Friday, June 07, 2013

Return to Mar Tesaro - Misfire

Truth be told, the current campaign is actually my second attempt to run the Mar Tesaro setting again.  The first attempt failed through no fault of its own.  Like so many games before it, real life ended up getting in the way.  After the conclusion of a prior campaign, a number of people went on hiatus to spend time with their families, and one of the interim games became the reborn Mar Tesaro campaign.  We had about four sessions or so before the remainder couldn't spare the time to play.  By the time they were ready to play again, so was the rest of the group, and it was the consensus that starting fresh would be better in the end.

The short campaign that resulted ended up having little in common with the current campaign, although a large part of that was the result of being unable to introduce the larger themes and ideas right away.  I still think what resulted is interesting enough to write about.

The two characters in the group (and I must say that running D&D 4E for two people is really complicated) were Traster Dewshining, an eladrin* swordmage who survived the transition to the new campaign, and Dertritus Grubstake, a dwarf ranger with a huge spider companion.  Dertritus didn't make the transition, and I'm rather glad.  Why?  Well, here's his inspiration:
In the groundwork for the campaign, Dertritus and Traster were going to be part of the Boland Brotherhood, working to overthrow the Queen.  This wasn't their only affiliation; the players came up with another group for them to be a part of called the Regulators.

Remember, the Queen's abundant stockpiles of magical trinkets and doodads were to become the prizes awarded to participants in her tournament.  It was also how adventurers who helped restore civilization to the island were rewarded.  As these items circulated more and more widely, certain top men decided became convinced that some of these items were too dangerous to be left in public hands.  These individuals formed a group that would "regulate" the existence of magical equipment, covertly siphoning these items away for the good of the people.  Such a coalition would have to be shadowy, and the players would never know who they really worked for in order to protect the secrets of the organization.

Dertritus and Traster didn't care that much about dangerous equipment floating around in the world.  They joined with the Regulators in order to smuggle powerful magic to the Brotherhood, availing their true cause to any advantage it could find.  I loved the potential story hooks this path provided.

The team's first (and only) mission came from the Brotherhood, which had lost contact with an agent from the Breakshore region.  The team was sent north to investigate; along the way, they dispatched an ettin that had been preying on travelers.  Oddly enough, ettins weren't the only danger along the roads of late.  As they traveled, they also encountered mutated animals which had not only attacked passersby, but had also killed the patrols sent by the Queen to keep the roads safe.  
This is what happens when they can't get any Charmin.
When they finally arrive in Breakshore, they discover that their contact was killed by mutant animals in a way similar to those they found along the trip north.  They track the animals to a farm outside the city being run by a wizard.  The wizard had been using a magical trinket gifted to him by a "mysterious stranger" to increase crop yields and ensure year-round growing seasons.  The local wildlife had been nibbling at his crops and suffered ill-effects.  The wizard has a terrible epiphany at this point:  He sent a shipment of the crops back into town the day before to be used by the local militia.

The wizard sends them back to town with a solution that should reverse the effects of the crops.  The militia hulked-out the way the wildlife did, but Traster and Dertritus were able to save those affected.  They learn that the captain of the guard intended to arrest their wizard friend for his experiments, but they rush out to the farm to warn him.  They find the entire place ablaze, including the wizard's tower.  The two rush in and secure the artifact that caused the disruption before it is consumed by the fire.  The wizard has no idea who set his tower on fire, as he had been  destroying the tainted crops when it happened.

At the end of things, they hatch a plan:  They will inform the guard captain of Breakshore that the wizard had been killed in the fire.  In truth, he will be spirited away to join the Brotherhood.

That was all we managed to accomplish in a few sessions.  There were a few other things that happened, but it's not worth detailing fully.  Perhaps you're wondering where I was going with all of this.

The leader of the Regulators was going to be another Mordan worshipper.  What he was doing was seeding various artifacts out in the world to determine how powerful their effects could be, then sending in his Regulators to retrieve the useful items.  The plan along the way was for the players to accumulate items which would allow them to open any door, regardless of the power of magical locks (basically Knock on steroids) and other items to improve the scope of the effect.  The idea was that they would be raiding the Queen's citadel for some purpose to be determined in the future.  In order to get in and out quickly, they'd use the items they'd collected to simultaneously "magic" open every door in the place, allowing them to beeline to their destination.  The intended side effect of this would be that Mordan's current prison would open, freeing the Lich to wreak havoc again.

The key detail here was going to be stringing things along so that infiltrating the citadel and using the items in their possession all looked like the players' decision.  That is incredibly tricky GMing.  If you give the PCs a gun and tell them to shoot the king, they will not see that as their action.  If, on the other hand, you allow them to find a gun and give them a reason to shoot the king . . . they will (hopefully) be driven to the action you desired while thinking of it as their decision.  The details of that plan never materialized, but it was a moot point.

Ultimately, I'm happy with how the "real" campaign has turned out so far.  I can't really escape the criticism that the overarching plot that I described above is basically the plot of the first game:  Trick the players into releasing Mordan, then have them put the genie back in the bottle.  While the misfire had some interesting possibilites and planned quests, such as infiltrating the Blades, I think what has come of it is far more interesting.
* - In fourth edition, there are two flavors of elves:  "Elves" and "Eladrin."  What's the difference?  The former have spent so much time in the mortal world, not the Fey, that they are considered part of the mortal world.  This wasn't the case in third edition D&D.  In the beginning, I had considered keeping the distinction, but when the issue never manifested in game, I eventually took to using the names of the two races interchangeably.  Why makes things too complicated?


Wednesday Boy said...

Aw, I miss Dertritus. What's not to love?? I think at some point he should come back, just to creep you out.

I like the plot that you had in mind for the Regulators and Mordan. Although a second instance of the players inadvertently releasing Mordan makes me suspicious that we're going to inadvertently going to release him this time around....

Harold Steiner said...

As an overall plot, I think it worked fine. The problem, though, was going to be putting the gun in your hands, so to speak. I can't have the NPCs suggest you use items X, Y, and Z to make your job easier. I can't make the items too obvious, or else you won't synthesize the combo yourself. I can't hope that you come up with the plan spontaneously, because you people are far too clever for your own good. Chances are you'd figure out some way to do the quest without making the combo.

One solution I'd had in mind was to do "trial run" quests. That is, similar quests for you to undertake that would hopefully result in you figuring out the "release Mordan" combo of items, then sending you into the Queen's palace. Even if all else fails, if you figure out the combo on the first quest, I can just make that be the triggering condition.

Hopefully you wouldn't find all the heist quests too suspicious. I think the nature of that game lent itself to heist quests. Frankly, I'd love to do more such quests with the current group, but D&D doesn't lend itself to heists. A cleric in chainmail isn't sneaking into anything and probably isn't going to bluff anybody.