Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month January 2021 – Gaxim Plague

It began with the coastal cities, but it wasn’t long before it spread – moving inland at a rate that the scholars said was ‘prodigious’. They should have said terrifying. The disease is so virulent and rapidly spread that the clerics cannot keep up with the demand for cleansing. Rumors swirl that many within the faith have succumbed themselves… I shudder at the very possibility of that being true. A solution must be found, Amn must endure this Gaxim Plague – January’s Campaign of the Month! Now, muster your courage, say a prayer and come with me, as we enter the lands of the Forgotten Realms with the GM of this month’s featured campaign, Frak_Lou_Elmo!

Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet?

I’m from The Netherlands, although I had an international childhood so I feel more European than Dutch. I’ve got two boys, 5 and 7, and I have introduced them to D&D in a really scaled down version. Thankfully my amazing wife, who doesn’t play herself, joins in to help the boys. While I don’t use it for myself much, 4e is actually pretty good for kids. Besides my TTRP hobby I also practice HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts), read sci-fi and fantasy, comics and listen to political podcasts. You can stalk me on twitter @frak_lou_elmo.

So…tell us about Gaxim Plague in a nutshell

I decided to run a game during the first COVID lockdown, and for some mad reason decided to put the focus on curing a plague besetting Faerun. I set in it Forgotten Realms as I know that setting pretty well I could kick it off quickly, but decided to get the party from Faerun to Maztica as soon as possible because I’ve never played there before and I can then both have a familiar and canon heavy base for the players but throw new stuff at them they will have never seen, given that Maztica is so old a setting. The players are all smallfolk: 2 dwarves, 2 halflings, a gnome and a svirfneblin, which kinda just happened with the first 3 players and then I thought to make it a theme. Right now they have reached level 5 and tracked the cure of the plague to the blossom of a plant monster in Maztica, but they have to start messing with powers beyond their understanding to get it. It’s a horror heavy campaign with many other themes criss crossing through it so that even when this plague is cured they will have found themselves waist deep in a myriad of other interlinked problems for which the solutions only introduce more horrors.

What do you enjoy most about DnD 5e?

It has reduced a lot of unnecessary complexity being agile enough that I can easily insert my own homebrew stuff without massively unbalancing it. In the 90s my older brother introduced 2e AD&D and I was fascinated, but I didn’t really start playing regularly until 3.5e. I dabbled unseriously once in a while with DMing in 4e but only took it to a campaign level with 5e. 4e has some amazing stuff like minions, but the powers design made it feel very videogamelike. 5e seems like a polished 3.5, and the only thing I miss from 2e is the really unique psionics system.

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

We aim for every Saturday, but in reality that becomes about twice a month on average. We play online using Google Hangouts, I use watch2gether for synchronous music, and AWW as a primitive whiteboard. I prefer theater of the mind and just a really basic battle map to keep the focus on people’s imaginations rather than simulating a computer game.

Who puts all of your wiki together?

Me. I ask for input from the players, like if I forgot anything in the log and they say “what about that thing I found in the corner?” then I will ask them to write a short paragraph for it, and I encourage the players to put as much background, secrets, personal goals etc into their characters as they can, but mostly the wiki stuff is all me, with pictures and text stolen from all over the web. I have one player, the warlock gnome, who draws while we play and comes out with some amazing original artwork which I am super thankful for. There is no greater reward for a DM than the players helping add to the communal storytelling and I am lucky that in this group everyone is eager to add to their character’s development. You never know what the players will come up with if you show that their input counts. When a player puts as much personality into their spider mount as they do into their character then you know you are gonna have enough material for many wiki pages.

Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game?

Right now I am pulling a lot from a fan made 5e full conversion of the original Maztica material which can be found on DMSguild.com, it is amazingly well done. But besides that I pull from all kinds of random places, movies, books… At the moment I am reading the old Dark Sun novels and I shamelessly steal from that. I also draw from my players, they have so many ideas if you just let it be known that they can help build the world as well. I ask them in between games a lot about what they want to do and that is very rewarding in game. From these in between game discussions, the halfling rogue got an entire new poison system out of it which can craft poisons that have spell like effects, making those non spellcaster players feel more than just a stabby stabby guy.

How much time do you usually take to prepare for a session?

At least as long as I play and a session is usually 3, maybe 4 hours. Sometimes longer if I want to invent something new. What actually takes a surprising amount of time is the adventure log write ups. Mine are not short: I take lots of notes throughout the game so my battle narration is very play by play. There is also a hefty dose of exposition that I may not have elaborated enough on in the game so that when the players want to know the details of a certain legend or historical event, they can find it. I try to put time into making any special item have a connection to the player, like the dwarf paladin having a borrowed weapon which he promised to return but the man died before he could, so he has this weight on him until he can give it back in the afterlife.

Aside from DnD I’m sure you have played other systems too, what are some others you enjoy?

I introduced to Masks by one of my current players last year (who is also an amazingly good GM that I still learn from) and it is ridiculously fun: we started a side Masks game he runs if not enough people can make the DnD session. It lets you live your superhero fantasy and has very little restrictions. I also have played Whitewolf games (Werewolf, Vampire, etc) and that system is also amazingly versatile when it comes to magic. There are times when I think DnD magic is a bit silly, what with very specific spells and forgetting them after casting. I am up for exploring new systems and was just introduce to Primetime Adventures by a friend, which I am excited to try out.

How do you know your players, how long have you been gaming with them?

Most come from a facebook group about comics which I joined 2 years ago, and one is a friend of a friend that I also met through facebook. It’s an international bunch: USA, Argentina, Belgium, England, Northern Ireland and New Zealand, and me here in the Netherlands. We have had 16 sessions since April 2020 going from level 1 to 5, and this is the first game I played with any of them. Happily after some sessions one of them invited me to play in another 5e game about Vikings which I am having a blast in, and it’s run by a fantastic DM, and the players have invited me to other games like Masks or Cyberpunk, so the group jives well. I hope to continue running this campaign until the end, I have planned this plot out to level 20!

Keeping players involved is always a struggle, how do you keep them involved?

Oh god I lay awake at night worrying about this. I try and make sure everyone gets a little spotlight in every session, and that every character has every few sessions a major spotlight on them. Besides that I try and show that their work on character backgrounds and in game decisions actually do affect the plot and let it show that no details goes unnoticed. I think Obsidian Portal helps tremendously, as then anything that makes them feel special is not just on some scrap paper at the bottom of a drawer but it’s shown to everyone enriching everyone’s experience. I also hope that the nail biting and nerve wracking plot keeps them coming back to find out what happens next. I hope that the more detail I put into their shared experience the more likely they will stay involved, hence the insanely long logs. Although I may be totally wrong in why they keep playing with me! I think keeping an open mind to what they want to experience is key. The halfling wizard is an extremely knowledgeable player who wants to push the limits of the mechanics, so I can use that to depend on the character coming up with solutions to pretty hard problems.

Your wiki customization looks great, did you do it all yourself?

Thank you! Yes, I did it myself. Since I can only just write creatively and edit pictures at an MS Paint level, I have depended on the advise of the Obsidian Portal forums on how to make the wiki look like I want it to. I have no CSS understanding and my html is limited to making a table! It really is a work in progress; it may change as I get other ideas or abilities.

You have some unique sections, such as your monster log- what brought you to do that?

For structure, like the monster log, items of note, organizations, I was inspired by the first time I came across Obsidian Portal in a game run by the DM I learned from most back in the 3.5e days, and he still influences my DM style today. Besides that I wonder what would I need as a player to help me get back into the game as well as quickly look up whatever plot device is going on. I also like to play pretty openly, as I aspire to inspire every player to eventually DM themselves (most of mine do already anyways, but that is besides the point). So I like to show the stats of what they have killed so they can understand how it all works or what they were really up against.

You have a link for music- how do you use music in your game?

I use watch2gether which allows people to watch the same youtube video simultaneously (and without ads) and it allows for playlists. AND it’s free! This way when something happens like the monster they killed self-resurrects I can just switch to more dramatic music without asking players to click a new link. Each character even has a playlist of songs that fit their persona, acoustic covers to keep it fantasy-ish, but I use anything from movie music to ambience sounds. I would love to eventually throw sound effects in there with another tab open but I don’t think I could handle the multitasking which is already quite a lot playing online.

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

I’ve been on it as a player since early 2019, was just told to make a profile if I wanted to play by the DM. I found it a great way to show off my character to the rest of the party. I am one of those players that goes crazy on the backstory, and this rogue I made for this campaign has a backstory 10,500 words long! I was really happy for a place to put it all, and actually only showed the other players parts of it as they got to know the rogue better. Obviously that amount of player background meant I had enough ideas to fill out a whole campaign, so I decided to purchase and for what you get it’s a good price. I was not expecting the extremely helpful community of GMs in the forums with building stuff and the openness of staff to user ideas. Now I could not imagine running a campaign without it, even if it was not an online game.

You have been very involved in the forums- what is the best thing you find about them?

The willingness to help out. If I say “hey my table isn’t aligned, why?” or “how do I do this and that?” people are happy to take a look and give advice. I also appreciate that Obsidian Portal Management is directly involved in there and they are eager to hear about player experience to make everything better.

What would you say the single biggest highlight from Gaxim Plague has been so far?

There are a lot of highlights, and the biggest would probably vary from player to player. I think for me the funniest shock that I was not planning was when I left enough of the plant monster’s flowers that are the plague cure in an enemy tower that could save an entire city, and then thinking that the enemy was using the flowers to cause the plague, they burned the lot. Next session they discovered their error and there was much shame and lamenting, just what you want in a horror genre! It was also the dwarf cleric’s idea and he is kinda the moral backbone of the entire party, so it was doubly painful for him.

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

Talk with your players between sessions, individually and regularly. What do you want out of your character? How are you liking the way a certain game mechanic or group dynamic is working? Be open to adapt for that. And don’t think you are going to just start the one Le Epic best game ever as you will burn out your ideas or waste them on a non-performing group. Just start a generic game to get the ball rolling, most will peter out in a few sessions for all kinds of reasons, and once in a while you will hit a group in a setting that works and you just know after a couple of sessions, THIS is gonna be Le Epic.

– – –

The struggles continue, but tragically our feature has come to an end. If you’re keen to stay current on all the happenings within the Gaxim Plague campaign, be sure to add it to your favorites list and keep an eye on the adventure log for new posts that are sure to come. While you’re managing your favorite campaigns, consider adding some of them to the nominations thread so we can maintain the strength of the CotM program into the new year and beyond.

We’ll be doing announcements for Campaign of the Year soon, so stay tuned for all of that!

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