Category Archives: Campaign Design

Re-Imagining DragonLance – Part 3b

Welcome to my fifth installment in the series on re-imagining DragonLance. In my previous post I revealed that DragonLance is a science fantasy-setting, and following this argument I will in this part of re-imagining DL3 focus on those aspects that lead DragonLance into the Science Fantasy genre. In the first post I covered those aspects of the module, that can be changed without the science fantasy-elements, and in my post on the hidden history of DragonLance arguing that DragonLance really is a science fantasy-setting I laid the ground for viewing the setting as such, and now I will cover the specific aspects in DL3.

The Ruined Tower

This tower contains some sort of apparatus that for one reason or another points the way to Fistandantilus’ grave, and this is one of many disguised science fantasy elements in DL3, where somehow a mysterious semi-magical apparatus has been designed.

Truly this is the poor ruins of technological wonder, that now is being reclaimed by nature, but some of the machines are still working. By exploring the tower, the PCs accidentally or on purpose trigger the machines, that spring to life with a hum, and an advanced laser pointer and a holographic projector helps the PCs to orient themselves and map the area, but energy is running low, and the tower soon cease to work.

The Steam City

Under the mountains are according to the module huge caverns generation heat and steam, and the dwarves build a city here, that drew upon the steam to heat the city. Now the place is abandoned, but a small clan of Aghar still lives here, and they guard a relic of the past.

Disguised as just a fallen dwarven city and just a magical crystal, this part obviously draws from science fiction archetypical stories, where the degenerate survivors lives on in an automated city that is slowly collapsing, and they guard ancient computersystems, they have the lost the ability to operate properly, and instead they venerate them and operate them in a ritualistic manner, however recently the machinery has begun failing more and more often. It is believed among the degenerate survivors that they have angered the gods, and that they should return to the olden ways. During the story the protagonists arrive, gains access to the systems, and the truth of the high tech city is revealed, but this occurs during a power struggle among the survivors, where one faction considers the protagonists for blasphemers, and the cause of the angry gods. The protagonists are captured, but they succeed in escaping and during the escape, the city is destroyed as the machinery finally fails.

The Steam City encounter can be run as this archetype:

The city utilizes a natural resource in the shape of lavapools or superheated pools, that generates steam. Pipes lead the heat or the steam into the city, where it drives the powerplant. This system must be maintained on a regular basis, and the Aghar does this in a ritualistic manner, but the old piping has begun to corrode, and now rituals can replace the piping. The city is doomed, and it is merely a matter of time.

The Aghar is divided into two or more factions struggling about what is be to done: Sacrifice the chieftains daughter to please the gods? Return to the olden ways? Abandon the city? Appoint a new regent? Led the (false) priests rule the city?

The PCs must navigate between these factions in order to gain access to the “black crystal”, that obviously is a computer system, that is semi-intelligent, and is just waiting for the PCs to ask it questions. It contains no new data, having not been upgraded or updated in centuries, but it can tell things about the olden days. It does not now about the events of the last 300 years, and is naive about the low-tech world of the PCs. Due to age some databanks have been corrupted, but the DM can inform the PCs about whatever is suitable on the olden days and on the presence of Thorbaddins realm.

The steam city naturally collapses during a aghar powerstruggle before all questions have been answered, and the PCs flee from the city as it is destroyed.

The Battlefield

Besides the fact that this location can be read as the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings, where the marshy land is swallowing up an old battlefield. This part is truly revealing for the secret history of DragonLance as this land is strewn with the corpses of warmachines.

The warmachines are of course not catapults nor ballistae, as one might assume of the medieval fantasy setting. The module itself states nothing on the nature of the warmachines, and that in itself is a bit curious. In the marshy lands are the remains of highly advanced technological warmachines, tanks and artillery, most likely hovertanks and mobile artillery units capable of spewing death at immense distances. Now it is all destroyed left rotting, and no one understands them nor can operate them. It is here important to describe how alien these objects that litter the place are. They are build of metals and alien substances, they are rusting and being overgrown, but their purpose is opaque, as is their construction. Some may still be vaguely alive, driven by remnants of artificial intelligences barely able to call out from dying speakers and perhaps able to operate a few lights, perhaps a mechanical arm. Beyond the eerie experience the characters gain no further from the exploring the warmachines, but the curiosity of the players should be kindled.

Mostly this part is creating mood and revealing the setting to the players and the PCs.

The Tomb and Fortress of Fistandantilus

This place in the module is a dungeon, that is mostly abandoned, but it does contain two dragons (whose presence seems to be a bit of a gaffe, since one has been bound by Fistandantilus since forever, but somehow it survived the catastrophe – and apparently is able to sustain itself – and has been there ever since. The other participated in the war, so it was a dragon present in the world of Krynn just 300 years ago, when the setting material claims that dragons have been gone much further than that, this dragon is an ally, who has been trapped in a stasisfield and for it no time has passed since the death of Fistandantilus, which means it possesses perfect knowledge of this era – and most likely it might know the hidden location of the dwarfgate, being an ally of the dwarves and a good creature.), and a bunch of undeads and mechanical traps, that have survived the ages.

Generally the dungeon works fine, so I won’t bother changing it much except for strengthening the secret history elements:

The Stasis Field

The module presents no reason as to why, there is a dragon caught in a stasis bubble. It just is. For some reason a stasis field manifested itself around the dragon and it’s victim (it is trapped with a goblin, that it is just about to swallow), and that saved it from Fistandantilus’ suicide strike, that killed everyone else (but the shadow dragon for some unknown reason).

The stasis field is naturally another piece of high tech in Fistandantilus’ fortress

What about the dragons?

Unless there is some reason later in the DL-series for the two dragons to have survived, I will generally just remove them. The dragon ally is relevant in the battle against the shadow dragon, and it is unable to explore the deeper parts of the dungeon, and the shadow dragon is tied to its location. So it can be removed as well.

Instead another shadow monster will be place here. Something horrible of course. What is in here, is one of Fistanditus’ monsters, that as such was killed in the nuclear blast, but its shadow was burned on the wall, and that shadow has come alive.

The ghosts

As with the shadow dragon one option is to see the ghosts as shadows burned on the wall, that has come alive, however several ghosts are rather holographic automated forces still running in the fortress even though they slowly are breaking down. In creating them as holographic forces, it connects with the strange apparitions in the sunken city of Xak Tsaroth in DL1, and ideally the PCs/the players now realize that the ghosts of Xak Tsaroth were holographic computer programs, as they are in the grave of Fistandantilus.

The Skeleton Warriors

The Skeleton Warriors begging to be released from the control of Fistandantilus and forced to fight against their will can easily be explained in science fantasy terms, as they are really mechanized armor with a semi-intelligent AI based on the personality of the wearer being forced to serve Fistandantilus. Trapped inside the armor is the bony remains of the warrior, who wore this technological marvel. Most likely Fistandantilus the AI hacked his way into the armor and took control.

The idea that the mechanized armor carries a rudimentary AI based on the personality of the wearer is useful for a later encounter, since the skeleton warriors will then foreshadow a later encounter deeper in the grave.

Chamber of the Mechanical Hydra

This chamber is in the module a labyrinth of invisible floors and walls lighted by a magical globe hanging under the ceiling, and in the midst of the chamber is a mechanical, firebreathing hydra.

As such the does not make sense whether it is fantasy, science fiction or science fantasy. It is just one those weird chambers, that challenges intruders in adventure stories, but otherwise does not really have a function.

The light in the room is not magical, but comes from a electric source, that has been running for hundreds of years. The hydra is covered in the next section, and as for the invisible walls and floors, they can be shaped by technological force fields, and one option is that they actually are mobile and a way to reshape the room so it can be utilised in many ways, but right now it is frozen into one position. By finding the controls the PCs can reshape the room. Whether or not it can be used as a weapon against the hydra is up to the DM to decide (safety measures in the system are likely).

The Mechanical Hydra

When we played this part, the players were convinced the hydra was a robot of some sort, even though we played the module strictly as fantasy and as written, and thus they decided to search for the on/off switch. In the module is uncertain as to how the mechanical hydra works, it just does. Re-imagined it is of course a part of the automated robotic defenses. With age it has begun to breake down as in the module. The only alteration really needed is to make it truly robotic and add an option of switching the robot off.

The Grave of Fistandantilus

The remainder of the grave contains more mechanical and technological traps, that are just as senseless as the chamber of the mechanical hydra, and they can be explained in much the same sense.

Of interest is only the encounter with Fistandantilus, which again is one the annoying scrptied encounters, that had my players asking all kinds of awkward questions, as they wanted to explore the room further and interact more with Fistandantilus the demi-lich.

In this interpretation he is of course an AI, and he can manipulate nano-particles or holograph projectors to create a manifestation with which he can present himself and interact with the PCs. Since this is just a manifestation and his mainframe is securely hidden away, he is safe from harm, and he can ignore the PCs at his own leisure. He can be manifested as a disinterested, incorporeal avatar, that might deign to answer a few questions, but otherwise just ignores the PCs. In this room is also the controllers for the Skeleton Warriors, and with these the mechanized armors and their highjacked semi-AIs can be put to a rest.

One main point in this encounter is to demonstrate, that not all holographic manifestations are primitive or automated programs, but that some are fully manifested AIs.

The Dwarven Helmet

Ideally aspects of the this encounter has been foreshadowed in the encounter with the Skeleton Warriors.

From an adventurers view the dwarven helmet might just be a part of a magical armor, and the module does portray it much like this, except that for some reason the owner, a dwarven prince, is tied to it, and is able to magic jar into the wearer of the helmet to tell his story.

This is not a magical helmet. It is an advanced piece of technology not much different from the apparatus that kept Fistandantilus in existence. It can carry an AI, and the previous owner of the helmet was able to leave a remnant of his personality in the helmet to tell his story and ask the heroes to return him to his grave. Briefly before his death he uploaded a part of his personality in order to survive. When the helmet is worn, he can use the technology to briefly download into the wearer to tell his story.

As to the dwarf aspect it is removed, as there are no dwarves in DragonLance, only the degenerate Aghar. Instead as detailed in the secret history post the dwarves are nothing but humans, and some of them fell and degenerated into the Aghar. So the owner of the helmet is human from Thorbaddin.

The Finale

In the Tomb of Fistandantilus the PC’s access an old computer, that has satellite maps of the lands for 300 years ago, and these maps show the route to the secret intrance to Thorbaddins realm. The mission is accomplished, the PCs har their map, and now it just a matter of leading the refugees to the gates, where DL4 Dragons of Desolation begins.

Final Words

DL3 possesses the second best dungeon in the DragonLance-series so far. It is far more interesting than Pax Tharkas, but the sunken city of Xak Tsaroth is superior. The travel section of DL3 is way more interesting than the scripted sequence of DL2, and more varied and interesting than the journey in DL1. However most importantly this module is where the science fantasy of DragonLance becomes truly obvious, and this trend continues in DL4, which however is a new low in the series due to its scripted encounters and vaguely interesting dungeon sequence.


The Hidden History of DragonLance – Part 2

In my previous post I argued, that DragonLance is really not fantasy as much as it is a post-apocalyptic science fiction or science fantasy disguised as fantasy – mostly due to the fact that the story and the setting is planted in the D&D-game.

The main evidence for DragonLance being a science fiction comes from the third and fourth module (and perhaps later in the series, but I have not studied the material that far yet), and it comes partly in the shape of some curious magic items and from vague descriptions, and then from archetypical science fiction narratives and tropes, such as domed cities connected by automated cars or trains and from “gods” destroying the world with “catastrophic” rains of fire – which in the world of pseudo-history as proponed by Ancient Alien Theorists is clear evidence of advanced aliens using nuclear weaponry and such like.

In the following I will sum up some the tropes, but others will be covered in detail in my post Re-Imagining DragonLance – Part 3b.

The Tropes

Degenerate People Living in the Ruins

The Aghar or Gully Dwarves are an obvious example of this (DL1, DL2, DL3)

Domed Cities Connected by Train

The seven underground cities of Thorbaddin in DL4 are a perfect example reminiscent of the cities in for instance Logan’s Run.

Doomed City Maintained in a Ritualistic Manner

The Steam City in DL3 inhabited by Gully Dwarves are an example of this. The city is supposed to run by steam utilizing the natural resources, but slowly it is collapsing as the city is falling apart.

Worshipping Forgotten Tech

The same Gully Dwarves in Steam City protects an ancient artefact, that they have lost the ability to use. The artefact is a black crystal on whose surface text appears, when the crystal is asked questions. This is a computer, and again this follows a not uncommon trope of lost tech in a post-apocalyptic world.

Lost City Protected by Invisible Guardian

In DL4 the PCs reach an ancient city or advanced tomb guarded by a gold dragon tied to the place, who uses an assortment of spells and shape shifting to interact with the PCs as a harmless guardian of the place. In science fiction terms the PCs have reached an automated city maintained by an artificial intelligence manifesting itself through robot and/or holographic projections.

Frozen For The Future

Another trope is the past trapped in ice in such a manner, that it easily can be observed and thus represents a perfect image of the past. In DL6 the PCs find a knight and his dragon mount trapped in ice.

The evidence

Flickering blue light

Strange ghosts and mysterious lights are present in both Xak Tsaroth og Fistandantilus’ grave (DL1, DL3), and time and again the ghosts in these sequences the ghosts are mechanically carrying out the same everyday action as from before the apocalypse. Ghosts repeating themselves in this manner are somewhat known from folklore, but these are very detailed actions with spoken lines etc. This is just as easily understood as remainders of holographic projections running own centuries later. A common element in post-apocalyptic fiction.

War Machines

In the marshes around Mount Skullcap, where Fistandantilus has his fortress are rotting war machines. These machines have been here for 300 years. Had they been catapults and ballistae they would have rotted away long ago, which is not the case. So what are these ‘war machines’? High tech weaponry slowly rusting away.

Stasis Field

Inside the grave of Fistandantilus (DL3) is a dragon trapped in a stasis field. The module does not explain the presence of the force field. It just is there, and it is hardly portrayed as a magical phenomenon, thus again a science fiction element.

Fistandantilus’ Blast

When Fistandantilus was defeated he took all with him, allies and enemies in a blast, that ruined his fortress and killed everyone on the battlefield leaving the aforementioned war machines. From one point it is just a powerful spell out of reach of the PCs, on the other hand this is just as well some sort of neutron blast, that left the war machines, but destroyed all living beings.

The dwarven helmet

At the end of the third module the PCs find the passage to the Gates of Thorbaddin, but they also find a dwarven helmet, that for some reason is inhabited by its previous owner, who magic jars into anyone who handles the helmet to tell his sad tale and have his helmet returned to his grave (in the next module). This is a curious thing, and again it may be magic – the module describes it as a magic jar-effect, but it does not describe, how or why this happened, but the science fiction point of view, this helmet carries an AI, and in this case the AI is most likely a primitive imprint of the original owner, who made it in his dying moments to send a message home, a message 300 hundred years late, but now the PCs are here, and the AI-imprint briefly manifests in the wearer of the helmet to deliver its message.

Next Up

There are more science fiction-elements to be dug out of DragonLance, and more of those in up-coming posts on re-imagining DragonLance. The presence (or absence) of the science fiction-elements does not change the flow of the modules, and can be ignored, if a reconstruction of the modules is all, that is desired.

There is one more way to view the general story of the DragonLance-modules, one that does not change the flow much either, but one that adds an extra dimension. More of this on the third post on the hidden history of DragonLance. Also coming up is the second half of the Re-Imagining DragonLance Part 3.


The Hidden History of DragonLance – Part 1

This post is related to my series on re-imagining DragonLance (DL0, DL1, DL2, DL3a). In the re-imagination of the modules, I strive to improve some of the flawed or weak parts of the modules, but also to introduce what believe is a hidden aspect of DragonLance, but before I continue doing this, this hidden history needs to be exposed.

Some time ago Monte Cook wrote briefly about Science Fantasy in lieu of his new – and rather interesting – Kickstarter (or kickstarted as it is) project Numenera, that plays out in a fantastic setting, where technology is so advanced, that it seems like magic – thus reminding us of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous third law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

This relates in its own manner to my re-imagining of the old DragonLance modules for my reason to re-imagine them came not from a desire to improve the modules though improvement were sorely needed having been designed in an age, where there was very little experience in writing story heavy functional modules (and in the 90s it was no better as several PlaneScape and Ravenloft modules can attest – and I am a fan of those settings).

No, the reason for re-imagining the modules were the obvious presence of science fiction themes and elements, and that by reading between the lines it became obvious, that DragonLance was a science fiction-setting.

Through the lens of D&D

The one main reason for this not being so obvious is the need to keep DragonLance within the D&D paradigm, thus you must have elves, dwarves, and halflings, there must be gnomes and other elements central to the D&D-rulebooks. This obscures the fantasy-elements, but they are certainly not gone.

Science Fiction … in D&D …?

Expedition to Barrier Peaks is a classic, where the heroes discover a crashed space ship, encounters robots and other strangeness, but it is not the only module with science fiction-elements. The DA-modules for D&D becmi had the heroes travel back in time to distant past, where a spaceship has crash landed. Later this spaceship became a central object in the grand history and cosmology of the D&D Mystara-setting (among other things including a nuclear physics scientist among the Immortals of Mystara, i.e. that is the Mystaran version of deities) – see Gaz3, Gaz10, Gaz13, PC4 as well as Hollow World Campaign Setting and Wrath of the Immortals as well as the final episode of Voyage of the Princess Ark.

In CM6 Where Chaos Reigns the characters travel in time to three different ages to save a dimension from a time travelling, technological highly advanced race, the Oard, that are a bit like the Borg, and now the PCs must save the world in different eras from the borgish monsters.

In the D&D becmi-module IM1 The Immortal Storm the characters being Immortals since this is the i of the becmi-scale they travel to another dimension, where they end up in modern-day New York.

In the PlaneScape-setting can also remnants of spaceships be found, but they seem almost like easter eggs hidden to amuse GMs and players, rather than an attempt to add science fantasy to D&D.

In the AD&D 1st DMG were also rules for cross overs to Gamma World, so in general the D&D-games were not exclusively tied to a fantasy setting, but kept science fiction-elements as an option.

The Science Fantasy of DragonLance

In my re-imagining DragonLance I have hinted at the presence of technology, but it is not until DL3 Dragons of Hope it becomes truly obvious, that the re-imagining includes science fiction-elements. This works best when presented as a surprise for the players. However the science fiction-elements are not elements that I am adding to DragonLance. They were there all the time. I will only be pointing them out.

Next up is retelling the story of DragonLance, but this time emphasizing the Science Fantasy elements.

Retelling the Story of DragonLance

This is not the complete story, but it covers most of the elements, that can be gleamed from the first modules.

Gods from Outer Space

Long ago an alien race came to Krynn, and they were viewed as gods by the inhabitants of this low tech world. They granted immense advances to the inhabitants, and they often communicated with the inhabitants using an elected class of priests, and often using their Messengers to bring the knowledge of the Gods. In the local language the word for Messenger of the Gods were ‘dragon’.

Things went well on Krynn, but the arrogance of mankind angered the gods – as the story has already been told in the DragonLance material – and it was decided to punish mankind. The gods dropped a nuclear device or some equivalent on or near the city of Xak Tsaroth creating the catastrophe, that forms the present post-apocalyptic DragonLance-setting. It is likely that one faction (Thakisis) tricked the other alien factions into doing this, and then led them into exile, so the Thakisis faction could return and reshape the civilizations of Krynn, perhaps as slave races mining rare resources for their alien masters posing as gods.

Having regretted their decision the aliens went into a self-imposed exile, where they abandoned the population on Krynn to fight for itself.

Meanwhile back on Krynn the survivors of the nuclear blast escaped to the plains of Abbasinia – thus the name of the plains, Lands of the Abandoned – and from here the survivors split into three groups: The plains people, who disavowed technology forever, the first emigrants who went west and settled the town of Solace and Haven – hence the names of these settlements – and then a group went south to find shelter in the Seven Cities of Thorbardin.

The southbound emigrants passed the ancient fortress of Pax Tharkas and soon reached the lands of the Agar and their Seven Cities of Thorbardin. However the gates were closed and the emigrants were left to their own, had it not been for Fistandantilus.

Fistandantilus and His Fortress

In an ancient past the engineer Fistandantilus never felt appreciated for his technological knowhow and immense skills, so he uploaded himself as an AI to his mobile, technological fortress. From this position he led the southbound emigrants in battle for the Seven Cities of Thorbardin. In the plains near the Seven Cities it became a mighty battle involving armies of war machines, however Thorbardins mobile fortress were invaded by hostile forces, and Thorbardin released his neutron weapons in order to stop his enemies at the cost of his allies. Now the plains are littered with lifeless war machines and the mobile fortress were frozen in place. In the depths of the fortress Fistandantilus lived on trapped in the isolated circuits of his computers.

The Seven Cities of Thorbardin

Hidden beneath the seven domes are the wondrous cities of the Agar. The Agar were another breed of humans being slightly different from the people of Xak Tsaroth. The Agar had one weakness and it was their susceptibility to radiation. The agar population living in the domed cities that survived almost unscathed, but any agar living outside the domes were corrupted by the radiation and their descendants became the gully dwarves. There were agar living in Xak Tsaroth and at Pax Tharkas, and their descendants all became gully dwarves.

The domed cities have since fallen from their technological might and the survivors of the Agar have become mere shadows of their great ancestors, and now they live in a state of war between the domed cities.

One of the wonders of the domed cities is the flying city, which was the seat of the leaders of the Agar, but now the flying city is being run by an AI waiting for people to return to its city.

The Dragon Army and Lord Verminaard

The lords in the heavens have disagreed on how they should treat the people of Krynn. After having been lured to destroy the human population by one faction of aliens, they all went into exile to reflect on their actions. The faction that tricked the other aliens into destroying the civilization of Krynn had other plans, and they have now returned to reshape the population on Krynn in a new image. To do this they have sent their servant Lord Verminaard.

Lord Verminaard is likely just a robot or a cyborg. Most likely a cyborg with psychic powers. He has been upgraded by his lords from the stars, and been given several dragons as his servants. Lord Verminaard may be the descendant of the human servants, that served the “evil” aliens from outer space, and he has now sent back to Krynn to conquer the world.

Through a program of genetic hybridization he has been given an army of draconians.

So where is the evidence for this?

I will address this in my next post on the Hidden History of DragonLance.


Re-Imagining DragonLance – Part 3a

Welcome to my fourth post in the series of re-imagining the DragonLance. Presently I am running the old modules from 1984 with the AD&D 1st ed.-rules. While playing them I discovered several things, that need to be fixed, and I also found a hidden story within the modules. With this re-imagining I will attempt to fix some of the flaws, and I will also present the hidden story in the modules.

After a long delay I continue here my re-imagining of DragonLance: I am solely dealing with the old modules from AD&D 1st edition. Previously I covered DL1 and DL2, and now it is time for DL3 Dragons of Hope:

Now this module is whole lot better than DL2. It contains a mini-game for the PCs guiding the 800 refugees rescued from DL2, and as usual the module consists of two parts. The first part covers the journey to the dungeon, and the second part covers the dungeon.

Though it still contains scripted events, a poorly written transition from DL2 to DL3 and several minor plot holes the module flows a whole lot easier and better than DL2. With the third module the secret history of DragonLance also becomes obvious in this module, a secret I will go into detail with in a separate post.

The Basics

DL3 Dragons of Hope covers the search for the secret entrance to the kingdom of Thorbaddin. The PCs travel through the lands south of Pax Tharkas in search of clues, and soon their journey is directed towards the tomb of Fistandantilus, and once reached and explored, the PCs find the route hidden in the depths of the grave, and the modules ends. DL4 begins at the gate of Thorbaddin.

In this module little is learned. Most of the information retains to Fistandantilus, and that is mostly that he attempted to lead the humans into Thorbaddin and a mighty war took place, and that Fistandantilus released powerful magics from a different age. Also some dragons are good, and they are metallic rather than chromatic, as they are the evil dragons. Also there are shadowdragons, and they too are evil. It is less clear to me, whether or not the claim that dragons disappeared a long, long while ago is false, since the dragons at the grave of Fistandantilus disproves this. According to the dragons, then dragons (at least the good ones) were present as late as after the cataclysm some 300 years ago.

Re-imagining

This time little needs to be changed. The little game can be tightened a bit, and the journey through the lands south of Pax Tharkas extended into a heroic journey. The scripted encounters with Fizban are among the things, that I will ignore, and instead I will focus on revealing a whole lot more of the back story. As with the previous modules I will also focus on a getting the PCs into the center of things, rather than the NPCs.

Dwarves

I have changed the dwarves’ role, so the villages of hill dwarves must naturally be removed. The encounters are not strictly necessary, but they can be replaced with humans eking out an existence in the mountainous regions. The humans are most likely survivors of the now forgotten war for entrance to Thorbaddin’s realm. The survivors might possess tales

However the lost city inhabited by the Aghars remains, as it plays an important role, and thus they remain in place.

The Refugees

The Refugee aspect of DL3 has great potential, as there is a lot of character driven game in this, but the module does not utilize this. Somewhere between the second and the third module the refugees suddenly organize themselves in several different groups and found a council, who appoints the PCs to lead them to safety. There is no reason to skip this part, but instead give the players a say in how, they think the refugees should organize themselves, and let them help with appointing leaders or be the leaders themselves: Should the form a council, or should they simply lead the refugees, or should some other system be used? Use the NPCs from the module as potential spokes persons and leaders, and use them to challenge the players’ decisions.

From being a resource-management game this can become a character-driven challenge, and if you lack inspiration, then take a look at the tv-show Battlestar Galactica for inspiration.

Being Chased

This part is mechanically vague, and is tied into several scripted encounters, which were hopelessly forced, when we played them. By removing Fizban these encounters can become quite exciting in their own right. The best approach is to remove the scripted encounters and the mechanics for the chase, and instead recreate them as challenges for the players:

  • Caught by the advancing forces, the PCs must lead the refugees in silence through a snow-covered ravine in order not to bury the refugees in tons of snow.
  • A small group of refugees has been lost in a snow storm. What to do? Wait for them to return, go back and look for them, or keep moving?
  • A group of refugees has refused to follow the lead of the PCs, and they have gone their own way, when it is discovered that the group is being led into a trap. Can they be saved?
  • A group have fallen behind, and the PCs must lead them unseen through the lines of the advance guard.
  • Perhaps the enemy must be led astray. Who can generate false tracks and how? Must some be sacrificed to create a convincing lead? Who decides, and whom must be chosen?

There are plenty of options to create several exciting scenes with the PCs trying to lead the refugees to safety, and combining this with the ordeal of leading the refugees and dealing with their council, then there are plenty of options.

The main point is to place the PCs in the center of the events, and to give them some very hard choices to make.

The Malign Influence of Lord Verminaard

Lord Verminaard has haunted (and hunted) the PCs since DL2, and ideally was foreshadowed in DL1 and even earlier, so he should of course also appear in this module. Seen leading his troops and flying on his dragon in the distance, but since he possesses powerful mental abilities, and since this is hinted in DL3 and DL5 he can naturally also influence any spokespersons and council members, partially recreating Lord of the Rings, where Gandalf confronts the king of the Rohirrim, and frees him from Saruman’s influence. Likewise the corrupting influence can also begin, and this can add an additional aspect to the game, as Lord Verminaard attempts to corrupt one of the leaders and sow dissent within the ranks of the refugees by forming a secret Cult of Takhisis guided by the ethereal presence of Lord Verminaard.

The PCs must now deal with a magically corrupted leader and the cult of Takhisis, and one option is to spread the word of old gods, and tell the refugees, that the gods of old has returned, and that their faith in the new ones is misguided.

Dealing with the cult gives the players an idea of, who and what their enemy is, and it puts Lord Verminaard in a nefarious position, where he can safely deal with and challenge the PCs (this also foreshadows his dream-presence in DL4).

The Next Part

The second half of the module I will cover in an upcoming post, and that part will focus on the aspects that reveal the true nature of the DragonLance world. In that part the player’s will no longer be in doubt as to the presence of the secret history and the scale of the post-apocalyptic story.

The next part will cover specific locations in the module, among other things The Steam City, and The Tomb of Fistandantilus.


Re-Imagining DragonLance – part 1

In this series I presenting a re-imagination of the old DragonLance-modules. I am replaying them presently (well into DL3 Dragons of Hope right now), and they just don’t hold up. There are many good ideas in them, but playing them as written is not easy, for as many good ideas there are flaws.

DL0: Dragons of Prologue

In my previous post I argued for the production of a prologue-module to begin the campaign.

Before play

The players are given the following information before start:

  • No one has seen a dragon for a thousand years. To people they are imaginary creatures of legend.
  • Three hundred years ago the world died as old gods punished the people of Krynn with a rain of fire. Then the gods departed.
  • The survivors from the civilization of Xak Tsaroth were the Abandoned and they fled to the plains (naming them thus the Abassania). From here left three migrations. Two went east and settled in two different places (at Solace and at Haven), the third went south and disappeared. The remainders became the three Que-tribes.
  • Among the known humanoid races are humans and kendar (player character races), and goblins, hobgoblins and the elusive elves and some speak of a forgotten people, the dwarves.
  • Now people worship The New Gods, and the center of worship is Haven.

During play

During module DL0 Dragons of Prologue the characters discover the following:

  • A dark force is corrupting the priesthood of Haven.
  • The new gods are false, and any miracles are mere tricks and illusions.
  • The Song of the Blue Crystal Staff – a force of goodness has guided the PCs to an ancient statue of an unknown woman carrying a Blue Crystal Staff. The staff conveyed true miraculous powers, and the PCs were required to seek out legendary Xak Tsaroth to pick up ancient tablets of power.

Thus we begin DL1 Dragons Despair.

Dragons of Despair

Right now the PCs are in the middle of the story. Instead of NPCs doing the important stuff or important decisions being made before play, it has become an active part of the play.

In DL1 the PCs travel to Xak Tsaroth from Haven, and once at Xak Tsaroth they discover that evil forces has invaded the place and now guards the tablets of power.

The module: Overview

The basic structure remains unchanged: The PCs travel with the Blue Crystal Staff to Xak Tsaroth, navigate the sunken city and confront the dragon in order to regain the tablets. During the travel the PCs are harassed by Lord Toede and his hobgoblins and they encounter the first draconians and they meet the people of the plains

The Module: First Act

The PCs travel from Haven to Solace. During the journey they travel around the forest – as it is a dark and foreboding place inhabited by the malign spirits of the forest – and as they travel, they meet travellers talking about a band of hobgoblins led by the deformed Lord Toede (whom the travellers assume to be a hobgoblin due to his deformities). This is naturally foreshadowing the next part, where the PCs are being chased by the hobgoblins, until the hobgoblins are defeated or the heroes take refuge in the forest. Here a white stag guides them through the forest to just a few kilometers from Solace. Travelling the last part the heroes encounter hooded travellers asking about a Blue Crystal Staff. This is the classic first encounter with draconians, but this time the PCs are perhaps cautious and avoids answering and thus the draconians remain hidden. Otherwise it is another combat.

In the town of Solace the heroes can plan the next step of their journey, crossing the plains, and while they are in town, they must stay out of sight from the hooded travellers asking for them (thus we steal a scene from LotR).

The Module: Second Act

Crossing the plains is easy. The main purpose is to introduce the people of the plains, and while visiting them, the PCs are told the story of the aftermath from the plains people’s point of view about how they chose to remain of the plains of the abandoned rather than leave as three other groups – those that went to Haven and Solace, and those that went south never to be heard from again (Yes, more foreshadowing).

The plains people also claim to be morally superior for leaving a more modest life, as they purposefully are more primitive than the people of Haven and Solace (yes, this too is foreshadowing in some sense).

After the plains the heroes reach the remnants of a huge road that disappears out on the plains, but leads the heroes east through the mountains the high cliffs next to The New Sea, and from here, the heroes travel to the ruins of Xak Tsaroth.

The Module: Third Act

Now we enter dungeon-territory. The first part is the surface, where the remains of Xak Tsaroth are a muddy swamp.

Here the heroes encounter more draconians, and they discover a draconian temple, where they worship an alien god.

From a huge well a black dragon appears, and it briefly attacks the PCs, when the Blue Crystal Staff reveals more of its powers. The staff counters the acid blast from the dragon, and the monster retreats, when it sees the power of the staff.

Valiantly the heroes follows the dragon by entering a temple.

Inside they encounter statues for forgotten gods. As with the draconians’ statue, these are slightly alien. These gods are not quite human.

As with the original module they find an entrance to an underground city. The original Xak Tsaroth, the part that was swallowed up by the ground rather than the sea. Here they encounter more draconians and a weird race of slave people calling themselves the Aghar, who claims to be the ancestors of the original inhabitants of the city.

This statement is undermined by the remnants, that the heroes encounter. Here and there are flickering, bluish ghosts mindlessly repeating actions throughout the centuries. Some can be interacted with, and they can either answer simple questions about the city from before the destruction, but they are simple-minded and usually only talk about certain subjects or long forgotten products. Others guard certain buildings and can attack with shocking grasps.

Among other things they discover a library, where a ghostly librarian can make the books talk and display pictures revealing parts of the past.

Deepest down the heroes track down the dragon and its lair. They battle the dragon, and once more the Blue Crystal Staff counters the mighty powers of the dragon. The mighty battle causes the dragons lair to become unstable, and as it lies dying and the heroes retrieve the platinum tables of power, the cavern begins to collapse, and the heroes must flee, as the remnants of Xak Tsaroth is finally destroyed both underground and on the top. No traces are left, and the PCs are left with no evidence besides the metal discs (and in the chaos the staff has disappeared). The metal discs can magically display text telling the stories of the gods, and once more how to worship them in order to gain divine powers.

Discoveries in DL1

The PCs has now discovered the following:

  • Xak Tsaroth was a strange and fabulous city using arcane techniques, that are now lost and seems magical.
  • The dark forces are evil dragons and their draconian troops
  • That there are the unknown and strange Aghar-people of Xak Tsaroth
  • Flickering, bluish ghosts haunts the remnants of Xak Tsaroth
  • The Platinum Tables of Power enables the chosen of the old gods to communicate with them, and they grant the chosen divine powers.
  • The old gods look almost human

That was DL1. Next up is DL2.


Re-imagining DragonLance – DL0 The prologue

Part 1

So it became time re-making DragonLance. Initially my plan is to make one post for each module, and I intend to deal with DL1-6. The basic premise of the remake is, that the liberties that Battlestar Galatica Re-imagined took, I can take, and that material from the novels or campaign supplements will generally not be employed. The purpose is to uncover the story, that lies hidden in the DL-material.

Likewise I will also part for part reveal the new backstory for the campaign.

Addendum: My intention was initially to do a post on each of the modules, but as I began working with DL1 I realized, that a lot needed to be done, so this post will mostly deal with preparing the campaign and the prologue. In a sense I am adding a DL0-module to the series.

The players’ role

One of the major issues with DL is that, the NPCs get all the important plot- and character-developments leaving the PCs to march through dungeons killing monsters activating small storylets, where the players listen passively to more NPCs doing things.

This cannot do. So the players must have a considerably more central role, if not the central role.

The Characters

The original modules suggests that the players can use their own characters, and that these have arrived near the beginning of the module for some reason, perhaps arriving from another world, but this is kept vague, and leaves quite a few questions unanswered (for instance what about druids?), and the module recommends, that the pre-generated PCs based on the novels characters are used. Yet the backstory for the characters’ unique position – The new priesthood worships false gods and we are going to find the true gods – is left undeveloped, until it is described in a short story in DL5. DL5 is unlike the rest of the DL-books not a module but background material.

So new characters are needed, but before we get to create new characters, let’s have a look at the first part of the story.

In need of a Prologue

If the story is to begin the same place more or less as the original module, we miss out on a lot of exciting things:

Riverwind has found the Blue Crystal Staff, and he and Goldmoon has been teleported far away from their home village.

(for some reason Riverwind journeys to Xak Tsaroth and picks up the staff, then returns to his home village, and with Goldmoon he is teleported away to somewhere else, and just before the PCs encounter Riverwind and Goldmoon, they have been assaulted by hobgoblins looking for a blue staff, and then with Riverwind and Goldmoon they go back to Xak Tsaroth with the staff. Convoluted and confusing, and apparently they need to do it, in order to pick up the platinum tablets of the good gods, that are being guarded by a dragon – but why are the tablets here, why this confusing stuff with the Blue Staff etc.? This can be kept more simple and straightforward by having the PCs journey out to find the Blue Staff, that will point them towards the Platinum Discs. The Blue Staff can be introduced through visions, that becomes available, once you realize that the new gods are false.)

Before that Lord Verminard has begun influencing the council of (false) priests in Haven, and Elistan from this council has begun doubting his (false) faith (so that he will convert to worshipping Paladine due to events in DL2 and DL3, where we encounter him).

Elsewhere the main characters have realised that the priests worships false gods, and they have decided to go find the true gods. During these travels one member of the group is led astray (Kitiara).

In other places the armies of the Dragonlords have begun marching and the fortress Pax Tharkas has fallen. In the modules the elves claims that betrayal has played a part in the fall of the fortress, however how and who etc. is not covered the module (DL2).

Some of these elements will enter the DragonLance DL0 Prologue.

What stays in the GMs notes did not happen

One of my rules for scenario design is, that anything that stays in the DMs notes didn’t happen. With the exception of the GM the shared experience of the roleplaying is what happens between the participants, and if there are secrets in the GM-notes that stays there, it is simply not a part of what happened. Assuring the players, that it is there in the GM-notes changes nothing, it is a bit like cutting an important scene from a movie and then assuring the audience, that the scene exists – it still is not a part of the viewing experience.

Some of the worst offenders, that I have read are the Planescape Campaigns (Dead Gods, Modron March, Faction War), that no matter how interesting they might have been, contains huge amounts of information, that are limited to the GM’s eyes and keeps the whole purpose of the campaigns secret for the players, and no matter how cosmic, grand and epic the plots are, if they are hidden for the players, they simply are not part of the play-experience, and then it doesn’t matter how cool they are.

The DragonLance-modules and setting-material (DL5) contains plenty of small references, that are hidden from for the players and sometimes even the DM. Especially if you don’t have the novels fresh in memory: Did you know, that Lord Verminaard has telepathic powers, which he uses to manipulate various NPCs – and if you knew, can you give the names of the manipulated NPCs and Eben does not count.

These elements reveal that a lot of the story has begun long before the first module begins, and that the all the exciting things happened to the PCs, while they were NPCs. That won’t do for this project, so before the first module can be played, a preceding story needs to be played, and for that we need characters, and new ones because I want the players to create the characters, who will become the heroes of the story.

Creating New Characters

Okay, here goes.

This time the players get to make their own characters, and they will be imbedded in the campaign, so they become the main characters instead of the pre-generated.

The players can choose the following races:

  • Human
  • Kendar

And the following classes:

  • Fighter/Ranger (non-spell casting)
  • Rogue/Bard
  • Wizard
  • Priest of the New Gods (who necessarily does not have any spell casting powers)

Backstory

After the days of the cataclysm, when the gods destroyed the world, the survivors were abandoned by the gods. The survivors – or the Abandoned – were left on the great plains, that since were named Abanasinia from these ordeals. From these survivors three migrations took place, while the remaining stayed back. The staybacks became the descendants of the Que-people, who are divided into three main groups (Que-Shu, Que-Kiri and Que-Teh), and they shun civilised society (believing this to be the cause of the gods’ anger). Of the three migrations only two are known. The third went south and has never been heard from. The first migration settled in the forests and their new home became known as Solace – as this is what they found in the forests, and the second migration settled on the far side of the elven lands in a place named Haven, as this is what they found.

Hence there are three human societies to choose from, when making characters: The Que-tribes of Abanasinia, the people of Solace and the people of Haven. Kendars do not have a homeland, but are found wherever humans are.

Dwarves, gnomes and elves are not an option for reasons to be revealed.

The first module: DL0

This module will present the players for the setting, introduce the characters and cover elements, that were hidden away in GM notes, setting material and short stories.

In this module we learn the following:

  • Dark powers are manipulating the priests of Haven
  • The new gods are false
  • The Song of the Blue Staff

The premise is the following: Our heroes becomes involved in the intrigues in Haven, where they meet Elistan, a priest of the New Gods, and they discover that a dark force is manipulating the priesthood of Haven thus weakening human society.

As a part of this realization the PCs soon discover, that the new gods are false, and that any miracles performed by the priests of the new gods are mere tricks.

Once this is realized, they receive a vision, that leads them to an ancient statue of an unknown woman (the statue might be hidden in a dungeon if a dungeon crawl is needed). In her possession is a Blue Crystal Staff with miraculous powers. From here the PCs are charged to go to Xak Tsaroth to recover the Platinum Discs.

Journeying towards Xak Tsaroth they begin to encounter the spies of the Dragonlords and people looking for a blue crystal staff forcing our heroes to stay out of sight.

Here we enter DL1.

Now the backstory (the gods are false),  the hidden elements (elsewhere Lord Verminaard were corrupting the priests of New Haven) and more backstory (picking up the Blue Staff) becomes active parts of the game, rather than things happening out of sight. There are however several mysteries, that I have not touched upon yet, but in my following posts I will reveal the new background for DragonLance.

I have not gone into the details of DL0 (how does the PCs discover the dark force corrupting the priesthood etc.), as these details are easy to handle, once one starts writing the scenario. I want to focus on the larger elements of the DragonLance Campaign.


Re-imagining DragonLance – part 0

So I have been playing DL1 Dragons of Despair and DL2 Dragons of Flame (publ. 1984) with AD&D 1st ed-rules, and between the two modules we implemented the DragonLance Campaign Setting Guide (1987).

Now I want to do a re-imagining of these old modules. If it can be done for TV-shows, then it can be done for roleplaying.

The good thing about DL1 was the okay dungeon-section being the marshy Xak Tsaroth and the awesome dungeon of the sunken, subterranean Xak Tsaroth. The bad things were the beginning of the scenario, which did not make much sense and was not very interesting.

Then came DL2, which was intensely boring for the first part, where I kept “telling” and “telling” and “telling” all these so-called exciting story-ish things, where NPCs did all the talking and the action, and it was once in a while interrupted by a brief combat-sequence, where the players got to do things. Soon we began skipping both descriptions and combats simply to get to a part of the module, where the events does not consists of NPCs doing and acting. That brought us to the dungeon of Sla-Mori and then to the fortress of Pax Tharkas. Here things got somewhat okay.

After that I began reading through the next modules to get an idea of what was happening, so after DL3, DL4 and DL6 – and the sourcebook DL5. Now that I have gotten to know the DL-modules, the contours of an interesting story is appearing to me. Just as Battlestar Galactica went through quite a change with the new series a few years back, so do I wish to present a new interpretation of the DL-modules.

In the next few posts I will cover each of the modules from DL1 to DL6. But before doing so, I will comment a bit on the material in the modules.

Behind the curtain

There is a lot of back story hidden in small references around the modules – and some seem even to be hidden in the private notes of the designers. In the back story of the NPC Elistan in DL5 – though the character is introduced in DL2 and plays a major role in DL3 and partly in DL4 – we learn of his struggles in Haven and the intrigues involving the villain Lord Verminaard, and this is also the section, where we learn a lot about Lord Verminaard, and this is mentioned no where in the description of Lord Verminaard himself.

In several places you get the feeling, that you as the GM only knows slightly more than the players, and that there is even more going on, that they (the designers) will hardly tell you about, but still assume is a vital part of what is going on. It worked for Tolkien, but he had a whole appendix to put these things into, the designers … well, they kinda had an appendix, they just did not use it very well.

It needs a rewrite

In several places it seems like new ideas were developed, which would actually ret-con earlier information, however as the modules we continuously being published, there was not any opportunity to go back and revise. In other places a clear knowledge of the books seems to be important, simply because the scenario neglects to tell us (both DM and players), what is going on. For instance in DL6 an NPC suddenly states, that the Orb is important and must be retrieved, though the Orb has never been introduced (it is described in the magic item-section of the module, but this section only reveals what the GM knows about it, not what is known by NPCs).

All the NPCs

The desire to tell an epic story has thrust the story into the hands of the NPCs leaving the players as bystanders, and this both wastes the setting and epic story, it is also boring. This basic flaw I generally attribute to the early age these modules were published in (being 1984), where the designers simply lacked the necessary tools to create this kind of product, and it ought to be possible to do it better by now.

So next up begins the science fantasy of DragonLance re-imagined.


DragonLance: Playing Dragons of Flame – part 1

Not too long ago we began playing DL1 Dragons of Despair (1984), and at the same time we began playing AD&D 1st ed., having played a few modules using D&D becmi. Soon we discovered that AD&D 1st ed. was a bit awkward (initiative rules for one thing), however there was a certain charm to it, and the dungeon in Dragons of Despair we had a lot of fun with. It was good, and thus we decided to keep playing DragonLance, and we turned to DL2 Dragons of Flame (1984).

However it was a slow start. At first we decided to implement the DragonLance-campaign book (1987), however that caused a lot of problems, as there was no conversion guide, and the book was rather unclear on what to do, if you had begun the play with the regular AD&D-rules and then implemented the DL-setting. For instance how about druids? Well, some characters gained levels, others lost them, and the mages had to reconfigure their spell books, and only the Kendar Thief were unharmed. It felt a bit like the early Order of the Stick-page, where the party shifts from 3E to 3,5E. Thus an evening was spent.

Then came the session of very little happening with me telling an awful lot of things happening. The first half the scenario is about the characters returning to their favorite village, getting taken prisoners, being rescued, being led through the forest, see the elves, meet with the elves, see an elven maiden being kidnapped, and then finally move on the adventure.

We wasted an evening, where I began fast forwarding through long passages about elves talking with each other and guiding the PCs though forests etc., and we even skipped combats, as these were interspersed between long passages of narration:

  • Things happens
  • You travel, long description of travelling
  • NPC’s talk – some with each other, some speak to you
  • NPC finishes speech, you may add comment
  • Suddenly monsters burst into scene due to actions of NPC. You may battle nameless henchmen
  • Combat is over, NPC’s resume playing the scenario
  • Some nameless NPC’s are actually hidden, important NPCs, that you will meet later, during their important stories

This is bad, bad design. This is playing the module as written. It is boring for me as GM and for my players. The best things were the absurdities, the occurred during these passages, when we overplayed the importance of me narrating to the players, what happened and overtly forbade them to do anything or respond to anything until I had finished my narration. At other times we made merry on the attempts to use a poetic language to describe landscapes or NPCs doing things etc.

At the third session, we finally reached the dungeon of Sla-Mori, and now we are finally playing a more regular game. I am looking forward to play through the last part, where the PCs enters Pax Tharkas, though I fear the narration may take control of the game once more.

So far it was an interesting attempt to create a strong narrative arc of epic proportions from the designers, but being this early in the history of D&D, I must say it failed – but it is obviously possible to solve this problem, as some GM’s have done by rewriting the modules to suit their tastes.


Playing the various D&D-versions – and which Spelljammer module to play?

For a long while we played in one of my groups the old D&D-modules (B-series) with the 4th ed. D&D rules. Then we skipped to playing the X-series with the good old basic D&D-rules, and right now we are about to finish X3 Curse of Xanathon. We have been talking about playing any more X-modules or perhaps a Companion or Master module, however we have been considering to do a shift for short while to AD&D 1st ed. to play I6 Castle Ravenloft. The purpose is in part to try the various versions of D&D, though we intend to skip 2nd and 3rd., and then either move on to 3,5 ed or Pathfinder – but now that has changed; Recently it was announced at The Alexandrian the arrival of Legends & Labyrinths, a stripped down version of 3rd edition, that is compatible with the 3rd ed. That is intriguing, and I am sorely tempted. I can get to keep using my old 3rd (3,5?) books, and at the same time I can get to avoid the mechanic heavy parts of 3rd ed., and yet still play it – at least if L&L keeps its promise.

Which Spelljammer module to play?

And so I am looking forward to L&L, and with a bit of luck, I’ll be running my old Spelljammer and Planescape modules using the rules system, but since I don’t intend to run all of my Spelljammer stuff – and since I got it all and never got to play it (yeah, I know, I am a collector by heart), I have no experience with it – so which one or two modules are the best Spelljammer-modules to play?

Running a Delta Green-Campaign – Part Nine

In the ninth installment I will deal with how I construct missions for my campaign (preceding posts are here). I have earlier covered how we play, the rules we play with – or by – and the trouble I have with the published scenarios, so now it is time to take a look at how I create missions.

The missions are briefly covered in these two posts:

At present we are well into the third season. Each season consists of six episodes, and in the two posts particular components can be seen.

Structure

Since each episode follows a certain structure, I can sort of focus on filling out the blanks in the schema, and it allows me also to break the model once in a while making sure, that things are never quite the same. The basic structure is Inital Talk (between GM and players on tonights play), Call to Mission (A Night at the Opera), Relation Scenes, Gathering the Agents and Initial Briefing, The Case (investigation, confrontation, denouement) and Finishing Play (debriefing, side plots, XP, consequences, next time etc.). But first my prep:

Filling out the blanks

Well it always begin with some sort of idea. Something I want to infiltrate with the mythos. It can be news story of some sort, a particular scene or phenomenon, or it may theres a monster or some other lovecraftian element, that I want to include.

Next I generally jot down the next sequences, notes on the clues picked up, and what it is for a mystery, that the agents are confronted with. I reflect a bit on the theme and how scenes can be constructed to reflect the theme.

From the View of the Audience

I structure the episode viewed from the angle of the players. So instead of writing a back story or some sort of write up, I begin the episode, where the characters begin. So how are they involved in the mission?

Now compared to the published module, there is an absence of several pages of back story. Anything that the players will not be able to learn, or that is otherwise not experienced by the players. If is not a part of the shared fiction, it does not exist.

A Night at the Opera

An X-files, a Supernatural og a Fringe episode begins commonly with some occurrence of a fantastic nature that causes the demise of some persons, and that becomes the basic of this weeks episode. However from the view of the characters, Mulder and Scully, The Winchester Boys, Olivia and The Bishops, this is not where the story begins. For the story begins at two different places for the audience and the characters, and unless you play the victim opening-scene (which can easily be played), you have to start the scenario at the same place for both characters and players. For the same reason this is where I start the scenario-text, as the preceding details are outside the reach the players.

  • One player receives the invitation for A Night at the Opera, that usually presents the basic information, and informs the characters, where they need to appear for their briefing.
  • The player as his character invites the remainder of his cell. Some times we talk about the characters taking days off, going on vacation, overseas jobs and how they excuse themselves from their family.
  • Then we usually play The Relation-scenes. These scenes often takes place between the Invitation and arriving at the briefing.

The Briefing

This is the easy part. Here all the information, that needs to be presented for the characters to begin their mission is introduced. This is usually some sort of briefing from their DG-handler or a friendly, who has picked up some strange clue, that they recognize as being within the jurisdiction of DG.

  • In general it is an Exposition-scene. It contains a the list of initial clues, NPCS and places to go.
  • Any special rules for the mission are also presented (“enemy agents will be present, so you must operate in secret” etc.)

The Case

Off we go. The players visit various scenes and locales, they interview people and pick up strange things at the crime scenes etc.

  • Clues are automatically available, but often come with some sort of price; a skill check is used to determine how long it takes, whether or not opposition arrives or guards are alerted etc.
  • Descriptions are play an important role. Weather, buildings, nature, seasons, and the mood constantly play a role. They are sort of my character in the game, and I spend time describing these things. Often as a contrast to the PCs or to emphasize theme and subject of the mission.
  • Splitting up the party. Most of the time the PCs are split up into pairs, and unless it is part of the mission or the monsters powers, the characters are more or less constantly in touch with each others.
  • Exchanging information and musing on the mysteries is a central element in the campaign, as it is the weirdness and the alien phenomena dealt with by the agents. We therefore focus on the agents dealing with the mysteries and their responses to the mysteries, rather than on the players figuring the riddle. The players can thus focus on roleplaying their agents’ responses to the Mythos.

Often the mysteries are just weird or almost meaningless, and we instead see the characters dealing with and trying to contain the threat to the public.

Episodes are based on a series locales, events or situations, but rarely I bother with establishing how they are connected. Often there is a simple logic to it, or one occurs as we play, sometimes the players create the connection.

Open Ended

An additional element in the fluid structure of the missions comes from the fact, that the players can pay spend 5 sanity points to create new facts that supercedes my plot. This creates connections in the plot in ways, that makes sense to the players and allows them to solve the plot in unforseen ways.

Two Sessions and The Dramatic Arc

Most misions lasts two sessions. In a tv-episode, in a movie or in a comic etc. the events follows a dramatic arc intensifying the story as it progresses. Same goes for roleplaying.

For the scenarios each session has its own dramatic arc, meaning that a mission has multiple dramatic arcs. In order to shape the events proper, I replan the missions ever so slightly between sessions, so that each session has its own dramatic arc independently of what happened during the game. In other words whereever we stop the game, the next session has its own arc.

Most often sessions end at some suitable place, either at a cliff hanger or just after the dramatic moment has been resolved, and there is a quiet moment.

Preplanning and Buying Missions

Even though I have a catalogue of ideas for missions, I do not create any episodes ahead, nor do I have a preplanned storyline. It is tempting to preplan a series of missions, but I want to shape the campaign directly on the events of the previous episode, and Í want the players to be able to shape the campaign by buying episodes, which on purpose makes it difficult to preplan, but more importantly it allows the players to choose stories, that they find interesting. Furthermore these episodes put the characters in focus, as they happens to not just be episodes, that interests the player, but episodes that one way or the other is about the characters. Bought missions often tie in with the sideplots either directly or thematically, making them even more relevant to the players.

Tying episodes together

Even though I do not plan ahead, I do tie the episodes together. I have AP reports (on my Danish blog), that I can mine for details – names, places, events – and then reintroduce in later episodes. Sometimes I drop names or events into a scenario simply in order to recycle them later. They grow in a retroactive manner, and even though an NPC is killed in one episode, does not mean that person cannot reappear in some manner, for instance thorugh a friend or relative investigating the death of the NPC.

Since retrocactive design is the design principle I can later make sense of things, that weird or inexplicable in one episode. Futhermore taking one episode at a time mean, that I can develop the parts of the plot, that caught the interest of the players the most.


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