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Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month November 2017 – The Gaelean Chronicles: Heroes 4 Hire

The village of Hellespont needs you! Recent disappearances have prompted the Elder Council to seek out adventurers to investigate! Viable candidates are hereby invited to assemble at the River Bend Inn for consideration! Let you and your company’s tale be the next one written in The Gaelean Chronicles: Heroes 4 Hire – November’s Campaign of the Month! Sharpen your swords, ready your most potent magics, and prepare to test your mettle – DM_Mike awaits…

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To start things off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Do you have any alter egos we should know about? Or other places online where we can follow your work?

DM_Mike

Avatar for DM_Mike

Southern Oregon, originally. Retired in April 2017 after a 27-year career as an USAF F16 fighter pilot and Colonel.  Now I work as an independent contractor for Boeing as a test pilot.  I also have two other ‘all-consuming hobbies’ in addition to D&D: I am a long time backer/alpha tester/player of Star Citizen, and I am a master woodworker.

 

For the fantasy RPG world, I usually operate under the pseudonym “Krinae Vanti”, the name of my favorite PC I played when I was a kid.  Obviously, “DM Mike” for when I’m DM-ing anything.  As a fighter pilot, my callsign is “Foghorn”, which I also use for my Star Citizen community as well.  Yeah… all those aliases, plus about a thousand NPC’s… there’s a lot of Multiple Personality Disorder in my head.

 

Believe it or not, Obsidian Portal (which we affectionately call OP, for short) is pretty much it.  We do have a Facebook page for our campaign where folks can follow our craziness, but all roads lead back to OP.

Smedley Hampton (artimicia24):
Texas. High school and outside of school I do volunteer work for NJROTC.

Dajjal (jaylibberton6211):
I’m a twenty-one-year-old pre-med student currently at HCC.  Most of the time my studies keep me from having many hobbies, but this is one I try to make time for.

Naïlo Thia (katvee):
I’m from Tampa originally but currently reside in Gainesville (which makes for some interesting play tactics when I’m two hours away from the rest of the game during the session).  I am a full time student studying Neuroscience and Anthropology and work at a local branch of the National Suicide Hotline.  In my free time, besides gaming, I enjoy music, flag spinning and going on wild life adventures on the trails near where I live.  Most of the gaming I do outside of this group is offline single player games.

Alton Beeblebrox (29lopez2):
I was born in New York City, and the only things I do are game, work and school.  The only alter ego I have is Alton currently, but when I have more free time I plan on being a DM or joining more D&D groups, so I can try out more classes and personalities.  I also don’t have any other places for my work but when I have more free time I will try to cosplay Alton or other characters from our campaign and post on our page.

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Your profile on Obsidian Portal states that your experience with tabletop RPGs began way back in 1978 with the original D&D box set. Can you describe some of the differences and similarities of the hobby then versus now? Is there anything you miss from those days that isn’t around today?

Oy… a lot!  The system is vastly improved over basic/expert/advanced 0th edition days.  Advantage/disadvantage, saving throws that follow the 6 basic abilities, the skills categorizing under the 6 basic abilities, AC system, DC system, conditions… make more sense and speed up gameplay versus the old “Save versus Wands” system.  Wanna watch brains melt?  Try explaining THAC0.  I use it as punishment for player snark.

 

Similarities… briefly, the overall flexibility of the game system has been maintained, kudos to WotC for that.  The DM can adapt the game to any play-style… hack-n-slash with no roleplay, all roleplay-and-intrigue with little combat, a sci-fi or steampunk or lovecraftian setting instead, all easily accomplished.  In college, I DM’ed a campaign (1st ed. AD&D) reprising the main plot line from Wendy and Richard Pini’s ElfQuestwith players roleplaying Cutter, Skywise, Strongbow, Treestump, Nightfall, Clearbrook and, of course, Leetah… and I got to make Winnowill worse. *sigh* Good times.

Lt. Diplo Norixius

What brought you to Obsidian Portal and what keeps you coming back? Is there a feature not on the site that you’d like to see?

The features, of course!  All of it.  And believe it or not, I like the Item page, ‘deprecated’ though it is.  And the ability to snark my players to go read it for themselves when they ask me the never-ending “what was that guy’s name who did the thing at that place again?”  College kids these days…

 

I’d love to see the site integrate with Fantasy Grounds™ and similar VTTs. My new position requires a lot of travel, so we’ve partly moved to FG for when I’m on the road, and tabletop when I’m home.  I’d love to only write/post once and the system populate OP as well.  I do a lot of copy-paste.

 

Also, an improvement of the map functionality would be greatly appreciated.  The “make it like Google Maps™” idea is nice an all, but the “it’s gotta be square” and similar restrictions are limiting.  The vast majority of my maps are 16:9 aspect and extremely high resolution, and I really have to ‘dumb them down’ to get them to (kinda) work on the OP maps page.

Smedley Hampton (artimicia24):
My campaign uses it. I really enjoy the online wiki format, its very user friendly and easy to use.

Illyia Baham (Krinae_Nilok):
Obsidian Portal is a useful tool to keep all our campaign information, without having to create a whole binder or book of all of our collective stuff. That is one of the main reasons that we keep coming back to use it. It is also useful to as a refresher for whenever we have breaks in playtime.

Dajjal (jaylibberton6211):
I only got into Obsidian Portal because the DM set it up. However, I must note that it is a useful tool for keeping everything organized and easy to follow.

Naïlo Thia (katvee):
The DM brought me and the DM keeps me coming back. Once I learned my way around it was a very useful tool for consolidating all of our campaign in one place.

Alton Beeblebrox (29lopez2):
Well, our DM Mike showed me Obsidian Portal and what brings me back is our campaign, because I like showing my family and friends how fun it is to sit down and just roleplay as something you are not. A feature that would be interesting would be a live stream; it would be fun to see if other campaigns have good table manners, or if everyone just has shouting fests over if they want to kill the villain or have an item. Also, the wiki format is good; I do not see anything wrong with it currently.

Smedley “Deadly” Hampton

How smooth was your transition to the online wiki format given that you’re one of the ‘grey beards’ of D&D?

Meh, smooth enough.  I’m not super-HTML programming savvy, but Textile is pretty straight forward and the community is extremely helpful and friendly (thanks to CGregory and Twiggyleaf for all the help, you guys rock the Kasbah!).  Not to mention I’m fairly technical, so I pick up such things pretty quickly.

The Gaelean Chronicles: Heroes 4 Hire is stated as being run for a group of players who had never played tabletop before, but were brought to the hobby after seeing online campaigns like Critical Role. Did their prior viewing experience translate into stronger play and a shorter introductory period?

I believe so.  It all started when my college-age children showed me Critical Role and asked me what they were doing.  I watched a few moments and realized they (CritRole) were playing D&D, and explained the game to them as we watched.  Two weeks went by before they and their friends approached me about running a game for them, and that was how my near 22-year sabbatical from D&D ended.  Our first ‘game session’ consisted of watching about an hour of a Critical Role episode with me explaining to the (much larger than original) group what was happening, and then we generated characters.  It helped immensely, in my opinion.

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What issues, if any, did the group have early on?

“Why don’t I get proficiency bonus added to my AC if I’m proficient with that armor?”  Actually, considering I had completely skipped 2nd ed., 3rd ed., 3.5 ed., 3.75 ed. aka Pathfinder and 4th ed. (ptooey!) and went straight to 5th ed. D&D, I was learning right alongside of them.  So, we all just remembered that the story is what counts, and if we biffed the rules or misapplied a condition or whatnot, we’d learn from it and move the fork on.  The fork moves all over our game table.

Smedley Hampton (artimicia24):
I didn’t watch that much Critical Role; I mostly joined because I saw how much fun the group was having and wanted to be a part of it. The little amount of Critical Role I did watch helped me have a shorter introductory period. I think meta-gaming was a bit of an issue to the group early on.

Illyia Baham (Krinae_Nilok):
Watching Critical Role is what inspired and attracted most of us to tabletop gaming itself. We all assumed we would all be amazing actors, and in truth were little surprised to see how hard it was to get into characters like they do on Critical Role. I think that was a bit of a challenge when we started playing as we are not professional voice actors or actors at all. After a couple of weeks, though, we all seemed to get accustomed to playing.

Dajjal (jaylibberton6211):
I am a huge fan of critical role; it’s what made me want to try my own game.

Naïlo Thia (katvee):
I actually joined in at a later stage than the rest of the party so I was more in a learn-on-the-job position than the other players who were with it from the beginning. The biggest issues we had early on was mostly effective communication / cooperation and teamwork. Everyone wanted to play their own game, but if you do that in this platform you will be a side dish before you know it.

Alton Beeblebrox (29lopez2):
I would say it did help, because watching them play showed that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and you have to work together as a team. When I would play team games, I’d play as if I was the team, so it helped me to watch them. For my class, the introduction was easy since all I did was hit more, but after the first session I learned very quickly I was not the tank. The issues we had initially was probably table manners.

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Illyia Baham (aka Krinae Nilok)

You mention that the campaign’s setting Gaelea is an amalgamation of many references set onto the geographical features of Eberron. Can you expand a bit upon the work that went into creating a setting in this manner?

Yes it is! How long do you have?… I started small, with our introductory village of Hellespont, which was a replacement for the keep (cuz I never liked it) from Keep on the Borderlands (B2). It was an ‘operations base’ for the virgin party to run raids into the Caves of Chaos, set about 10 miles north of the ville.  Tutorial Isle, anyone?

 

After that was ‘fleshed out enough’ to run, I went super-big (see Gaelea Campaign Setting)… started with the solar system (Seles) in which Gaelea resides, because time is an integral factor in our game and several of the big questlines, and time is defined by the movement of the celestial bodies.  So, I figured those out first (well, second after Hellespont)… calendar, days, months, lunar cycles, eclipses, festivals, etc.  Then I worked down from big, namely Gaelea itself… continents, oceans, seasons, regional characteristics.  Then, within the continents, how many countries or regions they were divided up into, if they even were at all.  I left the other four fairly open other than some cursory notes, and concentrated on the continent of Caledonia and further into the nation of Eridae, where Hellespont resides and our adventurers began.

 

A lot of what you see on the map was literally decided on the fly as we played.  I’m perfectly comfortable starting a game session mostly ‘unprepared’.  I get to find out where the story goes along with the players.

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Were there any issues fitting all of your choices together during the creation process?

Oh yes, and still are.  I have two characters (NPCs) that are basically Han and Chewie.  I named Eridae such solely so I could have a military cavalry unit named The Eridani Light Horse Brigade (Battletech, anyone?).  I have a wizard who is the Absent-Minded Professor, a head-of-state that is Ronald Reagan, and a provincial Lord that is my father… two of the players’ grandfather.  I have a region named Morytania, stolen wholesale from the MMORPG Runescape, and two other nations name Gilder and Florin, from The Princess Bride.  LOTR fans will recognize the region named Evendim, along with the ancient city-ruins of Annuminas.  It is weird.  Sometimes I change the names of my plagiarized items, but not always.  It is confusing.  Somehow it all seems to work, and I don’t know why.  I also don’t care ‘why’, because I’m having a blast!

Has your development methodology led to any sort of Easter egg hunting on the part of the players?

Hunting?  Not really.  They are pretty plot-driven… really into the story.  They get about half my references and homages, they miss about half.  And that’s fine; they range in age from 16 to 22, so it’s also a way for me to share some of my ‘cool, old guy, stuff’ with the youngsters.

Smedley Hampton (artimicia24):
I haven’t found any Easter eggs that I can think of at the moment.

Illyia Baham (Krinae_Nilok):
I cannot speak for others but I have found several tip-of-the-hat references to Lord of the Rings and other such literary works in our campaign. My favorite though is the addition of the country of Morytania from the game Runescape. Our DM has even added in characters from a favorite anime. It’s interesting to try to have a drinking contest with the characters from the Black Lagoon Shipping Company.

Dajjal (jaylibberton6211):
What’s an Eberron?

Naïlo Thia (katvee):
The biggest allusions I’ve found are the physical places and their names. I think it’s clever to use other sources that we all know to help paint a more vivid picture in less time. It’s also cool to be looking back after a session or story line and connect all the dots. Following Thia and Potema’s side revenge adventure (The Darkness Stares Back, Thalolan and Madcoil !!!), the DM showed me an old story (Elfquest) that had spurred some of his ideas for their final boss.

Alton Beeblebrox (29lopez2):
My favorite Easter egg is what is playing in the background of our sessions, because most of the music and sounds are from video games I have played before… like when we had an epic fight and “Duel of the Fates” started randomly playing.

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Dajjal

Can you tell us about the plot for The Gaelean Chronicles: Heroes 4 Hire in a nutshell?

The Gaelean Chronicles is less a single plot and more of an entire world setting for campaigns to happen within, akin to Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms and of course, Eberron.  It is a ‘sandbox’ approach, similar to The Elder Scrolls video games, where there are many questlines for the players to pursue, and I leave it up to them.  They go where they will, and I develop the stories as they make choices.  I detest ‘linear’… too predictable.

What is the basic premise of the story? And roughly how far through the campaign are the players at this point?

They just finished crushing the slaver’s campaign, which was the Against The Slave Lords (A0-A4) campaign ported into TGC:H4H.  Currently, they are pursuing “The Dark Priest”.  It’s the priest from the Shrine in the Caves of Chaos, who managed to escape them and flee (see Resurrection).  The table talk for weeks after from the players was that they had to find him, because he was up to something nefarious and dastardly, so I obliged them and came up with an evil scheme and plot for him to become the major villain of their current storyline.  I had no prior intentions for that guy; I wrote his story solely because of my player’s conjecture.

 

They are all vicinity of Level 8; some are beginning to multi-class.  They are nearing a final confrontation with the Dark Priest, but he is wily and has been giving them fits.  Actually, he doesn’t know they are after him.  They have been very good at using their resources to track and keep tabs on him without tipping him off that he’s being followed.  He has been going about minding his own evil business, and has just by happenstance thwarted a couple of their attempts to intercept him.  It has been entertaining to watch their frustrations.

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How about the future of the campaign? Are there any spoiler free hints that you can drop about what’s coming up for the Heroes 4 Hire?

Oof… spoiler-free? That’s a tall order.  I can say a few things.  With Gaelea being a ‘sandbox’, there are a lot more adventures to be had, as well as some that are only partially begun… the party is still under contract to Ven & Hellen to go back to the Dread Isle (see Dangerous Tides) and adventure-ize the place, for one example.  Also, the PC’s have colorful backstories, and are just starting to explore those storylines.  I have a lot written, and even more planned.

 

Lastly, I’ll mention that time is paramount in this campaign-world, and the calendar is my most important tool.  Events in this campaign are (mostly) time-based, versus event-based.  Gaelea continues spinning regardless of where and what the party are doing.  Plots and stories continue to progress in the background whether the party is present to observe them or not, and will produce consequences.  The Dark Priest, for example, has a goal, an agenda and a timeline that were all written down the second he became the focal Villain.  I have not changed his ‘schedule of events’ once.  It’s one way I keep myself honest and let the chips fall where they may.  Like the Battlestar Galactica reboot… he has a plan.

Concerning the players, now that they have gotten actual playing experience under their belts, do you feel like the hobby has lived up to what they thought it would be from having watched it via the internet?  Why or why not?

I think so.  The feedback has been quite enthusiastic, and the players are (at least vocally) disappointed when they have to miss a game session due to work or familial engagements.

Smedley Hampton (artimicia24):
It has more or less lived up to my expectations. I would like more RP in taverns and such instead of skipping in interest of time, but overall it’s lived up to expectations and is very fun.

Dajjal (jaylibberton6211):
I have to say, it was quite a shock how unlike Critical Role it was. Now I had no beliefs that it would be; we’re not experienced voice actors being led by Matt Mercer, but I personally am a little sad at how bland it can be sometimes, like two-dimensional. Also, I really don’t like meta-gaming and sometimes the story can be led astray because of it. The most important part of the game to me is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and living a life separate from yours, having fun and using your imagination to create a new you.

Naïlo Thia (katvee):
I didn’t come in with many expectations other than the general pop culture understanding of “nerds in the basement”, but I am often blown away by this game and would recommend it to anyone who has the time.

Alton Beeblebrox (29lopez2):
I think it has, because when I have a free moment or two at work or driving, I think about interesting characters… or ways to improve Alton as much as possible.

Naïlo Thia

What would you say has been the single biggest highlight in the campaign so far?

Lt. Diplo Norixius, our resident Paladin of Bahamut, awkwardly trying to purchase the services of a prostitute at Madame Woo’s House of Woo, for a friend. Best.  Roleplay.  Ever.

 

For me personally, it has been getting my players so immersed at the table that they lose that line between reality and fantasy for a moment.  For the campaign, my players never fail to surprise me with the most off-the-wall, creative ways to use their items and the environment and whatnot to solve the tactical problem.

Smedley Hampton (artimicia24):
Writing my characters personal bio and having all our bios connect in some way.

Dajjal (jaylibberton6211):
The fact that we have our own business and constantly are exploring this new world.

Naïlo Thia (katvee):
Probably the Dread Isle campaign where Illyia was mouthing off and wandering in the forest by himself before getting his butt handed to him by a bunch of big-ass spiders (see That Which Crawls) (of which his player wants nothing to do with… arachnophobe). It was a good day. Well not for him. Also shitting on Diplo.

Alton Beeblebrox (29lopez2):
My favorite highlight is when our group killed an entire fortress of hobgoblins (see Knee Deep in the Shit). It was great imagining the hobgoblins flooding in just to add to the cuddle puddle of corpses.

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What about the biggest setback or failure? If there was one thing you could change or do over again, what would it be?

Well, that’s the thing about D&D, isn’t it? An epic failure is just part of the story, so it’s not really a ‘failure’ in the grand scheme of things. [As for myself,] I would have never stopped playing this game for those two decades, I don’t care how busy I was.

 

Right now, the party has literally cleared out The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun (WG-4), which they know the Dark Priest is after some artifact from within (see The Obsidian Ziggurat, Parts 1 & 2).  In other words, they killed off all the monsters that were blocking the Dark Priest from his prize!!  I wonder how that is going to work out for them…

Smedley Hampton (artimicia24):
I’d probably try to change the level up system as while getting back to civilization to train to level up is realistic it can be a bit annoying sometimes {Note from DM_Mike: The ‘have-to-train-to-level-up’ option was voted for by the players at the beginning}.

Dajjal (jaylibberton6211):
I wouldn’t have run off with those god-forsaken relics (see Betrayal!!).

Naïlo Thia (katvee):
The biggest setback I would say is our party is very good at getting side tracked and it makes it hard to finish things. That’s not necessarily a failure, though… just leads to longer debates about what we’re going to do next than there needs to be. If I could change one thing, it would be starting as a different class in game. Rangers are fairly safe fighters and good for beginners, but the more I see the things that can be done in this world, the more I wish to have a different class, perhaps one that uses more magic.

Alton Beeblebrox (29lopez2):
When Diplo picked up the book in The Horizontal Tower and basically stopped us from being able to search through the other books in the library. I was really hoping there was a magically item or two in there, but it was funny to watch him lose his mind as it happened.

Alton Beeblebrox

And finally, to wrap this up, give us your best GMing/Player pearls of wisdom.

  • Story is more important than rules.
  • When in doubt, set a DC and have someone make a roll, then move the fork on.
  • Hitler never saw himself as the villain. Neither should your villains.  Villains are people and have a reason why they are doing what they are doing.  Megalomaniacal wonton destruction of all that is righteous and good… is boring.  The best villains are RELATABLE CHARACTERS whose aims intersect with and antagonize the players’ motives.
  • Moral absolutes… are boring. Make your players twist in having to make a hard decision, and then do not let them off the hook.  Give them the choice between a between a good resolution for a bad reason, and a bad resolution for good reason… or two bad choices.
  • Everything has consequences. Welcome to life, kid.

Smedley Hampton (artimicia24):
My best advice, if you’re a ranger, STICK TO RANGE.

Illyia Baham (Krinae_Nilok):
It really doesn’t matter if you win or lose, the point of the game is to tell an interesting story. So don’t play like you have to win; play the game in the most interesting way you can, and if that involves your character’s death… then make it epic!

Dajjal (jaylibberton6211):
Try to remember this isn’t you, so your character shouldn’t reflect anything that isn’t them. Meta-gaming kills people. Also, STAY ORGANIZED!!!

Naïlo Thia (katvee):
1. If the DM writes an OP Adventure Log, read the Adventure Log. It’s more useful than you might think to see the world from the DM’s eyes. 2. Don’t be afraid to take risks, but also don’t blame your dice for crappy rolls. They’re not the ones who decided to jump off the cliff in the first place. 3. Invest in something. Always have something your character is working toward beyond the main campaign.

Alton Beeblebrox (29lopez2):
Always bring snacks, and it is just a game… if your character dies or you lose an item you can always make another one.

Congratulations heroes! You have earned Hellespont’s eternal gratitude. Now comes your time to ride off into the sunset, reward in hand! While this adventure has officially come to a close, you needn’t wait long to find the next. A new month comes! And with it, another campaign for the ages! Hold your head high, and keep those nominations coming! Farewell!

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