Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Let's write an adventure!

Adventure is out there!
So, I was digging through some old D&D blogs, and I found something cool: June is the unofficial "write an adventure" month. I think that's pretty cool!

So I wanted to take the month and do some Dev-blog style writing on a one-shot adventure, which I will write alongside these posts and play before the end of the series. Obviously, this will be looking into my writing process and how I plan, structure, prep, and play adventures, but I also want to show how I use the ideas that I write about on my blog, and lay the groundwork for potentially larger writing projects in the future. Perhaps I can do a different style of adventure, a whole campaign, etc.

So let's start where I always start: with some good, old-fashioned inspiration!

Finding Inspiration

The good news is that I already know what sort of game I want this to be.

In my homebrewed world, I've been trying to establish a larger scope of the geography, outside of the "generic fantasy" country that all my games have taken place in so far. Now, I don't really have the time to run a full campaign in each different area of the world, but I do have time to run little one-shot sessions to establish a snapshot for the area.

So, for this game, I'm taking my players down to the southern-most continent, an ice-covered wasteland called Craitane. Part of the adventure will be figuring out some details about this area, but I already know the type of game this will be: exploration!
More of this, please
So, getting to inspiration, I need to find some material that reflects that kind of exploration and such. These are literally listed in the order that I thought to google them.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

This is a great starting point. It has the kind of wonder I'm looking for, it features a group of characters with diverse skills, and there's some cool drama and NPCs thrown into the mix. However, I'm looking for more of a "barren wasteland full of ancient ruins" instead of "digging up a long-lost civilization"

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Here's another good inspiration, and closer to the "ancient ruin" feel I'm looking for. The problem is that most of the film is about fighting Nazis. I'd like the group to be facing down the elements, as opposed to a rival faction. Not that it wouldn't be fun to play a "race to the treasure"type game, but I really want this to be a barren wasteland.

The Worst Journey in the World

At least the view was decent
At this point, you might be wondering why I'm not looking at things like "The Worst Journey in the World", a literal depiction of an arctic expedition. Well, there's a couple reasons. The first being that I'd rather not have half my players forced to eat the other half.

The other thing is that the story from this book may be totally accurate, but it isn't a plot so much as it is a diary. We want dramatic tension, achievable goals, and engaging content. The explorers in the book spend an entire day mending a broken leg. In a magical party, a single cleric would suffice.

Now, that's not to say I won't use this text for inspiration on challenges for the party to overcome. But that comes later.

Alien vs Predator

The first part of this film might be what I'm looking for. Big organization sends a group of adventurers with different skills into a hostile climate, and the central tension revolves around unearthing an ancient ruin and not knowing what it might be for, as opposed to finding a civilization or racing another faction to the prize.

Of course, I will probably not dig into "space aliens made it", but I could work with "ancient race of killer monsters comes back to life". Sweet.

I think that by combining this material, I can put together a solid adventure. The sense of wonder, the ancient ruins, the bitter climate, and the archeology of civilizations can all be pulled from these sources.

Another note: I tend to use movies a lot for inspiration. This is partly because I enjoy film, but also because I think a movie-length story is the perfect fit for a D&D adventure. I will end up drawing inspiration from other types of media, but for overall story I prefer to look to films.

Plot Outline

Currently, the story is a little bare
Next, I want to list some events that I could include in this adventure. This is where I'm going to lay the groundwork for the rest of my game.

First off, how does the adventure start? I don't really want us to waste time doing any sea travel, but overland travel would be good. So what if we start with the group making landing on the continent?

  • Landing the Boat

Now, there should be some backstory as to who funded this expedition, what the group's goal is, and where they plan on going, but that can be done in backstory and session setup.

So, we want to impress the idea that they are alone, and it's very dangerous. So let's consider the following scenes:

  • Blizzard
  • Running low on food
  • Avalanche!
  • Monster attack
  • Losing a crew member

We'll worry about HOW these are done later, for now I just want to figure out what scenes would be good to include.

Running low of food implies the group has a resource that is limited. It's important to watch out for those types of things, as many classes have spells or abilities that can negate a limited resource. A 1st-level Druid has access to Goodberry, which would ruin that idea. Not to say we couldn't do it, but we'd have to limit our players' class selection.

Only classes without the ability to melt ice are allowed
Not every group would be kosher with limited classes to pick from, but my players are generally cool with it. I could also create the PCs for my players - that isn't off the table yet.

Blizzard, Avalanche, and Monster attack are all good, but I think limiting it to two would be good. I like Monster and Blizzard, as they imply a long-term level of danger rather than the immediate danger of an avalanche.

Finally losing a crew member would be good, but obviously it would have to be an NPC. Might be funny to have a single NPC who dies nearly immediately, or we could do a group of NPCs that slowly perishes, making the journey more difficult.

After that, we want the group to find an area to explore, some sort of ancient ruins. From there, this becomes a much more standard adventure, with some interesting twists.

We want this to be an ancient civilization, so there won't be much in the way of monsters (at least, those who built the place). We could focus on traps, but I'm envisioning more of a brutal slaver race who used brute force to capture servants and use them to build their civilization.

So in that case, what if the temple was perilously under construction when the race was suddenly wiped out? That could be a fun mystery to solve: how did this extinction event occur?

So, based on that here are some events we could include:

  • Scaling a scaffolding while dodging collapsing rock/ice
  • Unfinished floors/pits/thin ice
  • Monsters nesting in the ruins
  • Ancient magic to ensure hard work/submission
  • Ancient magical taskmasters (golems, etc)
  • Uncovering ancient texts/symbols

Of course, we want a big moment at the end of the adventure, too.

  • Kill the queen/lord of the monsters
  • Stop the next catastrophe from killing the party
  • Undo the catastrophe
These events (both during and at the end of the adventure) will become the plot of the session. When we link interesting events together in unexpected ways, we can make a unique, fun and interesting plot.

So Let's Do That
By which I mean, keep reading
In my play group, I have found the players can handle 4-5 major scenes or events within a session. Double that if they are simply moving through minor scenes, exploring rooms in a building, etc. Additionally, I know that combat scenes are more intensive, and take up about a scene-and-a-half, and I can tack on a short intro and conclusion scene without affecting overall gameplay time.

This is something I've come to understand about my specific play group, our play style, and my DMing speed. Your mileage may drastically vary. But for now, let's try to cut this down to an intro, a group of scenes, and a conclusion.

  • Landing the Boat
Area 1: Walking the wasteland
  • Blizzard, losing a crew member (combine into 1 scene)
  • Monster attack (scene and a half)
Area 2: The Ancient Ruins
  • Ancient magic to ensure hard work/submission (not really a scene, but it'd be cool if they were just past the point of no return on rations, and when they found the temple, the magic within it allowed them to survive without food or sleep for a few days)
  • Uncovering ancient texts/symbols (half scene)
  • Monsters nesting in the ruins (scene and a half)
  • Scaling a scaffolding while dodging collapsing rock/ice (half scene)
  • Unfinished floors/pits/thin ice (half scene)
Area 3: The Site of the Catastrophe
  • Choice: Undo the catastrophe or repeat the catastrophe
    • If they undo the catastrophe, the ancient slaver race will return
    • If they repeat the catastrophe, the slavers will remain dead but the party will die as well
  • Depends on final choice
  • If the slavers awoke, they enslave the party
  • If the catastrophe repeats, the party dies protecting the land

So, I added a little twist here. I want this catastrophe to be some kind of renewing magic. Basically, every year (on the equinox or solstice or something) the magic renews. Maybe it sends out a pulse of magic each year, and the expedition was timed to align with the next pulse.

But this time, the key component to the magical effect was disrupted by a creature nesting in the ruins. I'd like the players to find an artifact in the nest of the monsters and realize it belongs to this magical device. Then, if they replace the item, the pulse goes out and kills/petrifies/whatevers everything on the continent (or everything in the ruins? every sentient thing? maybe I could foreshadow with some statues of the slavers outside the ruins!). If they don't replace the item, they survive, but the slaver race wakes up and suddenly they are surrounded by horrible monster-folk.

This tells us a little bit about the lore behind this continent, so before we start writing these scenes (which will happen next week) let's lay out some backstory. We can also dig into what sort of characters would be on this journey.

Yes to giant icy fortress. No to fighter jets.
Long ago, when Ahneria was still young, a race of Minotaurs walked the arctic expanse of Craitane, building an empire in service of their lord Baphomet. They enslaved the small tribes of humans and dwarves that lived on their shores, using them to build temples, burial grounds, and monuments to their dark lord.

However, Pelor, chosen of the humans, saw this heresy and struck it down. He placed a divine relic at the heart of the minotaur's civilization, and its power transformed all thinking creatures to inanimate stone. Thousands of innocent lives were lost, but millions of minotaurs were silenced.

Each year, when the sun reaches the peak of its low path across the sky of Craitane, the relic is imbued with Pelor's power, and the stony fate of the minotaurs is renewed. Any race who settles on this continent meets the same fate at the summer solstice, when the curse of the relic changes them to statues, never to disturb the resting place of the monstrous race.

Tens of thousands of years pass. The now-legendary Bard, Leigh the Enchanter, has been searching the globe for a way to open a portal to the lower planes and retrieve her lost companions from the bowels of the nine hells. In her research, she discovered an odd and unexplained phenomenon: a pulse of magic occurring perfectly on the summer solstice, resonating from the center of the icy continent of Craitane.

Using her considerable influence, Leigh the Enchanter gathered a team of competent archaeologists, wizards, and adventurers to investigate the source of the magic. The magic seemed to be divine in nature, and if such a powerful energy source could be utilized, perhaps a portal to the lower planes could be opened.

That's a good start. I'll probably send those last two paragraphs to the players before the game begins. We can build more details into the game itself, when we write the scenes out. I'm guessing we could add some lore in the ruins, maybe throw a "village" of petrified dwarves on the shore, and of course have some cool lore surrounding the relic itself.

As for the relic's form, it needs some sort of power source (a gem, or medallion, or something) that can be stolen by a monster in the ruins. Perhaps it's a sundial, with a powerful gem at the highest point of the summer solstice?

The Characters

We can now narrow down what sort of characters we can send on this expedition.

This will be a journey from the city of Auraglow in Garlancia, where Leigh the Enchanter currently lives. So I'm using the same race restriction as I did when I played the games in Garlancia.
  • Race restriction: PHB races only, no elves
For class, I think I'm not going to worry about food limitations. I'd have to cut out Clerics, Paladins, Druids, and Rangers, and going on a mission to a holy site without a cleric or crossing a tundra without a ranger feels dumb. However, I can definitely say that we won't use certain classes, since this is a posh expedition and all.
  • Class restriction: No Barbarian, Druid, Rogue, Warlock
  • Class restriction: The party must contain a Cleric, Wizard, and Ranger
I also like to throw in some background restrictions to help the players focus their ideas in character creation.
  • Background Restrictions: No Charlatan, Criminal, Hermit
  • Preferred Background: Sage

Hopefully, based on all that and the background information, we'll get some good characters in the spirit of the early 1900s explorers.

Note that I'm not addressing player level quite yet. I want to explore some monster options before I commit to a specific character level.

That's all I want to cover for this week. As I move through the writing process, anything in this article might change, but I won't be going back and editing this article - that's so the writing process is preserved.

It's not exactly Skyrim but it's kind of Skyrim
Next week, we'll go through each scene and write up a method for playing out the scene at the table.

Thanks for reading!

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