The Karlith Straits

With the Frozen Expanses of Iskryn campaign retrospective now over, it’s time to delve into the next installment of finished campaigns in my grand, old world of Eldar. It is not the third campaign of the setting — the Enoach Desert — which is still ongoing, it is the fourth campaign of the massive realm: the Karlith Straits. This campaign opened up a new world of possibilities to me and my players. It was a weekly campaign with some of the folks from the failed Cursed Jungles of Yatar campaign set in the islands once called the Dead Isles of Altarin, an archipelago named the Karlith Straits. In this campaign, I would learn to become a better Dungeon Master, gather almost every week to play Dungeons & Dragons, and ensure my players had a blast until the campaign’s conclusion.

The Karlith Straits was the first campaign I kept a dedicated campaign compendium for. Here it is:

The compendium has everything inside of it. Names of every session, brief summaries of them, descriptions of every single NPC that appeared in the campaign, maps of the world, and even information on each player character! It also has links to the Karlith Straits region guide and the in-depth journal for the campaign.

This article is an introspective and retrospective of the Karlith Straits D&D campaign. It explores the entirety of the campaign, from its story and characters to the lessons I learned as a DM and person along the way. It is long. It is rambling. It is filled with pictures of my actual notes, scribbled on and filled with ideas that never manifested in the campaign.

If you are a lover of D&D tales, you will absolutely enjoy this in-depth delve into me and my friends’ story of the Karlith Straits of Eldar.

An Overview of the Karlith Straits

Before we explore the story, let’s glimpse over the campaign as a whole. The Karlith Straits was the fourth campaign I have run. I was running it alongside the Frozen Expanses of Iskryn (rarely played, finished) and the Enoach Desert (played about every month, ongoing). It started on December 27th, 2018 and concluded on May 26th, 2020 with its 44th session. The majority of the campaign was played in person, with the last few sessions (40 to 44) played online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign started with six players, including myself, and fluctuated between six and eight throughout the campaign with very rare additions and subtractions.

Every starting character began at level one and ended at level twelve. There were a total of ten different player characters between seven different players. Only one of the characters made it (in the hands of its starting player) to the end of the campaign. The rest of the players lost their characters or made new ones. Five of the seven players played through the entire campaign. Two players made it part of the way through, with one of them participating in most of it and only leaving due to real life circumstances (moved to a new, faraway place). In total, there were 115 different NPCs across 44 sessions of gameplay. That’s an average of 2.61 new NPCs per session! Over two years of time passed in Eldar between the first day of the campaign, Bhas 5, 201 AK, and the last day of the campaign, Lestodis 20, 203 AK.

As always, the players and their characters made the campaign. I was the DM, yes, but their involvement in the world and interest in the events around them drove the plot forward. I thank them graciously for their time and would play with each of them again. The players and their characters were:
  1. Albert: Alovnek, the minotaur cleric of Isperia.
  2. Ian: Ra, the fire genasi aasimar warlock of Xiacutli, and Ruaka Jaqiarza, the platinum half-dragon barbarian.
  3. Hannah: Qoyish, the ice elf ranger, and Na, the water nymph warlock.
  4. Tom: Grobbolith, the lizardfolk druid, and Bruno, the kobold wizard.
  5. Anthony: Elrich, the halfling rogue.
  6. Andrew: Merk, the triton warlock, and Dayo, the githzerai mystic.
As we dive into the campaign’s story, try to guess which character survived in the hands of its player until the very end. Let me know in the comments if you were correct!

If you want to dive deep into the story itself, go ahead and read the Karlith Straits In-Depth Campaign Journal or listen to the video in which I read it out. I’m going to overview most of the story in this article, else it’d be far, far too long.

Okay. Let’s take a journey into the past, a meandering trail through the lives of those who changed the face of Eldar forever...

Act I: The Fall of Taris

The campaign opened up in the small town of Doran on the isle of Varn in the Spearhead Inn & Tavern. A storm raged outside as each member of the unformed party sat either in the inn or on the muddy street outside. Across the town, furious animals with odd, purple eyes bashed into the gates, sending the town guard into panic. Alovnek rushed to the street, mace and shield in hand. Ra joined the fray, flames dancing off his skin and blade. Grobbolith pushed his mushroom cart to the side and turned nature against itself. Qoyish shot into the fight and was picked up and dropped tens of feet by an attacking eagle. This was the unification of the party. They succeeded in defending Doran from giant eagles and a huge rhino, all the beasts mind-controlled and purple-eyed. The leader of Doran, Lord Adrian Ambriosa, arrived to the scene of the battle with his pristine Lord’s Elite, the battle already over. He discussed the origins of the animals, believing they were most likely sent by the neighboring wood elf enclave called the Choqiti. Due to their competence in defending Doran, he invited them to the Lord’s Keep to discuss a proposition. The newly formed party cautiously accepted without showing Lord Ambriosa the respect he wanted. The storm raging above them, the lord returned to the Lord’s Keep with his dragonborn soldiers and left the party at the inn to contemplate their options. What ensued was a great story that shot between a deep, cursed cavern filled with pearls, the dense Twilit Grove, alliances and betrayal, and the ultimate confrontation with an enforcer of the Obsidian Circle: Taris. It saw the death of Qoyish and the addition of Ruaka Jaqiarza, a platinum half-dragon, to the party.

Everything was fantastic during this first act. The party explored two dungeons, both of which they enjoyed. This allowed me to work on running dungeons, a skill I lacked then and still do now. There’s something about the freedom of the surface that helps me become a better DM. Somehow, I need to incorporate that freedom into dungeons. The thing, though, is that dungeons usually need to be prepped to make total sense to me. Exterior areas are different in my head; I can weave everything together in interesting ways, whereas in a dungeon that’s far more difficult. In Caught in Galen, this is a skill I’m specifically trying to improve on.

In addition to dungeon delving, they played games between powerful political leaders and, eventually, faced one of the leaders in combat and killed them. They met many different NPCs and became attached some ones I thought I’d use once and never again. I adjusted lots of different ideas I had during this act, such as the inclusion of a myconid that became a major character. I also tried to focus on a single character’s plot alongside the main story, leading to that characters removal from the party. Oops! With his character gone, I abandoned what I thought would be the main plot: the rise of a fire primordial. Instead, I decided to pursue a plot I’d been hinting at throughout the campaign but thought would be a side plot.

Act II: The Gold Twins

The party arrived at Doran, soaring in on their pegasi with Taris’s head clipped onto Alovnek’s belt. Upon their arrival, they intimidated Lord Adrian, banished Ra to the Azurian Citadel, gained a new party member, Na, and found Zekki alive in his cave. From there, they decided to return to Cursed Pearl Cove to recover with Zekki. There, they found a group of sahuagin had invaded the cavern, who they negotiated with and eventually fought. In the cove, they discovered the fey-touched passages of Old Blenna, where they battled the servant of the Beast Queen and gained a new party member, Merk. Upon defeating the night hag, Na became Na the Everflowing, claiming the allegiance of the remaining unseelie fey there. The cove tamed and in good hands, the companions traveled to the city of Merlint, encountering Grobbolith’s old leader, Caprakan, and his mentor, Amanita. The lizardfolk departed with the mushroom treant as the group arrived at Merlint, where they added a kobold named Bruno to their group. In the Kothian controlled city, the party falsely accepted a job given to them by the Kothian vessel, Lord Elyas Embong. He wished them to capture the twin brother of a gold dragon he’d already captured — he wanted to gift them both to the Obsidian Circle and prove his worth to Head Enforcer Galasar Kisoja. What ensued was an awesome romp throughout the city, a cloud giant’s flying island, and the depths of the dungeons below Merlint. In the end, they saved both gold dragons and discovered they were a part of a greater plot to bring the Platinum Sun — Bahamut — back to the multiverse. They were members of the Line of Seven Guardians, the ancient protectors of the Platinum Sun. The Obsidian Circle wanted their death and the party sought their survival, safety, and the destruction of the followers of Takhsis. They were intent on taking them to a place they thought the Obsidian Circle could not reach them: the Domain of Laughing Goats, the realm of Na’s patron, Hyrsam, in the Feywild.

There’s not too much to critique about act two; some of the best moments of the campaign happened here. I pulled off a stellar betrayal plot in which a changeling was disguised as Ruaka’s long-time friend, a crazy hill dwarf. The clues were introduced from the character’s initial introduction and dotted through six sessions. The reveal was one of my favorite moments of D&D: the look on the players’ faces, the was fantastic. We did lose a player during this time, his character going out in a truly memorable way. His shadowy patron, Scopos, walked into the Mortal World and demanded the powerful, sentient blade of Ruaka, forcing a face-off between the companions. Luckily, Alovnek was able to intervene and banish a hexblade patron back to the Shadowfell! There were very few combats during this act. Most of the ones that did happen were avoided or simmered down by the characters in great ways, from the dewinging of a trapped balor to the epic escape from a trio of cloud giant brothers. I’m sort of sad about that. I enjoy challenging my players and I’m sure they all enjoy challenges; I know I need to work on combat and tactics, it’s the thing I need to prep most when it comes to D&D. I’m slowly improving, but I need to remember to include awesome battles in my sessions, however engaging the roleplay and exploration may be.

Act III: Na the Everflowing

The companions spoke to Zekki a final time before entering the fey crossing in the Orovian Well, formerly Cursed Pearl Cove. Flowing into the Plane of Faerie, the party encountered minions of the Beast Queen and traveled through fantastic environments, barreling past any encounters that stood in their way. With the twin gold dragons, they reached the Golden Sea and interacted with the centaurs there, learning of the Obsidian Circle’s war on Hyrsam (which they had known little about before). They swept through the Golden Sea and battled an enforcer of the Obsidian Circle: an ancient silver dragon, alongside Marzius and Trinathia. After the battle, Trinathia informed them more about the Line of Seven Guardians and they discovered one of the dragons might be hiding in the Grove of Laughing Goats. Soaring over the Feywild, the companions arrived at Hyrsam’s domain and spoke with the archfey, who was threatened by Na the Everflowing. In the grove, Ruaka discovered another Line of Seven Guardians dragon, Kazakis, and they allied to defeat Funghoul, the Beast Queen. In the epic confrontation, Na absorbed the dead archfey’s essence and became a fledgeling archfey.

This act focused on growing the Obsidian Circle threat and Na’s journey to becoming an archfey. Looking back, this is when I realized the campaign was going to end earlier than later. People were moving away, there was a pandemic halting sessions, and I needed to find a way to wrap up everything nicely. I started looking toward the future, introducing plot-ending scenarios, and trying to conclude everything in a way that was satisfying for me and the players. The moment Na became an archfey was simply fantastic, only beat by the final few moments of the campaign.

Act IV: The Rebellion’s End

In the Beast Queen’s domain, the party recovered, Na imbuing the dark waters with a beautiful blue hue. Together, they decided to return to the Mortal World and try to take out the Obsidian Circle and push the Kothians out from the Karlith Straits with their new allies and power. When they returned, they discovered over two years had passed while they were in the Feywild. They quickly traveled to Doran and met with Lord Adrian Ambriosa, who caught them up on the affairs of the world. From there, Hyrsam attacked them, pissed at Na for becoming an archfey; however, they escaped and joined an attack on a Kothian caravan that included Lord Elyas Embong. In a brutally fast battle, Ruaka, Alovnek, Na, Bruno, and multiple members of an allied faction destroyed three Kothian airships and Lord Embong. Those foes destroyed, they retreated to the Plane of Air to regroup and plan the final assault on the Obsidian Circle. Altogether, they plotted out an attack on Merlint, an assault on a new Obsidian Circle citadel, and Head Enforcer Galasar Kisoja’s spire in the Plane of Battle, Acheron.

The final session was incredible, so I am going to include its entire campaign journal entry:

The companions departed Malseru’s sanctum and spread across the heart to prepare. Bruno and Ruaka went to Richtar to discuss battle plans. Na spoke to a few fey and annihilated a potential dissenter and former thrall of Funghoul. Alovnek found his old friend, Grobbolith, and caught up. Eventually, after crossing paths and conferring once more, they all ended up in the same chamber, awaiting the assault that would arrive come morning. Bruno prepared a speech Richtar asked him to give. Ruaka thought of the new and powerful energy inside of him. Na spoke to Oro about returning home after all of this was over, and whether they’d stay united as companions. Alovnek received guidance and reassure from Isperia herself in his dreams; she’d heard his calls for intervention but couldn’t aid before. If Takhsis herself intervened, though, Isperia could join the fray as well. As night ended on the Plane of Air, everyone gathered at the apex of the Ruptured Heart. Atop two stacked barrels, the best the Atlas Assembly could do, Bruno gave a rousing speech to the gathered forces. At its end, everyone cheered, some cried, but they were all inspired to battle the Obsidian Circle and drive the Kothians from their home. Malseru and Kazakis opened portals to the mortal world and Acheron, where Galasar awaited. One by one, the airships broke through to the mortal world until it was only the dragons and the companions left. Alovnek boarded their airship, the Bloody Tide, and the others mounted the gold dragons. Na rode Kazakis, Bruno rode Malseru, and Ruaka rode Trinathia. Together, they flew into Acheron and the realm of Takhsis: Astradanis.

As the companions broke into the other plane of existence, the sound of battle welled around them. Screams of warriors breathing their last; steel swords clanging against each other; catapults releasing fiery ammunition and great towers falling. But no battle took place before them — ‘twas simply the inherent atmosphere of Acheron. Before them was a massive obsidian fortress built onto the side of a high plateau. The plateau was surrounded by swirling, multi-colored mist that took the form of draconic entities. Blue dragons wisping, red dragonborn flying through the sky, all souls of those who fell for the dark goddess Takhsis in battle and found their ultimate resolution here in Acheron. On the plateau’s apex was a huge, black orb — the Obsidian Circle. Floating above it was a gold dragonborn donning plated obsidian armor and two crackling purple wings of shadow. Surrounding the orb were purple robed dragonborn priests, chanting the words of Takhsis. Attached to the orb were two gold dragons...and Hyrsam, the Prince of Fools. Scattered across the rest of the plateau were servants of Takhsis: red and black half-dragons and shadow wyverns. The companions flew to the plateau, breaking through the wall of swirling souls and immediately engaged the remaining members of the Obsidian Circle. Bruno rushed in on Malseru, unleashing a storm sphere on the chanting priests. The red half-dragons responded, one surging to meet Na with an acidic greatsword, the other bringing down Malseru with an arrow that unleashed a flurry of thorns. Ruaka joined the fray atop Trinathia, rushing the archer on the far side of the plateau, using Flindlint to great effect. Alovnek manned the gnomish cannon on the airship for a brief moment, unleashing a radiant beam onto the half-dragons below before leaping on Marzius and flying onto the plateau. The black half-dragons of Takhsis then unleashed magic upon the companions, one of the holding Ruaka still and the other imbuing his mace with unholy might. The shadow wyverns acted quickly after, rushing to the held down Malseru and the isolated Na. Na reacted by transforming into an erinyes, longsword of flowing liquid in hand, while Kazakis unleashed fire breath on the attacking half-dragons. With that, the battle truly broke out. Dragons circled the plateau alongside the draconic mist. The airship launched cannon beam after beam on the party’s foes. Galasar grew in might but joined the battle when all the priests were slaughtered. Trinathia was trapped by the sheer will of the Obsidian Circle. Eventually, though, only the companions, the gold dragons, the airship, its crew, and Head Enforcer Galasar Kisoja remained. He fought against the companions, despite being held down by Alovnek and his Isperian might and being frightened deeply by Bruno’s magic. In erinyes form, Na slashed into him while the dragons had their turn at the Obsidian Circle’s leader, until Ruaka, the Platinum Sun rising inside him, shattered the Obsidian Circle using a heavenly imbued Flindlint.

As the orb shattered, Ruaka channeled radiant breath to scatter its pieces to the swirling souls around them and Galasar went limp in Alovnek’s strained arms. The servant of Takhsis gave up, shocked that everything was over this quickly. Ruaka turned to finish him as the once unconscious gold dragons rose from their slumber. Yet Alovnek spotted it first: the immediate halting of the wall of souls, the darkening of the plateau, and the massive, obsidian plated talons grabbing onto the plateau’s apex. A massive entity revealed itself, wading in from the mist. A titanic dragon with crackling purple eyes and two massive horns curving from its head, obsidian plates guarding every inch of its gargantuan form. It was Takhsis. The Line of Seven Guardians were all here, all in her realm, and she could end Bahamut with a bite. She brought down her maw on the plateau, a move that would swallow its entirety. From the airship, Bruno launched a lightning beam with the cannon that deterred her for a brief moment...and the plateau grew lighter, Alovnek’s triforce buzzing with energy. From the opposite end of the plateau and paused mist stretched a huge, azure paw. Its claws caught Takhsis maw as it came down on the plateau, holding it steady. Isperia. The goddess cried out for the Platinum Sun to react, and with the help of Alovnek’s divine energy, Ruaka let himself radiate with the force of Bahamut. The platinum half-dragon doubled in size, white fire blazed from his eyes, nostrils, mouth, and between his scales. His wings grew, wisps of light and concentrated positive energy. Flindlint screamed in protest or pleasure, as he too felt the energy of the Platinum Sun course through him, becoming a weapon of holy might. Imbued by Bahamut and Alovnek, Ruaka surged upward, toward the locked maw of Takhsis, the six gold dragons of the Line of Seven Guardians following him. Altogether, they assailed the dark goddess, pushing her back into the depths of Acheron. Marzius and Trinathia scorched her with radiant flame. Kazakis and Malseru blasted her with arcane spells. The other two dragons raked their claws across her body. Ruaka, the Platinum Sun, transformed Flindlint into a massive spear of divine power and plunged it into Takhsis, wounding her and sending divine blood spewing across the skies of Acheron. Takhsis, wounded, was driven off. Ruaka, no longer truly Ruaka, landed back on the top of the plateau, the six gold dragons behind him. Everyone, including Galasar, was in awe of what just happened. Bruno was shocked. Na was intrigued. Alovnek was relieved. Malseru proudly stated, “The Platinum Sun...has risen once more. And so sets the terrible reign of Takhsis. She’s gone, for now.” Isperia echoed these thoughts and blessed Alovnek, crowning him as the new High Justicar of the Azurian Order. The goddess faded and everyone was left on the top of the plateau, together. The six gold dragons polymorphed into tiny, gold-feathered canaries and perched themselves on Ruaka’s broad shoulders. In a melodic voice, Malseru asked the Platinum Sun what was next. Ruaka looked around to his companions, all of them together, surrounded by the remnants of one god and the new presence of another. They bid their farewells as Ruaka left with the dragons to a different plane of existence and the rest of the companions returned to the mortal world, their stories with the Karlith Straits not finished just yet.

While the companions battled Galasar Kisoja in Acheron, the Atlas Assembly assaulted the Kothian remnants in the mortal world. Their airships flew over Merlint and quickly retook the city, tearing down Kothian banners and restoring freedom from the tyranny of the dragon empire there. At the Bastion of the Lawful, though, there were numerous losses. Enforcer Salarand’s departure was faked and the ancient black dragon was there to defend the fortress and entryway into Acheron. In the end, Enforcer Salarand retreated, soaring back to mainland Aphesus and the Kothian Empire and the rest of the Obsidian Circle was slaughtered by the Atlas Assembly, by command of Richtar Maxim. During the battle, Amanita was lost, overrun by a swarm of red drakes, but Aunliac Choqiti, Grobbolith, and Audry Ambriosa survived. After the climactic battle, the Atlas Assembly hopped from island to island, driving the Kothians out and turning Karlithia into a free archipelago once more. Adrian Ambriosa continued to lead Doran and his daughter, Audry, became a student of the gold dragon Kazakis. Grobbolith traveled once more to the dense tropics of Varn, attempting to reignite the lizardfolk clans there. Zekki helped bridge the gap between the Orovian Well and Na’s domain in the Feywild: the Orovian Sea. Bruno ascended through the ranks of the Atlas Assembly after every successful maneuver, leading the faction and eventually becoming a general. Alovnek traveled back to Merlint and held a trial for Galasar Kisoja, finding him guilty in the just eyes of the law. The minotaur cleric of Isperia began to rebuild the Azurian Order and drafted the Atlas Constitution, a document establishing laws for the Karlith Straits and uniting the individual islands to become a united force: the Azurian Confederacy. Na returned to the Feywild with Oro and began restoring the Swamp of Everlasting Darkness, now the Orovian Sea, into a beautiful and serene oceanic swamp. She also led the restoration of the Twilit Grove and established true bonds between the fey of the Feywild, the people of the Twilit Grove, and the folk of the Azurian Confederacy (with Alovnek’s assistance, too, of course). As Na grew in power and influence int the Feywild, she heard the cry of a forest nymph in need, her forest blazing before her. Na blessed her with eldritch power and formed her first pact with her first warlock, truly establishing her as Na the Everflowing, an archfey of the Plane of Faerie. And directly after the battle with Galasar, Ruaka traveled with the Six Gold Guardians to the first layer of the Nine Hells, Avernus, and battled his way to Archduchess Zariel’s infernal throne. Before her, the Platinum Sun bargained for the final gold dragon of the Line of Seven Guardians. Ruaka, now aligned with all seven members of the Line of Seven Guardians, would hunt down one of Bahamut’s greatest enemies and former prisoner of Avernus: Tiamat, the Dragon Queen, in exchange for the final dragon. The deal made, Ruaka departed Baator and began his quest across the multiverse, searching for Tiamat alongside Marzius, Trinathia, Kazakis, Malseru, Garion, Rafnir, and Chrysophlax. Every so often, the Platinum Sun, not a god just yet, returned to the mortal world to meet with his companions: High Justicar Alovnek, General Bruno, and Na the Everflowing. Those four, in addition to all those they met and battled, changed the Karlith Straits — the Azurian Confederacy — the world of Eldar, forever. Their actions would echo through the ages of Eldar, forevermore…

The end of the campaign was all I could have hoped for, as was the final battle. The intervention of the two gods went perfectly and the players reacted well. The epilogue, too, was mostly unplanned and evolved naturally, something I love. I ensured all their characters and their actions had an impact on my world for the rest of its existence. Nine Hells, there’s now a new country on the map thanks to them, as well as a brand new archfey players can choose as their patron!

In Summary

As with every campaign I’ve run, am running, and will run, I learned loads from the Karlith Straits. I learned weekly campaigns are the way to go; players remember more, are invested in the game, and understand their characters. I learned that I love improvising NPCs and roleplaying far more than I like running combat, but I need to improve on that front drastically. I learned not every campaign needs to go to level twenty; they can end in satisfying ways long before that endgame state. It was a great campaign, my best so far, and I’m so excited to be running another weekly game: Caught in Galen. Here's to it being better than the Karlith Straits!

Thanks for making it this far. I hope you enjoyed the tale of the Karlith Straits. Here’s to the next one: either the Enoach Desert or Caught in Galen. We will see which one ends first. It will be awhile!

Until next time, stay creative!

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