I was off work this week, lazing around, watching stuff, and playing games.
This week I read:
- Volume 7 of Delicious in Dungeon by Ryoko Kui
This week I took a step back and re-evaluated my plans for this campaign. I had planned a mostly linear campaign where the next step of the main plot is fairly obvious, but with side-quests, red herrings, and scope for player objectives. To facilitate that, I intended the next few sessions to be hexcrawling around Dolmenwood to find secrets needed to do some big magic, with them stumbling into other Dolmenwood adventures along the way.
But, having considered the attendance so far (4 players in session 1, 5 players in session 2, 1 player in session 3, no players in session 4, 5 players (so far, at least) for session 5 next week) and the session length (2.5 hours) and frequency (twice a month), I’ve decided that anything long or complicated won’t work. It’ll just take too long, and people won’t remember enough detail.
So I’ve decided to instead use the 5 room dungeon structure (which works for more than just dungeons), with each phase taking 1 to 3 sessions. So the whole campaign will take about 6 months. I’ve also decided to level up characters at the end of each phase, rather than do XP for gold. I want this campaign focussed! I want it to be fairly non-stop action! And we can always do another campaign with a different style afterwards.
So, here’s my plan:
Entrance and Guardian. We’ve already done this: it was the Winter’s Daughter adventure (+ a bit of frost elf related hexcrawling in the solo third session). The players learned that frost elves are real and that there are connections between the mortal world and fairyland. In the process, they kept a magic ring which links the mortal world to fairyland, giving me the perfect MacGuffin to use later.
Puzzle or Roleplaying Challenge. The players are sent to a mischievous fey sage, to ask about the state of the barrier keeping fairyland away. This sage first wants them to “deal with” a druid living in their patch of forest, and afterwards tells them that the barrier is indeed weakening, and that there’s an undercover frost elf who has been studying it in great detail nearby: but the players arrive to find the elven research materials gone, only a teleportation circle remaining.
Trick or Setback. The players have to destroy the research materials (between adventures their NPC wizard employer can analyse the teleportation circle to work out where they were sent) and, in the process, learn that the barrier is weakening because of an ancient artefact of the leader of the frost elves, left behind in his castle in the mortal world and poisoning the magic.
Climax, Big Battle, or Conflict. The players have to sneak into the ruins of the frost elf castle, dealing with twisted demi-fey, and perform the ritual to end the last vestiges of the elven king’s power in the mortal world, ending the disruption to the barrier so that it will no longer continue to weaken. This will be some sort of dungeon.
Reward, Revelation, Plot Twist. The players are told that they have to return the magic ring to fairyland, to seal the remaining breach. They return to the dungeon from phase 1, to find it encased in ice, have to fight their way through to the portal, and have a final battle against a fairy lord on the other side while the breach seals behind them.
- If they defeat the fairy lord before the gate closes: they get out, it’s a total success, good ending.
- Or after the the gate closes: they saved the world but are trapped in fairyland, the set-up for another campaign perhaps.
- Or if they don’t defeat the fairy lord at all: they brought the ring back so they saved the world and delayed the elven forces long enough that the gate closes, a bittersweet ending as the lord realises he’s still trapped.
Of course, you can’t really plan out 6 months of campaign ahead of time. So this is just an outline, I’ll no doubt need to change it over time. But it’s a nice variety of adventures: they’ve done one dungeon already, there’ll be another later, there are roleplaying challenges, a big climactic end-of-campaign fight… and it’ll feel like I had the whole thing planned from the beginning as the ring they kept comes back right at the end.
I couldn’t believe my luck when they kept that ring.
Session 4 this week. I wanted to get better at giving out stress, and I think I nailed it. I reviewed the handy consequences hierarchy figure and realised I’d been giving out mostly “annoying” consequences, which is only appropriate if they’re in control of the situation (in “dominant position”, in FitD terms), which they usually aren’t: they’re usually pretty evenly matched with their opposition, and so should get “frustrating” consequences.
So I just reminded them of the resistance mechanics, and started dealing out more appropriate consequences. Nobody ran out of stress but the game was more exciting.
Turns out games work better if you play by the rules.
Did some more planning this week, even made a map (made with the excellent Traveller Map poster maker), though for the campaign I think I’ll limit the play area to 4 subsectors (a 2x2 square) to keep things more local: I want extended space travel to feel risky, and also I want the players to see familiar places changing over time.
We’ll pick the region in session 0, along with having a wider discussion about what sort of game the players want.
I’ve also realised why I’m feeling this burst of creativity and desire to plan this campaign, while still having fun running Wicked Ones: it’s because Wicked Ones is so low prep. All I need to do between sessions is roll some dice to determine whether any factions advance or complete their goals, and decide how that manifests in a way visible to the players. That’s it. There’s nothing long-term, no adventures: all that is entirely player-driven. So while it’s fun, it’s also not really satisfying. I think this is also at the heart of why I didn’t like Apocalypse World when I ran that (though I also had mechanical qualms with Apocalypse World which Wicked Ones avoids).
Having a future campaign to plan flexes those GMing muscles that Wicked Ones does not.
Last week I complained that the first 5 episodes of The Rings of Power, while good, were also a bit slow. Episode 6 certainly changed things up. Rather than bouncing between all the concurrent storylines, it focussed on just the orcs and the southlanders (and a bit on the Numenoreans, who arrived towards the end of that). Lots of fighting, evil plans being advanced, good stuff.
The only slightly questionable bit was that, at one point, it felt like Galadriel and Halbrand were having a moment. Then they got interrupted. It does make “Elrond Half-elven” and the few other half-elves we know of feel a bit less special if (based on The Hobbit films, and the Arondir / Bronwyn romance, and a Galadriel / Halbrand possible romance) it turns out that the reason half-elves are so rare is simply because elves don’t often meet non-elves.