Kind of a different topic today. I’ve talked a lot about board games, but I haven’t talked much about one of the trends in board games, and that’s expanding an existing game. Expansions give you more content in a board game in one of several […]
Month: May 2019
Welcome back for another Friday Night D&D, where I try and come up with different campaign ideas for myself to run sometime, or for you to run in your game. Today’s idea borrows from Hell to Pay, the 1.5 book of the Ascend Online series by Luke Chmilenko.
The basic idea is that you are all players tied into a thieves guild. Or several thieves guilds in their cities. So it’s a bit of a twist from the standard heroic game. However, I don’t think that this is a straight up evil game. The thieves guilds are going to be more neutral groups, sure they do criminal activity, but they aren’t too brazen about it, and really, they are a sub economy in the world and worried more about their economic status on the black market, versus killing everything that moves.
This again, might be something you have to pull your players back from, and since it’s going to be a big part of the game, it’s going to be something that you’d want to bring up in session 0. And I’d even lay out the consequences for what getting caught for some of the crimes are. Murder will be a beheading, stuff like that, and possibly even introduce an infamy track or something that tracks where they are in thieves guild hierarchy, and how much they are on the city watch/guards radars.
In this game, I’d have the story focus around a couple big points that are going to be tied together. One should be in the city proper and one should be among the thieves guild. They should be both introduced at the beginning of the game, to at least some level to get the ball rolling. Eventually you’ll tie them together so that the one of the two paths the players have been ignoring now becomes important.
I also wouldn’t do the “B-Team” thing, where the second story line is being tracked by a “B-Team” that, when they intersect with the players, fills them in on what they missed out from that path. I’d keep the two paths separate, and put some specific information on one path only that the players now don’t have. Just don’t make it something critical to the story that they’d need to know to put it all together in the end.
Start with small goings on in both the city proper and in the undercity where the thieves guilds reside. Let the players deal with some sort of summoned creature that is causing issues. Maybe have the big bad as an elemental mage who decided to use their powers to get a hold of one of the thieves guilds or blackmail them, while on the surface they are starting to take out the other noble families in order to get the throne at some point in time. You can start with some small elemental creatures showing up in places and trace is back to the one guild. If he’s taken over the guild, by magic or persuasion, you could even start a war between guilds.
Have the players raid hideouts to find information, have them have to track down drop locations and fight off members of the other guild as well as elementals. Have an attack on the thieves guild that the players are part of. Escalate it to the point where it becomes an issue that’s getting really big and impossible for the players to ignore and just do their own thing. But at the same time, have the players also still have to be pulling a heist here or there and deal with their own contacts and drops.
Or they if they are more focused on the surface, those other things are still happening, but they are having to break into the mages guild, sneak into noble houses to investigate what is going on. Tracking down assassins or having to protect a noble who has ties to your guild.
I think that either of those things can work well, and the other things should be going on in the background. At some point serious fighting will break out on the surface or in the undercity, and that’s when you should start tying things together. This is kind of what kicks off the climax of the game where now the stories are brought together. Eventually the players have to deal with whomever is causing the issues.
Finally, I will say, this doesn’t have to be a game of all rogues. A thieves guild is going to need a wide variety of things. Even a paladin or cleric are needed, because when other members come back injured, or even are brought back dead, you want someone able to heal them or bring them back to life. So let your players play whatever they want.
What are your thoughts on this game? Does it seem like an interesting game to play in? Do you like the idea of two different paths the players could take or bounce between?
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The most recent book I’ve listened to is yet another LitRPG novel, this one is more obviously one, just just as much of one as Sufficiently Advanced Magic. I’m actually onto the second book of the series (there are three out now), but I wanted to do a review of this first one.
Ascend Online, a book by Luke Chmilenko, is a story of a new, fully immersive video game that is coming out. It’s basically a surprise to everyone in the world that it’s happening, because, other places have tried immersive games, and they’ve failed. But this one looks much more impressive from the trailer and it certainly is. In fairly typical LitRPG style, the main characters end up in the video game and the whole of the story is spent there. Marcus and his friends go into the game together, but because Marcus takes longer than everyone else picking his character, he gets sent to a small village and separated from everyone else, instead of the main city. So it follows him as he has adventures and gets different quests while waiting for his friends to join him, beating the rush of adventurers who will be pouring out there for sure.
Now, that bit of synopsis screams edgelord, an edgelord, in this setting, is that character who would set themselves as an actual ruler of an area and do things that they think are dark and edgy that makes them cool. And there have been a few LitRPG stories that I’ve listened to where characters seem to be headed in that direction. Also a few authors who seem like they are trying to be that themselves. This book could have easily gone down that path, and you do run across some characters who get that sort of treatment in the book, but Marcus and his friends are actually good people. It’s really refreshing to see handled that way, and I think that is one of the things I appreciated about the book.
The other big thing I like about the book is that while it’s in a game, the author does take some steps to just write a fairly epic feeling fantasy story. Yes, we do get one of my least favorite bits, because it is a LitRPG, but the world is well conceived as compared to some other LitRPG’s that I’ve read where it just felt very generic. It felt much more like a video game than this one does. Now, like I was saying, we do get one of my least favorite things which is stat blocks and heads up displays that you get in actual video games. I think that in book form, that wouldn’t be as bad, but for an audio book, it makes for some boring listening. Since I’ve just listened to it, I’m going to assume that the book has it laid out in a table you can skim over faster than it takes someone to read it, especially when not a ton has changed always.
Let’s quickly talk about the actual writing in the book. This is another spot where I don’t want to say it’s bad, but it certainly isn’t good. I think that Chmilenko writes compelling characters and a fairly interesting story, tying different things together well, while stringing together different quests, but the actual writing is a bit clunky. This book could be made a lot better by just having a better editor, or having taken the advice of a good editor. It isn’t a case where there are just dumb sections of the book that could be cut, I think that they’ve done a good job of keeping what is needed, but there is a lot of need to clean up sentences. A word will be used in a sentence and then used again, or something will be described at the start and end of a sentence. Just a little more time on editing would have been able to clean up the sentences, that in some sections were pretty commonly bad and other sections were better, and made it an easier listen to. Does this take too much away from the book to make it listenable/readable? I think for a lot of people it might, which, is a shame, because I like the story. But it really pulls you from immersion when you feel like the author is repeating himself. I think I said this with Sufficiently Advanced Magic, if you are going to write and possibly self publish LitRPG work, find a good editor and listen to them. I know it might be beating a dead horse, but it’ll make a huge difference.
So, what do I think of the book and would I recommend it? Clearly I’m enjoying the book as I’m listening to what is technically book #1.5 in the series. Different cast of characters, but I think better writing than the first book. If you can make it through the rough sections of writing and want to check out a LitRPG book, I think it could be an interesting read. I think I might prefer Sufficiently Advanced Magic, though that one drags in spots more so than this one does. Ascend Online is a good book in the LitRPG genre, however, most books in the LitRPG genre seem to be less good than your standard fantasy. So yes, I can recommend it, but don’t spend much money on it, in fact, try and find it at your library if you can.
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Yes, I am stealing this from Marvel and what I think we’re likely to get in Marvel Phase 4 and forward.
In the Marvel comics, the Secret Invasion happens as super heroes are replaced slowly by the Skrull in a secret plan to take over the world. In Dungeons and Dragons, we have different monsters who can shape shift. These monsters are going to be the focal point of the story as they try and take over the world. This even includes some ancient dragons who might be leading the charge, if you want to go big at the end.
So, how do you make this work as a game?
For me, this campaign opens at some royal event that the players are at. I’d say start the players at third level, so that they have already been doing a little adventuring and might be a folk hero or something like that. I’d then go one of two ways, and maybe even both of the ways. But I’d have some sort of attack happen at this royal event, some sort of assassination attempt or something like that, and someone dies and is revealed as a shifter. Along with that, I’d have, in the panic, someone find a dead noble, who looks like they’ve been dead for a while, but someone the players will know was at the party.
Now, this could go one of several ways, but the the big focus of the adventuring party should be finding out who are the shifters and taking them out. It might turn into the players just killing everyone to see if they are a shifter. If that happens, throw the characters in prison, it’s pretty simple, to show that you can’t just kill a noble or someone because you think that they might be a shifter or a prove that they aren’t a shifter.
When and if that happens, I’d have the players be recruited by a secret organization within the kingdom. Some sort of SHIELD type agency, but that is way more hush hush than SHIELD actually is. The characters would have to sign something, most likely in blood with the characters knowing that just randomly murdering people will end up with them dying in their sleep.
From there, investigating would take place as the characters need to trace the money and figure out who might be a shifter as well. I think it should come out at some point in time that not even all the shifters know who the other shifters are, and that there might besome infighting or at least different factions in there. But I’d have it come out that there are a lot more shifters in the government than they might have guessed.
Now, the players might have the characters just start killing randomly again, but I’d do some sort of subtle reminder, have a contact in SHIELD come to them to see what they have, something like that, and I’d have some sort of arranged meetings with SHIELD so the players are used to it. SHIELD shouldn’t trust the players themselves, we’re going a bit Suicide Squad here (also was done to Venom) with the do what we want or you die.
Eventually, the players should have to fight there way through a bunch of shifters, following the money trail back up high enough to find that there are people in SHIELD who have been compromised and replaced and that someone who is a regular contact also has been taken out. While they’ve been tracking down information, that information has been going into the hands of a shifter who is trying to tie up loose ends after what happened with the noble at the beginning.
Just after this, I’d have the players find out information that shows where the shifters are keeping the people whom they have swapped with. Most of those people should still be alive including a surprise. This will be for you to judge as the DM, but if you think there is a player you can get on your side, reveal them as a shifter with them having been replaced some time in the adventure. Again, showing that the shifters aren’t the most organized. But this will require some buy-in from that player. So figure out who in your group might be up for that, and let them know when the swap takes place, but skills shouldn’t change, personality shouldn’t change much. Or do it as a surprise, to show how good the shifters are and give the player a chance to fight themselves.
Now the players should have a force from the camp of people who have been swapped out. Once they are freed, they can generally arm themselves, and I’d have some sort of confrontation. I’d probably do this as the ancient dragon who is pulling the strings, players should have figured this out by now, if they haven’t, a NPC from the camp can tell them, is walking up to the castle or wherever the noble lived to face off with him and tell him that there are now more shifters in his court than people and that the ancient dragon will now to be ruling. The players will have to take on the ancient dragon, while the other people who were freed are going to take out the copies of themselves.
That’s how I’d run a secret Invasion. I am not sure how you’d want to level this, and I feel like you’d need to flesh out some lower and mid level encounters to bring the players up to a level where they can fight an ancient dragon. I’d maybe even start them at level five so that they can get higher faster. This is also a game that is fairly light on combat, so I’d probably have some distraction missions that the shifters send the adventuring party on. Deal with some orcs, search for clues in some spot where they are going to have to fight.
What do you think of this idea? Does it sound like a game that you’d want to run or play in?
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