Caught in Galen Lessons: Sessions 9-12

We’re continuing to catch up with Caught in Galen today. As the party prepares to finally enter the legendary and mysterious Jungle of Pipes, we’ll be recounting and pondering over the lessons learned in sessions nine through twelve of this grand Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Plenty happened, from an eerie encounter with a kalashtar, to the to foiling of a major plot. I planned to expect the unexpected and, as always, was still surprised by my genius and unpredictable players.

Going Separate Ways

There is a famous line in many circles across D&D players: “Never split the party.” Well, this session saw the party diverge for its entirety. Normally, I’d abhor this sort of play, as would my players. However, in the campaign we’re running, there are countless side objectives and stories that can be pursued due to the setting. Galen is a city, an enclosed space. Danger exists, but it doesn’t lurk around every corner. There are pockets of safety everywhere; there are NPCs important to the PCs everywhere; there are stories developing everywhere. So, when the party decided to go three different ways, I embraced it, as did the other players. Despite the split, everyone enjoyed the session. Multiple stories leaped forward and, eventually, everyone reconverged to prepare for their next adventure.

What can we glean from this? Splitting the party isn’t always a terrible mistake, especially if they’re in a setting that’s safe and always for separate travel. However, you need to ensure everyone remains engaged: don’t stick to one PC’s story for an extended period of time, leaving another PC to watch from the darkness.

The Villain One-Shot

In a break from the main campaign, session ten saw four of the five players take on villainous personas and serve the side of the enemy their main characters were battling. Each player portrayed a monstrous PC and leader of a dastardly faction. One played a troll Gloom Stalker, a truly deadly combination. Another mixed a hobgoblin with the Way of the Samurai. Each of the characters was distinct, memorable, and would become villains in the primary campaign. The players went into this one-shot knowing that (if the villainous PC’s survived, of course). They were designing the foes their main characters would one day fight.

How does this help you? Although I explained how one-shots can enhance your primary campaign in-depth in a past article, I’ll summarize here. If you want to explore a different side of D&D, whether it’s allowing the players to become wicked beasties, exploring your world’s past, or fleshing out the villains of your campaign, one-shots act as excellent mediums. In addition, they can segment a campaign extremely well, giving your players a break from playing the same character week after week.

A Change of Plans

At the end of session nine, the party cemented their next moves. I always try to glean what my players and their characters plan on doing so I can prepare my page of notes on the correct topics, encounters, and NPCs. At the beginning of session eleven, the party was set to descend into the infamous Jungle of Pipes, where their primary enemy hid and prepared for his faction’s next attack. However, in this session’s opening moments, the plan rapidly changed; they wouldn’t be heading into the Jungle, they’d be splitting up to act against this enemy without needing to step foot into the dangerous sewers, caverns, and ruins below the city. I was floored but completely prepared for this unexpected event. Why? Always be prepared to improvise when playing D&D.

What’s the primary lesson?
No matter how solid your party’s plans might be at the end of one session, be ready to throw away all your notes and react to a brand new course of action. Don’t railroad your group. Don’t force them into the situations, NPCs, and pathways you thought up; maybe you’ll be able to use them all later. Instead, always be prepared to improvise.

Flashforward, Flashback

Session twelve of Caught in Galen marked the first time I’ve ever dabbled with time travel in my D&D campaigns and setting. After a heroic victory and a new alliance, I skipped forward two weeks, shocking my players. I asked them each to describe an important moment that occurred in those two weeks and went around the table. After everyone recounted or played through that moment, I described a two-week flashback and had them all make an Intelligence Saving Throw. Those who succeeded remembered their important event and knew they’d experienced some sort of look into the future, those that failed knew something was awry but couldn’t remember their key moment. My entire table had no idea what was going on — they were mind boggled. Speculation occurred and they became more and more invested into the story. I know what happened, some of their speculation was correct, but I cannot reveal the exact details players read my articles.

Can you use this? Time travel is a tricky subject. There are lots of variations of it out there for a plethora of worlds. If you want to incorporate it into your games, you need to think carefully. The ramifications of inserting it into your setting is massive and it opens up countless opportunities for villains and PC’s to affect your world in unthinkable ways. Use time travel at your own risk!

Up Next

As the Caught in Galen campaign builds, I’ll still be reflecting on what I’ve learned from it so that all of you may profit from my mistakes and successes. Remember, if you want to check out what’s going on in the campaign, check out the Caught in Galen Campaign Compendium and try out making one for your own D&D campaign.

Until next time, stay creative!

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Art credit: Rising From the Last War (WOTC).

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