The Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game has been a part of my life since I was a wee lad. My first DM was my father, who was patient enough to walk his eight-year-old and five-year-old sons through the a few introductory sessions. After that I was hooked, but I realized I wanted to be the one “behind the curtain,” controlling the game. And so my odyssey began.
Herein I’ll detail some of the D&D campaigns that I’ve run over the years, starting at the very beginning.
I was eight when I ran my first adventure. My players were my younger brother and a friend from school. I took them through B1: In Search of the Unknown, the module included with the basic D&D box set.
Wow, what a rush. I was hooked from the start, controlling this awesome new game that stretched our imaginations. Even though it’s been more than thirty years, I still remember the cool tricks and traps. Especially the chamber of pools, the teleportation rooms, and the young red dragon I placed in one of the dungeon storerooms just for fun.
After that, they explored B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. I believe I did a TPK (Total Party Kill) in the first session when the players allowed a chaotic cultist to accompany them into the caves. It was very sad (for them… I secretly chortled).
For a couple years, I read more about D&D than I actually played. I loved (and still love) poring over modules and sourcebooks. I think I’ve read the original Deities and Demigods cyclopedia at least a dozen times, and spent hours studying the full-color map of the Flanaess by Darlene from The World of Greyhawk.
Then I found a regular group at my junior high and started playing Advanced D&D with them. I recall running them through The Temple of Elemental Evil, which still remains one of my favorite super-modules. In particular, I remember that the orb of golden death was given to the lawful good cleric for safekeeping, and he slowly turned evil as the campaign went on.
TEEE was probably the first time I changed published material to reflect changes in the adventure over time. Every time the characters left the temple to recover from injuries, sell loot, or whatever, they returned to find the denizens better prepared the repel them. This made for some excellent encounters as the players brainstormed better tactics rather than just hacking-and-slashing their way through the module.
After TEEE, the group tackled Scourge of the Slave Lords series. Although I think these modules were written for competitions, I found them full of great stuff, especially the boss encounters. The final battle in the slave lords’ aerie in A3 was crazy. I played the enemy smart, but my players still achieved victory.
By this time, the characters were filthy rich, so they constructed a stronghold on the Wild Coast. For a while they enjoyed raising armies, attracting tenants, and battling their neighbors.
That’s when the campaign faded. We ran some adventures now and then, but nothing consistent.
When I went away to college, I thought my D&D days were behind me. So I was surprised to find many new friends who enjoyed pen & paper gaming, and I soon had a regular group (which included my future wife) playing in the dormitory common room.
College is where I really blossomed as a DM. We were playing second edition and loving it. At one point, I had eight players, which got a little unwieldy at times. But usually we ran with five or six.
I started them off at first level with a homemade adventure where they were hired to clear a system of mines and natural caverns (an homage to the mines of Moria) to create a trade route between two kingdoms separated by high mountains.
After defeating the ogre “king under the mountain” and emerging as heroes, the group next tackled The Temple of Elemental Evil because I couldn’t resist the chance to run it again with new characters. They blasted through it, eventually defeating the demon queen Zuggtmoy and foiling Iuz’s plans. This time around, I toned down the treasure handed out, so the characters were only “slightly wealthy” by the end.
It was about this time that I transported the campaign from the World of Greyhawk to the Forgotten Realms. I don’t remember exactly why, except that FR was becoming popular and several of my players wanted to experience it, but they didn’t want to re-roll new characters. So we just went with it. Poof. World-hopped.
I started them on The Desert of Desolation super-module. I have so many good memories of this series. The desert terrain. The buried tombs. The inclusion of Egyptian mythology. The only thing it was missing, imo, was a satisfactory conclusion.
After that, I ran the D-series (Drow) modules. These were interesting because I’d never run a campaign in the Underdark before. I loved the atmosphere and the journey of these modules. But, again, the final conclusion didn’t quite “wow” me. After the excellent build-up, I expected a better finale.
My group, still intact for going-on four years at this point, was enjoying themselves. They battled higher-difficulty foes such as demons and dragons in various homemade adventures that I wrote, incorporating famous locations in the Realms, such as Myth Drannor and Hellgate Keep. A couple characters got married, the rogue took over the local thieves’ guild, the cleric founded a new temple in Waterdeep, and so on.
By the time the campaign ended, the characters had progressed from first level all the way to the upper teens. Honestly, I didn’t want it to end, but my parents insisted that I graduate. *grumble*
Here ends the first part of my tale. Please join me week month for the second half. And tell us all about your favorite D&D moments in the comments.
Jon Sprunk is the author of the fantasy epic Blood and Iron as well as the Shadow Saga trilogy (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master). For more on his life and writing, check out www.jonsprunk.com and his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/JonSprunkAuthor.