Caught in Galen Lessons: Sessions 16-17

The RJD20 front has been silent for a few weeks for good reason: my wife and I moved into a house! Now that we’re settled (for the most part), weekly articles and more shall return. This is the first piece I’m writing from our new office, looking out over a serene lake, autumnal trees looming over the shimmering water. It’s a splendid office, it’s a splendid house. Already, I’ve played three Dungeons & Dragons sessions here (two as a DM, one as a player), and look forward to rolling many more dice in our own dungeon decorated and designed specifically to play games like D&D.

So, how has Caught in Galen been going? Absolutely incredibly. We went on our longest hiatus (two weeks) due to a possible sickness and our move, but we quickly leaped back into the fray. This article will observe and dissect sessions 16-17 of Caught in Galen, enjoy!

Who is Poppy?

Secrets are a powerful tool in D&D. Whether its secrets of NPCs— the vampire has a long lost love he cannot battle; the red dragon keeps a deadly wizard deep in its lair; the goblin boss isn’t as macho as many of his kin believe — or secrets of PCs, they can be utilized to drive the story forward, build tension, and unleash climactic moments your players will remember for the rest of the campaign, if not the rest of their lives.

Caught in Galen is rife with secrets, both of NPCs and PCs, and it’s better for it. One example of a secret wielded well is in session 16.

As a trio of pale, nude high elves with tattoos of sulking brains on their heads attacked the characters’ home base, the elves called out to someone named Poppy. Obviously, they were baiting this “Poppy” into confronting them or revealing herself. They knew Poppy was present, but no one else in the party or the establishment knew of a Poppy...or so they said. As the combat evolved and even after it ended with the climactic reveal of the kidnapping of a dear NPC, the players and their characters speculated about Poppy. Who was Poppy? Why did the elves want her? Why wasn’t Poppy revealing herself? The questions continued and were subtly brushed away.

Of course, Poppy is the true identity of one of the party members; it’s a name she used to go by in her homeland and it has chased her all the way to the City of Magic. What the elves want, why they’re interested in Poppy, and what the ultimate outcome of their involvement in the story will be is all driven by a secret. This secret, forged by a player, successfully added another layer to the story and coalesced a veil of mystery between party members. Ensuring the secret doesn’t divide the party, ensuring it simply manifests in a fun and interesting way, the secret will surely continue to make the campaign better.

What can we learn here? Secrets are powerful tools, but they must be used properly. If the DM reveals a PC secret too soon or at the wrong time, it can upset a player and, possibly, erode trust between PCs. That’s not the goal; the goal of wielding a secret properly is ensuring it makes the game more interesting and more fun.

Encounter Complete

Creating compelling encounters is one of the most important jobs of a DM. Unlike more narrative systems, D&D relies on interesting combat encounters at least every 3 or 4 sessions. Most abilities characters gain are combat-focused, most die-rolling occurs in combat, and, let’s face it, tons of players thoroughly enjoy battling monsters in dungeons and in wilderness.

Sometimes, though, combats go awry due to clever thinking by the PCs or poor planning by the DM. This happened in session 17 of Caught in Galen.

The companions, alongside a battalion of well-armed soldiers and mages, delved into the supposedly locked location of a set of planar gates. Ever since the Barrier was raised in Galen, planar travel was impossible, so the structure was closed down and abandoned for the time being. However, while no one was guarding it, nasty aberrations called leurgva broke into it and lathered it in translucent slime. The slime caused those who touched it to become restrained, unable to move from their position. Immediately, the party started to experiment with it: how would they remove it from the structure? Touching it obviously didn’t work. Wiping it up didn’t work. Pouring water on it...cleared it away! But what about fire? Fire rapidly spread on the slime, creating a massive inferno. The group worked their way past the patches until they reached the chamber with the planar gates in which these large humanoid slugs waited. Instantly, the party unleashed fire into the room and engulfed it: encounter over, the leurgva were no more. Of course, there were a few consequences, but the encounter was vanquished in a moment’s notice. I wanted to go back on my description for a brief moment, but I rapidly decided that I wouldn’t. Their clever thoughts and my poor planning led to this fast victory.

Do you see what can be learned? Even if you plan an awesome encounter, your reactionary thoughts or your players intelligent responses might nullify it quickly. If that happens, let it be! Learn from it and plan out the next one. And honestly, sometimes, it’s good for the PCs to annihilate an encounter. The feeling makes them confident...and lures them into the clutches of the next one which is sure to be absolutely wicked!
Art from Volo's Guide to Monsters.

Up Next...

The upcoming sessions contain plenty of lessons to be learned and many tales to be told. The format of Tales of Galen will continue to evolve as the campaign does. If you are enjoying the current format of the series, please let me know! If you’re interested in seeing it change a bit, please do the same. Sessions 18 and 19 of Caught in Galen are climactic: they involve the longest battle of the campaign, a deadly twist, and a morality debate. Writing about them is going to be great.

Until next time, stay creative!

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Art credit, in order: The 5e D&D Starter Set and Volo's Guide to Monsters.

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