The Meta-Game: Hows and whys of adventure creation

Every few weeks, by the time the players can’t act on spoilers contained within, I’ll review the gaming sessions. These reviews will not be a review of the performance of the PCs, but a explanations as to what hooks were given, how the flavor of Kin leaked into the gaming conversation and attempts to give an impression of a larger world.

Prelude to a discovery

Most of this is a stock opener that can be used for two other concurrent adventures that could be run in the future. That ends at “You, you, those two, that one, her and her see Elder Sealm when we are done.” During the opener the establishment of Telse as a place that has religious powers in influential positions, as well as an elder non-political/religious leader is inserted into the storyline. And, there is a bare mention of Nils.

There the three groups break out. With The Five, who were supposed to be a seven, and eventually are, we immediately get a snapshot that there is tension in the area among the people of Telse. All tension creates potential hooks.

Notice, that the establishment of a “party” is hand waved. They are there because they want to be there. Shonie and Aamar know of each other, but are not friends. Each is working towards personal goals, but the quest for the Lorebook is just a path towards those more personal desires.

Sealm hands Aamar a Stone. It is a minor magical item. His directions are bare-boned. At this point the group could follow those vague instructions, though the behavior of Nils intrigues them. As the DM I also prepared a couple concepts if they went totally off the Western path or following Nils. Those sketches included mapping a swath of area outside of where they were “supposed” to go, ready descriptions of a few locales and creating a few custom random encounter tables, empowering sandbox play.

All of those details are also relevant when considering the possibility of expanding The Everflow into a robust campaign setting or writing fiction within the same setting like Chasing Piyu.

There was a concentrated effort in this melding of our zero session and session one in talking about how every person of Kin (goliath, halfling, human) has a companion. These are mentioned as often as that bonded animal is within sight. Domesticated animals and the bond developed with them is a key part of this tale. Repetition of themes makes it feel important.

The mostly Halfling group does not have a pack mastiff, so they purchase a mule to carry supplies on their journey.

Now, that’s kind of a lie. Behn’s companion is technically a pack mastiff, but he does not use Mitzie in that manner. That’s also part of the flavor. A bonded animal that is merely wheelbarrow isn’t interesting. A wheelbarrow that becomes a key companion in life is.

Day wolves, night wolves

This opens with them being part of the Born Generation. Each is a character born with small magical abilities. This makes them late teens. A typical age for coming-of-age stories told through gaming. It is also a reminder that their parents grew up in times before the Awakening, when social and political systems were stable for many centuries.

As they leave Telse they encounter but do not engage followers of Obscon. This was not designed as a random encounter, and if they left Telse through any gate, but not Upper Telse, they would have met that group. This allowed me to describe the political maneuvering of ghetto control.

The rest of this first day of travel mostly involves descriptive narrative of the Western Wilde. They pass a tower complex being built as an early warning and defense system for the growing community. As they move along the road they leave civilization.

When the wolves attack them at night this is actually a random encounter, but since it is custom built it fills some knowledge about what’s happening in Kin. There is a huge wolf as one of the five that attack the group. Animals of that size are new to every member of that group.

That’s a seed of information planted. Even random encounters should plant information about the world space, if not the actual adventure.

Finding and Defending the Tower of Glass

Maurice’s entry into the group is the first time the nature of playing an episodic series of adventures comes into play. Unfortunately due to real life it doesn’t happen in a village or base, but on the road. That could have been handled better, but was necessary for real life. We meet almost every Sunday (Sounders games permitting) and those who can come do. Saffron’s operator couldn’t make this session so she came down ill. The group put here on mule and they made way.

They also learn of something disastrous off towards Telse. They choose to not investigate. Using the few words to describe the smoke near where they passed the being-constructed tower let’s them know that there is a breathing world beyond just their quest. Always make the world breathe. This can leads to future hooks.

In the upcoming battle at the Glass Tower three players were unavailable. Saffron remained ill, Mo was knocked out while alone when the attack started, Shonie guarded the companions as a reserve force. All are things that could happen. New entry Mansaray comes to the Tower in a wary fashion, not knowing which side is his enemy until he’s just missed by an arrow.

The spider attack is something from the random encounters table. It is the mildest of attacks and done just to remind the players that there is not safety.

When The Five get to the Tower of Glass there is a role-played interrogation that gets interrupted. The interrogation is actually the break point for our 3 hour real world session.

The session with the attack is also only to be about three hours, it opens with conflict. The pace is a mix of fast and slow as the group learns/relearns combat. It is complex and in waves. Having four different waves forces the players to manage their resources. They know they will not have time to rest. Waves also provides both sides the opportunity to retreat, which one does.

Retreat should always be an option. Just as a total party kill is wrong to do to the players, it is something that a group of NPCs will actively avoid. In this case the leader and two sub-bosses get away. Their minions and their minions’ companions all perish.

Side Mission

Only two players could make the next session. This was handled by creating two possible side missions. They picked one through role-play, rushing off to track down the raider who fled on foot. The other choice was to send a message to Telse, past that area that had been spewing smoke a few days prior.

There are two encounters in this session. Both earned experience, even though only one involved death. During the second encounter when Saffron and Aamar escape from a patrol searching for them they won.

They were rewarded with xp for doing so. The reward was not quite as large as if they had killed the patrol, but that was because they were not fully successful. The patrol knew that someone was nearby. The partial success resulted in half xp given.

If xp is only given out for killings you create a game that is all about death. To this point every character earned xp for finding the Lorebook (a storypoint) and every character earned xp for winning a battle even if some of the enemy retreated. Saffron and Aamar also earned full xp for the man they captured and sent into servitude. Creating rewards for the type of play you want to see encourages that play in the future.

We’re in middle of the battle of Nak right now, so I’m not going to dive into how the first few waves were used.

Instead I’ll end pointing out that we are using the variant rule Gritty Realism (267 of the DnD5e DMG). That change was made during the play sessions and has had no effect on play. What it did was create a more narrative style of game that paced to one or two hard/deadly encounters on a typical day. The long rest will need to be in a place of sanctuary (say the Glass Tower, or semi-permanent encampment build with help of an outdoors specialist).

Since we are doing just a 3-4 hour session averaging every other weeks this less video-game like pace suits the group. It also means that they worry about the death a bit more. Having players worry that characters die is good. It encourages play that is both cautious and courageous. Knowing that you won’t die means you have no courage, something the DM does will save you. Most of the group already know what they want their next character to be.

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