Fame & Fortune is running this month’s blog carnival on the theme of preparation, which has inspired me to do something I had been thinking about for a while but never got around to – posting up the contents of one of my session preparation documents, in order to show what I do to prepare for a session. Unfortunately most are too long or involve too much knowledge about prior events in the campaign, but I have managed to find one from late in the Compromise and Conceit campaign which provides a reasonable example. I may put up some other background material too, for the players of that campaign to see how I planned the final stages of the campaign, and also to share some ideas I had that I’m quite fond of.
My preparation typically consists of writing a single document that covers the main goals of the adventure, with an introduction linking it to any campaign arcs, and sometimes some material on key scenes I want to describe. I plan adventures from 3 main starting points:
- A simple cog in a campaign that needs to be turned
- A set of scenes that I’ve had in my mind and want to play out
- An idea for an adventure setting that occurred to me and that I want to run
and usually a bit of all 3. The adventure given here is purely a cog in the campaign, but easily worked up into some quite frightening and ferocious scenes. Here is the essential background:
The setting is a magical colonial America, in about 1770. The characters have previously established that there is a sinister fourth force at work in America, and that it employs Irish mercenaries to help it fight. Following the trail of a dragon bone they stole from this group, they learnt from a Dragon in Greenland that the bone came from a Dragon in Ireland. Since dragon slayers tend to be unforgettable, they travelled to the Irish village to find out what people there knew of the dragon slayer, and discovered upon arrival that the village had been enslaved and all the men-folk turned into mercenaries; the womenfolk were trapped there and doomed never to die. This magic was invoked using a powerful ritual based on a dragon’s corpse, the dragon having been killed nearby and dragged to the town. The characters also happen to have a special summoning book that enables them to summon a powerful demon of Lore, and that Demon can tell them what to do to reverse the dragon ritual and free the Irish mercenaries. This will significantly weaken the mysterious fourth force, and they can then travel to its hideout and learn what its goals are. They know where its hideout is because they caught a wizard who works for this organisation, and it just so happens that a wizard “not yet in the fullest of his powers” is a good sacrifice for the Demon of Lore ritual. The players have decided that they’re going to go through with the ritual (and boy aren’t they well placed to do it!) so the adventure is about the ritual, its consequences, and their subsequent journey to Bodmin to infiltrate the fourth force (called The Iron House).
The preparation document follows, and constitutes the background material for the adventure written up here. I think some of the information had been shared over email ahead of time (my players could be a little bit dithery, so I got them to discuss some decisions in between sessions).
In this adventure the characters enact a reversal of the ritual of the dragon, to free the men of Killarney from service to the Iron House; in order to do this they enact a ritual of Lore Demon Summoning, which will involve killing the mage they hold captive. First they may want to question him, to find out what he is doing. They will then travel to Bodmin to infiltrate the newly-weakened base of the Iron House and learn more about its purpose. By the time they arrive the land around Bodmin will be in uproar, as the newly-freed men of Killarney go crazy trying to find their way home. The characters can perhaps lead the way.
Summoning the Lore Demon
First the characters will have to summon their lore demon, using the book they obtained from the lich and the mage they captured. The Lore Demon will be able to tell them what to do to complete the ritual, and they can choose to use the existing magic circle (though they will need to refresh it). The characters can decide the content of the ritual, the key points being:
- The mage must die, preferably horribly (Dave Black’s responsibility – base DC 22)
- A priest must conduct the ritual
The base DC is 30, with every point above the target giving a +1 to the roll in the subsequent dragon ritual. Dave Black’s success grants a +1 on the priests’s roll for every point above the killing target (to a maximum equal to his level)
The Dragon ritual
For the dragon ritual:
- A part of the dragon must be used (they need to remove a rib from Anna’s corset, -1 DR on her gear)
- A priest and a mage need to conduct the ritual together (Anna and David – the better each of their DCs the more powerful the effect)
- The circle needs to be imbued with infernal essence (Ganymede – base DC 17)
- It is better if the ritual is conducted in a storm (+5); perhaps Brian can conjure this
Every point of success on Russell’s roll increases Cantrus’s roll by 1 (to a maximum equal to his level). The information gained from the lore demon gives a bonus to Anna’s roll (+1 per point of success, maximum equal to her level). Anna’s roll determines what proportion of the soldiery is affected; Cantrus’s roll determines the means by which they are freed and their degree of lucidity:
|DC||Anna’s effect||Cantrus’s effect*|
|25||25%||Frenzy: 2 days/pt below|
|30||50%||Confusion/lethargy: 1 day/pt below|
|35||75%||Suggestibility: 1 day / pt below (contest against Cantrus’ roll)|
*Cantrus’s effect only applies if Anna is successful
The effects are cumulative, so after frenzy comes suggestibility, etc.
[editor’s note: I actually meant by this that the soldiers have to step their way through the success grades, so if Cantrus rolled a 36, they would be frenzied for a day, then confused for a day, then suggestible for 4 days, then clear. In the event I think that’s what happened. But Death doesn’t step through anything – the mercenaries just die – and “clear” doesn’t step through anything. So really the DC for this roll is 40, and lower results are partial success. Also, I think that Anna’s player wasn’t here this night, and whoever rolled for her rolled up a fumble. We – the players and I – consulted extensively about this and decided that since this was a really important roll for her and she wasn’t there, it was unreasonable to keep her roll. The campaign could go on without her success (this was just a side adventure to weaken the Iron House) but they thought it was a bit cruel for her PC to screw up so badly the one time she wasn’t there. So I called her (she was studying) and got her to reroll the result].
What the mage can tell them
The mage can tell them that he was asked to keep an eye out for people journeying to Killarney on suspicious grounds, and paid with a piece of dragon bone which he has fashioned into an amulet, which he will one day use to make a powerful magic item (when he has more power – this day, obviously, will never come!) The man who told him to do this was called William de Bouverie, 1st Earl of Radnor, the seat of Bodmin. He pays the mage an annual retainer for the service, which he is saving to help him go back into training.
Having conducted their two rituals, the characters can travel to Bodmin, Cornwall, to find the home of the earl of Radnor, a stately home called Lanhydrock. Here they can enter the building and hope to find the truth of the mission of the Iron House. It takes about 3 days to sail to Newquay, and then another day to travel overland to Bodmin by fast horse, through Bodmin moor. On the outskirts of Bodmin the characters will find evidence of the movements of the soldiers of Killarney, depending on the results of Cantrus’s spell.
Death: the soldiers will be scattered in the lands around lanhydrock, in concentric rings, dead but peaceful, and strangely untouched by animals.
Frenzy: the soldiers will be scattered about the land in small uncontrolled bands, looting and destroying anything they find, in battle with the local constabulary or other soldiers of the Iron House (who are better, but in the minority). Signs of this battle will be clearly visible on the horizon as smoke.
Confusion/lethargy: the characters will find groups of the soldiers wandering confused through the area around Lanhydrock or on the moors. They can be gathered together, fed and watered but will not be open to any kind of orders or commands.
Suggestibility: Similar to confusion/lethargy, but slightly more active and they can be directed to, for example, travel overland to the boat at Newquay. They can also be suggested into becoming troops for the PCs. Suggestion is a social attack at -1 per target, lasting initially for 1 day per point of success (or 1 week per point of success if done magically). Note that other people can do this and the characters may meet groups of soldiers subject to the same effect.
[editor’s note: I think Anna Labrousse used the suggestibility effect on the first 4 soldiers they met to enlist them as assistants in an assault on Lanhydrock].
Those soldiers from Killarney not affected by the spell will fight their affected friends. They will be distributed evenly between Bodmin and the Americas.
Once the characters reach Lanhydrock they can try and invade the house, since they will find it largely empty and/or partially burnt. They should still have to deal with roving bands of Iron House soldiers.