Thursday, May 19, 2011

Beginnings...At the End of the Middle?

*This post will contain spoilers to the Scales of War adventure path*

I’ve been working my way through the Scales of War adventure path that Wizards of the Coast put together. The adventure path is designed to provide material for a party to travel from level 1 all the way to level 30 through a series of interconnected stories and plotlines. The party I am running through this whole thing has been playing for over 2 years and just hit the level 20 mark.
I make a point of reading through the adventures going forward and trying to figure out where the story is gonna lead and what is going to be important in the future. As I was reading through the end of Garaitha’s Anvil and into A Tyranny of Souls I noticed a point where the pattern was just blatantly getting repeated. There was an established pattern of the party being sent on an adventure and then when they finish the goal they get a reward and then someone else tells them what to do. Rinse and repeat. I could tell that this particular quest dynamic was getting too familiar for them so I decided to do something drastic. I altered the deal.
image from Garaitha's Anvil, a paragon tier adventure
published  by Wizards of the Coast
Garaitha’s Anvil ends at a githyanki shipyard with a combat on a githyanki astral warship. The party was hunting down the crystal key to give the Coalition control of the githyanki portal system. Supposedly the Admiral of the Imperial Navy had one of the three keys that could unlock and control the portal system. The adventure was supposed to end with the keys being grabbed and the party just getting to wait until the next adventure comes through and invites them along. Unfortunately, many of these adventures are designed that way. It didn’t feel as interesting as it could be so I made a little twist to the published adventure (which I’ve tried to not tweak too much).
In order for them to catch up to the Admiral’s ship, they grabbed an astral skiff and tried to race ahead and catch up. This runs as a skill challenge and unfortunately the party didn’t do very well. They stalled their ship out racing forward. At this point I got fancy and rammed their little ship with the Admiral’s flagship, hut the party a little, and started the battle in earnest. They were still able to defeat the Admiral and all of his lackeys, but in the end they were all on the damaged flagship as it started to spiral out of control towards the giant glowing portal at the center of the shipyard. I tried to be very descriptive and clarify just how out of control the ship was and how quickly it was moving towards the portal and even how the portal looked like a portal (which I think the party may not have figured out at this point), but the party was really focused on looting the Admiral’s body and cleaning up the remainder of the encounter. After all, they had to recover the key, that was there goal and without the key they couldn't finish the quest and move on to the next piece of the story. So they found the key on a chain around the Admiral's neck and after a short while longer the ship passed through the portal, which lead to right to the front door of the githyanki capital city of Tu’narath…where the rest of the githyanki navy was currently in tactical engagements…with a dozen flights of dragonriders…and an elder red dragon who just so happens to be an exarch of Tiamat. Getting the picture? The party hadn't yet.

image from A Tyranny of Souls, a paragon tier adventure
published  by Wizards of the Coast
So the party dives under the deck of the ship leaving the paladin (best negotiator) on top deck with a hat of disguise that makes her look like the Admiral they  just killed (I mean she did just steal his armor). The elder red dragon lands on the top deck and starts asking the “Admiral” what happened to his crew and why his ship is impaled on another ship…in Deep Speech…which the paladin doesn’t understand...and the Admiral should have spoken fluently. So suffice to say, the paladin (who is played by my wife, who was NOT pleased with me) got bit in half by the dragon and then all of the ships opened fire on the astral warship. The entire party died.
Now I might just be a jerk here, but I had a very clear motivation for doing this. The party had always faced challenges that they knew they could beat and they mostly had had it pretty easy. I wanted to push them to the limits and beyond and prove that there were in fact some really intense and terrible situations in the world their characters exist in and that while they are awesome heroes they are not invincible. So it may seem like I was just a jerky DM trying to prove that he is tougher than the party who just wanted to put THE FEAR into them, but their death on that ship was not the end. I used this opportunity to drop them in the direct middle of the next adventure as originally designed and it most definitely caught them up in the story of end of the paragon tier of the Scales of War beginning what I hope will be a rush to the climax of a tier and a very dramatic end it could be.
I’ll have the next piece of what exactly that looked like some time soon.

1 comment:

  1. I approve of this TPK. One problem I have with starting most published adventures is the classic patterns of game play and the lack of real serious dilemma. It seems like too many of these mainstream publishers are too concerned with balanced game play as supposed to challenging game play. As Albus Dumbledore once said

    "After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."

    there is nothing wrong with killing off a few players every once in a while. Obviously constant death would not be fun but like you said

    "while they are awesome heroes they are not invincible."

    In one game I ran, I allowed two of my players to come back to life BUT they would be forever marked by the raven queen! This created an opportunity for some major character development and creative game play. To ward off death they would have to actively seek the blessings of a protective deity. What I'm saying is that the absents of death from a campaign takes away from its legitimacy while the active realization of the pcs' mortality will motivate your players better than any alluring promise of treasure ever could.

    Sorry Joe. I know your main point wasn’t all about just killing the whole party but bravo good sur. It takes a lot of gusto to kill off your wife and in-laws. Bravo.