I’m still smiling over the adventure my group shared with Session 7 on Wednesday night. It was an amazing amount of fun that I’ll discuss shortly. This week’s gathering of players at Titan Games & Comics looked to about 26 players and four DMs — based on the noise coming from other tables, I’m guessing the other players felt the same way about this week’s adventure.
Before play started, our group did get a friendly reminder from the store’s staff regarding the rules. I’m fortunate that so far I’ve not seen or heard of any bad behavior with this large group, but it’s always nice to know that Titan continues to promote respect for fellow players. We’ve got a mix of ages and genders, so watching language and being careful in our statements and actions is important. If D&D is to flourish and grow, we need to make certain our hobby is inviting to all and never offensive — no exceptions.
In addition to my notes about the Session 7 adventure, I’d like to offer up a huge thanks to one of Titan’s newest DMs. Deborah was once again at the table next to mine (run by DM Martin) running the night’s adventure. I mentioned in a previous report that Deborah was the first female DM I’d encountered, and it definitely made me smile. Deborah’s now got her third Encounter session behind her, and it appears she’s a hit at her table. I had a chance to put some questions to Deborah about the role of DM in general as well as her thoughts on the rules and being a female player and DM. You can find the entire Q&A at the end of the adventure report, and I hope you enjoy reading her responses as much as I did.
Okay, time for the details about the adventure… my character has reached level 3, and I had an opportunity to put an interesting spell feature to good use this night. Knowing I had more Hit Points and a few extra spell slots to get me out of trouble was a definite plus — I got a bit more aggressive in some of the combat situations which was fun.
*** NOTE SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS BELOW ***
*** Do not read further if you wish to play in the Hoard of the Dragon Queen Adventure ***
*** NOTE SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS BELOW ***
I don’t know how long I slept, but it wasn’t enough. I’m sore. The healers may have taken care of my injuries, but the aches in my bones are the reminder of the previous day and night. I’m still in awe that we survived it all. The dragon attack on Greenest, escorting some townsfolk to the keep, and that ambush at the sawmill! I’m sitting here watching the keep’s gates open and the townspeople returning to whatever is left of the town. Some of the children my friends and I rescued from the church are running around and laughing, but most of the adults are still in shock. It’s going to take some time for things to return to normal… if that’s even possible. I’m hungry, but here come Chi and Essie and Griffon. Do I look as dirty and banged up as these three? Probably. There’s Rolan up on the tower, but Anton’s nowhere to be seen. Probably hiding in a shadow somewhere, but honestly there are no pockets to pick in this town. Chi motions me to follow the group — I can see the Governor standing in the doorway to a small shed and waving us over. I have a bad feeling about this…
A familiar group tonight!
Essie — Human Fighter (returning)
Rolan — Wood Elf Ranger (returning)
Anton — Human Rogue (returning)
Chi — Human Fighter (returning)
Niloshis — Half-elf Sorcerer (my character, returning)
Griffon — Human Cleric (returning)
Our group was tasked by the Governor to go and get answers to four questions about the attack:
* Who was behind this attack?
* Where might the attackers strike next?
* Where is the enemy’s camp or base?
* What are the motives of the attacking force?
We already had some basic answers provided by some prisoners, but the Governor seemed to want more details… maybe for a counter-attack? Doubtful… this town is too far gone to fight back, and probably wouldn’t survive another attack let alone take the offensive. It was pretty obvious we’d be heading east and following the trail and tracks left behind by the attackers and their stolen loot.
The Governor provided us with his seal and letter of introduction, a few gold pieces each for expenses and the promise of a larger reward if we could bring back the answers he required. He outfitted our team with rations, water, and some basic supplies and made the additional request to try and bring back as much of the stolen property as possible. We made no promises. Anton and Rolan chatted privately and then approached our group to let us know they were willing to scout ahead and report back as we attempted to follow the attackers. It was the only plan we had at the moment, but we hadn’t even crossed the town’s border when we encountered an injured monk who asked us to keep an eye out for his master, another monk named Leosen. Again, we promised nothing, but I was given Leosen’s amulet and assured the man would recognize it if we encountered him. There was a hint that Leosen may have managed to infiltrate the attacker’s ranks for some unknown purpose. Whatever. I have little time for hunting a monk who may or may not be alive; our party needs to focus on the path ahead if we’re going to find the attackers. And survive.
We traveled for a few miles and found nothing but tracks. It was obvious we were going to be some distance from the keep and any help or backup. We were on our own. Rolan was the first to spot the smoke in the distance… he and Anton snuck ahead then sent back word that a small group of kobolds and human cultists were having a mid-day meal and appeared to be split off from the larger group. An easy ambush? We carefully approached their position, ready to attack.
The red-robed cultists were teasing and taunting the kobolds that finally broke away and distanced themselves from the humans. Our plan suddenly looked less risky. I closed my eyes, gathered my power, and released the most powerful Sleep spell I could conjure on the four cultists. I was hoping for one or two to succumb to the spell, but three cultists dropped to the ground! Rolan was alert as ever! As soon as the three cultist dropped, he targeted the only human remaining awake and killed him instantly with a powerful bow shot. The suddenness of the attack took the Kobolds by surprise as the rest of our group launched arrows and javelins and rushed in to attack…
This was a really cool surprise. I used a level 2 spell slot to cast the level 1 Sleep spell… gaining two additional 2d8 to the 5d8… 32HP of sleep “damage” to be applied to the four cultists. Three dropped. The plan was to kill any remaining cultists and kobolds and then put on the captured red robes and try and trick the sleeping cultists into thinking we’d rescued them from ambushers… and maybe grab some answers to our questions while masquerading as fellow cultists. But things don’t always go as planned.
We weren’t fast enough. One kobold managed to sneak in and wake a sleeping cultist. That cultist woke the other two. Our plan wasn’t going to work. We had the high ground, however, and the sleeping cultists had allowed us to thin the ranks of the kobolds. Essie and Chi raced into the campsite and were able to subdue a single cultist. We had a prisoner… and he was useless other than providing us with confirmation that the attacker’s had a base camp nearby. We tied him up and left him hidden behind a large boulder and continued our hunt…
A mile or so later, we managed to avoid a small band of kobolds. It probably wouldn’t have been an easy fight, but our two fighters and the rogue had already taken some damage. We needed to conserve our HP and spells. Anton and Rolan continued to scout ahead, and they spotted a man running in our direction. Behind him were a group of cultists in pursuit. Rather than engage there, Anton and Rolan allowed the runner and cultists to move closer to the smaller group (Essie, Chi, Griffon, and Niloshis). We would attack from the front… Anton and Rolan from the rear. It was a good tactical decision, but bad for the runner.
We watched the injured man fall to the ground, dead from his wounds. We’d already revealed ourselves, so there was no way we could let those cultists escape. The attackers turned to run, but Rolan managed to injure one as Chi raced forward to try and catch them. The battle didn’t last long — we simply outnumbered them and could attack from cover. Meanwhile, Griffon raced to the victim and was able to bring him back to life! After defeating the cultists, we joined Griffin and managed to convince the now awake man that we were friends from Greenest. He told us that he had escaped a small band of cultists and kobolds a mile back who were setting up an ambush point for anyone attempting to follow the previous night’s attackers.
We got the guy some food and water and fixed him up as best we could and sent him in the direction of the keep. We gave him instructions to avoid the kobold camp a few miles back and to stick to the outskirts of the trail to avoid more trouble. We provided him with as much information to pass on to the Governor as we had collected, including the apparent location of the base camp. Rolan returned to the prisoner we had tied up and brought him back to our location… we had a new plan.
Honestly, I have no idea if this will work. Our plan is to pretend we have no idea of the ambush waiting for us a mile ahead. Anton told the prisoner “You go that way,” and pointed in the direction of the ambush site. “We’ll be returning to the keep. We’re going to set up a camp half a mile back. If you come back in this direction, we won’t have any mercy.” He took of at a run. Now our hope is that this cultist will encounter his fellows ahead at the ambush site, inform them of our intend to camp a few miles back, and they’ll come hunting for us. I made certain the cultist saw the valuable amulet I was wearing, and while Anton was threatening the cultist, the rest of us counted our gold and Chi mentioned his magical sword. Hopefully they’re convinced we might be a valuable target to attack and will leave their own ambush site and come to the one we have planned. Now we wait…
And that was Session 7. Combat heavy, but also plenty of role playing opportunities and some fun and unusual attack discussions. We’re nervous about reaching the base camp of the enemy, but we do have plenty of red robes and I’ve got an Invisibility spell (level 2) that I’m itching to use. I believe all of this party are at level 2, and one or two more may have reached level 3. I think we’re going to need those extra HP and skills because enemies are starting to get more dangerous and coming at us in larger numbers. I’ll be back next week with my Session 8 report.
Some closing comments for this week:
* XP and Gold — 90XP was awarded to each player. That takes me to 1167XP, quite a way to go before the 2700 needed for level 4. No worries about reaching that level 4 ceiling for Encounters anytime soon.
* Recordkeeping — You can download my 5-page adventure log PDF for Session 7 here. My handwriting is questionable as this was a fast-moving adventure with lots of combat and I had to write quickly.
* Titan Games & Comics — I like to thank the crew at Titan every week for hosting the event and just being really cool folks to each and every customer that walks in the door. They’re still offering the re-roll tickets for each $5 or more purchase (max of 2). Come join the D&D game or any of their other planned gaming events — check out Titan’s Meetup.com signup page here.
* Leveling Up — Level 3 — Woo Hoo! Increased to four level 1 spell slots and two level 2 spell slots. Sorcery Points increased from 2 to 3, but I didn’t use them tonight. I’m wary to use up all my spell slots on the first few sessions, so I was a bit conservative tonight and used cantrips and only one of my level 2 spell slots to put those cultists to sleep.
* Session 8 — It’s Ambush’n time! Not sure if our plan will work, but it sounded good on paper. Hopefully Session 8 will start up with our party prepping to take on some baddies. And maybe we’ll even find the enemy camp…
Interview with the DM — Deborah
Deborah is an educator who has lived in Atlanta for four years. She most frequently plays Dominion in German, despite the fact that she doesn’t speak German (long story), and she bags-and-boards her theater programs just as faithfully as her comic books. She can’t decide who her favorite comic book artist is, Skottie Young or David Aja, but she would choose Mr. Tilney over Mr. Darcy any day. She spent months planning to make her next D&D character a tiefling rogue, and then promptly started DMing instead.
Geekdad: While I’d really like this to be just a “So, you’re a DM… tell me about your thoughts and processes for running a campaign” we can’t ignore the fact that there are very few female DMs. So let’s get this out and done with so we can talk about the nuts and bolts of DMing in general. You’re a first-time DM and a female in a traditionally male-centric role. Do you see yourself as offering up a different perspective to players? Any concerns in the role? How receptive were your players? Was there a shock-level that had to wear off before things operated smoothly?
Deborah: My experience as a DM has been extremely positive so far. The shop is great; the organizers and players are supportive of me learning the ropes. You’ve mentioned a couple times already how pleasantly surprised you were by the diversity of the group that plays at Titan. It’s a good mix of age, gender, and background. In a setting like that, I think the fact that I’m a first-time DM has more of an impact than the fact that I’m a woman. I’m still learning the rules myself so I make mistakes, and the more experienced players correct me. And not at all in a mean way — it’s genuine assistance. It helps bring home the point that D&D is a collaborative game in which the players and the DM are working together, even if they’re in the middle of a fight.
Geekdad: What prompted you to volunteer to be DM? I know you’ve played in Encounters as a player-character, but what made you want to jump to the other side of the screen, so to speak?
Deborah: Everything just sort of fell into place at the same time. I had been playing at the shop a bit irregularly for about six months before 5e came out. Our event organizer was running the table I normally played at, and he’d suggested a few times that I consider being a DM. But since I wasn’t initially able to commit to being at the game every week, I just filed it away for “some day.” When 5e came out, there was a lot of renewed interest in D&D, and they needed a DM to run a new table they’d added to accommodate the extra players. I’d been able to start attending regularly by then, and I figured “sure, why not?”
Geekdad: What’s your background in terms of RPGs and gaming… not just with D&D? Are there other RPGs you enjoy playing?
Deborah: D&D is the first RPG I’ve played. Growing up, I played a lot of the traditional board and video games (Clue, Super Mario Bros) but not much else. As an adult, I got back into gaming with the Euro-style tabletop games (Dominion, Power Grid, Thurn und Taxis), which I find a lot more interesting and rewarding than most American board games. I also enjoy playing RPG-ish video games, mostly mysteries. My personal favorite of those is Hotel Dusk: Room 215 for the DS; the characterization is superb, even if the play is a bit stilted. Now that I’ve made the jump to D&D, I’d definitely be interested in playing other RPGs.
Geekdad: When did you start playing D&D? Did you have any initial thoughts about D&D or RPGs before you got involved?
Deborah: I started playing 4e about a year ago. A friend got interested in the game and was looking for more players, so I said yes, even though I really had no idea what it involved. I knew of the existence of D&D, of course, but only in a very vague way. I certainly knew nothing of the mechanics of playing it. I think my eyes glazed over during that first session, trying to keep track of all the rules. I was having flashbacks to the time my brother tried unsuccessfully to teach me to play Magic in the mid-90s. But I loved creating a character and how the story wasn’t set in stone. That’s what got me over the hurdle of learning to play.
Geekdad: What might keep you coming back as a DM? What do you enjoy most about the role?
Deborah: I love the uncertainty of it all. It’s collaborative story making, and the person narrating the events doesn’t even know how it’ll all play out. I like seeing behind the curtain, at what the encounter is predicted to look like, and then watching it unfold differently. What cues get people to follow the path you want them down? What didn’t go according to plan? Does it matter? It’s a bit stressful, of course. I think the first encounter I ran was the most complicated one in this Encounters segment, but that’s all part of the fun too.
Geekdad: What do your friends and family think of your involvement with D&D?
Deborah: A bit amused and bemused at the same time, I think. Most of them don’t know all that much about it either, and are surprised at how much I’ve taken to it. One faithfully asks “who won?” every time — first because he assumed it was like any other game and that’s just what you ask, and now because he knows that’s precisely the wrong question to ask. My brother enjoys it because it led to me asking him to teach me to play Magic again. And a few I’ve even roped into a home game of our own.
Geekdad: Switching back to your being a female DM and a first-time DM (technically, by the time this interview is up you’ll probably have been a DM three times, right?), did you have any concerns about taking up the DM duties? Do you think players (in general) were surprised or accepting at having a female DM?
Deborah: Being a female geek is hard. You grow up feeling like you don’t fit in with either the girls or guys your age or the things they do. When you do discover the geek subculture, you’re still not accepted by a significant portion of the population — significant in terms of voice, even if not numbers. Female geeks, simply because they are female, are expected to demonstrate encyclopedic levels of knowledge about fandom minutia or accept degrading or lascivious comments about their bodies and clothing choices from complete strangers. Any woman who goes to a comic book shop or a convention or a midnight screening knows that this might be the time when it happens to her. People shouldn’t have to steel themselves for battle just to do something they enjoy. But women do it out of necessity all the time. Efforts to raise awareness of this issue and promote change exist and are getting attention, including Cosplay Isn’t Consent and implementing harassment policies at cons, but there is a long way to go. The reality is women are geeks just as much as men are, and we participate with our money and our time. But unlike men, we have to think strategically about how and when and where we participate.
I wasn’t overly concerned about taking over DMing a table, but that was because I had been to the shop many times by then. I knew the undercurrents. I had played with a number of the other players. They’d gotten used to a woman in business clothes popping in after work to play. The ribbing I got was friendly, not spiteful. And I had assessed the potential dangers and decided I was probably going to be okay. I wouldn’t have kept coming back to the shop at all if I didn’t. If I thought that every new female player or DM would get that same reception, I would be encouraging everyone to give it a try. But I also know I’ve been lucky to find a welcoming place start out.
Do I think there are people who would be attracted to a table because it has a female DM? Sure, for all kinds of reasons, positive and negative. Same for it keeping others away. I figure: at least I can provide the choice.
Geekdad: Does it surprise you (or disappoint you) to see so few females playing D&D at our Encounters gathering in Atlanta? Do you think there is anything that could be done to encourage more females to try the game out? Do you feel that D&D and RPGs in general are unwelcoming to female players?
Deborah: We average at least one woman per table. I suspect, though I could be totally wrong, that those numbers are better than many other organized play locations can boast. D&D suffers from a lot of assumptions, from who plays it to what the gameplay is like to its influence on people. Like I said, for me, it was the character creation and the story making that hooked me. Placing an emphasis on that in marketing the game could attract other women; most fan fiction writers are female and delve into that for many of the same reasons, for example. And while fan fic rests on top of the author’s canon world, Wizards actively invites people to build upon its framework.
Cutting back on stereotypical representations of women in the game can’t hurt either. (And kudos to Wizards for doing exactly that in the new 5e materials.) There’s nothing inherently wrong with using an illustration of a busty woman in skimpy clothes; it would just be much appreciated if that wasn’t the only rendering of female characters proffered. The first character I created for D&D was a hamadryad, a race of tree women (and only women). I chose that race not because I was also a woman but because I liked the abilities and characterization options it afforded. It even had a great racial ability that granted my character combat advantage once per encounter. Awesome, right? Except… what was it called? “Spellbinding Beauty.” It was premised on foes being so distracted by her appearance that they couldn’t fight well. I was embarrassed to use it during combat. Are there similarly-objectified male mythological creatures that could also serve as inspiration for a race in D&D so it’s not just a “female thing?”
Let me tell you about my home game. There are four players and one DM. Our fighter is a fierce dragonborn paladin who defeats foes equally with weapons and Southern charm. Our halfling rogue steals everything from an evil wizard’s powerful staff before combat even starts to cheese and wine to soften up captors. Our skirmishing warlord is a stoic human who prefers being silent but deadly. And our half-elf is an impulsive, foppish bard who drives everybody else nuts. We do the typically things: hunt thieves, get religious brands, survive shipwrecks, solve puzzles, and defeat Beholders. The one difference is that the only male in our group is the DM. We didn’t set out to form a primarily female group, but we enjoy the atmosphere it creates. The framework of the game is as welcoming of female players as male players. It’s the details, and the assumptions, and the players that affect whether or not women feel welcome.
Geekdad: Let’s toss out the whole gender thing now, and just talk about the role of DM. Are there any parts of the role that you enjoy more than others? Do you see yourself going in any particular direction with a style of DMing? Some DMs rely on maps and miniatures… others are more verbally descriptive. Where do you see your style?
Deborah: I’m definitely a maps-and-minis kind of person right now. Even as a player, I find it hard to visualize things like combat. I don’t need anything elaborate, but I do appreciate some visual cues. Being that kind of DM is an expensive undertaking though. There are always more supplies to buy. If you’re going to use a mini, it should look reasonably like the creature you just described, right? So maybe an inability to buy every single mini I might need will rein me in.
I’d like to work more on my verbal descriptions. How did that foe die? What materials went into building that sanctuary? What kind of voice does that child have? That’s a skill that takes a lot of practice too.
Geekdad: What do you think of the 5e rules in general? Are you more inclined to continue as DM or would you prefer to switch back and play as a character and occasionally DM?
Deborah: So far, I am liking 5e. It’s a much more bare-bones game. I think it’s also easier for a new player to learn. At level one, you’re working with a pretty simple character. As a player’s comfort with the game grows, so does the character’s abilities.
As much as I am enjoying the opportunity to DM for Encounters, I’m glad that I can still play every so often in Expeditions too. Wizards made a good choice, offering different types of organized play. Add in my home game that’s still playing 4e, and I may soon not be able to keep anything straight.