Notes from the Underdark

In the early part of the Summer of 2022 in Vancouver, Canada, a group of friends was chatting at a beach party. We were all students (in one fashion or another) at a local school of theology. One of our number was a veteran "DM" (Dungeon Master), and we were discussing Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons is a structured roleplaying and storytelling game where a number of players create characters that inhabit an imaginary world, and are thrown into a quest by the DM. Using their own creativity in conjunction with the (quite extensive) rules governing game actions, mixed together with the roll of various dice to add an element of chance, the characters navigate the world and try to accomplish their missions. What results is an emergent, not always predictable outcome that often feels rewarding and engaging for everyone involved!

I was a lifelong fantasy nerd, and had spent countless days playing fantasy role-playing video games, like World of Warcraft. Because of how and where I grew up, however, I had largely missed the Dungeons & Dragons wave. You see, back in the 80s and early 90s, when I was inclined to jump on the various nerdy bandwagons like D&D or Magic: the Gathering, there was a whole cultural scare wherein people thought that these hobbies were dangerous, deviant, or straight up demonic. As a kid in an Evangelical Christian family living in the Bible Belt of the US, it wasn't really an option for me to come home and tell my parents that I'd been playing these games.

More recently, in my adult life, I'd rediscovered some of these pursuits, and became an avid player of Magic and an avid listener of D&D podcasts. In both cases, my mind was blown; what were people worried about back in the 80s? No doubt it was possible for D&D parties to craft objectionable narratives, wallow in the imagination of doing evil things, and so on, but that was not at all what the normal, everyday experience of playing D&D was like! Instead, it was all about creativity, camaraderie, teamwork, imagination, and humour. I couldn't wait to get into a campaign myself, and even bought the D&D Starter Kit. I just didn't have any friends whose campaigns I could barge into!

Fast forward to the beach party in Vancouver: as a group we realized that many of us had a similar story with D&D---alway curious but never having gotten into it. So we beseeched the DM in our midst to run a new campaign, and he agreed! We started to play in a world of the DM's own design called Qawz'mahautë. It's not (as far as I know now as a player) related to the "standard" D&D realms, but we are playing using the basic 5th Edition rules, with some world-specific adjustments and significant alterations to spellcasting to fit a less magic-oriented world.

When we began play, one of our party (who happened to be the editor of the theology school's newspaper), suggested that we write synopses of our sessions so that others could follow along. I volunteered to be our scribe, and titled the set of articles "Notes from the Underdark", which is an obvious pun, and based on the location called the Underdark, located in a popular D&D setting (the continent of Faerûn). For now, the episodes posted to this site don't actually have anything to do with the Underdark, since we're playing in an unrelated world. But who knows, as future campaigns come along, that may change!

After a while of publishing the session stories in the school newspaper, I thought it would be fun to share them with a wider audience. So, I built this site to host information about this first campaign, and any that follow. I also decided it would be fun to trial a podcast version of the stories as well. And here we are.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Jonathan! I'm your scribe for these adventures, but I am not creating them all on my own. I'm not even the DM, so I don't really know what's going to happen before it happens. I'm also only in charge of what my particular character is going to do, so the real "author" of the stories is the entire group of us playing the campaign(s) together. That's what makes D&D so fun---it's a collaborative storywriting experience! That being said, I'll try to indicate if and when someone else wrote the actual words for something posted on this site. Otherwise, you're stuck with me. Oh, and if you listen to the podcast? That's me, too, including the music!

If that ends up not being too awful of an experience, you can always head on over to my website to learn about what I do in "real life" when I'm not failing to produce a Scottish accent for my character. I've got links to other work, creative projects, etc... Check it out!

Beyond the Technical Veil

Are you curious about the code that powers this site? I built it by hand (with lots of love of course), using standard web technologies plus a bit of help from some HTML and CSS frameworks. It's all open source for you to look at if you want: github:jlipps/underdark.