I ran a campaign called the Maelstrom Mercenary Guild for about a year. This was the first time a lot of us had played D&D, and my first time DMing. I was one of those people who never cared about playing. I’m Miles Tigard. I’m a published fantasy author. To me, D&D was a challenge. I wanted to DM and spin the story for my players, to practice my writing and my improv. Over that year, my writing skills improved, and the twists I threw at my players became more and more elaborate. I had a little help from this channel, as well; about 9 months into the campaign, I reworked the False Hydra storyline from this channel to fit my group and threw it at them, and my players loved it. I don’t think Darnell ever recovered from discovering he had been married at one point. If this story inspires other DMs to use this on their players, I’ll consider it a success.
The party consists of Darnell the Human Fighter, Cartev the Dragonborn Rogue, Solidus the Grung Warlock, Enna the Firbolg Cleric, Kezzryn the Centaur Paladin, and Galvyn the Kalashtar Artificer. Late in the campaign, I subbed out of the DM spot to let one of my players DM in the same world, the guy who plays Solidus. I brought in a Redneckromancer named Gitter Dunn. Instead of summoning undead normally, he had three skulls in his bag that were his party members back from when he was a Level 1 Bard. He couldn’t remember their names, so the Skeleton Fighter was Jimbo, the Skeleton Archer was Bobbi Jo, and the Dwarven Zombie was Jethro. I played him with a thick, comedic redneck accent. The whole session was precisely engineered to make them not take the character seriously.
Previously to this, I had each player pick an emotion. Angry, Lonely, Lost, Hungry, Fearful, Envious, Heartbroken, Dolorous… I never told them why. They each picked a unique emotion that they felt resonated with their character. More on that later.
It’s at this point I will reveal that Dunn is actually an 18th level character, and I was playing his Simulacrum during the session, which was much closer to the party’s power level. When the session was over, they all got back to the guild… where they found another Dunn. The Dunn I was playing dissolved into snow, and it was then that they learned it was only a Simulacrum. They hadn’t caught on to the fact that I wasn’t regenerating spell slots during rests.
When I returned to DMing, Dunn explained to the party that he was on the hunt for materials to make a device that could trap the soul fragments of Karsus, whom the party has been fighting against for the past real-world year. Karsus was the BBEG of the entire campaign. Passing himself off as the “dream god,” Karsus had amassed a substantial following in the form of a cult that was doing his bidding where he couldn’t. But Karsus couldn’t interact with the world directly. He was only a vestige at this point. Beyond the cult, Karsus only had one other way of interacting with the world; his warlocks. Karsus had taken the form of a vestige after his fall, after trying to cast Karsus’ Avatar and swap places with the goddess of magic. As a vestige, the only way he could touch the world was through warlock pacts. He had, in essence, become a Great Old One. The cult and the warlocks were charged with gathering the fragments of his soul and putting them together so he could once again take the place of a god.
Solidus was a warlock of the Great Old One, and the party found out that the true identity of this Great Old One was none other than Karsus. They told Dunn, who had an idea. He was going to build a box. Trapping the fragments of Karsus’ soul in “this here soul stealin’ box” would prevent Karsus from being able to come back and cast Karsus’ Avatar again to swap places with the true goddess of dreams, Sehanine Moonbow. Basically, building this box would win the campaign for the PCs.
But to do it, he needed a few things.
1. The Tome of Iggwylv, which contained the crafting recipe for the box with the silvered runes.
2. 500,000 Gold, which was the only part of the recipe Dunn remembered.
3. 6 doses of the Midnight’s Tears poison.
If the party could get all of these, Dunn could rid the world of Karsus once and for all, and the PCs would win the campaign.
One problem. The Tome of Iggwylv rested in the Shadowfell, with Iggwylv the Witch Queen herself. What the PCs didn’t know was that Iggwylv once went by another name. Natasha, or Tasha for short. Yes, THAT Tasha. The creator of Tasha’s Hideous Laughter. Daughter of Baba Yaga. They had to convince the daughter of Baba Yaga to part with a very powerful magic book.
On the way there, once they found the pieces to the Shadow Board that unlocked travel to the Shadowfell, they entered it. Remember those emotions they picked months ago? During the course of the journey, each player, one by one, turned into the Sorrowsworn that governed the emotion they chose. I used the Sorrowsworn stat blocks from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and Ulraunt’s Guide to the Planes: Shadowfell for these. One by one, each player transformed and joined me behind the DM screen, getting a taste of what it was like to control the monsters and fight against the party. Eventually, after more than a month of real-world time in the Shadowfell, they learned to confront and master their emotions, and the bonds in the group grew.
They finally met Iggwylv, whose curiosity had been piqued by this party. She had, after all, been watching as they made their way to her abode. She granted them the favor of a conversation, and they learned that the true name of the Tome of Iggwylv was actually the Book of Vile Darkness. The party began to ask questions among themselves. Why would Dunn need such a book? What was it good for? I, of course, kept silent and let them speculate.
Through some masterful roleplaying, the party was able to convince Iggwylv to let them borrow the Book and brought it back to Dunn. Dunn spent his time gathering the materials for the box while the party completed more guild contracts. But there was still the matter of the 500,000 Gold crafting cost.
Well, it just so happened that Darnell had a 400,000 Gold bounty on his head for about a month of sessions, and Cult of the Dream God kept sending bigger and meaner bounty hunters after him. The next one was rumored to be the worst one yet, Baeloth the Unrelenting. Upon hearing that name, Dunn had an idea.
Dunn gave Darnell two Rings of Spell Storing. The first one had Locate Person in it, and the second had Feign Death. The idea was for Darnell to accept the duel with Baeloth, a duel he had no hope of winning, and fight until he was nearly dead. Baeloth was min/maxed to be an expert grappler. As a 20th level character, he had a +17 to any Athletics checks, a bonus action that could knock you prone, and multiple attacks per round. Once he got his hands on you, he would just hold you with one hand and punch you to death with the other. Darnell had no chance of winning the duel.
The party pulled it off expertly. After a wonderfully convincing fight, Darnell activated both Rings of Spell Storing, and appeared to drop dead on Baeloth’s final punch. Baeloth was convinced, and took the body back to the guild, picking up the bounty money. The body was discarded, and the party traced it through the Locate Person spell. Once they recovered and revived Darnell, they ambushed Baeloth and killed him for the 400,000 Gold. Masterfully executed.
At that point, the party had a little more than 100,000 Gold saved up for several months, so they combined that with the Bounty money for the grand total of 500,000 Gold. Dunn took 10 days to build the box with the silvered runes, the “soul stealin’ box” that was to be the end of Karsus. During that time, he paid Solidus, who was the party’s alchemist, to make the 6 doses of Midnight’s Tears poison. The players were antsy, barely able to contain their excitement. The end was near. They could smell it. They could taste it. The box was finished, and without hesitation, they set out to bind the three fragments of Karsus’ soul into it. They had never been more excited. They were about to beat their first ever D&D campaign.
Over the next few weeks, the party took part in some grueling trials and battles, eventually gathering the three fragments of Karsus’ soul. They brought them back to the mercenary guild, trapped and kept separated in enchanted glass vials hanging from their hands as if they were trophies of the party’s courageous deeds. Dunn thanked them, and took the soul fragments. The players at my table were on their feet, cheering and clapping each other on the backs. They had done it. They had won.
But I kept narrating. I asked them what they would do that night. They chose to sleep. When they awoke, I again asked them what they wanted to do. They were confused. The game was still going for some reason, and they grew suspicious. The party rose, making their way down to the main floor of the guild hall. There was no one at the front desk, where Dunn liked to hang out. Dread settled in, and the search became frantic. Something was wrong, and they knew it.
Dunn was gone. They searched the guild hall, even going so far as to break into the guildmaster’s quarters. They found a discarded robe lying in a heap on the floor, almost in the shape of someone who would have worn it. Solidus identified some liquid on the floor as a bit of the poison that had seeped into the floorboards. Confused, they looked to the desk. For once, the Book of Vile Darkness was not clutched tightly to Dunn’s chest, and Solidus and Galvyn worked together to read through it. Once they did, they discovered the horrible truth.
The box they helped Dunn build was a phylactery. He had taken the Midnight’s Tears poison himself.
Dunn had been using them to help him become a lich the entire time.
They traded the BBEG they were hunting for another of their own making.
The campaign continues. And I may or may not be receiving death threats from my players.