Battlehelm of Grawln Splinterstone

There’s a good chance that the players in my Dads and Kids D&D game may come across the following magic item in their next session.

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Caelynn Siannodel – Background Creation

For my Dads and Kids D&D campaign that I started last year, I was interested in making sure that all the characters had clear, easy to understand motivations that linked to aspects of the adventure. I would be running the Lost Mine of Phandelver from the new D&D 5th Edition Starter Set, so I identified key aspects of the adventure that I expected the characters to encounter, in hopes of driving the story forward as easily as possible.

For my daughter, the adventure would be her first introduction to an ongoing D&D campaign. I wasn’t sure how easily she would follow the narrative, so I wanted to make her character’s ties to the story somewhat clear and straight forward.

Interesting character backgrounds can provide a dungeon master with plenty of opportunities to introduce “adventure hooks” for the players to follow. Adventure hooks should provide objectives that are meaningful to the players and aid in advancing the plot. Tracking down a missing shopkeeper is far more compelling if the players already have some connection with them.

D&D’s newest edition has introduced some great tools to describe a character and their motivations through the use of backgrounds. Backgrounds help new players with the role-play aspect of the game, encouraging them to think beyond the raw stats, number and mechanics their character possess. A background’s details go a long way towards describing who a character is and what their motivations may be.

For the new campaign, my eldest daughter chose the following for her character:

Caelynn Siannodel, Neutral Good, High Elf Wizard, NoblePresentation2

  • Character Traits: The common folk love me for my kindness and generosity. I take great pains to always look my best and follow the latest fashions
  • Ideals:Blood runs thicker than water
  • Bonds:Nothing is more important than the other members of my family
  • Flaws:By my words and actions I sometimes bring shame to my family

Without spoiling too much of the adventure, the story starts off with the character’s escorting a dwarf’s wagon full of goods to a remote village.

To craft a meaningful background, I needed to consider what would send my daughter’s character off on this adventure. Why would her elf wizard, a relatively well-off noble, be traveling with a dwarf’s delivery run to an out of the way village? Why wouldn’t she just stay home, safe in her family’s estate?

For me, the key aspects of my daughter’s chosen background were the importance of family. Her strong ties should be what drives her character into the dangerous adventuring life.

I decided to leverage a wizard who the characters discover is missing early in the adventure as a nice tie in for my character’s background. I would also yous this background story as a means to introduce some of the history of my home-brew world.

Note that parts of this backstory are outside of the context of the published adventure. They are undefined elements that I may expand upon as the characters explore, presenting opportunities for continuing their story beyond the Lost Mines of Phandelver.

Here’s the resulting backstory I created :


Caelynn Siannodel’s family are the overseers of the village of Glasobel. This small elvish village lies where the Norcelu stream escapes the Dark Forest to flow into marshy Esgarlo Lake. The lands about Glasobel provide plenty of food for the townsfolk as both the forest and the lake offer up their bounty to people that make the small village their home.

Yet for all this bounty, trade with the outside world is limited. Here in the borderlands, a distrust lingers between elves and men. Hate filled wars of centuries past still cast a shadow across both peoples, tainting their relations with distrust, and reducing the number of human traders willing to make the journey to the backwater elven village.

Relations with the larger Elvish nation are not much better. Many important Elvish nobility did not approve when, many years ago, the Prince decreed that Galinndan Siannodel (Caelynn’s grandfather) should be raised up from a lowly wood-worker to be the lord of the village. A number of ancient noble houses resented the idea of a commoner receiving such a lordship and have since failed to view the remove village as a proper Elvish holding.

In recent years, an important Elvish noble house has pushed to rescind the lordship granted to the Siannodel family. They claim that the original decree of lordship was falsified by the Siannodel’s and that the heroic deeds attributed to Galinndan Siannodel were lies fabricated by a desperate commoner. The political pressures have increased so much that the Siannodel family is now forced to justify their noble rights and seek out proof of the deeds done so long ago by Galinndan, or their lands and nobility may be stripped away.

To that end, the Siannodel family had contacted a human wizard named Iarno Albrek, to seek out the grave of the Elvish Prince Gador Silverleaf. albrek smallIt was this prince who Galinndan was said to have saved in battle. It is believed that Galinndan gave the prince a family token, a precious wooden amulet, and that the prince cherished the token so much that he had it taken with him to his grave. If the Prince’s burial site can be found, and Galinndan’s family token found with the buried Prince, then that should be sufficient proof to verify the Galinndan’s tales of bravery and the reason for him being granted the noble title of Lord of Glasobel by the dead prince.

Unfortunately months have passed since Iarno, the human wizard, was paid to seek out these answers, but no word has come. The human wizard was said to have headed towards Phandalin, a small village on the edge of Baljute.

Caelynn’s family has good relations with a Dwarven merchant who makes an occasional visit to their village. This dwarf, Gundren Rockseeker, is heading to Phandalin shortly to pursue his own interests. The family has asked Caelynn to travel to Phandalin with one of Gundren’s supply caravans to track down the human wizard Iarno, in hopes of finding proof her grandfather Galinndan’s heroic deeds so long ago.

CAELYNN’s PERSONAL QUEST: Travel to Phandalin and find the wizard Iarno Albrek. Seek out proof of her grandfather’s heroic deeds by finding the elvish prince Galdor’s Tomb wherein it is also hoped that a token of Galinndan Siannodel can be found.

The Border Lands

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Makimbe

Here’s a backstory of a character that I wrote up for an unfortunately short-lived play-by-post game. The game was supposed to run Pathfinder’s Skull and Shackles adventure path, a pirate themed adventure. I had hoped to play Makimbe, a witch from the the Mwangi Expanse from  Pathfinder’s Golarion campaign setting.

I drew my inspiration for this character from the fantastic cover art of Marvel’s Doctor Voodoo #3 by Marko Djurdjevic .

The writeup below is my imagined conversation between Makimbe and a new shipmate.


 

Why do you look at me this way? You never eat snake? Yes chicken is better but still I chose the snake. Oh, you wish to know why is still eat it? Okay. If you bring me more wine I will tell you why.

Thank you.

Here it is. It is simple. I like to eat snakes. I eat them whenever I can as it helps me to remember that I was once weak and full of fear and did nothing to save my family.

I once lived in the small village of Ekowa, but a short days walk from the beautiful city of Nantambu. I remember well the first few honeyed weeks with my wife when we stayed in the city of chimes, listening to the nightly music as we joyously learned how to share pleasure. I still carry a piece of glass from that magical time. How few the days were that we shared, for it was soon after we returned home that my life changed and my inner self was revealed to me. It was then that the shame of my cowardice was revealed and the ugly truth that befalls all those who stand frozen in fear.

We had returned to the village and our families were eager to show off the new home where we would live. They had worked while we were away and built a strong and beautiful hut for us on the edge of the village, near where the fresh stream flowed past the dirt path that led back to Nantambu.  It was a fine hut for my family held some say in the village. I had not know my father for he had died when I was young, but my mother was the spirit elder and very little happened in the village without her knowing or consent.

On that one terrible day, my mother looked me in the eye, the way that only mothers can, and told me to leave for a while as she needed to speak with her new daughter. I laughed and gave a quick wink to my wife as I fully expected her to be told all the duties of wifedom and how it was that she was to rule our home. I knew there was more to it having listened to my mother speak of the sacred rights of ever since I was young, but still I walked out happy and content believing I was at the beginning of a joyous life.

I walked away down the path and sat behind a tree near the stream, watching the clouds drift slowly beyond the leaves above. The soft winds that day lulled me to sleep and I awoke as darkness was descending to a thundering crash and the beat of horses as they ran along the nearby path. Looking up quickly I saw terrible men, wearing metal vests and metal hats, screaming with fury as they rode with sword and spear into my village.

I ran back to my home, hiding in the darkness of the trees wherever I could. Oh how I still remember my fear of those men. The men on horses. The men who threw fire, while we shot arrows. They were not from Mwgawi. They carried the sour sweet smell of the northern peoples but they carried no flags, nor symbols to show who they were.

I scurried like a rat back to my home just in time to see my family being pulled out by these terrible men. My mother began screaming something that I couldn’t hear. But the soldiers would hear nothing of it and cut her down before her calls to the spirits could be finished. Then my dear wife was pulled from our new home by soldiers leering at her. I whimpered like a child as I hid behind the wood pile even as they threw her to the ground.  It was then that the other man appeared.

“Look out! It’s Harrigan”, shouted one of the soldiers. The man on top of my wife, looked up in fear at Harrigan, and scampered away, leaving my dear wife to the pirate captain. Harrigan held a sword to my wife’s throat, eyeing her with pleasure.  He began to cut her clothes off on the grass before our hut when I finally stood up and yelled meekly for him to stop.

I still remember Harrigan’s eyes. They looked down at me as if I were nothing but a worm.

“She yers?” He spat out. “Now she’s mine,” and he threw me a copper coin in mock payment. I grabbed the coin and went to throw it back at him when my wife kicked free and started to run.

“No one runs from me!” he yelled angrily. With a sharp flick of his wrist a single dagger flew through the air, straight into the back of her head. She was dead before the ground stopped her fall.

“Take him.” he commanded and soon I knew no more for a time.

When I again awoke I was in the hold of a ship, moored somewhere, probably Bloodcove. There were many others with me as well. A few I recognized from my village, but many I did not. I soon learned that we were to be sold to slavers and taken deep into the south. I do not know for how long I was in that ship, only that it was Captain Dumont who boarded the ship and set us free. I’ve been sailing the seas ever since.  

Oh. I never explained the snake. Here. This be the coin. See the symbol stamped into it. It be the snake in the shield. It’s the coin Harrigan threw at me. I’ve carried it ever since.

I promise that one day I will find Harrigan. I will give him back this coin and then make him pay for what he has done. I promise this.

Here. I have eaten enough snake. Give me the chicken.

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Character Backgrounds

One of the things that I always try to do when I start a campaign, or have new players join and existing game, is to tie their characters into the story. Working with players to tweak their character’s background is a great way motivate their PCs to follow a plot hook in your adventures.

I think this is particularly important if you are running a “sandbox” style campaign,  where players have great flexibility in choosing where their adventures lead. Knowing your PC’s motives makes it easier to setup story ideas that are meaningful to the players. As a DM, it can be incredibly frustrating when your players decide to bypass a great encounter you’ve spent hours designing because something else drew their character’s attention. Knowing the backgrounds of your players’ characters and their motivations helps to reduce how often that may happen.

For my Dads and Kids D&D campaign, I decided to run the Lost Mine of Phandelver, the adventure that comes with D&D’s 5th Edition’s Starter Set. In my humble opinion, I think this is an excellent adventure, well worth purchasing for someone interested in giving  D&D a try.

Although this was to be the first D&D experience for a number of the kids in our group, I was hopeful that they would have fun and wish to turn our dad/kids experiment into a long running campaign. So, I decided to look beyond the starter set adventure and consider what I might run to keep the group interested. The Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat adventures seemed like they might be a good fit. Working to stop the the biggest, baddest of evil dragons would surely be worthy of a heroic quest.

So when working with my new players to develop their backgrounds, I tried to include links that related to both the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure, but also to  future threats that might be posed by the main adversaries found in the hoped for future adventures.

Here’s the character backgrounds we ended up with when we started our campaign:

  • Caelynn Siannodel (Claire), High Elf Wizard with an owl familiar, Noble Background
    • PERSONAL QUEST: Travel to Phandalin and find the wizard Iarno Albrek. Seek out proof of her grandfather’s heroic deeds by finding the elvish prince Galdor’s Tomb wherein it is also hoped that a token of Galinndan Siannodel can be found.
  • Kiyram Totoroff (Aidan), Half-Elf Ranger, Outlander Background
    • PERSONAL QUEST:  Merchants, honest folk and shipments have gone missing along the roads north of Jumell Keep, likely the result of highway brigands preying on the innocent. There are rumors that these brigands may be goblins or orcs – Kiyram’s favored enemy. Dispensing justice upon these evil bandits seems a worthy task, and one that will help Kiyram’s tribe’s memory become legend.
  • Asha of Dragetann (Patricia), Human Barbarian, Outlander/Sage Background
    • PERSONAL QUEST: Travel to the ruins of Thundertree to recover a set of magical stones hidden under the floor of her friend Brudgepiddle Radishfoot’s old tower.
  • Tymar Fireborn (Ray), Dwarf Fighter, Soldier Background
    • PERSONAL QUEST:  Gundren Rockseeker saved Tymar’s life during a terrible battle. Gundren has asked for his help with a new venture, but has said he will only reveal it once his supplies have reached Phandalin.
  • Magnus of Dragetann (Jim), Human Druid, Outlander/Folk Hero Background
    • PERSONAL QUEST: Recover a Dragetann’s sacred dragontooth amulet that was recently stolen by relic hunter’s who wore black leather masks stylized to look like dragon’s horns.
  • Liya (Sophie), Human Bard, Spy Background
    • PERSONAL QUEST: On behalf of the Order of the Golden Pheasant, discover why a small group aligned with the Cult of the Dragon are heading, find where the cult is taking their ill-gotten treasures and why they intend to do with the wealth

When reviewing the personal quests above, you might notice that I’ve included details unrelated to any of the published adventures – the elf wizard’s grandfather and an elvish prince’s lost tomb being perfect examples. Also, if you’re familiar with the Lost Mine of Phandelver, some of the names mentioned above will be unfamiliar – Jummel Keep, Dragetann, Order of the Pheasant. This is because I decided to place the campaign in my home-brew world rather than the adventures default Forgotten Realms setting. Here’s a regional map for where the adventure takes place:

 

In my future posts, I’ll look at how I used these backgrounds to expand on the published adventures in hopes of making it an even more engaging story for the players to follow.

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Cadeyrn Feykin’s Shield

Here’s a magic item one of the players in my Dads and Kids D&D game recently received.

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A Dads And Kids D&D game

One of the enjoyable surprises that I’ve had this past year was starting up of a dad’s and kids D&D campaign.

A couple of friends that I’ve gamed with happen to have kids about the same age as mine. The three of us are avid D&D players, so when someone suggested getting together for a game with our kids, it didn’t take much for us to agree.

I ended up offering to DM the game. I chose “The Lost Mines of Phandelver”, the dnd_starterboxadventure that come’s with 5th edition’s Starter Set. In my opinion, this may be one of the best introductory D&D adventures released to date. It has a fairly straightforward story that makes it easy for new players to follow, while still presenting enough choices for players to feel like their decisions matter.

We started with two dads and three kids and have managed to play nine sessions since we started last year. My youngest just joined the group in our last two sessions, so we are now up to six total PCs in the group:

  • Asha of Dragetann, a female human barbarian, outlander/sage
  • Magnus of Dragetann, a male human druid, outlander/folk hero
  • Kiyram Totoroff, a male half-elven ranger, outlander
  • Tymar Fireborn, a male dwarven fighter, soldier
  • Caelynn Siannodel, a female elven wizard, noble
  • Liya, a female human bard, spy

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing about my experience running this game and the fun I’ve had expanding upon the base story-line. I hope to detail some of the characters and explain how I’ve used their backgrounds to tie them to the story, thereby expanding the adventure to go beyond what is published with the starter set.

game_map

 

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Furdin’s Axe

Here’s a simple magic weapon crafted for my home D&D game.

Furdin’s Axe

Weapon (great axe), rare (requires attunement)220b19c371abd2d439cdde8053c82e47

The last wielder of this weapon for Prince Furdin II, who was the crown prince of a small dwarven holdfast located on the western edge of the Shield Mountains. Furdin II was lost during an expedition to reclaim the ancient dwarven fortress of Stone Fist.

The axe was an heirloom from Prince Furdin’s line. It was believed to have been forged by ancient dwarvish artisans that are said to have toiled in the depths of the now abandoned fortress of Stone Fist.

The axe itself is of fine craftsmanship. Its heavy steel head is decorated with intricate dwarven engravings which are highlighted with inlays of orange and yellow.

Combat: You gain +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

Resilience of the Mountains: While attuned to this magic weapon, the wielder may roll a d4 and add the number rolled to one saving throw of their choice. This ability may be used once per day, with the ability becoming available again at dawn.

Seeker of Stonefist: While attuned to this magic weapon, its wielder becomes aware that the axe came from the lost dwarven fortress of Stone Fist. Over the course of time, the attuned wielder grows to think of Stone Fist more and more, wondering on the fabled dwarven hall’s location. They also develop a sense that they have an obligation to return the magic weapon to its place of forging.

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