Previously, our heroes set out from the city of Sorwic to slay a dragon. Once out on open sea, there is some time to prepare and discuss strategy...
Read the first part of this campaign log here.
Our heroes’ journey takes them from the city of Sorwic to the northern part of the remote island of Arrverden (check this campaign log for a map). The journey takes twenty days as they first go south around Adelfan over the Sea of Ice, and then north over the Sea of Faces. Our heroes find that Wenning runs a tight ship; every man spends at least fourteen hours per day working while the rest do smaller chores and catch up on sleep. The crewmembers have an hour per day each of ‘free time’. Ena and Wisse use this time to teach each other spells, while the others just rest.
On their second day on open sea, Wenning takes out a map of the area of northern Arrverden and discusses possible courses of action with his crew. I’ve copied in the map below.
This is the first time I decided to use a branching maze or “hex” approach to overland travel. I first saw this in action in Shamus Young’s campaign logs (check it out here; it’s worth it, as is his LOTR comic), although I ended up going in a different direction. I thought it was a great idea to use ‘zones’ for overland travel--as many GMs do--to ease preparation and to make sure that there are lots of interesting things to do. For some reason, the concept just lingered in my mind for years. Today, we used it.
This map was designed to offer the players multiple landing zones (a landing zone is a hex with a dotted line and a ship next to it, e.g. 6, 15, or 30). The rest was blocked off by cliffs. Every landing zone had in its vicinity the following:
- a close but relatively weak enemy
- a somewhat distant but stronger enemy
- a potential ally; and
- a path to the dragon that would be open to the players once they had dealt with the smaller threats.
A natural result of the island’s layout was that it was divided into several factions, with at its heart (in the Dragan Seascann marsh on hex 41) the dragon Jotte who was pulling a lot of the strings on the island. The players were forced to deal with the factions along the way as they had to choose one of the many passes through the mountains to get to the marshes. Most landing zones and subsequent ways to reach the dragon had their own major ‘theme’: one would have the players fighting Trow and the misshapen bastardspawn dragon they worshiped as a god; another would have the players face a giant warlord; yet another would force them through the site of a great battle where the spirits of the dead would harry and assail them; and so forth.
The lines connecting the hexes showed to which hex the players could travel with relative ease (the solid lines representing two days’ travel through the snow and the dotted lines representing a longer, varying period due to inhospitable terrain such as forests or foothills). I emphasized to the players that the hexes were just there for ease of reference. There was nothing stopping them from discarding the map entirely and attempting to scale a mountain to get to the dragon, but in the end the hex system kept us pretty much on point during the four sessions we spent on Arrverden.
Everyone takes some time to study Wenning’s map of Arrverden. The first order of business is to decide where to land. Since the shores of the island are composed mainly of cliffs, suitable beaches are very rare. The crew of Wuraf’s Blessing consider every potential landing zone in detail, including whether it has access to fresh water and potential hunting grounds. In the end, Wenning decides to cast a vote.
While preparing the dragon hunt adventure on Arrverden, I wondered what to do with Wenning. I needed the players to take control of the expedition; I wanted them to make the decisions, not the NPC Wenning. I considered having Wenning die at sea in a pirate raid or have him become deathly ill, prompting one of the PCs to step up.
In the end, I settled for having Wenning lead his band in a democratic way, considering his crewmembers more as fellow shareholders in this venture. Since the crew consisted of 4 NPCs and 4 PCs, chances were that in every vote the PCs could win if they voted as one. To ensure that the NPCs didn’t all vote the same, I made sure they had varying tastes: Whan preferred working together with the other settlements on the island; Aran the Coward wanted to reach the dragon in the straightest line possible with as much bloodshed along the way as was attainable; Sykka opted to stick close to good hunting grounds and ideal circumstances for archers; and Wenning voted somewhat randomly.
In every voting round, I had the NPCs vote first and explain their vote, so that the PCs could consider the merits of their arguments. This allowed me to slip in a few GM’s tips and to give a little more insight into how the NPCs thought and what their personalities were like.
Sykka votes to land close to a forest and near an estuary so they can hunt and have access to a source of fresh water (in hex 10). Whan votes to land near the village of Adhmadbaile (in hex 2), so that the group may enlist the aid of the villagers and have access to supplies. Aran votes to land on the western beach (hex 15), from where there is easy and quick access to a mountain pass without the need to sail too far north. Wenning votes to land on the northwestern beach (hex 6) where they’ll have access to potential hunting grounds (a forest), fresh water, and--should aid be needed--the village of Faire Ghealach.
Next, our heroes get to vote. Ena agrees with Wahn, opting to land near Adhmadbaile. Lorin agrees with Wenning’s “all-round” landing spot. However, Halred and Wisse both vote along with Sykka, and so it is decided that Wuraf’s Blessing shall land in the northwest bay of Arrverden (hex 10).