Year of the Shadows




This campaign started out with a conscious effort to run something meaningful. After a string of false starts with other ventures, we needed something that was going to last. I promised “five levels or 20 sessions, whichever comes first.” As it turned out, we exceeded both benchmarks and then some.

Of course, every campaign starts off with such high hopes, but I think it was really helpful to explicitly set those benchmarks from the start. It kept my focus firmly set on the campaign as we were building up initial momentum, which was really helpful. I think I’m going to try and do that with everything I run going forward. “I want this campaign to last X sessions at least.” “I want this campaign to last no more than X sessions.” Stuff like that.

We also helped our cause quite a bit by using the Creative Casting background generator. It’s not the sort of thing you could use for every campaign (it tends to produce “EPIC DESTINY” type characters not at all suited for more realistic modes), but it gave us lots of meaty goodness to sink our teeth into, for sure. Not all of it ended up getting used, of course, but even the stuff that stayed in the background added to the richness of the game experience for all concerned.

That richness followed through into actual gameplay, with lots of little story threads getting started right away. I think the campaign was also helped tremendously by the fact that I pilfered gleefully from what is by all accounts one of the greatest D&D modules ever published, Night’s Dark Terror. That modest little 64-page module provided material that fueled well over half of the campaign’s sessions!

But what of the threads still unresolved? Well, if we were to revisit the campaign, I would be tempted to return things to where it first got started: the Troll Lands. Sir William is on the verge of 9th level, when he will be due for his own land grant and a cadre of followers. I think it would make a lot of sense for him to get to 9th level and earn his grant by returning to Gondegal’s lair, site of his ignominious captivity, and clear out the monsters that have no doubt infested it in the many months that it’s laid unoccupied.

After that, there’s the matter of going after Gondegal himself. The wily old bandit king is still out there, and no doubt hatching plans for another would-be takeover of Cormyr. Obviously, with Sir William as newly-installed Baron of the Troll Marches, Gondegal will present an immediate threat to his rule and must be stopped!

Finally, in Phloyd’s corner, there’s the little issue of Mad Meerim. What happened to Praetorius and Biddichops, and what role did Meerim play in their disappearance? Meerim swore revenge—when will he return to try and take it? Or has it already begun to unfold? Meerim hardly showed up in this campaign, but he’s quickly become one of my favorite all-time villains to run.

What I like is that none of these are terribly pressing concerns. They are issues that can be resolved should we ever choose to. If not, they will be content to lay still, subjects of occasional conjectural flights of fancy and nothing more.

One last thing I want to address is the question of system. We started this campaign out with Adventures Dark & Deep. That seems like a long time ago now. I wanted to give ADD a spin, and it seemed appropriate here as it mirrors the state of the game circa the late 80s, which is when the original Gray Box came out. And yet…

The return to 2e felt great. We’d had brief encounters before, but this was a chance to revisit the system over the long-term, and in the incarnation we knew best. I was also really pleased with how well my house rules worked. I joked in the final Adventure Summary about how we used them to “cheat” the system’s deadliness, but honestly I think they really lent an epic fantasy edge to the rules, which has long been one of 2e’s biggest problems: it wants to have epic fantasy campaigns but still uses a murder-hobo-era system to do it. The house rules smoothed out some of the system’s most egregious oversights and lent just the right level of peril and deadliness: even with the house rules in effect there were several points where I wasn’t sure if the PCs were going to make it out alive.

That said, I was also reminded of some of my beefs with 2e. The hazy rules, the weird little rules quirks (two different Reaction Adjustment modifiers that do completely different things, including one that’s expressed as a bonus even though you’re supposed to subtract it from your roll!), the reliance on magic gear and healing magic to keep characters competitive and survivable, higher-level magic taking on almost a four-color superhero vibe with the abilities it grants. At the end of the day, I prefer my fantasy relatively low-magic and low-powered. But as a fun diversion from my usual preferences, this worked great.

Looking back, there are lots of fun memories.

For Sir William, the one that perhaps sticks out the most is the epic fight against the skeleton horde in the tomb beneath the Isle of Lost Dreams. The back-and-forth action, as he cut down swaths of skeletons only to have more surge through the door; finally defeating them only to collapse, a few hit points away from death, all of it happening in this creepy, darkened tomb lit only by the glow from Phloyd’s staff. I could picture it so vividly in my mind.

For Phloyd, it’s much more pedestrian, which is sort of funny considering how flashy he was. But I think about that first session and Phloyd pissing away all his buffoonery earnings on gambling—and then to our penultimate session, and Phloyd basically breaking the house playing a game he’d never even heard of before that night. That progression from sad-sack gambling addict to total shark sort of sums everything up for me.

Feel free to share some of your favorite memories in the comments below.

Well done, all!


Oh man, so many great memories!! I don’t know if I can pick just one as a favorite!

sirlarkins sirlarkins

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