When thinking about what I’d write for the carnival my attention wandered to my Riddleport campaign. There, I spotted how death was a theme in at least two plots. Then another plot. And then another. Soon, I was seeing death everywhere.
It makes me wonder – could death be a surprising yet unknown theme in your campaign too? Realizing this could give you a stronger sense of what your campaign is about and offer you new inspiration for your plots and designs. If you realize a theme has been lurking in your campaign, you can now take steps to ripen that theme and bring it closer to the surface to enhance its flavour.
Here are three examples of how death plays a big part in my campaign right now.
Raising The Dead in Riddleport – Many Sinister Plots
First, a request. If you are a player in my campaign, please stop reading now. The spoilers below are big ones for the campaign. They reveal some deep plots of the villains you hate. Knowing the information below will ruin parts of the campaign for you because of the core secrets I am about to reveal.
The Body Monks
A group of monks in the city offers a 5gp reward for bodies. Under the auspices of study and “learning how people work so as to better heal them in the future,” this group sends carts around the streets to collect those who have passed on. They also collect the bodies laid before their front gate in the middle of the night, a practice the monks encourage.
The order truly does study physiology and has built a massive library of research: charts, monographs and books concerning the body parts of all races. Most information relates to observations such as measurements, colours and consistencies and is not useful to most.
A few monks do analysis. They look for commonalities and outliers. It is all manual work though, and they have to create charts, books and monographs about the observations, and then collate more information about the observations of the observations.
Meantime, the order must feed it members, pay the promised finder fees and pay taxes to the Overarch. The first way it generates monies is by selling bodies through back channels to necromancers and dark priests outside the city. Lots of those in the world of Golarion, and Riddleport is a busy port city, so business is good.
In addition, they have a great little side business of extortion. They cast Speak With Dead on any bodies that fit certain criteria. Subtle inquiries by agents throughout the city also help them decide which dead to interrogate and what questions to ask. Information gleaned gets brought back to those who would pay for that information to disappear.
The monks are smart and do not overdo this. They also have agents conduct the transactions to protect the information source. Usually some clue or false evidence is shown to deflect suspicion away from the monks as to how the agents figured the crimes out.
Lastly, good specimens are sold off-plane to the highest bidder. There are many uses for a fresh body to those who know how to control or season the dead.
Rictus’s Undead Army
The PCs’ patron is a vampire crime lord who owns the city’s only gladiatorial arena.
He has a lich, wights, ghasts and ghouls serving him as lieutenants, street bosses and minions. He keep discipline and control like an evil commander: fear and greed. He coerces those he can into obedience. The rest, he bribes. It would not be good form to have all these creatures running amok.
Fortunately, the arena is the pinnacle of the city’s popular pit fighting league. All fighters dream of an arena match, and the purse that goes along with it. While Rictus makes great money at the gates and from fighter fees, he makes a killing by gambling. He can fix almost any fast without problem, so the House always comes out ahead after each day of arena battles.
Add to this protection money, smuggling and vice, and Rictus can afford to keep his minions in check.
However, his plans go beyond ruling a city district and incredible wealth. In secret, below the arena, he builds an army of undead creatures. Using corpses from vanquished arena foes, he slowly fills a massive cavern complex with new troops each week. His lich necromancer general oversees this aspect of the vampire lord’s operations, and one day soon the army will be large enough to capture the city with.
Astrinus’s Gentleman’s Club
Living beside the characters is a stately man known as Astrinus. He recently bought the building and introduced himself the the PCs as quiet person of philosophy. He hosts an exclusive club for gentleman to drink fine liquor and discuss the nature of life. The gods are just powerful beings with magic the city’s paltry mages have failed to understand. As such, it is up each person to carve their own life according to their own will. Destiny is but a tool used by cunning priests to manipulate the masses.
Or so Astrinus believes, and he invites smart and thoughtful folk to his club to discuss and prove him wrong.
Meantime, he offers a free Raise Dead or Resurrection to folk if they agree to sign a contract. In my version of Golarion, souls are currency, and high level souls are worth more than low level. Those who sign the contract basically sign their souls over to Astrinus’s secret lord, who shall not be named for fear that doing so would summon him and he’d stop me from posting this blog.
The cost of the spell is outweighed by the fact that, on average, signees go on to gain an average of three to six more levels before dying again. That’s a marked increase in the value of the soul that finally reaches his lord. A long term strategy that has paid off for the three hundred years Astrinus has been running his branch of the organization this way.
Some PCs have signed the contract.
Here is the central plot of my campaign. While the PCs are directly involved, this plot is meant to be a background catalyst for the crazy stuff going on right now in Riddleport.
I’m sure my players think I have just taken my favourite monsters of all time and thrown them into Riddleport for the characters to fight. However, I have actually created a sinister plot that lets me take my favourite monsters of all time and throw them into Riddleport for the characters to fight. A win/win, no?
100 years ago, according to Golarian canon, Aroden died. In my version of the history, Aroden was attacked in a war on a plane of Hell. Accompanied by Ragathiel and other key minions, Aroden lead an army of justice through various battles that finally put his army in hell against an evil alliance of Asmodeus, Lloth and others.
Aroden was ambushed by Astrinus. They found hand-to-hand, and Astrinus won. Before he could deal the killing blow, help for Aroden arrived. That brought Astrinus’s allies immediately forward. A short standoff ensued while Aroden slowly bled out.
It was apparent, on that small mound covered in blood in the center of a waging war, that a greater prize than just winning the conflict was to be had. With Aroden’s death there was an empty seat to be filled at the Divine Table, a seat any of the lords and generals present to could fill and become a god.
The negotiation fast became a conspiracy. They agreed to put Aroden in stasis and hide him away. They tasked the angel Ragathiel to do this, which he immediately did before Aroden’s last life left him. The status would last 100 years, which would give all sides time to plan and plot and be ready when it came time for the Greater Deities to select Aroden’s replacement.
Then they would bring Aroden out of stasis and kill him on the Cypher Gate. That would summon the Greater Deities to pick Aroden’s successor.
Each party to this heinous crime secretly plotted to become the ideal candidate for the gods to choose for Ascendance. They plotted to gain person power and to hamper if not outright kill opposing rivals. They had 100 years to plot, and now the time has come.
This year in the campaign is the 100th year of Aroden’s stasis. All the sides aware of this now gather in Riddleport, prepared to be the Chosen One for Ascendence. Minions fight each other in the streets or through indirect means. And the PCs are caught in the middle.
I Heart Death
As I thought about my campaign through the lens of this month’s RPG blog carnival, I realized how central death was to this campaign. Knowing this now, I will be fleshing out my death related plots and antagonists better so they feature more prominently to champion this theme to the PCs better. That should tighten the campaign design up a bit.
I will keep the date of Aroden’s status a secret for as long as possible. I do not intend for the PCs to “solve” this campaign or become gods. I prefer the Aroden’s Heart plot involving a Race For Ascendancy to just be a cool backdrop for adventure in Golarion’s meanest pirate city. As a sandbox campaign, I’m not about structuring a story around fixed outcomes. That also might mean the campaign does become a Race For Ascendancy if the PCs latch onto that thread with their teeth and refuse to let go.
How does life and death figure in your RPG?
Write a blog post and post the link below. March’s RPG blog carnival has officially begun!