Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Let's write some adventure scenes!
No adventure for you!
So, now that we've started writing an adventure, let's flesh out the scenes and settle on some mechanics  to use in each area.

We started out by making a basic outline, but now we're going to be building the actual path that the players get to explore.


So, let's start with the intro. I definitely want to reiterate the lore about the start of the mission and who is funding it, even though the players will have already heard it. It really helps everyone get in the mood to play.

Next, we'll need some good descriptive text about the boat, the ice, the snow, the docking process, etc. I'm not going to write that just yet, we're still at a high level and I don't know what could change by the time I'm done.

One thing I do need to include is that this adventure takes place a couple days before the summer solstice. The expedition is about a power source emanating from Craitane on that day, so the expedition would have been timed to line up with it. We could even say the rough seas pushed the schedule back a bit: the characters have days instead of weeks to find their prize.

Finally, I want to use the intro to establish some NPCs. They should have mundane tasks, or be assistants to the PCs if somebody wants to do one of these jobs. However, I want to make sure each NPC has a quirk, secret, or personality trait, so they feel less expendable.

Looking at the types of jobs on arctic expeditions, I can come up with quite a few: Cook/Steward, Mapper, Doctor, Geologist, Meteorologist, Artist, Carpenter, Cadet. I want there to be about as many NPCs as PCs, so the group can lose up to half their "force". Plus, there should probably be some sort of mechanic to reward the PCs for each person they save. That can come later.

The Arctic Wastes
Hitchhiking down a long and lonesome road
So, the first thing I want the players to do is do some traveling and exploring. Maybe they can have sled dogs? That seems like it would go over well.

Of course, I want them to find some things if they do well on their exploration. We could have structures the minotaurs built, like watchtowers or walls. We could also have petrified creatures, like minotaurs, other expeditions, or even a sunken ship under the water of the shallows that was hit by the petrification spell.

All of these could be simply part of a description, or they could be distant objects on various horizons that the PCs must travel to. I'm inclined to put them close together to cut back on travel time, but I also want the group to be away from the shore before anything big happens.

The reason for that is because I want to hit them with a blizzard. The arctic wastelands are dangerous, and there's nothing like some good, old fashioned bad weather to hammer that point home.

So, how do we run a blizzard?

Well, I'm going to borrow a thing from 4th edition (that I've used before) to simulate the blizzard. We'll make this a skill challenge.

According to the 4e Dungeon Master Guide, a complex challenge can have up to 6 failures before the players fail the challenge. That actually works well, since we can say an NPC perishes each time they fail.

So, here's the basic parameters for our skill challenge:

Stay warm or die horribly
The group must get 12 successes before they get 6 failures
Upon successfully completing the challenge, the group survives the blizzard and finds the ruins
If the group succeeds the challenge but had at least 4 failures, the group loses half of each character's hit dice and they gain 1 level of exhaustion, but still survive and find the ruins
Upon failing the challenge, the group loses all of their hit dice and gains 2 levels of exhaustion, but still survives and finds the ruins
On a failure, the group loses a member (NPC)
Primary skill:
  • Survival (DC 15) - you organize the group into shelter, make food, and keep everyone warm. The player with the highest score (the group leader) rolls on this check. Any other player who would like to roll on this skill and rolls a 10 or higher adds +1 to the group leader's check
Unlockable skills:
  • Constitution (DC 20) - you tough out the blizzard. Passing grants +1 to the group leader's check
  • Animal Handling (DC 10) - you sacrifice some of the sled dogs to make food and blankets. Usable only 8 times, passing grants +3 to group leader's check
  • Performance (DC 15) - your storytelling gives your allies confidence they will make it through. Passing grants +1 to the group leader's check
  • Medicine (DC 15) - you work hard to warm frostbitten toes, keep your allies active, and cut off a few fingers. Passing grants +2 to the group leader's check
Unusable skills
  • Perception/Investigation - venturing too far from your shelter is automatically a failure, even when the rest of the group rolls a success
  • Deception - convincing your allies that the meat isn't from your dead friend automatically counts as a failure, but adds +5 to the group leader's check and could lead to a success.

That's a pretty harsh skill challenge, to be honest. But since the group is rolling (maximum) 18 times, I think it will go quickly. Plus, when we flesh out more details, we can come up with different scenarios and how the pass/fail looks for each of the rolls.

Next let's look at the monster attack. I've given quite a bit of thought to what sort of monster I want to be populating my arctic ruins/deathtrap. I want it to be interactable, since every good dungeon has some NPCs in it, but also the monster shouldn't be affected by the relic for some reason.

I think we can safely say that the relic triggers on a certain level of sentience. Polar bears aren't affected, but the minotaurs were. So I've decided to make the monster for this area into a den of White Dragons, young and wyrmlings.
Adorable, Frosty Doom
Basically, my thought is this: when the White dragons are born, they have an Int score of 5. Not too bright. They are intellectually on par with Ogres or Hill Giants. and that's about as high as I'd like the relic to allow creatures to remain unpetrified.

Once they turn about 6 years old, however, they gain the capacity for deeper thought (but only slightly) and become able to lay eggs. Their Int scores become 6, which is the exact score a minotaur has. So, the relic starts to affect them. But before that happens, they lay a clutch of eggs. We could say that due to pack dominance, harsh conditions, etc, there aren't many dragons who make it to 6 years old. They are meant to be solitary creatures - pack mentality doesn't jive well with them.

Their goal is to eventually build up enough young white dragons to take on the minotaurs and defeat them, claiming the continent for their kind. However, they aren't too bright, and have trouble estimating exactly how many petrified dragons it would take to wipe out an entire race of minotaurs and their slaves. The dragons are stupid, but patient. They've all been pretty cool about being petrified, and each year 3-5 new White Dragon Wyrmlings are born, giving the pack a chance to survive.

So, this monster attack needs to do two things: first, it needs to give the dragons a pack mentality, second, at the end of it the dragons need to lead the PCs into the ruins. We could say the ruins were exposed by a snowbank that formed in the blizzard, and the wyrmlings came pouring out. This could be a cool location for a battle: the exposed entrance to the ruins.

I want a swarm of the wyrmlings, so they should outnumber the players. Since I usually have 5-6 players, I'm talking 8 wyrmlings or so. If the players have their speed reduced by half, this will definitely be a deadly encounter.

Additionally, this gives us our first insight on what level our players should be. According to this fantastic website, a group or 5 players could face a group of 8 wyrmlings at level 6 or 7. Since the DMG tends to put encounters on the easy side of things, let's go level 6 for our PCs.

Another reason I'm okay with deadly encounters is because I'm only planning on having a couple encounters this session. Might as well give the players a good challenge.

The Ancient Ruin
Perhaps we can buck the trend of Minotaur = Labyrinth
After the battle, the last wyrmling should hightail it back into the ruins. The PCs won't have to follow immediately, and they shouldn't. We can reward players for exploring this area with some clues towards the nature of this place.

Let's run down the lore we want to impart:
  • The History of the minotaurs
  • The events leading up to the relic's creation
  • Those who have come to Craitane since the relic, including the Dragon
  • The relic's background and creation
I think there's a natural flow to that information, where we can anticipate where the players will go and what sort of information they will discover. The history of the minotaurs covers a lot, and we could get quite a bit of information out of that.

Now, this information could be a puzzle in its own right, where the players have to decipher the text to understand it. But that leads us to the problem of creating a meaningful challenge. Can we make the solution non-obvious but still expect the players to finish it? What happens if the players fail the challenge? How do they move forward?

I think a better solution is to make the information a bit of a mystery. Make key elements of the story missing up until the very end. Then, instead of appealing to a challenge, we appeal to discovery.

So before the players even enter the ruins, they should be getting some lore about the history of this place, who lived here, what they did, etc. We can work out exactly what this area contains next week.

I also wanted to give the party a chance to recover from the effects of the wilderness. Our blizzard potentially lowered the party's capabilities, and the Wyrmling combat further exacerbated their peril. Let's make things a little better for the group.

I talked about having some ancient magic in place that would have assisted the slavers. Here's my draft so far:
Ancient Magic - A non-minotaur in the ruins doesn't have to eat or drink, and they only need an hour of sleep a day. Short rests are now 5 minutes, longs rests are an hour, and they have advantage on Strength and Constitution saving throws. 
However, they have disadvantage on Wisdom saving throws, they automatically fail spells that cause the charmed condition, and they must obey even mundane commands if given by Minotaurs

So, magic that promotes work and obedience. Note that even though long rests are an hour, the one-long-rest-per-day rule can remain in place, allowing the blizzard to potentially have a lasting effect on this half of the game.

So now we have a set up of sorts, so let's figure out where we want to distribute this lore.

The entrance to the ruins will have some lore, to set the players on a trail towards the rest of it. Then, we can put the other parts of the lore in various "rooms" in the ruins (or what remains of rooms), with challenges required to reach the room.

The history of the minotaurs can be divided up into their creation and their culture. Then, we can have a room that served as a magic chamber for Minotaur shamans, where they would have divined the coming of the relic and the events leading up to it. Maybe at that point we can tell the players that this structure was meant to protect the minotaurs, but it failed.

Nobody wants to join my apocalypse cult...
The challenges to get to the areas can be the other scenes we wanted: scaling a scaffolding with falling rocks/ice, and crossing pits of thin ice. Those will need to have some short challenges associated with them, where the players take some damage on a failure. I'm okay with them doing heavy damage, since the players can basically short rest whenever they like.

The dragon's nest should be the last area, and the dragons will have the lore on what has happened since the relic's arrival. I want there to be four Young White Dragons this year, so there's actually some divide between the monsters. Two of the Dragons have already laid their clutch of eggs and are ready to be turned to stone, but the other two don't want to. They think the relic is ready to be shut down.

Now the question arises: is it? The dragons are trying to get enough Young Dragons to wipe out the Minotaurs. It actually doesn't matter for the context of this game, and I can keep that option open. If the relic doesn't renew its magic, then I could have a continent full of Dragons or a continent full of Minotaurs. I'm not sure yet which would be more fun.

But either way, the Dragons who want to start the Dragon-Minotaur war have stolen the power source of the relic, and the other two dragons are trying to find them. So we can give the party a choice: do they support the dragons in hiding, or the dragons who are mating? Basically, which pair of Young White Dragons do you want to kill?

Either way, I think the dragons in hiding should give the party the relic's power source afterwards. They might tell the party to take it far from Craitane, to prevent anyone else from stopping their plans. Of course, the party probably won't listen, but we should make sure the group understands that this isn't a great idea.

Now that we've explored the ruins, learned the lore, and obtained the phlebotinum, we can move along to...

The Relic

Yesterday my life was filled with rain
I'm thinking that this device is in a courtyard that was long ago buried under ice and snow. Maybe we could even have a shaft in the ice where the sun still hits the relic. In my mind, it essentially materialized in the middle of the minotaur civilization, petrifying all. So there would also be lots of Minotaur statues here, as well as Young Dragon statues to fight them when the spell ends.

I'm picturing the relic as a sort of sundial, with an orrery-type contrpation as the power source. The pedestal is the source of the magic, and the orrery collects sunlight to power the pedestal.

Here is where the players can finally learn who caused the mass extinction: Pelor the god of the Sun, and a major power player in my setting. Now, a God of sunny goodness would easily have his own reason for destroying an evil race, but there's some further lore behind it that I can't discuss here because my players make up most of this blog's readership.

Essentially, the group has a choice. They can return the relic's power source to its place, continuing the stone curse and petrifying them as well. Or they can allow the curse to end, and get caught up in the war between the Dragons and Minotaurs. Either way, I'll have to write an ending out for them.

Now, this is where I need to make sure this choice doesn't have an easy workaround.

The Pedestal must be indestructible. The recharge and stone curse happens precisely at the solstice, and afterwards it won't be able to recharge again for a full year. I suppose there's the possibility that a player's Int score will be 5 or less, but honestly that's okay with me. They played a character with a detriment, now they get to return to the world and tell this story.

So, we've got a pretty solid moral choice. And however the adventure lines up, we can say that the players only have a few hours before the solstice when they arrive at the relic. So, they can't just leave the continent.
I want every statue to give the players the impression of "We're so screwed if they wake up"
I think that's a really good set of scenes, at least so far. Next week, we'll get into writing out the details and flavor for each area. That will be a long one, and I'll give some insight into my writing process as well.

Thanks for reading!

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