I’m back with more High Rollers D&D Aerois content after my Three Episode Rule story for the start of the series.
Clearly, I’ve been binge watching the campaign, only ten episodes away from being fully caught up, but unfortunately, the only reason why I’m even stopping for air to write this review is because since Episode 37-38, the series has really begun to lose steam for me, and I’d like to reflect on my experience thus far and investigate if I’d like to continue or not.
Why I Stuck With Aerois
The other D&D streamed campaigns I’ve shopped around for previously were either too casual or too linear, but Aerois offered an expansive sand-box style campaign adventure along with generous yet challenging scenarios that rewarded players for quick thinking, and empowered them with free choices that were occasionally met with interesting consequences to move the story forward.
The exact moment that hooked me was actually the “Fire Bear” stunt the players tried to pull during the Bitterwind Chapter, where they encountered a pack of distracted wolves, and were planning to scare them off with an illusion. However, they deliberated for too long instead of acting, and unfortunately, this reduced the effectiveness of the plan
Secondly, Mark demonstrated how much scarier an open-air wilderness can be as opposed to a still mysterious but quite contained dungeon crawl experience, as enemy camps and scouts could show up any time, for example. The players had to think critically about time and resource management to survive, and I was surprised they all arrived to the next town in one-piece.
The Rose Hall chapter impressed me once again, but in hindsight, it was also the beginning of an ever-so-slight railroading habit that would inevitably snowball into my declining interest in the series.
Here’s the first side of the double edged sword: I did enjoy that Mark was teaching the players to cover their bases, as he dropped several hints to about their NPC companions not being able to afford rooms for the inn, leaving them vulnerable by sleeping in the stables. The party’s neglect resulted in a murder and kidnapping of said NPCs.
Now here’s the part that I did not enjoy: The only reason why this murder/kidnapping was able to occur was because the Party was unfairly diverted into meeting with the head conspirator (Brookstone). They were initially leaning towards declining a meeting with him, but Mark decided to paint a solid portrait for Brookstone by having the locals suddenly claim that he was a harmless man, which influenced the party in Brookstone’s direction.
Due to this betrayal, being “Brookstoned” is now a frequent meme and paranoia for the party. It was their choice after all, and the whole ordeal did result in exciting storytelling, but I believe it was the first infringement on player agency by manipulating their pool of available evidence to skew their perception to follow an intended direction.
Rose Hall was just a yellow card, but The first red flag was thrown here, as the party met with the Head of the Harvest Guard, whom did not wish for them to leave without her blessing. The party was more interested in just passing by and heading to the major city of Goldthrone, but Mark had bigger things planned for Kalie’s Rest.
The stay ended up being worth it, as two of the players participated in Spellclash, a national tournament league for spellcasters, and the party also made a rival in the necromancer Guardian named Breeze.
Unfortunately though, the party overstayed their welcome.
The Players’ First Major Mistakes
Back in Rosehall, the players weren’t interested in being heroes, as they passed on some paid work that would have helped the town, and opted to explore an abandoned pre-sundering town (Dwalinden) instead to collect some quick loot. It was for a good cause though; they were trying to heal the broken leg of their NPC friend Arval.
But somehow, someway, things changed in Kalie’s Rest.
A good deed went punished when the party tried to stop a librarian from being forcibly escorted to Brightflame Abbey, a religious center that has been usurped by a racist cult, and the resulting fight left the library in flames.
The party’s morality was tested again when Breeze was going to use one of the Brightflame Abbey members in a human sacrifice to extend the life of a more pure hearted Guardian, which the party chose to intervene.
However, it was after this point that the party’s decision making ability began to degrade.
- They allowed the key witness to the Brightflame Abbey’s plot to purge the “foreign” citizens to leave town without first confessing to the police.
- They chose to infiltrate Brightflame Abbey above ground, even though there was an option to travel further underground using the same system they just used to find Breeze.
- They chose to infiltrate Brightflame Abbey at all.
I believe it was Lucius that first voiced his concern that the party was in over their heads trying to do anything about the militant cult in Kalie’s Rest. Kim also joked about leaving town right before they started the game on the episode for the stealth mission.
They should have left, and I suspect they would have if the campaign was not being streamed. I don’t actually want a scripted TV show, I want to see an open world adventure game, and this is one major problem I have with streamed D&D games. Then again, it was, on face value, the player’s choice after all, and it’s only my speculation that they were peer pressured into it.
Brightflame Abbey drastically changed the course of events for Aerois. Not only did Sentry die because of the party’s mistake, but it also forced Mark’s hand into showing his cards too early in regards to the plot.
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Mark’s First Major Mistakes
The Brightflame Abbey infiltration was so poorly executed I really can’t blame Mark for revealing Calus Starbane, the legendary villain of Aerois that caused the sundering, as early as he had to. He claimed the scenario was at the bottom of his list, and it was still up to chance, as the party not only had to fail, but also have Valla, their NPC ally, separately succeed in not dying or being captured to execute the Starbane plotline.
It actually turned out pretty awesome, as he teleported them to another continent, which resulted in an even harder expedition through the wilderness than their first journey through the Bitterwind forest in Chapter One, as they now had to deal with violent thunderstorms and giant beasts whilst carrying not one, but later on, two dead bodies.
No, Mark’s first mistake was making the connection between Hadar (an even greater evil) and Starbane, when he revealed Starbane’s intentions to Nova in a direct dream conversation. It’s a cool idea in itself, as it’s reminiscent of Magus’ quest for power against Lavos in Chrono Trigger, but something like that should have been left to the character’s investigations, because as soon as he did that, the player’s focus would become singular now from level 6 all the way to level 20, if the story even gets that far.
Revealing the main villains this early makes me feel like I already know the ending of the story.
The Breeze subplot won’t really matter if he ever returns. Participating in Spellclash would be a sin with the balance of the universe at stake.
Even individual character development was impacted, as the party did not have time to look into Aila’s original clan ties when they were conducting research at the Gusthaven libraries. They may never return to the spooky ghost mansion they desperately escaped from many episodes ago.
As Lucius said about the events surrounding his father’s death in a conspiracy plot: “It all seems so inconsequential.”
Even after the big reveal, the campaign was still recoverable. There was one last sliver of hope and innocence left in the world: “Daddy.“
Lucius’ constant referencing of his father became the most recognizable meme in the early days of Aerois, so much so that viewers began taking bets on how many times the word would be mentioned in an episode, and after a long journey through the storm-ridden continent of Voxar, the party was finally ready to visit the first sky city of Gusthaven, and revive their fallen friend Quill.
Behind the DM Screen, however, the subplot was secretly killed much earlier, about the time the party got to Kalie’s Rest, as they discovered a reward for any information regarding Lucius’ well being after the Airship crash was rescinded after two weeks, which confirmed some suspicions from the other party members that Lucius father wasn’t as keen towards his son as Lucius would have us think.
Upon arriving, we discovered that Lucius father was murdered in a conspiracy. Lucius presented himself as being delusional, believing that his father and sister might still be alive, that it was a slightly botched teleportation experiment that ruined the house but preserved their lives.
I hoped he was right. I didn’t think Mark would be this cruel. We were waiting to see Lucius reunite with his father since Episode 1. Separate from that, I also think the player characters deserved a break after over a month of non-stop drama since the airship crash, and I was expecting Gusthaven (previously Goldthrone) to be that refuge.
But no. Our last relevant subplot and only interesting distraction left from the seriousness that is saving the world and stopping Starbane was ripped out of our hands. I’m not even convinced Lucius, or Chris Trott, even cared about the murder mystery anymore after that.
As soon as he got his inheritance money, he started plans for an airship to leave. Mark Hulmes (in character) was even caught off guard when Lucius said the conspiracy seemed “inconsequential”, incoherently replying that every person had some role to fill, whether big or small.
But then again, the players could have actually had a lot of fun with the whole ordeal, and this is just my speculation. I only know that I wanted something else.
Conclusion, and Moving Forward
My chances for returning to Aerois aren’t looking good at the moment. For the past few episodes I’ve been unafraid of spoilers and scrolling through the comments during the video precisely to know whether or not something exciting would happen so I could stick around or skip ahead when I start to get bored.
I just feel like the path is already written at this point. Individual character development doesn’t really matter anymore, since they are all currently sacrificing for the greater good anyway. That is the cost of being a Hero.
To delay the Hadar reveal plotline, I would have had Valla contact Nova in the dream instead of Starbane, at the very least. To delay it even further, I would have Valla close the planar gate with herself and Starbane on the other side, as a pseudo-sacrifice to buy the players more time.
Many intermediate subplots could have been introduced before Hadar. We still don’t know what exactly The Remnant, the leftover forces of Starbane’s army, or Zakira(?), Starbane’s second in command, are actually up to. Best case scenario, neither of them are currently aligned with Starbane, as his absence has left a power vacuum. Something like this would delay Starbane’s advancement, and introduce the same “lesser of two-evils” moral dilemma Mark was intending with Hadar, but on a much more manageable scale.
I don’t think there’s anything that will shake the inconsequential nature of things right now.
A part of me wants to skip ahead, because I know it is all just means to an end to become powerful enough to fight the main villains. But if I do that, the final fight won’t be as interesting because I wasn’t invested in the character growth that was needed to get there.
The difference between this and a TV series is that each episode of Aerois is going to take me three hours. 3-4 episodes of Aerois is about a season of Game of Thrones, but a lot more is forced to happen in a series like Game of Thrones because of the time constraint.
How I’m Running My Campaign
I’m really committed to the sand-box style, and I’ve developed my story with the idea that my players aren’t even the main characters.
I have built in heroes and villains, and intricate story lines for an interstellar battle of the Gods, but I intentionally have most of that running in the background, because I don’t want the players to feel obligated to take on such major quests like that if they don’t feel like they’re up to it.
There will be plenty of other opportunities for fame, fortune, and character development outside of my main end-game scenario, so if my players want to be the Heroes, the main characters, then they are truly going to have to fight for it.
Otherwise, it’s their story to tell.
I am a firm believer that the DM should set the stage and scene for the adventurers, but it’s the players that write the plot.
With great power comes great responsibility, but the Aerois characters are trying to save the world at only level six. There are no more stars in their eyes. They’re all grown up, and frankly it’s just too soon for my tastes.
Getting the airship was so freaking cool too. But I think it’s time for me to call it. T’was fun. Really fun. And I learned a lot. But I think I’ll just focus on having fun for my own games now, or potentially, not even be play much in the near future and just go back to working and producing more content for this site.
So there’s that.
See you on the Far Side… – Monk Moon Base
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