Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Complete Campaign - Lessons Learned Along the Way, Part 2

I’m wrapping up the first campaign that I’ve intentionally completed. EVER. I’ve learned a lot from the process and am quite thrilled at the idea of finishing a campaign on purpose with a fairly tidy ending (I hope). I feel that this was one of the most interactive and fun to GM campaigns that I’ve ever run. In this short series I’ll be sharing a few of the lessons that I learned along the way with examples from the Solo Ravenloft campaign. Hopefully you’ll end up inspired to try something different for your next campaign.
Smaller is better! – Focus on the details to make the story stick.

This game was built outward from a very basic setting. The first half of the game took place in Nidala, a domain of dread that isn’t very fleshed out. The second half of the game took place in Kos, a domain of dread created based on the player character’s background. By expanding on small details, the story really took root.

 NPC’s – a few basic backgrounds brought the game to life:

Elena Faithhold, the Dark Lord and ruler of the land was a crazed paladin bent on destroying evil in her land but her obsession lead her to rule her people in a tyrannical manner and kill many innocent people. She worshiped Belenus, the official state religion. She even used a fake dragon scare to keep people in line and to cover for her razing “corrupt” villages. Under Elena’s rule music, alcohol and public promiscuity were all forbidden. A myriad of laws were given out every week in her attempts to curb all evil. This NPC is briefly mentioned in official source materials.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Evil PCs 3: Micromanaging for Dungeon Keepers

Whew. Hiya kids, it's been awhile. Between holidays with family, work deadlines raking me over the coals, and participating in the yearly RPG writing contest whose judges I have yet to convince of my absolute genius, I haven't had much time to devote to the blog. So, let's pick up where we left off, shall we?

In summation: Two evil elves - Vid, a sorcerer, and Algalon, an assassin - are on a mission given to them by the Septane, the nominal leaders of their home city of Numethril, to capture Radford Andros, a human mage who's believed to be a spy for a foreign power and is wanted for questioning. The mage is believed to be heading north through the arctic wastelands of Ondur toward an ancient burial cairn where the barbaric humans of the north laid to rest their warlords and kings centuries ago. They are accompanied by the human antipaladin Edgar, who seeks to slay an ancient silver dragon who long ago provoked the ire of Edgar's master, the skull lord Osric. And then there's the tiefling cleric Bellius, a favored servant of the archdevil Belial, who was charged with clearing a burial cairn (coincidentally, the home of the aforementioned dragon) of its celestial guardians.

So, the heroes blunder their way through the first level of the dungeon, which is a bit too easy for them. After falling prey to a nasty cloudkill trap triggered to go off if anything of non-good alignment enters that particular hallway, they open a grand set of double doors inscribed with holy runes and meet the guardian of the cairn's first level - an astral deva who very nearly hands them their proverbial asses. Before the battle, the deva calls forth an angel of light who peers into the villains' souls, showing them the most horrible thing they ever did and making them see how their lives might have been different if they had made a different choice on that fateful day. The angel of light disappears, and the deva, seeing no repentance in their eyes, does her sworn duty to slay any intruders of evil intent. The villains triumph over the angelic warrior, but only barely, and they are forced to rest for the night in her throne room before continuing onward.

In the night, Vid is awakened by a ghostly figure standing over the head of the antipaladin's bedroll - the spirit of the boy that Edgar killed in the mimic house during the last session. The childlike ghost does his best to disrupt Vid's rest and prevent him from preparing spells. So Vid wakes Bellius up, and the dark cleric uses command undead and tells the boy to leave.

Hmm. Not as effective as I had hoped. But I'm not going to drop this NPC just yet - vengeful spirits never rest easy while their killers still walk, after all.

The next morning, they find a switch that reveals a stairwell hidden beneath the deva's throne, leading down a spiral stairway nearly 80 feet underground. The next segment of the game used a map from an old issue of Dungeon Magazine and was built as a playtest for a new rules system that the Pathfinder RPG will incorporate as an optional feature for spellcasters, allowing you to build your own spells. You can download these for free for a limited time by clicking here. The details of my playtest, a battle with a quartet of constructs, can be read by clicking here.

Oh, and as a bonus for you guys, here's the stat block for my mithril choppers that are mentioned in the playtest writeup.

Warmech, Mithril Chopper CR 7

XP 3,200
N Medium construct
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60', low light vision; Perception +10

AC 25, T 13, FF 22 (+3 Dex, +12 natural)
hp 69 (9d10+20)
Fort +3, Refl +5, Will +4
Damage Reduction 10/-
Immune construct traits, magic

Speed 30'
Melee +13/+8 (1d8+5/19-20) or +11/+6 and +12 (1d8+4 and 1d8+3/19-20)
Special Attacks Vital Strike +13 (2d8+5)

Str 14, Dex 16, Con - , Int 12, Wis 13, Cha 10
Base Atk +9; CMB +11; CMD 24
Feats Exotic Weapon Proficiency (two-bladed sword), Two Weapon Fighting, Vital Strike, Weapon Focus (two-bladed sword), Weapon Finesse (two-bladed sword)
Skills Acrobatics +12, Climb +11, Perception +10
Languages Common, Draconic

Treasure +2 two-bladed sword

After destroying the constructs, the villains advance to the northern area of the map, where a 50' high wall surrounds a great circular arena-like floor. Pillars built into the arena are set at varying heights, and each pillar bears a depiction of a creature. As the sorcerer and cleric begin to investigate the pillars, they are attacked by a pair of large steam elementals from the balcony above.

These monsters are Pathfinder rebuilds of the steam quasi-elementals originally detailed in the 2E Planescape Monstrous Compendium III. Their stats are roughly equivalent to a large water elemental with Resist Fire 10 and the following special abilities.

Conductive (Su): If a steam elemental is dealt lightning damage, any creature that occupies the same space as the elemental takes half the damage dealt by the attack.

Engulf (Su): A steam elemental may occupy the same space as another creature, scalding it with its mere presence. Any creature whose space the elemental enters takes 6d6+6 fire damage (a DC 21 Fortitude save
halves this amount).

Once the elementals are defeated, the party examines the pillars and find that they are all part of an elaborately constructed puzzle. The pillars can be moved, after triggering certain other events in side chambers located off the balcony above them. These are all minor encounters, though one does result in Edgar getting a new mount, thanks to the Crocodile Dundee-like animal handling skills of a new companion they discovered tailing them in the cairn, a halfling ranger named Brigid (played briefly by my wife, Jenny).

With the puzzle solved by adjusting the height of the pillars in the correct sequence, the path to Ostyax's resting place is opened. They descend into the icy cavern below the burial cairn, where the mage Radford Andros, under the cloak of a greater invisibility spell, uses his powers to disrupt their spellcasting, forcing every party member that can cast spells to make concentration checks prior to casting a spell. Vid, himself invisible and using a see invisibility spell, uses his mage hand cantrip along with a Bluff and a Knowledge (local) check to convince Andros that he is an emissary of Andros' masters with a message, telekinetically floating this parchment over to the mage:

"The funniest thing about this parchment is that by the time you're done reading it, it will be far too late to prevent the activation of Sepia Snake Sigil (make a Reflex save)."

Unluckily for Vid, Andros makes his save. Ostyax is soon awakened from his slumber and blasts the party with his breath of ice. Bellius uses a wall of stone to hamper the dragon's movement for a few rounds, giving Edgar and Algalon ample time to wear the dragon's hit points down. Meanwhile, Vid and Brigid corner Andros and the elf sorcerer feebleminds the human mage, reducing him to a gibbering fool who keeps saying, "Puh-puh-puh-puh-puh-puh... Puh-puh-puh..."

Though the elf assassin Algalon is slain in the combat, the noble old dragon Ostyax soon succumbs to their onslaught. The heavenly powers have failed to protect their sleeping servant from evil, and the villains have struck a daring blow against the forces of good.

When Lord Osric arrives, he congratulates Edgar and uses a magic item to raise the dead dragon as an undead thrall, taking the wyrm as his personal mount. He instructs the villains to rebuild and populate the burial cairn with loyal servants - for soon, he will charge them with the care of an artifact that will require protection of the highest caliber.

I have given them a map of the complex and an XP budget of 150,000 for restocking creatures. They can hire elf mercenaries up to CR 7 and undead up to CR 11, though their more exotic requests for undead minions have forced them to bargain with a night hag who does nothing for free. There are plenty of ogres, trolls, and giants in the frozen mountains of Ondur to recruit - they'll just have to be strong-armed into service first.

The villains are spending a considerable portion of their budget and extra gold besides to remodel the top level of the cairn into a lavish inn and send forth bards bribed to spread word of the location to adventurers in sundry locations.

Oh, and Algalon... well, he kind of made a deal with a devil before Bellius could manage to raise him from the dead. He's now an imp, charged with harvesting ten souls to get himself a promotion in the infernal armies.

This game is getting quite interesting, indeed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Complete Campaign - Lessons Learned Along the Way, Part 1

This weekend I will be wrapping up the first campaign that I’ve ever completed. EVER. I’ve learned a lot from the process and am quite thrilled at the idea of finishing a campaign on purpose with a fairly tidy ending (I hope). I feel that this was one of the most interactive and fun to GM campaigns that I’ve ever run. In this short series I’ll be sharing a few of the lessons that I learned along the way with examples from the Solo Ravenloft campaign. Hopefully you’ll end up inspired to try something different for your next campaign.

Communication – Have THE conversation with your players!

In the past I’ve TOLD players what a campaign was going to be about. I’ve given them an idea as to the theme or the nature of the campaign. I’ve told them the location or the setting information. It’s usually a fairly one-way conversation… This is totally wrong I realize. For the Solo campaign that I’m wrapping up, I made sure to ASK the player what he was interested in happening for his game. It was very much a two-way conversation. These are the important questions I’ll make sure to ask each player in the future when I plan on running a campaign:

1) What are the player’s goals?
  • It’s important to know what the player considers fun and what the player actually wants to get out of the game.
  • How relaxed will gameplay be?
  • Is the player looking for a very serious, focused RP session every game or is casual conversation at the game table ok?
For the Solo campaign, the main focus was to have fun. It was a very relaxed game, we got off topic many times but had fun. In some other gaming groups that I’ve been in, off topic conversation is totally taboo. But since we were gaming for 6+ hours at a time and happen to be chatty folks, this was not an issue for this game.