Sunday, February 12, 2017

Take a little time off from adventuring

This is not another of my many “what do adventurers do when they aren’t adventuring” lifestyle things, but instead what happens when a campaign starts to get a little stale.  Most of us have been there.  You’ve been playing these characters for a while and now the GM is having trouble coming up with ideas that make sense for these guys to do, but are different enough to still seem new and exciting.  Here’s what one fantastic author did:

I’m going to use my favorite comic book of all time as an example:  Alien Legion.  Never heard of it?  Understandable, because the series pretty much ended in 1990, and not all of you were born then.  (Yes, I have every regular edition of the book ever published - only 38, but still)  Anyway - After the first volume of Alien Legion ended, they needed a way to get the second volume (I think it was three or four years later in real time) off with a bang.  So they fast forwarded.  In the story, Nomad Squad had been in a huge battle and they were lost and presumed dead.  Their captain wanted to go search for them, but was never allowed to.  So he finally quits the Legion and goes out after them on his own.

Some of them are dead.  Some of them are not, but the two years that they spent on this planet hiding out and trying to survive had changed them, dramatically.  The honorable noble guy is now vastly more savage.  The murdering loner is now a bit more attached to his sidekicks.  The female soldier probably had it the worst, ‘nuff said.  At least one of the guys lost a limb or two (actually I think one of them loses limbs after being found, but one lost one in the “pause”).

What’s the benefit here?  I think many fold!  Start with the GM’s benefit - It’s almost like starting a new campaign.  You get that energy and excitement back because it is new.  Something has to have changed!  Just having “everybody lived their lives and now the band is back together” only works for one mission, and then dull again.  So something changes.  The boss/quest giver was killed (this actually works with the 47 Ronin idea), or a war started and the party needs to be brought back together to fight back, or there is a plague, or there is a religious conflict, or a hurricane.  Something has to have changed.

How about the player characters?  They get to play the same basic character, but now with a new twist.  Often times, you have an idea for a character, and the character doesn’t really grow into that, or the opposite, the character grew as you had originally expected, but now you wish something different had happened.  This is the perfect opportunity to correct it.  For example, you wanted a warrior who was tough as nails, but he sort of side tracked into an archer.  Or you planned for a mage who would be able to have incredible power, even if some of it had a more evil base, but you wound up with a generic run of the mill spell caster with a wide mix of spells.  These things can be fixed!

OK - Let’s get this out right away:  I don’t know that they can actually be fixed in an old school D&D style game with classes.  By the time that you are Fighter Level 8, there isn’t much that can be done.  In a point based character system (yes, like Legend Quest), you can add some skill levels that the character didn’t have before and really help the character make a change for the better, or at least different.

What do we mean?  Let me throw out a scenario to you.  Instead of this, you can always use something more mundane (but still good) in which the party broke up for everyday reasons, and now is back together, but this seems more thrilling to me (though likely to piss off some players):

For all the normal adventuring reasons, the party is attacking the stronghold of a slaver lord.  Just as they are about to attack the slaver lord in his “throne room” the floor opens up and all the characters fall through the floor and down a series of shafts.  They all end up in different prison cells in different areas of the base.  Anyone who tries to fly and avoid the shafts will wind up being peppered with arrows and/or facing the slaver lord all alone (meaning likely to die).

So what happens?  Well, if the slaver lord has any pride, his prison cells will not let the party out easily, probably not at all, so they are not truly captured by the slavers.  If you have to, let each one fall on a “balloon” filled with knock out gas, so they are well and captured and can wake up in chains (no spells with bound hands, right?).  This is a business man; he won’t just kill them.  He will find buyers.

The warrior types might become gladiators and be forced to fight in the arenas.  An illusionist might be used in a seedy brothel as entertainment (most likely as a movie projector).  Maybe one of the stealthy, smaller characters somehow manages to escape the cell, but finds himself outside the slaver lord’s fortress in a dangerous jungle.  A healer would obviously be of value and may be purchased by a barony undergoing a plague - despite now being a slave, could the healer really abandon these people to this horrible plague if he could save some of them with his spells?  Eventually, an outside force or the escaped roguish type will start to put the party back together, but what have they endured?

The gladiators are now cold blooded killers, having been forced to kill for sport and entertainment.  Worse yet, they might now be famous for having been gladiators.  The illusionist has been trapped in what might be a gilded cage - it looks like fun and games from the outside, but he has gotten to know the slave girls in the brothel and had to face the most disgusting of clients and made their illusional dreams come true.  The “free” rogue has been forced to live in caves and atop trees and survive amidst some of the most dangerous animals, including jaguars, snakes, poisonous spiders, etc. and is now a jumpy, paranoid mess.  The healer has been surrounded by the deaths of the innocents and has never had enough energy or magic to actually turn the tide of the plague, and so has had to live knowing that everyone else was dying.  This campaign suddenly took a dark turn, didn’t it?

This is just one example of what can happen.  I see the party getting back together and now trying to overthrow the slaver lord, again.  Over the past couple of years, he has only grown more powerful and now he is able to threaten the king and force the government to do what he wants.  They went from adventurers to more of a rebel force hoping to liberate their homeland from the iron fist of the slaver forces.

Be cautious here!  Players do grow attached to their characters, and any changes along these lines need to be handled carefully and jointly between player and GM.  I suggest the GM meet privately with each player and describe what has happened - You find yourself alone in a prison cell and chained to the wall.  They tell you to go out into the arena and fight to the death or they will continue shooting bows and crossbows at you from behind the steel bars until you are dead.  What do you do? and then craft a brief story about what happened during that time.  Together, you can often get this to work well.  Any player who feels they are being forced into something will resist and deny.  Far better to be collaborative than dictatorial here!

If it all falls apart and goes crazy bad - you can always just claim it was a horrible dream and they wake up with the roguish one picking their locks and letting them all out, in order to once again fight the slaver lord, but we all know what kind of a cop-out that would be.

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