In an effort to expand his fledgeling business empire, entrepreneur Galen Holst had organised a journey across the land to the Grand City of Reach. While the possibilities for profits were high, he knew the trip could be filled with peril. Not being much of a fighter, Holst decided to hire a group of adventurers to protect him on his travels, and quickly found four individuals willing to take the job. There was Pastor Mog, a Half-Orc Paladin who preferred the company of animals to people; Yodis, the Halfling Rogue who was very much in it for the gold; Zia, the Tiefling Warlock with a thirst for ancient knowledge; and Ceoria, the Half-Elf Bard who prioritised finesse above all else.

Holst had promised to pay them 20,000g upon reaching his destination safely, a price he started to question when the first week of travel proved to be mostly uneventful. The only moments of excitement were when a group of inexperienced bandits were laughed out of their ambush by the group, and a curious incident involving a bridge, a stubborn goat, and the very definition of the word ‘overkill.” Eventually, they arrived at the village of Wayde, a small and relatively new settlement on the outskirts of the Fyhul Woods. Weary from the journey, the group made their way to the local Inn called The Tricky Rabbit.

After paying for their rooms for the next few nights, Holst announced that he had a few deals he needed to make in the village and as such wouldn’t need his protectors for a few days. “Eat, sleep, hunt, earn some extra coin, find a brothel, do whatever you want until I get back.” Upon his exit, Yodis and Zia managed to convince the serving boy that there was a tab under Holst’s name (there wasn’t) and proceeded to order one of everything on the menu, much to Ceoria’s delight. Unimpressed by the tomfoolery, Mog went to exit the Inn.

Before he could reach the door, it slammed open, and in stumbled a large man of dark skin, with black hair tied up in a ponytail and an unkempt beard. Wearing a black leather apron over the top of a linen shirt and wool pants that had seen better days, he was clutching his right arm that had badly wounded…

It has taken me a long time, but here we are. I have finally run my first session of Dungeons and Dragons and it was everything I hoped it would be.

My appreciation for roleplaying stems from two aspects of my life – my love for discovering new stories (through video games, TV and books) and my love for acting (back when I was doing the old am-dram thing.) Mix in a healthy dose of geek culture and the rest is self-explanatory. As a gamer, roleplaying has been a frequent part of my pastime. From Baldur’s Gate, to Deus Ex, to Star Wars: Galaxies, to World of Warcraft, to co-op Dark Souls, and even Minecraft. Each one has touched upon the various aspects of what makes Roleplaying such a magical experience, but none of them captures that perfect mixture of freedom and purpose, allowing its narrative to blend with the player’s actions. Instead, it waits for the player to say ‘when’ before going down a set path.

Meanwhile, the Pen and Paper RPGs had also been making huge strides thanks to the internet, aided by inventive systems like Roll20. The social stigma that surrounded it for years has persisted within mainstream circles, though, but that perception began to shift in 2015 when a certain web series called Critical Role began. The talents of Matthew Mercer and his fellow voice actors shone through, putting a greater emphasis on the roleplay than the dice rolls. Like improvised theatre, it was capable of being exciting, emotional, and downright ridiculous (especially with the final blows of epic encounters.) Its growing popularity not only helped build up the confidence of closet roleplayers to reconnect with what they loved, but encouraged newcomers to try it for the first time.

The cast of Critical Role

Towards the end of 2016, I decided to start watching Critical Role and realised that this was exactly what I had been seeking all along. A system that offered players the freedom to build their own stories while experiencing the joy and pain of their actions through roleplay. I insisted that my other-half Becky watch it too after binging five episodes, and her initial reluctance was quickly replaced by a similar enthusiasm. It didn’t take long for us to get on the same page – we needed to run our own game of D&D.

So, I went about researching the best ways to do this, reading article after article on how to prepare and watched hours of YouTube videos guiding newcomers like myself into the role of a Dungeon Master. Many offered various advice on how to build a world, engage with players, and make them feel like heroes while challenging them, but one tip seemed universal – do a one-shot (a single-session game) first. Give them pre-made characters with a short story to play through, and let them get used to how it is played first before doing something long-term. More importantly (for me, anyway) it lets the DM understand what it means to run a game.

Having found a base idea for a one-shot, tweaked it to loosely fit with the campaign ideas I had, and created battle maps on A4 paper for the encounters (along with cardboard markers for characters) the next task was to find some more players. Becky was obviously on board, but while my friends are varying levels of geekiness I was still apprehensive about asking them. That social stigma that hovers over D&D has never truly gone away even in the advent of Critical Role, Aquisitions Inc, and High Rollers, something I discovered when I brought up our plans in a pub to some friends. One took it as I expected – surprised and sceptical, but seemed intrigued as we explained the improvisation aspects of roleplay. Another surprised me by telling of their recent game playing as a Barbarian, and the fun they had going into a rage. However, one of my friends (and I do mean that, despite the rest of this sentence) responded with the following statement that caught me off-guard: “Our group has really hit a new low,” followed by other comments regarding how sad D&D was.

Yep, that stigma was alive and well.

Thankfully, a few other friends had previously voiced interest in D&D, and after weeks of prep we got together to play through my one-shot. Randomly picking a pre-generated character from a pile I had printed off, we had our party of adventurers. Becky selected a Tiefling Warlock she named Zia; Liz selected a Half-Elf Bard she named Ceoria; Gemma selected the Half-Orc Paladin she named Pastor Mog; and Lauren selected the Halfling Rogue she named Yodis.

Knowing that this was everybody’s first foray into D&D, I reminded everyone that no matter how confused they might get we were all in it together. The most important thing was to embrace their character and have fun with the role. So, with everything set, we dived into our first adventure. The sections in bold you are reading are a dramatized summary of what occurred, based on the choices and dice rolls from the session. Inbetween the narrative I’ll be adding my thoughts on how I went about things or my observations on what the players did. My hope is that our tale of the four adventurers, along with my recollection of running a D&D game, will be insightful or perhaps pique your interest in exploring D&D.

And so, their journey continues…

Curious to the situation, Mog stayed and began eavesdropping on the tale of the injured man, who was now sat on one of the stools by the bar. Surrounded by the staff of the inn and a few regular patrons, the conversation appeared urgent and heated, with a mix of anger, frustration and fear on the man’s face. It was clear he was pleading for help, but the townsfolk, while sympathetic, noted they were not fighters and would be walking into a slaughter. Mog also hears the suggestion of asking the local militia, but the injured man visibly shakes his head, stating “You know they won’t help.”

As the conversation continues, the serving boy gestures in the group’s direction. The man gives them a glance, but he voices reluctance in “involving outsiders in our problems.” Eventually, through a mixture of curiosity and boredom (depending on who you ask), the party make their way over to investigate. They learn he is Raldur, the local blacksmith, and that goblins who have been making hit-and-run attacks on Wayde for the last few weeks struck his homestead on the edge of the village. He fought them off as best he could, but eventually the numbers game caught up with him and he was stuck to the ground. That’s when he noticed two of the goblins had grabbed his daughter and dragged her away. Unable to move, he could only watch as the goblins dragged her into the Fyhul Woods to the north.

Raldur reluctantly asks the group for help, stating he would be out there right now were it not for his injury. When they ask why the local militia won’t help, he explains that they won’t risk heading out and leaving the town defenceless “just for one person… for my little girl…” Promising to reward the party should they find his daughter, they agree through a mix of sympathy and greed. In an effort to learn where the goblins took off, they head towards the Blacksmith’s homestead.

The party arrive to find his workshop a complete mess. Tools and materials are all over the place or missing, and there was blood near some barrels where Raldur was attacked. Attempting to pick up a trail, Zia, Mog and Ceoria began looking for tracks… giving Yodis the perfect chance to look around. Spotting a small bag off in the distance, he slowly shifted out of the way and picked it up. Now 73 gold pieces richer, Yodis stealthily re-joined the group, who had been too busy concentrating on finding tracks – a task they were successful in.

So in the space of the opening monologue, the players had used deception to create a bar tab, run up a sizable bill, and robbed a poor man whose daughter had gone missing. All my worries that they wouldn’t get into their characters were well and truly gone by this point, and we hadn’t even reached our first round of combat yet. What was interesting was that that weren’t pushing the boundaries of the experience just yet. They weren’t asking for names or details about the village and were instead following the story hook towards its destination. Well, I say that…

A few hours of following these tracks put them deep into the Fyhul woods, but dusk was very much upon them. Having not rested since arriving in Wayde, the group decide to make camp for the night. In an effort to remain hidden in case the goblins came back during the night, Zia suggests sleeping in the treetops. So begins a series of tree climbing attempts where Yodis, Zia and Mog climb with little issue. Ceoria, on the other hand, barely makes it up as she tried to out-do the nimble Yodis, much to the group’s amusement.

As the night progressed, Zia and Yodis take the first watch in case anything comes by, but it remained surprisingly quiet and peaceful. As Ceoria and Mog took over, they decide to use their time to put their musical talents to use for a quick jam session. Ceoria’s shawm played a beautiful melody, but Mog… not so much. While he is normally capable of playing his flute (made from the shinbone of an orc), it only emitted muffled noises. Embarrassed, Mog checked the flute only to find it clogged with fluff. Convinced it obviously wasn’t his fault, they turned the blame elsewhere. Who could be sneaky and mischievous enough to do such a thing?

Yodis. It was definitely Yodis.

Grabbing a nearby pinecone, Mog threw it with all their strength, hitting Yodis right in the temple. After a few minutes of cursing from those involved, Mog returned to his guarding duties, and Yodis went back to sleep (trying to hide his hurt feelings.)

There’s nothing like a few Acrobatics checks and intergroup conflict to bring out the roleplaying. They were beginning to experiment with what they could do and how the dice rolls could affect their actions. Gemma getting a Natural 1 on Mog’s Performance roll led to a sequence of events that had us all laughing for a good five minutes. It was exactly the kind of organic storytelling I had been after and, more importantly, the players were enjoying it.

As the morning sun rose, the party awoke from their undisturbed slumber and resumed following the trail. It didn’t take long for the team to eventually come to a clearing next to a hill, within which was a stone entrance built into it. The vegetation had grown over most of it, but it was clear that it had been used for something long ago and only recently been reopened. The stone door had been smashed down, and the torches on either side were still smouldering from use overnight. Beneath each one was a goblin, sat there looking bored from being on guard duty.

If the goblins were holed up somewhere nearby with Raldur’s daughter, this was the most likely place.

The group began to discuss what to do – do they wait and see what happens at the entrance, or take the initiative and catch them by surprise? Action won out in the end, as Yodis snuck around to the side. Meanwhile, Zia and Ceoria hid in the treeline, ready to use ranged attacks if necessary. This left Mog to march out into the open to act as a very large distraction.

The half-orc presence was enough to distract the goblins enough to allow Yodis to get a sneak attack on one of them. Before the goblins could react, the injured one was cut down in a flurry of mauls and daggers. The remaining one looked up at the Paladin marching towards it, intimidated by the Half-Orc’s giant size (aided by Zia who popped up to the side, swishing her tail in a menacing manner.)

With the goblin frozen in fear, the group tied them up and proceeded to ask some questions. It was quickly established that their new prisoner wasn’t the brightest, and the intimidation wasn’t helping. Ceoria then had a brainwave, and with a soothing melody enchanted the Goblin with a Charm Person spell.

This is how the group got to know the Goblin called Bik.

Before we get into how Bik came about, I want to quickly discuss how fascinating it was to watch the players plan their ambush on the goblins. They covered all the angles ensuring that Mog was covered as he approached the enemy, and the look of amazement when Lauren landed a sneak attack (along with its bonus damage) meant that the group’s first kill was met with enthusiastic cheers.

So, yeah. Bik. Damn them and their creative way of taking a prisoner, and then making him friendly.

This completely threw me off guard. I hadn’t prepared anything for a goblin character – no names, no personality, nothing. All I could do was wing it, trying to become this frightened prisoner on the fly. Within seconds, the following emerged in my head: “Bik was the runt of the goblin band with a fascination for treasures and an impressive ability to tinker makeshift items. Often bullied by the others, he wasn’t that keen in fighting but would fall in line if it meant there was food for him.” Perhaps the most rewarding part of this was how, over time, he became an endearing part of their story.

Now far more receptive to their queries, the group learned that this was where the goblins were based, along with the blacksmith’s daughter. Bik also told them that there were more “friends” inside, along with one he referred to as “big boss” who was “as big as scary orc person,” gesturing towards Mog. It was odd, but during this conversation Zia had taken a shining to the small creature. Yodis found it all amusing, and Ceoria had already begun writing a song about it all.

Mog was unimpressed by it all and wanted to head inside, so the group – with Bik in tow – proceeded into the entrance and down the stone steps within.

Moving as stealthily as possible, the group reached the bottom of the stairs to discover a fairly dark room with a large brass bowl in the middle. On the walls were a series of images carved into the stone of knights fighting various enemies. There were also some words written that they couldn’t read from this distance, but they could hear some scuttling and low-volume chatter coming from the other side of the bowl.

Following their first successful encounter with the goblins, the group decided to hatch another plan, this time involving Bik who was still charmed. It was simple – as they were all now friends they were all going to play a game. Bik was to go over to the other goblins and convince them to follow him back to the room’s entrance, where the group would ambush them, but he wasn’t to tell them that his “new friends” were here. With Yodis and Ceoria managing to sneak up to the bowl, and Mog and Zia waited just up the stairs, Bik was sent off.

There was just one problem which the group quickly realised – Bik’s hands were still tied.

And here was the group’s first lesson that all actions have consequences, or in-action in this particular case. It demonstrated that not every plan will go as intended, so it’s always good to be prepared for action at a moment’s notice. The group were also about to learn another vital lesson – sometimes the dice rolls just won’t be in your favour…

His joyful pleads to play a game with his fellow goblins might have worked were it not for his bonds instantly causing suspicion. With the ruse foiled, the group jumped into action for the second time, but things didn’t go according to plan. Their overconfidence resulted in many of their attacks missing the mark, culminating with Yodis finally striking one down… only to fall unconscious moments later.

The remaining three scrambled to revive their fallen comrade, hoping to overpower the remaining goblin despite taking some hits themselves. Unfortunately, it was at this point that another two goblins emerged from the entrance and immediately jumped into action. In an act of desperation, Zia freed Bik and pleaded him to help them, and while he did so it was clear he was conflicted by all his “friends” fighting each other.

As Zia and Ceoria managed to slay the second goblin, Mog performed Lay On Hands on Yodis, reviving the rogue who then proclaimed “I’m sure there are more goblins than before.” The group continued to have difficulties slaying their opponents, including a moment where Ceoria made an impressive leap over the brass bowl only to completely miss with her rapier. Eventually, the goblins were defeated, with Ceoria landing the final blow by unleashing Zorro-esque strikes on the final target. With the battle over at long last, the group took a moment to rest.

Out of danger for the time being, Ceoria and Zia began looking around the room, their eyes were drawn to the murals on the walls. The inscription beneath was faded but still legible:

“We of the Abyss Watchers vow to fight chaos in all its forms, and protect the realm from the darkness.”

Neither of them had heard about such a group, but Mog recalled reading something about them years ago. While his knowledge was limited, he remembered they were a long-gone order of knights with an affinity to flame, who protected the realm from a great evil. When the threat passed and the knights gone, the locals would visit tombs dedicated to them and burn offerings to honour their spirits – explaining the brass bowl at the centre of the room. The practice and knowledge of the order were lost over time, with only a few mentions in dusty tomes noting their existence.

We’ll get to the Abyss Watchers (and how I have shamelessly lifted a good chunk of it from Dark Souls) shortly. For now, I want to talk about how the group missed the patrol earlier on. Had they waited to enter the tomb and watched the goblins outside, they would have spotted the patrol and been able to take them out. Instead, they marched forward, leaving the patrol to eventually wander by, see the guards were no longer there, and enter the tomb to investigate. As I explained to the players later, just because they aren’t around doesn’t mean the rest of the world stops turning. There are other characters out there with their own goals, and this was a very small example of it happening.

Now, the Abyss Watchers. This was a side quest that the players could investigate if they wanted to, fleshing out the world to create the illusion there was something more out there than a village being attacked by goblins. As you’ll soon see, the players were eager to learn more about the tomb and its mysteries, which as the DM made me feel like I had done my job in engaging them. Fans of Dark Souls will no doubt recognise that I had taken the Wolf Knights of Farron and tweaked them ever-so slightly, but this ties into one piece of advice straight from Matthew Mercer – shamelessly copy things you like for your game. Unless you intend to publish your campaign there’s no reason why you can’t include direct references or drop in lore from other works. Will the Abyss Watchers return for my full campaign? Most likely, but they will definitely be renamed because I like giving myself extra work. Ugh.

A quick look at one of the battle maps I made (and counters to go with it) showing you can play D&D without breaking the bank.

Unfortunately, this is where we ran out of time some three hours after we began selecting characters. As much as we all wanted to continue we all had plans for the next day, and so we had to wait nearly a month before we could continue the now two-part one-shot. The upside to this meant that the characters could level up at the top of the next session (as I had decided to go with a milestone system for ease.) The excitement as they selected their new abilities was infectious, with Gemma delighted with the choice for her Paladin, Lauren revelling in her new-found Rogue bonus actions, Becky giddy over her new Warlock invocations, and Liz eager to try out her new Bardic spells. Best of all, they all fell back into their characters as soon as we restarted. I was a very happy GM, ready to finish this story.

As Ceoria made notes of the battle to later turn into song, Bik – still just about under the Charm Person spell – proceeded to share some of his “treasures” with the group. Most of it was admittedly junk in the form of cutlery and some fancy rags. In fact, as the group took a moment to look over Bik they could see most of his armour was made up of trinkets and trophies he had acquired, including turning a cooking pot into a makeshift helmet. After a few moments of digging through his “loot”, he revealed a small wooden box with a lock on it, offering it as a present to his new friends. Impatient, Mog declared he would smash it open, while Yodis clearly stated that if he opened it the contents was his.

The argument quickly descended into both of them trying to grab the box from Bik, but their hands were interrupted by the fast and stinging speed of Zia’s tail. Seizing her opportunity, the Tiefling offered a compromise – she would hold the box while Yodis picked the lock, and the group would share its contents. Agreeing to her terms, they would discover there were two healing potions inside – a lucky turn of events considering the battle that had just taken place.

After the group decided who should get the potions, they were interrupted by the sound of a low-pitched chant further into the tomb. While they knew they had to go investigate, the issue of Bik was more pressing. Panicking, the group tied him up again and gagged him just in time for the spell to wear off. His face suddenly dropped into a mix of defeat, confusion and fear, clearly torn over being tricked and attacking his fellow goblins.

He sat there incredibly silent until Zia knelt down and tried to convince him that the others were mean and had to die. Bik reluctantly agreed after the gag was removed, pointing out they were always taking his “shinies’.” This gave Zia an idea – she presented Bik with a few gold coins, saying they were now his because they were friends and “friends don’t betray each other.” His eyes went wide and smile slowly emerged upon his face, thanking her whilst pointing out she was “the kindest big person” he’d ever met.

I think the description I gave here was “It’s very much a ‘Dobby [from Harry Potter] getting a sock’ moment, only with a goblin that isn’t as conventionally cute.” Yes, I was purposefully pulling the emotional heartstring here, but it was great to see that even after a huge break the players were still invested this world I had conjured up.

I should also point out that Gemma was repeatedly threatening to throw Bik into the brass brazier and set him on fire. This did not go down well with the rest of the players, but while I found it hilarious it was a good opportunity to explain the importance of character alignment, and that Mog, who was Lawful Good, probably wouldn’t do that.

With that issue halted, the group resumed their focus on the chanting ahead of them. Acting as a scouting party, Yodis and Zia began to carefully make their way down the next corridor. With a corner in front of them and a dim light emanating from around it, Zia stayed put while Yodis crept forward to another chamber room with an almost overpowering smell of incense.

At the centre of the room was a makeshift table surrounded by incense burners, in front of which stood a large creature with poorly maintained leather armour over its fur-covered body. This was the source of the chanting, waving its arms around with huge gestures in a language Yodis couldn’t understand. In the far-right corner was a cage that contained a person curled up into a ball, in front of which sat two goblins who were watching the larger creature. At the back of the room, Yodis could just about see a large statue of an armoured female knight holding a huge sword in front of them.

Curious as to what the chanting was about, Zia cast Comprehend Languages in hopes of figuring out what was going on. While the stone walls bouncing the sound made it difficult from her position further down the corridor, she could just about make out something about “offerings to Hrrugek” and talk of “a worthy first sacrifice.” With the scouting team retreating back to the first chamber, the four adventures put all of their information together (along with Bik’s not-quite-helpful input.)

It was definitely a Bugbear in that room, and they were going to have to kill it.

Freeing Bik from his binds (again), the group made an agreement – he would stay here while they went ahead and dealt with the Bugbear so Bik could be free. Making a nest on his treasure pile, the adventurers began moving towards the next chamber as quietly as possible. With Yodis taking the lead, Ceoria, Mog and Zia followed behind. Unfortunately, the Halfling’s nimble form meant that Ceoria was unaware of the trap lying in wait on the corner bend, feeling a pressure plate click beneath her foot.

There’s nothing quite like encountering your first hidden trap, is there? As I explained to the group afterwards, the switch was activated when someone of a certain size stepped on it, which is why Yodis (who is small) passed by unharmed and Ceoria (who is medium) triggered it. The lesson that the players took away from this was they should always, always check for traps.

By instinct or pure luck, she gracefully dodged out of the way as a giant scythe slammed into the opposite wall. Curiously, the chanting continued despite the commotion in the corridor, and so the group continued to make their way towards the second chamber. As Yodis and Ceoria tried to move into a flanking position, they both froze as the Bugbear began to turn slowly turn around, and in Goblin yelled: “I thought I told you grubs not to disturb the ritu-“

The outburst was suddenly cut off at the sight of the group, its look of annoyance turning to rage. The Bugbear addressed them directly, this time in Common.

“Wait, how did you get in here?! Argh, no matter. This just means there will be more offerings to Hruggek!”

And with a large battle cry, he and his minions jumped into action.

Upon moving to the right to split the enemy’s attention, Ceoria decided to take no chances after the last fight and immediately cast Bane, weakening her opponents. Meanwhile, Yodis went left to deal with a rather fast-moving goblin. Pulling out his shortbow, the Halfling took aim and, in a moment of clarity, landed the shot in the forehead of his target, killing it instantly.

And that, dear readers, is how Lauren rolled the first critical hit of the game. The scream of joy that accompanied it was suitably loud and enthusiastic. It also led to probably the coolest combat moment of the night…

Watching this happen, the bugbear charged towards him – unaware that Mog had not only moved into position for an Attack of Opportunity but had prepared Thunderous Wave on the next hit of his maul. As the weapon met its target, a deafening clap of thunder resonated around the stone room as a blast of lightning sent the bugbear off its feet and crashing to the ground.

The next few moments of combat were highly frustrating for our adventurers as attacks were being dodged or parried. In the case of Ceoria, there was an overzealous swing that threw her off balance, causing her to fall to the ground. Zia’s Witch Blast didn’t find its mark on the remaining goblin, either. The narrow miss instead skimmed just above and created an inverted mohawk, sending the tiny female creature into a rage. Ceoria took the moment to unleash some Vicious Mockery, chanting “Baldy-baldy baaallldy!” at her.

If Zia or Ceoria ever doubted that a goblin could emote a sense of utter sadness and shame, they knew better now.

It was at this moment that, finally, Yodis managed to shove his shortsword into the side of the bugbear. Finally admitting this was a fight it could not win, the bugbear immediately started sprinting for the exit. Dodging out of the way of the blades of both Yodis and Mog, it seemed like it was home free… until an Eldritch Blast was unleashed from the fingers of Zia. Writhing in pain as the crackling energy coursed through its body, the bugbear landed on top of the trigger for the scythe trap. Nothing happened for a moment, but as it started to get back up the dark magic that was still present sparked out towards the walls, causing the dormant scythe to swing free and jam into the side of the bugbear’s head.

As the body of the main threat slowly slumped to the floor, the group turned to face the sole surviving (and emotionally distraught) goblin. Screaming in anger, it fired a bolt from its crossbow at Ceoria, hitting her in the shoulder. Having had quite enough of this, the Half-Elf Bard got back up, aimed her own crossbow with her one hand, and with the other gave a one-finger salute. This would be the last thing the poor, traumatised goblin would ever see.

I’m not sure what it is, but apparently I’m great at making people feel genuinely bad for goblins. What I liked about this moment was that it highlighted how even the enemy could be emotive during a battle, and that just because the dice were rolling didn’t mean the roleplaying had to stop.

Also, on the subject of the bugbear – Gemma charging up Thunderous Wave on Mog’s weapon and catching it with an attack of opportunity was one of those unscripted moments that ended up being a delight to describe to the players. Everybody was invested in the action, to the point that when the bugbear decided to flee the look of panic on their faces was priceless.

With the danger finally taken care of, the group began to look around whilst Ceoria drank down a healing potion. Zia went off to see what the bugbear was carrying, and Mog’s attention was taken by the large statue at the back. Meanwhile, Yodis moved over to the cage in the corner to see that the person inside was indeed a young girl.

After several (deliberate) mispronunciations of her father’s name, it was confirmed she was the Blacksmith’s daughter and, having realised they never asked when they were in the village, learned that her name was Jalyn. Zia then walked over with everything that was on the bugbear – its maul, 93 gold, two healing potions, and a key. Tossing it to Yodis, the cage was opened and Jalyn was freed, using her freedom to hug the now-uncomfortable halfling.

Meanwhile, Mog had been studying the statue at the back of the chamber. On either side of it were two unlit braziers, and below the statue was an inscription. There was a name, “Casca Lightrun of the Abyss”, and a phrase, “If you are to keep this, you must first give it to me.” Despite the group’s best efforts, they couldn’t figure out what any of it meant. Hoping all it wanted was some sort of offering, Mog lit the braziers and placed the looted maul and all the money he had at the foot of the statue.

Nothing happened.

Confused and disappointed, the group decided it was time to return Jalyn to her father. As they re-entered the first chamber they found Bik still waiting, and informed him the “big boss” was dead. Zia, who had taken a real liking to the little guy, wanted to bring the goblin with them, but Mog quickly pointed out that bringing one of the raiders back to the village it had been attacking wasn’t the smartest idea. Approaching Bik and kneeling beside him, Mog said he could have his freedom if he promised never to cause trouble again. The goblin agreed, and after getting some more gold from Zia announced that they were “the nicest big people” he’d ever met.

As Bik ran off into the forest, Mog quickly returned to the first chamber. In one final gesture to the Abyss Watchers, he relit the fire in the large brass bowl and said a small prayer to honour them. While nothing happened within the tomb, Mog did feel a warm presence within him, as if an external force was now watching. Unable to explain it, he returned topside and rejoined the group as they finally journeyed back to Wayde.

Ah yes, the puzzle with the statue. There were plenty of questions about it both during and after the session, but I will offer one piece of advice that I got from a prominent DM / YouTuber – don’t tell them the solution, even after the game is over. While it may have been great for the party to find the secret (and, I’ll freely admit, another room) the unresolved mystery further builds up the world and the player’s investment. What would they have found? Would they have learned more about the ancient order? At the very least, Mog’s gesture at the end might mean something for him down the line.

Arriving back at the Tricky Rabbit Inn, they found Raldur sat at the bar surrounded by the staff and other patrons. Upon seeing that the group had returned with his daughter beside them, he ran over and threw his arms around Jalyn in an emotional reunion. Raldur thanked them for their help and promised to have a reward ready if they dropped by his homestead later on. All of a sudden, the group heard a slow clap coming from the far end of the room.

Galen Holst commended his employees for doing something useful with their time, but then chastised them for trying to trick the inn’s staff into starting a bar tab under his name. Although he told them it was coming out of their wages, he did concede that he “absolutely would have tried the same thing” had he been in their position. Although Holst was eager to get back on the road, the group pointed out that they had just spent the last day killing a band of goblins, so he reluctantly paid for an extra night.

Resting at the Inn for a while, Ceoria and Mog once again tried to jam on their instruments, and while it wasn’t the bard’s finest performance, Mog’s poor form made her sound amazing by comparison. As Zia drank from the free bottle of while she had procured from the serving boy, Yodis took the opportunity to lighten the purses of everyone in the room.

He had almost managed to do a clean sweep before he felt an arm grab him, turning to see the innkeeper who had thrown her arm around his shoulder. With a jovial smile on her face, she thanked him for rescuing Jalyn and ending the goblin problem before pointing out that “it would be a shame if one of her rescuers were to sully the moment with a little pilfering, don’t you think?” It took a few moments of dagger-like eyes from her, but Yodis admitted defeat and handed back the gold.

It was such a shame for Lauren who rolled a total of 24 for Yodis’ stealth check. I rolled perception checks for all of his targets and only a Natural 20 would have been enough to stop her. It was on my fifth and final roll for the innkeeper that it happened. Regardless, it was a great example that even if the group rolls high, there’s always a slight chance of it not going the player’s way.

Once the group were fully recuperated, they made their way back to Raldur who had done his best to tidy up his workshop. The group could see Jalyn sat in the window, waving at them from the inside. Thanking them once again for saving his daughter, Raldur admitted that he was short on cash as “the goblins must have swiped his earnings” (Yodis remained oddly quiet at this point.) He did have some rewards, though, and headed into his house.

He returned a few minutes later with a large chest, explaining that before they moved to Wayde his wife had been an adventurer, just like them. Having died a few years back, he decided to pass on some of the items she had kept. There was a Dagger of Venom, which Yodis quickly accepted; a Ring of Spell Storing, which Ceoria took a shining to; a Rod of the Pact Keeper, which Zia was instantly enamoured with; and a set of Glamoured Studded Armour, which Mog graciously accepted.

Having done a good deed and acquired new items doing so, the group rejoined Holst at the Tricky Rabbit Inn to resume their journey to the Grand City of Reach. With that, the story of our four intrepid adventurers comes to a close.

And there we have it. Although there were a few close calls with the combat, the group made it through without dying, and everyone – including myself – had fun. In a post-game chat, the players said how much they enjoyed the experience of embracing their characters, and that they were surprised by the amount of freedom they had. I actually felt this was the most rewarding aspect as the DM – watching their reaction when I didn’t say no to things like climbing trees, or throwing pinecones, or befriending goblins. This of course ties into one of the pieces of DM advice I saw repeatedly. You can plan for as much as possible (seriously, every character had a name – even the innkeeper!) but the players will force you to improvise something new anyway (hello, Bik.)

My concern going in was the math that comes with dice rolls, but the players adapted to it rather well for a first session. The most recurring hurdle ended up being the pre-generated character sheets I had printed off, as the layout was often disorientating for the player trying to find the correct stats or abilities. I’m hoping this will be rectified when they build their own characters and can organise it in a way that makes sense to them, but it’s definitely something I will help with to avoid similar complications in the future. As for my role off DM, I found the biggest challenge was maintaining concentration when everyone was talking over each other. Notemaking helped a lot, but there were still moments where players would remind me of a question they had asked a few minutes ago. Part of this may have been down to excitement from all involved, but I aim to be more on-the-ball next time.

And there will definitely be a next time, as I loved every second of it.

A taste of what the more dedicated D&D players use to increase the immersion during combat.

We’re currently in the process of discussing their characters for the upcoming campaign, and the requests have already been interesting. The Ranger wants a giant Red Panda as a pet, and one player demands to be a Racoon (yes, they had recently seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, and yes, I’ve already found a way to make it work.) Story hooks and potential arcs (both world encompassing and personal) are in note form, as are ideas for locations (one of which has already been hinted at,) but I aim to start small like the one-shot and spiral out from there depending on the player’s actions. After all, they may end up turning a molehill into a mountain instead of going up the mountain that’s already there, but that’s the beauty of Dungeons and Dragons – it’s a journey into the unknown that you all take together.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make a list of potential goblin names, because no reason. Stop looking at me like that. GO AWAY.