Hammersgaard is a bustling city on the outskirts of Coralym, its eastward walls standing against the Ruined Frontier, its southern along the banks of the Orga River. Due to its rural location, Hammersgaard is a chaotic, unruly town, full of thieves, murderers, and all sorts of sinners and criminals alike. Thanks to its river proximity, Hammersgaard does a fair bit of business as a port town, but that’s nothing compared to its bustling economy of adventuring companies exploring the Ruined Frontier.
These companies and the business they practice is highly organized (if certainly corrupt) by a system enforced by the High Justices of the town. Prospective jobs are reported, catalogued, and divided by type, then dispersed according to a bidding system—companies will make competing bids for labor/materials/timeframe, and the High Justices will award each job accordingly.
Today, as it happens, the auction is almost over. There is only one job remaining, and four parties left still bidding–first, yourselves, then: a trio of nearly silent elves dressed in black leather armor, their chests stamped with red handprints; a group of noblewomen to one side, dressed in their finest and sniffing haughtily at the others, and finally, perhaps the oddest group of all; a foursome of monstrous humanoids led by a bespectacled owlbear who seems more at home in an accounting office than where his type might normally look.
As the High Justice overseeing the auction finishes his notations for the last auction and returns to the podium, the other groups perk up. You’re able to recognize this man–High Justice Reknar. His irritability and disdain for the adventuring line of work is notable, but so is his fairness. He looks out over the remaining groups, then speaks.
“The last contract is thus: A tribe of goblins has set up a base in the Frontier. Scouts pinpoint their location as a ruined temple, but their numbers are above average, as is their level of aggression. They’ve been raiding farms just outside the city walls. For extermination, the bidding will start at one thousand gold.”
The owlbear immediately lifts a clawed appendage. “Hrmhrm…Nine hundred and fifty.”
In starting this campaign, it was important to me to find a way to get things going that I’d never done before. I’d tried multiple methods of “getting the party together,” and I’ve also tried skipping that and saying, “You’re all together. The how or why don’t matter, this is where you are.” For this game, though, with a new group, I wanted to focus on building a narrative in a way that I’d never done before. Part of the reason is that my abilities to actually construct a narrative have grown, and another part is that with this group, since they don’t have the level of experience or predispositions that my last groups have had, I felt an opportunity to show them how exciting narrative in tabletop gaming could be, as opposed to a barebones plot and an obsessive focus on combat mechanics.
(Fun fact: I hate combat in D&D–especially 3.5. It’s long and dry, it’s not fun at all. It’s an absolute chore to run.)
So, with this game, coming fresh off of a reading of Rat Queens and blatantly stealing the idea of professional adventuring parties from that book, I concocted a massive city bordering a large expanse of land that was once civilized. This expanse of land is now known as the Ruined Frontier, and is littered with the ruins of a civilization long fallen. The city bordering this land is Hammersgaard. I’m not sure how much the game will delve into Hammersgaard’s history directly, but I’ll likely build on the details I’ve crafted as I write these posts.
At any rate, Hammersgaard, because of its proximity, is a town wherein adventuring parties ply their trade, venturing out to fight monsters, discover lost treasures, and map a forgotten expanse. The game group is one of these parties, and they’ve even chosen a name for themselves: The Space Dandies.
(Which is apparently the name of a show, I don’t know, we’re dealing with teenaged boys here.)
I opened the first session by reading the above text out loud, and dropping them directly into a bidding war for a job. It sounds a bit Star Wars Episode One to talk about out of the moment (trade negotiations…ugh), but in the moment, I was providing bidding requests on the part of three NPC parties in real time, plus the auctioneer’s voice, and letting the party discuss their bids amongst themselves. The object was to calculate their expected costs for the job and their need to make a profit against what the city was willing to pay them, and attempt to underbid the other parties there.
In the interest of full disclosure, because I believe in letting the players define their circumstances, they could have lost that auction, in which case I had another story lined up. They did not, however, and so their preparations for the job began. First, though, I introduced another story thread as they were leaving the auction house–a mysterious robed figure asked them to retrieve a tome from the same temple where they’d be clearing out the goblins. I anticipated that they might as well attack him as talk to him, so I planned for both of those eventualities. They chose the latter.
Before they left the confines of the city, they did as any party would do–got some shopping for supplies done, then hit the tavern to check in on any rumors. They never got that far, though–in the tavern was one of the parties from the auction; the group of noblewomen (Incidentally, their party is called The Untamed Dames). Those noblewomen, still smarting from their loss at the auction, approached our group and attempted to muscle the job out of them, which resulted, as these things do, in a bar brawl.
Now, as stated above, I’m not a big fan of 3.5’s combat, and Pathfinder is not terribly different in that regard, so I streamlined the process some. I eliminated the battle grid and miniatures of days past, and with a dry erase marker on a whiteboard, drew a simple diagram detailing their relative positions. Once that was established, and once initiative was rolled, I did everything from that point by simple way of description; they’d roll their attacks, I kept my rolls behind a screen, and after comparing results, I talked them through each action. It was still a messy and complicated fight, but because the focus was on the action itself, rather than attacks of opportunity or threat squares, the party stayed engaged throughout.
Eventually, the fight was won, though not without cost. Delanna, the group’s cleric, ended up rather soundly beaten; she had some history with one of the Untamed Dames which the rest of the party is not yet aware of. So, the party took a night in to recover, before heading out the next morning.
The journey to the temple cost them a half day, which put the sun high in the sky when they got there. This was by design on my part; the final room of the dungeon is a setpiece that relies on the daylight heavily. This time, however, they made it only a few rooms in before we called the session. Those few rooms, though, were handled with a level of competence that’s surprising for new players; they effectively located and neutralized almost every surprise I built into the dungeon up to the point they reached. Some of those were easy, others weren’t; either way, there’s a cohesiveness to the party early on that’s reassuring. I’ve rewarded them for the work, and I’m taking the lessons of this first session, using them to tweak what’s ahead.
Healthy, light wounds.
- Exterminate the Goblins
- The Mysterious Tome
- Rivalry with the Dames
Last weekend, other plans prevented us from playing, which means that the session resumes this Saturday!