Howlmark, The Story Begins


Howlmark logo over the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. A firework explodes in the night.

Last night we had our first real session of my Howlmark Adventure. We didn’t play as long as I’d expected, as some folks had things to do, but in retrospect the shorter session might break up the adventure better. It was really fun to see people playing through I story I developed and, as this was my first time running a session that was part of a larger story 1 the players did some things which I did not expect. This made me happy, as it showed the players in invested in the story. Here’s my takeaways from last night’s session.

To start, I am so glad I didn’t take any time to explain the role-playing aspect of playing an RPG to my players. In the first scene our lead character 2 was having a conversation with her aunt. The player asked a question, but posed it as though she were talking to me and not the character. I responded, “Who’s that?” I could sense the lightbulb going off in the player’s mind as she said, “Oh, you’re talking as the aunt!” From that point the characters who ended up having their characters talking to the NPC’s did so in character. This includes my wife, who took the “I don’t want to be in this podunk little town for the holidays” to heart and laid on some snark 3. This made me happy.

Since this is set up as an adventure for novice players, I was able to use a short introductory battle to help folks get a better hang on some of their abilities. This is something I failed to address in our session zero, as we spent most of our time just teaching people how to move. I convinced our rogue, for example, to set back and let his party close in on the monsters so he’d get his sneak attack bonus. That really helped. The party also picked up on the need for some strategy during the encounter, which pleased me to no end. This encounter also taught players about line of sight in the game, which was exactly what I wanted.

One of my players used to play AD&D way back in the First Edition days 4. This was helpful after the encounter because it showed my novices the types of things they can do after combat. My eldest son was also playing, and his time spent playing games like Skyrim also taught him to think, “The end of the battle isn’t necessarily the end of the encounter.” This allowed me to teach the players about things like investigation checks and how each member of the party needs to be aware of their own strengths.

Every DM tutorial says, “Expect players to do the unexpected” so I was expecting some odd decisions or impulses to come into play. But there’s a difference between knowing something will happen and having to roll with it when the players do something you did not anticipate. When I write fiction I will often find my characters seem to have minds of their own, forcing me to alter narrative plans to deal with their randomness. DM’ing is a lot like that, only the people who are doing the randomness aren’t living my brain so they’re a lot more challenging to wrangle. I can’t reveal any of the randomness the party did, because I think I’m running this adventure for my Monday night group in a couple of weeks, but I will say one unexpected turn managed to change an element of the story for the better. DM’ing is fiction-writing on the fly 5.

All in all, a very good first session. FoundryVTT handled six connections just fine, and scene switching worked like a charm. Now we need to schedule the next session to continue the story!

  1. The beta test I ran a couple of weeks back was divorced from the narrative. 
  2. Remember, this is based on Hallmark tropes. 
  3. It helps that this whole adventure has her thinking, “I can’t believe I’m playing D&D.” 
  4. He actually gave me his battered copies of the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual. Totally falling apart, but so fun to look through. 
  5. One of my favorite inclusions of player quirks in the session was when our Eldritch Knight tried to move three squares but got confused by the mechanics. He to to where he wanted to go, but ended up drawing a path which had seven or either way points going back and forth over the three squares he was trying to move through. When the goblin kept missing him we put that move into the narrative, saying that the character likes to dance during combat.