Monday, June 11, 2018

Old News: Orphan Quest and the 3 Why's

People with living parents in this picture: zero (one if you count Asmodeus as the tiefling's dad)
Well, another week has gone by without much happening in the realm of Ahneria. I'm still prepping for the upcoming Valley of the Lords campaign, and if you hadn't noticed, the Creature Loot articles are back, so I'm definitely staying busy. But I'm not actually running anything at the moment.

That's not to say D&D isn't happening in my group, since we now have several other Dungeon Masters among our number who have been prepping or running their own campaigns. There should be a proper Monday Recap next week!

In the meantime, I'm going to talk about my first 5th edition campaign, and the story-crafting philosophy that went into creating the plot.

Orphan Quest

One of the subtlest techniques in a Dungeon Master's arsenal is lampshading (warning: TV Tropes link). I knew it was an extremely common trope in D&D for characters to start the game as orphans, so I literally made my first game Orphan Quest, where everyone stared in an orphanage.

This resulted in the rest of my players wanting to do something different, to distance themselves from that first, big campaign. Since then, I've had very few orphans in my games, and a ton of great plots about family connections. The same thing happened after I made the incredibly spoofy edgelord  character Kaim'ango. Nobody wanted to play an edgy character because I had already used all the tropes.

So, the players started in an orphanage. Our first session was kind of a session zero, where we made characters together and then sent them on a short adventure. I had them cut their stats in half to pretend they were children, and they did a small stealth mission against Sebastion, an evil knight that would become the main antagonist of the campaign.

After that first session, I had them all go their separate ways to gain their class training. The Tiefling Rogue Orianna trained in Garton, the Half-Elf Bard Leigh learned her craft from a group of spies called the Cobblestones, and Half-Orc-Half-Halfing Keth gained skill in the crime-ridden city of Drudgeton.

When they came back together, they were all recruited by the Cobblestones to see what Sebastion had been doing, since he was acting as the King's personal guardian. They were also given a mentor named Hilde, who was Leigh's personal trainer. They had a few adventures in their home town of Wayford, the Garlancian Circus, Drudgeton, and elsewhere as they followed Sebastion's trail from Wyaford to Garton.

Along the way, Sebastion hounded them at every turn, even forcing Hilde to give up her life to allow the group to escape his wrath. When the group finally reached Garton, they met with the leader of the Cobblestones and were tasked with investigating Sebastion's ties to the country of Norstone, north of Garlancia.

They discovered Leigh's sister was actually the Queen of Norstone, and there was another layer of evil happening beyond Sebastion. It was revealed that a Norstone wizard, Prindle, had entered an infernal contract to gain power and start a war between the two countries. Sebastion himself was a devil known as a Rakshasa.

The heroes saved the king (who had been held captive by Sebastion), and made it to the war just in time to stop Prindle. Unfortunately, they also opened up a portal to the Nine Hells and got trapped there with a portion of the Garlancian army.

After being invited down to the bottom layer of the Hells, they got a tour of each layer and met with Asmodeus himself. Sebastion showed up in his final form, which they defeated to earn their freedom. But Asmodeus had put fine print into the contract that only allowed Orianna and Leigh to escape. Keth and their allies had to stay in Hell.

Orianna and Leigh returned to Garton, got famous, and got married. And that's where we ended.

The 3 Why's

Everyone asks why I'm a wizard, but never how I'm doing...
The plot of this campaign is what Angry would call an Onion Campaign. It started with a plot to fight a single bad guy and opened up into wars, wizards, and Hells. At each turn, they made progress forward, but new, greater problems were revealed.

I created this plot by using a method called the 3 Why's, which is normally used to get better answers from evasive people. If someone is trying to hide something from you, you keep asking why until they reveal the real reasons why they did or did not do something.

In a campaign where the plot keeps escalating, the players are essentially asking those "Why" questions of the setting. Each time they get an answer, a new question appears.

In my campaign, the questions were as follows:
  1. Why is Sebastion working for the king? Because the king is being controlled by devils
  2. Why is the King being controlled by devils? Because a wizard is trying to start a war
  3. Why is a wizard trying to start a war? To gain power from the devils and open a portal to the hells

Because I started the campaign by asking these questions, I had the ability to foreshadow things very early on in the campaign. Sebastion wasn't just a bad guy, he was a bad guy with mysterious infernal powers. In this way, the plot progressed naturally rather than seeming like I was pulling plot points out of nowhere.

It also gave me a clear progression for the characters as they learned more about the world. By making each "Why" happen on a new tier of play, I could craft games that appropriately challenged my players from day one. in a combat-oriented game, it's important to have final villains that will actually provide combat challenges for the players when they reach the final level of your campaign.

I'm currently using this process to build lore for the Valley of the Lords. I just take each element of the story that is known to the players (orcs, ancient lords, humans and dwarves aligning, etc) and add a few layers of story behind it. By the time I'm done, there will be a rich collection of motivations for me to draw from when it comes time to fill the world with people and things.

Then, when the Orc Lord opens a portal to the Nine Hells, the players won't be surprised!

Thanks for reading!

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