There are three tricks that I use all the time when designing adventures, characters, races, campaigns, cultures, NPCs and Villainous Plans for RPGs, and for rebooting tired old characters. I call them the magic bullets of design, and I’ve written about most of them several times before – but there is always something new to say about such universal techniques, and there’s always someone new who hasn’t read the older articles – and not all those older articles are still available, for that matter. So it’s a subject that I thought I would revisit, as promised in my recent article on making a great Mastermind (Making A Great Villain Part 1 of 3 – The Mastermind).
This article is going to hit the high points of each of these tools, and then I’m going to offer an example of using them to develop a Mastermind’s criminal plans. And, since I don’t have a real-campaign example that I’m willing to offer publicly at the moment (and think some of the value will be lost if I simply recycle the logic behind a plan that I have employed in the past), along the way we’ll grow a new campaign, or the start of one. That sounds like enough for one post. And I’ll get some practice using some software that’s new to me, yEd, to generate diagrams and examples, like the one below.
This technique is something I was taught as a programmer and systems analyst decades ago, and it has proven useful in so many ways, since, that I can scarcely count them. The essential notion is that you start with the overall objective, break it down into the broadest possible steps required to achieve that objective, then break each of those down into more detailed steps, and so on, until you end up with the design for an entire purpose-drivencomputer system – or adventure, or whatever. You can read a more technical summary of the approach, and it’s alternative, bottom-up design, in this Wikipedia article on the subject. Each of the broad elements is treated as a black box, whole unto itself. This permits the same black box to be used to solve the same problem, over and over, rather than continually reinventing the wheel – the program design becomes a daisy chain of these black boxes put together like Lego bricks to form the particular shape required.
I don’t use this term in the traditional/historical military sense. Rather, I use it in the sense of a cause-and-effect chain, which quite simply means that if something is too big or entrenched to deal with directly, instead of trying to knock down the “impossible domino” you can start small and let consequences accumulate until they become an overwhelming force against which that “impossible domino” can’t stand. Or, to phrase it a different way, if circumstances are preventing you from achieving something, you first have to change the circumstances. Domino theory becomes especially important when you don’t want it to be obvious who is or has done something; it’s hard to lurk in the shadows and pull strings if you have a neon sign reading “villain” floating over your head.
Iteration is perhaps the most powerful tool of them all. It means repeating, in this case, repeating the same simple set of actions over and over again. Even in the course of this article, I have already demonstrated the power of iteration – “…then break each of those down into more detailed steps, and so on…” is a prime example.
One of the simplest examples is to ask the same questions (as omniscient GM) over and over – who, what, when, where, why, and how – about each event that you plan to have in place. A one-line answer defines not only that event, but also the needs of preceding events. If the master plan requires a pawn to be in position X within the government, putting a pawn into position X becomes an earlier stage of the plan.
Combining the magic bullets
These three tools combine naturally in various ways. The most basic approach is to have each “domino” consist of a consistent series of steps that are common to all of them, while top-down design links the right dominos in the sequence to achieve the overall objective.
Each mastermind should have his own unique set of such “routine sub-dominos” that is a reflection of his style and personality. This ensures that the master plan derives from his personality, and is inextricably linked to that particular author.
An example might be:
- Assess potential interference
- Put distractions in place
- Put pawn in place
- Put monitor in place
- Put security in place
- Give pawn instructions
- Distract interference
- Instruct Pawn to act
- Monitor observes actions and results
- Receive report from monitor
- Review report from monitor
- Verify desired outcomes
- If unsuccessful, institute a new sub-plan
- If discovered, let Pawn take the fall
- If betrayed, instruct security to contain the betrayal and institute a new sub-plan
- If successful, assess unexpected consequences and revise remainder of master plan
- Move on to next phase of the Master Plan
Couched in general terms like this it’s easy to see that only key variables – who the pawn is, who the monitor is, who is going to provide security, where the “places” are that they are to be put, what the instructions are to be, and so on – will change; the overall plan remains consistent for step after step after step, varied only as necessary.
This describes a fairly cautious mastermind – he has an independent observer monitoring outcomes, he has a dedicated and ready-to-go security force to deal with betrayal, he has independent lines of communication between these, and none of them know anything more than they need to in order to do their job. He’s also a realist, since he’s allowed for potential interference, he’s methodolical, he’s cold-blooded, he keeps authority close to his chest, and he likes his plans to be self-contained. He would definitely prefer obedience to creativity. And he’s definitely scary.
But that’s working backwards from this skeletal plan to the traits it embodies. Usually, you have the mastermind first, and devise his “planning routine” to match.
Before we get into an example of actually using these magic bullets, there are a couple of things that I wanted to mention.
From a Villain Perspective
The results are going to be a plan from the Villain’s perspective, not a plan from the GM’s perspective. The difference is enormous, and can be spelled out in one abbreviated word: PCs. Once the villain’s-perspective plan is layed out in timetable “do this, then do that” format, it needs to be gone over in detail from a GMing point-of-view. How will events appear to the outside world? What will the incidental consequences be? How will the PCs be affected? How will they get involved in the plot, and what adventures and subplots will result from each stage of the plan?
Phases of interaction
Any plan, from the GMing perspective, breaks down into six stages:
- Under the radar preliminaries – background events that not noteworthy in terms of subplots or adventures.
- Distant rumblings – background events that are more interesting and may have an impact in terms of a subplot or encounter. Often slightly ominous in tone.
- Ominous developments – events or encounters that are definitely ominous and likely to be noteworthy in terms of a subplot or encounter.
- Immediate Impact – one or more events that directly translate into subplots or whole adventures.
- Aftermath – subplots or encounters that deal with the immediate consequences of events in an earlier stage. May follow any of the preceding stages.
- Consequences – long term side-effects of the plot that may have any level of noteworthiness from Background event to subplot or encounter to full adventure.
Taking each “domino” of the master plan and assessing it in terms of these phases of interaction specifies how the PCs are expected to interact with those events. In other words, the GM’s-perspective analysis permits a translation of the plan from the point of view of the Villain to the point of view of the PCs.
Ultimately, these should include – at the very top of the list – the PCs. But earlier obstacles, before the PCs achieve the “Immediate Impact” stage of interacting with this plotline, should be carefully put in place by the GM as necessary to make the plotline more interesting for the PCs. The closer to the “Immediate Impact” stage, the more noteworthy that opposition or obstacle should be. If you are designing the plotline prior to the commencement of the campaign, it’s easy enough to create whatever opposition you require out of whole cloth; but if the campaign is already underway, with the significant organizations, political infrastructure, etc, already defined and in-place, the GM may well need to complicate the plan with a whole NEW plan that maneuvers one of these pre-established organizations to where he needs them to go in order to fulfill the desired impact on the main plotline.
These mastermind types don’t generally tell each other what they have planned. It’s very easy for two of them to trip over one another. Remember, as a GM, your ultimate goal is to provide the players and yourself with mutual entertainment; it can be easy to lose sight of that and become entranced by your own cleverness. So make sure the opposition at each point of the plan is as interesting and difficult to overcome as you need it to be.
The Phasing Ideal
Ideally, you want one plotline to be about to enter the Immediate Impact stage while the preceding one is entering the aftermath or consequences stage following its Immediate Impact stage. Consider the diagram to the left:
This lists the phases of interaction listed previously as steps in a flowchart, then places several copies of that flowchart side-by-side, offset so that one plotline is in the “Distant Rumblings” phase while the next is in the “Under The Radar” phase and the preceding one is in the “Ominous Developments” stage. One villain’s plan might have several of these plotlines, one after another.
Of course, this is an idealized and simplified version. It has everything starting in nice, neat succession, plotlines all maturing in the order in which they start, and so on. Reality is a bit more anarchic; arranging your plotlines so that the aftermath of one enhances the development of another and the immediate impact of a third is one of the areas where the real artistry of GMing takes place.
Resets To Zero
At this point, some of my readers may be jumping up and down and saying “what about campaigns that reset to zero at the end of each adventure? Don’t try to peddle your continuity-heavy ideas to me, I know better!” or words to that effect. And they have a point – a very small one.
No campaign ever resets to zero. The players are always learning how better to roleplay. The players are learning about the campaign world with every encounter. The characters are learning with every encounter, and gradually rising in capabilities. Blissful ignorance can never be recaptured, once lost. That’s my first counterpoint. My second is this: strictly-reset campaigns get very boring after a while. How many times do you want Superman to be able to beat Lex Luthor because Luthor makes the same mistake over and over again? If Luthor learns from his mistakes and tries something new next time out, then once again we’re back at no campaign ever really resetting to zero.
What you can have is a strictly episodic structure in which the campaign resets to an evolving timeline after each adventure. That means that each adventure is strictly contained within its own little bubble, and at the start of the next adventure all the damage has been fixed, all the characters are back at their day jobs, and so on. The point to which the campaign resets may evolve, but only in a strictly controlled manner, and in small, manageable steps.
Everything I’ve said applies more-or-less intact to such campaigns. It’s just that the entire villainous plot takes place in one adventure – which means that the GM needs something else to keep the PCs occupied during the boring preliminaries, which are necessarily heavily compacted and often hand-waved. “No-one noticed it at the time, but Luthor has been busy buying up South American real estate, and now owns half of Brazil. He has just announced that he is changing his citizenship and running for El Presidente.” Ultimately, what fills and overlaps those preliminary stages are likely to be more character-driven subplots and less villain-driven plot developments, but whether or not you have a subplot featuring a bet between Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen or a subplot involving a rain of flying monkeys is irrelevant. Each adventure is still going to consist of the same six phases.
Using the magic bullets
Okay, so let’s look at how you might go about using the magic bullets in a more-or-less “real-life” situation in a game. For that, we need a villain, and an overall objective. I’m going to use Lolth (because she is always such fun) and have her come up with a plan to use a Halfling sub-community to wipe out the Elves of a particular city. Why Halflings? They already have a semi-underground lifestyle not all that far removed from that of the Drow with whom she is familiar, and they are the last race people would expect. And, as a bonus, they are a friendly folk, good gentle souls who will be corrupted by the process.
The overall plan
At its simplest possible level, the plan would have five steps:
- Turn Halflings against Elves
- Gain Control Of Halfling Community
- Empower Halfling Community
- Wipe out Elves
Steps 1, 2, and 3 might need to be carried out in a different sequence; it might be easier to turn the Halflings against the Elves after gaining control of them, for example, or they might become more pliable after being “empowered”. That “empowerment” is the key step, its requirements will dictate the order of the preceding steps.
Empower Halfling Community
Lolth’s idea is to take the natural abilities of the Halflings – nimbleness and robust health – and add supernatural, demonic powers to the mix, sufficient to make each Halfling exposed to “the treatment” (whatever it might be) a super-assassin. Natural weapons enhanced to penetrate Elven armor, enhanced movement capabilities, enhanced ability to hide in shadows, assassin/rogue backstab, natural resistance to elvish weaponry, enhanced strength. Since the goal is to affect an entire community at the same time, that sounds rather like a magical device of some kind, and one of considerable power. Because Lolth has an affinity for spiders and like creatures, turning the Halflings into something akin to Driders, but make them humanoid only from the neck up. Give them natural weapons at the end of each foot as well as a poisoned sting. The capacity to spin webs and use them as bridges from rooftop to rooftop, climb walls, etc, works nicely for the enhanced mobility, and means that the favorite Elven hiding place – up a tree – won’t work very well. Make the webbing able to phase, so that it is there for the creature but incorporeal and almost invisible to anyone else. Throw in invisibility in shadows, a natural ability to backstab, natural armor against elvish weapons, and enhanced attack abilities and strength, and there you have it.
From a 3.x mechanics perspective, +2 Strength and +2 Dex are 4 stat enhancements, which would normally take an advancement of 16HD, in the course of which a creature would gain access to roughly five feats or abilities. Counting each of Lolth’s “improvements” as equivalent to one of these, we find that we have eight listed, possibly nine:
- Natural weapons
- Poisoned Sting
- Spin Webs
- Phased webbing
- Invisibility in shadows*
- Natural Armor
- * “Hide In Shadows” may be a prerequisite.
However, we have also taken away the ability to wear normal armors, because of the shape of the resulting creature. Trading in access to those three abilities (Light, Medium, Heavy) for three of those on our list gives us six remaining, which exceeds by one the number of slots available. However, we have also taken away the ability to use weapons, which characters also get as standard – trading that in would give us one more slot, which we could use to add the last part of the design to the list. However, it might be better to forego the poisoned sting and add Multiattack to the list. With eight limbs – four being enough to support the creature – that would give them 5 attacks a round, several of which – given the 16HD level adjustment – would be capable of three or four attempted blows each. Even if the individual natural weapons only do a small amount of damage d6+1, or d6+2, including STR bonus – that’s up to 16d6 plus 16-32 points plus sting, per round, an average of roughly 80+ points. These things are scary.
One final ingredient is necessary: A name. “Halflingder” doesn’t cut it, and neither does “Halflingnid”. “Half-Arach” is better, but only barely – it doesn’t really have an overtone that matches the nightmarish and sinister qualities of the creatures. “Arachling” is the best I can come up with, at least on the fly and off the top of my head, but it sounds too much like “Crackling”, as in roast pigskin. So, I’ve resorted to the internet. The Drow word for Halfling Spider, according to the House Maerdyn website’s free English-to-Drow Translator is Sakphul Orbb – and I don’t regard that as a step in the right direction. But that suggests “Orbb-ling” which is not bad at all.
This resulting-HD-enhancement-required approach and feats-for-abilities approach isn’t canonical within the rules structure of the game. But I find that it’s a quick-and-easy way to get a handle on how big a creature I’m talking about from a game-balance perspective. At 1HD (base) +16HD (enhancement), we’re talking about a 14th-18th level adventure, possibly higher. A single Orbbling would probably be a tough fight for a party of 14th-level characters.
It would be hard enough creating an item that conferred 16HD worth of enhancements on a single individual, never mind doing so to a whole community at the same time. Even assuming that the change is not involuntary, and only affects those who volunteer for the “treatment”, and perhaps a limited number of such individuals at that, we’re still talking about something fairly mondo – especially if we want the change to be anything close to permanent. Construction of any such item is going to be a major undertaking – so much so that researching the design, designing the item, gathering the required resources and constructing the item, and probably the creation and testing of a prototype, will all be separate major stages of the plan.
So we’ve broken this part of the plan into five smaller logical steps, to which we could probably add “Deployment” and “Activation”. “Empower Halfling Community” becomes a seven-stage plan:
Phase 3: Empower Halfling Community
3.2 Design & Development
3.3 Gather Resources
3.4 Create & test Prototype
3.5 Construct Item
3.6 Deploy Item
3.7 Activate Item
We still don’t have any clues as to the relationship between this stage and the others. That’s because, while we have defined the function of Lolth’s whatzit, we haven’t really defined what it is or how it is going to work, or what’s required to construct it. heck, we havn’t even given it a name, yet. How’s “Orbb Weaver” sound? (Doesn’t translate. But “Spider Maker” is “Orbb Mortath” in Drow, and that has a nice sinister ring to it.
Because this device is going to be so central to the overall Master Plan, it becomes clear that the stages of the adventure that follow the Activation of the device are going to be, from the GM’s/player’s point of view: an encounter with one or more Orbblings, discovering the nature of the Orbblings, penetrating the Nest, destroying the Orbb Mortath – and hoping like heck that this will reverse the transformations. That’s 3-4 adventures in the “Immediate Impact” zone, right there. Throw in a possible confrontation with Lolth herself (assuming she has a Pawn defending the item) for a Fifth. That to me makes this sound like the central plotline of an entire campaign. But that’s just me.
So we next need to either design the item, or to break these steps down and accumulate design ideas as we do so.
The Hybrid Approach
As a general rule of thumb, it’s much harder to design something in one huge lump, and much easier to design something using a process of small incremental steps that are repeated as often as necessary. That’s Iteration, one of the magic bullets. But there’s another approach, and it’s the one that I would almost-instinctively employ in this situation: the Hybrid approach.
This entails coming up with a list of ideas concerning the object of the design – in this case, the “Orbb Mortath” – and using them as inspiration. None of these ideas would be set in stone; but this enables devoting the full power of one’s imagination to the problem which retaining the logic and detail of the iteration and top-down approach. This is also a point where I would employ the GM’s perspective that I discussed earlier, specifically looking for ways to involve the PCs in the periphery of events, and deliberately emplacing obstacles that Lolth would have to overcome in order to achieve the desired outcome. If I was completely stuck for ideas (something that doesn’t happen often) or the ideas that I had seemed stale (which doesn’t happen often either, but more frequently than having no ideas at all), I might employ The Thumbnail Method which I described in Part 2 of my series, The Characterization Puzzle back in 2010. While it was employed and described in that article as a means of generating ideas for an NPC, it can be adapted to connect the subconscious mind with the conscious on any act of creation. These techniques enable me to create a campaign that is steadily and progressively evolving in the background, but doing so in a strictly-controlled and sandboxed fashion.
Let’s say that the PCs pay a return visit to some community that they haven’t been to in a while. I only have to look at the list of what developments there have been in Lolth’s plan, and in any other plans that happen to be running, since the last time that they were present in order to be able to assess how that community has changed since their last visit. It may not have changed at all, or their may have been substantial and obvious changes – but I don’t have to worry about them until the game specifically revisits that location, and I can do it on-the-fly in a minute or less if I have to.
It is also worth noting that any organization or group that is required by the main plotline is usually something that I will try to establish within the campaign during the “Under The Radar” or “Distant Rumblings” phase. And, once created, that I have to continue to check on what this group is doing and how they will react to subsequent events. Sometimes it is easier and more interesting to employ Domino Theory to evolve a group from their incarnation in one part of the plan to fit the needs of a future part of the plan than it is to come up with a whole new group and have to explain what the old one is doing at the same time. Just something to bear in mind.
A quick brainstorming session yielded the following ideas:
- An artificer. The Best artificer, given how difficult the Orbb Mortath would be. If the legendary Dwarven Smiths of the Norse realm were around, they would be perfect – but let’s assume they aren’t. One of the deities who specialize in this sort of thing, like Hephaestus, would be good – but most of their creations tend to be more mechanical than arcane. No artificers of the required caliber are springing to mind, so I’ll invent one out of whole cloth. And, because I want to put a few interesting obstacles in the way for Lolth to overcome, let’s say that he died millennia ago. To recruit his aid, Lolth will have to travel back in time – which she doesn’t know how to do, and which will be costly and difficult in its own right, and which could cause all sorts of interesting Temporal Disturbances for the PCs to encounter without explanation.
- A Chronomancer. A Good one. If she is to travel in time, she’ll need a Chronomancer. It might be necessary to sponsor a promising human to develop the expertise, conduct the research, etc. Of course, a Chronomancer would be dangerous to her, too – so he would be food for her spiders immediately she got back from her expedition into the past. While there may not be a direct plot connection to the PCs, and any opposing organization or force sounds too much like science fiction and risks sending the campaign down an unwanted path, an indirect involvement might be possible by using the Chronomancer as an important NPC in some other (early) adventure.
- Demonic Power. The Orbb Mortath is going to be something of the order of The Wand Of Orcus. If we accept the Origin story quoted on Wikipedia as Canon for this particular campaign, the Lolth could theoretically create the item she wants by sacrificing a portion of her own power. That’s good, but Lolth is not the type to sacrifice any power once she has it. Better by far to steal it from someone else, or manipulate them into creating it for her. Demogorgon would make the perfect patsy – if she approaches one head while the other is sleeping, she could persuade it that it is the weakening influence of the other that has cost it victory in its war against Orcus, and that it could sacrifice some of the other head’s power to create this item. The now-awake head would then be dominant. Naturally, to hide the stolen power from the other head, she would have to conceal it where neither aspect of Demogorgon would know where to find it.
Selling this line of hokum to Demogorgon would not be easy, but it would play on the Demon’s own insecurities and paranoia. She might have to commit some assistance to Demogorgon but she can easily spare some Drow and some Spiders, or better yet, can persuade someone else to fulfill that end of the bargain for her – Graz’zt could be seduced into doing so if it promised him the opportunity to claim the title of The Prince Of Demons by weakening Demogorgon, and putting his forces in a position to betray the two-headed Demon Prince.
She would definitely want to have the unpowered Orbb Mortath ready to go before approaching Demogorgon – she doesn’t want him to have a lot of time to think it over. So this would all happen after the prototype is tested.
- Phase Spider Venom. Lots of it. Hard to obtain for anyone else, but Lolth has certain advantages when it comes to spiders. This would enable an encounter between the (temporarily venomless) Phase Spiders and the PCs long before the PCs think they are of a high enough level for such an encounter. So this could happen fairly early in the campaign, as a subplot/encounter to some other adventure.
- Doppelganger Blood – from a living Doppelganger in it’s native state. There is a change of shape involved, after all. Another hard-to-come-by item, and one that will probably require the capacity to force a doppelganger back into its native form. This could involve the PCs in two ways: first, the obtaining of the techniques needed to force a Doppelganger to revert; and second, by having the Doppelganger be someone important who they know and trust. The first might give a clue that Lolth is involved somehow, if she set her Drow the task of discovering the secret, or not; deciding that would depend on the nature and ecology of a Doppelganger. The second would obviously be an adventure for the PCs.
- An expert on the anatomy of spiders and on Halflings. The first is easy – a Drow can handle that, no problem. To get the second, he would need to proceed just as the early anatomists did: digging up corpses (the fresher the better) and dissecting them, then moving on to freshly-killed victims, then still-living victims. That would provide an opportunity for another PC adventure in which they have to deal with a “Jack The Ripper”-style villain (the Drow expert and his lackeys) stalking Halflings somewhere. At the end of the adventure, they can even get their killer – and find evidence of what he has been doing (but not why), and not find the journal in which he recorded his findings, only notes on scraps of paper. (Once Lolth has the journal, she can throw the Drow who wrote it, and his servants, to the wolves). Note that this makes it fairly clear that Lolth is up to something involving Halflings, and so should be fairly late in the campaign. Lolth might be arrogant enough to think she knows enough not to require this expertise in the construction of the prototype, and could learn better in the course of that testing; that makes this adventure fall just before she gets involved in Demonic Politics.
- Wealth. It’s a truism of D&D that the more valuable something is, the potent the magical forces it can contain. Perhaps the Orbb Mortath needs to be made of spun platinum strands, woven like spiderweb, with Diamonds where the strands connect to each other. Having it shaped like a spider’s egg would also be a nice visual device. That would cost a LOT of money – think of a Faberge Egg large enough to contain a Halfling. It would also be inherently beautiful, worth far more than the mere value of its materials – tempting greedier party members not to destroy it, when the time comes.
Gathering that much Platinum and that many cut and faceted diamonds would be noticeable. It would require Drow everywhere to turn their attention to the task. A Drow invasion of Dwarven Mines might be just the ticket to kick-start things when the plotline starts to get serious – and can happily involve several adventures for the PCs, since the Drow don’t have to be told why their mistress wants this stuff, just that she does. Less troublesome would be a deal between a Thief’s Guild and the Drow – a commission to obtain the cut gemstones – leading to a crime wave. Again, the PCs can be happily permitted to capture the Thief’s Guild afterwards, since they don’t really know anything. So that’s another PC adventure taken care of.
- Mithral. This could be needed for either of two reasons – one, it’s inherently valuable (more so than platinum, if truth be told) and might need to be alloyed with the platinum; two, most Mithral is in the form of Elvish armor and weapons, and might be needed to confer the immunity to those as part of the act of creation. Obtaining a set is not something the PCs can be permitted to prevent, so this should be a background event, just a bit of random news that comes to them.
- A jeweler of extremely high skill. If this NPC were to escape or get captured afterwards, it would tell the PCs entirely too much – so this needs to be the kidnapping of someone who can be intimidated into doing the work, followed by another execution. Lolth might even handle this personally. It should be a background item to the PCs, since they can’t be permitted to solve it – and even if it were written so that Drow commit the act on Lolth’s behalf, then kill the Jeweler, the fact that it can’t be resolved and the Jeweler rescued alive, and is very similar to an adventure that’s already part of this plotline (the diamond robberies), and that the GM can’t afford to let a PC start asking questions of the dead body with appropriate Divination spells, all points to this being a solo outing by Lolth or a trusted lieutenant and a noteworthy disappearance for the PCs to hear of as background.
- We’ve got most aspects of the end result represented at the moment, but nothing yet on the Invisibility In Shadows ability. Perhaps a liquefied Shadow? A blending of a Shadow and an Invisible Stalker? Not a particularly satisfactory answer, but that’s about as far as this particular brainstorming session carried me.
Reviewing the objective
The final step is always reviewing the objective. That’s an awful lot of trouble for Lolth to go to – too much, perhaps, for the goal she wants to achieve. Maybe, if this scheme were guaranteed to wipe out 99% of all Elves, is would be justified – but it isn’t. There needs to be something more to motivate her sufficiently. So, what else can she get out of it?
Converting the Halflings into “Near-surface Drow” – that’s always a nice reward, but probably not enough in and of itself. Establishing enclaves in a vast number of Human, Elven, and Dwarven habitations (eventually) – that’s not bad, either. But what really motivates people enough to do desperate things is survival.
According Hordes of The Abyss, which I have relied apon heavily in writing this article, Lolth is a Demon who became a Goddess. Few details are provided. But what was once done can – perhaps – be undone. What if the real target wasn’t a whole bunch of Elves – most are just another bonus on the side – but one particular Elf who is on the verge of figuring out how to defrock Lolth? Someone who was so well-protected that it would require the use of Orbblings to get to them? Perhaps someone who doesn’t know – yet – what they have stumbled apon?
THAT raises the stakes high enough to justify everything. And it would be just like Lolth to try and turn a necessity into a set of potent advantages. Manipulation, betrayal, murder, spiders – it all seems to fit her personality to a T.
If I were really developing this for my own use, there would be several such sessions, and a lot more research. But that’s not a bad start.
Note the use of Domino theory – artificer to time travel to chronomancer, for example – to link events together.
I now have some idea of what the Orbb Mortath will look like – a giant-sized spider’s egg of Platinum, Mithral, and Diamonds, with platinum needles injecting a mixture of Phase Spider venom, Doppelganger blood, and other substances into the subject, surrounded by sigils and runes in Abyssal, all contained within a complex magic circle of some sort to contain the Demonic Power of the device.
I have a lot of information about its construction, and a lot of adventures, encounters, subplots, and background happenings that are consequences of that construction. I know who, and in some cases, where, why and how.
I still don’t have an answer to the questions regarding the other phases of the operation, which are essentially aimed at making the Halflings willing to undergo this experience and bringing their community into Lolth’s domain. So that at least would require a second brainstorming session. But for the investment of perhaps 6 hours prep time (possibly less – that’s how long it’s taken me to write the entire article), that’s a lot to have done. Another session of the same size and we would have ourselves a campaign – plus perhaps a third to organize all these ideas into a single coherent structure, they are a little all over the place at the moment. And, of course, some unrelated adventures to take place while the background events are occurring – another 6 or 7 hours.
Twenty-five hours to create a unique and interesting campaign. That’s an hour a day for about three weeks. That’s the power of the Magic Bullets.