door: an ancient gnome outpost. They discovered mysteries and answers aplenty inside. A gnome civilization was buried deep below Iskryn and it harbored beings of metal, stone, and wood: soulforged. Relueick, the party’s beholder ally, had monopolized many of these buried outposts, including this one, and was producing soulforged with souls of various creatures across the Subterrane. Shocked, the party realized that the maniacal beholder, the halfling magus, and the lycanthropic cult of Yeenoghu were all after the same thing as them: one of this ancient gnome outposts that acted as a prison.

The party delved into this outpost and confronted Relueick himself. They spoke to the beholder and made a tenuous alliance against Magus Sint. Together, they’d eliminate the magus of ooze and then go their separate ways; if they collided on the way to the gnome prison, so be it. They also confided in a trapped gnome soul, who alerted them of the prison they sought: Gavelingrad. Searching his memories, the party discovered four keys were required to open the ultimate prison entrance — they knew Magus Sint and Relueick had one each. They needed to find all of them. Bolstered by a force of soulforged, eyeballs, and snow trolls of Relueick, the party entered the third layer of the Nine Hells once more, landing in a town on the River Styx: Zalgun's Crossing. Sensing an opportunity, the group decided to participate in a devil coliseum in exchange for artifacts of power, knowledge, and more creatures to strengthen their ranks. They battled fire giants, vampire lords, an ancient gnome artificer, powerful abishai, and an entrapped, corrupted marut. These souls had been trapped in this devil arena, the Den of the Demised, for centuries and millennia, and the party bested each of them, except the marut. The marut did almost defeat the party, but Aku managed to enter its planar prison and free its soul, earning the respect of the marut who turned back time...to the day Cloud in the Eyes, Aku, Dani, and Boarhead first entered the town in the Nine Hells. Despite losing to the marut, they still had all their rewards earned in the past, including one of the keys, the diamond key from Zalgun. Briefly, they planned on entering the arena again, despite there being changes to the inhabitants of Zalgun's Crossing, but it was attacked by Magus Sint and his oozey, infernal minions. Beside the minions of Relueick and the devil Zalgun, the party battled the magus of ooze on the banks of the River Styx. Barely, they defeated the wizard-warlock and fulfilled their end of the bargain with Relueick. Ransacking Sint's citadel alongside Zalgun, they found the emerald key and enlisted their soulforged companion, Tamus, to watch over the citadel alongside Zalgun. Satisfied, the party plane shifted back to the mortal world, to the Gashnought Devastation. After all, that was where the Sanguine Paw was taking the prisoners from Piken and where they planned on conducting the ritual to summon Yeenoghu to the mortal world.

In the frozen wasteland scoured by pools of bubbling lava, the firbolg and tabaxi scouted for signs of the Sanguine Paw. Primedordus teleported to them briefly, alerting them of various outposts around the area, points of interest discovered by an old friend of his. Dani and Boarhead decided to head to a clan of urson and gain their allegiance; a tabaxi they saved from Relueick’s clutches headed south toward the remnants of his people; the remaining party members — Aku and Cloud in the Eyes — decided to move toward an outpost of Relueick’s in the area, hearing from Primedordus that the beholder planned to ally with the Sanguine Paw and betray them as Sint did. Displeased, they scaled a chain of whitecapped mountains, braving strong winds and thick snow. Eventually, they found an old frost giant fort, renovated by Relueick and his minions, in addition to a great pillar of unknown origins. Beside the pillar, an efreeti materialized before them; he was Magmaphor the Second and he sought revenge against his father, Magmaphor, the efreeti that party had battled for the past few months after freeing him. They agreed to ally against Relueick, Magmaphor, and the Sanguine Paw. Together, they invaded and sneaked through Relueick’s renovated fort and lair, passing by soulforged, trolls, and eyeballs. A brief combat with a maddened gauth preluded the ultimate conclusion with Relueick. Cloud in the Eyes, Aku, and Magmaphor II confronted the icy beholder, who’d gone insane with greed and lust, desperate to find the gnomish prison and use all the souls within to power his ancient soulforged monstrosities. Alongside the eye tyrant stood a warforged titan — and the party battled both for awhile. They even managed to turn the warforged titan against the beholder multiple times, eventually shattering the aberration. As they slaughtered the beholder, a portal of fiery energy opened up before them, and Magmaphor the Second jumped through it. Hesitantly, Aku and Cloud in the Eyes followed, leaving the warforged titan and the rest of Relueick’s minions to fend for themselves. Upon the group’s arrival to the Plane of Fire, the second act ended.

The second act, the Magus and Beholder, was extremely long out of game. While act one was fairly consistent, progressing at a pace I thought was okay back then, act two was a drag. Lots happened during that time, in my life and the lives of my players, but the ultimate pressure and fault lies with me. We were all in college and had jobs. Some people moved away then came back and left again. I got married and moved to a new place. We let new people try out D&D multiple times, only for them to either not enjoy or not deem it worth their time. It was hectic and while D&D games can thrive on chaos in-game, chaos out of game only causes harm. The constant addition and removal of players really hurt the campaign here. Character specific plots were abandoned and added, were destroyed or slowly disappeared. It wasn’t great. The death of Rob Tully, too, was a monumental disaster for the campaign. He was so connected to the overarching plot, so integral to the story, but D&D is D&D and his character died and did not return from his afterlife in the Beastlands. The long spaces between sessions didn’t help with people’s memory, either. Key plot points were forgotten, interesting characters were pushed to the side, and lots of the intimate moments in the campaign faded away. On top of that, I started other campaigns, too. I was juggling a lot: three D&D campaigns, my wife, my job, school, writing, reading, exercising, and much more. By the end of act two, I’d realized all of this and actively remedied it. From now on, I’d only be running 2 campaigns, one every month or so and the other every week. I’d remedied the wrongs when it came to D&D, but there was this one campaign I knew had to be finished in a satisfactory way. Two of the players stuck through it, through all the trials in the world of Eldar and in our world. We needed to have a great ending. Although I knew it would be short, I also knew it would be epic, memorable, and would have an impact on Eldar for the rest of my life. Onward, to the third and final act!

Act III: Yeenoghu and Gavelingrad

Magmaphor the First awaited the party on the Plane of Fire. He approached them with a bargain: he’d shift them to the inner reaches of the Sanguine Paw’s territory if they could recover a powerful sword the Woodsmaster was holding over his head for him. The group agreed, despite the tense confrontation between Magmaphor the First and Second. The efreeti shifted them into the deep lair of the cult and the party cut through hordes of demons to find a twisted aspect of Yeenoghu guarding both the sword and one of the keys to Gavelingrad, the ruby key. During this battle, Magmaphor the Second was slain, turned to ash by the deadly fiend and servant of Yeenoghu. The group spent a moment recovering, but heard a rumbling howl from the surface. The cavern began to collapse and the single howl was joined by thousands more. Hurriedly, the party rushed to the surface, Cloud in the Eyes dodging falling chunks of stone and Aku riding a disc of crimson energy. Upon reaching the surface, they looked upon a massive gorge that ended in a titanic, partially cracked archway cackling with fiendish magic: the Gash. Hordes of gnolls surrounded the gorge, all howling in unison; crumbling stone towers dotted its sides, gnoll warlocks leading the cry; the prisoners from Piken sat helpless in the gorge itself; and the Woodsmaster stood above the arch, holding radiating parchment vital to the ritual. Yeenoghu’s arrival was imminent.

Aku flew to one of the stone towers, spotting one of Dani’s prismatic wyrmlings under the control of a gnoll warlock. The firbolg dispatched the gnoll and freed the dragon, leaping on it immediately. Cloud in the Eyes weaved through the hordes of gnolls at a rapid pace, moving toward the arch and the Woodsmaster. The ritual continued and the world shook — thousands of innocents were sacrificed in the gorge, their blood spattering the snow and ice of Iskryn. A terrifying maw broke through the cackling portal to the Abyss, snarling and voracious: Yeenoghu. He let out a frightening howl and his gnoll children responded, transforming into demonic visages of their already bestial selves. As the demon lord broke through, Aku unleashed a barrage of eldritch might upon the arch and Cloud in the Eyes loosed explosive arrows its way. Yeenoghu, the Gnoll Father, tore his head out as the top of the arch cracked and toppled onto the demon lord. In a grand and gory moment, the demon lord’s head was ripped from his body as the portal to the Abyss boomed out of existence. The livid gnolls howled in unison and began rushing the gorge, eager to finish off the prisoners and whatever sent their father howling back to the Abyss. The Woodsmaster, enraged, knocked Aku out of the sky and sent him and the dragon tumbling to the bottom of the gorge. Extremely wounded, Aku stood at the head of the remaining prisoners as the Woodsmaster landed in front of him and Cloud in the Eyes perched hundreds of feet above them, bowstring drawn.

For a moment, the Woodsmaster seemed intent on finishing off Aku once and for all...but he stopped short of the warlock. The two conversed. The Woodsmaster was calmer than usual and seemed steady minded. He explained that the constant howl and dark hunger of Yeenoghu was not present in his mind with the demon lord temporarily disabled. In a surprising turn of events, the party allied with the Woodsmaster and he called off the lost gnoll horde. They decided to enter Gavelingrad together and release the souls trapped within the gnome prison, which had been the goals of either side the entire time. The three took a moment to speak and rest above the Gash. The Woodsmaster further explained his position, how Yeenoghu’s curse forced him to commit vile actions, and how he’d spend the rest of his eternal life seeking repentance. As everyone spoke, Dani arrived, both of her wyrmlings intact, and gave the group one last farewell, explaining that the urson and Boarhead were en route to help the troubled prisoners turned refugees at the bottom of the gorge. Fully rested and ready to go, the party, now including the Woodsmaster, ventured to Relueick’s lair, where they knew the final key awaited. There, they encountered Primedordus’ friend — White Crow — who had cleared the lair and found the key about a day ago. The albino drow quickly departed after gifting the group the key, stepping through an extraplanar, glassy portal. With all four keys ready, Aku took out their friendly gnome soul and swept through his memories of Gavelingrad, trying to place it in Iskryn. He found it: the gnome prison lurked deep below his home, the Elementalwood. Altogether, they journeyed one, last time across Iskryn, and deep into the Subterrane, where they discovered the long lost Gavelingrad. Inside the pristine gnome settlement, they found an old companion who’d gone insane, Mithdartis, and the entrance to the prison itself. With the four keys, they opened the door to the planar portion of the prison. Once inside, the party and the Woodsmaster freed all of the trapped souls: goblins and humans, lycanthropes and dragons, tabaxi and dwarves — and Aku’s patron: Niqua. As Niqua was freed, warlock and patron combined to form an entity of pure eldritch might, one that would enact vengeance upon those who’d wronged the souls trapped here and the oppressed in Aku’s home. The warlock of newfound power opened a portal to Piken, where he and Cloud in the Eyes ushered out all of the mortals who still lived in the prison; they could begin a new life there. At the portal’s edge, the Woodsmaster graciously thanked the group and admitted his wrongs. He’d have an eternity to right them, and it’d begin with protecting this new settlement of a lost people. He left, leaving them with his true, celestial name — Lysander Xonora — not the name given to him by the members of his Sanguine Paw cult.

The planar prison was quiet, the two remaining members of the party standing within it. Together, they decided to ensure this place of eternal capture and torture was never used or found again. They exited the planar portion of the prison, and, in the mortal world once more, shattered the keys. As they broke them, the entire gnome prison fragmented and shook. Buildings of electrum exploded. Towers of adamantine shattered. Streets of pure mithril cracked. Together, Cloud in the Eyes and Aku rode on a disc of eldritch energy, racing past the collapsing gnome prison and their insane former companion chasing lichhood. Flying past the ice elf, Cloud in the Eyes took one last shot, impaling him to a tower of shimmering metal. He and his dark secrets would rest here forever. Eventually, they reached the apex of the cavern Gavelingrad was built within and watched the gnome prison crumble. They looked to each other, spent but fulfilled, and decided to part ways. Aku opened another portal for Cloud in the Eyes to travel to Piken and the tabaxi stepped through, giving his companion, his friend, one last goodbye. The portal shut; Aku stood above the ruined Gavelingrad, infused with his patron’s power, and Cloud in the Eyes stood at the head of the saved souls, blessed with the thanks of folk who were all but dead to the mortal world. Iskryn had been saved, but their stories were not finished. Aku returned to his people and instilled a new order in them, tearing apart their reliance on the cruel elements and giving them a new entity to look to. From there, he and his patron waged war upon the Elemental Planes, attempting to separate them from the fabric of the mortal world. Cloud in the Eyes helped Piken and its new inhabitants rebuild. He protected it, alongside Lysander, and watched it flourish once more. After that, he journeyed to Azudon’s Reach where he convinced Primedordus to shift him to the Death Dells in the Abyss: Yeenoghu’s lair. There, the tabaxi sought to eternally hunt the Gnoll Father. He’s thought to be there even in the present. As for Iskryn, the region was forever changed. The party stopped the rise of a demon lord in the distant north of a quiet continent, yes, but even his momentary presence shaped the land for centuries after. Despite this, the impact Aku and Cloud in the Eyes had on the world was great: some gnolls still live in peace, without the hunger of Yeenoghu in their heads; firbolg tribes flourish around the grand forest once called the Elementalwood; Piken is a bastion of civilization to this day, thousands of years later; and Lysander still protects the people of Iskryn from the plight of evil, and seeks to assist Cloud in the Eyes in his eternal hunt when the time is right. The frozen expanses of Iskryn did change for the better thanks to the actions of these two heroes and those who helped them, and their tale is often read and recounted across modern day Eldar. It is known as The Frozen Expanses of Iskryn: The Epicenter of All Conflict. Many think it false, others know it to be true. But who really knows? The author of the tome is unknown. The only two people who know the whole story are Aku and Cloud in the Eyes, and they are both out there — somewhere — in the vast multiverse, ascended adventurers of the past.

That was act three, Yeenoghu and Gavelingrad. Everyone’s stories were leading to these two moments throughout the campaign. Aku wanted to free his patron who was trapped in Gavelingrad and Cloud in the Eyes wanted to kill Yeenoghu and free the tabaxi inside Gavelingrad. A lot went down during act three, but it was only two sessions, two great sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed both, as did my players, and we knew it was the end of the campaign. Most of the loose ends were answered, either during play or during each of the epilogues we created for the campaign. I was even able to get in cameos for all of their characters from the Dead Isles of Altarin: Primedordus, Gwenavine, and White Crow; they all thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated that. Each of the primary characters, too, had satisfying endings. Aku joined with his patron and took revenge on those who cast him out; Cloud in the Eyes pursued his lifelong goal of killing Yeenoghu; Dani returned to Altarin to be with Gwenavine, their wyrmlings, and Boarhead. Even those player characters who were present for part of the campaign did have endings: Mithdartis died in his attempt to attain lichdom; Erthizon guarded the sanctuary of Bjornar for the remainder of his life; Brique roamed the wilds, never to cure the planar bug in his head; Artieom reforged the Frostwolves to help Lysander protect Piken and Bassel's Vale; Rob Tully remained in the Beastlands, beside his wife and child until the end of time.

In the end, I was happy with the campaign’s conclusion. We ended it in the best way possible. After all the hardship, conflicting schedules, and lost time, the Frozen Expanses of Iskryn ended on a high note. I am glad it’s over and I think my players are as well. Now, we can look to the future, which, despite the pandemic raging across the earth right now, is looking bright. This campaign may have been sporadic and full of problems, but the D&D I run isn’t like that anymore. It’s consistent — and consistency is the key to great D&D games. Whether you’re playing once a week or once a month, as long as you are consistent and everyone is committed to playing D&D, you are going to have an amazing time. When everything is consistent and everyone is committed, the story progresses smoother, the characters are more alive, and everyone maintains a firm grasp on the game. Alas, consistency requires the organizer or Dungeon Master to be harsh at times. Get a firm answer on commitment, make sure that your players believe the game is worth their time. If the Dungeon Master is putting in the effort, the players should too — but the DM needs to enforce it. Sometimes, it’s necessary to be an enforcer to have fun.

In Summary

Like I’ve said many times in this article, I learned a lot during the Frozen Expanses of Iskryn campaign. I’ve taken all of the lessons to heart and incorporated them in the games I run now — they’re so much better. I can’t wait to write the introspectives/retrospectives for my current campaigns, it’s going to be a lot more storytelling and D&D specific lesson learning and a lot less learning how to plan, manage, and enforce. Running D&D campaigns is the best way to improve. If I would have never run the Iskryn campaign, I wouldn't have learned that:
  1. Consistency is the key to great campaigns. With consistent sessions, everyone feels more connected to the story and each other.
  2. It's necessary to find committed players. D&D shouldn't be something they do on the side because there is nothing else to do, they should see it as a priority, especially when it's scheduled out or predetermined.
  3. Many other things: improvisation is the best way to play D&D; grand plans sometimes stutter and fail; laughing and joking around makes everyone happier; the players and their characters are the centerpieces of the campaign; unimportant or side NPCs might be better than any planned character; and much, much more, but I can't go on forever!
Before this article ends, take a look at this page I wrote up before the campaign started. Plenty changed and morphed into new stories as the campaign progressed, mostly thanks to my players and their ingenuity, creativity, and excitement to tell awesome stories. I am happy, however, that the primary villain, the Woodsmaster/Lysander remained in the campaign the entire way through. It was absolutely great how the party reconciled with him after driving Yeenoghu from the mortal world, and seeing his redemption, something I always thought would be possible, actually happen was fantastic. Major props to my players!

I hope you took something useful from this, or enjoyed the story of the second campaign set in my world of Eldar. I’d like to deeply thank everyone who participated in this campaign and made it possible; you’re all amazing. Here’s to many more epic tales in Eldar!

It's only a matter of time before looking back at my current campaigns: the Enoach Desert and the Karlith Straits. When the time comes, I hope you'll join me again.

Until next time, stay creative!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.