This is part four from two (yes, you read that right) in a discussion of the basic principles of creating adventures and hooking them together to form a campaign; I wasn’t originally going to include these examples, feeling that the principles would be clearer to the reader if they weren’t distracted by another narrative threat running concurrently – and because (like many things in the real world) they don’t quite fit the nice, neat theoretical discussions of the first two parts.
This example will be somewhat different and more involved than the last one (The White Tower) because the latter was written up after the fact, while this example is being developed as I write. Hopefully this will illustrate my thought processes and approach more clearly and completely It will certainly make this a much bigger article.
“The Belt Of Terra” has been kicking around underfoot as a campaign element since the superhero-campaign-before-last. It gave the wearer the ability to magically manipulate and rearrange rocks and earth in a fairly limited way – so limited, in fact, that UNTIL were able to capture the wearer and remove the belt with no involvement of the then-PCs at all.
That was when the mystery started. One of the houses of Demon (I forget which one) staged a raid in an attempt to capture the belt – an attempt that expended far more resources than the powers of the belt seemed to justify. Accordingly, it was to be handed over to the PCs for examination and safekeeping.
Before they could do so, another House of Demon summoned and mind-controlled an ex-member of the team, which was the whole point of the exercise – the belt was nothing more than a Macguffin to justify the attempted infiltration, and identifying and repelling that infiltration was what the PCs focused on. This then led to a third encounter with a villain the party had destroyed twice earlier, a Nazgul-infused version of Frodo named the Hobbitlord who had usurped the power of Sauron. By the time the team had:
- Fought off the House Of Demon that was raiding UNTIL to try and capture the belt;
- Deduced that their ex-member (a Chinese dragon) was deceiving them;
- Determined that he was being mind-controlled;
- Captured him;
- Tracked the mind-control back to those responsible;
- Defeated them;
- Returned with their now-liberated ex-teammate to the Hobbitlord’s domain;
- Defeated the Hobbitlord and his Nazgul (again); and
- Returned home,
The belt itself had been all-but-forgotten by everyone concerned.
There was never a reasonable justification given as to why the belt was of such interest to Demon that two separate Houses would go to such extraordinary lengths to try and capture it. And why did they stop?
Since the new campaign is devoted to tying up a lot of loose ends, and this is most definitely just such a loose end, it behooves me to try and come up with some explanation as to the why and the wherefores, then see if I can build an adventure around the solution.
There is obviously more to the belt than there appeared. It has never been properly examined by a mage, so there is ample reason to assume that the team had mistakenly taken it at face value and overlooked this mystery.
Four Traditional Elements
Perhaps the belt is just part of a set, representing the four traditional elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, respectively.
- Earth would give control of solids and cold and pressure, which make other things solid;
- Air would give control of atmospheres and gasses;
- Fire would give control of heat and plasma and energy in general;
- Water would give control of liquids and living things (which are mostly liquids).
Together, these would be far more powerful in combination than any one of them alone. But this seems a little pedestrian and obvious – it’s on a par with what the team thought the belt could do, but is not enough (even if they have the other three) to justify the level of interest shown by Demon, and it lacks enough depth to be really interesting. This is a dry hole.
Truisms Of Magic within the Campaign
There are three or four general principles of magic within the campaign. Since the belt is supposedly arcane in nature, perhaps there’s an idea there to exploit.
- Similarity: Things that are similar to each other can exert an influence over each other;
- Contagion: Things that were once part of something can exert an influence over the original object;
- The more power a mage has, the more control he has, and the more control he has, the more power he can tap;
- All things contain one or more spirits or proto-spirits that can be accessed psychometrically or whose attributes can be shared with a mage through a symbolic link.
The third item on the list sparks a thought: perhaps the character, Terra, from whom the belt was captured, was someone with virtually no arcane ability, and hence he was able to access only the most limited powers of the Belt. A more powerful/skilled mage might have been able to access far more power.
Parallel Worlds and the Multiverse
Parallel Worlds and a Multiversal Cosmology are established canon within the campaign. But no-one has really looked at what that means in terms of the laws of magic; the principles of Contagion and Similarity argue that what affects one world can also affect others. Perhaps the belt doesn’t manipulate “The” Earth, it manipulates ALL earths – assuming it was wielded by a powerful-enough mage?
Do all Earths have a parallel-world version of the “Earth Spirit” – called Gaia for ease of reference? Perhaps the Belt can unite them and connect them in various ways. That would be powerful enough to attract Demon’s attention. Or are all these Earth Spirits just aspects of one singular, more powerful Earth Spirit? Controlling THAT would certainly be enough of a prospect to interest Demon. Or, perhaps the belt actually imprisons an Earth Spirit.
Of these notions, I like the first one more as it’s more suggestive of unique visual effects to accompany the use of the powers of the belt.
What can the belt do?
With a vague notion as to the nature of the powers, I can start thinking about what the real powers of the belt might be. Ideas immediately start flowing:
- The belt only appears to rearrange the earth or part thereof; in reality, it forces the shape of the area effected to assume the shape of an alternate Earth, and vice-versa.
- The wielder doesn’t actually fly through the air on a boulder or mound of earth, even though that’s what it looks like; in reality, it reconfigures the piece of earth or rock that he’s standing on to conform to a hill or mountaintop on a parallel Earth that is at just the right height without bringing with it the geographical feature underneath – and then, before the unsupported peak can fall, another, and then another. This permits the user to appear to “fly”.
- The wielder can bring forth one side of a geographic feature, then replace it with another that is a little farther away and then another still more distant, so that it appears as though a “wave” of earth is rolling away from his hand – until it reaches the target and “breaks” over him, burying the target beneath tons of rock and earth.
- The wielder can summon thin strips of a geographic feature that appear from the base and lance outward like spears.
- The wielder can part the earth like the red sea, and have it come crashing back together on top of anything caught between the “waves”.
- The wielder can open portals from one world to another, summoning forth anything from humanoid Nazi Rodents to Cretaceous-era insect swarms or dinosaurs. He can bring forth vehicles (with occupants) who are already travelling at high speed in the direction he desires so that they will crash into a target, using the innocent as weapons.
- Earthquakes, Volcanic eruptions, waterfalls of magma.
- By rearranging the ocean floors, the wielder could control the gulf stream or equivalent, and hence alter the climate of whole continents.
- Perhaps the wielder can bring forth the gravitic field of other Earths, subjecting a location of his choice to higher-than-normal gravity, at the price of creating zero-G or lower-G conditions over a similar area on other worlds.
- The wielder could have objects of any weight he desires lifted up into the air by reducing the gravity that holds them down.
- Reducing the gravitic field of an area would instantly reduce the weight of the air, which would expand accordingly, lowering the barometric pressure. Air (Gasses) or liquids would rush into the column of reduced gravity from the unaffected regions – this could create storms, tornadoes, and/or waterspouts as the wielder desired.
- In theory, the belt would permit the wielder to reshape the continents themselves, or draw on the power of multiple planets – in fact, a virtually infinite number of planets. Hence, it yields virtually infinite power; but in practice, no wielder can harness and control that much power, the attempt would tear them apart.
Now that’s a rather more impressive, and desirable, artifact – but one whose nature and power has been concealed by the fact that it was wielded by a magically-inept wielder.
Expanding the core concept
With a core concept now in place, my next step is to list as many unanswered questions as I can think of by free association, and then start answering them. So here goes:
Who made it? What is it? Where does it come from? What is its purpose? How did the different Houses of Demon know about it, and how much do they know about it? Why did they stop trying to acquire it – or have they found a more subtle approach? What undiscovered attempts have these Houses of Demon made since? With one or more Houses of Demon allied (at the point in the campaign when this adventure is to occur), how much can they tell the PCs about it – and why didn’t they do so right away? Who else might know of its existence? Who else might want it? Why don’t the arcane heavy-hitters of the campaign want to get their hands on it – ignorance is not a comprehensive enough reason. What is the Belt’s destiny within the campaign? How do I as GM stop a PC from claiming its power? Are there undesirable consequences to using it? How did Terra come into possession of the belt, and who had it before he did? Who else has possessed the belt in the past, and what have they done with it? What is known about Terra himself?
Each of these questions, once answered, will shed light on and restrict the other questions.
Who made it?
There are several possibilities that immediately come to mind. The greatest mage on the planet was once an enemy of the PCs and dabbled in creating supervillain flunkies to help him defeat them – he might be responsible. Or perhaps a refugee/escapee from the interstellar empire he founded on an alternate Earth (destroyed in Ragnerok and its citizens scattered throughout the multiverse) could have done it. One of the Houses of Demon specializes in advanced arcane powers and skills, they might have done it. (Was this one of the Houses who tried to steal it? Must check. Also, are any of the houses who tried to get it back amongst the Houses who could potentially ally with the PCs? Must double-check). Perhaps some ancient evil created it? There are several floating around the Campaign, and some have created artifacts for various purposes that have surfaced in the past. Lastly, there is someone else entirely.
Having made this list of possible answers to the question, the next step is to analyze each of them, looking for logic failures, obvious consequences (both desirable and undesirable), and ramifications for the other questions – and for the other plotlines within the campaign.
- Mandarin, the greatest mage ever active in the campaign who was native to the planet, is a plausible source on the face of it. He created supervillains, and created arcane artifacts for his own use. But if this was the case, it would have come out when he went from villain to ally, so campaign history contradicts this solution.
- A refugee/escapee from the Empire Of Mandarin is also plausible, but this fails the critical test of being too similar to a scenario I’ve already run. There would need to be something pretty unique about the subject of this solution or it would just be boring; better to look for an alternative.
- A House Of Demon… there are definite possibilities there, but do I really want them to have the level of arcane expertise required to pull off something like this? When the Belt was a low-grade Wondrous Item, it would have been within their reach – bet, as revised, it’s far too powerful. And going back to that low-powered vision of what the Belt can do would make the whole adventure an anticlimax.
- A House Of Demon. There is a way around those difficulties, and that is to have had the House be “inspired” to create the Belt by some other source. Those who read last week’s example will note that I considered just such an origin for The White Tower but didn’t use it – leaving it available for use here.
- A House Of Demon. Another possibility is that the House Of Demon were “inspired” not to create the item, but to liberate it from somewhere else where someone else had it hidden. Either of these last two solutions would answer the question of how the Houses Of Demon knew about the belt, while limiting their knowledge somewhat – one House had possession of the belt, but lost it, while the other learned of it through a spy within the ranks of the first House. But neither of these answers is sufficient alone to answer the current question, they simply remove the solution to arm’s length.
- An ancient evil is our second last answer. The campaign is well-populated with ancient evils, any number of which could have created the belt; but it doesn’t fit the personalities of any of them to have done so and then either have ignored the belt in their subsequent encounters with the PCs or not to have used it. That really kills off the “inspired” answer as well. And besides, once again, this is also too similar to past plotlines and to a plotline of greater importance already scheduled to occur in this campaign.
- That leaves only the most difficult but most creative of the possible solutions: someone or something new.
Looking For Clues
What clues do I have to the identity or nature of that someone or something new?
Well, there’s the name, “Terra”. Terra was described at the time as a thug and a bully, not especially bright, and certainly not well-educated. If such a person had come into possession of the type of abilities that he exhibited, he probably would have called himself “Bulldozer” or “Earthmover” or even “Massey-Ferguson”, he was certainly nowhere near educated enough to be able to know the Latin word “Terra” – so how had he come by the name?
As soon as I thought the above, my mind flashed back to a rejected answer to an earlier question – “Gaia” was the original Earth-Goddess of Greek mythology. “Terra” is also her equivalent in the Roman Pantheon. In the Theology of the campaign, these are both names for the same being. One or more of the Greco-Roman gods could certainly fit the bill as the identity of the “someone else”.
Why might they create such an item? Perhaps I should review their history within the campaign at this point.
The Greco-Roman Gods in the Zenith-3 campaign
The G-R Gods, sometimes known in the campaign as the Grecoan Gods, united the primitive tribes of Greece and founded a theology that lasted beyond the collapse of that civilization. The Greeks spread their faith to all corners of their empire, and other tribes that they encountered beyond those borders found their own concepts of theology blending with that of the Greeks. When the Roman civilization arose, the Greek Gods quite happily accepted new names and a new subject population with whom to indulge their whims.
Whether or not Augustus was in fact Divinely Appointed to Imperial Rule is unknown, but starting at around this time, the Grecoan Gods began to withdraw from involvement in the day-to-day lives of the citizens of the Roman Empire and increasingly gave themselves over to a life of carousing and debauchery. They abandoned active involvement in human affairs entirely with the rise of Christianity for a completely hedonistic existence on their traditional home of Mount Olympus – not the mountain peak which exists to this day in Greece, but an extra-dimensional realm accessible by climbing that mountain.
By the twentieth century, the Gods were pretty much bored out of their skulls – a life of perpetual Dionysian excess can entertain for just so long – and were thoroughly tired of existence. Some were so given over to this Nihilistic attitude that they actively sought ways to achieve it, which is how they came to interact with the PCs of the campaign.
They tried to meddle in Ragnerok, and caused several other problems – so much so that the PCs and their Asgardian Allies used Thor’s Hammer to detach their extra-dimensional mountaintop from the Earth and flung it into space in order to deflect the recently-ignited Jupiter, which had been renamed Jove when it was thrown out of orbit to menace the Earth. With the transformation into a short-lived (by astronomical standards) Red Dwarf star, the surface of Jove had expanded massively, engulfing the subspace Warp Point in orbit around it. Plasma streamed through the Warp Point from deep beneath the surface, effectively providing a thrust that had dislodged the protostar from its solar orbit and sent it slowly careening toward the inner solar system, accelerating continuously. To shield the Earth from the worst of the resulting crisis, Olympus was used to deflect Jove – just a little, but enough that the Jovian passage was merely a global cataclysm and not the cause of total destruction.
It was engulfed and consumed by the ex-planet as Ragnerok approached, and presumed destroyed.
Mysteries Of The Pocket Dimensions
There are a number of mysteries concerning pocket dimensions like Asgard, Avalon, and Mount Olympus that have never been answered within the campaign. One of them is the fact that while there are many parallel Earths, there is only one of each of these “special” realities, common to all those alternate Earths – but that alternate Earths are not accessible through these special realities. This is something that the PCs have discovered in the past and then forgotten, and that has never been properly explained.
The “Belt Of Terra” adventure might be an opportunity to expand the campaign’s cosmology to cover this previously-unexplored territory. Yes, there is a solution, it just hasn’t come up in play – and to avoid digressing too far from the problem at hand, I’m not going to go into that solution now.
But there is another mystery concerning these pocket dimensions, and it is directly relevant to the current campaign: what holds the whole shebang together?
Something anchored Mount Olympus to the top of a Greek mountain and maintained a passage from Earth to Olympus and back. This connection was somehow severed for Thor to be able to do what he did – so clearly something changed. Could that something have been the creation of the Belt Of Terra? Or simply it’s removal from the place and function that it had been performing until that time? If that is the case, then Gaia would have been the creator of the belt – and in her aspect as the spirit within the belt, the fragments of her identity that permitted the villain Terra to use its power could have communicated the name to him.
That would fit reasonably well with the concept of what the Belt is and does, though a belt seems to be a very prosaic object for such a purpose. But if what appears to be a belt is actually something else, it could still work. And, if one Olympian Deity survived, even in part, why not more? That sounds like the foundations for a reasonable adventure. The Grecoans return, still seeking their destruction.
The reason this could be significant to the current campaign is that the Nine Realms of Asgard and Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, were shattered and flung off into hyperspace by Ragnerok. One of the PCs personal quests, which forms part of the climax of the new campaign, is to find and restore Asgard. Maybe the team will need something to bind them all together.
This was a function of the Midgard Serpent prior to Ragnerok, but the Serpent was killed in that cataclysm as the gods made war. Until now, I’ve been assuming that the carcass of the serpent could still wind through the nine realms and tie them together, anchoring them to Yggdrasil, the One Tree. But what if, by manifesting a serpentine body for the confrontation with the Norse Gods and then being killed, the serpent had unbound the nine realms from each other – and that THAT is the reason the Asgardian Realms were scattered by the final conflagration, when two space-times merged into one?
That gives a reason for the Belt to now be significant within the campaign, and a reason why the PCs can’t use it – they will need all its power to replace the Midgard Serpent.
So, what is the Belt, if it’s not a Belt?
It’s at this point that my imagination abruptly runs momentarily dry. I can’t think of anything else the belt might be. No problem, that happens from time to time to everyone. When that happens to me, the first tool I reach for is my thesaurus, looking for a different angle or perspective from which to approach the problem. So: “Belt”. Entry 228, noun; but there are also two other references that look promising and relevant, “region” (entry 184, noun) and “Loop” (250 noun) – (I’ve only listed the results that seem possibly useful).
- belt: Nothing there.
- region: sphere, zone, belt, world, limit, enclosure, sphere, homeland.
- loop: circle, corona, halo.
These terms don’t hold any direct answers, as is also often the case; but they do spark a flash of inspiration. One term that isn’t listed there, but that is also synonymous with a lot of these terms is boundary. As in, the boundary between dimensions. Just a few minutes ago, I was thinking that this adventure might present an opportunity to get into some of the cosmological mechanics of pocket dimensions, now this separate line of thought suggests that those cosmological mechanics might actually be an integral part of the plot.
The cosmological mechanics of pocket dimensional boundaries
It’s become fashionable amongst the players to think of pocket dimensions as though they were soap bubbles floating in the Aether, each a spherical three-dimensional slice of a four dimensional object – each instant in the pocket universe’s timeline being akin to a single pearl in a string. This image is correct, as far as it goes, but like the Solar Atom, it is an oversimplification that doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.
For one thing, the boundaries are not as smooth and nowhere near as rigid as this model represents; instead of a perfectly round shape, the bubbles are perpetually inflating and deflating within the boundaries of Heisenberg’s uncertainty, and these random fluctuations will inevitably concatenate in some areas and cancel out in others. The surfaces of the extra-dimensional boundary can be said to “quiver”.
But we’re talking six-dimensional space, and this is a four-dimensional image (three dimensions propagating along a fourth) – or, more precisely, along a vector in 3-dimensional time.
So far, the concepts are not that far removed from what the players know. But now we get into some more interesting territory.
Any vector can be expressed as the sum of two or more other vectors. Each space has its own temporal vector which continually varies relative to any other vector in response to decisions made by the residents of that space. And, the overall temporal vector of the pocket dimension must always match that of the terrestrial space to which it is linked.
How can that happen? If you subtract the common overall vector, what you are left with describes the divergent forces that are pulling the two timelines apart. And a parallel world will have not only a completely different overall vector, and completely different divergences. And yet, the pocket dimension has to match that parallel world’s overall vector as well, even though it is completely different.
There is only one way for this to happen, and that is if there is some balancing force unique to each of the parallel worlds. When the divergences attempt to push the temporal vectors apart, this pulls them back together; and when the divergences push them closer together, this acts to drive them apart.
There’s no known force that acts that way. It would require a combination of two forces, or some more complex interaction between spacetimes. Either way, it’s fairly elementary physics that the result would not be a smooth correction but a dampening harmonic oscillation unless the forces behavior is synchronized perfectly with the cause of the divergence – only if there is no limiting factor to the transmission of force and information by any means can simultaneity really operate. And, since the speed of light is a limiting factor for pure electromagnetic forces, simultaneity cannot apply.
A divergence occurs; the force combination reacts with a counterforce after a brief delay, but this is either going to be insufficient to balance the temporal force, or it is going to be too strong to do so perfectly, simply because the divergence has had duration in which to operate before the counterforce is applied. Inevitably, the counterforce will therefore accumulate until it not only counters the divergence, but there is sufficient temporal vector being applied to diverge the timelines in the opposite direction. Once the accumulated effect of this counter-divergence exceeds the overall temporal vector, the secondary corrective force will begin to be applied, but again there will be a physical delay of some kind. The opposing counterforce will accumulate until the secondary space’s time vector again overshoots the overall temporal vector and the system begins to again act in the direction opposing the original divergence. Each time, the energy of divergence will be slightly dissipated and the overall average will eventually settle down, as shown in the accompanying diagram.
What’s needed, effectively, is a perfect spring – something that will resist compression and tend to snap back into place, and also resist stretching and tend to snap back into place.
In the real world, something like that would be very hard to come by, but this is a superhero campaign. All it has to do is sound plausible.
Whenever something like this comes up as a story need, my mind flashes back to something I read in a Heinlein novel (I think). To paraphrase, the circuitry in a television set is only there to shape and route the forces and energies involved; if you can manipulate those energies and forces directly or in some other manner, there is no need for the complicated wires and circuit boards. The situation with respect to a perfect spring composed of dimensional boundary forces is analogous – a construction of pure force could act as a car’s shock absorber, coping with the sudden ‘bumps’ along the way and ensuring a smooth ‘ride’. Obviously, you want the wheels and the car to move in the same overall direction, you’re in trouble if they don’t.
This, then, has to be a part of any permanent connection between two or more space-times, whether they be pocket dimensions or not.
Of course, the picture described by a single harmonic pulse is rather oversimplified; long before the “vibrations” from one temporal divergence had been damped out of existence, there would be another. Some of these would oppose the first, some would add to it. There would be statistical trends, that would eventually even out, just as there are with any random phenomenon, such as the rolling of dice.
That means that the passage between dimensions would sometimes be easy and sometimes difficult; sometimes quick and sometimes slow (as measured by the personal timeline of the traveler); sometimes it would be dangerous and damaging, and other times utterly safe. There could even be occasions when the connection is not strong enough to be used at all, and other times when it was possible to inadvertently stumble across the boundary between worlds, all of which have happened before in the campaign.
A number of the questions I posed earlier have now been answered. It’s probably worth running through the questions and compiling the answers that have been arrived at, simply to check on what has not yet been decided – if anything.
- Who made it? Gaia, also known as Terra, one of the Grecoan Gods.
- What is it? A spacetime helix containing part of the Spirit of Gaia. Once, one end of the helix was connected to Olympus and the other to Earth-Prime; now, the ends connect to each other, forming a closed loop.
- Where does it come from? Mt Olympus.
- What is its purpose? To bind one inhabited universal space-time to another, establishing a permanent link between them.
- How did the different Houses of Demon know about it, and how much do they know about it? The Nihilist Grecoan Gods told Demon where it was and how to steal it. They knew next to nothing about it, only that it was potentially powerful.
- Why did they stop trying to acquire it – or have they found a more subtle approach? Good, and unanswered, question.
- What undiscovered attempts have these Houses of Demon made since? Ditto.
- With one or more Houses of Demon allied (at the point in the campaign when this adventure is to occur), how much can they tell the PCs about it – and why didn’t they do so right away? Didn’t know/didn’t think it important enough. So far as they know, it’s just a gimmick to give a flunky superpowers.
- Who else might know of it’s existence? Anyone else from a realm that is permanently connected with another spacetime would know that it, or something like it, existed, IF they knew of the existence of the Mount Olympus pocket dimension. Who might be on that list?
- Who else might want it? Anyone who wants to establish a permanent connection between two or more space-times.
- Why don’t the arcane heavy-hitters of the campaign want to get their hands on it? Ignorance is not a comprehensive enough reason. Not yet answered.
- What is the Belt’s destiny within the campaign? To bind the 9 worlds of Asgard back together at the climax of the campaign.
- How do I as GM stop a PC from claiming its power? Only partially answered. If the PCs know what it is and what it is good for, they may surmise that they will need it “intact” and fully charged to reunite Asgard. If that information is not to be presented on a silver platter, there is no reason decided as yet why they would not do so.
- Are there undesirable consequences to using it? Entirely possible, but none have yet been decided.
- How did Terra come into possession of the belt, and who had it before he did? Not yet answered in full. Demon had it, then Terra had it. Did he steal it from them?
- Who else has possessed the belt in the past, and what have they done with it? No-one else has had it because it was busy binding Olympus to Mount Olympus.
- What is known about Terra himself? Only that he was a thug and not very well educated.
Or, to sum up, I know know what it is and how it works; what has not yet been determined is primarily the history of the Belt. But there are clues in the unanswered and incompletely-answered questions.
The History of the Belt Of Terra
Gaia created the Earth (Mount Olympus) and the Heavens (Olympus, Home of the Gods) and bound the two together with a vortex of the interspatial force that comprised her being. While the vortex energies were still forming, they were malleable and unstable, and interaction between these forces and the imaginary beings of early Greek tribal Myths created the titans. The Titans learned of their origins from the spirit of Gaia and of the natures that were expected of them from the Greek Tribesmen, but in time sought to grow beyond the limitations these concepts imposed on them; their attempted manipulations of Greek belief gave rise to the Grecoan Gods, and the war between the worshippers of the new Gods and the more primal Titans mirrored the conflict in Olympus, for the Gods would not submit to the servitude expected of them by the Titans.
The Gods unified the Greek tribes and sponsored the rise of the Greek Empire, which spread Greek theology in all directions with their trading vessels. 0ther tribes that they encountered beyond those borders found their own concepts of theology blending with that of the Greeks, and when the Roman civilization arose, the Greek Gods quite happily accepted new names and a new subject population with whom to indulge their whims.
Whether or not Augustus was in fact Divinely Appointed to Imperial Rule is unknown, but starting at around this time, the Grecoan Gods began to withdraw from involvement in the day-to-day lives of the citizens of the Roman Empire and increasingly gave themselves over to a life of carousing and debauchery. They abandoned active involvement in human affairs entirely with the rise of Christianity for a completely hedonistic existence on their traditional home of Mount Olympus – not the mountain peak which exists to this day in Greece, but an extra dimensional realm accessible by climbing that mountain.
By the twentieth century, the Gods were bored thoroughly tired of existence, and began to seek their own destruction. Some were so given over to this Nihilistic attitude that they actively sought ways to achieve it by perverting the course of Ragnerok to their own ends. Ragnerok, the collision and forced blending of two disparate timelines, would release the full energies of a universe; supposedly, these would be used to construct a new universe to begin the cycle anew, but the Grecoan Gods intended to harness that power to their own destruction, without regard for the consequences to others. To this end, they conspired to remove the link binding Olympus to the spacetime of their original worshippers and transmuted that link into the form of a belt, which they revealed to the power-hungry humans of Demon. The Grecoan Deities believed that the humans would inadvertently employ the belt’s powers in such a way as to being about the collapse of the two colliding spacetimes prematurely, when no others would be in a position to harness the power of Ragnerok save them, and in violation of all prophecies.
Gaia communicated with the would-be world conquerors by means of the portion of her spirit encompassed by the Belt, leading them to give it to one of little arcane merit and understanding, and then enhancing his desire for power and independence in the belief that – so prompted – he would inadvertently trigger the End Of Days. The Grecoans had not reckoned with the inadequacies of the wielder, and he was easily defeated and the belt removed. With their plans frustrated, the Grecoans turned to other means of achieving their ends, and were ultimately sacrificed to deflect the Red Dwarf star, Jove, from a collision with the Earth, with only a few surviving by seeking refuge amongst the Egyptian deities of Theboria (from Thebes). These few were never informed of the plot to preempt Ragnerok, and so did not pass on that knowledge to their hosts and allies.
Nor do the Houses of Demon concerned know what power they had in their possession, only that it was greater than that which was employed by their former lackey. The House which had originally possessed the arcane device – never identified – had no idea, and made only a token effort on general principles to recover it. The second House, House Aquarius, went to a great deal more effort; they may have had some notion of the potential power they were courting, but never shared that knowledge with any others. Hence, no current allies of the team will know of the belt.
The Belt was locked up in a vault maintained by the parent team without examination; they don’t know what it is, only that Demon want to get their hands on it. They certainly don’t realize that the spirit of Gaia, with all its nihilistic tendencies, lurks within, waiting to entrap anyone who handles the belt.
With the foundations of the plotline now established, it’s time to start thinking about the plot itself. I’ve already decided, as I noted earlier, that the surviving Grecoans are going to return, erupting out of space-time in search of the belt which they believe can destroy the universe and them right along with it. But there’s a problem: the belt is in a completely different space-time to the place where the PC’s are having most of their adventures in this campaign.
I can solve that problem partially by having the Grecoans go where the belt is, and by having the belt go to the PCs. I can’t have the PCs go to the belt, because if the action takes place where the belt is, the parent team (all NPCs) will have the responsibility of handling the problem.
If Mohammed can’t go to the mountain…
To achieve that, I need someone to get a hint of what the belt is all about, and take it to the PC mage for a second opinion.
That means that I need to add a new NPC to the parent team, someone a mage just proficient enough to start solving the mystery of the belt. Fortunately, I already have an idea as to who that could be.
The original mage with the current team, “Ravenscroft,” did not resign under happy circumstances. Sponsored to the team by Morgaine Le Faye’s government (Eastern England) after it was recognized by the United Nations, when Morgaine’s interests and those of the world came into conflict, he jumped in what the rest of the team considered the wrong direction. So far as they are concerned, he is barely one step above a traitor.
Now, that particular character is tied up in the resolution of the English Civil War, which will occur in the
Of course, for this to work, I can’t let the team have the usual advance notice of a change in the parent team’s membership, I need the NPC to show up unannounced, or (at best) at the same time as the announcement.
Preliminaries and introductory plot developments
Okay, so we have a preliminary round of action when the NPC shows up, and then we have a subplot with him presenting the belt for examination along with his findings to the party mage. The characters with precognition should also receive some views of a burning mountain, and a group of beings being consumed by fire, but not dying, to instill the right mindset in the PCs.
The action starts
Then I have the Grecoans show up, living in what’s left of Olympus. What do they do once they arrive? They would probably head for Greece, their old stomping grounds. Maybe instead of landing on the top of Mount Olympus they could make their ball of molten rock float above Athens, menacing the city. That should get the PCs’ attention. Maybe they land and begin incinerating people with their touch while demanding that the Helix Of Gaia be brought to them. That gives the PCs another clue as to what’s going on.
A combat encounter would obviously follow, which I would expect the Grecoans to win by threatening the lives of more innocents.
Thickening The Plot
Then one of the Grecoans (must think about who) can detect the presence of the Belt and the ball of magma will fly off toward the PCs base in New Orleans. The defense forces of the British Empire will attack the globe with everything they’ve got while it’s over the Atlantic, and maybe the PCs will have a second try at the Grecoans as well for the same reason – the enemy is relatively removed from large populations. The PCs should again lose, and the military will definitely lose – the Grecoans are “Gods” after all – but should force them to manifest their real abilities – thunderbolts, super-speed, etc – giving some more hints.
Time Out for a little research
A little research into earth mythology – the name Gaia being a starting point – and the team’s intelligence expert should then be able to identify who the enemies are, in mythological terms. The rest of the team know part of the story of the Grecoans and Ragnerok, but not all, large parts of it were classified by the parent team. So that means a quick return visit to the headquarters of the parent team and a “need to know” debate before they get that part of the story. At that point, they need a science expert, someone who specializes in temporal dynamics (because that’s the science that covers dimensional boundaries); they can get that from the parent team as well, or at least, what they need to know about the mysteries of pocket dimensions. Because the parent team are operating on a different temporal vector that can be whatever the plot needs it to be, the team will get this information before the Grecoans reach their destination.
Finally, the team needs to consult someone who can put all the pieces of the puzzle together so that they can figure out what is going on. There are a few Grecoans who had not lost the zest for living, and who were granted refuge in Theboria, home of the Egyptian Gods. This included Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom.
But I may not want the team going there, because I have surprises to take place there as part of another plotline. If that other plotline occurs prior to the return of the Grecoans, no problem; but if it is currently set afterwards – and I know roughly when in the campaign all this is to happen – then it will be better for the campaign if Minerva, through her Deific Abilities, learns of the problem and comes to the team.
The real crisis – and a possible resolution
Once the team know what the real story is, what the stakes are, and what the Grecoans really want, they will know that the last thing they can afford to do is give in to their demands. Remember, these guys want to destroy a couple of universes in the hope that the devastation will take them out, as well. That means that the team needs to find some other solution to the problem.
I have a fixed principle that I operate under: any time I present the PCs with a problem, I ensure that it always has at least one solution. Where there is one, there will usually be several, so the PCs can come up with their own plans for victory. In this context, that means that I need a way for the PCs to defeat the Grecoans, preferably once and for all (from the PCs point of view). Hmmmm…
It took time for the three Celestial Powers to rebuild the universe after Ragnerok (mostly time spent with making it stable, accommodating various bits and pieces that were going to carry over from one universe to the next whether they liked it or not, and coming up with their new Paradigm Of Existence to replace the old one of Chaos Vs Order). The interval could be as much time as necessary, but for aesthetic and symbolic reasons, they chose for the interval to appear to have been three days. During that interval, the universe was nothing but a concentration of raw energy, compressed to its ultimate extreme. At the start of that interval, there was a big bang but the universe that was created appeared – at least superficially – to be simply a slightly-older version of the one that had been there before.
The PCs already know that attempting to travel back in time through those three days subjects anyone to an almost infinite amount of damage. They have once managed it, through a difficult-to-replicate trip “around” the temporal wall. Even then, they were almost killed by the experience. If the PCs think of it, they can project the Grecoans and their ball of molten rock back in time to strike this barrier and attempt to force them through it. The Grecoans will probably resist, but if the PCs can mitigate that resistance just enough, they can cause the Grecoans to come to a stop in the dead centre of a universe of raw power – ironically, giving the Grecoans exactly what they wanted in the first place.
A plot twist, cleaning up loose ends
How can they do that? The answer is by using the Belt Of Terra – but that will require a mage to sacrifice himself as well, overcome by the Nihilism of Gaia. This is a great way to get rid of the NPC mage, who isn’t really needed after this plotline. So the PCs come up with their plan, and the NPC appears to turn against the team exactly as his brother did. He can KO or entrap the PC mage and steal the belt. The PCs won’t know what he’s up to, and will go after him. He will have to fight for all he’s worth in order to succeed. At the right moment – the height of the conflict – the Psionic PC will penetrate his mental defenses and realize what he’s up to. Suddenly, the PCs realize they are in the wrong, and are faced with a moral dilemma – do they let him sacrifice himself or do they try and stop him – with no guarantees that either his plan or theirs will work? If they decide to try and stop him, they will have to modify their own plan to achieve this second objective.
If they succeed in stopping him, they will have to forcibly remove the belt, and I can have that process strip him of his powers, leaving him a nobody in terms of the campaign; and then let their plan succeed. If they choose not to stop him, or fail to do so, then I can have his plan succeed – but having the belt emerge from the Time Of Creation unscathed, ready to use in binding the Nine Realms back together.
There should be some residual feelings of guilt over their treatment of the NPC afterwards. There may or may not be an arcane artifact – the Belt Of Terra – left afterwards, something far more dangerous than the PCs realized, and they will have to decide what to do about it. There should definitely be an “aftermath” section to the plotline.
With the basic outline of the plot now complete, the next step is to (a) resolve the question of the timing of this adventure; and (b) generate a list of the events within the plotline, giving each a code so that I can identify them and emplace them on the campaign plan.
Normally, I would not worry too much about the timing, but would simply choose the plotline that had the most dramatic interest and use that plotline’s requirements to specify where in the overall scheme of events the plotline had to take place. In this case, however, most of the overall plot has already been determined, and two alternatives presented themselves readily to choose between, so I can tailor the adventure to the overall plan. The key issue is whether or not this plotline is scheduled to occur before or after the characters visit Theboria and discover the surprises I have in store for them.
Consulting my campaign chart, I find that Nevermore is currently scheduled to show up in phase 4 of the campaign (which is count down from 9 to 0, remember – refer to the second part of this series for more information). The visit to Theboria, as I feared and expected, is not due to occur until phase 3 of the campaign, because that leads quite strongly toward the big finish.
That means that Minerva has to come to the PCs, abandoning the safety and shelter of the Theborian afterlife. This is a useful way of reminding the PCs of Theboria, establishing the location of the later adventure solidly in the player’s minds before important events occur there.
Or, I can reschedule this scenario. The choice has nothing to do with this scenario per se, but is instead a question of how much this scenario endangers the plot twists of the other, more important, adventure.
The more I consider it, the less sanguine I am about having this plotline precede the other. There’s plenty of room to move this adventure from its current location – row 537 – to a later time, say row 569, meaning that the surprises will already have been sprung. The reason that a simple “how are you” or “how have things going” or anything along those lines would leave me in the position of having Minerva lie to the PCs for no good reason or take all the impact out of that later adventure. Any general conversation is likely to include such questions, they are a normal part of social discourse – and that makes the risk simply too high. I would rather give up the opportunity to reestablish the location in-game and leave it for an omniscient narrator to remind the players of the location when the time comes.
I’m going to use “BT” for the plotline code, standing for “Belt Of Terra”. So this is the “Belt Of Terra” plotline.
- BT01: Vala has a precognitive vision (cosmic awareness) of a burning mountain.
- BT02: Runeweaver has a precognitive vision (arcane awareness) of a group of beings burning alive in an inferno – but not dying. He doesn’t see them clearly enough to identify them.
- BT03: St Barbara has a precognitive warning (via the Mao) that beings of fire and malice are coming.
- BT04: Hevth has a precognitive intuition that a great evil will soon appear – equivalent to a “growing disturbance in the force”.
- BT05: Vala has a precognitive vision (cosmic awareness) of Ravenscroft [describe] attacking Runeweaver.
- BT06: Vala describes the individual to Bright Cutter, who searches for a matching description and (incorrectly) identifies former member Ravenscroft.
- BT07: Bright Cutter warns the rest of the team.
With the exception of BT07 and BT06, which clearly have to follow BT05 in sequence, these can occur in any order; use whatever order that they best fit around any existing subplots.
- BT08a: St Barbara receives notification that the Champions have been forced to accept a new member from East England named “Nevermore” on political grounds.
- BT08b: Simultaneous with BT08a, Nevermore transports to Earth-Regency with the Belt Of Terra to consult Runeweaver and is met by Hevth, who attacks instantly. The other team members get involved in the general melee until St B shows up to restore order.
As usual, the “a” and “b” suffixes indicate a subdivided event, which occur either in sequential order (by default) or simultaneous (if so noted).
- BT09: Nevermore identifies himself and his reason for being there. He describes the mystery of the Belt Of Terra. Vala detects the Nihilistic Spirit within the Belt (and hopefully warns the rest of the team). Nevermore puts forward his theory that the Belt is more powerful than anyone realized and that is why Demon were so interested in getting it. He describes the belt’s physical properties, which are instantly recognizable as resembling those of Blackwing (who is a sentient dimensional boundary himself).
- BT10a: Runeweaver analyses the Belt and gets a clearer understanding of the powers that it can potentially grant.
- BT10b: Vala determines that the spirit inhabiting the belt identifies itself with the name “Terra”, but that this is an alias of some kind.
- BT10c: Blackwing investigates the criminal record of Terra, from whom the Belt was taken, and determines that he could not have come up with the name, and was a suspected member of House Gemini of Demon, the first of the two Houses to attempt to recapture the Belt.
- BT10d: When Blackwing reports his findings to St Barbara, she notices that his body is distorted, bulging and bending to one side. (Unbeknownst to the team, his dimensional interface is reacting to the imminent arrival in Dimension Regency of the Grecoans).
All the preceding events are preliminary to the start of the main adventure. BT11-15 is part one of the main adventure and should comprise a single session of play.
- BT11: A Ball of burning lava surrounded by plasma abruptly emerges from subspace and streaks toward a collision with the Earth. Impact point will be somewhere in Greece. As the team gear up to race to the scene (not enough time to attempt to intercept it), observations from Lunar Base will reveal that it is slowing down, indicating that it is under powered flight. It comes to rest in midair, hovering over Athens.
- BT12: Beings of fire erupt from the plasma ball and begin killing Greek citizens. A TV journalist with more courage than sense gets close enough to hear what they are bellowing in ancient Greek and Latin: “Bring Us The Helix of Gaia or die!”
- BT13: The team respond to the attack. The Grecoans should force them to withdraw by threatening the lives of more innocents.
- BT14: Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, detects the presence of the Belt (not identified by name or image). Another asks if she is sure, she replies in the affirmative. (Nike, Goddess of Victory) announces that their course is clear – they must go to it, and the victory shall be theirs. (All comments in ancient Latin and greek). The burnt beings return to their ball of plasma-wrapped magma, which flies off slowly in the direction of New Orleans.
- BT15: When the ball of plasma-wrapped magma crosses the Atlantic Coast and is at least 20 miles from any shore, the British Empire attacks the globe with everything they’ve got. The PCs can either join in or perform rescue operations before having another go themselves. Either or both forces will lose but the Grecoans will display their true abilities (hurling thunderbolts, speed, unerring accuracy with a bow, etc) which should give a further clue to their identities.
Part 2 of the main scenario occurs while the remains of Olympus are travelling lazily to New Orleans.
- BT16: The demand for the “Helix Of Gaia” offers a clue: the name, Gaia. With that as a starting point, a little internet research should permit Vala to identify who the enemy are, in mythological terms.
- BT17: Bright Cutter reiterates what the team know of the history of the Grecoans, and what is NOT known.
- BT18: One or more of the team travel to dimension-prime and persuade the team Chairman that they need access to the classified files concerning Olympus and its Gods.
- BT19: The team get the rest of the story of the Grecoan role in Ragnerok.
- BT20: Aleph Prime / Bright Cutter / Harmonic point out the obvious: Olympus was anchored to Mount Olympus and then it wasn’t; something changed. Discussion of how one space time can be anchored to another. Uniqueness of each pocket dimension.
- BT21: If the team can figure out what’s going on, fine; if not, they should go to Theboria to consult with Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom. She will help them solve the puzzle. The team will realize they cannot let the Grecoans get the Belt.
Part 3 of the main scenario occurs when the Team have the full background to the situation.
- BT22: The team return to Dimension Regency moments after they left. Now that they know the real problem, they have to come up with a solution.
- BT23: As they conclude their strategy session (or break because they are getting nowhere) they will realize that Nevermore is gone – and the belt with him.
- BT24: The team give chase and confront Nevermore as he flies toward the globe of molten rock. On a perception check, they will notice that he is wearing the belt. He will fight them and will not explain. He will resist any telepathic probing by Vala as to his motives or intentions, all she will get from his mind is a sense of intense satisfaction and desire to destroy himself, and – if necessary – anything and everything else. As the battle intensifies, the Grecoans will erupt from their “travelling vehicle” and join the fight.
- BT25: When the Grecoans are fully engaged, Vala will suddenly sense Nevermore lowering his defenses against her mental probing for just an instant. She can then read his plan and intentions from his mind. Vala has to decide whether or not to help him or to enact the team’s plan for overcoming the Grecoans. As soon as he thinks she is aware of the plan, he will restore his defenses so that the Grecoans don’t learn what he has in mind; if they don’t resist him, they may have sufficient vitality and strength of will to penetrate all the way to the beginning of the three-day window and Ragnerok itself, at which point they can destroy the Universe, and themselves, and everything else, before the three celestial powers come into being. She can pass the question to St Barbara as team leader.
- B26: The Climax: If Vala/St B decided to try the team’s own solution, determine whether or not it succeeds. Note that it will have to be modified to encompass both the additional complications and additional goal of stopping Nevermore. If Vala/St B decided to let Nevermore sacrifice himself, his plan will work. The team will be caught in the backwash and sucked along behind the Grecoans and the sorcerer – close enough that they take damage and see the end, far enough removed that they can survive to return home. As they catch their breath, the belt will emerge from the barrier, drifting in subspace…
The Aftermath should be handled as a set of subplots, one for each PC, in which they come to terms with what has taken place. The NPCs should be shown dealing with the situation in ways that involve the PCs.
- BT27a: St Barbara: Has to notify the Champions of the situation. May feel guilty for not anticipating Nevermore’s behavior.
- BT27b: Runeweaver: Has to deal with the Belt Of Terra, as well as his prejudice against Nevermore because he comes from a political leadership that he opposes.
- BT27c: Blackwing: The suicide/attempted suicide of Nevermore will resonate with him because of his sister.
- BT27d: Vala: Will have trouble getting the nihilism she felt in Nevermore out of her mind.
- BT27e: Hevth: Will want to celebrate the life and death of a warrior using the rituals of his people.
- BT27f: Bright Cutter: Will be disturbed by the contradictions inherent in divided loyalties. Sometimes people consider it unreasonable and sometimes they consider holding one loyalty too strongly to be unreasonable. A hierarchy of loyalties is implied as the optimum solution, but he HAS no such hierarchy; his loyalties are always to the solution of the problem at hand. Does that mean that he is unfit to be a member of the team after all? He finds that notion to be disturbing. And yet, the oath of office brooks no hierarchy of loyalties, it is an absolute. He will discuss this problem with each member in turn, attempting to find a resolution.
It’s possible to derive some general principles from the preceding example that are worth noting.
Know Your Campaign
I’ve lost count of the number of references to past events that are built into this plotline, so lets run through them briefly:
- The Belt Of Terra itself;
- The first attempt to recover the belt by Demon;
- The second attempt to recover the belt by Demon;
- The Grecoans’ history
- The ignition of Jove;
- Minerva & The Theborians
- The (supposed) destruction of Olympus
- Vala’s mental fragility;
- The Mao
- Ravenscroft’s membership
- Ravenscroft’s betrayal
- The team’s discovery of the nature of Blackwing;
- Alliance with selected houses of Demon;
- The team’s travel into the Pre-Ragnerok era;
- Blackwing’s family history;
- Hevth’s religious rituals;
- The liberation of the Bright Cutter;
- The Bright Cutter’s relationships with each other team member;
- The Bright Cutter’s desire to be part of the team.
Many of these represent multiple scenarios, or even entire plot arcs in their own right. And this doesn’t even count the various adventures that established the campaign physics, or the adventures that (will have) established the Hevth character and his race, or the adventures in the side campaign that resolve the English Civil War in Dimension-Prime, or the adventures involving the potential origins of the Belt that were considered and rejected. I could easily argue that the latter should also be included, since it was the conflict with campaign history and established character that caused their rejection. Nothing is taking place in a vacuum, and huge chunks of campaign history indirectly connect with the adventure.
Know The Characters
A lot of the action relies on my knowledge of the characters and how they will react to specific situations and events. This has enabled me to build cues and prompts into the adventure specifically for them to play against, and to predict how the adventure will develop. The result is that the participating player characters feel 100% integral to the plotline – but can be replaced if necessary.
Built-in Precipitous Actions and Decisions are always by NPCs
I never tell the players what their characters have to do, or even want to do. Instead, I rely on the players telling me what they want their characters to do in the future and why they have taken certain actions in the past. Even in the question of the PCs reactions in the aftermath, I may describe an initial state – for example, “Vala will have trouble getting the nihilism she felt in Nevermore out of her mind,” – but how the PC reacts to that and what the PC does about it are entirely up to them. There are already adventures that establish that Vala, the team’s psionic and intelligence-gathering expert, is quite mentally fragile in some ways that have been inserted at the Player’s request; this reaction is simply the logical consequence of the personality as the player has defined it.
Another example is the arrival of Nevermore in the prelude to the main plot. I carefully set the stage for a meaningless superhero donnybrook in advance and then have a known hair-trigger NPC get the fight underway.
Other PC actions are dictated by the assumption that they will take logical advantage of the opportunities open to them according to their tactical advantages; at most, I have an NPC suggest the logical course of action. Even if the PCs have other ideas, it isn’t critical to the plotline. For example, the PCs might decide not to go off-dimension and get the missing background information during the calm between storms; they might send one of the NPCs, or they might simply decide they don’t need to know all the ins and outs. Part 2 of the plotline can be extracted completely from the adventure without it making the slightest bit of difference – in which case, it can be presented in a subplot as part of the aftermath, or I can simply keep it to myself until a PC asks about it.
Everything has consequences
“Mo-one gets out of life alive”. Everyone gets touched in some way by what occurs. Decisions have consequences. At the same time, Nevermore’s solution prevents the adventure from killing the entire campaign even if the PCs manage to totally screw up – unless they kill him when he first shows up, which they shouldn’t do.
Adventures are fuzzy
There’s a ramp-up prior to the adventure which takes place during one or more prior adventures, and there is an aftermath that colors the circumstances of the next adventure.
There’s a clear dramatic and emotional journey
The adventure has emotional and dramatic highs and lows, there’s action interspersed with more introspective roleplay moments. These not only provide a variety of spaces for inter-character relationships, they offer contrast to the more action-oriented moments. And there’s an obvious climax when everything comes to a head and which resolves the main plotline.
Scope For The Future
Finally, there are a couple of loose ends that have been left there intentionally. There is clearly a spectrum of intensity to the Nihilism of the Grecoans; some feel it more intently than others. So there are some that I can pull out of my hat sometime when I need new villains. Nevermore is killed during a time when the universe and everything in it is being rebuilt – so I can even bring him back if I want to, I would simply need to figure out where he’s been in the meantime and what he’s been doing. The Belt Of Terra is still out there, waiting to be a bone of contention in cosmic power games. The Houses of Demon who have tried for it already might well try again if the opportunity presents itself. And the Belt itself is going to be central to the climax of the overall campaign.
Most of the plotline is self-contained. The preliminary subplots are ominous and should occur in the course of contrasting adventures – either low-drama, or low-emotional-intensity in nature, or which deal with a completely different emotional tone. If necessary, a meaningless superhero slugfest should be inserted to provide that context. The aftermath is very somber, and while a contrasting tone would make that more evident, it would be jarring and unrealistic; the adventure to follow this one should be less melodramatic but also somewhat muted in tone. Serious but not cosmic, in other words – a raid on a drugs lab, or a mystery, would work well, as would another meaningless superhero slugfest with appropriately-chosen antagonist(s).
This plot chart shows the preliminary subplots (I’ve simplified the chart slightly so that it fits the blog page more easily. What this shows is that various PCs have subplots relating to the Belt Of Terra plotline while the main plotline is not so related. The size of the gap between these subplots is not shown by this table because I’ve cut out the intervals between them.
- Vala has subplot BT01 before the day’s real plotline gets underway.
- At a later time, Runeweaver has subplot BT02 before that day’s real plotline.
- At a still later time, St Barbara has subplot BT03 before that day’s real plotline.
- Later again, Hevth has subplot BT04 before that day’s real plotline. Unless there is a PC present to observe this taking place, it may not happen be narrated to the players and simply described retrospectively – or I might describe it ex-cathedra, since I trust my players not to misuse out-of-character knowledge. I try to keep such knowledge from them only because it can get in the way of their enjoyment of the game – like being shown how a magician does his tricks.
- Getting closer to the main plotline of the BT plot arc, Vala has subplot BT05.
- After that day’s main action, she will approach Bright Cutter because he carries the team’s secure records – all the things that the team don’t want the government to know of. Notice that the plot chart shows her as the primary character of a subplot BT06 while he is shown as a secondary participant. It’s also worth noting that I have deliberately scheduled this to be a teaser at the end of a session’s play.
- Finally, at the start of the very next session, we have the Bright Cutter telling the rest of the team about the results. That means that the NPC is the primary focus of the subplot and the other characters are secondary participants. Since no allowance has been made for other subplots in between this team meeting and the unrelated plot of that day’s adventure, it can be presumed that we dive straight into the action as soon as no-one has anything more to say or the meeting subplot starts to drag.
As a general rule of thumb, the farther removed from the main action, the more widely spaced the visions and warnings should be, but there is a practical limit if you want the players to remember the details (there are times when you want to give them every opportunity to forget!)
On that basis, I would desire a 1 adventure gap between 04 and 05; a two-adventure gap between 03 and 04; a three or four adventure gap between 02 and 03; and a four or five adventure gap between 01 and 02.
- At the end of an unrelated adventure – which may or may not be the one that was preceded by the meeting – we have the simultaneous plot events BT08a and BT08b for St Barbara and Hevth, respectively. These could be considered a teaser for the end of a session’s play, or we could keep going immediately – it depends on how much time the unrelated plotline has consumed.
- The second line shows that the rest of the team then get involved in BT08b, and the third shows that the whole team are subsequently involved in BT09.
- Following BT09 we have a series of subplots that are to occur in a strict sequence – Runeweaver and BT10a; Vala and BT10b; Blackwing and BT10c; Blackwing with St Barbara in BT10d.
There is a potential gap between events following this subplot. I could use it to fit in part of an unrelated plotline, a generic supervillain encounter, or we could simply head straight into the next part of this plotline. I leave gaps like this all over the place; only when everything that needs to be scheduled is in place can I determine whether or not to eliminate the gap. In a nutshell, if there’s a subplot showing on a line that is otherwise blank, I need to fill the empty space with something. If the surrounding events require a gap for realism, I will also consider filling the gap with a generic plotline. The third reason for filling a gap with a meaningless encounter is that only a certain percentage of the in-game events will bear on one of the major plot arcs; there will always be some random superheroic action, because those villains aren’t going to take time off just because the PCs are busy elsewhere.
There will be times when I will treat gap scenarios as a full adventure, and times when I will simply segue to the outcome or endgame of the battle – whatever best suits the pacing of the important plotlines. This not only makes the campaign feel like real life, where things are already in progress when someone arrives somewhere, but it also engages player sensibilities that have been developed by watching TV. It skips over the boring bits and gets straight to the action – getting the meaningless encounter out of the way for more time that session to be spent on “significant” events.
Observe that some of the subplot spaces have been “redded out” – blocked off so that no other subplots are permitted other than those that form part of this section of the adventure.
Parts 1 and 2
Now the main plot gets underway. Note that this can’t follow directly after the end of the introduction – there need to be some character-driven subplots inserted prior to 11 that will describe where everyone is and what they are doing when the balloon goes up. These might be just a minute or two each, or there might be a full adventure in the gap. The important thing to note is that there are no “significant” subplots prior to the action starting.
- We start with the whole team, and event BT11. This is followed immediately by St Barbara featuring in subplot 12, with the other team members as secondary participants.
- Whole-team events BT13, 14, and 15 follow. If the list of events prepared earlier is consulted, it can be seen that this entire group of events deals with the arrival of the Grecoans and the initial encounter with them.
- Part 2 starts with a subplot for Vala (BT16) and another for Bright Cutter (BT17). While there is capacity for unrelated subplots surrounding both these events, I don’t expect anything to go there other than possibly some character interaction with NPCs.
- After subplot BT17, the whole team are shown as being involved in off-world events BT18 and 19. This might be a misnomer, as the team might decide not to send the whole group to dimension-prime to gather intelligence on what they are up against. They might even decide to send no-one, as noted earlier; that’s up to them. Bright Cutter then has Subplot 20, but if he is not present off-world, there are a couple of NPCs named in the plot outline that can take his place.
- That subplot is followed by whole-team event BT21, which might not take place at all. Again, there are several opportunities for other subplots surrounding the subplot, and following event BT21, but I don’t expect to actually emplace anything there.
- It’s a little hard to see, I’m afraid, but there is an off-world gap indicated following BT21 – simply because time spent on that subplot doesn’t impact the main plotline. I don’t intend to make use of that option if it’s not needful for something else to happen to the team while they are with the main team, but I’ve left the possibility open; the journey is just inconvenient enough that they might choose to take some time out for other business while in the vicinity.
Part 3, Twist, and Aftermath
The final section of the plot chart shows that “optional, other” adventure and the lack of any subplots after it – which contradicts what I showed in the previous section. While subplots after that “optional other” adventure are possible, if necessary for some other plotline, the desire is not to delay the resolution of the Belt Of Terra plotline any further.
- The action kicks off with BT22 and BT23. These are shown as occurring simultaneously (they are in the same event window) because BT23 happens in the course of BT22.
- BT24 follows immediately. We then have Subplot 25 for Vala, and the possible involvement of St Barbara. In fact, these events should be shown in a subdivision of the “main plot” section by character, but while that could be shown using the full chart that I illustrated a couple of weeks ago in part 2 of this series, that capability was lost in the simplification of the chart layout for this example.
- In any event, that subplot is followed by BT26, which is the climax of the adventure.
- The climax is shown followed immediately by the aftermath subplots, but that is subject to variation depending on the other adventures around them. Some of the aftermath ‘events’ should happen immediately – Runeweaver deciding what to do with The Belt Of Terra (BT27b) for example – but others, such as the psychological effect on Vala (BT27d) would have more impact if there was some gap between the event and the player’s action to alleviate it. Since these events are intended to occur quite late in the campaign, though, I might well do it exactly as it’s shown here, simply to build momentum toward the campaign climax.
Ready To Run?
If I were actually preparing to run this scenario, I would usually spend a little time preparing written notes to the players, locating illustrations, and pre-writing various blocks of dialogue and description. I would also make some notes on the attributes of the Grecoans as they appear in various reference sources – some gaming-related, some comics-related, and some mythology-related, with particular regard to their abilities. Finally, I would translate some key words and statements into Greek and Latin (ignoring any changes that may exist between the modern and ancient languages) using the internet. A smattering of French translations might be handy, too – Evermore, like Ravenscroft, is from Oxford, but Morgaine Le Faye speaks French and so that language would be central to her court. Finally, I would pick a couple of sources to use as Evermore’s Spellbook, translating them from one game system to another on the fly.
But, if I didn’t have time for any or all of that, I would not hesitate to run the adventure using just the material contained in this post.
Whew! So there it is – a complete example from a vague initial concept all the way through to a completed adventure plan and the schedule that fits it into the campaign. This is one of the biggest single posts that I’ve ever made at Campaign Mastery at 13,000+ words, but I thought it important not to split the example in two. Hopefully, at least some of you have stuck with me all the way through this illustration of the processes and techniques that I use in planning my campaigns, that the example has clarified anything that wasn’t quite clear from the earlier posts on the subject, and that some of those tricks of the trade will be useful to you! To anyone who’s read this whole thing, thanks for you time and attention!