Myth as Adventure

What if there were a creature in your game that was unstoppable? It did what it wanted, when it wanted, and to who it wanted to do it to.
“But Ripper?”, you say, “Aren’t those things bad for the game? Don’t players feel abused when you lay some killer monster into their laps?” well, the answer is yes! Yes it is a dirty trick just to throw a bunch of killer numbers together and let it destroy your campaign. You being the judge of this thing and all, what does it say about you if YOU cheat?

Now, I’m not talking about cheating. Lands no! What I’m talking about is a serious villain that can really throw a wrench into your players plans, and leave all of the ones who are lucky enough to be walking away with their lives, walking away with scars.

One of the most important stories to the fantasy genre is “The Lord of the Rings”, have you ever heard of it? Then no doubt you’ve heard of the dragon named Smog. Fools will tell you that old Smog was slain with a single arrow, but we know better then that, don’t we. We know that it took months and months of much work and adventure on the part of a party of mixed races to get a hobbit inside of his lair, and to get him close enough so that he could spot the chink in the great worm’s armor. Then, and only then, with this information could a solid archer notch up an arrow and pray that his eye was that of an eagles at that moment.

Research! A monster that appears to be perfect. It is intelligent, greedy, and blood-thirsty. Blessed by the darkest gods, and fueled by only the blackest of desires. Many fantasy tales begin with this simple concept. A young hero forced to flee his home, and years latter returning to extract their vengeance. This is a smart idea! A first level fighter can’t take on a dragon, but you can threaten them with one. A powerful red dragon extorting money from the heroes village, until the money simply runs out.

Of course, it doesn’t need to be a dragon, it could be a man. A man who will throw your entire family in prison if a huge tithe isn’t paid on a regular basis. Of course it will start with something easy, something which forces the party to go adventuring, but once the evil bully discovers how resourceful and successful the adventurers are, he may want more then just more and more money. Eventually they’ll have to deal with him, but getting to him is the hard part.

RESEARCH AS ADVENTURE HOOK

Your master villain that you’ll utilize for this series of adventures has to be dangerous. He has to have the players fear, respect, and disgust before he’ll serve as a proper focal-point for the players. They can’t forget him, he always has to be in the back ground, haunting them. The towns people whom they meet may be either serving him/it or just as afraid as they are.

Somebody has to know something, and of course, we have to have something worth hiding to make the adventure work. This can be a known monster who for some reason has mutated and is stronger then normal, or simply way too strong of an enemy for the players to deal with until they reach a higher level; or we can invent our own monster, but the key to the whole thing is that he does have to have a weakness, and this weakness can be as simple or as mysterious as the creature itself. The wicked witch of the west melted when water was dumped on her, the Deathstar exploded after a single torpedo hit it in just the right spot. Everything has its Achilles heel, it is just creating one that is interesting which separates the judges from the Dungeon Masters.

Detective Work

This hook could last as long or be as short as you feel your player’s attention spans will allow. A fun one-nighter could be trying to save a small little community from a monster. Treat a band of trolls like a bigfoot. A monster that comes in when it is dark, robs and kills and leaves. The village is terrified, nobody will even answer their doors at night. Folk-magic and wives tales are a good inspiration. People leave food, or tie up herbs and hang them on their doors in an attempt to ward off the creatures, but all that is left in the morning is foot prints and evidence of thievery and violence. Is the thing really a monster, or a human hoax? Well that is up to you to decide. Perhaps it is something that is much too powerful for the players to handle? Or at least it will appear that way to our little MM readers who think that they have insight on monsters. We can always add our Achilles Heel, a one use magical item, a secret weakness, an intelligent trap. Creativity should be the answer, and the beautiful thing about doing something like this is just how little prepwork that you need to make it run properly.

Just a tiny little farming village with an inn, a black smith, and if they are lucky, a church. Maybe a merchant comes in once a month to sell wares from a cart, or maybe he has a store too, who knows? This kind of thing can be easily suited to handle all of the players needs and yours.

Add a monster and maybe a red-herring and it is good to go! And since we aren’t limited by modules or anything of much written down, we can react to the players and let them do all of the work. Creativity is the solution, and you just keep them guessing until they come up with an idea that is so daft and crazy that it just might work! Of course, don’t let them know that, if anybody asks, then you just tell them that that was your plan all along.

Know your monsters, know their strengths and their weaknesses. Seek to make them more then just numbers on a sheet of scratch paper, give them life and breath and make your NPC’s terrified of them. If nobody cares that this thing is out there at night, then who cares? How do these helpless 0th level people react to the problem? Superstitions and myths go a long way to legitimizing a monster. Hiding this thing in one hand, and exposing hints in the other are common tactics of rural folks who think that if they stop thinking about it, then maybe, just maybe, it will go away. Perhaps they blame a crime on the happenings? Somebody’s sins are the reason WHY! 20 years ago Old Man Potter killed his lovers husband, and now the ghost of the murdered man is wrecking his vengeance upon all of the people who knew what had happened and done nothing about it. That probably isn’t the reason why, but it is a good red-herring. A false lead, should be at least a good story. Devil worshipers out in the woods, ghosts, monsters, these things have always been with us, and just because we understand what is really happening, doesn’t mean that your NPC’s know. Let their, and your, imaginations get carried away. What other explanations can you think of to describe the reason for the deaths and thefts? Have fun with it.

RESEARCHING A SHOT

I am very stingy with called shots. The exception to the rule is researching a shot. Smog, for example, would be a called shot.

Asking around, or finding the creatures weak point through an ancient drawing deep in some haunted cavern can give subtle clues to the destruction of the beast. I never come out an say, Shoot the dragon in the mouth right before he uses his breath weapon. I hid it in riddles, “with a needle of cold iron, prick the internal flame”.

Any shot taken upon the beast which isn’t a specific called shot, is ignored and bounces off, goes through, is dodged, is caught, what have you. But once the called shot is hit, then the creature is vulnerable or death is imminent.

Naturally some weapons will still get through, a +5 Holy Avenger will target all evil creatures, thus the Paladin can slay the beast as long as he can survive the fight. We also have to figure in what magical swag the party has and if this effects it, if it does, then perhaps we should try something else? Magic can devastate you if you aren’t prepared for it, always know what spells your players have and choose your monster around them.

RESEARCHING A SPELL

Team efforts are always a good time. Perhaps the answer to our dilemma is “team-work”? A plan that involves all of the characters, perhaps the first thing that needs to happen is a clerics spell which makes it vulnerable for a round, the cleric must work closely with the parties mage so that at the right time, he can cast a nasty offensive spell which takes effect. Warriors do their things, as do the thieves which may need to be the ones who set a mechanical trap in order to keep the monster confined long enough for the cleric to do his thing? All of this, is an end result. Prior to this attack, the characters had to do their research. The spell that the cleric needs to use could be just beyond him, you can require him to either gain a level or discover a scroll which has the spell. It can also be a unique spell designed especially for this situation, which will disappear after it is used.

Wizards spells are the same, and we never know how magic will interact with magical creatures. Perhaps a bolt of lightning will actually heal the creature? Other spells could actually energize it, or the monster could have a bizarre ability to spell-turn. Maybe the creature is a source of Wild Magic? Making all spells cast in a specific radius go Wild? The clerics spell stopping this from happening, and calming down the area so that a wizards spell can get through normally.

There are lots of ideas, and millions of ways of doing this sort of hook. Take your time and actually tell your story through the monster and how you NPCs react to it. Give it everything that you can and your players will remember it for many years to come.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

K. Edwards said...

I am so using this in my new campaign.

Very, very imaginative and evocative. I would love to be a player at your table.

K. Edwards

Ripper X said...

This is the highest praise that one can ever hope to get. Thank you.

Brooze the Bear said...

Unstoppable powerful NPCs and mosters beyond players reach? Sure! Think Lady of Pain in the Planescape setting. I have forces beyond players control in my setting. Barons, Liches and schools of magic open only to NPCs whose elders can undo anything woth a mere utterance of a secret word. Beyind rules mechanics. Part of making a fantasy setting realistic.

Ripper X said...

See, now I absolutely despise major NPCs. Sure, they have their place, but as a general rule, if an NPC's death would dramatically effect the world or hurt my feelings, then I don't run them.

I cut my teeth on Ravenloft, probably the most Major NPC corrupted place, and a major factor in me getting out of it completely.

Brooze the Bear said...

Well, to keep things in balance, major NPCs won't interact with characters unless characters jump out of their skin to get noticed. And even if you made a King a 14th level human fighter, what would he be, intracting with the low level characters? How about a party of six first level characters against said King with his Wizard (9th level), personal Chaplain (enough of a level to cast resurrection spell on King and his family), and a dozen or so Princes, members of Royal Family and hangers on (a few accomplished adventurers among them). Need we count 70 or so men at arms level 1-3? Is this so unreasonable for the King of a decent-sized realm?

As DMs, we can say, well, the King will be reasonable and he WON'T INTERACT with a party of low level adventurers, hence this super powerful NPC will leave the party alone uless they do somethig insane to warrant the consequences, but historically, how often did such retinues meddle in the affairs of the peasants, townsfolks and low level clergy to make them cry? Often enough, and oftener beyond any sense of fairness that we today possess. His Royal Highness needs a root canal or the Queen kicked him out of bed, best don't get in his way...

So, to make the Powerful of the World present in a campaign is not at all unreasonable, how the Major Powers in the campaig interact with the player characters is the cruxt of the matter.

Ripper X said...

By major NPC, I meant the bulky wandering famous guys with spells named after them in the PHB. Ravenloft was terrible about this, there were so many major NPCs that there wasn't any room left over for PCs.

Royalty presents its own necessity. Pitting the party against Straud is a waste of time, they are never going to get him, and if they do, then the entire world will fall apart.

Brooze the Bear said...

I think that this is the Drangonlance effect that Maliszewski talked about. I never played or got into Dragonlance or Ravenloft settings. If you haven't done so already, try Planescape:TORMENT CRPG on computer. You will get a lot out of it. Awesome game, but I never did implement Planescape as a D&D setting

Ripper X said...

I despise the actual Planescape game, but love the monstrous compendium. As far as PLANESCAPE goes, I'll take that really brief outline and random system in the 1st edition DMG any day of the week. I mean, that actually looked cool, but the Planescape system is just too intimidating to me. I've left ravenloft for lots of reasons, I'm going to finish off my Red Death campaign and move everybody to Greyhawk and never look back.

The Dale Wardens said...

Boozer,

The Planescape Torment game was (is?!) great! When I first looked at the books and setting it I thought it was too outside my interest zone.

A friend was playing the computer game and gave me a very favorable opinion on it, so I decided to give it a try. It was a fun experience. The setting was peculiar and very moody. The music conveyed a sense of alien weirdness (but not in a sci fi way.) The storyline itself was a mystery of discovery...

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