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Caught in Galen's Baby Steps


The Caught in Galen campaign is officially underway. Last time I updated you all, we were about to partake in an altogether session zero; that went well. We discussed what Caught in Galen should and should not be, established starting variant rules, and built pieces of the world and characters in real time. After that, we played sessions one, two, and three of the campaign. The first session was held online and the next two were played in person. Every session so far has blown away my expectations. These players are phenomenal and are sincerely enjoying the baby steps of Caught in Galen. From socializing with a stern but respectful with a massive blue mohawk, to battling a small horde of varied (human, halfling, elf, dragonborn, genasi) zombies in a tight hallway, everyone has had a stellar time.

Let’s dive into each of the sessions and see if there’s anything interesting to gleam from them. Linked will be the notes for each session I prepared beforehand. Be careful, though, this campaign has already seen lots of improvisation and tons of tossed notes: just how I like it.

If you want to follow along with the campaign, week by week, check out the Caught in Galen Campaign Compendium. It has all the NPCs, session summaries, and information about the party, among other things, inside of it.

Session 0: Welcome to Galen

After a one-on-one session with each member of the party, this was the third time everyone was getting together. At this point, we’d already played two prologue sessions, so people were familiar with each other, but not “friendly.” During this session zero, we overviewed the many variant rules we’d be using. One by one, we eliminated or approved rules, discussing why or why not they’d improve the atmosphere or fun at the table. Of the nixed rules was the vile and extended lingering wounds chart. The wounds of these chart included losing a leg, losing a few fingers, getting an ear chopped of, and having a stomach cut open, among other terrible inflictions. Altogether, we decided we did not want to begin with this table, especially since the enemies rolled so many more times against the characters and had many more opportunities to “gift” the characters with these horrendous wounds. Overall, I agreed. Instead of this, we instilled a different rule that punished going down: every time a character went down and was raised using healing, they were to gain a level of exhaustion. This, ideally, would make combat more punishing, encouraging characters to be strategic and manage their hit points intelligently.

After the variant rules, I asked everyone what they wanted the campaign to be and what they did not want in it. The former we all agreed upon, the latter was left rather blank; everyone in the group was mature and understood any touchy subject included in the campaign (slavery, torture, explicit romance, etc) would be included because it was important to the story. Everyone understood I as a storyteller was not gratuitous or out to hurt the players in my game. We closed the session zero with a discussion of what the players wanted to see and a growth of the characters. I asked them a variety of questions such as: what monsters do you want to see?, where do you want to go?, and what artifacts might be found? They all loved it, and I am eager to include their suggestions in the campaign. Suggestions included astral giants, eldritch horrors, previous player characters, and places from past campaigns. As for the character building, that was by far the shortest part because most of the character backgrounds were already made and ready to go. It was simple and quick, and nicely led into the first session of the campaign, titled Let the Guilty Rise.

Welcome to Galen was the culmination of all the session zeros and prologues. This was, by far, the most “pre campaigning” I’d ever done for a D&D campaign, but I think it was well worth it. The prologue sessions allowed the players to feel out each other and interact before the campaign began, as well as get introduced to the world and first villain of the campaign personally. Alongside those, the session zeros allowed me to understand each player and character, what was important to them, and how to tie them into the main plot well. It all worked out. I completely understand people who state that it’s too much, why would I do this, or that I’m insane for playing this much before a campaign. I’ve played campaigns with zero prep, a bit of prep, a decent amount of prep, and then this. So far, since I had the time (thanks, COVID-19) I like this method. In the future, though, I have a feeling (with kids & such), I will not be able to do this. Regardless, it was great and was a unique way to kickstart a D&D campaign.

Session 1: Let the Guilty Rise

Caught in Galen’s first session was a bloody success.

Here are its notes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Pp3jdPVNFii829rUxZvUfMvQbtdQeKgHiqKZMd8sDtk/edit?usp=sharing

All of the characters met outside a grand tower amidst a violent, artificially created lightning storm. Some of them already knew each other, either from brief meetings or the shared dream. Eventually, they made their way into Coresaw’s Tower, led by a respectful and serious dwarf with a bright blue mohawk. Inside, they spoke at great length about conflicts boiling in Galen and Vorici’s Rest, and individual rewards to each of the party members were they to help the Coresaw brothers: Andhere and Esegar in secret. The party and the brothers came to an agreement when explosions shook the tower and spread a foul, thick blood fog inside and around it. The group fought to stay up but the world went dark; unable to fight back, they saw Andhere and Esegar taken by a vile half-flesh, half-warforged creature. When they woke up, they discovered undead were now rampant in Coresaw’s Tower. Determined to break out, they began their descent down the tower and made an ally in a raucous halfling fighter named Preston Fairfields.

This session went great. I tried to improve on callbacks during it, and was able to make quite a few: references to past characters in the campaign, backstories, and even old campaigns. It contained all three pillars of D&D: combat, exploration, and roleplay, from the battle with an acidic half-orc zombie to the discovery of an arcane-trapped chest. For a brief moment, I did steal agency from the characters to set-up the opening arc of the campaign with the deadly fog — I scarcely do that. Afterward, I asked them how they felt about it and I received a positive reaction: they felt helpless and now despise the creature — Varmin — that took the Coresaw brothers. That’s an absolute success in my eyes.

Session 2: Guided by Blood

I’ve never had a deadlier second session than Guided by Blood.

Here are its notes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ta9hgwUJCKHm0663wJswJz8B_MibRtbj6U38pENyS80/edit?usp=sharing

With the halfling fighter as their guide, the party explored the horrific Coresaw’s Tower. Dead guards, undead, annihilated chambers, clues to how the tower was ruined, and torn art pieces were what they found, until nearly finding the secret door to the main level. In a single file hallway, they fought a bloody battle against zombies, skeletons, and a ghast captain named Glory — the husk of a former paladin. They were outmaneuvered by the ghast, surprised by reinforcements, and surrounded, causing four casualties. Luckily, using speed spells and barricades, they managed to lock themselves in a chamber, away from the undead. In the chamber, they planned a way to escape and met with a goblin named Xing, someone who’d already been acquainted with one of the party members: Flux. Conversations between the party and the goblin were heated, but their singular goal remained the same: escape Coresaw’s Tower alive.

The majority of this session was a deadly battle in a tight corridor and a large dining hall. Two characters nearly died and two others were making death saving throws. However, it was a situation they put themselves in, and I’m proud of what happened. They knew I was going to be more tactical and throw smarter foes at them — this was choreographed in game and out — they should have seen it coming (in fact, one of them did). Most of the party thoroughly enjoyed the battle, both during the session and after it — I could tell by watching but I asked them about it as well. They also loved that one of the PCs from the prologue, Glory, was an enemy in the campaign; they were prepared to take him out. During this session, I wanted to improve on chase encounters, but that’s not what happened! Instead, it turned into a tactical meat grinder where undead awaited the party on all sides and they had to push their way out of a terrible situation. They succeeded.

Session 3: Deal or Death

Already in the third session of the campaign, I pulled the famous “throw away all your notes” show as the Dungeon Master.

Here are its notes, though they don’t show anywhere near the whole story: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1K8ZcXY59zvxuuwmSVwJtclU_L-f1G7-je-e929flyFQ/edit?usp=sharing

Barricaded in a wide chamber with a massive broken window, the party hatched a plan: Flux would channel divinity from Moradin and create a 500 foot long ladder to scale the tower while Roy and Ignis steadied it against the stone. Meanwhile, Jason, Luna, Xing, and Preston would guard the blocked door. It was an insane but possible plan! As an hour passed by, Glory tried to parley with the group for Flux, the warforged was all Varmin wanted now. The group refused and, as the ladder was finished, Glory sent undead to break through the barricades. Roy and Ignis stayed to guard the party, shoving stone pedestals down a long staircase at a zombie minotaur and other undead creatures. The rest of the group climbed down the harrowing ladder, dodging clouds of crimson fog and escaping near falls in dramatic fashion. Ignis and Roy fought in a truel with Glory; Roy eventually pushed the ghast out the window, sending the undead paladin to his ultimate death. As the group reached the bottom of the ladder, they were surrounded by the press of Galen and bombarded with questions. They quickly broke off from each other and the press, leaving Preston behind, promising to meet at the Faded Ember Inn at nightfall. Flux and Xing went to his smithy. Luna went to the Temple of Anubis to meet Hermione, then to the Pale Glow Headquarters to try and get her job back. Ignis met in secret with Shishotile, his Trikaani Assembly informant. Roy made way to the Faded Ember Inn immediately and passed out in its owner’s arms. Jason spoke with Athelmod Coresaw, the guard captain, and traveled to the Sapphire Climb to meet with Crizendomon, learning a dark but useful truth. In the end, they all headed to the Faded Ember Inn…

Another great session! I did not expect it to go the way it did. About five minutes in, I tossed my notes to the side and asked the players to bring it on. Miraculously, I made the ladder encounter interesting, as well as the interaction between Roy, Ignis, Glory, and Glory’s necrotic falchion. When they made it out of the tower — way earlier than I expected — they spoke with a variety of people and split off to different areas of Vorici’s Rest. Everyone took it quite well; I gave everyone rather equal time (except Roy, who passed out quickly) and attention and ensured everyone was okay with splitting the group like this. I suppose I should have expected that if they’re in a city with so many opportunities before them, they were likely to split. As long as they reunite quickly and everyone is having a good time, I think it’s okay. Regardless of this split, everyone thought this was another stellar session and a good way to end the campaign for a week’s time.

In Summary

I am incredibly pleased with how Caught in Galen is going. As we head into this one week break (I am heading up north for a few days), everyone is eagerly awaiting the fourth session: Beside Faded Embers. I expect this session to be the first without any combat, a slow and steady three and a half hour of roleplay and exploration that will include an encounter with one of the early antagonists of Caught in Galen, their name not revealed because my players might be reading this. I’m ready to go, to keep improving, and to continue developing the already interesting and in-depth story of Caught in Galen.

Until next time, stay creative!

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