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.
We left our party in Cave Clan territory, inside the Great Elder’s Hall.
Today was the day of the Reveal. When I showed my villain’s cards. Some of them anyway.
This is session 3.
I didn’t choose to tip my hand this early. The story did. (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it)
I knew what was coming, but not would happen after. I left all that wide open. No random encounters. No thinking of anything else but the matter at hand. Rocket Sled to Hell, remember?
I had to sell this moment. Really sell it.
I was shitting myself. But that’s the job
#HERE WE GO
The party is brought in to wait for the Elders. The Fingers and Krenn are given permission to wait with them. The Fingers immediately start making a mess, flinging books off the shelf, jumping on the furniture, and being a general nuisance. Barhador loses his shit and cows Elwen into submission, her one-handed madness tempered with a healthy fear. Olaf waves his cock at him and tells him to “Fuck off, O Holy One”. Lindale moves to strike him, but Barhador, feeling pity, stays his hand. Tellurian watches quietly.
A Silver Elf and a Druid enter the chamber. They introduce themselves and the Silver Elf says that he will hear their report. Barhador spills most of his guts, leaving out the burn on his chest and the encounter with the God. Lindale and Tellurian throw their two cents in.
It was fun to watch them interleaving the info that they each had, from their own perspective – it really drove home the fact that people’s memories of the same events really are incredibly different, so don’t forget to use that. I try to never metagame and respond in my roleplaying to the facts that the PCs actually relate to NPCs when exchanging information, but its incredibly hard to do that sometimes. I often fail, but I still think it keeps that verisimilitude going, which for me is important.
The Party reveals the cursed ring they found on the now-dead elf, and the Silver Elf immediately steps forward, alarmed, and takes the ring with permission from Lindale. He says that the ring is a powerful and deadly artefact, one of a set, and before anyone can do anything, crushes the ring into powder.
The Druid cries out, “NoOOOooo!” and steps towards the Silver Elf, rage twitching his face. With a word and a gesture a sudden vortex appears beneath the Silver Elf’s feet and a swarm of tiny disembodied mouths with fangs surge up and over the Silver Elf’s body. In a feeding frenzy that devoured flesh as well as atomic bonds, the Hungry Teeth utterly consume the Silver Elf and disappear into the vortex, which vanishes in a puff of strawberry-scent.
The Party is stunned into inaction.
The Druid’s body starts to ripple. Tellurian steps back, his Spirit Vision slamming down and he sees the Druid’s body boiling and sublimating away into a higher dimension. The Druid’s body was evaporating. The Fingers were hooting and hollering and bouncing around the room, shouting nonsense and praises to the Dancing Mad God. Krenn was in the corner, cowering and averting his eyes.
I described the shapechange as a weird flesh ripple and a typical metamorphosis, bones sliding around, etc, but this occurs over only a single round.
What stood where the Druid once stood was a Jester
I described it as inhuman, which it most certainly is. Clad in motley from head to toe, with a cap and bells. Yellow eyes and long fangs. It was colossally pissed off.
Everyone took a step back.
The Jester spoke. I’m no actor, so. I did my best. I imagined Mark Hamill’s Joker who had lost most of his mirth and had been drinking and smoking for the last thousand years.
“Do you realize what you’ve done?! You go to ALL the trouble of setting up an epic plan, one for the shitbiting AGES, and a couple of goonie-googoos waltz one of the master keys into the hands of the BOGSROTTING enemy!”
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME??”
The Jester was now standing on his head. Krenn had bolted, and the Fingers, for once, were silent. They were kowtowing before the creature.
Lindale, having the worst week of his young life, does what he knows best and charges with his weapon drawn. Barhador, shaken out of his stunned stupor by Lindale’s battle cry, casts.
Tellurian suddenly finds a Wand of Wonder in his hand. He knows the command word is, “DASTARDLY!” and he is compelled to point the wand at Barhador and say the command word. Hundreds of colored marshmallows spew out of the end of the wand, disintegrating when they hit the floor.
Lindale’s sword slashes the Jesters leg, but the wound heals and the rip in his motley closes itself. Lindale swears. Loudly. Backs off.
Barhador’s spell is absorbed by the Jester. He curses too and pulls his sword out as well, backing up and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Lindale.
The Jester tumbles to his feet and sits cross-legged on the table. “Do you know what’s really funny? This war. This almighty engine-a-go-go, was started by YOU”, and he points at Barhador. “Your people are the cause! Isn’t that hysterical? I mean, come on!
All three party members start shouting questions; “Who are you!?”, “What do you mean!?”, “What have you done!?”
#THE CURTAIN IS DRAWN BACK
The Jester jumps up and starts a soft-shoe tap dance, to some mad tune in his head. “Me? I’m SCISSORGRIN, servant to the Hidden, master of blood and screams, and things soft-and-squishy. And what I mean, MEATBAG, is that YOUR people, the EGLAN, the Woe Is Us, We Isn’t Afraid No Mo’ – the fucking LAST of the Emperor’s problems, CAUSED THE WHOLE SORRY MESS! I mean LOOK AT YOU!”
The Party stood, silent, fuming and giving each other side glances. I paused here for a few seconds. The tension was palpable. They knew I was about to drop some heavy shit on them. They didn’t know the half of it, and so I waited. I let the silence hurt. I waited. Glaring at each of them in turn, round and round. They looked at each other. At me. I waited.
When Lindale, the first to crack (as I knew he would) opens his mouth and draws a breath to speak, I interrupt him.
“You really DON’T get it, DO YOU? Ok, okokokokokok”. Scissorgrin starts to pace. He looks up. Snaps his fingers and grins. “You. Have. No. Idea. What’s. Going. On. Do you?”
“YOU DON’T! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Ok. Ok. This. This is too delicious to not finish. I mean. You deserve that much. Oh Father!” The Jester rubs his hands together. “Father can you see? DO you see? Blessed be.”
He grins at the Party again. Wide.
He takes his index finger and pokes it into the air between himself and the leashed Party. Moves it in a rapid, tight circle, moving outwards, like drawing a spiral on a foggy window. Where his finger touches the air a crystalline substance appears. A vertical disc is growing in size and Scissorgrin is laughing to himself, singing snatches of doggerel and nonsense rhymes. When the disc is the size of a shield the Jester pops his head around and yells, “BOO! HAhahahahaHAHA!”
“Its school time children! Are you ready?!” Scissorgrin whispers to the crystalline disc. Suddenly images appear on its surface. Sounds emanate from it. There are many scenes.
Baron Lake declaring a bounty for the head of Baron River, and calls for the death of “Every man, woman and child of that evil, twisted clan!” There are sounds of battle outside his throne room. He clutches a bloody mace, and a silver ring circles one finger.
Baron Reef is standing in the middle of her town square. Flour covers her from head to toe, and a stained apron covers her befouled finery. In her hands is a tray of pies. A silver ring twinkles in the sunlight. Her mouth is smeared with gravy. All around her, stacked 3 deep, are the corpses of her people, crushed and half-eaten pies in their hands, in their hair, smeared on their clothes.
Baron Hill and Baron Valley are facing one another across a field of battle, their clans in melee all around them. They each clutch masterwork swords, and each wears a silver ring. Each looks completely mad and each has blood smeared across their mouths.
Baron River is smeared with camoflage, a silver ring on her finger the only glint in the flames of Baron Lake’s village. She orders her assassins to the throne room and takes off in a different direction
The images fade and the crystal disc shatters and falls to the floor, smashing into sand-like particles, which disintegrate and leave a faint odor of chocolate.
The Party is in shock.
Scissorgrin laughs and then stops, sober and angry. “A good time, yeah? LOOKS LIKE A PARTY TO ME! But WAIT! There someone MISSING! WHO COULD IT BE?!”. The Jester walks in a circle, hands up, looking at the ceiling. He then stops and turns to the Party. To Tellurian specifically. “Looks like your boss didn’t make it to the party. That’s a real shame. And do you know WHY he’s not here?”
Tellurian, silent the entire encounter, throws Scissorgrin a verbal dart, completely deadpan – “Because the Silver Elf destroyed one of your party favors.”
Scissorgrin throws his head back and laughs to beat the devil. “Very GOOD! EXCELLENT MARKS! I think we’ve got a badass on our hands, boys!”
“Yes. You MORONS brought the ring HERE. And Fucko the Clown over there,” and Scissorgrin thumbs the air behind him, “destroyed the fuckin thing. Do you have any idea how monumentally ANGRY my FATHER is going to BE? GAH!”
This is the first spark the party has seen of some weakness, or so they think. I can’t explain why they did what they did next. But my job is to roll with it. So I did.
Barhador sucks up his courage and spits, “Your father is angry because we didn’t kill each other with these DAMNED rings??! FUCK YOU and FUCK YOUR FATHER!”
Lindale draws his bow and utters a prayer to Nathrak, the War God, to let his arrow fly true.
Tellurian scowls at Barhador’s outburst and tries to puzzle out the Jester’s riddles.
Scissorgrin drops the smile. Stares Barhador right in the eye. Says, “The Emperor was right to make a bargain with my Father. You people are an abomination. I think its time that my Father’s will be FELT. Don’t YOU?”
He steps back and begins casting in some arcane language that none of the Party recognizes.
Tellurian looses his bow and the arrow flies true…and shatters on the Jester’s throat, doing him no harm. Tellurian casts. Barhador casts. Both spells are absorbed.
#WHY YOU SO MEAN
Now I know what you are thinking. Having an unkillable enemy sucks. I agree. And most of the time I would never use one. But Scissorgrin is not a person or a thing. He’s a divine force and is going to serve two purposes for me.
- He’s going to advance the plot in a way no one could forsee (except me all those weeks ago when I saw fire, but didn’t know why) and that no one can stop.
- He’s going to serve as a psychological nuisance for the rest of their lives. What I mean by this is that they are going to keep running into his machinations. Little vignettes of chaos and blood, always with a tiny emoji signature of a tiny pair of scissors and a disembodied grin. Like so. They will NEVER SEE HIM AGAIN in the flesh. He will become The Boogeyman and they will only ever see his movements second-hand.
This is Deus Ex Machina. Except its working for the DM for once. As a rule, its a stupid idea. But in this case, it serves a purpose that feels right, and so I’ll take the hit.
Scissorgrin finishes casting and opens his eyes. He leaps up onto a chair and shouts, “100!…99!…98!…97” and leaps off the table, doing a cartwheel. “96!…95!…94!…” and the Party is all shouting and Scissorgrin says, “TIME TO RUN, RABBITS! RUN!!! 89!…88!…87!…”
The Party bolts outside, with Krenn on Lindale’s shoulder. The Fingers are nowhere to be seen.
Tellurian points at the sky.
Falling from the sky, in their hundreds are fireballs. Too many to count, like rain they are coming from up very high. Straight for the forest. All of it.
They can hear Scissorgrin’s shouts. Into the 70s now.
They run. Gods they run. But where to go? They are 4 days from the edge of the forest. They have a little over a minute to go. They run.
Far underground is Baron Cave. The only one not subsumed by the cursed rings of Scissorgrin, watches the three run away from his safe room. He has watched the entire ordeal but was too unsure to act. But act he must. The scrying is clear as a bell. He can not protect his people any more. But he can protect these three. He casts through the scrying.
The Party is suddenly teleported to a mile outside the forest’s southern border, in the South Wind Plains.
The apocalypse of fire hits the Great Forest and there is a shockwave that knocks the Party down and unconscious for 20 minutes. When they come to, the whole forest is an inferno. No tree is untouched. And no blade of grass outside the forest is ablaze.
The Party cannot speak. They cannot approach closer than a few hundred metres. The heat is too intense.
The Fingers are not with them. Neither is Krenn. Lindale says he felt him dissolve, or something, when they got teleported, and all of himself that was inside of Krenn, is now back inside himself.
He looks pale. They all do.
Barhador weeps. Lindale rages until sorrow rips racking sobs from his chest. Tellurian kneels, his head hanging down, his guilt and horror consuming him.
#THE BELL TOLLS FOR THEE
There was a great and profound quiet that came over the table. It was deathly still. I let the moment hang for 20 seconds. Then I called for a break.
There was a lot of quiet talk. As if we actually had witnessed a genocide the scale of which cannot be measured. Some morbid laughter. A few scattered jokes.
This new group, one that I got so damn, damn lucky to find, had just been forged in fire. Literally. I was on a knife’s edge. This could make or break the entire table dynamic. If I had shattered their trust, there would be no going back. The game would dissolve and I would likely never play with these people again.
I went for a piss.
When I was coming back I heard the guys talking, more animatedly this time. I paused. Just for a moment to listen.
They were ready for revenge
I smiled. We were now strong. I pushed open the door and went back outside. They greeted me and we smoked and chatted more freely. We talked casually about the game. What the fire was like, how long it was likely to burn, could anyone have escaped? What was the area here like? And, most importantly, what to do now.
They were in the Southwind Plains. Just south of the Great Forest. An area not well known at all by the Moon Elf people, who rarely, if ever left the forest.
There were some ceremonies performed there at the edge of the torrent of fire. Songs for the lost dead. Vows and promises made. Prayers offered. It was quite moving.
They had no game plan. They were roleplaying the shock really well. They started drifting East, along the edge of the forest, towards the Abesth River. Vaguely.
#INFURIATING SIDE NOTE
If you look on the map that I linked, above, you’ll see along the top of the Southwind Plains, to the west, is a place called Scorpion Tower. I’ve mentioned this in quite a few places, but I drew that in 1991 and I HAVE NO FUCKIN IDEA WHAT’S THERE. Why? Because no one has ever gone there! And when I thought about the aftermath of the nuked forest, I thought to myself, “Hey! They might go to Scorpion Tower! How fuckin shiny is that?!! FINALLY!”
#GO EAST, YOUNG MEN
They had days of no encounters. Then one night they were attacked by feral goblinoids, more beast than goblin. This woke them up a bit, and they fought with a fierce fire, striking out at these hungry creatures when they couldn’t strike out at the one who had done this to them. They pushed on. Gathering food where they could, but mostly not talking, not eating, sleeping poorly, and lost in their own thoughts. They discussed these at the table. What each of them were going through. I paid attention.
You have to pay attention to what your players are saying at all times. Especially if you are low-prep/improv. Every thing they say is something you can hook on to. Take notes. Just draw crude columns on a piece of paper and label them with your PC’s names. Write down tidbits. Whatever seems important to the PC, is important to YOU. Pay attention. Your party is giving you story, so write it down!
They hit the river and I had to talk about what was on the other side. The Wilds of Aka-Na. Its not important here, the lore I mean, but sufficed to say, a few 2nd level mooks weren’t ready to go into that accursed place. So they struck North. Water was no problem along the water’s edge, but food was scarce, and after days of camping, and nights of the burning forest (which would burn for weeks yet), they finally struck a huge field of wild melon. They weren’t the first there, though. There was a squad of Formians. Antfolk, who were peaceable, if mostly neutral, traders and they were notorious for making deals for resources that they didn’t have to harvest themselves. The party needed food, supplies, gear. They had only what they had run with that first fateful day. So they starting picking melons. They traded with the Formians for some rope, a few sheafs of arrows, and other standard fare. The Formians, in turn, told the Party that they had seen patrols of Regan soldiers to the North. This wasn’t surprising. There was a Royal Fort there. The Regan Empire ruled the world, and if Scissorgrin was telling the truth (you decide), the Emperor was somehow involved in the annhiliation of the Moon Elf People. The Party grew grim, indeed.
They needed to be more careful. They thanked the Formians and pushed on. After another 6 days they reached the NE corner of the Great ~~Forest~~ Inferno. From here they decided to push West, along the top, to the Watchtowers that the Valley, Hill and Reef clan maintained to keep squads ready to deal with incursions of monsters from the Emerald Hills.
Suddenly Tellurian had an urge to pull out the Wand of Wonder. He pointed it at his own head and shouted the command word, “DASTARDLY!”
His roll was pretty good. And eerily appropriate. He gained clairvoyance of the surrounding 10d4 miles. I had an idea.
I showed him my DM’s map of the Lower Emerald Hills. I said he could have 2 minutes to study it. He said he would draw a map afterwards from memory. Everyone smiled. What a cool idea. Afterwards he did a pretty good job. The main features were there, but slightly off-target. Some things were missing, and a few were completly in the wrong place. Just like a good memory map should be. Kinda ok. Kinda wonky.
We wrapped there.
#THANK YOU, GOOD NIGHT
This is the last post in this series until after my next session, as you are now all caught up. Maybe one to two weeks until the next post.
The Party wants to investigate the watchtowers, see if they can find any survivors. I haven’t decided if there are any. Maybe one or two. Dunno yet. They also want to go to the Cloister of the Mad, which was an old asylum, and is now a full-blown Temple to Golovkin. They thought Scissorgrin’s reference to his “Father” was about Golovkin, God of Insanity. It wasn’t. His “Father” is Harlequine, God of Deception. Tellurian had a vision of an eversmoking bottle in the deep catacombs of the Cloister, and they’ve somehow gotten it into their heads that this is something they should try and find, as it will help them? They didn’t discuss their reasons with me. I don’t like to always hear everything. Sometimes its good to be surprised.
So I have to plan some encounters.
I have decided that Regan soldiers are going to form a loose cordon along the top of the forest. A series of camps with 20-50 soldiers, to make sure no Moon Elves survived the conflagration and to search the scorched wastes after the fires have cooled.
It is now the 16th of Blazes, the Age of the Emperor, Year 506.
tl;dr Nuked the forest