The Thaw: Session 1

Ok, on one hand it is great that 5e supports 10 players, but on the other it is not an experience I wish to repeat too often. I am wiped (and I realized in retrospect that I’ve had much less coffee than usual today). But I should at least start the recap while it’s fairly fresh in mind.

We had 3 players who missed the previous chargen, so that was the first thing we knocked out.


HazlaNG Byzant Soldier, Level 2 Fighters

Past: The Survivor, Inverted (Sole survivor of a brutal battle between the empire and a melted shire. To the empire he’s a hero, to the halflings and others, he’s the butcher).

Present: The Owl, inverted (He was given a claim near placeholder as retirement, but it’s still frozen over. The Empire made it clear to him they’d like an agent, but he told them to piss off. Now he lives with his dogs and drinks his pension)

Future: The Carnival (Will he be drawn back into the politics of the empire, or will he be their bane in Placeholder?”

  • Butcher of Kellam Pass
  • This is my damn claim
  • “Retired” “Hero”
  • Agent or Enemy of the Empire


ClaudiusNG Changeling Charlatan, Level 2 Diviner

We decided that changelings operated secretly among the other races, especially humanity, but their numbers were few.

Past: The Carnival (The politics of the Changelings is brutal and messy, and while Claudius wants to trust, he cannot. He has been blackmailed by a contact in Placeholder into altering a map)

Present: The Bear, Inverted (There is a key that he’s looking for, to restore the Changelings, for they once were linked in such a way that they could trust each other. There is a key to finding one of the ancient changelings, who may still yet live beneath the ice)

Future: The Locksmith (Will he empower his people, or reveal them?)

  • Web of Lies
  • Searching for the Key
  • Secret Identity
  • Fate of the Changelings


TuesdayNeutral Warforged Reborn, Level 2 Monk

Warforged are sometimes found in the Ice, and Tuesday was one such example.

The Past: Foreign Trader (She had been found further north and sold as a curiosity, until she found her way to a tavern in Placeholder)

The Present: Avalanche (Something woke her, and it was violent. She did substantial damage before she came to her senses, remembering nothing of her own past. She’s been effectively indentured by the town to pay off the cost of the damage done. This is also where here name came from – she awoke on a Tuesday, and that is a shorthand explanation of events.

The Future: The Sickness (How long can she remain functional? – I’m not super happy with this one)

  • It must be Tuesday
  • What Was I?
  • What does this Button Do?
  • What Keeps Me Ticking?

Then a quick round of connections with plot twist cards.

Hazram & Israfil (The Snitch): Hazram’s identity is something of a secret, but Isafil learned it over his cups. When a traveller threatened to reveal Hazram, Israfil scared him out of town.

Hazram & Arasthel (Sickness): When sickness struck the sled dogs, Arasthel did what she could, but was out of her depth, so it was a great surprise that the crazy drunk guy outside of town proved to be an able doctor to the beasts.

Tuesday & Sul Taeres (Schaddenfreude): It turns out that Seul Taeres was the one who jumostarted Tuesday. He doesn’t feel responsible per se, but he’s curious.

Tuesday & Naoto (Nightmare): Tuesday is the answer to Naoto’s visions. An army of Warforged would be enough to protect the Sunset Shire, certainly!

Claudius & Tuaq (Magic moment): Put a pin in this for the future – Tuaq’s pact blade is absolutely tied to Claudius’s key.

Claudius & Kit (Love Triangle): Kit has a suitor from the empire who still persists at times, much to her annoyance. What she doesn’t know is that the suitor is a changeling, who has been pressing Claudius for information.

Claudius & Glemmer (Embarrassment): Both came to a party disguised as the same person, complicated further by the original arriving. However, they managed to pull it off with some ad hoc teamwork.


And with that we launched into play. With 10 players, it was pretty much necessary to launch into thing in media res. Party was earning three weeks pay for two days work, going to a known ruin and just making sure it was still clear, since the Empire wanted to build a for there. Now, we had 10 level 2 PCs, so I was figuring the fight centerpieces would be CR4ish, but I had to be careful with that – a lot of CR4 stuff could one shot these PCs. So as a warmup, I opened with a peryton attack in a storm on the mountainside. 2 CR2 Peryton’s were not a huge threat, but they were airborne in a storm, and their ability to dive bomb and get away made them disproportionately dangerous.

Fight went ok. Lots of use of advantage and disadvantage, and I think it let everyone shake out their characters a little bit. I let them take a long rest before the centerpiece fight – I had 4 Azer (CR2) who had a Helmed Horror (CR4) in a box. I’d been planning for the Horror to be a follow up fight, but player actions lead to them hitting the panic butting early, and the Horror joining the fight in round 3. The Azers themselves were tough but manageable, and after some initial dice luck (two crits in close succession) things turned around slowly. The Horror was another story entirely – since I described it activating, I had not considered that one of the players might grab his sword before he fully awoke, but that is exactly what Tuesday did (taking advantage of the Diviner’s 20 to do so) and so the Horror was much less dangerous than it should have been, since it kept failing to get the sword back, something the party helped with via illusions, hexes and general misdirection. By the time the thing was ready to just tart punching stuff, they’d finished it off.

Turns out there was a secret chamber the Azer had been sent to open up, and the Horror was going to be the muscle in dealing with it. So, naturally, the party cracked it open and went toe to toe with a Zombie beholder. It was CR5 and had the potential for some big hits (and, in fact, dropped Sul Taeres and reduced Israfil to 1HP) but the party managed to eventually take it down (that zombie resilience ability is kind of nasty).

We wrapped up, got a little bit of treasure and I let everyone advance to level 3. I don’t intend to be that generous with advancement in general, but level 3 is when a lot of classes cement themselves, so I felt good getting to that point.

All in all it was fun but fatiguing, and I have a few random thoughts:

  • Having printed out the characters as physical cards was a huge boon, since i just used the stack for initiative (inserting blank index cards into the stack for monsters)
  • I had not missed the d20’s swinginess. Kit has the single highest attack bonus in the group with a +7, and she could not hit the broad side of a barn
  • Diviners seem as fun as I had imagined
  • I need to retune the aspects. Some of them are good, but many are flat, and most of them lack an immediate hook (most have good story hooks).
  • I think my group is playing D&D more than I’m running it, which sounds weird. On some level, I’m running a game that kind of just uses the cards as character sheets, that also happens to have some D&D.
  • Warlocks have many moving parts, but they come together interestingly.
  • Making the most straight up human fighter still makes for a fun character.
  • 10 characters is what I would call technically doable, not optimal.

8 thoughts on “The Thaw: Session 1

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      I’ll have to think about it – a lot of it is by gut, but there may be some extractive methodology.

  1. Kevin Matheny

    I’m really enjoying this writeup. I like the method you’re using for character generation, which creates a set of characters that feels like a set rather than some people who are thrown together. I’m keeping it in mind for my next campaign, however far away that is.

    Regarding games with many players, I’m running a 5e game as well, with 9 players (on average, we’ve gone with as few as 7 and had as many as 10). It runs fairly well with that many, which is surprising to me given how slow 4e was with 7 or 8 players. I have found that I need to have some kind of initiative tracker visible to the group to keep people’s heads in the game – even with fast play, when there are going to be 10 actions between your turns, it’s hard for most people to stay engaged. Knowing when they are coming up helps players focus and make plans before their turn, so we don’t spend time catching up on what happened.

    I’ve also found that I’m mixing CR levels of monsters, aiming for a mix that’s above the party for big challenges along with support monsters of lower CR. Controlling for the ability of the big guys to take out a character in one swing takes some doing, but if GMing was easy, everybody would be doing it.

  2. Avi

    Loving your campaign so far Rob, the setting and characters are great. Are there any mechanics to your aspects or are they only a guide?

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      I’m using them instead of the default background elements to determine when a character gets inspiration.

  3. Chris Klug

    Rob, I’m not asking for how you do your creative interpretations… I’m just curious about your steps, as in ‘first I take a standar set of Tarot cards, and I have the players draw three cards…”

    It seems like you weave in some randomness with some Fate techniques, and then somehow you put it all down on index cards… Seems fascinating.

    And then the players get input but not every question is answered…

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Ah! I stole a technique from Everway – first card is past, second is present and those are straightforward enough. Third card is played sideways, and the idea is that it’s the future and the implicit question is whether it will be upright or inverted. Those two options create an implicit question which we’ll be answering through play.

      1. Chris Klug

        This is great, and I sorta stole this for a ‘chapter end’ in my 13th Age campaign. The group had just had a tough fight deep in the bowels of the world navel, and there was one more step to go before they leveled and move onto the next chapter. To cut to the chase, a ‘godling’ visited them on their boat and showed each character images of three people. Each image represented a different place in the timeline, but the person shown may not have been in that time, but perhaps did something that affected that time (past, present or future). Before the images were shown, I asked each player to name a quality they desired the images to be filtered by. I used this to place the three images in the ‘right’ slots. They chose qualities like ‘Power’ or ‘Revenge’ or ‘Knowledge’ or ‘Truth’ or ‘Reconciliation.’ I showed them the three images, in each case NPCs the characters knew. The PC picked one, and got to ask the NPC one question, related to the ‘quality’ they had chosen. It might seem obtuse in this description, but in play it made sense. These images were part oracle, part confessor, part library, depending on the qualities and questions chosen. The answers will help me forge the adventure going forward, as each PC got tangible leads or answers to questions. Perhaps the most moving moment was when one PC, whose One Unique Thing was “I stored the knowledge of my dead brother in my soul when he passed.” And the dead brother showed up, and they had a literally tearful reunion.

        So thanks for the inspiration!


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