Friday, March 1, 2013

What I Was Trying To Do

Lately I've been getting nostalgic for The Rebellion Arc, that poor battered campaign that I started writing for 3.5, played with 4e, and switched midway through to Pathfinder while altering background material with each system change. That poor abused campaign where one scenario Derf was a dwarf fighter and the next he was a blind Dwenoren fighter that "saw" things with his sensory spines, and then a few scenarios later he was Derf the Elduman Descended Uncout swordmage and finally Derf the battle sorcerer. I miss that campaign sometimes. I miss those characters.

Anywhosen. So the plot of The Rebellion Arc can be summed up pretty easily. "We busted out of prison, wandered around aimlessly, got into trouble for stealing from a guy, ended up working for him and helping him achieve power to pay him back instead of just giving him the money, then at the last second realized he wasn't such a nice guy and tried to kill him for doing what he told us all along he was going to do."

I call the campaign The Rebellion Arc because while kind of tossing around ideas about what the guys and girl wanted to do, they kind of settled on joining up with a rebellion and Jeremy wanted to successfully pull off the heist his character D'alton had been put away for, which I said I'd do only if he promised to yell, "Where's the van? Where's the fucking van!?"  (Dane Cook anyone?) and he promised he would. So I came up with a few rebellion ideas (Glenwighta/The Fell Peaks, Fell Humans of Hell/Kusseth, Soulless/The Fallen Empire of Man, Laram of Volungshemle/Cenn the Reaver, I think I had one or two more and have forgotten them) and told them about one or two and gave them opportunities to get involved with the others if they picked up the hooks.

The first couple scenarios were really about teaching everyone about 4e and also doing low level stuff to get cash and kind of figure out what the group dynamic was about and kind of about teaching the people with no P&P RPG experience some of the aspects of pen and paper gaming. It was also in part trying to figure out what this taloned and spiky monstrosity of a Soulless was all about. Most assumed he was stupid because he kind of spoke in the third person, if he spoke at all. Later they discovered this was a mannerism of his native tongue, Thoeleknair, and the third person aspect of it was due to the race that spoke it being blind and it being considered rude to not announce who you were before jumping into a sentence.

The first big event was a ghost town that looked like it had been boarded up in preparation for a zombie attack, which is what the group assumed. Nope. Just some Fell Human sorcerers trying to rain fire from the sky down on a Kusseth border town which was totally and completely unrelated to anything else that was going to happen in the campaign. The next big event was in Hell, where the heist took place. They robbed a bank and things went sour and they got involved with Nakmander and began working for him and his rebellion to secure Hell and grow his power so he could strike at Kusseth and free his people and city from its tyranny once and for all.

So they did some stuff for Nakmander. Killed some drunk Fell Human teenagers to cement the alliance with Glenwighta rebels in The Fell Peaks, kidnapped a reaver, rigged an election and put a patsy into power (that was eventually deposed and killed when Nakmander successfully rebelled), fought a dragon, lied to lawmen, started a business, got dysentery, and one or two other things that I cannot recall at this moment. Then the campaign reached the final scenario and they turned traitor and decided to put Nakmander down when they realized he was actually going to destroy Kusseth City with fiery rocks pulled from the sky with sorcery.

The plot of the campaign was fairly basic, oppressed people are oppressed and want freedom, the PCs help obtain that freedom but realize the oppressed people are going too far and decide to fight against them. It wasn't a particularly complex campaign plot and it didn't involve much more than busting heads for the most part. The scenario where they fixed the election was probably the most complicated, and there was minimal combat in that one and at most it involved a few skill checks and the majority was role-playing or planning things out.

I wasn't really trying to do anything unique with the plot. I was experimenting a little bit with sandbox style adventures. Once they settled into working for Nakmander, the sandbox aspect kind of disappeared and turned into a more conventional your quest giver has a mission for you and you go do it kind of campaign. I still think I was able to primarily keep the railroading minimal or nonexistent. They certainly had free reign to do whatever they wanted in the fix the election scenario. I'm not saying they could just ride the train right off the rails during the campaign, but I think I did ok. No one complained about the restrictive nature of the scenarios at least.

I recently had a discussion with Jeremy about what I was trying to do with The Rebellion Arc. I wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel or anything and I certainly wasn't trying to do a save the world style campaign. There were a couple of things I was kind of trying to do though. Not any really super strong clear intent, but I was kind of designing the campaign around a few concepts. I'd been doing a lot of reading and such on the topic of GMing and becoming a better GM so I was kind of trying to depart from previous excursions into world building and campaign construction and such.

One of the main things I was kind of trying to develop was a world that was constantly in motion and didn't just sit around and wait for the players to arrive on scene before things started happening. A lot of times in the past, I built a world and set things up to happen, but then those things kind of hung around waiting for the players to show up to view them or take part in them or to prevent them from happening. With The Rebellion Arc, I kind of set several plots into motion and then just let them roll along to their conclusion whether the PCs were there to watch or take part or not. Now, the players are still the players and the story is still primarily about them, so when they do decide to get involved in things, those things accelerate. Basically, stuff happens on a timeline whether the players are taking part in it or not, but if the players do take part in something they accelerate it. 

So, when the players sat down with Nakmander and joined up with his organization, things started progressing more quickly. Meanwhile, the other rebellion ideas I had set up moved along as well, and some even got involved with Nakmander's rebellion. If the players had peaced out on Nakmander and taken a more active interest in the Rankethlek, Nakmander's rebellion would have slogged along at a slower pace and probably been a lot more costly for him in terms of casualties, while the Rankethlek would have scooted ahead with things and begun fighting Fallen directly, rather than building Steeltown and ignoring the Fallen. It would also have made The Psychogenic Fugue Arc an impossibility.

The other thing that I wanted to do was show that actions have consequences. For instance, D'alton's heist. The group assumed that the bank D'alton had originally tried to rob would be under the same ownership eight years later. They didn't investigate who had an interest in it or anything of that nature. The bank had changed hands, originally being owned by some shady individuals, but when Nakmander started kicking off his rebellion, his first action was to kick mobs and such out of the city. So when the mob using the bank got booted out of Hell, Nakmander took it over. This led to the players getting involved with Nakmander. Additionally, all the faceless mooks and thugs they killed over the course of the campaign had family, they had friends. Just because you drop some 1 hit point minion, it doesn't mean that he doesn't have friends or family that won't be upset. So I crafted the Mysterious Enemies. I based those enemies on some of the more malicious things the group did. One of the guys they hit with a grenade and trapped behind a wolf-iron door that they welded shut. The teenage Fell Humans that were partying in The Fell Peaks that they killed because the Glenwighta told them to. One was the mother of a Kusseth greycoat they got killed for extorting arms suppliers. The brother of their patsy in the election. There were other mysterious enemies, and I had planned for them all to interact with the players during The Psychogenic Fugue Arc. 

I guess the Psychogenic Fugue Arc is the best example to use to show how actions have consequences. The players backed Nakmander and helped build up his power base. When they turned on him and "slew" him, he became obsessed with them. Without that obsession, he probably wouldn't have built himself a clone army of The Robust Five and now be using it to try and conquer The South, and Meroteth might have been reconquered by Kusseth or reabsorbed into The Fell Peaks.

The Rebellion Arc wasn't about morality. The players were thieves and vandals and killed kids and bystanders without so much as blinking. Which is fine. I don't believe in black and white morality for the same reasons I think two word alignments are stupid. It's meaningless. Hekinoe is a world where morality is gray and there are only really shades of more gray. To the Fell Human population of Hell/Meroteth, Nakmander is a shining paragon of Chaotic Good fighting against an oppressive establishment for the freedom of his people from a tyrannical dictatorship. To the average Kusseth citizen, he is a black hearted Chaotic Evil sorcerer that might as well be bathing in the blood of infants after eating their hearts.

Don't get me wrong, some things are bad, period. Rape, pedophilia, etc. But lets look at the bigotry of most average folks of The Known World in regards to sorcery. Sorcerers in most places in The Known World are considered vile and evil, because even the strongest of them can't guarantee that their sorcery won't slip out of control and endanger the lives and well being of those around them. Bigotry is typically a bad thing. However, sorcerers cannot guarantee that their sorcery won't slip out of control and endanger the lives and well being of those around them. You can practice certain methods of spellcasting and utilize certain items to minimize the chance of a misfire, but you cannot guarantee it. So every time a spellcaster casts a spell, he is risking the lives and well being of those around him. All sorcerers are aware of this risk, as sorcery's nature is well documented in The Known World. Does that not make the bigotry of The Known World justified? Does it not make a spellcaster evil for ignoring this danger and casting spells while around other people? Even if you are using sorcery to stop some sort of disaster of mass casualty proportions, you still can't guarantee that a sorcerous misfire from your efforts won't be worse in some way. 

To continue, The Rebellion Arc was about choices and their consequences and about a world that lives and breathes and doesn't sit around waiting for the players to interact with it. Things are still happening in The Known World, even though my players are wandering around Orcunraytrel, and I like that. Makes it feel like the world is more than just window dressing.

You may have noticed that the past two days have had posts kind of detailing The Rebellion Arc appear on the blog. I've decided that I am going to post the logs of each of the scenarios from The Rebellion Arc here on the blog, one a day for five days each week. I'm doing this because my Orcunraytrel players don't really know about The Rebellion Arc, beyond what Eric and I have mentioned. I'm also doing it because I need a break. I've been feeling kind of drained and am having a difficult time creating a post I am happy enough with to actually post, so I think I need a bit of a break from creating new content. 

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