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Brave, New World

DF 3: Story is Sacred

by Charles Dunwoody
Nov 08,2005

 

Brave New World

DF 3: Story is Sacred

By Charles Dunwoody

I've decided to divide the column up into sections from this point forward. The current sections (in addition to an opening and closing paragraph) include Setting, Player Characters, and the Campaign. The Setting will cover any world building I'm working on. The PCs will cover what the player and their individual characters are up to. And the Campaign will cover aspects of the combined story we're creating together.

Setting

Kingdoms

In the last month, I've been developing the various kingdoms that make up the world of Terra. I started with the kingdoms that make up the Great Kingdom. I still have more of those to cover as well as the Goblinish Empire (dominated by hobgoblins), the Orcish Empire, and the skarn (race from Magic of Incarnum) kingdom of Tersuska. If anyone has ideas for kingdoms I'd love to hear them.

Kingdom of Corwyn, Part of the Great Kingdom

Current King: His Majesty, Sir Arthad Petrique
Current High Druidic Priest: Druidess Denira
Current High Priest of the Temple of Harlonus: Sir Wace Honorbound

Corwyn has stood for nearly 1000 years. Its knights were the strongest supporters of both the creation of the Shining Crusade and the founding of the Great Kingdom. It is a land of contrasts and an example of the power of tolerance and compromise between the progressive king and his knights and the ancient druids of Stone Ringe (rhymes with binge).

When the mishtai crossed the Blackstone Mountains 1500 years ago they found a religion already ancient in the druids of Stone Ringe. These druids practiced dark arts and used human sacrifice in their rituals. The mishtai applauded their study of both the stars and human anatomy, but even the mishtai bulked at some of the entities the druids were trafficking with. And the mishtai believed in knowledge at any cost, so that was saying a lot.

Gradually, the rule of the mishtai had a moderating influence on the druidic religion and the local people who had once lived in so much fear of naked druids dancing covered in blood under the moon grew more bold and began to truly settle their lands.

When the mishtai's empire fell five hundred years later, the druids pulled back into Stone Ringe and the Galenedel Forest. The other humans began pledging loyalty to the strongest warriors who could protect them and feudalism was born. Gradually, the feudal system grew into support of one king and the founding of Corwyn and eventually the birth of both the Shining Crusade and the Great Kingdom.

Today, the kingdom of Corwyn still provides the greatest number of soldiers for the Shining Crusade. The king and high druidic priest have worked out an accord of mutual respect and cooperation. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, Stone Ringe, is still used by the druids to create and track the calendar year and predict great events like the coming of the green comet, Alhazarde.

And yet, in the darkest shadows of the cities of Corwyn and in the tangled heart of Galenedel Forest evil still hides. The ancient druidic cult called Slauter Towen (literally meaning the walls are thin) still carry on blood-drenched traditions and worship dark gods beneath the gibbous moon. Rumors persist that some terrible link exists between Slauter Towen and the aberrations that occasionally boil out of the Underdark to spread terror and death across Corwyn.

Kingdom of Lurecia, Part of the Great Kingdom

Current Ruler: Greatking Pelltar Covakel
Ruler's Spouse: Greatqueen Kessa Ineskadel Covakel
Royal Court Wizard: Archmage Melfmalmagor

Lurecia, kingdom of the elves, is contained wholly within the forest of Aerlyn Wood. Their records go back thousands of years and they pursued the study of magic for centuries before outside threats changed them forever.

Several waves of invading orcs from the Orcish Empire strove to conquer them but they stood strong against them. The druids of Slauter Towen tried to annex their woodlands but failed. Aberrations attacked them from the Underdark and were repulsed. And finally, the mishtai came and tried to claim the elven magic for their own use. The elves, scattered into small bands, fought skirmishes against the mishtai until they withdrew west over the Blackstone Mountains two thousand years ago.

Diplomacy, not war, brought the elves into union with other races. When paladins of the Shining Crusade proposed the formation of the Great Kingdom, the elves had already seen the integrity and wisdom of the humans of Corwyn and Naramis. As the elves had helped Naramis in war so too did they see the advantage of allies in future battles of their own. They are a founding member of the Great Kingdom.

The elves of Aerlyn Wood have a powerful magic tradition second to none and a culture of war and independence. They train archmages and have fragmented records on epic level spells devised by the mishtai. The elves correspond and exchange knowledge frequently with the bladesingers of Twilight, the bardic college in Lok Wood, and the daggerspell mages in the Black Forest. Little goes on in Kreados without the elves knowing about it.

A dark secret of the elves was revealed only one hundred years ago. A small faction of elves, desperate to defeat the mishtai, turned to dark magic learned from the various enemies who had attacked the elves over the centuries. The majority of elves opposed this faction, which called itself the drow, which means darkness.

These elves pressed on, worshiping a dark god of serpents and power from the southern desert called Set. They used their magic successfully to help resist the mishtai. What happened next is confused in the histories, but the elves claim the drow tried to forge an empire of elves to enslave all the lands. The elves resisted and finally banished the drow who would not renounce their worship of Set and sent them on the Exile, a journey of loss and sorrow to far distant lands.

The elves did not hear from the drow again until a band of seven adventurers began exploring an ancient forest far to the southeast. They ran into elves, dark of skin, and terrible in their wrath. The adventurers, now reduced to two, fled to the Great Kingdom and the elves revealed what they knew about the drow.

The drow have not advanced an agenda of war in the last hundred years. Assassinations, chaos, and mistrust could all be attributed to the drow. Or maybe not. No one, not even the elves, know for sure what the drow are planning or doing. However, their final words to the surviving adventurers and what those words may mean to all of Kreados still haunts the elves to this day. After years of total isolation they announced their return with words, "We are back."

Kingdom of Naramis, Part of the Great Kingdom

Theocrat and Current High Priest of the Church of Solarus: Varlay Lightbringer

Naramis is a theocracy, founded a few decades after Corwyn came to power. Humans who wanted to be farther away from the Goblinish Empire or simply wanted to concentrate more on good deeds and not so much on honor and service formed the greatest numbers of Naramis's people.

When a terrible army of undead led by a high priest of Nerul attacked Naramis around five hundred years ago, its people, less suited to war, scrambled to defend their lands long enough for Corwyn and the elves of the Aerlyn Woods to come to their aid. A young priest of Solarus, Joshua Lightbringer, gave his life to stop the invading undead long enough for help to arrive.

Many worshipers of Solarus consider Joshua to be the son of Solarus to this day and revere him as Joshua Avatar. The Cathedral of the Lightbringer, one of the seven wonders of the world, was built on the ground where Joshua fell defending his people. Naramis has remained a bastion of the faith of Solarus to this day.

Campaign

The First and Second Adventure

The PCs established themselves as a powerful presence in the town of Twilight even as first level adventurers on their first adventure. They boldly stuck their necks out to protect the subjects living in the poorest section of town called the Old Quarter. They risked their lives to protect the people from undead infused with necrocarnum. And they provided work for those commoners living in the Old Quarter.

In the next adventure, they rescued a dwarf named Tordek along with some other dwarves from slavers. They also started uncovering some disturbing information as detailed in Secrets below.

Also, in the second adventure the desires of two characters clashed. Tredis, a cleric/paladin, let an evil cleric go and Skafloc, an elven bard, snuck out to ambush and kill the evil doer. Some bad rolls followed and Skafloc almost found himself on the receiving end of a deathknell spell. Just before draining Skafloc of life, however, the cleric let him go instead. Perhaps Tredis's mercy did some good after all....

Not bad for the first two adventures. I can already see the changes the players and their characters are having on the campaign.

Campaign Growth and Changes

First, Catfolk (Miniatures Handbook and Races of the Wild) a.k.a. litorians have become a major race of the world of Terra. Rom, the player whose character is a litorian, and I have created together a racial class as well as a prestige class for the catfolk. The prestige class is tied to the green comet Alhazarde and will tie directly into upcoming campaign events.

Also, Rom's litorian suffered a great loss at the hands of undead. I'll take Rom's story background and incorporate it into a future adventure.

Second, ordained followers of the gods eschew their given last names and take on a last name tied to the church from which they received training. Temples of the same god use different last names that tie to their religion. Phil conceived this idea for his cleric/paladin Tredis Shadowbane.

This idea for one character adds a huge dash of roleplaying flavor to the world of Terra. Followers of the god of the sun will be able to tell which temple ordained a fellow priest simply by his last name. It also requires a roleplaying sacrifice on the part of the priest (giving up his family ties to serve his god).

Tredis also has started a tradition of letting evil doers go who cooperate with him and his team and agree to stop their acts of evil. How these villains react to his kindness and stern warnings will shape several future adventures.

Finally, I changed some of the villains in the campaign from lawful beings bent on conquering chaos to skarns (incarnum using reptilian humanoids that used to serve the mishtai of the Amperian Empire). I chose skarns for two reasons.

First, they are a lawful militant society. Second, Todd is playing an azurin soulborn (from Magic of Incarnum). Having some of the skarn appear as enemies will allow Todd's PC to go toe to toe with fellow incarnum users.

I have already begun to see how the choices and actions of the players and their characters are shaping the campaign of Darkness Falls. The campaign is becoming about the players and their characters' story, not just my desire to write and design game elements.

Secrets

The PCs have discovered a disturbing trend. Aberrations, undead, and now hobgoblins have been working together taking slaves and building bases in the wilds. The PCs don't know why three such different species are working together, but they have discovered how dangerous the union is.

One connection between the three that they have uncovered is the Cult of the Worm that Walks. Some skarn tried to kill Tredis simply because he was wearing one of the breastplates of a cleric of the cult. Quick negotiation by Skafloc the bard lead to mutual sharing of information.

The skarn showed a symbol to the PCs: an amulet with Terra painted on it with a large gaping black hole in the center of the planet. The amulet was covered in the slime of an aberration but was taken from the followers of Nerul, god of death, and members of the Cult of the Worm that Walks.

These dangerous links have led the PCs to their next adventure: taking out some skarn slavers operating out of the town of Twilight. The time is coming when various clues and adventures will lead the PCs to the city of Darkness Falls where some answers will be found and more mysteries will be discovered.

Player Characters

Great News

Phil, playing the human cleric/paladin, has started an in-character blog about the adventures of his PC and the team. Here's the link: http://chronicleofdarkfall.blogspot.com/

Even better, however, is that aeon at rpg.net has agreed to let Phil polish his blog into a column to be posted here. Phil tells the story of his PC and his team in an entertaining way, with just a touch of weary humor. I can't wait to read his first column.

Quote of the Month

The last adventure for October plunged the player characters into a cavern slowly flooding with water, an idea I pulled directly from the Dungeon Master's Guide II. Marty, playing the half-elf druid, was forced to swim out through a water filled tunnel. Along the way, the team ran into a ten by ten-foot swarm of mutant coldwater piranha. Prompting Marty to cry out the quote of the month: "I hate water more than I hate rats. AND I HATE RATS!"

I have seen rats ruin many a 1st or 2nd level character's day. I sympathize with Marty up to a point. I can feel his pain but that won't stop me from unleashing rats and water on his PC. I'm the DM. I have to be fair but also hardened to the cries of anguish and pleading for mercy. It comes with the job.

:)

Story is Sacred

Our D&D team does not have a full-time cleric or wizard. After the first adventure, various players began considering the need for one or both.

However, they considered adding either through metagaming--through modifying or destroying an existing character. I recommended strongly against this idea.

The story is sacred. By story I don't mean just the campaign, the possible adventures the PCs might pursue. And I don't mean a plot or theme that I, as the DM, am advancing. I mean who the PCs are and what they have already accomplished, in game.

I have great players, many of whom would not normally metagame, going so far as to avoid actually asking for hit point totals for example. I respect them and I respect their dedication to roleplaying.

However, without considering the metagame consequences, some of these same players considered rewriting or even destroying the PC they had played to create someone's idea of the "perfect" party. Again, I appreciate the altruism and the motive but not the means to the ends.

We are telling a story here. But we aren't writing a novel.

In a novel, you tell the story in a first draft. Then you go back and revise and rewrite to make it better.

Roleplaying games don't work that way. You are playing the first draft and you have to assume your audience is right there with you reading along. It's more like telling a bedtime story than writing a first draft. You can't start over or go back to change things or you kill the magic.

If a PC falls heroically in battle doing what he loves that is one thing, but being rewritten or written out of existence on our whim? I say no! Our PCs deserve to be treated with great respect! They've earned that right and even us, their creators, shouldn't take that respect away from them by metagaming away their existence.

Do I feel strongly about this idea? Yes I do. The PC, both the player and the character, make the campaign. You can't have one without the other if you want to succeed. Both need to be treated with respect. And you need to appreciate both, the player and the character, and the work and time they're putting into the game.

If you don't have good players and good characters you don't have a game.

Appreciating the Character

Phil did decide to pursue being a cleric. Instead of handling the change to his paladin in a metagame way, however, he is making the change in game.

The only shrine in the Old Quarter was dedicated to Solarus, god of the sun. The shrine, however, had burned down and killed the local priest as well.

Tredis, Phil's paladin, decided to rebuild the shrine and take over the priest's duties until a new priest could be sent. Phil solved the metagame problem of not enough healing and did it through roleplaying and growing his character. Well played.

Will he have to bump up his Wisdom to get higher level spells? Yes. Will he be one level behind in gaining higher level spells? Yes.

And I say so what? If Tredis is both fun to play and fun to watch being played then let him alone and let him get on with his life. Let him live.

Next Column

Two more adventures will have been completed. More clues to unraveling the secrets of Darkness Falls will be uncovered. And the continued building of Terra will continue as I combine the unfolding story and ideas of the player characters with the work I'm doing on the setting for Darkness Falls.

"I hate water more than I hate rats. AND I HATE RATS!"
Charlie

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