Monday, 15 January 2018

Retrospective 16 - The Beginning of the End of the World

It finally happened. They finally unleashed something that will actually truly definitely destroy the entire world.
Shub-Niggurath rises. My world begins to die.
It's pretty fucking exciting actually.
If you love your world, set it free.

In further apocalyptic news, in the beginning of December my laptop tragically stopped charging. Alas, especially since it fucked up a mere few weeks after the warranty expired.

Tom drew this very very good meme
Luckily I was a clever boy and all my dnd stuff was on an SD card so all was not lost.
This is also the reason I took too long to write this retrospective woops. I'll pretend like we've only got up to Session 160 for this post.

But before I delve into the big deal of trying to deal with an actual world-destroying threat, I need to delve into the party's biggest success - eliminating the Mould!
This fucking mould has been around for the longest time. It's even in my first ever blog post.
I'm pretty sure the first time anybody encountered mould creatures was way back in July 2014, but it's hard to tell with the rather svelte recaps. Since then it's been growing and growing in the background while players went to different places and did different things, always knowing that the forest is where the mould is.
Of course the Mould really began looming large in the party's cultural consciousness from April last year. Suddenly everybody was getting infested with this highly contagious, very effective, surprisingly desirable drug-disease. Characters had to be killed by other characters to stop it spreading and a sort of lingering fear of the mould really took hold.

And then, for the Halloween special, I ran Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess.
At the end of this one there's a statue that grants a wish... but the twist is that the statue (that is to say, the DM) gets to add half as many extra words on the end to "make it interesting".
After about half an hour of intense debate, they wished the Mould away forever. Good work!

The downside was, as you may have guessed, that Shub-Niggurath began to rise. This is something I'd had on a secret timeline since the timeskip, but the threat certainly hadn't felt imminent to the players.
The mistake I made was having no obvious imminent clock ticking down, it was just a secret back-of-house thing. They'd managed to keep the tentacles down by defeating the big one back in May, but without obvious consequences other than me just kinda flat out saying "yea that would have got a lot worse if you hadn't killed it".
Now that the world is properly ending, the stakes are obvious and in the open. The threats are obvious and in the open. Weird shit is obvious and in the open. The timeline to the apocalypse is set.
It's much more exciting.
So that's my main lesson going into the end of the world - be obvious with time bombs and be obvious with stakes. The more the players know about, the more they have to worry about and the more choices they have.

Another thing I really enjoyed about these sessions was Seraph Dawnstride's small but significant arc. Tom has a habit of going off on his own if he's bored of what everyone else is doing. Usually he goes off and dies by what I fondly refer to as "sticking his dick in a blender" ie. dying to something obviously bad.
Usually this is frustrating because he wants to go off somewhere I haven't prepped or thought about much, but this sacrifice had real weight. He sent his character off to the capital city Fate to meet up with his old pre-timeskip character who had become Queen.
In so doing, Seraph sowed religious dissent and was soon summarily and publicly executed for her crimes against the State. Sure, she died. Sure, she didn't fight her fate. But she tipped the city from simmering discontent over into revolution.
I feel like the players might not have realised the true revolutionary impact of her death. Spoilers, but in the background of the campaign the Queen will soon be deposed by a popular revolution of religious zealots whose slow-boiling hatred of the Queen's Necromancer-friendly policies has finally boiled over.
Just in time for the ancient apocalypse failsafes of this brass-and-steam city to trigger and begin to reconfigure into Battlefortress Fate. Leaderless. Divided. Better than I could have planned. It's going to get capital-I Interesting.

The big party theme as we settle into a phase of dealing with the apocalypse has been "get everyone else to stop the apocalypse for us" which is absolutely the best thing I have ever had the honour of presiding over as a dungeon master.
It's been years of the same party getting to grips with the different ever-present threats in my campaign world, and now that it's down to the fucking wire everyone's very aware of who, why and how the different ever-present threats can help with their really really big attempt to daisy-chain a solution to the apocalypse.
Currently I'm pretty sure the plan is to get the Apocalypse Dragon Ninhursag to kill/stymie Shub-Niggurath, then get the Undead to destroy Ninhursag, then work out how to destroy the undead, and so on and so on.

Trust in the intrinsic goodness of humanity, especially when put under pressure, might be one of my deepest held and possibly stupid beliefs. When a disaster occurs people help people to survive. We've seen examples of this forever. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. Whatever. When shit goes wrong, the usual short term reaction is to stick together and to keep each other safe. It's not immediate Mad Max every man for themselves like your generic zombie apocalypse might suggest.

This definitely spills over into the game.
A lot of the challenges involved with saving the world seem to be persuading people that there is something more important than their immediate interests. I've been trying to give every potentially villainous entity a legit reason for the actions since forever, and suddenly these motives have been coming to the surface and being really useful for me as the DM. If your entire life has been trying to stop the undead from killing every human being in the world, it's hard to hear that the whole point of the undead scourge is to create an army that can kill a far more terrifying threat.
I love the talky solution to the apocalypse, getting everyone to unite for one last desperate chance to prevent the destruction of the world. It's completely my jam.


Jesus we spent a lot of time here. It's a very generic megadungeon. I tweaked a lot of the content to, for instance, make the magic items more spooky undead themed instead of generic +1 whatever.
Another thing I did was to add some campaign history into the friezes and frescoes and stuff. I really like how Dwimmermount has a lot of history inside it that applies outside of the dungeon, and it really worked!
I'll do a post about how I fiddled with the Barrowmaze later I'm sure.
On the negative side, lack of morale and lack of talky baddies can make fights pretty boring if you don't really try to amp it up. I didn't realise how boring no-morale combat was before I ran Barrowmaze. I flew too close to the OSR sun, man.
If I was to run Barrowmaze again I'd probably make the skellingtons more talky.

Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess:
Fucking excellent. Lots of weird shit. Lots of looks-nice-but-is-horrid. Lots of brutal murder by happy cuddly bears and happy cuddly purple poodles. Lots of familiar lotfp goodness. Great fun.
The tainted wish at the end is juuuust perfect.

Folded Fortress:
Anyway I basically took a non-euclidean map from a One Page Dungeon and rekeyed it. It's now the lair of the Gravity Dragon and parallel dimension paradox-clones of other characters who emerged from Dunnsmouth. It was pretty fun for me to see the players meet alternate versions of themselves, or even of dead characters.
If you are a player and you are reading this and you are Fraser - sorry dude, the map is four dimensional so mapping's gonna get fucking weird. You've been doing a really good job, but this will really push your mapping to the limittt.

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