Shoulda Read the Manual

Posted on January 03, 2019

A few years ago I got tired of waiting to find an experienced DM and decided to do it myself. I checked out a few D&D 4e books from the library, asked my brother if he'd be interested in playing a solo campaign, and made time to learn. How hard could it be? Unfortunately, thanks to school eating up my life, I only had enough time to skim the Dungeon Master's Guide and flip through the first few pages of the adventure, Keep on the Shadowfell, before we began playing.

In the Keep on the Shadowfell (spoiler alert!), adventurers start out on the road to Winterhaven, a little town in the northern reaches of the former Nerath Empire. It doesn't take long before they're set upon by a roving band of Kobalds. My brother didn't really feel like getting into a fight with these Kobalds right away, however, and he asked me if he could get out of it. Like a fool, I said yes.

He carefully talked his way past the Kobalds, who nobly allowed him passage, and made his way into town. There, they learned that there's been some trouble from Kobald attacks, but my newly minted Kobald Rights Activist brother insisted that the townsfolk were mistaken. He then befriended a grumpy Elf, Ninaran, who he eventually convinced to join his party (I allowed this, and even drew up a character sheet so that I could play as well).

The townspeople kept insisting that Kobalds attacked the town, however, and Ninaran had been given a suspiciously large role, even before I made her a player character. Curious, I flipped ahead in the manual.

Not only were there more Kobald attacks, but Kobalds would become a major enemy. The entire adventure was full of them. There were major set pieces involving evil Kobalds working for their dark master, kidnapping people, etcetera. Furthermore, Ninaran was a minion of the Big Bad, and was supposed to manipulate the players into Kobald conflict.

I had unwittingly ruined the entire campaign. There was nothing I could do with Ninaran, and no way to resolve the Kobalds being both noble, misunderstood creatures, and minions of a dark god.

So I made the obvious choice: I reskinned the rest of them into horrible, racist Goblins in Kobald-disguise, out to besmirch the name of their hated enemy. I then made the ones we'd already seen into Kobald SWAT NPC's, sent to Winterhaven to destroy those who would tarnish the reputation of honest, hard-working Kobalds everywhere.

It was a hit, but I've learned my lesson: Always, always, read ahead.

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