As some of you may know, I’ve spent the last few weeks working preparing my latest batch of seminars and writing freelance assignments. Last March, I sent off a 4e article for Kobold Quarterly (to be published in the Summer issue). I’ve since been working on two big projects for Margaret Weis Productions (publishers of the Leverage RPG among many other licensed RPGs).
One such project is the upcoming Dragon Brigade RPG, a Swashbuckling game in a world of airships, dragons, intrigue, and magic . The other project is a series of hacks destined to get people who already own the Leverage or Smallville RPG books, to play alternate themes or with new options.
Just like when Wil Wheaton works on a TV series and can’t talk about it, there’s a ton of things I’d like to share with you that I can’t right now (one of the infuriating aspects of freelance writing for a blogger). My need to blog is driving me nuts and I feel the strongest urge to blog about what I’ve been doing lately… and I know that very few people want to read about my “Writing effective Standard Operating Procedures” seminar.
So here’s a little something something related to my working in the freelance cave this last month or so.
In one such project, I came up with a few tools to help me playtest the material I wrote. I can’t share the tools outright but I can surely discuss the new form my prep session output has taken, which I dubbed “the adventure scaffold”.
What’s this you ask? Well have a look, it’s better than 500 words of explanation.
Words with Fiends
Quest Summary: One of the heroes’ older brother, a crippled ex-adventurer, obsessed with finding the one responsible for slaughtering his old adventuring party, comes up to the party with a solid lead to the killer who’s apparently working some sort of dark ritual hidden somewhere in a natural cave formation near a mining port city.
The crippled brother wants revenge and asks the party to exact it. However, the villain is not quite what the party expects. He’s a damned soul sent back from the infernal planes with an impossible diabolical mission. But the soul is quite the hustler and found a loophole to achieve its goals…
The Patron: Family/Ally
An older, handicapped brother comes to one of the heroes, convinced he’s finally tracked the man that killed most of his adventuring buddies 10 years ago. He implores his sibling’s help.
The Quest: Red Herring + Stop the Villain’s Plan
Exact vengeance on the villain. The Dark Lord is up to something involving dark elves and people from the city disappearing into the Mines. Find what he’s up to and stop it, making him aware who sent the heroes (a red herring, see The Dungeon’s Secret).
The Dungeon: A natural cave formation
The various mines surrounding the port city are connected to natural sea caves that pepper the rising cliffs forming the city’s natural harbour. The caves go deep, reaching the Underworld, where a dark elven outpost lies, guarding the way to one of their undercities.
The Dungeon’s Secret: I am NOT your Father!
The Hell-bred Dark Lord’s body is that of the sibling’s party killer… but it’s just the shell of a low-grade villain who signed away his soul and lost it while his body was still useful. The Dark Lord, a damned soul, got a reprieve to return from Hell in this body in exchange for turning in souls at an impossible rate… which the Dark Lord has managed to deliver so far.
The Lord has NO idea who was the person whose body he now occupies.
The Main Villain: Dark Lord
A reincarnated damned soul, living in the body of the ex-villain who killed the brother’s adventuring party. A very powerful infernal being, with one wing, horns, claws, Hellfire and all.
Features: Soulburning; Great sword; Soulforged armour; Hellfire blasts; “I’m smarter than everyone”; Greedy; Deadly afraid of getting caught
Agents: Devilish Thugs and Dark Elf Scoundrels (see below)
Minions: Imps and lot’s of them!
The Villain’s Plan: Harvest a Resource + Perform a Dark Ritual
The Dark Lord harvests souls from surrounding humanoids by having them mind-controlled and sign faustian deals with devils… a few hours before they die.
Faction #1: Goblin Warren, Outlook/Plan: Seeking
Goblins are among those being “stolen” by the Mind Parasites the Dark Lord uses (see below). Goblin elders are aware of the Dark Lord’s presence and suspect he’s behind the disappearances, but are afraid of confronting him.
Goblin Hunters: Spears and Shortbows
Goblin Witch Mother Crone: “I Curse You”
Faction #2: Infernal Lawyers, Outlook/Plan: Trading
A Group of devils are present in the dungeon, happily drafting and signing up very lucrative faustian pacts with appallingly short lived humanoids. They are unaware (and uncaring) of the loophole the Dark Lord is using.
Infernal Lawyers: “What we do is legal”; “Is the Paperwork in order?”
Infernal Assistants: “This Book of Law is Heavy!” “Right away boss”
Faction #3: Psychic Worms, Outlook/Plan: Trading + Allied With Main Villain
A race of physically weak sentient parasitic worm-like creatures (2” in length, mouth like Carrion Crawler, very slow) that feed on brains. They’ve entered a bargain with the Dark Lord. The Lord provides relative safe transport to defenseless “hosts”, the Worms burrow in the hosts’s spines, take control of the bodies and return to the Cave where they sign away their hosts’ souls shortly before consuming their brains.
Dark Lord: It’s the perfect symbiotic deal!
Psychic Worms: Hidden; Psychic Blast; Psychic Explosion (kills the worm); physically weak
Faction #4 : Dark Elves
Dark Elven Scoundrel are paid by the Dark Lord to seek out and deliver canisters of mind worms into the vicinity of likely targets. They use the gold and gem to finance a future excursion/invasion on the surface.
Dark Elf Scoundrel: Sneaky; Poisoned Weapons; Infravision; “We Hate elves”
Faction #5: Battered Infernal Auditor
An infernal auditor and his retinue of agents were on the trail of the Dark Lord’s scheme, trying to catch him red handed. However, the auditors were bushwhacked by the Hunter Construct (See Wandering Threat below) and barely survived. They are hiding from it, trying to find a way to achieve their objective.
The Auditor: Red Pen of Doom; ” Just one more question”; Badly wounded
Repo Devils: Grabbing Claws; lack of imagination; Badly wounded
Wandering Threat:Crafty Beast
The Discordian Hunter Construct
Sensing a significant infernal disturbance affecting the multiverse’s balance, the Discordian Council has sent a Hunter Construct to seek and destroy it. So far the construct hit the auditors but has managed to miss of the faustian lawyers who are protected by the Dark Lord’s forces.
The Discordian Hunter Construct: relentless; Crushing claws; Single Minded; Inflexible programming
How to play this Adventure
As you can see, the “Scaffold” makes no mention of maps, scenes, encounters, treasures or anything. Yet, I find it easily adapted to any fantasy RPG. By adding stats for the Villain, its Agents and Minions; factions and the “Wandering Threat”, an enterprising GM could improvise scenes solely based on setting an initial scene and then running with it based on player choices. More classical GMs could draw (or borrow) a dungeon map and create areas with the various factions, traps and treasures in the purest Gygaxian form.
However, where the model really shines for me is that they are totally compatible with “Mouseburning” game play. Players miss a skill check? Something goes wrong? Your game of choice wants you to implement a complication? Just look at the Scaffold and pick what could happen… maybe the Hunter Construct shows up? Maybe PCs get caught in a Goblin Trap? The Auditor may send his Repo Devils to try to enlist the PCs…
The possibilities are there, ready to be exploited!
For instance here’s how my game went:
Scene 1: Players inquired in town about the mine. They were told that mining stopped in the northern shaft because it was run over by goblins. They were also told that people rose up at night and could not be prevented from walking into the mines short of killing them, they never came back.
Scene 2: Heroes laid watch at the nearest exit of the mine and caught a pair of Dark Elves carrying 4 ivory tubes each. After overpowering them, they found the tubes to contain disgusting, hostile worms with psychic powers, which they dispatched. Nobody came form the city that night…
Scene 3: Using a map found on the dark elves, the heroes navigated the mines, caves and upper underworld to find the dark elf outpost. They ambushed and kidnapped a sentry and learned about the deal with the Dark Lord, the worms nursery and the gold and gems mined by the enslaved goblins.
Scene 4: Heroes found cave where Dark Lord was hidden, discovered he wasn’t who they thought he was, fought him until he surrendered, begging for mercy. Heroes exposed his soul-stealing con and refused to let it pass so they dispatched him.
Many elements of the Scaffold never came into play, but that’s all right, they could fuel a further quest…. or not. We had fun for a few hours and that’s what counts.
Do you find an adventure “crib sheet’ written in this format helpful? Would you want me to share another one soon?
Let me know!
Soon, I’ll reveal how I got that adventure plan made.