So last time I talked about Dungeons and Dragons and mentioned how similar tabletop RPGs can help you with your worldbuilding/plotting. But another unexpected benefit I’ve discovered from DMing my current campaign was the result of the sheer stupidity of my players and how incredibly well they’ve managed to butcher the storyline so far. We’ve all had that happen with our characters, don’t deny it. But hey, if there’s anything you can learn from DnD, it’s how to pants the living daylights outta your nonexistent storyline.
And even if you learn nothing from this post, at least you’ll get a good story out of it?
We begin our story in the land of Estorios, on the far side of the Eastern Ocean. It was once a magical place, the border of all planes, where Fey, Humans, Dragons and a manner of other beings could coexist in peace. The old gods walked the earth, touching the land with their power, and all was well, etc. etc. I know y’all ain’t here for the cliche opening and boring stuff. Let’s cut to the crap.
Cthuztlaawirr (k-thu-zo-law-r), the Winter God, began to realise that he could rule over this world himself. Being a trickster in nature and a lover of conflict, he set up a trap that would turn the different races residing in Estorios upon each other. The other gods, being too caught up in their own visions of perfection, didn’t realise Cthuztlaawirr’s plans until it was too late. Bahamut, the King of Dragons, banded together with Pelor, god of healing, in an attempt to stop the evil god. They summoned their armies, and a great, magical war was fought on the soil of Estorios. Legends call it the Winter War. In its aftermath, the land was shattered by magic, its northern parts frozen in a perpetual winter and searing desert where Cthuztlaawirr’s powers met Bahamut’s. The rest of Estorios lost its magic, the planes shifting apart, and the gods were forced to retreat into their own realms. Cthuztlaawirr himself was imprisoned in Shadowfell, the land of the dead, where he would remain for eternity. All the gods of Estorios vanished too. There have been no sightings of them since.
Thousands of years later, long enough that most folk consider the Winter War to be myth and legend or have likely never heard of the tales, a civil war divides what remains of Estorios into three territories – Dunton, Dragonclaw and Eastwind. Dragonborn, the descendents of the once-majestic dragons that roamed Estorios, flocked to the south, of course, to Dragonclaw. Eastwind became the mountainous dwelling place of the dwarves and gnomes, while elves spread themselves across the land in woodlands where they felt most at home, with their hidden capital in the famed Tarwin Forest. Humans, meanwhile, and other remnants of the magical races that once populated Estorios, settled in the grasslands of Dunton. Meet Fox – a Warforged soldier created for the war and abandoned once the war was fought, working now in the capital as a City Watch guard. He’ll be important later.
In the streets of Montero, the capital city of Estorios, a young Dragonborn wanders in search of a tavern. They’re a new arrival to Montero, having travelled far and wide from Dragonclaw after leaving their clan. Meet Eclipse. As they pass the famed Golden Goose tavern, they hear soft singing from within, and, drawn by the melody (I should mention the aforementioned bard we’re about to meet rolled a nat 15 in performance), enters to find a bard playing out a lively tune on his viol – Billy Spears, graduate of the bards’ college in Montero. Eclipse tips the bard a few coins before sitting themselves down in the corner. The bard continues to play out his songs, and it’s looking to be a quiet day in Montero when shouting starts up from the street. The street gangs are often at a dispute with each other, and today, it appears, they’ve decided to settle things much closer to the tavern than normal.
And, uh, this is where shtf.
Because instead of rushing out to y’know, maybeeeee trying to break up the dispute and taking the amazing plot hook (*cough cough* ‘amazing’) I threw at them, nooooo, Billy and Eclipse are having none of that stuff, no sir. After being told by the barkeep to keep things down in case the fight breaks out into the tavern, Billy heads upstairs in a huff. Which was. The complete opposite of what I wanted lol.
But hey, I figured, if my players weren’t gonna gravitate towards the plot, I’ll just have to ram a truckload of plot at them instead and bury them in the stuff.
I had a random thug bust open the tavern door in search of some random guy for no reason at all, and I feel no shame in this.
So the thug bursts in, right, and the guy he’s after takes off like a rabbit. Upstairs. Where Billy was. As expected, my good friend playing Eclipse asked if they could fight the thug. I’m like, “mmhmm, sure, if ya wanna”, making sure I don’t give anything away, y’know? The idea WAS to have them follow the thug upstairs but nope they wanted to fight the damn guy on their own. I subtly hinted at them that they’d eff Eclipse up real bad and friend decides to chase the dude upstairs instead.
And then Billy jumps in like “oh hell yeah” and steps out from his room like a bawse and puts the dude to sleep. For all of half a round.
Billy had rolled a total of 27 out of 5d8, while the thug had 32HP. He couldn’t make the dude sleep at all but I was nice and gave him a reduced spell time. Until Eclipse poked the guy with their dagger and the dude woke up from taking damage.
Coming to their rescue at this point just so happens to be all 400lb of solid stone, wood and metal, the one and only Fox. I quickly toss them into the front so they tank all the damage and everyone finishes off the thug, and Billy rolls to search the guy. I’m like “welp what’s gonna happen now???” but I get a genius idea and plant more plot things into the dude’s pocket. Stuff about a kidnapped kid etc etc. Fox, being a city guard dude and all, is all “we gotta help this kid” and so the party is like “yep cool” and we get ready to leave. Almost.
Bumping into them on the way out of the tavern is a certain character named Soupy – and yes, that’s her actual name. She overheard the others talking and wants to help, of course. Being a blood hunter, she’s not entirely welcomed in most places, but Fox ain’t the kind to discriminate and invites her to the party. So yeah, the party travel to the place the kid was being held, rescue him, capture the captain and jail him, and the kid’s mother, Lady Wimbleton, thanks them with a generous heap of gold. The characters part ways for the night, each heading to wherever they needed to be.
In the morning, our adventurers are greeted by news of an undead attack on a caravan line transporting goods into Montero from the north. Fox is sent to investigate. Being a cautious man/robot/magic/cyborg, he enlists the help of the others, and the team set off towards a place called Fallor’s Keep. After clearing through it and finding a giant minotaur skeleton, the team recover what appears to be a small, magic crystal from the creature’s remains.
The minotaur skeleton also killed Fox, I should mention. I’m still sad about this. Fox was a cool dude.
Now comes plot point number two – a man named Arthur Talwicz who confronts the team in Montero, wanting to buy the crystal. I had thought that, being the gold-loving adventurers they were, they’d accept his insane price offer, but declining 1000GP for a crystal they happened to come across was…not what I expected. But because I’m such an amazing DM (lol), I found an alternative timeline. And so it was that through the power of failed dice rolls and epic planning that I introduced the team to the Montero Thieves’ Guild, hired by ‘mysterious benefactors’ to find the crystal the team held. But WAIT.
The crystal is, in fact, a shard of a larger crystal that was destroyed in the Winter War, and the guild want to find the rest of the shards. I HAD planned for everyone to be like “oh, cool” and willingly help, but…uh…as it turns out…they hated the guild’s guts.
So I made them help in a sorta if-you-help-you-won’t-die sorta scenario. It was also at this point that my friend decided she didn’t like her character and wanted to make someone new.
I should, however, mention that Eclipse has become rather attached to the crystal somehow, calling it their child and everything (not planned, I swear!), and didn’t want to give the thing up. So they did a sorta tradeoff and swapped Billy for the crystal and everyone was cool with it even though Soupy was that character that nobody likes, and my friend got to make a new dude.
Eclipse and one of the guild thieves, Morana, head to the bards’ college to do some more research on the shards, and Soupy joins them there later after arranging a meeting with Lady Wimbleton. They meet with her the next day, she directs them to the house of a certain Lord Byron, who so happens to be the new character my friend made (improvising introductions like a boss yeet). They ask him about some stuff and he arranges a party where they can meet…Arthur Talwicz. I was determined not to let them forget about Talwicz, so he’s gonna be bugging them for a while. He eventually gives up the location to the next shard so everyone can go find it for him (I’ve yet to find out whether they upheld this bargain, so bear with me). Soupy and Morana invite Byron who brings along his boyfriend Nicolo and things are great until they come across this weird stone engraved with a symbol. Eclipse passes a roll and everyone finds out it’s a sign from…drumroll…Bahamut, king of dragons. Morana pockets the stone and they continue into Tarwin Forest.
Inside the forest, they come across a wounded silver dragon who only speaks Draconic so only Eclipse and Morana can talk to him. He introduces himself as Cogius, and after much debate about what to do, they heal him a lil bit so he can walk and he tags along after them but is too injured to fight because that’ll make encounters too easy lol. So yeah, they dive through another dungeon, kill the boss, find the second shard and make their way back, and I have no idea what’s going to happen now. We’ll see.
Moral of the story? Pantsing your novels can be highly exhausting but very fun, and don’t bother trying to rein your characters in. They’re gonna do whatever the hell they want, and being a DM is like an extreme version of writing. You control the plot and setting and…that’s about it. Heck, you don’t even control the setting sometimes, if your players manage to get creative enough. But that’s okay. Just go with the flow. Until then, Chiefy out.