How far down does the rabbit hole go?
This refers to the second episode of Agora Core:
The journey between the towns of Nis-Ton and Mid-Nis was designed to be 2 episodes at most, adding some intrigue, action and a chance for the Player Characters (PCs) to get to know their characters better along the way. This episode was part 2 of their journey. The intrigue was to create a room in the inn where they were to rest for the night that had a sign on it which said ‘Keep Out’ and a quiet wailing noise…
This side quest could have stopped there. They had no need to snoop, and yet they snooped. Once inside the room the windows were boarded up and there was no visible source of the wailing sound. Orix’s curiosity got the better of him and he stabbed holes into the paintings on the wall. They found a hole…
The hole had spiritual entities living inside it. Having got this far, the prepared sucker-punch was that if they stuck their head inside the hole they would have to pass a wisdom saving throw or be possessed by an animal spirit and behave oddly for a time until the group could seek clericial aid. The players, however, wanted to find the source of the wailing. They wanted to see how far down the hole went…
From now on, the plot was completely off-book, with Long in very real peril having dropped off the pages and into the abyss.
The resultant actions and decisions took the group on a very different path to the one originally planned.
As a DM this was an exciting challenge – how much would their employer, Elstan, suspect and how would he react? What consequences would this have when the group reached the town of Mid-Nis? In such situations the DM is roleplaying as much as the players are. Their employer is a Non-Player Character (NPC) with a motive and resources of his own. I decided that he would have been in the next room to the merchant Lanir and so would have heard the group force entry and attack him. As a response, he would have sent a message ahead to the town guards through means of a messenger bird to request the group’s arrest. They were no longer trusted by their Employer, Elstan, and through his actions they would no longer be able to enjoy Mid-Nis Festival of the Clans and would face a trial, which could result in their execution.
This refers to the first episode of Agora Core:
It is a conundrum, because however original your plot may
seem, you need to contrive a reason for a group to form. How should they begin? Perhaps there is a backstory connecting some
or all of the players. An example of
this approach is in Will Wheton’s Titans Grave where character backstories are
discussed and secret bonds are disclosed to the Games Master.
Another simpler approach is a reason that attracts the
players to one spot, such as a call for adventures and the promise of riches
for successfully completing a mission. I
decided to loosely follow this second approach, bringing the group together at
the docks of the town of Nis-Ton. Their
reasons for being there were their own, but each was looking for an
opportunity; perhaps to earn more money, perhaps for adventuring, perhaps they
hoped to escape the land of DaNis altogether.
In much the same way as Character Creation, I left the
players to choose their reasons for being there. This has both advantages and
disadvantages. The main advantage, as I
see it, is that they are in total control of their characters and can develop
them organically. I can then suggest
paths for them to follow during the roleplay but they can choose where they go
from there. The main disadvantage is
that they are complete strangers and they have no bonds to each other or to a
central plot. The introduction of Long
mid-way through this episode highlights the loose bonds between the characters.
What worked really well at the docks was that the players
grasped the situation quickly and decided that there was an opportunity worth
exploring. They then advanced the plot
with their actions and dice rolling.
The finding of a horse and cart was a single line plot
that developed because Hector did not roll well when perceiving where to look
for a horse and did not ask anyone. So
rather than go straight to the transportation store, they successfully deceived
a resident and took their horse. Then
they had to deal with the transportation store for the cart. In this case, the characters of Nomo and
Hector started out being civil and ran an errand for the store owner; collecting
flowers that grew on the cliffs ledges, but when that didn’t work out they
resorted to tossing him over the side of the cliff. Hector is definitely a bad influence on
Nomo! The interesting part is that they
had already secured a horse and cart but decided that they needed an extra
horse! The poor store owner needn’t have
been so roughly discarded! But this is
what makes roleplays so interesting – you never know how players and plot will
A lovely moment was when Orix decided to pay special
attention to the horse they commandeered and named it Loki. I liked that personal touch, which he also
displayed when creating the Weasel familiar.
Another character-driven bonus was the strange friction between
man-of-the-wilds Long and the dry-witted drow Hector. Long simply didn’t trust Hector. To be fair to Hector, if someone threw a warhammer at me I would not warm to them either!
Still, it is moments such as these that make each party unique, for
which I am very grateful.
The other ongoing section of this Roleplay blog will be Dungeon Master (DM) Notes. This is a fun, section and a behind-the-scenes or perhaps more aptly behind-the-Schemes look at what occurs during the campaign. More likely than not, the players have not taken a road that the DM had prepared in advance, and very likely the players have not behaved at all predictably. This provides both awkward and delightful moments where the storyline rails are removed and anything goes. DM Notes will taker a closer look at elements of the storyline that went untold or were unravelled!
I started creating this roleplay back in late 2015 as I had developed a craving. This wasn’t a simple itch, it was deeper than that. I had run weekend roleplays before, collaborating with other Dungeon Masters (DM)/Games Masters (GM) within the friendship groups that shared the love of fantasy and storytelling along with my Brothers and myself. These could be very rewarding but also very frustrating because the amount of work didn’t amount to the gameplay length – this was especially true with collaboratively run roleplays where ideas could be sacrificed for a cohesive storyline or if players wanted to stick with certain groups.
So my deeper itch involved taking the time to create a new fantasy roleplay from scratch and finding players who were prepared to do it for the long haul – from Level 1 and up!
The other desire was to try and use the new 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. This was designed to be a lot simpler than the system I was used to – version 3.5 – and relied more on story-telling. I had also taken the time to develop a character creation system in excel, and wanted to put it to good use.
As I type, we are nearing the end of the players’ time as Level 2 characters. It has been very interesting seeing how the players have interacted with the storyline and with each other. This has affected my levels of preparation and style as a DM and it will continue to evolve along with the players as we learn about the roleplay system and about the world known as Agora Core.