There I was, just standing there, minding my own business, when a messenger came up the stairs leading to the temple of Pelor. I was just a Cleric looking for a library to rest in. And to see if there were any good books about Ioun I hadn't read before. I wasn't looking for adventure, or really even to help anyone, but the Paladin who ran the temple was heading out to investigate something or other. Some villagers had gone missing in a marsh and all that jazz. So what's a Dragonborn to do but help, you know?
That was how my first D&D 4e session began all the way back in 2012. It was awesome, and to this day I hold that 4th Edition was a great rule set.
I started playing tabletop RPGs in college when Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition was new, and I had completely skipped 3.5. So hopping into 4th Edition was daunting. It had been 7 years since I'd played 3e, but D&D 4e was also a radically different system.
Luckily, 4e was really easy to pick up since it is significantly streamlined from 3rd Edition, and it's about as far from THAC0 and older versions of the game as you can get. John, our DM, was pretty lenient in terms of rules, in that he follows the only one that matters: nothing gets in the way of telling the story. (Admittedly, I am more of a stickler for the rules when I DM than he is.)
We were working through the free adventure Khyber's Harvest. It's a really fun module. That session was the first time our group had played together, and it proved to me that D&D to me is all about collaborative storytelling and silly moments to remember.
Memorable Moment #1: The Living Lawn Dart
Not only was this my first time playing 4e, but it was also our friend's stepson's first time playing D&D ever. He was 9 years old and playing a Shardmind Rune Priest with a bloodlust I haven't seen outside of hungry jungle cats. You know, the definition of a murder hobo way back before I even knew that was a thing.
He wanted to kill his stepfather's character for stealing his house (the house was literally just gone, he said), so we were introduced to his character with a sneak attack from a roof. He leaped off the roof toward our party…and rolled a natural 1.
The DM chuckled and informed us that we saw a six-foot-tall man composed entirely out of crystal fall from the sky and embed himself (face-first) in the street beside us like a lawn dart.
Memorable Moment Number 2: Grandpa Eskimo
In Khyber's Harvest, an elderly orc approaches your party and tells you to beware of the harvest and that everyone in the village has disappeared. He's crazy and fairly inconsequential outside of that bit of information.
But in our session, the orc grabbed me! He laid his hands on my divine Dragonborn body.
So I pull him inside the cottage, and my Paladin friend accidentally roughs him up a bit more than she intended. Another natural 1 made her sock him so hard that she knocked him unconscious. As we searched around the house, we found some blood spattered around and decided to follow its trail.
But being the loving Cleric that I was, I couldn't leave the old orc alone in the village to disappear like everyone else had. So I picked him up and carried him Superman-style down the road and into our dungeon. I lovingly cradled him in my arms and made sure not to jostle him or hurt him.
Eventually, he regained consciousness and screamed all the time about not knowing who we were or what we were doing to him. The way John RP'd the NPC, it seemed as though he was a set-dressing NPC for the adventure that was meant to be forgotten once his message had been delivered.
Unfortunately for the orc (and the rest of the party, let's be honest), I carried him with us as we made our way deeper into the cultist's cavern. I protected him like Chewbacca does Han. My senile old orc friend was going to be okay and with me for every step of the dungeon.
I loved him, and I named him Grandpa Eskimo.
The Funny Thing about Grandpa Eskimo
Turns out, going back and reading Khyber's Harvest, I learned that Grandpa Eskimo had a name that John didn't use: Toraash’Dorrm. Toraash also plays a much larger part in the story of the module than I thought he did. He was absolutely not a set-dressing NPC meant to be forgotten.
I don't want to spoil the old orc's actual role in the adventure, but I will say that I truly appreciate the seamlessness with which John completely rewrote a good chunk of this module because I effectively kidnapped and adopted a major plot NPC as my own.
Memorable Moment #3: You'll Poke Your Eye Out
Apparently, the Khyber's Harvest adventure has a mid-point boss. You enter a room with a cultist priest (complete with tentacle shoulders!), a gigantic orc in armor, bunches of cultist minions, and a 25-foot-tall eyeball embedded into the wall.
Now, I know what you're thinking: we have to blow up that eyeball!
I thought it, too. So did my Warlock friend. So we, both being Dragonborn and very large of stature, convince the Shardmind Rune Priest that his earlier lawn-dart stunt could actually come in handy to us here. We told the DM that we were picking him up and throwing him like a dart directly into the giant, pulsing eye in the wall.
Our DM then promptly has an aneurysm. I roll a 22 for the DC check, and my Warlock friend rolls a 19. So we toss the Shardmind. Perfectly. The giant eyeball explodes into a gooey mess as our dart-friend flies through the air and right into the big ole pupil.
But there's a problem. Since the eyeball was destroyed, he has nothing to stick into, so he falls 40 feet and takes enough fall damage to where he's within 1 saving throw from death. Whoopsie.
And you know what else? The giant eyeball wasn't actually the boss. It wasn't even connected with the boss. It was literally the doorknob to the gate to the next area.
All we managed to do was kill one of our teammates and really, really anger the real bosses in the room. Do you remember, the big orc and tentacle priest I told you about? Needless to say, that particular encounter was a bit tougher than it otherwise should have been.
We quit soon after that encounter because it was getting late, but even in that one session, I have memories and stories that have lasted nearly a decade.
Lasting Memories from D&D 4e
None of us remember the Nth time we kill a boss in an MMO, but I sure as heck remember blowing a whistle near some sleeping shadow mastiffs during a session back in college. And I remember how the party's cleric asked the devil/god a riddle about beans before we beat went into the final encounter. I remember that because it was fun, because it was us, and because it was unscripted, off-the-cuff, and totally ridiculous.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to see where I left Grandpa Eskimo. He needs me.
Coda: Grandpa Eskimo and My Nuggets, The Aftermath
By the end of that campaign, Grandpa Eskimo and I had hit a stride. Or, rather, I had hit a stride with Grandpa Eskimo. I carried him and protected him and made sure he stayed safe. At one point, my character came into possession of some gold nuggets that he was particularly fond of.
Nowadays, I don't quite remember the circumstances, but as the campaign came to a close, Grandpa Eskimo made a heel turn. He stole “my nuggets” as I kept referring to them, laughed at me for being such a fool, and teleported away. I, and my Dragonborn, were heartbroken on multiple levels.
A few months after that, in April 2012, my dad died. Just before his funeral, John and Libbi, the DM and the Paladin I mentioned earlier in the post, came up to me and handed me a wrapped box. I opened it, and inside was a note. They had found Grandpa Eskimo and got my nuggets back.
In the box were indeed “my nuggets.” I found a pair of Yoda cufflinks that I then wore to my dad's funeral where I delivered his eulogy.
They are still in my desk drawer as I write this, a decade later. And these nuggets are far, far more valuable than gold.
This is a majorly updated version of an article that I originally posted back in 2012 on my old pop culture blog.