Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month August 2019 – Into the Gathering Dark

Darkspawn stir while the land’s nobles scheme for profit. Meanwhile innocent folk are left largely to their own devices. Even foreign mercenaries seem more honorable in recent days. Perhaps it’s all for the best; who better than mercenaries to venture Into the Gathering Dark – August’s Campaign of the Month! Now hurry! There’s no time to waste if the Blight is to be stopped. We must get to GM Pytheas with all haste.

https://db4sgowjqfwig.cloudfront.net/campaigns/195917/banners/990301/banner.png?1563837966First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do both aside from gaming? Any alter egos? Spouse and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet? Let us know if you feel so inclined!

I grew up in Germany, where I took my first steps in the world of RPGs. Now I live in Sydney, Australia, with my family.

Tell us about Into the Gathering Dark in a nutshell. How did it come to be and how long has the campaign been going on?

I like some variety in my gaming and am always looking for opportunities to try out games that aren’t D&D (which always seems to be on offer). So when I got my hands on the Dragon Age RPG, I looked for an opportunity to take it out for a spin. I ran “An Arl’s Ransom” as a one-shot at my FLGS. Everyone involved liked the system (and setting) well enough that I decided to put together a campaign and thus “Into the Gathering Dark” was born. That was over a year ago, and we are still going strong with the first part of the campaign approaching its climax.


How regularly do you play, and where do you play?

We play fortnightly at our FLGS. Apart from Obsidian Portal to keep campaign materials, we communicate via Discord between sessions.

I’ve heard good things about the Dragon Age RPG. How do you like it and what do you find to be its strong and weak points? Why did you choose this particular game system?

I partly chose the Dragon Age RPG because of the setting. I enjoy dark fantasy and being tied to a popular franchise certainly helped with attracting players. One of the things I like most about the rules is the stunt system. You roll 3d6 for skill checks and attack rolls and every time you roll doubles something special happens. That really helps to keep combat fresh and exciting. That is a good thing too because combat can take a long time to resolve. We are currently at the tail end of a combat encounter that has already taken up more than one session (it started during Episode 28).


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?

In the end, I think much of the inspiration came from the players. I initially looked at some of the published adventures, mostly from Blood in Ferelden, and developed a rough outline for the campaign that incorporated several of them into a larger plot. I knew some adjustments would be required because the campaign is set five years prior to the events of Dragon Age Origins. Most of it should work though. I had come up with a small introductory adventure that was supposed to give the players a chance to get comfortable with their characters and introduce elements of the larger plot I had in mind. At the last minute, it turned out that one of the players couldn’t make it to the first session. Since I didn’t want her to miss out on the campaign’s introduction, and some of the hooks related to her character, I came up with a different adventure for the first session. Events from this session ended up driving much of the early part of the campaign (but we did get to the content I had prepared the next time).


This initial experience turned out to be fairly typical. In the end, I used only one of the published adventures. Instead, I used hooks from the PC’s backgrounds and unresolved threads from previous sessions that the players appeared to be interested in to weave the story. Some of my initial ideas proved to be a useful guide for that, but they were revised heavily.

Aside from Dragon Age, I’m sure you play other systems too, which ones do you play most?

Currently, mostly D&D 5th edition. Primarily, because that is what is on offer here. I very much prefer to play in person, which limits choice somewhat. I have played a variety of games over the years, though. The ones I spent the most time with are The Dark Eye, 7th Sea, and Ars Magica.


How did you get into tabletop gaming?

It happened while I was in Highschool. I don’t recall the exact year. What I do remember is that I got invited to a New Year’s Eve party where we played The Dark Eye (by far the most popular RPG in Germany at the time). Two of my close friends were there, as well. Even though we didn’t manage to complete the adventure and my first character died an early and untimely death, we couldn’t wait to play again. Afterwards, we set up a group and met for regular games over the following years.

How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

Although I had looked at it before I only started using Obsidian Portal in earnest for this campaign, I was looking for a place to keep all my information for the Dragon Age campaign. I wanted some way to keep electronic character sheets, notes, session write-ups and the like. After considering my options Obsidian Portal looked like it would be able to do what I wanted with the least amount of fuss. I like that I can keep public and private notes on the same page. This way the listing for one of the (by now quite numerous) NPCs can help to remind players who they are dealing with while also providing a stat block that only I can see.


Your site’s customization is really great, do you do all that work yourself?

Yes, I did all the customizations, including the character sheet, myself. I’m glad you like it! I am relying heavily on art I scavenge from around the internet though. Sadly, my artistic skills are a long way behind my programming skills. And I had a lot of useful advice from ChainsawXIV to help me get the character sheet up and running.

If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most? Do your players get involved on the wiki too?

The players don’t make a lot of use of their ability to edit the wiki, beyond tracking the group’s finances and occasionally updating their character sheets. I do think they appreciate having easy access to all the campaign-related information though. When I passed this question on to the players one of them (Inheritor) had the following to say:


“As my notes might just be a small footnote or two about NPCs or events during a campaign it’s always great to have references to story from the Chronicles, especially with Pytheas’ descriptive writing and memory.”


I think that the way Obsidian Portal allows me to manage all the NPCs probably helps the most. When I need some detail on an NPC who has unexpectedly re-entered the story, the relevant information is always right there.


How much time do you usually spend prepping your sessions, and how do you go about it?

That varies a lot. When I need a new NPC, I take some time to put together a suitable stat block and write a paragraph or so about their motivations (and try to find an appropriate picture). Usually, the stat blocks are based on those from the bestiary in the book but may require some modification, especially for major NPCs. Now that I feel comfortable with the system that is a reasonably quick process. I also come up with a rough outline of events for the next session.


Sometimes I write down a few notes, but often I just keep it in my head. Often a new NPC or two and a general idea of the problems the players will face is really all that I need. In that case, session prep is done in less than an hour. Sometimes though, things take a lot longer. For example, when I need to come up with maps for buildings for the party to raid (this turns out to be their specialty). For one of these, Perfectly Legitimate Nug Business, I not only produced a complete map of the building and details for eight new NPCs, but I also came up with a detailed schedule for all of them, determining where they would be at different times (with some randomization). I wanted to to be as fair as possible in adjudicating the player’s anticipated attempt to infiltrate the house quietly. That took a lot of time. Naturally, things went differently to what I had imagined. My prep still proved useful though and left me free to improvise at the table.

What would you say the single biggest highlight from your game has been so far?

I passed this one on to the players. The consensus seems to be that there were many good moments but one that stands out, in particular, came when the players completed an assault on the Black Lotus drug lab in Episode 23: A Minor Distraction. At the start of the attack Jesse, the group’s resident pyromaniac, lit a grease fire in front of the building’s entrance as a distraction while they entered through the roof. The fire kept spreading, eventually consuming the building in a big explosion when it reached the drug lab itself. The PCs calmly walked away, having completed their mission. It is worth noting that they came within a turn or two of being caught up in that explosion, which had me on the edge of my seat as I could see them running out of time.

Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing pearls of wisdom.

I don’t know how much wisdom I have to share. I mostly feel like I’m making things up as I go, even after years of GMing experience. I would say that the best sessions happen when I confront the players with problems they and their characters care about, am reasonably well prepared but improvise freely. So my advice would be threefold: Listen to your players. Be as prepared as you need to be. Don’t be afraid to improvise.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into the realms of Dragon Age, but the time has come for us to head out. We’ll be back soon with another fantastic campaign for your perusal. In the meantime, we hope you’ll add some additional nominations to the list. So long!

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