The players have crafted a cool magic item and discovered new runes in the last session, as well as discovered a bit more about the world they live in. These are things I'd tell you in a campaign diary, but the campaign diaries are supposed to provide 2 things: useful DM material/inspiration, and an enetertaining story. I can't justify cutting down the videos to tell you the "only useful" parts when those are generally best saved for a specific concept. Seeing as though I'm not that great of a storyteller in the context of D&D yet, that means the videos' primary functions aren't being fulfilled. That's fine though, I have this as a creative outlet and I can always go back to videos (which will then be linked here) should I decide that content will be sufficiently useful and worth my time to make it such.
Seeing as that's out of the way, let's get to the meat of the matter. I've given my players a lot of sandbox style freedom in their general directions, goals, what they want to seek out, etc. I did start wondering about why they were sent down here in the first place, though. For those of you catching up, my players are exploring the southern reaches of this continent, seeking lost magic items, civilizations, magical power and spells, etc. The reason? The Second Host War has just kicked off, and the nation acting as their patron would very much like to gain any advantage they can at minimal expenditure of resources. A small expedition of adventurers fits that bill, particularly if they start to succeed (and indeed they have).
So the players are feeling that success, right?
Well, not quite. They definitely love finding new stuff, making magic items, the works. I focus a lot on what I think 5e is missing (somewhat intentionally); loot! In coming to this new region though, they're actually the underdogs in some sense. The party has fought quite a few enemies at this point that have access to Runes they didn't (or still don't). Finding said runes has boosted their power to be more on par with the things they're assaulting, not to gain an advantage over creatures that have no such thing. That's fine! They love the "we get beaten down to come back better" style of play. I still can't help but wonder if it's a bit of dissonance in the narrative. They have managed to transfer Runes to their civilization by way of the high-level druid that contracted them in the first place, despite now being the lateral distance of the United States away through use of certain spells.
So here's where I come to my plan for next session; I specifically kicked off the Second Host War so the players would have their punching bag and I'd have a ready supply of "it's ok to wipe the floor with them" villains. Runes are being transmitted and learned back home, but not terribly quickly, and there's no reason to think the Brestrels (antagonist nation) have them yet. What if Ulfin requests their help back home? He can cast a spell, have them there to assist, then bamf them back to their original quest. If the players agree, I know exactly what to prep, what I can expect from the players, who the bad guys are, etc. That session will effectively be on rails, but only because the players chose to put themselves on in the first place. After what I consider to be the failure of my first campaign, I no longer worry all that much about "railroading" but I still have the occasional nagging voice, telling me how terrible I must be as a storyteller for having a real, prepared narrative.
The effect I'm hoping to have on the players is demonstrating how dominant their advantage back home would be (and here, is). This is their opportunity to power trip. I'm not saying I'll make the combat easy per se, just adjust hitpoints and such so the volume of enemies they can take on with this advantage is reasonably inflated.
As for the premise of the mission? A vanguard force pushed too deep into an Argonne-style forest, found themselves surrounded, and now it's rescue time.