Deep Wild Adventures (D&D Actual Play)

Billy's picture

I realized that even though I've posted a lot on this site, I haven't written much of anything about my own current ongoing game. Partly that's because I feel like I'm just retreating the path laid by Ben Robbins in his "West Marches" essays, so there isn't so much of theoretical novelty. Still, I'm certainly spending a lot of time thinking a lot about the game, so maybe writing about it will produce something of interest.

In this campaign, I'm running my own stripped down and heavily house-ruled variant of third edition D&D (really more of a mashup of everything I like from OD&D, B/X, 3e, Pathfinder, 5e, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and 13th Age). There's a rotating group of players, playing about two games a week, in parties of 2-4 people.

There's a big wilderness sandbox full of cool adventure sites and unreasonably deadly monsters. XP are awarded for exploration, treasure recovered, and killing major unique monsters. Everything is "Full Blorb" as much as I can make it.

At its best, the game is incredibly fun and I feel like some kind of D&D genius to be the person running it. At its worst, it's tedious and boring and leaves me feeling bummed out.

I suppose I'll just write a little about some memorable recent sessions and see what comes out of it.

Note: If you play in Billy's "Deep Wild" game, then (a) Wow, I'm impressed that you found me on this obscure little corner of the net; but (b) Please don't read the rest of this thread. In all likelihood I'm going to give away some hidden information.

A Perfect Session

The group consists of two players. One is a seasoned player with a mid-level multiclass monk/wizard. The other is quite new to our campaign, with a low-level thief. He's tagging along on what's intended to be a fairly safe mission. They're trying to find an elusive creature they call the Egg Man, which has stolen from the party a few times in the past. The characters are both dwarves, and cousins.

Of course, once the players are out in the wild, they forget their original mission and go wandering off into the marsh, where they find a ruined dungeon that they've never seen or heard of before. They go down a pit and wake up some nasty lizardfolk ghouls. The cautious low-level thief goes scurrying up his rope to safety. The confident higher-level monk stays down in the pit to fight the ghouls and, a few critical hits later, is torn to shreds.

So all of a sudden we have a single low-level thief, lost and alone in dangerous territory. Up to this point, the more experienced player has been doing basically all the navigation and decision-making, while the new guy has been following him and trusting in his wisdom. Now it's suddenly clear that the wisdom was folly, and the new guy is going to have to find his way home without a map.

Incredibly, the remaining player's first thought isn't to escape, but to recover his cousin's remains (in the hopes that they can be raised from the dead). So the thief takes the rope and slides back down into the pit where the ghouls are already devouring the body. He manages to retrieve a single severed finger. In the process, he also manages to be bitten by the ghouls. He scrambles back up the rope, bleeding, and rolls onto his back at -1 hp.

He rolls death saves, and manages to stabilize. He passes into blissful unconsciousness.

Eight hours pass. I roll for wandering monsters in the marsh. At this point, if a crocoile showed up, it would simply eat him. But nothing comes. He also has to make a Fortitude save against the infection from the ghoul bite. He succeeds (for now). He wakes up with rain falling on his face, back at 1 hp.

Wisely, he realizes he isn't going to make it home in this condition. He looks down in the hole. No sign of the ghouls, but they're probably lurking out of sight. He attaches a hook to his rope, and manages (with a successful Use Rope check) to haul up his cousin's discarded backpack without spilling it. Inside are a bunch of scrolls and healing potions. We roll to see if the potions were broken when the ghouls tore apart the body. They were not! He drinks them, and he's back on his feet.

Navigating by the sun and by vague memories of the landmarks he saw on the way there, he manages to retrace his steps and get out of the marsh. His good luck with encounter rolls continues, and doesn't meet anything deadly (just some satyrs, who run away despite his pleas for help). He spends a night in an olive tree.

His ghoul bite worsens (failed Fortitude save) and his skin starts rotting away (gradual Constitution damage). He's pretty close to town now, but he doesn't know it, and spends most of a day taking wrong turns and blundering around in the woods.

Absurdly, just before he finally finds his way out, a wandering monster roll produces an encounter with the Egg Man - the very thing the players were originally trying to find. It steals one of his scrolls and disappears.

The thief makes it back to town and gets his ghoul infection cured just in time. His dead cousin (the monk/wizard) has enough money set aside to pay for a reincarnation spell. He passes his system shock and returns to life as a meerkat.

All told, I think it was about an hour of real time from when the first character died to when the survivor made it back to town. The whole time was pure suspense; a couple unlucky rolls would have done him in.

The player of the dead monk signed off shortly after he died, only to return twenty minutes later. He said he couldn't sleep until he found out what happened.

The thief player came out of his harrowing solo adventure with a changed attitude. He no longer acted like an uncertain novice, deferring to the other players' wisdom. Having seen that he had what it took to survive in the game, and having seen his own instincts vindicated in the ghoul incident, he started taking on a much more active planning and leadership role among the group.

All in all, I couldn't have come up with a better story if I tried. The death of the mentor; sudden responsibility thrust on an unprepared neophite; heroic risks to save a family member; half-remembered details suddenly becoming essential landmarks; and the outraregously silly cameo by the Egg Man to bookend the whole thing. Yet the whole adventure just came out of the maps and rules and dice rolls, and the players' own choices.

So, that was a perfect session. Later, I'll write something about some of the less satisfying ones.

Paul T.'s picture

I really enjoyed this, on many different levels. And what a great moment in play!

Of course, however, the less-than-satisfying moments and issues are where the real learning happens, so I'm looking forward to that even more.

Please do come back and tell us more about this game!