Adventure Prep: Finishing a Campaign Arc

Checkered FlagThis Friday is the year’s last game session. It also coincides with the last session of the Seed of Sehan campaign arc I adapted from Dungeon Magazine to Ptolus. See here for the whole Campaign so far…

As mentioned before, the game has been prepared for quite some time now and I’ve had time to tweak it beyond recognition… so I’m not going to do anything more on this.

So why do I bother to write an Adventure Prep post then? Well it so happens that one of the things I’d like to do better as a DM is endings and this session is such an ending.

Baring an unfortunate event, we should complete the Dungeon Crawl and the adventure within the first 2 hours of the session. The thing is, much like Stephen King, I have a ton of ideas and I can write up a storm at the drop of a hat. However, much like the Master of Maine terror, I tend to falter with endings.

In fact, if I’m as tired as I usually am and if I don’t actively plan some sort of closing scene to the evening, I know how it’s going to end:

“Well it’s 9h30 PM, you succeeded, good job. Okay who was tallying the loot? Franky? Let’s split that. Here’s the DMG and Magic Item Compendium, buy whatever you want…. Yes Franky I know Cixi can’t use Magic Items, you can go corrupt another young noble to your cause with it later on…”

Not all that cool and pretty Fluffless, huh?.

So what I need to do to make it end with a bang is to go for coolness. I need to build on the player’s growing fondness for Ptolus and put the spotlight on the heroics they just accomplished for the city. However, at the same time time I have to take into accounts that the level of player fatigue will be peaked, that being the last Friday before Christmas, and not create intense Role-Playing encounters if they don’t feel like it.

I also can’t drop the Hook for the next campaign arc… I tend to do that a lot and not let the characters some ‘me’ time…

What I think I need to go for is Tribute Plot Hooks. Prepare 2 or 3 potential scenes where Ptolus NPCs and organizations react favorably to the player’s actions and consecrate them as Bona Fide badasses. By making them hooks instead of scenes, I will give my players the control as to how they get their tributes. But how to choose those scenes?

(I am literally brainstorming as I write these lines, so sorry if it sounds a bit haphazard.. I’ll clean up during post publication edits)

Okay, so who in Ptolus gets affected if they successfully complete the Adventure and how does it affect them?

  • Andach the graveyard-squatting druid gets a thorn removed from his side.
  • The Keepers of the Veil, who have so much to lose, will save face and should be VERY grateful.
  • The City’s Commissar, who sees yet another problem in his city solved
  • The Balacazar Crime Syndicate (whom the players don’t really know about yet) saw its main competitors hit the dust in the Warrens. (Oh and since all the players, but Cixi are Good, I wonder how the PCs would react to a gift from the Syndicate… ).

Aside: I don’t know if the other DMs out there have this, but I think my players don’t really like to deal with Grey Zone characters/organizations. Whenever I present them with a villain or a morally ambiguous NPC that wants to deal with them, the best I can get from players is aloof tolerance bordering on incivility… At worse the NPC gets treated like dog turds.

Maybe it’s because the players feel that heroics should be more Black and White or at least have a clearer divide between friends and enemies. Maybe because players expect me to pull the ‘Screw you good guys!’ trope on them? Or maybe I just play them badly and I fail to communicate what it is I seek in such a scene.

Actually I have a question for my players… what would it take for you as a PC to respect an antagonistic NPC… or shouldn’t I ask that and remind myself that adversary NPCs are good for just one thing… Swordfodder! :)

Anyhoo, I think I’ll write 1 paragraph on how each plans to give recognition to the characters in a flavorful way and let the players seek their own closure to this adventure.

Now to balance this list of potentially cool ‘thank you’ plot hooks, I’ll list those who aren’t all that happy with what happened:

  • The Kill Raven Crime syndicate lost a whole district’s worth of activity.
  • The Pactlords of the Quann (A non-humanoid league that aims at killing all humanoids) lost a powerful member (the Spriggan Souleater)
  • The Knights of the Pale (Fiend hunters) , while happy that Good prevails, sees the opportunity to take over the Keepers of the Veil slip their grasp.
  • The Vlaadam Noble house, through no fault of the PCs, failed to recover any Sehan… but Evil always blames others for its failures.

All this shapes the campaign’s backstory for the next part of the campaign… a foray in the Outer Planes!

Tune in next week for a special ‘Campaign Prep’ where I start talking about integrating Planescape in this Mish Mash game that is ours! I’m so looking forward to this… even if it means using an adventure written by my Nemesis!

Cya tomorrow…. (Edit: Woot 1005 comments and counting) :)

Comments

  1. Weeeeell, “Whenever I present them with a villain or a morally ambiguous NPC” isn’t that typically all your NPCs ;o) So we bearly have the choice to interact with them.

    As an example, take that grumpy old druid in that grove. Is he white or black…only shades of gray again. I guess it is always the same with druids and nature…you never know (like Theo lol).

    I think we try real hard to be nice guys on our normal live, so I guess that we it comes to role play, it is interesting to play in the shades of gray. Paladins are not very popular in our group…

  2. Yeah I guess I have unwittingly subscribed to the everything is Gray and Evil has it’s reasons school of thought… Which isn’t the best for a Heroic RPG.

    I loved playing with the Slaver and the Spriggans because these guys were great evil slime balls to play!

    At least I moved away from all NPCs are Lebanese merchants!

  3. Silent reader here. Reading off the sites RSS feed. I enjoy reading your posts immensely. Have a happy holiday. And I can’t wait to see how the ending of the campaign turns out. =)

  4. Hey Scarecrow! Thanks for commenting!

    I too am curious to see where it will go!

  5. I like the idea of the Balacazars playing nice with them. Of course, they shouldn’t know it is the Balacazars at first. Maybe a merchant who works for them offers them some “10% off coupons” for their post-adventure spending. Then maybe a guard or bureaucrat is about to hassle them, then takes a second look, says “Oh, it’s YOU” and let’s them go. Just little bits of “good luck” that hit at moments that in the future the Balacazars can “call in.” And while this may be setting up for “Screw you, good guys”, it might not be the Balacazars that call in the favor.

    But the thing is, the first contact should never look gray. It should always appear pure on the surface. Get them hooked, then show them the tarnished underbelly. Sets up a more forceful climax.

    And yes, my players get paranoid.

  6. Hey, thought I lost the previous post, so I rewrote it a bit, but can’t edit it. So you get a second dose:

    I just wrote a bit on the Balacazars and lost it, so here’s the short version:

    Always make the first contacts look pure and make sure it is a win for the characters. A grateful merchant offering some discounts or a bureaucrat who is about to hassle them lets them off, perhaps muttering, “Oh, its YOU.”

    If their predilection for goodness is well known, the crime families wouldn’t come out to them, but would use middlemen. In fact, using some commoner types in thrall to the family might work well, too. I’m thinking children work well as intermediaries, here. They also make good shields for the bad guys if the meeting goes badly.

    And don’t forget various other things that could happen. A disguised member of a family could build a relationship with a character, perhaps turning into something real that turns the tide later on, either for or against the characters, as the story demands. Just so many possibilities.

    And the good thing is, by using intermediaries for now, it could be the Balacazars, the Vladdams, or the Commissar. You never know. Leaves it open for you when you need a hook later.

  7. Wooot Comment 1000!

    Excellent suggestions Dean! I love them all.

    Of course with the players reading these Adventure Prep articles for hints every time I post them, I won’t come out and say what I’ll do.

    But all these will be integrated in my apporach with the player’s future relationship with the Balacazar and Killraven.

    Thanks again!

    Thanks!

  8. The thing about gray character is that it might be peceived in different way by the individual.

    I for one like recurring bad guy and will be willing even as a player to let it slide this time as long as he did not tortured or slaughter anyone that is. That gives you a lot of room.

    But that is the position of the storyteller in the group. The buttkicker don’t like anyone to live on to bug them another day and they will do whatever they can, if any slight is perceived, to deal with him now.

    Given that Math and Eric are buttkickers it’s them you must convinced first, the others usually have been convince long before them… ;-)

  9. I like the idea of pre-planning a solid resolution. It is way too easy to go from the climax fight to splitting loot and heading home for the holidays. Just prepping/thinking about this in advance should help it come up naturally.

  10. Thanks all for the comments and insights so far.

    I also wish to apologize for the awful editing (or lack thereof) of this post. I cleaned it up some… but I’ll make an extra effort to prevent this in the future.

    Is it X-mas yet?

  11. Yan,

    What you say about buttkickers wanting closure is true. Also for those of us who tend to play power-hungry characters (evil or not). However, recurring villains are COOL, especially if they grow with the characters (little Billy from the playground is back to get you).

    As a DM, I’ve adopted a rule from the old SAGA Marvel rules (paraphrased)-

    If you capture or kill the villain, it wasn’t the real villain. If it was the real villain, there will be a clone somewhere. If you destroy the clone, then someone will time travel and bring them back anyway. So stop worrying about it.

  12. Excellent point.

    One of the coolest things about Ptolus is that the city is so rich and the organizations so powerful that technically everyone can be brought back to life if someone believes it’s necessary…