Saturday, 28 August 2010

Project A Day 4 - No, Mr Bond, I Except You To Roll


You'll notice it has been a few days since we've had a project update. It is not that I've not done any work on Falling Skies, it is that I have not had anything new worth writing about. I have already talked twice about designing locations and what would be the point in doing so again? I have written the Trade Quarter and started on the Noble Quarter but (and isn't this becoming a theme?) I was quick becoming tired of developing the City of Phire. Inspiration was coming hard to come by and the work was becoming more of a slog than a joy. And when that happens the product becomes merely functional.

Anyway, so I gave it up for the day and fell in to my nest of cushions in the sitting room to watch Man vs Food (damn I'm hungry). I have this old wheeled coffee table that I understand my Mum nicked from her Mum - I have my laptop resting on it as I type - and it's usually got a notebook and pen lying on it too. Not really thinking I picked up a pen and started scribbling. What I ended up with was a bullet pointed overview of the Big Bad's plan, and thus the overarching plot.

What you need to know is so far I hadn't really thought about the overarching plot. On the day I thought up the setting, I needed a combat encounter, a way to get the characters into the future and a vault-like dungeon. What just kind of happened was the heroes went to a temple dungeon (ostensibly seeking out some travellers who had been kidnapped) and got caught in the middle of a ritual where the travellers were being sacrificed one after the other. The evil cleric at the centre of it kept them at bay until the ritual could be completed and time froze. From the heroes' and players' perspective one moment they were in the middle of battle then the chamber was empty, dark and littered with ancient skeletons. The cleric was gone, his purpose complete.

But by the end of the second session it was clear the game was seriously lacking in direction. While half the fun of a Fallout game is in the open-world do-anything-you-like style, that does not always work in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Besides, in Fallout 3 you always have a goal hanging over you. When you walk out of the vault, even though you know next to nothing about the wasteland you know that somewhere out there is your father you need to find. My players needed a similar (of course optional) goal.

So what did my stream of conciousness notes read? Nothing more or less than the below:

Haerwich Starbringer
* Started as loyal cleric of Essel until he discovered the Far Gods.
* Learned the power he needed would arrive on Niam 600+ years later so found a way to freeze himself in time until then.
* Overshot thanks  to heroes distraction.
* Now goes between Fallen City and Phire's royal compound gathering dark crystals and Caethi artefacts to summon a Far God.
* Ends with moving a citadel over the palace?

Let's examine this point-by-point, and I'll try and explain what I was thinking at the time.

* Started as loyal cleric of Essel until he discovered the Far Gods.
As I'm sure you're wondering, Essel is the Niam CN god of secrets (seperate to the god of knowledge, but The Lawforged isn't worshipped at all). The Far Gods are essentially the Elder Gods, the most famous of whom is the great Cthulu himself. The Manual of the Planes talks of the Far Plane, a place of madness, where such entities come from. The Niam cosomology is somewhat different but if you imagine the planes orbiting a central point, like planets around a star, then Niam is way out near Neptune. Currently, I've just thought this up so it might chance, I envision the Far Plane as equivalent to some asteroid with an erratic, elliptical orbit measured in lightyears. It crosses Niam's orbit only once in... a very large number of years, and when it does the Far Gods can travel across the inter-planar space. When that happens Bad Things ensue.

Now that you know what I'm babbling about: the subtext to this bullet point is that Haerwich was once a normal man and was corrupted by contact with the Far plane. Corruption is a key theme of Falling Skies so this is fairly neat. Also, as the taint in the wasteland comes from the power of the dark crystals which draw power directly from the far plane, it indicates the influence of the far plane was felt long before the dark crystals appeared above the Rael planes. This might connect in with, say, citadels appearing in Niam way back around the time of the Fifth Demonic Incursion, the standard setting for Niam campaigns.
* Learned the power he needed would arrive on Niam 600+ years later so he found a way to freeze himself in time until then.
An explanation for why the time-freezing ritual was necessary, and so how to get the players too from the Fifth Incursion into the Falling Skies time period. Yeah, short comments for this bullet.
* Overshot thanks to heroes distraction.
Why did Haerwick not arrive when the Caethi citadels were still in the air like he intended? The classic ragtag team of unlikely heroes. Poor guy. This might also explain why the players don't come out of stasis at the same time as Haerwick: essentially the ritual goes slightly wrong and the effect isn't the same over everyone involved.
* Now goes between Fallen City and Phire's royal compound gathering dark crystals and Caethi artefacts to summon a Far God.
This one bullet point has so many possibilities. Haerwich has a goal that takes a long time and requires the assistance of goons and maybe even heroes. The DM has plenty of flexibility with how Haerwick goes about gathering the items. The heroes may not hear anything about it until he's finished, maybe they'll find themselves in the middle of a veritable gold rush as Haerwick very publicly offers a fortune for crystals or something a little more subtle as rumours spread of someone (a secret assistant or Haerwich in disguise) paying top-tips. This process can last as long or as short as desired.
* Ends with moving a citadel over the palace?
Every action-based story needs a grand finale and nothing screams epic fantasy climax like a flying fortress soaring over a ruined city. It gives the heroes two (forgive me if I say so myself) fantastic settings for their showdown with the Big Bad. Do they fight through the heart of darkness in the streets and palaces of the noble quarter? Or do they somehow make their way onto the citadel itself and fight Haerwick and his forces on his own turf?

Right, I think this enough of an essay for one day. I am going to do some writing putting this story plan in detail and talk about other ways you might introduce the players to the setting but for now, goodnight.

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