D&D Stories | Sweet Dreams Session #2

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These) is a homebrew mini-campaign I’m running for five level 4-6 characters. I anticipate it will take 8 – 12 sessions to complete. This Sweet Dreams series chronicles each session with highlights and lessons learned, while the mystery of the sleepwalking curse unfolds throughout! We’re playing Dungeons and Dragons 5e (D&D 5e)

Session #2 Date: June 25th, 2021

Party Level: 5

Previously on Sweet Dreams

The party of five arrived in Somnium and met their quest giver, Vargik, at the Sleepy Owlbear Tavern. They learned a sleepwalking curse is affecting the Alucinor region and its source might be locked away in the Grand Archives. The party discovered dreamwards around town and suspect these trinkets can trigger the sleepwalking trance. They met Enlightenment, a tiefling priest at the Pantheon House non-denominational church, and gathered clues about the source and purpose of the dreamwards. Ending their day, the party fought off a few sleepwalkers outside the Rat Attic Inn before taking a nice long rest. We join the party as they wake up and continue their quest

Between session one and session two the party levels up to level five.

A Persuasive Breakfast

Reconvening at the Sleepy Owlbear Tavern the party enjoys a hearty breakfast while discussing their plans.

Annika, remembering their visit with Enlightenment, slips away to have another chat with the old priest at the Pantheon House. She discovers he just finished setting a new batch of gems into wooden trinkets — a process the party believes activates the dreamwards. With logical reasoning and a so-so persuasion roll she convinces him to stop passing out dreamwards around town. Enlightenment fears he is in trouble, abhorred by the claims Annika makes about the wards; they are the source of the sleeping walking curse.

Meanwhile, the party expresses their concerns about dreamwards spreading amongst the townsfolk of Somnium. Zorn, ever efficient and hardheaded, strides through the crowded tavern to loudly declare that dreamwards are dangerous. Most patrons heed him no mind. Sleepily yet determined, Somna joins Zorn’s efforts to raise awareness with thaumaturgyYou manifest a minor wonder, a sign of supernatural power, within range. You create one of the following magical effects within range:
Your voice booms up to three times as loud as normal for 1 minute.
Thaumaturgy cont.
amplifying her voice. Together, they gather the attention of the breakfast goers. (It is at this moment the curse of Somna’s low charisma checks begin and will haunt her for multiple sessions.) Somna provides a solid argument, giving Zorn further credibility. However, her persuasion roll was abysmal. Due to the strong argument and tag-teaming with Zorn I set a lower DC. Indifference turns into gossiping murmurs immediately followed by ever-so-slight panic. Pockets of customers take the information seriously and agree to spread the news to their neighbors and friends.

Aside #1

Lately I’ve been struggling with adjudicating the results of skill checks. I try to limit skill checks to only when there is a chance of failure and success. Sometimes I just feel a certain action should succeed. In those cases I’m less interested in the rolled result, even if the skill check is warranted. This puts me in a bit of a bind when I call for, or agree to, a skill check and the low total ends up not having an impact on the scenario. I need to work on making the skill check feel necessary, making the stakes feel real, and narrating a satisfying outcome for low and high results. Otherwise, what’s the point of rolling?

Zorn Makes a Friend

Such a display garners the attention of a human man dressed in plain gray robes. He confronts the party, asking if they really believe the rumors they’re spreading and chastises them for causing a panic. Animated and earnest, he defends the reputation of the Grand Archives, skeptical of the party’s suspicions about the dark purpose of the dreamwards. This man is Emeril and it soon becomes clear his defense of the Grand Archives stems from his immense pride as an employee of the archives. He claims to hold a significant position within the Grand Archives.

Zorn, without missing a beat, becomes very interested in Emeril. He strokes Emeril’s ego and plays into the scholar’s self-important personality with flattery. Annika rolls her eyes more than once as the two exchange nerdy stories and delve puddle-deep into matters of philosophy. At one point Emeril mansplains fire genasi to ‘Tanya, the party’s fire genasi. She is not amused that he presumes to know more about fire genasi by virtue of having one as a friend.

Out of Somnium, into Var-City

Joined by Emeril, the party departs Somnium via the morning carriages. After enduring the incessant chatting of Zorn and Emeril for five hours they arrive in a small campus town called Var-City. It is here I give them the choice: stop in Var-City or continue a couple more miles up the hill to the Grand Archives? They choose Var-City and I’m happy to report at least one person chuckled at the name “Var-City.”

A digital sketch of a European medieval style town by artist Hetman80. It features multistory buildings connected to each other, forming two compact streets.
Medieval Town 2 by Hetman80

Striving to be a good Dungeon Master (DM), I give the party a chance to ditch annoying-NPC Emeril here. Instead, Zorn invites him to a local restaurant for lunch. I’m quickly learning the characters enjoy breaking for food. Somna literally drags her tired ass out of the carriage to join them. ‘Tanya, Zaheer, Somna, and Annika all sit at a separate table from Zorn and Emeril to reprieve themselves of the endless chit-chat. While dining an irate dragonborn woman enters the restaurant, talking angrily at the friend accompanying her. Intrigued, the party eavesdrops and learns this woman had her access to the Grand Archives’ VIP sections revoked. She’s struggling to finish her research paper without security access clearance.

Gathering information with unexpected questions

Annika asks the dragonborn woman what her research paper is about. I hadn’t decided ahead of time anything about the paper, so this took me off guard for a second. I tried to deduce the intent of the question and provide a satisfying answer. She explained it was about “the magical properties of gems and their capacity to heal.” I discuss more about this exchange in Achieve Flow with Prepared Facts from a Dungeon Master’s perspective. The party, by exploring a new line of questioning, learn gems have numerous magical applications and can potentially contain magical energies. I used this opportunity to broadly suggest the significance of gems as they relate to the campaign. Because of the party’s engagement with the scene and people, they unlocked more plot-relevant information about the world. This exchange made my DM heart soar!

To the Grand Archives!

Fed and content, the party walks to the Grand Archives, still accompanied by Emeril.

Located two miles up the hill from Var-City the Grand Archives overlooks the campus town at the front and a glistening lake at the back. The architecture is gothic-cathedral-esque with ornate stonework, towers and spires, domes, and stained glass windows. A little bit Hogwarts, a little bit Notre-Dame, and a dash of Library of Congress it manages to both captivate the imagination and defy logic.

Illustration of a castle atop a craggy cliff in a cloudy, mystical environment. This represents the Grand Archives atop its hill.
Art by Jeff Brown, generously provided from the Godbound Art Pack by Sine Nomine Publishing.

The public access area is open to everyone 24/10The Forgotten Realm’s week is ten days long., so the party freely enters.

By this point, ‘Tanya had suggested on multiple occasions they be done with the problem by setting the archives on fire. Thankfully, she does not spontaneously use burning hands upon entry.

Zorn dismisses Emeril.

Both Somna and Zorn make separate trips to the magical talking directory books that serve as visitor kiosks. They covertly ask about keywords in hopes of finding a lead somewhere in the archives. Somna’s book is friendly and gives itself a new name every day. Zorn’s book is grumpier and soon becomes overloaded by Zorn’s rapid-fire queries — effectively bricking it. The party affectionately refers to the books by search engine names.

The party learns the following from the directory books:

  • There is a book titled The Visitor that Feasts on Dreams by Harold R. Quill in Section 5 matching their search criteria.
  • There are (irrelevant) studies on why bad dreams cause stress eating.
  • Where to find miscellaneous recipe books.

Gaining entry to Section 2

Aware only Annika, Somna, and ‘Tanya have guest passes to proceed into Section 2, the party sets about finding a way for Zaheer to gain entry with them. Annika flirts with the elf man at the helpdesk, deceitfully claiming her cousin’s security pass was lost in the mail. Zaheer stands by quietly, a 50-year-old human man Annika (a half-elf) alleges is her cousin. The elven associate remarks to Annika distastefully, “strange things happen when humans get involved in the family tree.”

Annika’s player asks me if there are any people around with visible passes. It’s one of my favorite things when players ask for new information! With a good perception check she spots a security pass next to someone reading nearby. The only name that pops into my head is “Darlington” and the players immediately ponder out loud, “what’s the first name?” I guess just Darlington wasn’t good enough. “Uh… Darren. The pass reads Darren Darlington.” And that is how Zaheer forever became known as Darren. Annika directs the elf to look under the name Darren Darlington.

The helpdesk associate is somewhat suspicious, but the party collectively manages to convince him to issue a single-day guest pass for Darren Darlington. Collateral is required and Darren must return within 24 hours to reclaim said collateral. With no hesitation, Somna offers up her battleaxe. The associate stows it in a locker while Somna explains how important it is to her as a family heirloom. She’s really hamming it up. The moment the party is out of sight of the helpdesk Somna magically recalls her pact weapon (the battleaxe) to her hand, leaving the locker empty. Well-played…

Secrets of Section 2 – the Basilisk Section

Five steps ahead, Zorn has requested Emeril’s presence and uses the friendly scholar as an escort to get past the Section 2 security.

Everyone else presents their passes to enter Section 2. Because the passes are rated for Section 2 the party is aware they won’t be able to use them to get further into the archives.

To help guests identify where they are in the sprawling library, this section utilizes basilisk icons. Zorn splits off with Emeril. Eager to flex his knowledge, Emeril takes Zorn through a shortcut into Section 3, bypassing the main security gate.

Zorn encounters his first skitterwidget. Skitterwidgets are from Candlekeep Mysteries. In my campaign they act as a form of roaming security and appear like mechanical roach-rat-things. Surprisingly cute. Emeril shoos one away by waving his security pass at it. Zorn learns Emeril is actually a low-level employee and spends his time shelving books. The so-called office Emeril talked up turns out to be a repurposed utility closet with a desk. It’s quaint, but it’s still the scholar’s pride and joy. Zorn plays along, has a quick chat, and returns to the party through the secret passage Emeril showed him.

Meanwhile, Annika wanders off across Section 2 through rows of bookshelves and stumbles upon a different secret door. She finds a wall that slides open to reveal stairs leading down. The party reconvenes, shares their information, and they proceed down the stairs Annika found.

Aside #2

At this point, I have an idea of what the party might find throughout the archives. But I have no idea how the library is mapped out and I’m inventing passages as I go in response to what the players do. It feels a bit forced, as I can materialize whatever I want in front of them regardless of where they go. I’ll be updating a rough mental map of the archives to give to Annika due to her Outlander background feature “Wanderer.” I’m hoping this provides the players with control over how they navigate the archives.

The Bridge Across the Abyss

The winding stairs lead down into a dark tunnel, passing through a small section of catacombs, and ending at a rotting wooden door. Somna, half-asleep, steps on a pressure plate in the tunnel. A clicking sound alerts the perceptive Annika to the triggering trap. With quick reflexes she pulls Somna back and out of the way of poison darts. The trap is so old and decrepit the darts clatter to the ground almost harmlessly. It appears to the party this place has not been visited in a very long time.

They discover the wooden door is locked. With a few attempts and one broken lockpick, Somna manages to open the door. It leads into a massive dark chamber.

Battle map depicting a crumbling stone bridge spanning an abyssal gap in a dark, muted chamber. Five party member tokens stand at the start of the bridge, each representing a player character.
Shadow Fortress Bridge (Silence variant) by Cze and Peku

We’re toward the end of the session, so I prattle on about how it is a vast and dark space with a bridge spanning a huge, dark abyss. It’s dark, okay? And cavernous. And big. We leave off with a reveal of the battle map and I poorly explain that Somna, with Devil’s SightYou can see normally in darkness, both magical and nonmagical, to a distance of 120 feet. and Darkvision to 120ft, can make out some of what is on the other side. She sees a stony wall on the far side with a gate and a large statue standing guard. I hadn’t fully come to understand how Devil’s Sight works, so I insisted it was still gray and muddied by darkness.

Session Wrap-Up

It didn’t feel like much happened this session, but the party did gain entry to Section 2 and discover two secret paths. We leave off with them getting ready to cross the bridge over the abyss and discover what awaits them!

Annika’s Mental Map

Due to Annika’s Outlander background she has a feature called WandererYou have an excellent memory for maps and geography, and you can always recall the general layout of terrain, settlements, and other features around you. In addition, you can find food and fresh water for yourself and up to five other people each day, provided that the land offers berries, small game, water, and so forth. that helps her keep a mental map of where she has been. I used this detail as an in-universe way of providing them with a basic map of where they have explored. It only includes places they have entered and seen and I avoided getting hung up on the details. Here is what Annika would have established by the end of session two.

This is a floor plan of The Grand Archives. It shows the main lobby, Section 2, and a small portion of Section 3. The floor plan has an old school dungeon map art style with sepia tones.
Annika’s mental map of the Grand Archives — so far.

Their conclusions

Due to the conversation with the dragonborn scholar they believe the investigation into gems is what got her access revoked.

They have a bad impression of the Grand Archives and the current headmaster.

Their plans for next session

  • Find out what is on the other side of this big ass bridge.
  • Find and search Section 5 for more information about gems in the vein of whatever the dragonborn woman had found.
  • Locate the book titled The Visitor that Feasts on Dreams by Harold R. Quill in Section 5.

Dungeon Master Notes

It was a slower paced session with a lot of talking to NPCs and to each other. The party enjoys soaking up in-character downtime and banter, which made for fun moments at the Sleepy Owlbear and the restaurant in Var-City. While there wasn’t much excitement and no combat, or even challenging social encounters, the party did progress. This progression, from where I’m sitting, feels a bit forced. I’m inventing the archives as they go and steering them toward what I hope are exciting and fun scenarios. This in of itself isn’t a bad thing, except the players aren’t currently equipped with enough information to make interesting choices.

In the next couple sessions I need to arm them with info to give them agency in the adventure. I want the players to have decision points of their own making, rather than being lead room to room from one set piece to another. We’ll see how it goes! I’m finding it immediately difficult to simulate something so complex as a bizarre and quirky magical archives.

Follow Their Journey!

D&D Stories | Sweet Dreams: Session #1

The session begins in Somnium, at the Sleepy Owlbear — a well-maintained, dimly-lit tavern with a bar and hot food. The party of five adventurers recently arrived, finding a table reserved for their benefactor, Vargik Tomedelver — but no Vargik, yet. The most interesting feature of the taproom is its proprietor, a narcoleptic awakened owlbear named Godfrey dozing off behind the bar. The patrons don’t seem alarmed by this. Mercifully, the players took my lackluster intro of “you’re in a tavern, maybe you’ve already met each other or not or something,” and ran with it. A rocky start, but I hadn’t DM’d (and they hadn’t played) in months.

Continue Reading D&D Stories | Sweet Dreams: Session #1

Sweet Dreams: Campaign Overview

The prominent dwarven scholar Vargik Tomedelver has commissioned capable individuals to carry out work he cannot: the infiltration of the Grand Archives! Why would a renowned and trusted scholar require such skullduggery? The advent of the sleepwalkers (and a strong need to maintain one’s reputation in academia) of course!

Continue Reading Sweet Dreams: Campaign Overview

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