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Advent

Background

by Paul Mitchener
Aug 23,2004

 

Methods of Campaign and Adventure Design 2

By Paul Mitchener

A Steampunk Adventure

In the last column we discussed a list of steps that could be used to come up with an RPG adventure. The example created there was firmly set in a fairly standard D&D-style fantasy campaign.

I want to focus on a different genre in this column, namely fantasy Steampunk, along the lines of Castle Falkenstein. The campaign world is similar to our own 19th century, with broadly speaking the same history, but with the addition of steampunk technology slightly more advanced than the Victorian reality, low-powered sorcery, and openly existing Faeries, some of whom are quite powerful.

Choose a theme

The genre itself does suggest certain themes, for example colonialism, intrigue between Faerie courts, and sorcerous criminals. I actually did run an adventure involving the library of Alexandria, the river Nile, Sufi mystic sorcerers, and two very old Faeries who used to be worshipped as river gods (one of whom was the river Scamander, as mentioned in the Iliad).

In this column I want to focus on something a little less over the top. Something like a detective story in London. However, there should probably be some Faerie involvement making things more complicated.

The key idea came from something I read somewhere. I wish I could remember where it was, or even a few details. Anyway, as much as I can remember, there was an incident in the late 19th century in Britain involving a man beating his wife to death with the excuse that he thought there she was a faerie changeling.

This idea generated a theme, or possibly two interlinked themes, namely poverty and ignorance, and the Faerie view of mortals. These themes were developed in the plot and, perhaps more importantly, in the NPCs involved in the events.

Think of a plot

In the game, a man, Charles Ball, is arrested for beating his wife Katherine Ball to death. As a defence, he claims that he believed her to be a faerie changeling.

Of course, more is happening than meets the eye. Unknown to Charles Ball, his wife was having an affair with one of the Fey. Unfortunately, this Faerie's former mistress, another of the Fey, severely resented being left for a mortal. With impeccable Faerie logic, she decided to take her revenge by using her powers to plant a compulsion upon Charles Ball to act as he did.

We need to see how this mystery can be unravelled; let us return to this point later on.

Why are the PCs involved?

One of the lawyers involved in the Charles Ball case realises that something strange is going on. The PCs are honourable people, and used to dealing with the strange, especially amongst Faeries. Essentially, they have something of a positive reputation. He decides to hire them to discover more about the strange case he has on his hands.

Based on previous actions, the PCs should be both curious and honourable enough to get involved.

Why don't the PCs go immediately to the relevant authorities?

In this case, the question is easy enough to answer. The relevant authorities are not interested in spending time gathering evidence for what seems to be an open and shut case, with the exception of the lawyer mentioned above. When the PCs have more evidence, they possibly should go to the relevant authorities.

What happens if the PCs lose or do not get involved?

Again, the question is simple. If the PCs do not accept the job, there is a miscarriage of justice, and a somewhat deranged Faerie goes unpunished, possibly to be met again.

Design locations and NPCs

For this adventure, let us consider the locations and NPCs together. We will put Charles Ball and his wife in the east end of London, in an `honest working class' neighbourhood. In the neighbourhood, we can develop a few characters.

The first character we want to consider is Charles Ball himself. Charles Ball is a labourer on the docks, very gentle normally, and not especially bright or ambitious, but kind as far as people can tell. We can add a few neighbours or workmates as character witnesses to this effect.

Our next character, although she is dead, is Katherine Ball; it is interesting to develop her history. Let us say she was imaginative and ambitious, but hopelessly lower class with little hope for more out of life; just the sort of person to experience mutual attraction with a member of the Fey.

Our next characters need to be the Faeries involved in the case. The first Faerie, the one who had the affair with Katherine Ball, is Julien. Julien works in one of the east end markets making clothes for hire. Well, making Faerie glamours that people can take away and wear as clothes. Julien's customers look fantastic as long as they do not touch cold wrought iron or meet someone who happens to have the ability to see through glamours. When Julien met Katherine, he fell in love instantly with her spirit and imagination. Although he does tend to fall in love rather a lot, he will be genuinely upset to hear the news of her death.

So we have another location to design; an east end market. A few more interesting NPCs can be added here for colour and flavour, but let us move on to the last major character we need to design for this adventure.

The last major character is of course the real murderess of Katherine Ball and former lover of Julien, Tahlari. Tahlari is extremely haughty, and considers herself far superior to mortal humanity. She will let no insult go unavenged, she is powerful, and has powers to become invisible and plant illusions in the head of any human. Of course, being one of the Fey, Tahlari has weaknesses, specifically towards iron and holy places. She can never break her given word, which is of course a long way from saying she cannot lie.

The main weakness of Tahlari is that as a Faerie who technically belongs to the Seelie court, she has already broken a Vow by causing Katherine's death. If this is pointed out to her, she will cease to exist. Of course, Tahlari is probably needed alive in order to clear Charles Ball of the crime.

Unravelling the Mystery

Let us consider how the PCs might be able to gather clues, and further develop the background plot. We will say that Katherine Ball sometimes went out when her husband was at work, and came back from the market wearing fantastic clothes. This could easily be witnessed by a nosy neighbour, or possibly another character the PCs ask. Tracking this clue should let the characters find Julien. Being diplomatic with Julien could drop the final clue about Tahlari.

Of course, the nature of the plot is that the PCs might easily try a different route to find out the truth, or even fail in its discovery. As long as the GM knows exactly what the truth is, and whether different lines of enquiry are likely to yield any information, the PCs' plans should not cause major headaches.

Another point of view which I advocate in most adventures is that the outcome is not determined even if the PCs manage to unravel the mystery. Even if they discover the truth, and confront or destroy Tahlari, what do they do with Charles Ball? Although technically innocent, this could be tricky to prove, and he is hardly likely just to be able to pick up the pieces and get on with his life when he finds out the truth. On the other hand, some form of justice, in the form of revenge upon Tahlari, is easier to find.

Wrapping Up

The above adventure, although firmly set in our chosen genre, could probably be adapted for a more standard fantasy game, although much of the flavour would be lost in the process.

In the next column, I want to temporarily leave adventures behind, and look at how one designs campaigns. I will illustrate this with a fairly standard fantasy example, with a few elements that add extra flavour and colour.

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