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I want to share something silly that's kind of grown to have a life of its own in my campaign. Apologies in advance that there's just a lot to it...

Occasionally players can't make a session (we are all adults with spouses, kids, etc.) so I stole a device I saw on reddit to help hand-wave it. Basically, if a player can't make a session then at the start of that session a magical door opens up and a mysterious NPC invites their PC to sit out the session in a "waiting room." Simple enough, and mostly just a device to have a fictional excuse for why a PC isn't around. I decided to theme it so that the space on the other side of the door looks (to the players, if not the PCs) like a modern coffee shop plus bookstore.

Of course, part of the reason to use a device like that is that it gets your players wondering about the mystery. When a player had missed a session I would tell them that all their PC remembered was sitting and having a nice drink. One of my players wouldn't leave well enough alone (her PC was convinced the the coffee-shop-person was a god of some kind) and kept trying to pry. When she happened to get sick and miss a session, I had her roll a saving throw after the fact to see if she remembered anything. Of course she passed, so I had her RP the scene with me on a Discord.

Because the coffee-shop setup was a device to explain the absence of a player from the table, I decided that the woman who runs it (Aresh) should be aware of the players (not just the PCs) and be willing to break the fourth wall a bit in her conversations. She started that first scene by asking the PC how the player was doing (by name) and it all kind of built from there. Basically the scene played out as a kind of mix between a person sharing their troubles with the barkeep and a bit of a couch session (since the NPC knew things about the PC that she might be trying to avoid talking about in the campaign proper).

It went great, and the other players were kind of jealous, so I opened things up so that even if people didn't miss a session they could visit the coffee shop between sessions and talk to Aresh. My only rule was that the player had to feign illness in order to keep up the schtick, even if the NPC wasn't actually falling for it. The NPC kind of came across as a self-insert for me (not my intention, but oh well), so of course my wife's PC started to flirt with her.

That's all great, but like a lot of first-time DMs I also had my own plot ideas that I really wanted to get in front of the players a bit more forcefully.

Last session my players had reached a kind of oracle that could help them answer questions about their big-picture mission. To over-simplify (since this is already way too long) the players knew that they'd been selected by the five creator gods of the (homebrew) setting to try to save the world from Tiamat, who was amassing an undead army in the underworld/abyss of Ereshkagul with an intention to swarm the world of the living. Ho-hum standard fare.

What I decided to share with them was that there had actually been *six* creator gods, one of whom was Aresh, but for some reason she wasn't known/remembered any more. They pried a bit more and found out that (1) Aresh was killed at some point in pre-history, (2) the abyss Ereshkagul is more or less Aresh's remains in the mortal world, and (3) Tiamat in this setting isn't inherently evil, and is more just trying to get revenge for Aresh's death.

The players almost instantly all feigned illness so they could go into the coffee shop during a session and get answers from Aresh, the NPC they'd known for weeks. It was the most ridiculous level of overly-meta fourth-wall-breaking nonsense and I was loving it. I didn't give them too many answers because I *want* them to be a bit confused and try to figure out what is even going on, but I was pleased that they finally felt like they had some kind of personal stakes and interesting moral conflict in what had seemed (to them) like a bone-basic "save the world" campaign.
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Paul le Fou

Pickle Bus Owns Tulip Town
Patrick and Tangent, those are both very cool sessions/stories.

I, on the other hand, just finished a run of Rime of the Frostmaiden that probably omitted half the book and just kinda skimmed over most things we actually did. I don't know how much of it was the book and how much was the DM just not being very good at preparing or reading ahead or roleplaying or...... very much at all, frankly. I was on the verge of quitting for weeks, but it was my girlfriend's friends and I knew it would be ending soon. And the ending was particularly anticlimactic. It all just kind of went down like a wet fart.

Another game I'm in that is all homebrewed is ending soon too. That one was a lot more interesting, even if it was largely ad-hoc and got a little rushed towards the end, but I'm still enjoying it - a slow drip of interesting reveals, getting wrapped up in bigger things, and my swashbuckler/bladesinger dual class character is a lot of fun. But I'm going to be very happy to have 2 nights a week back, I was really getting burned out on D&D. Back down to one game I DM (also coming to a conclusion soon but we have different plans to keep playing) and one every-other-week that I've been in for several years now (even if it's slowed waaaaay down and lost focus a lot since switching to homebrew after we finished Curse of Strahd). I have some other character ideas I'd like to play, but I'm no longer in any rush to play them.

Now to find a game of Lancer somehow...