Campaign Journal #11

Arrival in Edge Town

If you’re just finding this journal, welcome! This project is my attempt to find an effective way to pass on some of the wisdom I continue to accumulate as an always-learning Dungeon Master. A new campaign was a golden opportunity for me to lay bare my personal process: what I prepare, what I focus on in that prep work, how much prep I do, and how that prep gets used in actual sessions. I’m not an “expert” DM, and I’m not trying to pretend to be. What I am is another person out there stumbling their way through this and hoping to find a way to share what I’m learning along the way with others on the same journey.

Want to start from the beginning of the journal? I’m keeping an organized page with all the journals I write along with any other related campaign materials I post right here.

I never like taking long breaks in a campaign, it’s so easy to lose momentum. We’ve been away for a month. I was nervous going into this week about picking the energy back up and getting back that inertia. At least my prep work was going to be mercifully easy thanks to the foundational work I did with Edge Town (which you can see right here!).

A good amount of my prep time was spent re-reading my notes and making sure I was up to speed. I wrote a recap of events up to this point in the campaign – not to read to the players or use anywhere, but to brush myself up on what was important and how I could use it all.

The break gave me plenty of time to reflect on the first arc and consider where I wanted the campaign to go from here. I wanted to re-center the campaign on the player character stories, per my original intentions, so I went through and mined each player’s backstory for details I could pull on in the coming arc. At the beginning of the campaign, if you recall, I had gathered a few specifics from each player character backstory: old friends, old enemies, connections that may come back to haunt them in the game. The arrival in Edge Town is the perfect opportunity to start introducing some of these player-created elements to the story in a meaningful way.

During one of my prep sessions, I sat down and brainstormed plot ideas I could incorporate for each player character here in Edge Town. I’ll come back to this list when I need to spark my creativity with future session planning during this arc:

  • Sherlynx: Red Heart Gang is the gang she owes money to from the old continent. This is certainly a disparate branch but technically part of the same organization, so if they find out it could be bad news.
  • Sherlynx: Xix’thath (her old friend from back home) is working in Edge Town for the Town Guard; he’s a tad bit indoctrinated, really believes in this place and his role in it
  • Dave: a small group of goliath, purpose in town unknown (diplomatic?); one of them is a former tribe member that may recognize Dave
  • Kaltog: two member of his tribe here seeking aid for their people; they have been suffering raids by an unknown entity (Kerth) – raids are getting bigger and more daring lately
  • Kana’ti: Onacona is a prominent member of the Edge Town chapter of the Red Heart Gang; holds a grudge for his exile and may seek revenge, secret member of a cult to Areizma in the city that operates within the gang.

I also spent a little time brainstorming non-character specific events in the city:

  • brewing gang war between Purplegrass Gang and Red Heart Gang, either one may try to court the party
  • people are disappearing; mostly homeless, no bodies are found (they’re being eaten by Areizma and her brood – could do noire-esque unraveling of plot with Areizma controlling much of the city through her puppets)
  • fear of the Bull King – many in the city are frightened by reports of this “plains warlord”, the Edge Town Press will want to talk to the people that spoke to villain himself
    • Genny Crystal: half-elf F, intrepid reporter, truth-seeker, all about “the story”

For better or worse, I’ve already been thinking extensively about the broad strokes of the campaign from here. The trajectory of the primary driving narrative is not set in stone, but I like having a general idea of where I’m going so I can be sowing seeds of the ending the whole way. As a refresher, here’s the general steps I’m imagining for the campaign using the tiers of play:

  • Heroes of a Town/Locality (1-4): We’re done with this bit! The Kolinville arc filled out this whole section; it’s not unusual for the first arc to do this in most campaigns by design. We established the party as “heroes”, and defined a villain that will be a major force in the campaign.
  • Heroes of a Region (5-10): We are here! A big city like Edge Town is the perfect place to start placing the party in the wider world. It’s also time to start teasing the final villain of the campaign, the Black Dragon Areizma. The conclusion of this section will involve war breaking out between Saltori and Kerth. I was originally imagining the Bull King playing a larger role here, but the party has really taken to sympathizing with him so the course of his story is less certain now – he’ll still be a big player, but it’s hard to imagine the party taking him down as a climactic moment. The party may not remain in Edge Town the entire time, but for now I have plenty to work with there so I can keep them there until they’re tired of it. Goal for the end of this section: form strong party bonds, define party’s place in the world (alliances? enemies?), establish the primary looming threat.
  • Heroes of a Kingdom/Realm (11-16): At least according to my plans, this arc will involve war between the two major colonial powers (Kerth and Saltori). The party will either pick a side, or try to protect the people of the middle – lots of options for how this plays out at the ground level. The war will reach an extreme boiling point and Areizma will reveal herself – and we’ll transition right up to…
  • Heroes of the World (17-20): The party has to face this world-ending threat.

It helps me to have general goals or ideas to keep in mind when planning sessions. This keeps the story consistent and focused (which can be difficult in DnD!). It also provides a safety net to fall back on when I’m not sure where to go next. I can always return to my base goals and ideas for guidance with the potential next moves of the story.

For the moment, not knowing the specific direction the story will go, I created a short simple list of combat encounters including some for each major faction the party might get on the wrong side of. This will be a nice resource to have on hand if I need to improvise up a fight in this session.

Pouring over my past work and the work I’ve just done, I was most interested in pursuing the plot hook involving Kana’ti’s old rival Onacona turning up as an evil secret-dragon-cultist gang-member. I focused a fair bit of planning on fleshing Onacona out this week, imagining he’ll be an important villain during this arc.

Just as I do for each arc and for many of the same reasons, I write a villain’s primary goals and motivations right across the top of their page. For Onacona, this reads: “look out for #1, make money – the fun of the con is the point, the money is secondary”. I’m imagining him as an trickster-like opportunist, not someone who started willfully malevolent. His story is more a backslide from one convenient money source into another until he was in way deeper than he realized he could get. His cunning and skill earned him rapid advancement in the criminal underworld, but also attracted the wrong kinds of attention. Areizma recruited him early in her efforts to infiltrate Edge Town, using him as a sort of lieutenant in the city to expand her influence there. It’s more than he ever bargained for when he got into the game, but Onacona feels trapped by his circumstances, afraid of what might happen if he tries to get free, and of course amply soothed by the perks (fine food, fine drink, fine clothes, so on). As a villain, he’s an embodiment of Edge Town itself: crafty, ruthless, and opportunistic.

I’m hoping to have a good chance to introduce him this session. The party is just arriving in a city, though, and could go anywhere they like within it so there are an impossible number of options to plan around. Most likely, as a first session back from a long break, this session will involve more settling back in and laid-back activities like shopping and exploring the city.

Session Ten: Enter the Pits

The Yellowbelly pulled through the clouds for her final descent into Edge Town in the morning. Westley dealt with the dock authorities, and soon enough the party was set loose to explore the city as they desired.

Sherlynx wasted no time at all. Seeing the nearby Adventurer’s Guild, she determined this was a good place to find work in the city and marched straight there. Dave was already trying to eyeball a good tavern, but got dragged along to the guild with everyone else first. The party was disappointed to learn that the guild didn’t just hand out jobs – you had to be a member. The receptionist directed them to sign up for arena bouts, and told them that the guild recruits from there. This was excellent news for Dave and Kaltog, who both already wanted to sign up anyway.

On the way to the arena Kaltog sought out a merch booth, finding one run by a teenage Loxodon named Olive. He asked about the fighters at the arena, and made sure to let Olive know to keep an eye out for him in the arena since he’d be a great fighter soon too. The party all signed up for a free-for-all bout the next evening; if they do well, they can get better gigs.

From here, the party split up to do some exploring separately. I cut between each of these scenes fluidly, whenever there was a funny or opportune moment to pause and check in on where another player character is. I don’t like making players sit and just listen for too long. Individual scenes can be amazing, but it’s good to keep the wheel turning for everyone if you can.

Dave still wanted to check out the tavern, and Sherlynx was hungry so they both went to the Edge Town Inn. Over the course of the evening they came to realize they were dining at a very expensive place, and Dave strongly considered dashing on the check. Sherlynx paid up begrudgingly so Dave did as well, but wasn’t pleased about it so he stole the fancy butter dish.

Kaltog made his way down the street to check out the Edge Town Press building, curious about what it was. When he saw it was a newspaper, he expressed interest in working for them to the clerk in front. The clerk was dismissive at first but eventually took pity on Kaltog’s clear “new in town” status, telling him that the best way to get on the Newsmaster’s radar was to submit stories independently. From there, Kaltog headed south and found his way to the Healer’s Guild. He offered his services as a potion-maker, and the Guildmaster actually came up to meet with him briefly. Though clearly too busy for pleasantries, he welcomed any help Kaltog could offer and asked him some questions about his specific healing skills and knowledge. Kaltog promised to come back later that night to start working.

Kana’ti cut south through the markets, looking to get a little shopping done. The main market is clearly a tourist trap, with loud vendors and cheap tacky goods. As he moved further into the markets, he decided to look for food and found an older tabaxi with a cart selling fine smelling spiced meats at very reasonable prices. Kana’ti stocked up, and asked for directions to a weapon store which were happily provided. At the Practical Adventurer on Market Row, he scoped out their stock and picked up a few bundles of arrows (including some fire arrows).

Everyone linked back up near the airship docks, all agreeing now was a good time to find somewhere to stay for the night. Dave and Sherlynx made sure everyone knew that Edge Town Inn was definitely going to be more expensive than they wanted. They walked down Market Row and tried to find a cheaper place to stay. This wasn’t an area I had a specific inn ready for but it made sense there would be a low-rent inn and tavern this way so I had them roll for quality. They got a fairly high roll, so they lucked upon the “Market Row Inn” tucked up a side road a block or so off Market. After reserving rooms through the week, they headed down to the small attached tavern for another round of drinks before bed. There, they met a chatty bartender named Ian who gave them more information about Edge Town and how it operates. The party learned about the gangs that run much of the city, and the general lawless nature of the place. He recommended they look for work with the gangs, since that was clearly the most lucrative, but the party didn’t find the idea appealing. The party mostly relaxed the rest of the evening until bed with the exception of Kaltog, who went to the Healer’s Guild to work for the rest of the night.

The next morning, the party set out to explore the city as a group and kill time until their fight that evening. They set straight up through the markets, with the intention of checking in on Huk and Tuk back at the ship first. As they emerged onto the main road, a half-elf woman seemed to recognize them and rushed over to greet them. She identified herself as Genny Crystal from the Edge Town Press, and asked if she could talk to them about their meeting with the Bull King. Kaltog declined for the party, seeing an opportunity here to get his foot in the door at the Press by writing the article himself. She offered to collaborate on the article, but didn’t press the issue (yet).

At the docks, the party found their favorite goblins on ship-washing duty. Huk and Tuk were happy to be relieved, and the party took them to the gardens to “run them a little” (their words, not mine). The afternoon was spent frolicking through flowers with the goblins, playing games like catch, and cloudwatching.

Kaltog still wanted to check out the Tinker’s Guild before the fight that evening, so the party returned the goblins to the ship and headed that direction next. There, Kaltog spoke with an older gnomish woman and explained that he was a skilled tinker himself. He showed her the gun he had just recently finished crafting not long ago, and she was duly impressed by his skill. She told Kaltog to come back the next afternoon and meet her husband, who is apparently the Guildmaster.

When Kaltog was done showing off his gun to the old gnomish lady, it was time for the party to head to the arena for their fight. On the way to the arena, the party all agreed to a truce in the free-for-all until they were the only ones left standing. They were herded down into a room below the arena floor with the other free-for-all fighters. One of them, a lizardfolk, came uncomfortably close to each of the party to size them up; no one seemed impressed by the intimidation attempt. After some time passed milling about in this holding room, a half-orc with a missing eye covered by an eye-patch came to address the fighters. He explained the basic rules and how the fight would be initiated, and the party were each shuffled by arena officials to their starting places.

The horn blew, the iron grates raised, and the melee began!

Each of the party fared well, and a few more skilled opponents quickly separated themselves from the pack. Eventually, only one fighter other than the party remained, grappled by Dave. Dave decided this was good enough and hurled the poor fellow at Kaltog to break the truce. Kana’ti finished that final fighter while the party began to duke it out on the arena floor. Kaltog fell first, already injured from the first part of the melee. Sherlynx tried to use a net, but missed horribly and ended up getting thrown around by a raging Dave. At one point Dave tied her up in her own net and was rolling her across the arena floor. Kana’ti freed Sherlynx and they struck a tenuous pact to take down Dave, as neither wanted to face him alone. Sherlynx was knocked out next, thrown against the arena wall by Dave. Kana’ti managed to just edge out the win, taking Dave down with a cinematic jump-into-flurry-of-blows. The arena crowd ate up the final display, and cheered enthusiastically as Kana’ti was declared the winner.

Post-Session Reflection

It should come as no surprise that I had no idea this is where the session would go today.

I figured the party would find their way to the arena eventually. Players often find pit fighting a pretty attractive option for making money. I didn’t expect them to beeline right for that – but you can’t be prepared for everything! I may not have done individual prep work on an arena fight, but whipping one up was not difficult given that: I knew how the arena ran and already had NPCs for it, and I already had an encounter sheet prepared for combat encounters in the city that were easy to pull stat blocks from. Most of the fighters just used the thug statblock, but I threw in a few wild cards like a swashbuckler and a martial arts adept for fun and variety.

The free-for-all at the end was ultimately a nice, carefree way to close out the session and let everyone get used to how their characters ran in combat again. On the whole the session felt successful in this regard. It was light, simple, sometimes funny, but always calm – it gave everyone a chance to get re-grounded in their characters and in the world.

I still have Onacona in my pocket moving forward, but it didn’t make sense to introduce him yet. With Kana’ti winning the arena free-for-all and perhaps continuing to fight and gain fame in the arena, though, Onacona is sure to take notice. There will be plenty of opportunities to introduce him. Perhaps he could even work in the background against Kana’ti at first and he can be a reveal partway into the arc?

For next week, circumstances remain open-ended so I will have to keep my prep broad and lean on improvisation.

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