Plots and Prophecies (or Gregory Learns Something About Running Modules)

We gamed our second session of the Pellham Campaign on December 6th and it went off without a hitch.  It was a joy to run and seemed to be a hit with my Players, too.  I got to run with my PCs goals and use ideas from the modules that I picked as the basis for this campaign.  In running this game, I may have discovered the best way for me to run modules.  It was great!

Two things came into play from the Players’ side of the table.  Firstly, I got to introduce part of James Andari’s work on The Prophecy.  Before James (Adran’s Player) had even seen a copy of the Prophecy, he came up with five ways the Prophecy could be fulfilled.  They are 1) Llywelyn could simply reappear, 2) Llywelyn could return through a blood relative, 3) Llywelyn could return in the form of someone who shared a similar history and ideology, 4) someone raised outside Pellham would come take the throne just as Llywelyn was and did, and 5)Llywelyn could be stored to “life” by a powerful druid or necromancer.  I used this framework to introduce a Claimant to the Throne.  Secondly, the “Sons”…I mean the “Soldiers of Anarchy,” took out their first target.  The SoA is a movement (started by Vadis Mal and Stone (played Brandon Mokofisi and Steven Goff, respectively) dedicated to freeing slaves and punishing slavers.  The Soldiers of Anarchy took on and eliminated their first target, a kidnapper and pimp named Joshua.  Cool things.

On the GM’s side of the table, I got to expound a bit on a landmark in the city of Widdershin (the Pillars of Nimra) and hint at a future plot line (Stephen, heir of Llywelyn).  I had a blast dropping new NPCs into the game, but I am still bad at giving them names (ergo: Thug and an unnamed dwarf).  I, also, discovered a few things that help me run canned adventures and this should be the bulk of my post.

Firstly, I need to look for modules and adventures that can be easily sandboxed.  Since C3: To Find a King was written as competition module, it comes in easily separated sections and each section details a completely different area.  I can place those sections where I need them in my setting and use them, when the Players reach them.  This gives me set pieces which I can build around.  Throne of Evil is a historical romance turned into a D&D game.  While the adventure itself is nothing more than a dungeon crawl with a single wilderness encounter and an espionage paint job, it is filled with historical backstory and little bits of lore scattered through the text.  By blending the backstory in Throne of Evil with the backstory of To Find a King, I can fill in blanks in both stories and use them to better fit into my world.

Secondly, using two or more canned adventures gives me a better way to foreshadow events and expand my Players’ view of the world.  In To Find a King, the PCs have to chase down “The Evil Party” who has bought their prize out from under them.  In the module, there is no reason given for why the Evil Party (while the NPCs have names, they are listed in the NPC section as “Evil Party”) wants the keys.  With the information from Throne of Evil, I could provide a reason.  My Players already didn’t care for Lord Mortimer, a member of the Sovereign Council, because of his sudden discovery of a lost heir of Llywelyn, but when they found Robert Mortimer’s seal upon Blackleaf, a member of the Evil Party, they knew he was a villain and are waiting for the day to give him pay back.

Thirdly, doing everything I can to make the module personal to the PCs and their Players gives it depth and allows for actions not covered in the modules.  Vadis was sold into slavery after his family was betrayed in a power grab in the city of Krell’s Gate.  Malcom Evinter, Lord Krell, was the one who betrayed Vadis Mal’s parents.  While Vadis believes his parents got what they deserved, he won’t trust Lord Krell.  The elf Blackleaf becomes Adran Blackleaf, childhood rival of Adran Silverleaf, thus a member of the Party has a reason to fight from the word “Go” or a chance to parley with a known “frenemy.”

Fourthly, by using the ideas of the various encounters instead of the written encounters, I can make these events seem more organic.  The encounter with Lord Krell is very complicated and involves delaying tactics and traps, but when I ran it, I used it as a roleplaying opportunity.  I kept all the pieces; I just used them for different tasks.  It really is all about stealing and adapting.

So, my readers, do you have any suggestions for me on this topic?

Game On!

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Mea Culpa (or What do I Want in my Game)

On 4 April 2014, I post an entry about why I felt Dice Fudging was bad. It started a heated and acrimonious debate. I feel bad that my post was the sulfur and bat guano that started this fireball. Since that blog post went up the following things have happened:

All of this has led me to reexamine my game and how I run it. I asked myself several questions. Have I ever fudged dice? YES. Did fudging dice ever improve a particular encounter? YES. Did fudging Dice ever worsen an encounter? YES. Was there ever a time that I wished I had fudged dice? YES   Did my players ever know that I fudged dice? PROBABLY. Did my Players ever suspect that I fudged dive? YES. Did that knowledge or suspicion have an effect on my game? YES. Was the effect positive or negative? NEGATIVE.

I lost the trust of my players. They couldn’t never be certain that a lucky series of rolls was just a lucky series of rolls and not a grudge attack? Did Hil get randomly shot at by the drow sniper or was I still mad at him, because he got a wild hair and murdered an NPC on which I had worked too hard. Did the ettin really miss hitting James or did I fudge on his behalf because he is my best friend? Did I randomly roll on the 1E DMG magic items tables and get a +5 Holy Avenger for Christina or did I give it to her because she is my wife? They may have believed that it actually happened the way I said it rolled, but there was always a shadow of doubt.

I am not perfect. I try very hard to be completely fair to my Players, but life gets in the way. Some days, I get mad at a Player. Some days, I feel bad about hurting a particular Player. Some days, I want the background on which I worked so hard to shine. Not always; not even most of the time; but SOMETIMES, I fall down. My Players are smart, educated, empathetic people and they SUSPECT that I fall. Do your Players SUSPECT you of fudging your die rolls? If they do, you may not have their trust in the game. They play your game because they have fun, but they may not believe that you are fair.

Having admitted that I fudge dice and not always for the right reason, I now ask myself, “Gregory, why did you roll the die in the first place? What was the purpose of that die roll that I now want to fudge?”

I am not a slave to my dice nor to the Rules As Written (RAW). I discarded the rolling for Wandering Monsters back in First Edition (1E) AD&D, just as I discarded weapon speed and the one minute combat round. I choose when or if to roll a die to get a randomly determined result. I choose what table to roll against. I choose what monsters the PCs encounter.

What if, when I roll the die, it comes up an undesirable result? Why roll the die, if I am not going to use the result? Am I trying to give the illusion of fairness? Am I trying to shift the blame of my choices to Random Chance? Am I just trying to give my Players the facade of free will; pretending that I am not railroading them along the path of my desire to fulfill the Story Arc that have, so cleverly, devised? The answer to the question of why I rolled the die is this: I rolled the die to place a random element into the game, so that my Players and I could react to the result and create the next element in our shared Story.

I was trying to expound upon 3 reasons why I felt that fudging dice led to a less awesome game. If fudging dice improves the awesome in your game, then fudge. Do whatever makes your game better. I will.

Game On!

The Last Hurrah

E3 is officially retired.

The threat posed by the Giants in the Earth is abated.  Feldspar divides his time between wandering the multiverse, seeking more Trees of Power to link to the Quan, and his Primal Forest home.  Surana has completed the restoration of Castle Timeless and defeated Linden; she now rules as the Chronarch of the Castle.  Belvar has transformed the Black Manor in Quan from a staging area for monsters seeking the destruction of all hominid species to an interdimensional trade moot.   Ghul has returned to the Nine Hells to continue his rise to power in the Infernal Hierarchy.  Aktara,once the Far Realm Breach was closed, found that her patron, Ulban, had stripped her of her Star Pact  powers.  Undaunted, Aktara retires to Arkosia to allow the ancient dragon soul within her to manifest.

The End.

These are the final fates of the Members of E3, but it was not the end of the Giants in the Earth campaign.

The last game began with a bang.  We started the game in the middle of a fight.  I told the players to drop half their hit points, half of their healing surges, and half of their encounter powers.  My brother-in-law and nephew could not make it, but Hil and my daughter Nicki could; so Blackwood (my nephew’s PC) accepted help from the Book of Vile Darkness and he and Vondal were sucked up a vortex that spit out Ghul (Hil’s PC) and Aktara (Nicki’s PC).  They defeat the yochlol and headed on toward the first of “giants” Titan.

It was nice to have Ghul and Aktara back in the party, since they filled out the roster of the original members of E3.  The party made it through three difficult fights and one not as difficult skill challenge and won the day.  We epilogued the big threads still unresolved (Belvar was freed of the Verdis implant and not consumed by his ring Al-Bari.  Surana defeated Linden and merged the Centre of Time and Castle Timeless.  Feldspar traveled to Divlos and Thegnland and connected the trees of the Land beyond the Wind and Azenwrath to the Quan.  E3 Trading Company continued to turn a profit and Spellguard grew into a prosperous city-state.) and ended the campaign.  It was a fun night.

Christina and I got to talking about the campaign and we believe that the campaign may have begun in March or at the latest April of 2009.  It started as a game for Surana, Beryl (my daughter Lisa’s PC), and Aktara in the city of Refuge.  They played three or four sessions before the others arrived.  Lisa dropped out of the game before the rest of the crew that would become infamous as the E3 Trading Company appeared on the scene.  So, I ran this campaign for five years.  It was Christina’s first full campaign.  She had never played a character from newbie adventurer to legendary hero.  Ending the game carried a special weight for her.  I have found a similar weight in my soul.

I write out secrets on index cards for things in my world.  I got this idea from Ray Winnigar’s “Dungeoncraft” articles.  Everything that I create gets a secret that the PCs may or may not find out.  Each time the party finds out a secret, I give them the index card.  After the game, we compared their stack against all undiscovered secrets from previous campaigns, the Tasque Elzeny campaign, and the ones they never learned in this campaign.  Their stack was bigger.  They encountered and learned more about Rilmorin than I have left to reveal at this time.  Wow.

I’ve got more ideas and campaign plans, but building a new campaign seems more daunting in some undefinable way, than it did before and I do not know why.  This is not my first rodeo.  I ran the “War of the Dragons;” I set up and set down the final battles with the Overlord and Babylon.  “Berbalang, Tabok, and the Fairies” ran for a number of years and ended epicly (with two epilogue sessions).  My four 3E campaigns rose and fell in a grand fashion and after each of those I was not heavy in my soul.  What was different about this campaign?

I don’t know what makes this campaign’s end different.  What I do know is that the repercussions from this campaign will echo through many of my games to come.  Castle Timeless, the Quan, and Spellguard are going to be sites to which PCs will adventure.  Aktara will show up as the “Only Tiefling in Arkosia.”  Surana is the Chronarch, she will play the role of Nimsûl and guide PCs to Castle Timeless.  Ghul is a Prince of Hell (or a lich or a Spellscarred Savant) and will surely reappear as gadfly or villain.  Belvar and Feldspar are both dragons and I love throwing in dragons.  The Giants in the Earth will provide hooks and stories for years to come.

Maybe the heaviness at this particular ending comes from what is going on outside game.  One friend is moving away, but will be back for his wedding.  One friend is looking to buy a house with his S.O.  One friend is dealing with a a great and profound grief.  My daughter will be a mother in five months.  Also, this is my last 4E game; from this point forward all games are going to be DnD Next playtest rules.  Are extra-game events making this ending more profound?

I hate leaving this post on a hanging note, but I don’t have any answers.  If any of you out there do, please offer me some ideas.  Until next time, GAME ON!

Traveling Through the Fire Which Burns All Things

Greg Bilsland does it. Chris Perkins does it. I do it and I bet others do it, too. We all use time travel in our D&D games. I’ve dropped time gates and chronosarians into games. I lifted “time-tripping” locations like the “Caves of History” from Egg of the Phoenix and the castle of the Darklord Tristan ApBlanc from Castles Forlorn to great effect in my games. I even ran a limited time travel campaign. It has been fun.

I really don’t know when I first began to drop time travel into my games. Bob Brown helped me design a number of rooms in Castle Timeless. Dragon #65 gave me a great article on time lords. Ken Crosby and I had many discussions about time, time travel, and the relationship between space and time; we both agreed “Time is not the 4th dimension.” All of these events have very specific images to which I connect and while I am sure that they are listed in objective chronological order, I am not sure which one marks the true entrance of time travel into Rilmorn.

Maybe it doesn’t matter; maybe time travel hasn’t begun in Rilmorn. What if the first time traveler hasn’t been born? What if all of the time travel and time travel related information that I have gathered on my game world is all post-cursors to an event yet to happen?

I am sure that I have forgotten some of the time travel that has happened in my games, because I have used it so much. Even if I have, I do have some great memories of time travel events in my games.

I credited Ken Crosby as playing the first chronosarian (time lord from Dragon #65), but Shaefer, his kularin (winged hominid) character, was an illusionist, not a chronosarian. Shaefer enjoyed using time manipulation magic items. He was the first PC in my games to find the Time Glass. Shaefer was delighted to find the time gate in his kingdom of the High Reaches and happily led the rest of the party into the future. He researched the summoning of time elementals and proved the existence of thought elementals. He summoned one of each and placed them as opponents in the Eternal Chess Game. The elementals named Frayin and Theron still exist (even after the Great Cataclysm). They are now bound together in a magical sphere floating above Moon Tower in Spellguard. They are still playing their chess game, they’ve just got new pieces. I hope Ken would be pleased.

James Burkett played the first chronosarian PC in my games. He ran Galen Ringold. I put a series of “time” adventures in this campaign to engage Galen in the story. James had to miss a number of games due to his work schedule and every time he wasn’t there, it seemed like another party member caused a temporal disaster. Amira rewrote the entirety of the players’ history, starting with their first adventure and created a cross-time duplicate of Galen. Shev broke a temporal artifact and duplicated the party; Galen’s duplicate remained, while the other duplicates were absorbed into the originals or returned to their reality. As the number of Galenns increased, the more desperate Galen Ringold became to restore the “Original Timeline.” Galen, ultimately, left the party, formed the Council of Galens, and embarked upon a plan to use the collected life energy of the world to turn back time to stop Amira. He became a supervillain who may or may not have caused the Great Cataclysm that destroyed all life on the planet. Thanks, James.

Long before Doctor Who did it, I had a Time War. Many years ago, I stole the name Castle Timeless from Roger Zelazny’s book, The Changing Land and created a time-themed dungeon. Nimsûl, Guardian of Time, was my NPC which acted as the catalyst to send adventurers to Castle Timeless. I ran multiple groups through Castle Timeless. Ronnie Cooley, a person I knew from my Hattiesburg/USM days, shared with me his time-themed campaign, The Center of Time. He showed me the character sheet of Linden, Mistress of Time, the PC that took over the Center of Time from the mad Master of Time, which his PCs were tasked to slay. Suddenly, I saw a conflict between the two temporal realities. Linden desired Castle Timeless and the title of Chronarch. Galen’s attempt to restore history may have been the opening Linden needed to strike. It may have been the event that allowed Linden to discover the existence of Castle Timeless. It may have been the final blow that brought about the Fall of the Castle. We may never know, but Castle Timeless in now a broken ruin and Linden rules “All of Time.” The Great War is done. (2014.10.02)

Present Games:
Tasque Elzeny is, now, traversing Castle Timeless to find the Key to Time, so they can get home, after being displaced in the ancient past.

Surana (Christina’s dragonborn ranger) has taken up a quest to restore Castle Timeless. Right now E3 is traveling from the ruins of Castle Timeless to the Centre of Time to discover what they can. We’ll see what happens.

If all goes to plan, I’ll, soon, introduce the Weir of Kandalon, from Chronomancer, into Rilmorn’s history. I hope it will soon take a place of prominence alongside the Talisman of Senroth and the Clock of Ages.

Until Next…Time?
Game On!

Two Score Years Ago…

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson brought forth a new way to play make-believe.  It was called Dungeons and Dragons!

Jon Peterson says that the best guess for the release of Dungeon and Dragons is late January and the last Sunday in January 2014 is the day we can celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of D&D.  So, I did.  I celebrated the same way I do approximately every 2 weeks; I invited family and friends into my home to play D&D.  My Saturday group (Tasque Elzeny) consists of Christina (my wife), Spencer (my brother-in-law) and Clint (Spencer’s eldest child).  We are playing DnD Next.  My Sunday group (E3 Trading Company) holds my wife, Christina, and friends: James, Hil, and Matt; we are near the end of my Big 4E campaign: Giants in the Earth!  And now, I present to you my view of D&D:

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Tasque Elzeny

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E3 Trading Company

Yes, I still use my 1st Edition DM Screens.

I encountered out a few other people’s experiences with D&D.  Feel free to check out what Monte Cook, Mary Hamilton, Kobold Press, and RPG Geek have to say on the subject.  Like many people on the net, I, too, have gained great friendships through D&D.  I got to introduce friends to D&D.  My first days in D&D were, of course, among friends.  Without friends and players, I could not run a game, but that is not the best thing I get out of D&D.

I get to create.  I get to build.  I get to be every non PC in the multiverse.  I get to share in an interactive story crafted between my players and me.  I get to mess with maps.  I get to drop challenges into my games and watch amazing people completely bypass them by thinking of things of which I never conceived.  I get to play with languages.  I get to have fun.

Thank you, each and everyone on my players, past, present, and future.

Cross posting this on my Live Journal.