During the previous session, the PCs had a dream wherein their appeared like the former Defenders of the Light. More information about that session can be found in Dream a Little Dream of Terror. In this preview, one of the PCs gets a bit more info about the Defenders of the Light and a strange new prophesy.
A book falls from Birkalis' table, waking him with a start. It lands
hard on its spine and falls open. As he bends over to pick it up, his
eye is drawn to the illustration on the page. It depicts the door in
his dream and displays the same carving. In the foreground stands a
small boy, his shadow splashed across the wall behind him, taking the
form of a man wearing a crown. Before the boy's shadow, is another
one, kneeling before him. The source of the other shadow remains
unseen. Above the door is carved the words, "When he is born, even
the Shadow will kneel."
The illustration is in a chapter called The Sealing. While it
mentions the Shadow, it refers the reader to other books for
descriptions of the creature. Instead, this chapter focuses on the
eclectic band of heroes who gave their lives to ensure the Shadow
could not escape and wreck havoc on the land ever again. The prophesy
is repeated here as well, again with the dire warning that the Shadow
will devour the lands if it escapes.
The chapter also mentions one lone survivor of the group, an eladrin
who was able to use the sacrifice of his fallen friends to seal the
door and hold in the Shadow. Their sacrifice gave him the power
needed to perform magic far above his level. The experience also left
him mad, and after returning with the rings and other personal effects
of his friends, he founded a temple in the western woods dedicated to
the light. He spent the rest of his life making sure no shadow
crossed his path again, filling the rooms of the temple with light so
bright the sun seemed pale in comparison and day was never-ending.
When Birkalis is done reading this chapter, he tries to find the books
mentioned in the chapter, but empty spaces occupy the spots where he
would expect to find them. With the search fruitless, he returns to
reading of the elven history of Arcadia.
The rest of the party sleeps through the remaining night without
event. They awake the next morning to a chambermaid opening the
curtains in their rooms, allowing the sun in. The light feels warm
and comforting as it hits their skin. She also opens the windows, and
the gentle breeze brings with it the hint of lilacs. She informs them
that hot baths have been drawn and breakfast is being prepared.
When they assemble for breakfast, Elessandra takes them aside. She
mentions that Lilith is feeling a bit better, and may join them for
the meal, but they must keep their questions short and they mustn't
ask her about the shadow. With that, she opens the dining room doors
and the group is treated to a wondrous feast of fresh fruit, sausages,
bacon, lots of bread and fresh juice. The crew of the boat is there,
along with 4 dwarves who look familiar but were not members of the
crew. They announce they are the four dwarves who were petrified by
the coral and thank the party for rescuing them from the water's
depths. One of them presents an ornate key and says that it is one of
the artifacts the previous boat captain was attempting to smuggle out
of Andernach. He has no idea where it goes to, but it is the only
payment he can offer.
To add to a year of firsts, Fred and I are going to Gen Con this year. I'm really excited about this as I'll be seeing some people I've met online and at PAX East and hopefully meeting a ton of really cool people. With my experience at PAX East, I know a bit more about what to expect.
One of the nice things is I've signed up in advance to judge for RPGA. A huge thanks to @Wolfstar76 and @Mudbunny74 for pointing me in the proper direction. Without their assistance I would have had no idea where to look. For those who are interested in judging at Gen Con, you can sign up on the Baldman Games website. The sign up process is simple and Dave is a really nice guy. Judges get rewards for running games and you get a chance to learn about a lot of different play styles in a compressed time period. An added bonus for me is knowing that I might be giving people who lack a home game a chance to play the game they love.
In the additional info section, I told Dave about my experience at PAX East and he thought I might be a good candidate for the Learn to Play sessions. These are the ones I really wanted to run at PAX East but they lacked enough kits to allow me to run one. So I'm pretty psyched about this although a little intimidated as well. Chances are the players at my table are either going to be brand-new players, perhaps even kids, or people who've played earlier editions and want to give 4th edition a try. To be honest, the former scares me a bit more than the latter, in large part because I have to help introduce them to the entire concept. Besides, I'm not much taller than the kids, so holding their attention and being an "authority figure" scares me a bit. I've dealt with my fair share of people who have a thing against 4e, so I'm not too worried about holding my own against any older edition players who want to show their ugly side. Besides, I just need to remind myself that the people playing want to have fun and I'll be wearing a super awesome DM shirt. Between those factors and my natural charm, I shouldn't get into too much trouble with maintaining the table. If I get challenged by someone, I just need to pause, take a deep breath and crush them with the monsters (mostly joking about that last part).
That just leaves running a great adventure. I won't be getting an adventure in advance, so that makes things a bit harder for me. But since it's learn to play, I can make some pretty good assumptions about the types of creatures they are likely to come up against. I'm also going to spend some amount of time with the PHB and the DMGs to make sure I have the core rules down pretty well. Recently passing the Herald Exam helped bolster my confidence in this area as well. And the rules aren't everything and the emphasis here is definitely on the fun. This means if I forget a monster power that nerfs the monster a bit, it's no big deal. I'm not promising them an adventure where the challenge is to just survive. Beyond that, I just need to be descriptive and be willing to roll with things. I'm really good at the latter and the former tends to be easy for me unless I end up in competition mode, which is unlikely. So all around, the odds seem stacked in my favor.
Beyond judging, I'm really looking forward to sitting in on a few seminars, playing a few games and hopefully even running one of my own creations. I've improved my skills since PAX East and if there is another DM challenge, I'm ready, willing and able to participate. I'm also looking for a few opportunities for chaos, although I'm not sure how yet. Another goal is to meet with some publishers about finding ways to get their adventures included in my RPG Adventure database. Somewhere in there I need to sleep and eat. Hopefully I'll make all my endurance checks. If you are going, definitely let me know!
With D&D it's impossible for the rules to cover every possible action your players will try. Given that, it's important to come up with a few easy to remember game play philosophies. One of my most central ones involves the idiom, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." I try to say yes as often as possible to my players with the caveat that if they can do it, so can the NPCs. If they chafe at the NPCs being able to do something, that's a clue to me that their request likely is broken. This guideline helps forestall arguments and long periods of time spent combing through the rule books.
So what does this mean in terms of actual game play? Well, a couple of the PCs have powers that allow them to dominate a creature. This means the dominator gets to choose one action for the dominated party during its turn, with the limit that it must be something that can be done at-will (no encounter or daily powers here). In a recent game, the player decided that the creature should walk past each of the PC's allies, drawing opportunity attacks in the process. One could argue that this is a bit broken and decide to not allow it. But why do that? There is no clear rule and, in this case at least, I believe it's a daily power. So I rewarded the player who had the clever idea by letting him run with it, but made it clear to the table that this meant the enemies could use it as well. I have to say, it was a lot of fun when it played out at the table, with the poor monster running away from the group while taking hits from all sides. Now the players are just waiting to see when I decide to bring out the gander moment.
This guideline isn't a magic bullet. Some people really prefer that there be a real rule that is clearly spelled out and defined. This is not going to help with that. But for most gamers who can come to a friendly agreement, it can make things a ton easier and fun.
A DM needs to metagame. Beyond the rules and the story, the DM is the one who needs to watch the clock and check in on how the players are doing stamina-wise. In addition, the DM needs to make sure that there is fun for everyone during the session. My players like combat and so, while I'll occasionally run a session without any, I try to make sure every night has some. During the planning for last night's session, however, I was really struggling to come up with one. And then, the morning of game day, I had an idea. The PCs were going to be sleeping in a magical tower filled with the magic of Sehanine. Why not do a dream sequence? We had done an earlier one that went really well, so I know my players wouldn't hate me for it. So during lunch, I quickly came up with this encounter and I drew the map at the table.
At the start of the encounter, the Shadow Walker and Dark Smashers are at the table, planning some military maneuvers. The wraith is hanging out at the end of the mass of rocks to the southeast, on the opposite side of the cavern from the tunnel. The PCs can place themselves whereever they like in the tunnel to the north.
The Dark Smashers and the Shadow Walker work together to get the Smashers combat advantage. At the beginning, I just used the Walker's Double Attack but then moved to the Soulblade as things got interesting. A bit mean I know, but an interesting twist to the encounter.
This meant the tension at the beginning was focused on the wraith, with its aura that causes damage and dazed. The tension was amplified when one of the PCs, blinded by the Walker's Dancing Shadows, blindly walked down the eastern side corridor and ended right next to it. At the start of his next turn, the damage and effect came seemingly out of nowhere.
The white discs are light sources. The PCs have a magic item I made which gives them the following encounter power:
Encounter (Teleportation): Must be adjacent to a light source. Teleport up to 5 squares and end adjacent to a light source.
This magic item means that light sources, and their absence, become important elements of the terrain.
Dealing with stealth is difficult as always, and when the condition of blindness is tacked on, it becomes even harder. There was a bit of discussion of when the wraith would be felt by the PC walking down the corridor. I had forgotten that the PC was blinded and started to put the wraith on the board. Once I recovered my error, the player argued that his character would still know it existed because he was only blidned. While blindness doesn't make all perception go away (he might have still heard it for instance), a confluence of events led me to rule he wouldn't have noticed it right away. The wraith has a +14 to stealth and blinded gives a -10 to perception checks. I would have mentioned the aura, but after having to explain why the wraith was hidden, I just plain forgot.
The Soulblade power of the Shadow Walker is really, really mean. In addition to the amount of damage it does, a successful hit means the PC can't spend a healing surge until the end of the Walker's next turn. This can turn it into a PC killer, especially if you have other monsters around to give it buffs. For instance, the Kir-Lanan Voice I used in the mirrors encounter gives a +1 to attack rolls with its aura.
Also, I ignored the healing powers on the monsters. I guess I could have switched them out for something else, but I lacked the time. With the powers they had, the combat would be interesting enough and healing would have made the combat last even longer.
At my table, I like spreading around the story telling fun. Building off of each other not only takes the pressure off of me, but leads to some really great ideas. Fortunately I have a group that is likes to tell stories or is at least willing to amuse me. Tonight, we had a great opportunity for one of those collaborative story telling moments.
In the preview for this week's game, an NPC offered the group rings in exchange for taking up her cause as Defenders of the Light. She mentioned that she hoped that they would meet a better fate than the previous wearers of the rings. This set up a great dream sequence where the PCs would appear to be the former ring wearers. For simplicity, they kept their own powers and stats. I then gave them the opportunity to create the characters. What race were they? What did they look like? What were their names? This took a huge workload off of me and I can use the answers to those questions in the story going forward.
Not only did it help me, but I bet the players are going to be more interested in the story line from now on. I look forward to doing more of these experiments in the future.
Last week the PCs dealt a blow to the shadow army in its attempt to raid the Tower of Lilith. This week, they will meet the tower's namesake and be asked to stand up against the growing threat. Here is the preview I'm sending the players.
The last of the shadowy attackers escapes through the mirrors. Almost instantly, the Mirror Keepers run forward and solemnly turn off the mirrors so they no longer act as portals. Elessandra and some of the Keepers rush to aide their fallen friends, attempting to bring life back to their limp bodies. While the calming presence of the tower is still there, it feels weakened and offers little solace.
Meanwhile, the double doors behind the chairs open and a tall, slender woman dressed in white dress with a long, flowing red robe steps into the room. Instantly, the room falls silent. Elessandra rushes to the woman and kneels at her feet, bowing her head.
"Your ladyship, you have awoken. We have been attacked!"
"Yes, child, I know. Once again Arcadia is under the threat of the shadow." She turns to look at your group, "And once again fortune provides us with brave and courageous souls. Please, come forward." Elessandra stands and takes her place beside the other woman.
The battered adventurers step forward. "I am Lilith, protector and Keeper of the Light. Arcadia is in dire need of your service. Someone seeks to use old and forgotten secrets to destroy the land and enslave its people. They must be stopped, no matter the cost." She reaches into her pocket and pulls out 6 silver rings. "These are from the last group who had your task. I pray their fate does not befall you. Will you become Defenders of the Light and drive back the growing shadow?"
Since I started spreading the word of Chris Sims' "play boldly" philosophy, a number of people have asked me about Leeroy Jenkins. For those who might not have heard of this Internet meme, Wikipedia has a good summary:
The video was released by the World of Warcraft player guild "PALS FOR LIFE". It features a group of players discussing a detailed battle strategy for the next encounter while one of their party members, Leeroy, is away from his computer. Their plan is ruined when Leeroy returns and, ignorant of the strategy, immediately charges headlong into battle shouting his own name in a stylized battle cry. His companions rush to help, but Leeroy's actions ruin the meticulous plan, and all of the group members are killed.
While his actions certainly were bold, they really don't fit into the play boldly mantra. For me, the mantra isn't about playing each individual PC acting as boldly as possible. Rather it's how to turn the game from the monotony of dice rolling and regurgitation of mechanics that honestly can be done with a computer to a telling of legendary tales that will keep you and your friends entertained for years.
On one hand, the Leeroy Jenkins moment did that. In fact, it went from being a tale between friends to being an Internet meme to becoming part of our cultural literacy and being mentioned in a number of TV shows, movies and commercials. We love it because it illustrates a frustration shared by many players of MMOs. The difficulty of the dungeons in World of Warcraft caused groups to spend a lot of time on strategy. While some people really love these planning sessions, a fair number of people do not. For those people, the focus on planning was taking the fun away from the game. Leeroy Jenkins brought some of that fun back, even if it was only vicariously. Now, whenever someone insists on spending a ton of time planning instead of exploring or going after the bad guys, they can point to this cautionary tale of what can happen when one player decides to not go along with the plan.
However, for those who like planning and spent a lot of time and energy helping craft one, Leeroy's move was a bit of a dick move. Time is a valuable resource for people on both sides of the planning coin. If a player at my table left for 20 minutes, came back to the party standing outside of a cave and decided to just go for it, I would be a little upset. At that point, the game isn't about the party, it's about him and that's a bit unfair to the other players. Thus, while his actions could be classified as bold, he was not playing boldly.
So what does this mean for our tables? To me, it means that Leeroy Jenkins moments usually do far more harm than good. Most tables have a mixture of player motivations with few being comprised solely of those who like to just go for it. For most tables, an occasional Leeroy Jenkins moment might help break people out of a gaming rut. Even then, however, the occurrence might point to something deeper being broken at the table. Perhaps the planners far outnumber those who like to dive directly into the action. Or maybe there is a player who feels continually left out of the group decisions. If these sorts of problems exist, it's important for the table to recognize them and, hopefully, find a way to accommodate everyone's wishes. For DMs, mixing in some "seat-of-your-pants" encounters with ones that allow for planning is a good start. Likewise, trying to figure out something special about the PC of the player being left out and make that particular character play a pivotal role in the story. For players, it means checking in with the responsiveness of the other players to your ideas. If you really like strategy but see half the table not engaged in your planning, it might be time to back off a bit or maybe come up with plans that spotlight another PC. And if you find yourself bored by yet another planning session, speak up. By working together, you might just be able to create something as bold as Leeroy Jenkins without being a jackass.
Mike, from Mike's D&D Blog and a player in my weekly group, ran a great one-shot yesterday with an Arabian Nights theme. For the game, I created Nataya, commonly known as Shahmat. She is a changeling assassin, the subject of many legends, both true and untrue. Recently she broke free from the feared prison Ashkabar and her main motivation was to not return there.
I have to admit, I really liked playing this character, even if she was a bit dark. Being a changeling assassin and an escaped prisoner offered a lot of role play elements, even in a one-shot game, and I tried to take advantage of them as often as possible, without being a jerk about it. We started the game in a spice tent in the town's marketplace. The wife of the shah wanted to hire us to bring back her husband, a captive of a genie. While she offered riches to us in return for her husband's return, Nataya asked for one additional reward. She wanted a pardon for all that she has done and all that she was about to do. Basically, she desired a safe haven to ensure she would not return to the dreaded prison.
In the first combat encounter, we were ambushed in a marketplace by a number of bandits seeking to rob us. During the fight, Nataya noticed the leader of the bandits running behind a bunch of the stalls. Guessing he was going to come out of a particular alley way, she thought it would be best to get on top of one of the stalls at the end of the alley. The DM gave me the chance to try an acrobatic stunt to get on top of the tent, 10 feet from the ground. Using a nearby food cart, Nataya was able to springboard her way up on top of the tent. While she missed out on her chance to surprise the leader, she was able to jump down on one of his underlings.
Another great moment in that fight came as the leader attempted to flee. Figuring an assassin would be prepared for such an event, I had provided her with a Tethercord from the starting gold. It was the best 125 GP I ever spent. Nataya flung it at the bandit leader, making it impossible for him to move more than 3 squares from the spot. This gave the rest of the group time to catch up with him and knock him out. I faded back a bit during the interrogation, my character was much too dark for the type of interaction the group wanted, although my spiked gauntlet was there if they needed it.
We then traveled to an oasis to meet with someone who could tell us where the genie was. A merchant caravan was there, peddling copper pots, books and other such items. She asked the merchants for some news about the oasis community and they provided her with a decent bit of info. Knowing that having such sources of news is always a good thing in her profession, she bought a copy of their most expensive book, a copy of the Koran, gilted with gold. She didn't have much to say to their contact in the oasis, but stayed to the shadows to ensure no harm came to the rest of the group.
The contact asked us to prove that we could be a match for the genie and gave us the task of bringing back the heart of a Roc. He gave the party a pair of feather sandals which would allow one of us to fly like a bird. The party elected to have Nataya wear them and we took off in pursuit of the bird. When we found it, we knew we had an instant problem. Most of our group lacked ranged spells or powers and the sandals made us clumsy when we flew (-4 to attacks). Out of tethercord, Nataya went into problem solving mode and came up with a plan. What if she flew up with the sandals and then roped the bird? The plan was a bit scary, as the bird was 50 feet from from the ground. However, if she was successful, she could then try to immobilize the poor bird, and bring it down to the ground where the rest of the group could then help deal with the creature. Things didn't go exactly according to plan, the bird flew away from the party with Nataya, but the group quickly adjusted and was able to get what they needed.
After dealing with the Roc, we returned the oasis. The Roc's heart was turned into a ruby-like gem that, when held up to the sunlight, pointed the way to the genie's residence. We followed the light and found a cave. However, we noticed ogre tracks. Worried about walking into a den full of ogres, we quickly thought up a plan. Nataya would disguise herself as a child ogre and the rest of the party would act as her prisoners. We quickly made the necessary changes with Nataya pretending that she was using a disguise kit to change her appearance. They then entered the cave and found an elderly female ogre attending to dinner. Instantly, a critical flaw in the plan came to light, the ogre spoke to Nataya in giant! Hoping to salvage the situation, the wizard attempted to use ghost sound to repeat back what he had heard, modifying it a bit to sound like it came from Nataya. Since the ogre had asked "How are you?" this just angered the woman a bit. Sensing the plan was about to go awry, Nataya quickly created a story the woman might buy. She told the ogre that she had been kidnapped as a baby and held as a slave, made to do degrading chores and eat disgusting food. This was why she spoke common and could not understand the words the woman spoke. She was here because she wanted to join their group and the humans with her were gifts for the group that would take her in. The ogre said while she appreciated the gifts, she would have to discuss with her son whether or not Nataya could stay. Her son should be returning soon. With the woman pacified, we looked around for a way to the genie and found the door behind the ogre woman. At this point, we decided to act and the DM granted us a surprise round with full actions. The cleric approached the ogre and commanded her forward, away from the door. The wizard used his mage hand to place the Roc heart gem in the door, opening it. Then we all ran to the door, got through and closed it behind us.
From there, we quickly met with the imprisoned shah. He told us to go away, and we almost did too. But Nataya did not want to risk going back to prison and the cleric wanted the ability to spread his faith in the Shah's lands, so we went on to try to deal with the genie. The genie took the astral diamonds we had for the ransom but said we were short a diamond. He offered instead that one of us could take the Shah's place. If I had been playing a good character, I might have been willing to take him up on that offer, but substituting one prison for another was not something Nataya would be willing to do. Eventually, we decided to fight him instead. The genie had a really neat power which basically made floor difficult terrain (aura 5), although you could decide to ignore the difficulty and take 1d6 damage instead (yay, player choices). We unleashed our dailies and encounters on him and quickly killed him, or so we thought. As we landed what we thought was going to be the death blow, the genie changed into the shah and the shah explained the genie's trick.
Nataya was sent to look in the next room for the genie. While she was gone, the genie returned, with an improved version of his aura power. Nataya was far away from the genie and her allies when this happened. Sensing their danger, she took a gulped down her potion of regeneration and headed back to the fray. Out of encounters and dailies, this is where the shroud power of the assassin really shone. Unable to ignore the extra damage from the floor, she had to take 3 rounds before she could get into melee range against the genie. However, she was able to add an extra shroud each turn. When she finally got to him, she used her shadow storm power to have the genie's shadow, as well as those of her allies, attack the genie. At the same time, she invoked her shrouds and I gave each of the other players a d6 to roll. The result was a massive amount of damage, that, while it did not kill the genie, bloodied him again. This gave us the courage to stand up to his requests for our surrender and we were able to defeat him (although not before Nataya went down for the count. May the gods bless potions of regenerations).
While Nataya was able to be a bad-ass at times, her real contribution was to help make the whole party a force to be reckoned with. This is the heart of the play boldly philosophy. A lot more went on beyond mechanical dice rolls and the application of game mechanics. And this sort of play kept us going at the table for 6+ hours even though we were tired and hungry. We wanted to see where it went; we were invested.
On Friday, I got the chance to do something really awesome. Chris Sims tweeted that he needed a break. I offered to amuse him. He took me up on it and what resulted was a bit of interactive fiction. I had a lot of fun with it and I loved the challenge of creating the story on the spot. With a little more development, it even might make a great solo adventure.
Me: You awake to the sound of water dripping into a shallow pool. As you shake the fog from your head, you hear footsteps approach. Looking around, you find yourself in a small room. The door looks sturdy and strong, with a small, barred window near the top. As the footsteps approach, you hear the jangle of keys. The steps lack a steady rhythm, in fact, you sense no rhythm at all.
(A brief aside)
Logan: Into view steps Crispin Glover, wearing a suit made of nothing but keys and Scotch tape.
Chris: Since I have crispinglovophobia, I have a heart attack.
Me: You notice that your arm is chained to the wall, but the chain is old and rusted. A good pull might free you from the stone.
Chris: Which arm?
Me: Your right arm.
Chris: So the pain in my left arm is possibly a heart attack, but possibly a buritto. pull the chain out of the wall. (Improvised weapon FTW!)
Me: With a hearty pull, you are able to free yourself from the wall. The steps get closer, close enough that you can hear the source stop every minute to gulp down more liquid.
Chris: Can I lift the burrito?
Me: Sure :-)
Me: From the way the hall echoes, you figure the source of the footsteps is about 15 feet from your door.
Chris: I hide.
Me: You quickly look around for somewhere, anywhere to hide. Seeing no obvious hiding spot, you press yourself against the wall on the hinged side of the door, steadying yourself as much as possible. As you get yourself set, you hear the breath of the guard and can smell the whiskey on his breath. He starts to try his keys, cursing under his breath, until he finds the right one and slowly opens the door, entering as he does so. He rests for a moment against the frame as he tries to spot you.
Chris: "Hey, drunkie, want this burrito?"
Me: "Huh? What?" In his druken stupor he moves further inward, and starts to lose his balance.
Chris: I hand him the burrito. "@countingku said this was for you."
Me: You take him by surprise and he takes the burrito from your hands. "Thank you, this is just what I needed." He sits down against the wall, and promptly falls asleep mid-bite.
Chris: I take the burrito and the whiskey, and the keys and his shoes. Then I scarper. But then I go back and take his wallet, too.
Me: Do you want his hooded cloak as well?
Chris: Hmmm. What does it smelll like? What color is it? Does it match his socks?
Me: Like his socks, it is a dark red. They comprise the uniform of the prison guard. It smells like lavender and used whiskey.
As you leave your cell, the hallway expands in both directions. You hear the sounds of someone quietly crying, from the direction the guard came. It's more of a whimper and a bit high pitched.
Chris: I yell, "Hey, keep it down!" as I put on the cloak.
Me: Your voice echoes down the hall. The crying stops, but a plaintive female voice answers back, "Who...who are you?"
Chris: "Don't you know me?"
Me: "You must be the newcomer, but you don't sound like you are in your cell. Have you escaped? Please, please help me."
Chris: "Newcomer, huh? Where are we?" I go toward the cell but look into any others I pass.
Me: From the quick glimpses you get, it appears the people in the other cells have their spirits broken. They actually turn away from the door as you pass. However, she is looking straight through the bars at you, her eyes full of hope. "We are in the prison of Ashkabar. I know not your offense, but mine was refusing to honor the king's son with my presence." One look at her even in her current state, gives you the full meaning of her words.
Chris: "That makes two of us, lady. Have you seen that guy? Sheesh! What say we get outta here?"
Me: "I would love nothing better. I know a way out. They don't like the lack of comforts here in the cells, so they...take me...."
Chris: "Wait, what? They what?" I unlock her cell door.
Me: "to another one, one with a window. We'll still need to make our way out from there, but it is easy to get to. The guards tend to leave it alone unless they are...visiting with a prisoner." You quickly find the key that unlocks her cell and the door opens. You notice that she is not chained.
She takes your right hand in hers, and closes her eyes. Lightly running her fingers over the wounds, you feel the pain recede.
Chris: "Hmmm. Thanks. Hungry? That's a burrito in my pocket."
Me: "I'm starving. But we must move quickly. This way, come quickly." She grabs your hand and leads you down the hall.
As you get closer to your destination, they decor changes. The stark stone walls now have decorations, tapestries and paintings. Alcoves dot the hallway, holding sculptures and other works of art. As you near a corner, you can hear two people approaching.
Chris: "Hey, take my cloak."
Me: She quickly takes the cloak, pulling the hood over her head. You can see the shadows of the approaching figures; their footsteps growing ever louder.
Chris: I pull down a large tapestry and hide us under it.
Me: The guards round the corner. You notice that the foot steps stop for a moment. Then a low chuckle replaces the silence. "Be sure the replace that before Prince Kagen sees and puts an end to our fun. The room is free, if you want it." The steps continue past you and slowly fade from hearing.
Chris: "We'd better hurry. They'll be back soon." I get up and go, then remember she has to lead.
Me: She takes you by the hand and you both run towards the room. She lightly knocks on the door, waits a moment, and then slips in. The room has a sturdy bed, with simple bedding. There is a window. You look out it and notice it's about 20 feet off the ground. A small ledge decorates the building and a thick tree limb is about five feet from the window.
Chris: What's lighting the room?
Me: Currently, it's moonlight streaming through the window. The moon is full, providing light yet still many shadows.
Chris: What's lighting the hall?
Me: Oil lamps line the hall. It appears that the oil was recently replenished for their wells are quite full.
Chris: I take one of the lamps.
Much of my session planning starts with a focus on a little tidbit, usually an event I would like the PCs to participate in. Then I work backwards to figure out why they might be there and also try to tie it in with the rest of the story. For instance, when I wanted to do a play on Rumpelstiltskin, one of the NPCs asked the party to deliver a baby blanket to her niece. When they delivered it, the niece was obviously upset and the PCs were able to figure out that she had promised her first born to a goblin. From there, they were able to explore further and learn about the oni, C. C. Clementine, and her business procuring hard to get items.
Recently, the Shadow Army introduced itself to the PCs via a raid on the Tower of Lilith. But, to be honest, I wasn't really sure where to take it from there. This morning I started playing with words and created a poem. I'm finding it a great jumping point for filling in the info about the army and the motivations behind those creating it. For me, the nice thing about planning this way is that the end event isn't defined but its flavor is. This allows me to adjust things according to player wants and desires while still being able to give out hints and move the story forward.
Beneath the earth in rock so deep
lies a shadow bereft of sleep.
Yet he dreams of the day,
when he'll be free and minds will sway.
Shadow legions will hear his call.
The good will turn, and their cities fall.
Oh, how great the feast will be.
When the door opens and he is free.
Since I'm not sure how much information I'll give the players at the next session, I'll have to leave it there for now. But I can't wait to see what unfolds.
 Oh gosh, a footnote. There are some issues with the poem structure but it's for a game and doesn't need to be perfect.