Gather ’round children, and I’ll tell you a story of death and rebirth, of legend and doom. I am (of course) speaking of Adoraith: Echoes of Epirus – April’s Campaign of the Month! And since we’re on the subject, who better to give us some much needed insight than the mind behind this fantastic campaign, Adoraith. Now, don’t interupt…
First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Alter Ego’s? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet? Let us know if you feel so inclined!
First allow me to say how grateful I am to be recognized. This would not be possible if it were not for the passion my players bring to the table each week.
My wife and 4 kids are from a small town in central Illinois famous for its yearly cow chip throw and sweet corn festival. I never really understood how a food festival was paired with a competition to see who can throw cow poo the furthest but here we are. Anyway, I spend my days writing SQL code for a telecommunications company and nights preparing for the three D&D campaigns that I run weekly
Other than Obsidian Portal, I have a website where I post stories from past games and anything else that strikes me as interesting. Virtually all of my non-gaming time is spent writing both sci-fi/fantasy and children’s stories. My wife, Amariah Rauscher, is a children’s author and illustrator who runs her own publishing company called Lemon Starfish
Tell us about Adoraith: Echoes of Epirus in a nutshell. How did this singular event/mystery of Epirus shape your campaign world paradigm?
Echoes of Epirus started as a short story about the fall of a great city caught in the middle of the Blood War. I thought of this event as a pivotal moment in the history of Adoraith much like the collapse of Rome in Europe. However, I did not want to run the campaign in the days leading up to or just following the cataclysm. Instead, I was interested in telling a story set in the aftermath of the collapse of Epirus.
This incarnation of Adoraith would be a fantasy world that, at it’s core, was an equivalent to Europe coming out of the early middle ages. To put it very simply, early in the middle ages learning, centralized governments, and economic infrastructures crumbled. As time moved forward a handful of powers stepped forward to fill the void left by the Romans. In the case of Adoraith, arcane magic, particularly the art of crafting of new magical items, had been lost but, by the time of the campaign, different powers were struggling to reclaim this knowledge.
Much like the crusades, Adoraith is also comprised of a number of warring countries that fought primarily over ideology. Only in Adoraith wars are fought between those who wish to see arcane magic return and the theocracies that blame arcane magic for the evils of the world.
With border wars, mage hunters, and the aggressive expansion of various nations as a backdrop, the heroes must find a way to stop the cataclysm from happening a second time. As much as possible I wanted to make the quest deeply personal to the heroes. This was accomplished by turning the original short story into fragments of a diary that the heroes decoded in their hunt for clues. From this diary one of the heroes learned that they were the descendant of the villain responsible for the first cataclysm.
I apologize if I burst the nutshell but I could spend hours writing about how this singular event wove its way through the campaign on a grand scale as well as at an individual character level.
You have been playing this game for a while now – what is the most memorable thing that happened for you, the GM? What is the most memorable to your players?
This is a really hard question. There are so many events to choose from. Honestly, any moment where I can elicit a truly emotional response from a player is amazing to me. The moment that Merek realized that it was an ancestor of his family who was responsible for the fall of Epirus and that his family continued to cover up the fact was truly epic. Not only was Merek (Beau) left stunned but the revelation also threatened his family’s prominent standing in Acanthan society. A standing they secured through the dark pact that ruined Epirus.
I really loved the Trellmont Witch story where the Grey Coven was using the village of Trellmont as a proving ground for Night Hags who wished to join their coven. The horror setting was amazing to run at lower levels when player characters have a reason to be afraid of nearly everything. The sights, sounds, and overall feel really captured the imagination. In particular, the crucified bodies that would begin to howl at our approach warning the coven was shockingly memorable.
When we had to retrieve the artifact Dagon’s Tear and realized, the hard way, that none of us could even touch the item without being driven insane was amazing in a “I hate my DM but am having a load of fun” kind of way. Then having to fight “former” player character Nhar’Qual for the blasted thing was painful! He had become completely corrupted by the artifact and had Kuo-Toa followers to make our lives hell! Player character deaths seemed to flow like water during that quest.
This may have been a small moment in the campaign but I still laugh about our encounter with the Pandemonium Doors. Each side of the double door had a twisted face carved into it. When we approached, Matt spent several minutes rapidly babbling, arguing, screaming, crying, and chatting as the doors interacted with players and each other. Most of the time we couldn’t get a word in edgewise while we tried to figure out how to open this bizarre doors. Even after we walked away the Pandemonium Doors refused to shut up!
If I had to pick a favorite moment for me in any of the Adoraith campaigns it would have to be when my Barbarian, Jarl made a deal with a devil.
The story had taken the party into the Abyss. We had been carrying an orb that was used to imprison Orcus himself. The party had suffered quite a bit due to this artifact and the Abyss was a quantum leap in suffering. Party member deaths were becoming the norm. Every choice was trying to figure out which bad thing would be less bad. It was relentless. The party was fatigued all the time and every encounter was awful.
That’s when it happened. A devil (I wish I could remember his name) came to the party and offered some kind of deal. The party refused him and he moved on. However, a week or so later, Jarl’s companion Svolf was killed in yet another hopeless combat. It was more that he could take. He called upon the devil privately and made a deal. He would give him the orb (which was corrupting members of the party) in return for a full resurrection for Svolf and returning the party to the Prime Material Plane.
When the moment came to hand it over, most of the party was shocked. It caused quite an uproar at the table and I think there may be one or two players who still hate me to this day because of it. The DM rolled with it and it became canon for later campaigns. It turns out that Jarl’s soul is still in the Nine Hells since Orcus was no longer imprisoned in the orb. But that’s a story for a different day.
Anything involving Edluar is, by default, epic!
How regularly do you play, and where do you play?
We play once a week for 6-7 hours per session. We are approaching our 60th session of the campaign which gives us around 360 hours of table time!
I am lucky enough to have a very large game room at my house that includes an enormous gaming table. We use the 4×8 mondomat from chessex which is just barely able to cover most of the table.
For those of us out there about to start a campaign of this style, we know there are a lot of places to draw inspiration from, but where do you draw yours from?
First and foremost I draw from our own history. I find that the more realism you can insert into your game the more the players will be able to relate and immerse themselves into the story. If you are able to give your players details such as “this is a viking culture” as a lead into the sights, smells, and sounds of the village the heroes have just entered their imaginations will make mental leaps to tie the experience together in a much richer way.
Fully realizing that this may be the most frequent answer to the question of influences I proudly state that Tolkien continues to be a great inspiration of mine. In particular, I try to keep magic extremely rare, truly wondrous, and extraordinarily dangerous. Years have passed since I gave out a simple +1 ring of protection. However, the party has found a “Serpent’s Ring” that allows the hero to adopt the racial traits of a Yuan-Ti. However, fail your will save too many times and risk the Yuan-Ti spirit within the ring taking control.
From what I read most of the recent logs seem to be recaps (love the battle-mat photos) by you and one of your players. What motivations prompted that style of log?
Two of my players maintain the log for me. The logs are meant to keep everyone up to date on the story whether they missed a session or simply forgot a few details in between sessions. I started using photos of game play in our logs mostly because I never saw anyone else doing it. I just thought taking pictures was a cool way of sharing our game.
How did you get into tabletop gaming?
I first learned about tabletop RPGs from my older brother who would game with his friends down the street from where we lived. Not long after, when I was 7 or 8, I put my first crayon to a set of dice and joined in. Like most tabletop gamers I got my start playing 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons. I am not sure why but I was immediately drawn to the assassin class and yes, he was evil. Thus, Zorrod the human assassin was born.
Soon I was exploring the galaxy as Zamferre, a Dralasite, in Star Frontiers. John Archer, codename Formula 409, fought the Russians, as well as greasy filthy messes, during the Cold War in Top Secret. My alter egos shot up Wong’s Laundry in Boot Hill, spent several hours planning the perfect covert run only to kick in the door after 5 minutes in Shadow Run, and consistently had their ammo critically hit in BattleTech. If dice were involved I tried it!
How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?
We came to Obsidian Portal in 2010 after spending 7 years using Yahoo Groups as a home for our group. While I have always placed an emphasis on content over cosmetics, I did quickly learn a few quick tricks to pretty up the site which made our page much more interesting to look at. Additionally, OP made our job of not only organizing our gaming schedule but documenting characters, NPC’s, and past sessions so easy that making the move was a no brainer.
I am very proud of what my players and I have built together. I just wish I could have documented all of my campaigns this way. So many fond memories of past games that deserved to be immortalized!
Okay this is a two part question: A) If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most? B) Do your players get involved on the wiki too?
Your first question is actually a very tough one but I would have to say that the feature used more than any other is the Wiki. Prior to using OP I would get weekly questions about the world, NPCs, house rules, and magic items. Now they can simply refer to the wiki for any answers they need.
My players are free to help me with the Wiki but the campaign log and character pages keeps them busy enough. A few of them also keep a campaign journal of their own that recounts the events from their character’s perspective which doesn’t always fall in line with the campaign journal.
How much time do you usually spend prepping your sessions, and how do you go about it?
Prep time really depends on what’s happening in the game. If we are at a crossroads session, one where the heroes can potentially take the game in a number of directions, I generally spend an hour or two outlining, at a high level, the different routes the party can take. Then i might prepare a handful of both combat and RP encounters that can be used on the fly.
Once the adventurers have committed to a path, we enter the questing sessions where I spend 2-4 hours a week working through the details of the adventure. Time spent prepping could be far longer but I have been DMing almost exclusively since the 1980s and I save everything. I am to the point where re-using old materials has allowed me to keep prep time to the 2-4 hour mark. When I first started, my obsessive nature would have me spending entire days working out every detail of an adventure. Looking back at those marathon prep sessions makes me cringe!
What inspires your game play?
Nothing is more inspiring than when the players embrace the story and really immerse themselves in their characters. I have run games for people whose only motivation was murder and wealth. While this may be fun for some, running a game for sociopaths is not fun for me. As much as possible I like my players to step outside of themselves and try to live this entirely new life. This person has motivations, goals, and emotions of their own that go beyond the primal “Me smash! Take gold!” There is no greater feeling than when your characters really begin to care about their character and the world around them.
How do you know your players, how long have you been gaming with them?
I have literally gamed with dozens of people since this group formed in 2003. Virtually all of them contacted me online but some come from local game stores. Over the years, many players have come and gone (and some come back again!) but there are still a few who have been with me since the beginning.
Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GM’ing pearls of wisdom.
– Have your players write character histories and find a way to weave them into your main story. There is no better way to make your players care about why they are going on this adventure!
– Make frequent use of recurring villains and be sure the villains give as much as they get. Allow your villains to pull the character histories into their nefarious plans. If you can get your players to truly hate your villains you are doing something right!
– Remember to include all 4 senses into your descriptions! It’s never enough to say “you see a graveyard.” What can the heroes hear? Smell? Feel? See? Your descriptions should be enough for the players to know it’s a graveyard without being told
– Never allow adherence to the rules to get in the way of the flow of the game. Nothing derails the mood of a good game more than having players sit and wait while people look up rules. Make a common sense ruling and move on. You should be able to run your game without opening a single book.
That’s about all I have! Hope that helps someone!
…. and that’ll about wrap it up for this month. Until next time.