This is the continuing saga/advice/mindpeek of my current campaign. I hope you find some use for it if you are looking into trying a low-prep/improv DM style. This is just MY WAY and its not the One True Way.
TOWER MY TOWER
We left our Party outside the Oxo Tower, at sunset, with an awakened badger and a mad groupie in tow.
They were about to knock when when I decide I need another Raymond Chandler Moment. This time I use a vision.
Tellurian has another vision from Nathrak as he is waiting, in the rain. He sees two possible futures – one, the forest is burning and Sun Elves are slaughtering the Moon Elves to the last man, and two – the Moon Elves are alive, but on the road, leaving the forest behind. He aslo hears Nathrak speaking to him. In his horror he speaks to the God, and says, “How can I stop this?” and the God responds.
The God says, “The key to victory is something you’ve already forgotten.”
OH MAN – The uproar this caused! They went OOC and went round and round about the deviousness of this device.
But here’s the secret, dear friends. I hadn’t a fuckin clue what that meant. I just liked the way it sounded
Low-prep. Improv. This is what it means to me. Rocket Sled To Hell. Hope to God I remember all the disparate threads that I’ve thrown at there and that I’ve got enough cobble and (bull)spit to keep it from toppling over (into the swamp).
Then another lightning bolt. KRAAACK-POW!
I did have a meaning for that riddle!
I HAD FORGOTTEN THE THING THAT HE HAD FORGOTTEN THAT I THOUGHT I HAD REMEMBERED, BUT DIDN’T UNTIL THIS MOMENT.
The thing that Tellurian has “already forgotten” was that he was told that the “Warspear” sigil is often mistaken for “something else”.
I decided right then and there that the “something already forgotten” is that the sigil is actually a (false) Stain of Golovkin, and its a called a “Gandakpana” – a sigil of madness that acts as an amplifier for extreme emotions. It was used as a rear-action strategy before invasion. War is coming, but not from without, from within.
Another of the God of Deception’s tricks. Able to mimic the other Gods and usurp their powers, temporarily, he was spinning a deeper web that I had even imagined. I knew the Avatar of the Deception God was here, in this forest, right now, too. But that would come later. Layers upon layers, my mind likes to spin. Most of the time I don’t even know the where’s and why’s.
Lindale and Tellurian had a good old jaw about the fact that they both had the same vision about the destruction of the forest/escape of the Moon Elves.
The tower door opens and they are bid welcome. Save Krenn, the badger, who told Lindale that he could not enter (he did not say why, but I did it to remove an extra voice in the upcoming talks) and would see him later. Olaf, the mad worshipper of Barhador, was also not welcome, and he howled and raved, promising his undying loyalty to Barhador, The True Fist (“Stop calling me that!” was his retort, I believe, haha) and stalked around acting like a crazy person.
They are let in by a servant and told that Oxo, the name of the Sage who lived there (I panicked and none of my NPC names seemed to fit), would see them in due course.
That turned out to be the next morning. They poked through some books in the foyer and talked amongst themselves.
When the Sage came downstairs I decided to dispense with the “mysterious wise old man” schtick and just talk plain to these guys. In light of all the bullshit I had been layering upon them (which they didn’t know about, not yet), I thought some honesty would reinvigorate their flagging spirits.
He looked sad when his gaze fell upon Barhador.
“Dear, dear boy. You are lost in the dark woods, aren’t you?”
The lightning outside flashes and a low throaty growl of thunder punctuates the moment. I played the Sage like Morpheus – dispensing Truth in a rainbow of colors.
I thought Barhador was going to break down and cry. It was that kind of moment. Finally some answers to the madness around him. Tellurian kept his own council, and Lindale started peppering the Sage with questions, only to be stared down until he quieted.
“Do not speak, Broken One, until you are told.”
Tellurian had to hold Lindale back from belting the guy.
The Sage told Barhador that he had been deceived. He cast True Seeing and Barhador could see his burn mark, that looked like a fist holding a hammer before the spell was cast, now looked like the blinded eye of Golovkin – God of Insanity.
Sage also told them that there were more Fingers coming, which met a collective groan. Barhardor was seriously freaked out by the presence of one of these mad devotees, and was scared that he had become some weird divine focus for the War God. I mean the Insanity God. He wanted nothing to do with any more Fingers and had a bit of a tantrum. It was all very tense. Even Lindale’s jokes could not lighten the mood.
RIDERS ON THE STORM
The meeting ended and the Sage retired upstairs. The Party was suitably confused about their current situation and if I hadn’t shoved them out the door, they would probably still be there, debating.
Waiting in the rain for them was another Finger. This time it was the Thumb, a woman named Erwel. She was even more of a nutter than Olaf, and had a dead raccoon on her hand as a puppet, through which she was spout mad ravings. She hailed Barhador as the True Fist, and Barhador had a moment where he almost broke down, knowing that there were 3 more Fingers to come.
They pushed on into the rain and came across a random encounter – encounter 1 – A Cave clan elf has gone rogue – he’s wearing a cursed Ring of Cannibalism. He is surrounded by Cave and Hill clan warriors.
They came across this battle in medias res, and wisely decided to hide and wait for the outcome. The cannibal elf had a victim at his feet, a woman, whom the soldiers found in his teeth. All of the soldiers were wounded from the cannibals preternatural teeth. Eventually Lindale couldn’t take any more, and rushed into battle (he had been itching for a fight the entire session, not only because of his character idea, but because the byplay between him and Krenn and all the ensuing weirdness had amped up his stress to the point where he needed some kind of release).
The cannibal was cut down. The Hill Elves died of their wounds and Tellurian spoke to the Cave Clan Elves, explaining who he was and asking for any news. They told him that there was a sickness in Reef Clan lands, and that some rumors of the same sickness in Lake Clan elves had started to trickle in. He said that the Cave Clan elders were, in fact, looking for him. They didn’t know why (I did).
Barhador and Lindale searched the body of the cannibal and found the cursed ring on his finger. They were able to remove it, with care, and secure it in cloth, and stowed it for the time being.
They decided that they should skip heading to the Eglan Camp and instead head to the other Hill Clan village far to the East – a journey of almost a week, to a place called Ushaiyayashai (pronounced “You-shy-ya-you-shy”). The reason for this was that things seemed to be escalating. Strange events were occuring at a rapid pace, and hiding didn’t seem to be the answer. Barhador was driven to do “the right thing”, while Tellurian advised him, in that maddeningly circular way that he had, that he should be cautious of who he trusts, but did not try and persuade him not to go. Lindale was just annoyed. He had plans, and goals, and they all hinged around being at the Baron’s Conclave, and making his bid for power. But he got swept up in larger events, and all he could talk about was getting this wrapped up before the Conclave ended, and he was getting antsy.
They pushed on, seeing no other people for the next 6 days. Tellurian kept having visions of the twin futures and Barhador had tried, without success, to cut the scarification from his body, but the brand refused to take damage.
I drank a beer that day. I haven’t had more than 3 or 4 beers since I quit drinking in the late 80s. I was that nervous. Today was going to be big. I could not, would not, can not, fuck this up. The beer was bitter. The day. Well. I’ll let you decide how sweet it was.
They were off to Ushaiyashaiya, and quicksmart. I diced a weeks worth of encounters.
I decided to have things happening around them instead, far off in the distance; horses riding fast on the roads, bands of soldiers shouting to one another. I played up the idea that the woods were searching for them. It wasn’t. Well. There was one squad looking, but the rest were dealing the shitstorm that had appeared all over the Great Forest, not just here in the Hill Clan wood. But they didn’t know about any of that. I didn’t even know yet. I just needed some background noise – I would deal with the “Why”, later. This is a staple for a low-prep, improv DM – everything can have meaning and resonate with other parts of the story, so be mindful of what you drop onto the game stage. Mindful so that you can link it in or toss it out, as needed.
The arrive, unseen at their destination. The Fingers were still with them, of course, and had to be bound and gagged at various times to keep them from giving away the party. Olaf even slipped away at one point for an entire day. Barhador was beside himself, and Lindale was just pissed. When Olaf came back he was covered in blood and giggling like a lunatic, and refused to say where he had been. Then Olaf and Erwen “wrestled” right in front of the Party. Their way of celebrating I guess?
They were going to approach the village when a squad of Cave Clan Elves spotted the party and Tellurian went to parley with them. They deferred to him, him being a Chaos Born and both respected and feared. They decided, with the Party’s eventual input, to skip the village and travel instead to Cave Clan wood and speak to Baron Cave himself, or any Elder that would agree to an audience.
The next 6 days of travel also produced zero encounters. Normally I would throw at least 1 or 2 in, but for some reason I chose not to this time. There was a lot of back-and-forth in the group, especially with Lindale and Krenn, and a lot of campfire chats between Barhador and Tellurian – really funny stuff and quite sweet at times, as Barhador liked to call Tellurian, “Uncle” and every single time Tellurian would respond, with the same tone and cadence, “I’ve asked you not to call me that.” It became a table thing. It was ours now. A touchstone of memory to this game. There was all this great interpersonal stuff going on and I didn’t want to derail it with a fight.
THE HELD BREATH
The Party arrives at the Elder Cavern, having been denied the right to see the Baron. The Fingers have been tied up for quite some time (3 days, since they entered the Cave Clan wood. I should also note that Barhador lost his temper with Erwen and her dead raccoon (“Max”) hand puppet, and in a fit of piqued rage, took her puppet hand off with his sword. She tried to drink the gushing blood and praised Barhador for his virility and obvious godhood. It was a strange, surreal scene.)
The Party is ushered into the great halls of the Elder Cavern and made to wait.
I ended the session there 🙂
I know. I’m bad. But cliffhangers, man. They are the way to go.
We wrapped there.
We didn’t play for 2 weeks after that.
I was in the shower when the idea that I first had about fire and the party running away suddenly appeared, close and sharp in my mind.
I knew what was going on
The party would be met by one of the Cave Clan Elders, a Druid and a Silver Elf. Silver Elves are a rare breed in my world. They are actually an astral species who are able to form avatars on the planet’s surface. There is a lot more lore, but that’s all you need to know for now. They were very long-lived (5000 years) and pretty much knew everything about the pre-history that the rest of the world calls the Age of Mists, and that they themselves called the Age of Silver (no hubris there).
The Druid was not who he said he was. That’s the vision I had in the shower. The Druid was a filthy liar. But WHY?
I pondered this for a minute. And then I grinned. I was glad I was alone because the laughter that came out of my mouth was seriously fuckin creepy.
SMALL SIDE RAMBLE
Years and years ago I created a Jester class for AD&D. There was an official one, but it was pretty lame. I wanted the “Scary Clown” stereotype. So I created this NPC class called the Jester. I decided that there were creatures called Chaos Mimics, that appeared as a blank full-face mask. They would psychically call out to passing victims to compel them to put the mask over their face. The Mimic then punctured both cheeks with ovipositors and flooded the victims belly with parasites (children of the Mimic), which would transform the host into a Jester over the next 48 hours. Jesters were weak avatars of the God of Deception. I decided there would be 30 of them in the world. Each had a name, and each had a speciality. Some were dedicated to destroying bloodlines. Some to businesses. Some to destroying relationships. Every one of them had a purpose. And that purpose was to fuck with the characters. I had used many over the years, and when the idea popped into my head, I rejected it, as it seemed like I was repeating myself. But what caused the laughter was that this Jester wasn’t just there because he was angry that some of his plans had been wrecked (more on that later) but he was there to deliver justice.
This Jester was a 30th level NPC. A plot device wearing motley, and nothing the PCs could ever harm. The Jester existed purely to make their lives Hell. To make all PC lives Hell.
THE LAUNCH CODES
I decided that the reason the Jester was going to reveal itself to the party was to monologue. Gods, help me, I actually said that out loud in the shower. I hate monologues, but I needed to do a really quick info dump on them, and I knew the shock value of what was going to occur would stay the characters’ hands long enough for me to speak my piece.
I knew that he was going to be colossally pissed, blame the party, and then unleash a righteous fury on the Moon Elf people.
I saw fire and the party running for their lives
I may have rubbed my hands together at that point.
I was operating in the past history of my world, on an alternate timeline, so I could do whatever I liked and not have to worry about it wrecking the Prime Timeline.
Sweet merciful crap, this was going to be epic.
No game for 2 weeks. I think about only one thing the entire time – the Jester’s monologue. I knew that I couldn’t really bring myself to do a real monologue, and I knew this party wasn’t going to sit back and not interact with this thing, pants-wettingly scary or not. So I was visualizing little snippets of dialogue. Ways I could break up all the exposition I needed to convey in bite-sized packets, suitable for a tense scene where details can often get overlooked.
I knew I had to explain this thing to them in a way that was going to let them know that they were in no way dealing with something human. Words are my friends, but its a lot easier to write with style than it is to improvise it on the spot in words. I needed some help.
Hello Deviant Art. How are ya?
And we’ll leave it there for now.
Next post will get us caught up to the present. Sorry for all the posts so close together, but I feel like I have to get this all out. Then it will be a lot more spread out 🙂