Had the kickoff for The Skull & the Eye yesterday, my new Dungeons & Dragons campaign that is a sequel/continuation to my last one, Toell’s Bed, that finished in February after 2.5 years. I want to reflect on the first session since I’m trying a lot of new things while refining my old habits.
As you can tell from the photo above, it is a big group. NINE PLAYERS! While generally 4-6 is the ideal number, I tend to add to the ranks a bit as a way to ensure games do not fall through (when only two players show, it is hard to run). I also understand people have committments and the like beyond the game (work, kids, family, etc.). That all said, I have heavily refined my table managment abilities over the course of Toell’s Bed and also in getting ideas from playing in Jeremy’s Curse of Strahd campaign between campaigns. Him and I have made use of “Dungeon Round” as a means to ensure everyone gets to participate and contribute. I also try to have players flesh out their characters ahead of time instead of just being a ball of stats. This is accomplished by using questionairres, recaps, and journals. The point of all this is to have those quirks and points of interest that then create points of engagement. This may have contributed the most, overall, to the fun everyone had. In the first session, every player got a moment to shine and contribute to the narrative. As a DM this is not always easy, but it can be done.
Another element I decided to try out was Syrinscape, a soundscape/soundboard mixing program specializing in fantasy and sci-fi. I have seen it used extensively on Critical Role, Maze Arcana, and many other RPG streaming casts. Honestly it was super easy to pick up and use. There is a free demo, plenty of tutorials, and a few different ways to license and subscribe to the program. For us, I settled on the monthly subscription to the Adventure Path. For $6.50 a month I get access to all the fantasy oriented soundscapes. Considering we are playing twice a month for 5-8 hours, I think this is a reasonable price for the tool. Now depending on our usage of this, I may look into purchasing the other options, but for the short-term this price cannot be beat.
But what about how Syrinscape went over with my players? Extremely well. My game opened with them already on their way to see Thane Baern Thunderknuckle (dwarf that Sam played in Toell’s Bed). As part of a caravan carrying supplies, I opened up with the Wagon Journey soundset. I ran the app on my Android tablet with the audio coming through a JBL Charge 2+ that I had sitting on top of a cabinet, about 6 feet up behind the players. As a person that is sensitive to sound, I wanted to ensure it did not overpower any of the players speech or mine for that matter while still enveloping the area. It worked perfectly. My players were taken aback by the instant immersion and how using the on demand sound effects added to the drama or humor that was present at the table. Being able to stop the sounds of the wagon train while maintaining the ambiance of the wildlife and wind when the group was stopped by a border patrol really gave them all that sense of being there.
Classically, when I begin a game I have the players kind of describe their character, mannerisms, history, stuff like that. It ends up being a “show & tell.” However, I took inspiration from some of the more recent RPGs I have played on PC. In this I would just start the character with two different incidents that would let how they react to situations emerge. The first was a border crossing, where the King’s Army has a knight and footmen inspecting the caravans. It is public knowledge in the game that there are some illicit materials folks are generally worried about. What made this encounter stand out is that the group has a noble, Herr Malke Klinde (Dan D), with his entourage (including other members of the group) that has all the papers to cross without issue and three islander characters from a colony of the Kingdom of Oesel that are low level merchants in a foreign land. The islander characters were on the verge of being harassed, so letting the character deal with this was a very interesting ordeal (I will let that be told via their journals at a later date). Some of the NPC coachmen working on the caravan got drunk that evening. They heard Haiko, our Tortle bard (Dan DK), telling stories and sharing poetry. They loved this and wanted to hear stories from everyone! So around the camp fire (using the Wagon Journey camp fire soundset) they told various stories or recited poetry. It was a good team building exercise and honestly a lot of fun!
But the real success was how great all the players were. Everyone cheered, laughed, was involved, got to shine, told jokes, and was just a blast! I came off the game that night with a real adrenaline high. Mind was racing with ideas, body was going, and eager for the next session. Honestly believe this may be better than my last campaign. We are hoping to get a few more sessions in before the end of the year and I hope to keep up on blogging about it.