We were getting started on our Zendikar campaign with the local team, using James Wyatt's Planeshift: Zendikar, the first Magic: The Gathering/D&D5 crossover ever. To me, this setting is a mashup of World of Warcraft's Burning Crusade — the one and only best WoW extension so far —, Dark Sun, and Pacific Rim. Soulless titanic alien creatures, the Eldrazi, have awoken, and threaten to destroy the whole plane. They're basically Kaiju monsters, opposed by gigantic feral elementals, and angels.
I wouldn't play D&D5 in a classic medieval fantasy universe where some grit, and heroic play is required. Now, D&D5 is quite fitting for the epic, the only style I deem suitable to Zendikar, so that's what we play. First level characters can communicate with everyone through telepathy, at-will cantrips inflict up to D12 poison damage, etc. Greyhawk? Most certainly not. Zendikar? Yes.
The players, with pre-generated characters, all 2nd level —
Adrian, playing Balshath, a Neutral Female Merfolk Warlock of the Great Old One
Colin, playing Zargan Kyor, a Chaotic Neutral Merfolk Fighter
Ian, playing Yashal, the Purple Lotus, a Chaotic Neutral Female Merfolk Fighter/Cleric
Manuel, playing Zaur Khot, a Chaotic Evil Human Barbarian
Pierre, playing Lucumon the Mad, a Chaotic Evil Human Fighter
Quentin, playing Khan Bal Udar, a Neutral Merfolk Ranger
Rajyashree, playing Sha Aarthan, a Neutral Evil Merfolk Rogue
We're playing RENEWAL, a vignette adventure of my own craft. So, what's a vignette? It's like a cut-scene, some action which happens at some place, and time where your main characters aren't. You play pre-generated characters (they all will be mephits in the next one) and follow their adventures this way. When it's over, you play your own characters again. Of course, the cut-scene has influence upon the action at hand, and eventually, upon your characters. In RENEWAL, it determines whether the Sea Gate has been destroyed or not before the campaign starts, it's a prologue with half a continent at stake, and the awesome opportunity to throw the official lore over the window.
Also, the Marie-Antoinette effect, we play with a soundtrack made of anachronistic nowadays music. Here's the introductory track.
Halimar Basin in Tazeem, a violent abysmal sea enclosed within gargantuan cliffs. The Sea Gate, the greatest, and largest city of Zendikar looms above the Sea Wall, the Sky Rock and the Lighthouse shining up above. Down the Basin are the Squamous Pits where the giant squids are bred, and the prison where the most dangerous criminals are locked. Like all the player characters, for instance.
Here are a few pictures of the prison: guards with their nether rays, the central vortex where the sea STOPS and the human Tide Wizards on the sunken terraces holding the sea back with their magic.
In the cells, their magic doesn't work, and they felt a compulsion not to move away. Locking each and every cell (there are 2 of them), there's a curtain of strangleweed in lieu of door or bars. Except one day, the magic comes back, and the compulsion wanes as something HUGE thumps in the background.
The characters don't know it yet, but the Eldrazi have come, wading into the sea, to destroy Sea Gate. They have crushed the hedrons and ripped off the Ley lines which supported the magic of the prison. Balshath uses all her spells in vain on the strangleweed, Lucumon the Mad charges through it, only to end up bound, and slowly strangled. Sha, through his knowledge of druidic magic, kills the strangleweed with repeated poison sprays. The others shout, and do nothing. Sha leaves the cell, quickly followed by Zargan, heading for the central vortex where all the guards, and wizards are. The back wall of the cell suddenly cracks open, and enters a Benthic Infiltrator, for which I've used the stats of a Nothic.
So, back wall: Nothic. Front wall: Strangleweed. Oh, the joy.
Balshath tries to communicate telepathically with the Eldrazi, and ends up with a short term insanity. BAD IDEA. The Benthic Infiltrator begins to attack Yashal, and Khan, but misses almost all its attacks during several rounds. As the combat becomes sluggish, Sha destroys the other strangleweed with his cantrip and frees Lucumon from its grasp. All flee in the direction of the central vortex, the benthic infiltrator wandering away in another direction after a few more unsuccessful attacks, probably in spite.
There, they find the guards struggling against dozens of small Eldrazi such as the one they've just fought, the Tide Wizards weaving spells to wake the krakens from below. Taking advantage of the confusion, they flee to other locations, deeper within the prison, that they've seen before, run past the Squamous Pits to the Opalescent Horizon, a gathering room with septhedron thrones. Balshath tries to talk with the nether rays instead, only to be devoured on the spot. Exit the warlock.
A Fathom Feeder has broken into the room, spreading rapport spores as they enter, a weird telepathic effect that allows them to connect telepathically with each other, but also allows the feeder to have precognition of their next moves! Follows a short combat during which Lucumon the Mad, Sha, Zargan, and Khan run for the septhedron thrones, Zaur tries to take the Feeder down bare-handed Conan-style, and Yashal runs away. The Feeder gives them a festival of opportunity attacks and hacks Zaur into pieces before running into a chase after Yashal. Exit Zaur.
The others sit on the throne, and using their telepathic link, manage to activate their hedron magic. They find themselves transported to a Watery Grave where three gigantic statues of angels loom, triggering a mindbreaker trap. Lucumon the Mad, and Khan, manage to defeat the mind trap while the others get locked into it, and back to the Opalescent Horizon, from which the Feeder has now gone. Yashal outruns the thing, and hides near the Squamous Pits where the giant squids run amok in panic. Fortunately, they don't notice her as she remains very, very still, and silent.
Back to Lucumon the Mad, and Khan, who now find bronze ladders leading INSIDE the 80 ft. tall statues, all representing six-winged angels. Yes, they are mechas. They gain control of one each as the cave's ceiling opens up into the sky, and fly to the surface. This is where I give them the stat blocks for Planetars and tell them “here's your new character sheet, now play”.
Surface. The second Twin of Desolation is unscathed, legions of smaller Eldrazi in it stead. Slowly, it reaches for Sea Gate in a rising blight tide. It's here that we play Time from Inception's OST, on a loop. And fly the mecha angels to the titan. One chance to save the world, and a good start for a campaign. I use the stat blocks of the Tarrasque for the Eldrazi titan because why the fuck not.
Lucumon runs to it, only to be swallowed whole, and slowly digested as he hacks through the titan from the inside. And here. Here. Khan flees. There goes the Free World. Lucumon alone is no match and dies alone within the Twin's writhing tentacles. The Eldrazi destroy Sea Gate, empty the sea. The whole sea. Exit all. The end.
Now that the prologue vignette is over in a TCK (Total Continent Kill), and the tone is set, we roll for the first level characters they're going to play in the campaign. Not Merfolks anymore. Like ever.