Thursday, May 2, 2019

Dungeons and Dragons: The End of Our Tal Dorei Campaign, and My Thoughts About It

I started our year-long Tal Dorei campaign last May as Large Silent Friend, a Firbolg Druid who had been banished from his village as an adolescent for unwittingly smothering a miraculous creature he was bringing back to his village to show everyone. He followed the Blood Hunters Banlys and Trogg into the city of Tal Dorei having no idea what would happen next. My reasoning with this character was that he could be a fish out of water, sort of like a Crocodile Dundee, and present a counterpoint to everyone else's reaction to the city. This never manifested in our campaign at all. 

My Tal Dorei character Large Silent Friend, as drawn by Lucian Kuranz, a fellow member of the 317 Art Collective

Our campaign ended this Tuesday after I took the Dungeon Master seat three months ago and drove it home with a fairly cliched storyline where Asmodeus used the vacuum of power inherent in the Tal Dorei system to reunite with his son Graz'zt, and manipulate the party into destroying anyone who could have stopped him, culminating in a final battle where the party decimated Vox Machina.

They made it fairly easy by snagging the Hand and Eye of Vecna, then all separately agreeing to deals that would have them killing off Asmodeus' only real competitor, the Mother of Ravens. The player who portrayed Pliz'skin, who was the one who took the Hand of Vecna at a black mass, then bargained with Iggwilv for the Eye, was a real joy to watch play, because he just bulled forward at every opportunity, and never asked or cared if anyone was going to follow. It was a damn lot of fun to watch someone play it that way, and really fit in perfectly to how I wanted to finish this campaign.

Which dovetails into my review of Tal Dorei. I start by saying I didn't read the sourcebook. It just wasn't very interesting, but I did assimilate the part about how the gods of Exandria had been banished. This story point led to what seems like the obvious end to any Tal Dorei campaign. Once any godlike entity anywhere in the Multiverse gets wind that there are no gods in Exandria, they are naturally going to want to fill that vacuum and seize power. When our original DM, the magnificent Travis Legge, allowed the campaign to veer into Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, then The Dungeon of the Mad Mage, the die was really cast. The gate to the Forgotten Realms was opened, and the party actually moved Trollskull Alley into The Cloudtop District of Tal Dorei, and opened Trollskull Manor, renaming it Trogskull Sporksbar, after two characters who had died in battle. For the second half of our campaign it could be said we were always in the Forgotten Realms. 

And if you're in the Forgotten Realms, the gods, devils, and demons are NOT banished. Halaster Blackcloak found a way to open a portal and invite Graz'zt and Iggwilv through, and from that point on it was a ll a matter of corrupting the players for three months into doing their dirty work until they brought through the Lords of Hell, a convoy of Hellfire Engines, and legions of lower devils to take over the entirety of Exandria.

It is natural the final battle would be with Vox Machina, the previous heroes of Tal Dorei, who remained Chaotic Good for the most part, and played a prominent role early in the campaign, even lending the party their vestments. I haven't watched the Critical Role podcasts, but the Vox Machina had several tactical weaknesses in the composition of their party, not the least of which was some confusing multi-classing, and they after four rounds of combat really presented no resistance to our Planescape Tuesday's party. 

I think they may have been more composed for entertainment than actual D and D playing. 

One of my interesting takeaways is that even after having killed Vox Machina, a group of celestials playing a Stryper song in their bar at a battle of the bands, and having plunged the city into the iron fist of Asmodeus, the party didn't consider themselves evil at all.

I'll admit after one character foisted the Hand and Eye of Vecna there really wasn't any going back, and all they could have really done was confront and overwhelm him. Otherwise, they just had to go along and get along, which they did. It presented some real difficulties for me as a DM because I had four characters who were either leaning Neutral Good, or at most Neutral, and one character who was now literally the Hands of the Devil. 

I also broke one of the cardinal rules of being a Game Manager and asked if I could play my own character, Large Silent Friend, as I really just wanted to join in the fun. They agreed. It wasn't as much of a burden as I would have thought. Mostly he just hung out and wild shaped so he could absorb tons of damage. 

On a personal level, getting to sit in the Dungeon Master's seat right as I turned fifty was a bucket list item. The first week I was so overwhelmed and nervous all I could think to do was have have Halaster compel the party into an auditorium where they fought an identical party composed of simulacrums of  themselves created by the lich Trobriand. This was a fun battle and allowed me to play them against them, so I learned a good deal about their abilities and weaknesses. The next week they went to Trobriand's Graveyard and tracked down Trobriand, played by Doobie Brothers singer, Michael McDonald, and almost managed to kill him aboard his prime creation, The Shockerstomper. I say almost because Trobriand cast a Meteor Storm at the end of the battle and killed everyone but Pliz'skin and Zox Clammersham, who brought them back with a Wish spell. 

Shockerstomper, helmed by the Lich Michael McDonald, er, Trobriand, designed by Jack Mathews

I remember my first foray into Dungeons and Dragons took place at the height of the Satanic Panic, and we were banned from playing at school, then one by one, in the basements of our friend's houses. In the end all I had was the books, and no one to play with, until I came home one day and mother had burned the books. 

I'd have to say waiting over thirty years to play again, then getting to Dungeon Master a campaign, was damn sweet. 

Tal Dorei is fine. I'm not looking to bash it. The city is a totally solid place to base a campaign. But you'll probably end up somewhere else before it ends. Of course, that's almost always true in the Multiverse that is Dungeons and Dragons. Can't wait to sit in the DM seat again.

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1 comment:

  1. I had a whole long comment that never showed up so here it goes again. I had a blast playing Pliz and with the dynamic of the whole group. Like you I had no particular affinity of the Tal Dorei / Emon setting. It could have been Anywhere, USA. Most times that we were championing it we were essentially saving our own hides first, which built some group dynamic. And we definitely countered what Emon lacked in setting with fleshing our the bar. On another note It was also extremely satisfying for me that the last session started with Pliz taking the fight straight to Vox without hesitation while the others deliberated inside. And that it ended with Pliz - after being transported to another plane- immediately doing what he does, pushing forward. It was truly beautiful to me and I thank you for setting the stage.


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