Who, I may hear you ask, is Valthana Chaesatra?
Valthana is a High Elf, she is a wannabe Wizard, and she was created by my daughter, Yasmin, for her very first venture into Dungeons & Dragons.
I thought it would prove interesting to track her adventures, as we progress through the campaign included within the D&D Essentials Kit, Dragon of Icespire Peak.
A word of warning to anyone who will be playing through this themselves, there will be spoilers! I’ll also be adding my thoughts on the adventure, such as why I changed things, what I would do differently, and such like, as we go.
Valthana comes to life
Character creation is probably the most important aspect of Role Playing Games (RPG’s) – get it right, and you’ll be eager to play, you’ll care and look after your character, you’ll fear for them, and you’ll feel a great loss if they should fall. Get it wrong, on the other hand, and the game can be a chore; playing a character you have no emotional bond to, and know there’s a long way to go before the climax of the adventure, can really drag you down.
This is especially true for first time players, so as a DM it is important to make sure the players have created a character they are fully happy with, and are enthusiastic to play. More experienced players will begin to experiment with character creation, trying things on to see how they fit kind of thing, and yet strangely, many grow fond of a certain trope, and will create the same class character time and again, but play around by making subtle changes, or playing them with a total different attitude.
For Yasmin, it was always going to be an Elf, and I would have put a fairly big chunk of cash on it being a Wizard too – as it turned out I was right on both accounts, which makes a change!
It has been a long time since I last ran a game, and as far as D&D is concerned, it would have been 2nd edition! So, we sat together and followed the Essentials Kit rulebook through character generation…
Choose a Race – As I said, it was always going to be an Elf, but she had the choice of two here: High Elf or Wood Elf. She read through the descriptions and aimed High, why? I think it was because the term, haughty, was mentioned!
Choose a class – We went through all the individual classes, and it came down to a choice between Cleric and Wizard, but there really was only ever going to be one winner – Wizard it was. This was a pretty good choice for a High Elf, as the racial bonuses include an increase to intelligence and an extra Cantrip.
Determine ability scores – We used the method described in the book; roll 4d6 and record the total of the highest three. Do this six times, and then assign each to an ability. Yasmin rolled 16, 15, 12, 12, 10, and 7. She placed the 16 in Intelligence, obviously for a wizard, and already thinking about how she wanted to portray her character, she placed the 7 in Charisma. After adding her racial modifiers, here’s how she stacked up:
- Strength 10
- Dexterity 14 – which gives her a bonus when using weapons with the Finesse keyword, a good move for a magic-user.
- Constitution 15
- Intelligence 17
- Wisdom 12
- Charisma 7 – We’ll see why she decided to go low here shortly.
Describe your character – She looked briefly through the limited selection of backgrounds but, if using the Essentials Kit rulebook, there is really only one choice for a Wizard, especially one played by a new player, and that was Sage.
This gave her a couple of extra proficiencies, two more languages, and a small amount of equipment, which includes a letter from a dead colleague posing a question she has not been able to answer. I let her choose her speciality rather than roll for it, and she selected be an Alchemist.
One of the personality traits she chose summed up her vision for her character, and that was, ‘I… speak…slowly…when talking… to… idiots, who almost everyone is compared to me!’ Hence the reason for the 7 charisma, she really knows how to make friends and influence people… NOT!
She also chose an ideal, a bond, and a flaw – they were; Self improvement – The goal of a life of study is the betterment of oneself; I’ve been searching my whole life for the answer to a certain question; I speak without really thinking through my words, invariably insulting others.
Physically, and Yasmin is still working on this, Valthana is young (for an Elf), having just come to maturity at 105. She has jet black hair and bright blue eyes. She stand at a moderate 5’5″, and is lean and mean. She dresses well, but has yet to find her style.
For Alignment, after much debate, she decided that Chaotic Neutral would suit her character best. Chaos suits the Elf race, and Neutral falls in with the vision she has for her character. As far as I was concerned, Alignment isn’t going to play too much of a part in things until she has more experience as a player, at which point I would start to question her actions if she played out of alignment.
It was then just a case of going through things and filling in the missing bits, such as languages. Here I chose one for her, Gnomish, as I knew it would come in handy, and she picked the other two from the drop down list on D&D Beyond’s character creator – Celstial, and Loxodon!
Next up was choosing her starting spells. We read through the available choices and she came up with an initial list. This, however, included next to no offensive spells, which she could have gotten away with if playing as part of a party, but heading out with only a sidekick or two, would be the equivalent of suicide. I made a suggestion or two and this was her choice: Cantrips – Dancing Lights, Mage Hand, Shocking Grasp, and Acid Splash; 1st Level – Burning hands, Comprehend Languages, detect Magic, Identify, Mage Armour, and Sleep. This gave her some interesting options, especially as the non-offensive ones can be cast as rituals, meaning she doesn’t need to have them prepared.
Entering the information on D&D Beyond was a great way to make sure we covered everything, and it automatically fills in things as you go, such as your Saving Throws, all your racial and class traits, etc. which is a bonus for someone new to D&D.
I asked if she would create a backstory for her character, not being sure if she would or not, but she was quite enthusiastic about it, grabbed the book and resurfaced an hour or so later!
Here it is, pretty much as she wrote it.
Personality, Likes and Dislikes
- Likes to be the centre of everything, and always has.
- Finds it hard to empathise with people.
- Comes across as self-centred and big-headed.
- Likes books, history, magic, learning new facts, studying, her family, arguing, and school!
- Speaks her mind.
- Likes to seek out forbidden magic books.
- Dislikes people who believe in things that are unproven.
- Dislikes annoying people (which is most people!), dishonesty (when directed at her!), politics, being unorganised, and idiots (everyone else!).
Valthana worked in her parents family business, Chaesatra Suppliers, whilst studying alchemy and magic. The business was originally opened by her grandmother, and everyone in her family has worked there at some point. Valthana works there with her grandfather, who’s a retired soldier, and her close friend.
At her school she studied advanced magic and alchemy, and has won awards for her magical knowledge and talent, but was scolded for sneaking away and reading books that were forbidden.
Most recently her friend passed away under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind a strange note addressed to Valthana. The note included a question, one that Valthana does not understand and is seeking to answer. (This is the note she received by taking the Sage background; she tied this together very nicely. I am currently putting some though into what this note will actually say, and hopefully I can then tie it into the campaign later on.)
She set out on a quest to discover more about the note and its strange question, and was joined by two of her friends – Quinn Hightopple and Galandro Luna, (Before she started writing the background I had told her that she would be accompanied by two sidekicks, and we picked them out together. It was Yasmin’s decision to include them in her backstory.)
Valthana knows Quinn through her brother, who is also a warrior, and it was he who suggested that Quinn accompany her for protection (he never stated who was protecting who!)
Galandro was a customer at Chaesatra Suppliers, and he is also a friend of her sister, as they share a love of music. He also knew her deceased best friend quite well, and wanted to come along, if for no other reason than to offer moral support!
I was mighty impressed with Yasmin’s backstory for her character, and for the DM it opens up lots of creative hooks – obviously there’s the note; the family business presents lots of opportunities for adventure lines – maybe it goes broke, gets robbed, or becomes the centre of a trade war! The big one though is the mysterious death of her friend, which opens up all sorts of ideas and pathways to further adventures – how and why did she die? Did she stumble on some hidden secret? Was it a revenge killing, maybe from some past, earlier generation, feud? The options are endless, and if the DM can tie in some of the backstory into an on-going campaign, then it can really make that character feel special for the player.
Here’s her character sheet, as created on D&D Beyond.
Her first steps to adventure
So, after being created, Valthana Chaesatra steps into the world of Forgotten Realms – the town of Phandalin to be precise, and here’s a brief overview of her first adventure, as we play Dragon of Icespire Peak.
Presenting her with the included map of Phandalin, I read the included intro to her, which gives a brief rundown regarding the look of the place, its inhabitants, and highlights a few places of interest.
Yasmin was unsure how to proceed from here, she’s never played an RPG before, so I used the sidekicks to present her with ideas – Quinn, a Halfling who likes to punch tall people in the groin, was all for visiting the Inn, and this was the first port of call.
Valthana managed to get on the right side of the innkeeper, paid for a meal and a room for the night, and, whilst Quinn and Galandro supped ale, she listened to an interesting story about the surrounding area. From this she learnt that there was a lodge within Neverwinter woods that would prove a safe haven if she ever found herself wandering through there, and that Falcon, the owner, would offer free lodging for anyone who took him a bottle of wine. Though this is true, the innkeeper was hoping she would purchase a bottle or two, just in case she found herself in the woods – Valthana failed to rise to the bait!
Leaving the inn she visited Barthen’s Provisions, and it was here that Yasmin’s roleplaying was maybe a little too enthusiastic. Elmer Barthen, the owner, is a lean and balding human, whom I decided to play as a bit of a plodder – bright but slow, he gets the job done in a bumbling kind of way. Valthana, of course, decided this human was so far beneath her that she would… have… to… speak… really… slowly… using… small… words! Despite her being a little insulting, again played in character, Galandro managed to use his velvet tongue to smooth things over and even managed to get Valthana to rein it in a little bit.
Fortunately, Elmer is rather thick skinned, and they managed to strike up a conversation, mostly surrounding the sighting of a White Dragon in the nearby vicinity. She left after purchasing a bedroll, as she likes to have some comforts when out adventuring!
Up next she visited the Miner’s Exchange, mainly because Yasmin had no idea what one was and wanted to find out! After taking a look around and seeing it was where miners come to exchange and register their finds, the guild master, Halia Thornton approached her. Fortunately, Valthana didn’t manage to insult this calculating and intelligent woman, who is working to her own designs.
After some general chitchat, Halia mentioned an old stone Lighthouse that was causing mayhem down on the coast, drawing ships onto the rocks like moths to a flame, and hinted at the possibility of great treasure to be found there. Valthana left Halia wondering if this young Elf could be of use to her in the future!
Finally, as the day was growing old, the trio took a look at the job board standing outside the Townmaster’s Hall, on which was described three quests. I read out the quests and then passed the quest card over to her; these included the Dwarven Excavation Quest; The Gnomengarde Quest; The Umbrage Hill Quest – she decided that they would set out bright and early and head for the Dwarven Ruins.
Things are never as easy as they seem!
The journey to the southern edge of the Sword Mountains passed without incident. The parties quest was really quite simple: to warn the Dwarven prospectors, Dazlyn Grayshard and Norbus Ironrune, of the White Dragon terrorising the surrounding area, but we shall see!
Valthana’s party arrived outside the excavation late in the afternoon, and finding it apparently deserted, entered through an old battered gateway. Beyond this they found evidence of an old, dilapidated settlement, showing the signs of some long past avalanche. There are collapsed walls and rubble everywhere, though they do find evidence of recent fires.
As they moved through this area voices could be heard coming from the adjoining courtyard. These are from the two Dwarves, Dazlyn and Norbus, who bickered like an old married couple. They are very good at their job, but not particularly brave when it comes to confrontation.
Vathana introduced herself and her sidekicks, and explained about the sightings of the White Dragon. The Dwarves were very thankful for this information, but were confident that they would be safe within the ruins, that is…
At this point Valthana could have walked away and completed the quest, after all, all she was required to do was to warn the Dwarves, but the Dwarves were in need of help…
The dwarves, after much consultation between themselves, asked the party to aid them with a little problem. An Ochre Jelly had taken up residence in the ruins of the Temple, could they deal with it and check the rest of the ruins are free from threats?
After a bit of bartering, they agreed to give the party a set of sending stones and an equal share of any treasure they find. Valthana was happy with this, she was keen to take a look around the ruins herself, and would be happy to get paid for doing it.
They entered the Temple cautiously, and Valthana had the foresight to look up, finding the Ochre Jelly before it could do any mischief. From here it was a bit of a learning curve for someone one their first adventure.
After the Ochre Jelly dropped to the floor, narrowly missing Quinn, Valthana cast the cantrip, Acid Splash, which did very little damage as the Jelly has a resistance to acid. Quinn then attacked with his longsword, causing no damage but did split the Jelly into two. (Jellies have immunity to slashing damage!)
Quinn backed away, and Galandro dropped the torch he was carrying to draw his bow – the torch remained alight, fortunately – he too, backed away.
The battle proceeded with the Jellies doing little damage due to poor rolls, the Sidekicks also doing little in return, as they kept their distance and used arrows, and Valthana, who found herself far too close for comfort, used shocking grasp on one of the Jellies, causing no damage but again, split the Jelly – they now faced off against three Jellies.
This is a difficult encounter for new, level 1 players, as the Jelly has immunities and resistances that the players are probably not going to be aware of. It also has a fair amount of hit points and causes enough damage to kill a level one wizard with one shot!
I wanted Yasmin to find out its strengths and weaknesses for herself, but I knew that it could prove a risky business; hence I had the jelly split a second time. This way I could make still make the Jellies a formidable foe, but one that deals less damage and takes a lot less to kill. Instead of one 45 hit point Jelly, I made it three 10 pointers, each capable of only dealing 2d4 damage rather than 2d6+2 +1d6 acid damage – If you are a new DM, then it pays to look ahead at the encounters and think about tailoring them to your party, though at some point the party will have to learn that it is better to run away!
With a few minor injuries, the party managed to do away with the Jellies, and as the day was drawing on they secured the area and settled down to a meal, kindly provided by the Dwarves.
At this point I called for a time out and quizzed Yasmin about the Ochre Jelly and what she had learnt from the encounter. I was pleased that she had picked up on the fact that lightening and acid attacks appeared to do little or nothing to the Jelly, and that lightening and slashing caused it to divide.
I had taken control of the Sidekicks during the encounter and I pointed out how they had reacted – backing away and using ranged weapons, and how the Jellies had followed them. Light dawned as she realised what I was getting at, the Jellies couldn’t move as quickly as they could, so they were easy enough to keep at range.
The following morning found the party standing in the temple room, looking around at its rock solid walls. Yasmin was a bit stumped as to how to proceed from here – her naivety when it comes to playing RPG’s – and so I again used the sidekicks and began searching around the room. Sure enough Valthana cottoned on and helped out with a search of the pillars, finding a secret door that opened up to reveal a pile of skulls. She bravely searched through these, and eventually came away with a load of gemstones worth 10gp each.
At this point the party would have been happy to claim the ruins clear, grab their treasure, and head back to Phandalin, but the Dwarves though otherwise.
Experts as they were in excavation, they sketched a map and insisted that there must be more to this place than meets the eye, and managed to convince the group to take another look around. Sure enough, they came across a secret door in the southeastern corner of the Temple room.
Quinn opened the door with the others armed and ready expecting trouble. They weren’t disappointed! Another Jelly was lurking behind the door and it attacked immediately, doing some serious damage to Quinn (1 hit point left!). Using what she’d learnt from the previous encounter the party backed away, and Valthana let rip with Burning Hands.
Unfortunately, due to the pillars within the room, she hadn’t moved far enough away, and the jelly also left her with one remaining hit point. In the end it was Galandro that finished it off with a well-aimed arrow, and the party breathed a sigh of relief.
The party rested, restoring their health and discussing their narrow victory – I advised Yasmin to take a good look at Valthana’s spells, and she realised that she had forgotten to cast her mage armour!
For the rest of the day they searched out the tunnels and rooms that the secret door led to. The Dwarves also prodded them towards another secret door they had missed, by arguing that the ruins should be diametrical, and therefore there should be a door somewhere around here…
This just left a single tunnel that had collapsed and was full of rubble. The Dwarves were adamant that they wouldn’t be letting the party take their full share until this was dug out and explored; boy, did they drive a hard bargain, Valthana didn’t push the subject, again coming down to Yasmin’s inexperience.
After resting for the night, the excavation of the tunnel began, but with the help of the experienced Dwarves, it didn’t take too long to clear. When they could finally push their way through, they found themselves in a small room, an alcove in one wall containing the rubble of a shattered statue, and an alcove in the opposite wall containing a statue holding a glowing green gem.
This room is a killer, one that wouldn’t seem out of place in an old Gary Gygax adventure. If the gem is taken it turns to dust, and then the statue explodes causing 4d10 damage to anyone within 10 feet, half damage on a successful saving throw. This could easily kill the entire party, just like that!
Earlier, the party had found a tiny jewelled dagger on a silver chain, which was around the neck of a Dwarven Skeleton. This, as Dazlyn and Norbus pointed out, was the holy symbol of Abbathor, and they translated the inscription, which read, ‘Greed is Good.’ Maybe this could have been taken as a warning, the bit about greed, that is?
Anyway, something for a new DM to be on the guard for: New players aren’t going to approach things in the same way as experienced players will, even though they may both be playing level 1 characters, and so, I fully expected what was going to happen next – Valthana walked across and took the gem from the statue!
Yasmin had no idea that that things could be trapped, again, one has to remember this is her first time playing a game like this, and it takes some time to get on the devious wavelength of a Fantasy world like this!
So, I had already decided that the gem would turn to dust, and that the statue would explode, but the damage caused, whether they successfully saved or not (nobody did!) would reduce them to all but 1 hp. I put a lot of emphasis on the explosion, on the amount of damage it did to them as it ripped through their bodies, and just how lucky they were to survive – I wanted to send a message that, yes, it was possible for your character to die, and you’d just come extremely close to doing just that!
Later I quizzed her about what she could have done differently, and gently pointed her towards her spells. She got it, Mage Hand! She could have stood well back and let her magic do her work for her; let’s hope she remembers these lessons.
For my part, I should have had a few skeletons scattered around the other, already destroyed statue, maybe that would have made her more cautious.
So, they spent another night, courtesy of the Dwarves, in the ruins, licking their wounds and this time dividing the treasure. They were set on leaving in the morning, and the Dwarves were happy that the ruins had been made safe. Norbus handed over the Sending Stones, and Dazlyn wrote a note to hand over to the Townmaster, stating they had received the information about the Dragon.
Valthana, Quinn and Galandro said their goodbyes to the Dwarves, who were eager to get back to their work, and left through the large gateway they had entered a few days earlier, and so ends Valthana’s first adventure in the Forgotten Realms…
… Well, not quite!
As they walked away from the excavation site, relaxed and chatting about their adventure, an equally unsuspecting, but not so relaxed Orc rounds the corner.
The Orc, seeing he is outnumbered, dives for the cover of the rocks, but only after launching one of its many Javelins.
Quinn failed to duck and the Javelin nearly lifted him of his feet, causing a maximum 9 damage! The party also took cover in the rocks and a ranged battle followed, but the Orc had numbers against him and was eventually taken down.
With this reminder that you should never let your guard down, the party returned to Phandalin without further trouble.
The last encounter, by the book, should have included a total of three Orcs, which I felt was too overpowered for this party – I mean, this single Orc reduced Quinn to 4hp with its first attack!
If made it just one Orc to justify it standing off and keeping at range, had I included another then they would have charged into close quarters, as Orcs do. In the end it became a good reminder that the party should always expect trouble when not in the safety of a settlement, and even then one should be wary.
By the end of the quest Yasmin had learnt a lot about the game – she knew about Ochre Jellies, and how to handle them, she had learnt to think about her environment and where there may possibly be secret doors, and, most importantly, she had learnt to look before she leaps, because you never know when something might be trapped!
I had also learnt a few lessons. Playing with just one player reduces the DM’s thinking time drastically – I need to be better organised next time out. I also need to become more familiar with the basic rules. I’d read through them several times before we started out, but I still had to keep referring to the book for confirmation.
I kept thinking I was missing something, and I think this was down to the fact that the majority of the games I’ve run previously have been using the Palladium Fantasy RPG system, which is much more complex than 5th Edition D&D. This current version is actually quite slick; there is very little to combat in terms of dice rolling, whereas I’m more used to rolling to hit, then the chance to parry or dodge, and so on – now it all seems a little too simple!
As the game progressed, though, it became clear that this simplicity does work for this game. It keeps things flowing and fast paced, even for beginners, whereas my previous encounter with 2nd Edition was slow and unwieldily until you got used to it, the same, and maybe more so, goes for Palladium.
I guess I’m also a little rusty when it comes to running a game, but I’ve had a good think about how best to proceed, and next time out I’m going to reign in the role-playing on my part, so I can concentrate on getting the core running smoothly, of course, I’ll allow Yasmin to be as creative as she likes, though that may cause Valthana some strife!
I’m also going to relieve her of a sidekick, and play it differently. I used them more as NPC’s, when I think they would be better employed literally as a gopher by the character. In other words the player just states that the sidekick is going to do this, and off they go, rather than role-play them. This will hopefully put more emphasis onto her character, and help her focus on what Valthana can actually do.
Anyway, we’ll see what occurs next time, as they return to Phandalin and claim their reward.