“Lavinia, I’ve come home.” With those final words from my Sea Witch, Maelzerfrun “Maelstrom” Vanderboren, the four-year epic campaign of the Dungeon and Dragon adventure, The Savage Tide (inspired by the original Isle of Dread game), came to a close just before dawn on May 19th. This was the longest D&D game I’ve ever been involved in and also the best, and that’s not merely because it was also the only complete one. Kym did a great job handling an amazing workload to take Vanessa, Sonam, Cory, and I through a multi-setting journey from the alleys of cities, across the waves of storm tossed seas, the jungles of lost island civilizations, and dark pits of the Abyss, and I honestly learned a lot about being a player in and running games from him.
Not that there weren’t frustrations and problems: the stress of keeping everything on track sometimes caused Kim to lash out, players constantly argued with each other, and there were times that events moved too fast, causing us (or maybe just me) to feel that there was so much that we wanted to do but missed out on. Ironically (remember, this is a fantasy game), this caused the adventure to be more realistic—how often do people caught up in world shattering events get to fully explore the various options of life?
The game itself was very impressive. It was my first real encounter with D&D since the introduction of second edition, which I never played (and this one is 3.5 and 4 is in the process of being updated), so there was quite the learning curve. Stemming from an old module that was honestly little more that a cute romp on an island like King Kong’s, the adventure takes beginning characters to epic level, and the challenges and importance of them scales well. When I think of my first level character, an isolated, disagreeable, wannabe wizard, angered over getting sucked into a family dynamic, sitting in a jail cell because of the plotting of an uppity Thief’s guild, and how he developed into an antisocial, formidable spell caster who simply wanted to explore the secrets of the mysterious realm across an ocean with a small group of companions, to eventually maturing into the self-sacrificing, diplomatic strategist with earth shattering powers working tirelessly with a host of others to undermine the machinations of those that would challenge the gods themselves, in order to save the blissfully ignorant lives of hapless millions, I can’t help but smile. And I think my fellow players feel the same about their parallel journeys.
So I tip my hat to all those involved: players, creators, and storyteller, for the wonderful time and memories. Not for the faint of heart or limited in time, but The Savage Tide was an incredibly well designed and fascinating campaign filled with clever twists, terrors, and excitement and if you have a group of intelligent, creative friends interested in a tough but invigorating D&D game, I can’t encourage you enough to give this one a try. You won’t regret it…if you have what it takes to be a hero.
Notes for actual D&D players:
In writing this post I found a cool site called Obsidian Portal that allows gamers to track and record their adventure, and it has a Savage Tide one. It is interesting to see so many familiar recollections, but so differently played out along with so many unfamiliar scenes (I’ll have to ask Kym about that, if we missed them or he (or other game masters) modified the adventure, etc). It is also hilarious when the site describes a particular event and I think, “we did the same exact thing!!” or “good lord, why did you/didn’t we do that?!”
As a player I feel I learned some interesting tricks for the game: for example, I spent most of the game as the prestige class of Sea Witch, a design better and obviously made for specialized adversaries for adventurers, but turned it into an incredibly successful template for a wizard specializing in summoning (and spending a great deal of time on or near the ocean). I also disabused myself of the notion that wizards have the short end of the stick. What I mean is that they tend to be very much support: they can’t dish out or take the damage that others can and if they don’t have the right spells on hand (or simply run out) they instantly become useless. You spend a lot of time carefully going over spell lists and potential encounters only to actually play the least in every game session. There were more than a few encounters where I did next to nothing due to not having the proper spell, or worrying about not having it later. For example, I was almost completely uninvolved in the final, climatic encounter of the campaign, something more than a little disappointing, as my character did not have the armor class or hit points to survive an attack from the enemy and had to buff himself up before getting into the fray that everyone else was already in. My only attack went like this: cast one of very few remaining spells that I so carefully chose that only might potentially be effective, role to hit with spell, succeeding in that then role to overcome spell resistance, succeeding with that then role to see if target saves against spell, and only then role to see if the effect actually is enough to influence encounter (I failed on step three).
That being so, wizards are often great for screwing over adversaries. Nothing pisses off the villains like when the wizard has just the right spell to completely disrupt the planed ambush, etc. However, this has the same effect on storytellers—as I will explain. By summoning monsters, spells I once dismissed as pointless since they always were too weak to do much, I quickly learned what many who followed that path do (especially those that collect feats associated with the spell type), that a wizard can suddenly become an entire adventuring party just on his own! Expanded summon monster and planar ally lists allow a wise player to have a trick for every occasion without every really risking himself. Oh? your planar ally demands tribute and leaches experience points from the character? You make it up in spades! The reason why I like to play spell casters (despite just complaining about them) is that they are more than a one trick pony such as fighters and rogues and allows me to be creative—which is why I play these games to begin with, even if I feel they often get cheated out of skill points (ALWAYS take Jack of All Trades and Able Learner!) and face time within the adventure (“cast your spells and get out of the way so us actual heroes can do the real fighting”). Summoners have the amazing ability to fill in any party gap. Aaaand this is why other players and storytellers hate them. All of a sudden the other players are out of the limelight and are often unneeded and the dungeon master has to both contend with the addition of (however temporary) new “characters” that are going to give him much more work and totally wreak his plans. While I understand these complaints, I completely disagree with them. 1] Deal with it Mr. Knight who gets to spend most of the time front and center in every situation and 2] deal with it Dungeon Master as the whole point is for the players to overcome obstacles and 3] the wizard player is never bored again because he suddenly has a new character to play every encounter/adventure. The simple way to solve this “problem” is to have ready various character sheets for, at least, the most reused summoned/called creatures, and distribute them to the various players to share in running. Now pressure is completely off the storyteller and all players can exercise their imagination with new types of characters, and get to stay fully active in every encounter. Problems solved and the game suddenly has become even more exciting, different, and creative.
Anyway, I hope this has been informative and do advise you to check out The Savage Tide and consider my solution to the (really fun!) summoner character class problem because without it you will have troubles. Thanks again to my gaming group for a truly epic time!
Various Savage Tide handouts