Monday, August 20, 2007

Planar Campaign Revs Up for Second Season

As I've mentioned before here, my campaigns are run like TV seasons--10 adventures to a season. Yesterday, we began season 2 with the PCs in "Vecna-verse", the alternate universe they stumbled into last time (where Vecna won his bid for power in Die! Vecna! Die!). Now in the Realms, the PCs are given a possible route home by the god Azuth (the gods were cast down by Ao just before Vecna's transformational wave restructured the universe and destroyed all other deities). The location of the group's salvation was named, appropriately enough, Gate...this is an actual locale mentioned in a couple Realms products (The North box set and FR5: The Savage Frontier).

Both sources mentioned that the place was inhabited by a smallish beholder calling itself "the keeper" and it was served by superior bugbears. Also mentioned was that the portals here took the form of many different colored stone slabs inside a large black-stoned chamber. Hmm, not much to work with there. Naturally, I was curious as to why someone would build such portals and devised a little Realms-specific background--a Netherese wizard (one of the principal architects behind that empire's floating cities) fled north following that empire's destruction and continued his experiments concerning gravity (the force that binds the multiverse together--ah-ah! the perfect theme for Gate, I thought).

So, now I had a bad guy and some minions (bugbears from the MM as well as a couple classed versions I found in Mongoose's NPC book) but I needed more monsters and a dungeon map. Oh, the dreaded dungeon map. I'd rather stock a dungeon than create one myself. Fortunately, there are a plethora of products out there with wonderful maps. Some I find useful are those from the new Rappan Athuk box by Necromancer Games and indeed anything by map-master Ed Bourelle (also check out his book of maps from Green Ronin, featuring "themed" maps without fluff attachment). Another go-to source of dungeon maps is the 2e Ruins of Undermountain box. Not only does this box have four big poster maps of nothing but dungeons, it has very large areas that were left featureless. This weekend's adventure was not the first time I lifted a chunk of map to mold into what I needed.

How about monsters, though? Time was short for my prep and I went, as I often do, to some 3rd party d20 books in an effort to give my players something fresh and new to fight. Two books saw use aside from the MM yesterday--Denizens of Avadnu and Tome of Horrors III. I was particularly pleased with the latter's gravity elemental. That thing was nasty when combined with a spiked ceiling. ;) I think the other critters were also well received (except perhaps the boneneedle spiders whose poison regrettably never came into play). Two new monsters each from these sources, a large water elemental, and a couple traps later, I had a working adventure! Unfortunately, I had to make up the "smallish beholder" en route, backing its Hit Dice off to 8 (the party's avg. level was 5th) and dumbing down its eye rays.

I also ran out of time to actually plan how one opens these many-colored slab-portals. Whoops! On the drive over to the game barn, I decided it would have something to do with one of my favorite techno-magical cop-outs--control crystals. Found in the Netherese wizard's chambers, these crystals would need to be stuck into the appropriate slots in the portal room's control consoles to activate the portals. However, you needed to stick the correct rod into the correct hole to open a portal. Fortunately, Scot's PC picked up the wizard's gravity workbook and he and Chuck's PC deduced which crystal would open a portal to alternate worlds.

The PCs were told last module that a blast of raw power would be needed to adjust the open portal so that it would access their home reality. Although Mike was at GenCon, his PC Kytor still provided that service (NPC style) and the PCs made it home even as bugbear reinforcements poured into the portal chamber. Chuck's PC, however, needed to heroically stay behind to keep the gate open for everyone else (the beholder intentionally damaged the console before it was slain). That character's fate remains a mystery.

Hmm, that long post was part recap and part "behind the scenes" adventure design. In any case, much fun was had and everyone will be leveling up for next time. If this first adventure is any indication, the campaign's 2nd season will prove to be quite exciting! I'll be bringing back the PCs chief nemesis--the jaguar-folk--as well as scratching the surface perhaps of who or what constructed the glyph gates (the normal portals the Protectorate uses to explore the multiverse from a base in Sigil).

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