Arcadia Preview: The Defenders of the Light

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?"

Was Leeroy Jenkins Playing Boldly?

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.

Nataya, The Changeling Assassin

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.

Fun with Twitter

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.

The Future is Cloudy but it Involves a Door

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[1]. 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.

[1] 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.

Arcadia Notes: The Shadow Army's First Strike

Since not everyone had read the teaser before the session, we started off by having one of the players read it at the table. We started the session with the PCs in the receiving hall of the Tower of Lilith. The party, particularly the bard, was in the midst of a discussion with the Handmaiden of Lilith, Elessandra. Pretty early in their conversation, they hear a blood-curdling scream that is cut short. The PCs turn to see a woman and child running towards them while 3 creatures attack the Mirror Keepers, felling them instantly.

Setup

Round 1

1 Dark Mastermind (Level 8 Elite Lurker) [DDI]
2 Dark Servant (Level 8 Skirmisher) [DDI]

Round 2

1 Kir-Lanan Voice (Level 6 Controller Leader) [DDI]

Round 3

1 Dark Mastermind (Level 8 Elite Lurker) [DDI]
2 Dark Servant (Level 8 Skirmisher) [DDI]

Note: I adjusted the levels of these creatures using the Monster Builder.

The creatures come out in stages to add to the drama of the situation (light being extinguished by the dark). The Kir-Lanan came out of the same mirror as the first group and used the top of the mirrors to perch (Reach of 2+ needed for melee attack from ground). The creatures in the third round came out of a mirror on the opposite side of the room, making it harder for the ranged PCs to stay out of melee range.

A bit of flavor was that the Dark Servants were reskinned to be normal looking humans with a black collar around their necks. Their shadow powers seem to come from those collars.

Outcome

With a lot of effort, the party was able to kill all of the dark servants and one of the masterminds. The other mastermind and the Kir-Lanan were able to escape back through the mirrors. Our session ended with the encounter, and the rest of the aftermath will take place next session.

Improvements

  • Add a skill challenge to turn off the mirrors during combat. They would have had to work quickly for it to work but might have been interesting.
  • Add a series of skill checks or a skill challenge to disable the collars during combat. Shouldn't totally disable these creatures, but could have removed the shadow keyword and maybe a power or two.

Notes

  • My players really worked through their resources on this one. Many dailies, encounters, action points, and healing surges were spent during the encounter. Had this been part of a series of encounters between extended rests, some of them might have been in trouble at the end of the series.
  • I was a little sad about running this encounter. My mind is always coming up with stories and I have to admit the Tower of Lilith is one of my favorites. I almost didn't run this part of the adventure because part of me wanted it to remain unscathed. But the truth is, it didn't really make sense for that to happen, and the encounter was just too nice to pass up.

Arcadia Notes: Welcome to the islands of the mists

I just sent this to my group's discussion list which means I finally can share it with you all. When time allows and particularly after missing a session or two, I like to send a teaser that helps set the tone of the next session. I really wanted this one to be special and I hope my players think it is too.

Our last session left off with them traveling through the mists at the center of the Lake of Lost Memories. Legend holds that the mists part for those who are in need, and, well, we left the last session with the mists parting. Tomorrow night, they'll get a chance to see the islands of the mists for themselves and maybe even meet Lilith.

As the boat approaches the islands of mist, their features become clear. One larger island is surrounded by three smaller ones, with arching bridges connecting them all together. On the hill of the center island stands a magnificent temple with a solitary tower rising from the center courtyard. Light appears to radiate from its walls. One thing that becomes instantly noticeable is the lack of any defensive measures. There are no city walls, no gates, nothing but open space, punctuated here and there with a home or shop.

As the boat lands, a small group of townsfolk comes up to the dock. One of them steps forward and shouts a hearty and heartfelt welcome, "Hello and welcome to the islands of the mists. Fear not, for you are safe." As you disembark, he organizes the town folk to help you with any of your things and offers to show you the way to the tower. He introduces himself as Tellador and you notice that he is missing his right hand.

While your eyes continue to watch the light dance off the tower, you take quick glances at your surroundings. The rest of the island is covered with modest homes and shops, backyard gardens and children playing. The people themselves walk around with a radiance that comes from true happiness, yet ancient lines of worry have not been completely erased from the faces of some of the older residents. No one carries any weapons, just tools of their trades. Many of them echo the same welcoming sentiment as Tellador, offering you food and their assistance.

As you approach the tower you notice that it looks to be from another time. Reliefs decorate its walls, depicting the stories many of you heard as children. The entrance is a set of wooden double doors, decorated with flowers and vines. Two stone lions guard the door, with necklaces of fresh flowers adorning their necks. A calming presence washes over you and you get the sense as though the tower just has always been.

You are led into a receiving hall, its walls decorated with huge floor to ceiling mirrors. Small groups stand beside a number of the mirrors, quietly discussing matters amongst themselves. On the opposite side of the room stand two chairs. A large one, ornately decorated with vines and flowers on its legs and arms and two doves forming a heart at the top of its back, sits empty. In a simpler one sits a woman dressed in a simple white dress tied neatly at the waist with a belt of red silk. Behind her are another set of wooden double doors, decorated with reliefs of doves perched on the branches of a young tree. As you approach, she rises and addresses you.

"Welcome," she says, "I am Elessandra, handmaiden of Lilith. We welcome all who are in need, particularly those who travel through the mists."

Play Deeply

Recently, my emphasis has been on playing boldly. A lot of that is due to the play-by-post campaign I'm in where my swordmage is getting the reputation of being a bit of a loose cannon. However, I don't want to leave out another aspect of playing I really love, playing deeply.

When I say this, I don't mean amateur theater at the table. If that's what you and your table are into, great! But I'm a bit too shy for that and I'm not sure I would have the support of my table either, unless I was really funny. What's great about playing your character deeply is that most of it happens between your ears and no one else has to know about it for it to be fun and exciting.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain the phrase is to give an example. First, a spoilers warning because my example comes from my very first campaign where we played Keep on the Shadowfell. My poor little half-elf rogue/warlock was acting as the tank. Since it was my first character, I made this her first time away from home, so we could both be scared together. My group was in area 7, the Skeletal Legion right outside of Sir Keegan's Tomb. Soon we were surrounded by skeletons. The party wanted Sarah to check over in the chapel area to see if she might be able to disarm the sarcophagi. When she got there, she was confronted by two altars. Reliefs behind them depict soldiers in plate "on their knees in prayer." She frantically searched for a switch or anything that she thought might stop the skeletons but found nothing. Taking a moment to look around she noticed the reliefs.

"Guys, I think I need to kneel."

"Well do that."

Sarah kneels. "Ok, any ideas of what to do now?"

Around this time, one of the party members who could read Draconic finally made his way down and read the inscription. Sarah quickly offered some words of praise to the Platinum Dragon and the skeletons stopped attacking. I then proceeded to "collapse" at the table, resting my head on my forearms. "I think I need to kneel," I giggled and the rest of the table laughed with me.

To this day, my husband and I will randomly say something from that game that to each other whenever we need a little laugh. However, if I had never bothered to get into my character's head, it never would have happened. Doing this might not be everyone's favorite thing, heck, my favorite part of D&D is battlefield tactics. But I find getting into my character's head brings the tactics to life and increases my fun. Do you have a favorite "play deeply" story?

Arcadia Notes: The Ages of Song and Legend

Since its inception, there have been a few bits of mythology that served as the basis for my campaign. However, I've been struggling for awhile on figuring out how to bring these elements into the story line, especially since the majority of the population of Newham has no idea about them. Now that my players are finally at the Tower of Lilith, which has its own mythology, I can start to bring the larger mythology back into play. For this week, I will use a letter to bring in some world history.

The letter is from Hallomak Stromm to Lilith. Hallomak is an interesting character. His line goes all the way back to old Arcadia and his father was part of the group that sealed the passage to the Underdark and defeated Magdorr's Army. When Corellon and Sehanine shared their plan to cover Arcadia with ice for a thousand years, his family was put in charge of orchestrating the return of the humans. However, things went wrong and the humans returned early, under different leadership. Since then, his family has attempted to fulfill their duties as stewards of Arcadia without holding the title of ruler.

For those interested in such matters, Hallomak is mentioned in the Dungeon Delve book as someone who owned a lot of magical items. My players really wanted to know why he owned so many things and who he was. From that tidbit, I created this version in my campaign world.

Lilith is an Eladrin princess born near the end of the Age of Song, so well over a thousand years old. She was tricked into marrying an evil Oni who wanted her family's wealth and resources. Once she figured out the deception, she fled with her family's treasure to an island in the middle of what is now called the Lake of Lost Memories. There she created a haven for all those who have need and, through the help of Corellon and Sehanine, protects the land with powerful magic and provides avenues of escape to those who most need it.

With that information, I came up with a letter between Hallomak and Stromm. It helps introduce some information about the previous ages and well as hint at the problems facing the land of Newham Shire.

Lilith,

In times such as these, it's important to remember our history in hopes that we don't repeat the sins of our fathers. I know that you remember all too well the Age of Song. I wish I could have seen it, the resplendent beauty of both wood and city, flower and painting, bird and choir. My hope had been to bring such delights once again to the fertile soils of Arcadia, to recreate our mortal Arvandor, but I fear those efforts have been in vain. I feel the fear and uncertainty rising from the ground and taking hold in too many hearts of her residents.

To this day, not even the wisest sages or most travelled bards know exactly what led to the end of the Age of Song. Some point to the orc invasion of Andernach and the subsequent failure of her allies to rally to her aid. Others point to the rise of a group called Free Arcadia Now, intent on overthrowing the human nation of Avestra. Still others say to truly understand, one must go back to the betrayal of Corellon and Sehanine by Lolth. Regardless of the reasons, the death of the Age of Song serves as an important reminder that even a peace that lasts for over a thousand years is built on a fragile lattice work that can break at any moment. But I fear the same powers that caused the rise of the Age of Legends so many centuries ago are at work again and our dear beloved land will fall into ruin and despair.

However, not all is lost. A small group travels our lands, fighting against these shades of darkness. They told me about a plot by five evil creatures to enslave the population of Newham and I believe they may be our only hope in stopping them. From what little I know, I fear that someone has learned the secrets of Magdorr's Army and is recreating it again. If true, all who have the old blood in their veins must be protected so that the ritual can not be performed. Unfortunately, that is not such as an easy task, as my own son has joined the Free Arcadia Now faction and ran off about a week ago. The only other way to stop them would be to put an end to the evil band. My best guess is that they will seek to break the seal that keeps Arcadia safe from the horrors of the Underdark. If you come upon my friends, please send them there with all haste. I know you have your ways.

For Glory,
Hallomak Stromm

When the World Won't Form

Me: Ok brain, we're caught up on Medium and Ghost Whisperer which you said you needed for "research." Time to write this week's D&D session notes.

Brain: But I'm sure there are some NCIS episodes I haven't watched yet, I think I need those too.

Me: NCIS has nothing to do with the Tower of Lilith and you know it. What gives? I thought you loved this story. You included it in the original map and even hinted at it during the Lizardfolk temple session.

Brain: I do! But I'm afraid the players won't love it as much as I do.

Me: Don't worry about it, they're going to love it. Don't you remember how interested they were at the end of the last game?

Brain: If it's not written yet, how can you know that they'll love it. Sure, the parting of the mists for their boat made them sit on the edge of their seats, but what if what I create doesn't match their expectations. Why did you set me up with Arthurian legend anyway? You know they all know it too well.

Me: Well, you know it too. Don't hide behind that whole I'm not as geeky as they are thing because you don't have Star Trek and Star Wars memorized. Just write what you love and let me sell it to the players.

Brain: Ok, but can we get some caffeine first.

Me: It's a deal.

I'm pretty sure this happens to everyone at some point. When the focus is on the DM to create a great story, eventually nerves will get the better of even the best DMs. Which mean mere commoners such as myself have little or no chance of escaping this phenomenon completely. What should you do when this happens?

You're not writing a novel
Sometimes the problem is that the words just won't behave themselves on the page or refuse to make their way onto the page at all. Changing focus from the fine details to the broad brush strokes might help. Create an outline or at least just put down various ideas on the page or index cards. As inspiration hits, fill out each individual one. Don't worry if you can't go into too much detail for any particular one. Remember, you're not writing a novel, just trying to get the essence of world so it seems real enough at the table.

The world isn't always logical
Most of us were educated to think logically and sometimes this really hurts us as we try to create stories. We see all the holes in our stories as we write and sometimes we put so much energy into trying to fix these logic leaps that we just get frustrated. Logic has its place, but it doesn't rule everything.

Remember the DM isn't the only story teller
The players at the table will be interacting with this world and, even more important than the story you want to tell, is what excites them and their characters. If you are comfortable enough with the idea, come up with a brief outline of the important things about the world, and let your players' questions fill in the rest of the detail. For instance, if you are dealing with a legendary location, you might even have a night of improv. The players can help fill in the details of the legend with versions their characters heard as a children.

How do you guys deal with this when it happens?

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