Kicking off a new campaign is always fun. New settings, new characters, new adventures. Wander-Lost is no exception. As the Matrix of GMship gets passed around, it’s fascinating what each GM focuses on during campaign introduction, character creation and the first few sessions. Nicole, our GM, started us with a forum thread.

Since the inception of the most recent incarnation of our role-playing group1, we’ve been fans of downtime threads. In the bright spotlight and hustle of a session, it can be easy to lose a grip on the anchors of one’s character. These threads allow us to refocus and explore characteristics that don’t always surface. A player can take time to formulate an appropriate in-character response.

The thread begins under the great oak at the heart of the town, the various volunteers meander in and introduce themselves to the other characters and players. While many discussions were had about mechanics of the characters prior to play, there was very little discussion about the personalities. So this thread is our first impression of the characters. For Chase, I decided to focus on three things, her generally optimistic outlook and her quirk of fiddling with coins, and her mastiff companions, Artemis and Bastion.2

The characters spend time arriving, making introductions and establishing relationship ties. The conversation focuses on their reason for assembling, the magenta storm, and the selection of their first destination. Prior to the thread, Chase has established friendships with Amanodel and Joanna, and met Neill and Dóin. That leaves Cathaoir and Allister as the unfamiliar companions which poses some difficulty as Cathaoir is presented as a grim, survivalist and Allister an eccentric fatalist. Both these personalities will naturally lead to some conflict, which is good for development but I kind of wish Chase had some stronger ties built in to help overcome the inevitable arguments. The characters settle on seeking the knowledge of The Silver Order in Colthyr which will take them north via Dalrun.

Before delving into the session itself, I’ll note that I very much missed having a full character creation session. While we offered up early concepts at the close of Mars 2076, and had some small discussions in Slack, some things are just easier to establish in real-time. We wrote backgrounds and crossover stories but we mostly built our characters in a vacuum. Nobody’s quite sure of what supplies and tools the other characters are bringing with them. Considering the nature of the campaign, a survival and exploration setup, it’s difficult that we didn’t prepare our equipment as a group. That’s partially on the players, we probably should have communicated more, but even when the topic was touched on in Slack and in the thread, few responded with any concrete details. On to the session!

As a campaign of exploration, it’s very important to understand the basic unit of time and what actions can be performed in that unit. Nicole explained that there are several paces: explore, cautious, normal, hustle, sprint. Additionally, we can opt not to move and instead forage, trap, hunt, fish or gather herbs. I believe these cover all the bases, at this point, I can’t think of anything else we’d need to do in the wilderness but that’s the joy of playing, sometimes players come up with something unexpected.

Nicole sets the scene, the group is assembled in the center of town, ready to set out on their mission. It takes a little bit to decide on a course of action but one of the players reminds us that in the thread we decided to set course for Colthyr and Dalrun. One thing I would find helpful is a map. Even if it’s not completely uncovered or filled in, our characters would likely have an idea of the general layout of geography. Chase was born, raised and has spent a good portion of her adult life in Colthyr. But I as a player have no idea where it is in relation to Oakheart and our current location. A visual aid would allow the GM and the players to have a shared reference precluding the need for the players to constantly pester the GM for a reminder of where we are and where we’re headed.

We set forth and spend four hours3 climbing out of the valley and onto the trade route to Dalrun. We come upon the cairns that mark the former edge of the ward that protects Oakheart. Immediately we notice that the road is overgrown and Allister and Amanodel decide to investigate. And here the mechanics of the four hour blocks get muddied. Are we exploring? Are we moving? I think it’s clear the group is willing to spend a few minutes to check out the oddness but the goal is still to reach Colthyr to gather more information. But Allistar and Amanodel wander off without the full group and come upon a giant wasp’s nest. Allister returns the to bulk of the group, but then Amanodel does some more wandering.

Now I definitely believe both these players are playing to their character’s traits, but I found it frustrating. I think I would have been on board if we as a group decided to inspect the site further but it just kind of happened. Amanodel goes nosing around a giant wasp’s nest alone and somehow manages to avoid an encounter. As a GM, I would have, and in the past I have, forced the encounter. It would quickly set the tone that the wilderness is dangerous and all hopes of survival and discovery lie in the groups ability to work together.

Eventually, we regroup and continue on the trade route. At a distance, we sight our first wagon since leaving Oakheart. We spend time investigating the cart, finding metal shrapnel and dried blood leading away from the wagon. We engage in a bit of debate about investigating further, setting up camp or pressing on. Eventually, most of the party agrees to track the ambushers. In a great exchange, Amanodel casts Speak with Animals and she questions a few birds. We deduce we’re dealing with a group of kobolds and locate their lair. We setup our own ambush and lure them out with some Minor Illusion noises.

Nicole has put together an outstanding map for this encounter. Nothing unusual, just a solid map with enough space for movement but no more. The only difficulty is that the lighting setup doesn’t work as intended, so we get a bit of a pass on our lack of darkvision for some of the characters. This encounter was solidly tuned, several standard kobolds with a pair of advanced kobolds. It takes two rounds for us to gain the upperhand. Amanodel’s Moonbeam at the entrance of the den thins the herd before it can even reach the main group. The focus fire of Chase, Dóin, Joanna, Cathaoir and Neill bring the encounter to a close rather quickly. But not before Nicole reminds us that this isn’t a cakewalk. A kobold trapmaster scurries out of the den and launches a grenade at our spellcasters, Allister and Amanodel. Allister fails his Dexterity saving throw and is knocked unconscious at 0 hp. Ama on the other end, not only succeeds on the Dex throw, but manages to hold onto her Moonbeam also. Unfortunately, the trapmaster escaped back into the den. To wrap up the encounter, Neill, an Open Palm Monk, knocks the kobold chief prone. Chase snaps her whip with a sneak attack and steps back. Realizing I’m technically dual wielding the whip and the hand crossbow, I shoot the chief in the face to close the encounter.

Chase was solid in this combat. I made two errors, one for my benefit and one for the GM’s. First, I moved a square too far in one round, allowing me to close the gap a round too quickly. Second, I closed the gap too much. Chase can hit enemies ten feet away because of her whip. I should have had her step back after hitting the chief, so he would provoke opportunity attacks from Cathaoir and Neill if he decided to pursue Chase. With Stefan and Casavel, I really don’t worry about positioning too much. They’re both carrying high armor classes and often want to be the target of the enemy attacks. Chase’s AC is considerably lower, though still on the high end of the party, which means I can take some attacks but I shouldn’t make it so easy on the GM. Also, Chase taking the majority of the attacks from the chief was beneficial for the whole party. Chase probably has the most hit points, but the chief was dishing out poison damage to which Chase has resistance reducing the damage by half (or three quarters if there’s a successful saving throw).

And that’s where we concluded. Overall, this was a good introductory session. We have some group dynamics to smooth out but that is something that can’t really be solved in the first session. The new thread is occurring right after the combat ends, so we’ll get to see how the characters react to their success. I’m looking forward to the next session already.


  1. My testing post is dated 16 October 2014, so now two years! 
  2. My post was up before I had decided to drop the mastiffs from the campaign. 
  3. She termed these four hour blocks watches. I think she grabbed this term from somewhere else but it’s kind of confusing. I’d probably use the term block, but that doesn’t feel like a very good in-game term. 

In the previous post, I introduced the new campaign, Wander-Lost, being run for my regular RPG group. We play bi-weekly and fill the intermediate time with play-by-post and Slack chats.1 This will be only my second campaign as a player in this group and I’m hoping to play a lot better than I did in Mars 2076. So, today, I’ll introduce my new character, Chase Starryeyes.

For me, making a character is a careful balance between mechanics and role-playing. To enjoy a character, I need to be active and engaged in the story and the system. Mechanically, I tend to play either a gish, a rogue, or a mage.2 I really like versatility in mechanics, being able to contribute in multiple phases of the game. As the other players announced their intentions, I started off thinking about playing an Eldritch Knight, filling the melee tank role.

But then inspiration struck. A few years ago while playtesting D&D Next, one of the NPCs I introduced was a Halfling professor named Curiosity Bounceback who kept getting her assistants killed during her expeditions. I seized on the idea of a lucky and prepared Halfling who would always wonder why her traveling companions couldn’t keep up. With the core of a concept and some mechanics I wanted to target, a Battle Master/Swashbuckler build started to form. And then another bolt of inspiration, she would ride a mastiff into battle, use a whip to trip opponents and then fire her hand crossbow into their prone faces.3

With this in mind, the character’s history started to come into focus. She was a young professor at the nearby arcane college. But I needed to pull her into Oakheart and give her a few strong ties to the town. First up, her immediate family was there and they were dog breeders! This would give a good story reason for her mastiff companions, and why there would be a nearly unlimited stock available in case any of them died in the wilderness. Family is a great anchor but she was a successful professor in another city. What made her move to Oakheart?

A discovery in her field! Well, in her field of study but in her family’s fields. They found some sort of artifact and she relocated to study it and search for more. As an explorer, archaeology and history seem appropriate, but I wanted her to be a bit more focused. There’s the blight and the elves! In the Player’s Handbook there’s a small blurb on Halflings and how they view elves.

They’re so beautiful! Their faces, their music, their grace and all. It’s like they stepped out of a wonderful dream. But there’s no telling what’s going on behind their smiling faces— surely more than they ever let on.

So, elves and the blight. Perhaps the Elves know something about the cause? And then the idea of an academic rival formed. Chase would love the Elves, and so her rival would espouse that the Elves not only knew what caused the blight, but that the Elves were the perpetrators. So what did her family find in their fields, a mostly unintelligible text, likely an old journal in Elven. With her background settled, it was time to return to the mechanics of the character.

And this is where the frustration began. A Halfling riding a mastiff into battle is a rather evocative image. But Fifth Edition just doesn’t really support mounted combat. There is a single page of rules and a single feat. Only one class, the Ranger, has actual support for an animal companion. The Paladin has a spell, Find Steed, but the resulting mount isn’t particularly enhanced for combat, though it is at least re-summonable. Both of those options are viable, if not solid. But I’m already playing a Paladin regularly, and two of the other players are playing Rangers covering both types, Beast Master and Hunter.4

Nicole, our lovely DM, and I went back and forth for two weeks trying to find an acceptable compromise. In the end, we failed and I conceded the mastiffs.5 When I envision this character, she is an archaeologist, explorer and professor. The mastiffs were an interesting mechanic and provided additional characterization, but they did not make or break the character. With the mastiffs gone, I ended up moving back to an Eldritch Knight and Swashbuckler build. Like always, I build the class mix out to level 20 despite the very high probability that the campaign or the character won’t make it that high. She’s slated to be an Eldritch Knight 11/Swashbuckler 7, which leaves a couple levels to flex. Going deeper into EK I can get 3rd level spells. Deeper into Swashbuckler nabs a taunt like feature. Or with 13+ in Dex, Con, and Cha, I could flex out to a bunch of different classes. There’s that flexibility and versatility again.

Chase is not the only character going out into the wilderness, the rest of her companions are:

  • Allister (Wild Magic Sorcerer)
  • Amanodel (Circle of the Moon Druid)
  • Cathaoir (Ranger/Rogue)
  • Chastity “Chase” Starryeyes (Fighter/Rogue)
  • Dóin (Beast Conclave UA Ranger)
  • Joanna Wylde (Fey Pact Warlock/Bard)
  • Neill Allen (Open Hand Monk)

Chase is close with Amanodel and Joanna. She’s also met Dóin and Neill. Here’s her full background. I’m excited to see how the characters play together.


  1. Our play-by-post threads are mostly conversational. I think we’ve only had a single thread that involved system mechanics. 
  2. Other than Chase, I’m playing Stefan (Rogue/Paladin) and Casavel (Wizard Bladesinger). 
  3. A Halfling on dog-back is very much inspired by the Eberron Halflings that ride dinosaurs across the Talenta Plains. 
  4. And then Wizards released an updated playtest Ranger which looks much better on the surface. 
  5. One day I’ll play a Halfling on the back of a mastiff. Future DMs beware. 

As we enter the autumn season, my main RPG group has wrapped up another campaign. This summer, our brave astronauts landed on Mars. They battled the elements, advanced technology, antagonistic team members and the unknown to prepare Mars for an inbound ship of colonists. Overall it was a fun campaign that ended with a fantastic session. The story arc was completed with a satisfying ending but also with some lingering questions. I expect we’ll revisit that setting in the future.

For now though, the GM seat has been vacated for one of my long time friends, Nicole. She’s switching us back to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons in an exploration and survival campaign titled, Wander-Lost. Just about two years ago, Nicole was basically new to role-playing.1 Now she’s got about a year of running Adventurers League games at her local game store and online with Out of the Abyss. She’s a high effort DM who pours a lot of time into prep and it shows during play.

In the world of Wander-Lost, a blight spread throughout the world an untold number of years ago. As the blight was spreading, a pious man pleaded with his goddess to intervene and protect his valley. She heard his prayer and offered a powerful ritual to be performed in conjunction with the local druidic circle and the mages of the nearby arcane college. A great oak tree sprouted up and with it a magical barrier that held the blight at bay. Centuries passed and the town of Oakheart grew in this protected valley.

Days prior to the start of the campaign, a magenta storm struck the town on the Summer Solstice and brought the protective barrier down. The druidic council has sent their scouts out but none have returned. Now, the council has called for volunteers to venture forth and find out what happened, why and how does Oakheart recover?

Nicole has presented Wander-Lost as a survival and exploration campaign, a direct contrast to our last two campaigns, run in Fate Core, which were very tight story arcs. She provided a small players guide with information on world history, organizations, religion, rules for character creation and variants rules that are being used to support the exploration and survival aspects. It’s been fun to help her set up the campaign with ideas and comments. I’m very excited to play.

With that said, these past few weeks we’ve been frustrating each other. I admit most of this is my doing. Between my optimization, rules knowledge, stubbornness and GM experience, I can be a very difficult player. Knowing we’re in for a long haul survival setup, I tried to make a character who was well-equipped and well-prepared for many a situations. This included flirtations with pack animals and mounted combat.2 Despite our best efforts to find a compromise where her vision for the campaign was intact and my character concept was unaltered, it just ended up being more frustrating and stressful than necessary. In the end, I decided that the animal companions were not as integral to my character concept and we agreed to drop them for now.3

Despite the frustration during character creation, I’m very excited for this campaign. I haven’t played in a wilderness survival campaign so this will be all new. It is my intent to provide session and thread recaps on a regular basis along with some occasional in-character fiction. In my next post, I’ll introduce my character, Chase Starryeyes, an archaeologist and professor of history of some renown.


  1. Way back in 2007, I ran a couple sessions of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. Her first character was a fire sorceress named Kailinae. 
  2. Mounted combat is grossly under-supported in D&D 5e and this caused the greatest source of frustration. 
  3. Sorry again, Nic!