In D&D, and other RPG’s, fairly often a special item is just something like a +1 sword, yay, you can hit better and do more damage, but not all that exciting. Every adventurer worth their salt has a +1 sword. The same for a ring …
So, one of the interesting things from the Covid-19 pandemic is that we’re seeing some movies that wouldn’t have hit streaming nearly as quickly get a streaming release, and one of these films, Onward, was one that I had been planning on seeing, not in …
Pretty often when playing in a game of D&D or another RPG, there’s a world or universe ending event that has to be dealt with, and this can be fun because it really ups the stakes for the end of the game. You get to have this awesome face off with a deity or something that has this power and fight it for the fate of the world, and then the campaign ends.
But what would happen if you lost that final fight, the world is now in shambles and everything is going to hell, or the abyss, and sometimes that means literally. Today’s campaign idea takes a look at what happens after the fact, but not to the planet but to those heroes who fought bravely and in the end failed at being able to save the world, they’re all dead, and now they are level 1 characters in the next life, the afterlife. But because the apocalypse has come to their world, this Crystalline Halls of what’s basically Valhalla are starting to crumble and there is evil seeping into a place that shouldn’t have had any.
The story that I’d run with for this game is that because the heroes were the last ones to die, they remember and no more about the actual world. So while there are massive wars between Aasimar and Demons/Devils around them, the players are going to be tasked to find some way to undo what has been done. This is going to be a game about fighting a few small skirmishes, but exploring and finding where in the Crystalline Halls the PC’s can find what they need to turn back time and win the fight against whatever being it was that destroyed the world.
I think that you have several different plot threads that you can have the players run through. The first part would be about finding where the Demons/Devils are coming through into the Crystalline Halls. This would be a stealth mission of sorts, but there can be skirmishes with lesser creatures. Then they would have to explore in the abyss to find out the weaknesses of the being that destroyed the world that they couldn’t defeat before. Finally, they’d need to find a way to turn back time, either from the abyss or in the Crystalline Halls.
That is a fairly standard, end the apocalypse, but you’re going to be running the story in a different setting. I think creating the setting is very important here, because you want the players to feel like what they are doing is because they have specific knowledge, not because they are going to be able to stop the battle that is happening in the Crystalline Halls, if they fail at their mission, they fail and everything is over, there’s no after-afterlife.
I’d even be tempted to play around with the rules of magic a little bit. Only radiant damage works in the Crystalline Halls, but healing is boosted, and as long as a spell doesn’t do necrotic or fire damage, it does radiant damage instead. Also in the Crystalline Halls, anything that brings someone back from the dead doesn’t work, same when travelling in the Abyss, because the characters are technically already dead. However, healing is doubled in the Crystalline Halls, so if you’d heal someone for 6 points of damage, you heal them for 12 instead. Just to keep the characters alive. Now, in the Abyss, healing goes back to normal and spells do their normal things.
Another thing I’d probably add in as well, is that the players at some point in time stumble across a subplot where an Aasimar has been corrupted somehow or has turned evil and they are turning other denizens of the Crystalline Halls into Devils or Demons. You could even, once the players know about this, kind of use it as a timer where if they don’t stop the Aasimar or go back in time by a certain point the Crystalline Halls will have been overrun and all will be lost. It gives a solid branching plot for the narrative, like if the players feel like they won’t be fast enough, they can branch off and solve this problem first. And I’d make it some sort of magical item that the Aasimar has on or something like that which has been corrupted, or it’s a denizen of the Abyss or Hell who is disguised and pretending to be a specific Aasimar and the players need to prove that. Give it a few options there as well and see what direction the players immediately go with. But don’t make this an easy encounter, make it something that the players are either going to have to really race against, taking more risks, or it’s a fight that they’re going to need to prepare for.
Eventually, when the players likely have taken care of it all, and are ready to head back in time to stop the apocalypse from happening, give them some knowledge of the weaknesses of the being and probably some sweet weapons. Make them powerful, really powerful, maybe even give them boons that they can call on. Then send in waves of smaller monsters plus the big being that ended the world before and have an epic fight. Let the players do epic things and let the waves of smaller monsters die and run out, so eventually it’s that big final battle.
Would you play or run a game like this? What sort of story do you have at your table now?
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I’m a little bit late to the party, but this show based off of a series of comics by Joe Hill. And I was very interested in it from having read the first trade paperback for it, but also because Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. So take one of my favorite authors, and find out that his son is doing a horror comic that’s being turned into a show, that sounds great to me.
Locke & Key follows a family who is moving back into the families home after tragedy has struck them. Rendell, their father, has passed away so Nina picks up and takes the kids from Seattle to Mattheson, Massachusetts. None of the kids, except the youngest, Bode, are excited to be there. But when Bode hears a voice in the well house talking back to him when he makes his voice echo, it’s clear that this isn’t a normal house. Soon Tyler and Kinsey are drawn into the crazy world that the house holds with many magical keys and Echo, the voice from the well who has gotten out. What does Echo want and why can’t their mother, Nina, remember anything about the keys?
Let me quickly give my thoughts on the show and then I’ll go into more depth. There might be some spoilers later on, but I’m going to try and keep them to a minimum. I really liked this show, even though it isn’t as dark and horrific as the first trade paperback, there’s definitely a very interesting and creepy story behind it. And that was enough for me, plus Joe Hill did the work on it to keep it in the spirit of the books, but not have to go fully dark. However, because of that it has much more of a YA feel to it, so if you’re a huge fan of the comics, know that before you jump in. There are a few things that stand out to me for the show.
The first thing is the acting. Most of the time, you have a cast that is mainly teen age (though teen in acting can be early 20’s) or kid actors, the acting will end up being suspect. However, in Locke & Key they do an amazing job. The actor who plays Bode, Jackson Robert Scott, does a great job. Bode is supposed to be a wide eyed 8-10 year old in the show, and you can really see that in the acting. He does a very good job of portraying an innocence and sincerity to his acting. And I won’t go into it a ton with the other actors, but the actors portraying Kinsey and Tyler, Emilia Jones and Connor Jessup respectively, do really good work as well. There are shifts in their acting as you get to see more of their character and as their characters change that are really well done. Even the adult acting is well done and it doesn’t just feel like so many YA stories where there’s a group of teens and no adults believe them and then the adults are wrong.
Another thing is that while this leans into horror tropes and supernatural elements that could seem cliche, it does a good job of keeping them different. When we were watching through it, it felt to Kristen and myself like several things we’ve seen or played before, Haven, Life is Strange, Oxenfree, and more, but it still felt unique. The element of the keys and how they work is really well done. And you can see where Joe Hill is borrowing form the work that his father has done before, but in a very respectful and well done way. I got numerous callbacks to IT in the show, and I appreciated that. It’s really that none of the tropes it used felt out of place or felt like they were forced in there because it’s horror or anything like that, it just flowed naturally.
Let’s talk a bit more about the story before I wrap up here. Like I said, the story is not going to be as heavily horror focused, which I’m fine with. While I love some good horror, there’s something whimsical about the keys that lends itself not just to horror but to this more fantastical element as well, and the show leans into that some more. As things unfold, there is definitely more horror and violence, but there’s also a sense of fantasy or magic to the story. Like I said previously as well, it doesn’t fall into the storytelling tropes of YA where the kids are smart and the adults are dumb and don’t believe the kids. It avoids some of that by a nifty plot device that they explain but also by just having the kids do their own thing. They use the grief of Rendell’s death and Nina’s reaction to it to drive some of why Kinsey and Tyler don’t bring as much to her as well, which I think is well done. And Bode is just too Bode to think about that.
So, I’ve said that I like the show, but would I recommend it to everyone? I’d lean towards no. It still has horror elements, so some people aren’t going to love that as much. Kristen actually stopped watching part ways through episode one because of some of the creepy stuff that was going on. But in the middle of the season, it hit more of that fantasy and whimsy, so I stopped and we rewatched it because I knew that she’d like it. So there’s definitely a piece where if people aren’t horror fans they’ll enjoy it as well, and like myself, Kristen and I are waiting for, hoping for, a second season to come out. Definitely an interesting show and if the trailer seems interesting, they do a good job and it’s worth checking out.
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Let’s get back into talking about some of the Worlds of Dungeons and Dragons, I’m talking about what I’d consider to be the most vanilla of their settings first, though, there are some that give it a run for its money. That, of course, is the one which most of the books for Fifth Edition D&D has come out in, The Forgotten Realms.
The Forgotten Realms, also known as the lands of Faerun, is your standard fantasy setting in that it’s a world that’s made for the important people to be epic heroes in the end. The struggle for characters isn’t if they can become a hero, but what sort of hero they are going to become. It’s very much in the realm of a Lord of the Rings or Wheel of Time, where there isn’t a question that they are going to become the heroes of the story or who those heroes are, but the question is how that story will unfold for them becoming a hero.
Now, if you’re reading this and that sounds great, that’s why it’s their main setting. It allows you to be that hero it allows you to play in tropes that you’re going to be very familiar with. People know Lord of the Rings or understand the concepts of that type of story telling because how it’s been integrated into society. And it is also nice because basically anything goes for a story. Just from what has been officially released from Dungeons and Dragons, you have adventures where you can fight dragons, demons, giants, pull a heist, defeat a god, and more. It is made to have something for everyone.
That’s also the weakness of it. It’s very generic because of that. You can’t but in an odd quirk about it if you’re going to have any sort of adventure there. As we get into some of the other worlds you can play in, in Dungeons and Dragons, you’ll find that they are more tailored for a specific style of game. Because this is more generic, it’s more versatile, but it’s always going to feel a little bit plain. I would refer to The Forgotten Realms as D&D’s starter world. It’s a good thing for that, but for people who have been steeped in fantasy for a long time, or in RPG’s for a long time, it’s going to feel a little bit too vanilla.
Let’s talk a little bit about what The Forgotten Realms has for people to explore. Again it’s fairly standard as well, you have a handful of nations, but then city states and towns scattered across the realm. Unlike a Star Wars planet, there is a diverse ecosystem that you can play your games in, again, giving you that massive variety of locations so that the world can support whatever type of game you want to play in it. A lot of the adventures are at least going to start from the Sword Coast and the main city there is going to be Waterdeep. Waterdeep does offer you some interesting things, basically masked lords who are running the city, but keeping their identities secret (or most are). If you want to play a more political and smaller game without characters wandering through the world, Waterdeep is where you’re likely going to set the game.
There are more things to talk about as we look at races and classes. Though, this is going to be fairly boring, again. Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition is set in The Forgotten Realms, that means that all the races and classes from the players handbook are going to work just fine in your game. If you want to play something more unique, there are options for those in some of the expanded content for the game, but you’re mainly going to see your standard races and standard classes in there. This, again, is going to be good for that starter setting for players who know some about fantasy but aren’t ready to jump into a fantasy where tropes don’t hold up and expectations are being subverted.
And, finally, just to talk about magic and the gods of this world. This is a pretty high magic world. While I’m going to get to worlds that have more magic, being a caster isn’t something that would be all that surprising. Especially with how the gods interact with the world. They are very much a part of it, and for that reason you have Clerics and Paladins who are going to be casting divine magic that you could see around the lands. There are Wizarding schools and plenty of beings who will be happy to make a pact with you. Again, it feels somewhat basic with their magic and gods. They want it to be normal so that players don’t have to feel like they need to play the outcast character if they are playing someone who is all about proselytizing or if they have magic.
So, to wrap up, The Forgotten Realms are a great starter location. It’s going to be a little bit bland, but it’s going to be familiar to even people who don’t know a ton about fantasy, because this is standard fantasy and parts of the world are even standard writing/story. Would I play a game in the Forgotten Realms, sure I would, though, I’d try to push it weirder than the setting would normally go to create a sort of unique feel to the game that makes it feel different than Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time.
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