The Nalfrey Reach
So, I want this campaign to be a very by-the-book campaign in a lot of ways, but the first rule is, of course, to always have fun. We’ll try to follow the rules and the suggested guidelines, but if those get in the way of having fun, we’ll try to find a way to compromise in a way that is fun and fair to everyone involved.
First, I want to establish some guidelines for your characters. I want you guys to be your typical Fantasy story protagonists. Be sheepherders, be part of a travelling bard troupe, be butlers and hedge alchemists, be common folk. Most importantly, be someone who has no experience adventuring. Trust me, you’ll all get plenty. My idea is that you’ll all be regular folk, with no class levels, for the first session or two of the campaign. After all, heroes have to start somewhere!
Come up with a backstory (I’m always willing to help, chat with me on Facebook or elsewhere if you have the means) that incorporates or lends to your class. For instance, if you want to be a hammer-wielding Fighter when you’re all grown up, maybe your character starting out will be a blacksmith who’s good with his hammer. If you want to be a ranger, perhaps you were an apprentice hunter for Jarl Flintmane. Some of the magic classes are a little harder to explain away, but a future Wizard might be a bookish type who happened to stumble upon someone’s spellbook and has been studying it for a while; a cleric might be a local acolyte who has yet to perform his first miracle. A druid might be a gardener or herbalist who’s unusually good with her plants. The possibilities are myriad, and I’m interested to see what commoner applications you’ll pick to eventually grow into your chosen class. As always, if you’re stumped, come chat with me. I love helping people make new characters.
The other guideline for backstory is that I want your characters to call Fallasted home. Whether they were born there or not, I’d like them to have lived there for some time, and know little to nothing of the land outside the Nalfrey Reach (just like everyone else!). Preferably I’d like them to have few or no acquaintances or family in the outlying cities.
Know that this campaign is based on Norse culture and myths. People worship the Asgardian gods, Odin above all, as it should be. There aren’t barons, there are jarls. If you’re familiar with Skyrim, take your inspiration from that, just throw in a healthy helping of “By Odin’s Beard!” instead of Akitosh.
Here are my guidelines for creating your character, stats-wise.
First, you’ll pick a race and a class. They can be any race or class thus far released by Wizards of the Coast for D&D 5th Edition. If you need a Player’s Handbook or other material or advice, I’ll be happy to help. I know that most of the people I’ll be inviting to join this campaign have little experience with tabletop RPGs in general, and a few of you have probably never played 5th Ed before. That’s fine, it’s a simple system (relatively speaking) and I’ll be happy to explain it to you.
Next, you’ll pick your stats. Some people like to roll for their stats. To me, this has the nasty tendency to result in one lucky punk being a demigod (never rolling below a 16 for a stat) and someone else being a wimp (never getting above a 14). Instead, I’d like you to use point-buy. Go to this site, and arrange your stats such that you total to 27 points in the red box. Remember these are totaled before you add in your racial increases. Also keep in mind that having below a 10 result in a penalty to anything you try to do with that stat. It’s something to be avoided. Keep in mind that each 4 levels (4, 8, 12, 16 and 20) you may choose to either take a feat (some of which increase stats), increase two stats by 1, or one stat by 2. Also bear in mind that the maximum in any stat you can ever have is 20. You may not, through initial point buy, racial bonuses, or level advancement, advance any stat higher than 20.
Determine what your trained skills and hit points are using the rules found in your class’s section. Those are the only aspects of your class you’ll get at first. Any weapon or armor proficiencies, low-level spells, and class features will come later. All you get is your hit points and your trained skills. Note that you can either take the statistical average of your hit die per level (not a problem at level 1; you get the maximum possible result), or roll the die and take what you get, at each level beyond the first. I strongly suggest you take the average, as the dice can be cruel; however, I’ll leave that up to your decision.
Finally, you would normally pick your starting equipment. For this campaign though, I’m going to determine this on a player-by-player basis. Normally you’d end up with a certain amount of gold to start with, or a specific set of equipment. You will have whatever your Background gives you (see the player’s handbook), but all other gear and money you’ll have will be determined by what you were before you became an adventurer… and what you take with you when you leave home.
What I’m going to ask of you during the campaign
What your character will be like
Some GMs delight in rules-lawyering and making sure you’re not overencumbered by even one pound. While I won’t go that far, and I am not so concerned with the experience being realistic, I do want it to be believable. Sure, you can carry 8 maces if you want, but you won’t have much room for anything else, and if you want to fight, you might want to put 7 (or 6 if you’re a dual-wielder!) of them down before you go at it.
What I’m saying is, while I won’t require you to keep a numerical count of everything you’re carrying, down to the weight of each gold coin you have, I do want you to have a general idea of how much weight you’re carrying around and how you’re carrying it, so that we don’t get into silly territory. I think a lot of interesting situations (and interesting solutions!) arise from remembering that your characters can get tired and have to have some way of lugging your spoils of war around, and it helps everyone develop what they look like and how they’re acting when Frank the Fighter rolls into town with no fewer than four swords and two shields on his belt and his back (totally feasible, if a bit ridiculous looking… unless he arranges them well! Nobody messes with the four-sword guy!). Additionally, if you’re planning on spending long periods of time out in the wilderness, I’ll want you to keep track of how much food you’re bringing; it’ll be measured in days per person. “Where is our next meal going to come from” can become a surprisingly fun and interesting subplot!
Keep in mind that this is a low-magic campaign, just like all 5e campaigns are. Magic weapons and armor are very rare, and owning one is kind of like owning a fighter jet, in respect to cost, effectiveness and general “wow” value. Magic weapons and armor do not rust, are incredibly difficult to break, and repair minor damage like nicks, chips and dents over time, in addition to being sharper / harder / more forceful / more protective than their mundane counterparts. While I’m not going to demand that you guys roleplay out maintaining your weapons and armor, I will suggest you at least keep in mind what it would take to maintain your arsenal, so your character will properly appreciate it when she gets her mitts on magic equipment. If you’re the kind of guy who looks at his sword as an extension of himself, you probably carry a spare scabbard, a whetstone, some special oil, and several other mundane items to assist in caring for your weapon.
You’d probably be loath to use Ol’ Stabby to cut through underbrush, cringing at every swing as you imagine the woody plants leaving tiny nicks on the blades that are going to take FOREVER to grind out! Maybe (when you actually get to the point where you are carrying weapons) you will begin to carry a machete for such mundane work, while you keep your killing blade in peak condition.
Then again, you could just not be bothered to give a single damn about your weapon, using your ancient Ramsten Steel knife to pry open your soup can. I won’t penalize your attack ratings or damage if you do this, but don’t be surprised if an NPC (Non-Player Character; literally everyone in the world but you guys) remarks that your weapons look like crap!
What I want you, the player, to do
1: Be respectful of the other players. Make fun of my villains, heck, my worldbuilding, all you like. If something seems contrived, feel free to comment on it. If something strikes you as funny, I won’t be offended if you laugh. But make sure you’re respectful to your fellow players, and make sure the fun you’re having isn’t at the expense of someone else. Conflict between PCs (Player-controlled Characters) is fine, just make sure everyone is having fun Out-Of-Character.
*A quick note: In-Character and Out-Of-Character are terms I use a lot. If you’re not familiar, something In-Character is something happening to the character you’re playing. Something Out-Of-Character is something happening to you. If I’m playing Siril the Wizard, and somebody just stabbed Wyn the Bard (played by Mark), Siril might get mad In-Character, because Wyn’s his buddy. But ideally, we wouldn’t want me to get mad Out-Of-Character, because then I’m mad over what happened in a game. There are legitimate reasons to feel upset over something Out-Of-Character, but it’s not an optimal state. Being angry, sad, terrified, uncomfortable In-Character, however, is all part of the experience! The rule of thumb is, if your character is suffering, that is fine. If you are suffering, something’s wrong.
2: Don’t flake. I don’t mean “don’t you ever cancel on us.” Just have the decency to let us know if you’re not going to make it to something you’d previously committed to. We’ll understand if something comes up at the last minute, or even if you’re just not feeling it today. Just try to let us know whenever you know, so we don’t waste any time waiting for someone who isn’t going to show and knows it.
3: Complain. By which I mean, if there is something going on in the campaign that you are uncomfortable or unhappy with Out-Of-Character, please, please come to me after the session is over (or immediately, if it’s making you very uncomfortable) and discuss it with me. It’s kind of hard to have fun when you’re uncomfortable, and fun is the entire point.
4: Plan with me. Let me know where you want your character’s story to go. If Mark wants Wyn the Bard to eventually become the greatest lyricist ever to live and perform for the gods themselves, let me know that. A big part of having fun is seeing your characters succeed, and I want to know what you define as success, so I can help you get there. If that cute waitress at the last town you stopped at has caught Frank the Fighter’s eye, tell me that, and maybe she’ll show up later. Basically, help me help you.
5: Metagame. Many GMs discourage this as a general rule, and rightly so. If you accidentally get a glimpse of the map while I’m setting up, it would be cheating if your Warlock “just so happened” to lean on the hidden trigger for a secret door. However, there are some uses of metagaming (that is, using out-of-character knowledge to steer in-character decisions) that can be helpful.
For instance, say I’m playing Alex the Rogue, a low-down cheating scoundrel that will take any opportunity he can to steal from people. If I know Mark has been wanting his bard Wyn to get the Lost Harp of Phantastacoria, if I can tell that Mark himself is really invested in this item and wants his character to have it, maybe I, out-of-character, don’t want to ruin Mark’s fun. Despite the fact that Alex is a kleptomaniac, and left to himself he would totally steal the hell out of that harp I, Nathan, want to make sure he doesn’t steal the harp. I can metagame beneficially in several ways to accomplish this. Maybe Alex just has a bad feeling about it. Maybe he suddenly decides that shade of gold is just garish, and he doesn’t really want it. Maybe the sun gets in his eyes when he tries to nick it and he misses his chance. No matter how I do it, at the end of the day, I made the decision to undermine my character’s personality because the enjoyment of my fellow player is more important than internal consistency. That’s the kind of metagaming I want you to do.
What you can expect from me
1: I want you to have fun. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that happens. I will do my best to be open to suggestions and criticism. I’m not a veteran GM (though not quite new either), and my storytelling method is far from polished. I imagine I’m going to do things that bug you. I’m going to do my best to correct those things when they happen.
2: A mix of internal consistency and suspension of disbelief. I want the world you’re playing in to be realistic. However, I firmly believe that fantasy is supposed to be, among other things, a means of escape. My point of compromise between the two is thus: Horrible things happen in my world. Horrible people do horrible things. And while your characters will be involved in stopping a lot of those horrible people from doing horrible things, I won’t force you to witness them. I am generally loath to depict harm to children, torture, or sexual assault. Your characters may come upon people who have suffered such, or have the chance to stop such from happening, but in the event you fail or choose not to intervene, I won’t describe anything in detail, nor will I inflict such upon your characters.
To make a long story short: Yes, I realize what would most assuredly happen if an attractive woman was kidnapped by a group of brigands, but I don’t feel the need to explore that avenue by narrating it, and I will strongly discourage anyone from attempting to do so themselves. If your character happens to be an attractive woman who ends up getting kidnapped by bandits, something will happen (again: metagaming!) to prevent that from happening to her. Is it unrealistic? Sure. Would George RR Martin do that? Certainly not. But I don’t like his writing anyway. =P On that note…
3: Everyone has the right to hit the “NOPE” button. If something that happens during our sessions makes you uncomfortable, and you tell me, I will instantly and without question change course. I know most of you fairly well, but I don’t know all of your lives, and I might not know if I’m hitting a nerve until it happens. In that event, say something, send me a private message, whatever. Do it immediately. I’ll stop going down that path, plot be damned. Again, you can’t have fun if the game is making you uncomfortable.
4: I’ll bend the rules to make sure you’re having fun. This is half “what you can expect from me” and half “what I need from you.” The first half is thus: Sometimes, even the best-crafted rules can get in the way of a good story. I’ll try to keep everything in the frame of the rules, but occasionally it will make the most sense or create the best scene for someone to do something that just isn’t in the rulebooks. For instance, Wyn might have just finished his turn, and a bandit goes to stab his defenseless father. I’ll tell Mark “If you sacrifice 10 hit points, you can take an action immediately before the bandit to try to stop him from hurting your dad.” The “what I need from you” part is for you to understand that the “Rule of Cool” is in flux. Just because I let Wyn take an extra action when it wasn’t his turn doesn’t mean from then on everyone can sacrifice 10 HP to take an extra action. Try to bear with me on this, and I’ll do my best to have it make sense and be worth your while.
5: As a general rule, I don’t want you to die. Some GMs think it’s their responsibility to set up deadly traps and encounters, and sit back and see if their players are sharp enough to get their characters through alive. Their campaigns are more like Dark Souls and less like Mass Effect. Personally, I fall much more on the side of the character-driven story. Because of that, you won’t go through characters like candy, like you might with other GMs. I want you to become attached to your characters, to have a rich story behind (and ahead of) them. It’d be a shame for them to die, so unless you do something truly stupid, or if it’s thematically appropriate, as a general rule I will try to avoid scenarios that end in “Well, the dice hated you tonight. Wyn’s dead, roll up a new character.” On that note, under the right circumstances, death is reversible in this campaign and (yay, 5E!) with very little permanent consequence. So if your character does die, don’t despair. It’s probably not over for you.
6: I won’t do the “Gotcha!” thing. I’m not going to have bandits ambush you at night just because you forgot to tell me out-of-character that you were posting a watch. Instead, I’ll ask you if you post a watch. For your part, I want you to be honest when I ask questions like that, and not just give me the answer that you think will get you the best outcome. I want to see your characters succeed, so I’m not going to use technicalities to screw you over.
7: I don’t expect commitment. Demanding that you set aside time for my game would be silly. You will play when you like, and no more. I promise I won’t let you fall behind in level or experience. If you have to miss a session but want to make up by doing one-on-one plot later, I’m open to that.
I realize my GMing style as I have laid it out requires a lot of trust. I know some of you may be more used to having more player agency, and leaving less in the hands of the GM. All I can say is that I am going to do my best to justify the trust I’m asking you to place in me. I want you guys to have fun, and it wouldn’t be fun for me or for you if I abused my position as a GM just to kick your characters around.
Okay, I think that’s quite enough of me preaching, for now. Please, if you have any questions, or suggestions on what I should add to this Portal site (or take away), let me know.