Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TMGS II: What Might Have Been, The Conclusion

Proceeding with the breakdown of the aborted TMGS-II, when Act II ended, the party had just returned from another dimension where they had been pursuing a priestess of Moander. They hadn't caught her, but they had determined the location of the Heart of Moander - the buried ruins of the city of Tsornyl in the Forest of Cormanthor.

Act III: The Heart of Decay
The party could have used one of two portals back home, either the one opened in the lair of the False Prophet or one from the ring they had picked up from the Moanderite leader in Act I. Either way, the party ends up back in the Priory of First Union, the final location of Act I. The trick is to then arrive at the Forest of Cormanthor, and to do that in a timely fashion, they need to use the portal described in my post on Act I. This portal requires rearranging the elven runes such that the portal takes them to the proper locale. Functionally within the game, this serves as a "puzzle" before they could proceed.

Traveling through Cormanthor, the party would battle blighted treants, Bits of Moander, and various undead of a suitable level. Along the way, I was planning on having an elven village that the players would need to ally with in order to find the actual location of the buried city. Securing the cooperation of this village would have proven a challenge and may have led to the addition of an another companion; I was thinking maybe an eldritch knight character.

Eventually, the party would have found the lost city, and this would have been the final dungeon complete with suitable tricks, traps, and encounters. The party eventually would have passed the corpses of the 12 baelnorn who had been guarding the heart along with numerous Moanderites. At this point, a cutscene would have shown the priestess fusing the Moanderite essence with his heart, allowing for the rising of Moander's avatar - essentially a big shambling mound. The avatar would have killed the priestess and the final battle would have been on. Again, the party would have comprised 5-6 characters of about 16th level at this point, so the challenge would have had to be suitable.

After the battle, I would have had a few wrap-up scenes, the last of which would have set up TMGS III. My gut is that the above would have expanded quite a bit to allow for at least a little bit of freedom at certain points, kind of how Waterdeep and the Bastion exterior allowed for a small bit of exploration in the otherwise linear final act of TMGS I. I didn't have any firm plans yet, although the elven village seems an obvious point to do this.

As for TMGS III, the basic premise was that the refugees from Veronsport would have arrived at the Bastion and, realizing St. Cuthbert held no power in Faerun, would have converted to Tyr. The Grand Prelate would have set aside some land for them to build a small village and then appointed the PC the village's lord and spiritual guide. Deacon LaRue would have served as the players' deputy in the religious order and Lord Roberts would have served as the mayor and secular leader under the PC's aegis.

The land would have had a small abandoned temple of one of the evil gods and so I would have made a small interlude where the PC and either Tancred/Verona alone would have cleared the place out. Then TMGS III would have been a stronghold-based campaign that I really hadn't planned too much yet. The stronghold would have been the cleared out temple in case that wasn't clear, and the refugees would have built a small town around it. Some evil deity would have featured, but there were a ton of candidates as yet. Talona kind of holds some interest for me, but I really had no firm ideas.

And that's it! Summarizing the plot only took about two years less than making the module. Next time will be something different... maybe an announcement. We'll see.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mid-Winter Cleaning

Did some quick clean-outs of my blog roll and got rid of those that hadn't updated in at least six months and then added the new blog from Ossian-mate Nemorem (aka Mat Jobe). There are some interesting posts there already, including one about the modding scene for DA, so check it out.

In other news, the composer of the music for TMGS, Strange Cat Productions, has released the TMGS soundtrack on Amazon with all the tracks remastered and a couple bonus tracks too. A quick perusal shows that it's something like 90 - 100 minutes of music. If you enjoyed the music and want to support a guy who's just breaking into the business, this would be a great (and reasonably inexpensive) way to do it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

TMGS II: What Might Have Been, Part II

Proceeding with the breakdown of the aborted TMGS-II, when Act I ended, the party had just entered a portal into another dimension in pursuit of a priestess of Moander.

Act II: The False Prophet
The party arrives in Veronsport, a moderately-sized town with cobbled streets, an assortment of wooden houses, and a large, but empty, port jutting out into an endless sea. Yet a pall of darkness hangs over the town, and the sky is tinged with a sickly green. Although there are people on the streets, the majority keep their heads down as they go about their business. The grass, trees, and shrubs around town, while technically alive, all look sickly and discolored.

The basic idea of the alternate dimension was to create a world in which the players would be very uncomfortable. Everything they “knew” about Faerun would not apply. The power structures and conventions would be different, the pantheon would be new, and monsters would have powers they would not expect. Maybe a few goblins would come at them and the player would assume it was going to be an easy fight only to have several fireballs hurled at them because "goblins" in this dimension are more powerful than on Faerun. My supreme hope was that I could get either Jonny Ree or someone like him to make me one or two odd monster models that would be a complete mystery to the player.

The alternate dimension also served as a warning as to what might happen to Faerun if the player did not succeed. In other words, I could eventually destroy it with absolutely no repercussions to the player’s world, but seeing that destruction adds urgency to the primary mission. There are now real consequences for Faerun if the party doesn't keep Moander dead.

Finally, the PC will pray here through a dialog with his/her holy symbol, since there will be no Tyrran altar. Although spells will be restored as normal, any attempt to ask Tyr a question during prayer will be met with silence. Eventually, the player will realize (or be told) that Tyr’s presence on this dimension is too weak (due to lack of worshippers) to be able to physically manifest and take an active role in this adventure as he did during TMGS I.

After some investigation in Veronsport, the player eventually learns the following:

1) The power centers in town are the mayor, Lord Roberts, and the Church of St. Cuthbert, headed by Deacon Holden LaRue.

2) Moander has slowly overtaken the entire realm. Everything beyond the gates of Veronsport has been absorbed by The Wasting, a creeping manifestation of Moander’s power that rots everything in its wake. Villages overtaken by The Wasting are now ghost towns filled only with rotted vegetation, decayed buildings, and bleached bones.

3) The townspeople have managed to keep the Moanderites at bay due to a well-trained militia, the determined resistance of the Church of St. Cuthbert, and a location on an easily-defendable peninsula, but there is little hope the town can resist The Wasting much longer. Already the initial signs are manifesting that the town is coming within its thrall (see the plants for examples).

4) The richest citizens who had boats or could afford to book passage have already fled the city. Although there is no other refuge on the continent, there are several islands far out to sea that no doubt have several years left before being overrun.

5) Several years back, there was an old man who spoke of the coming of Tyr’s Champion. Because Tyr was largely unknown in this dimension, and those who knew of him knew him to be a deity that had “died” here many years before, the man was derided as a False Prophet, mocked, and spat upon at every opportunity. He vanished some time back, although no one can really say when or even remember much about the circumstances of his disappearance. The player will be referred to Deacon LaRue for further information, as the Deacon was about the only friend he had.

At the Temple of St. Cuthbert, the player discovers that Deacon LaRue is away for the moment. If the PC asks about a Moanderite High Priestess that recently came through, the Cuthbertians will only say they know nothing. If the PC asks about The False Prophet, the Cuthbertian priests will note that they remember such a character but he spoke exclusively with the deacon. However, the church library does contain the False Prophet’s diary; Deacon LaRue had insisted that they save the document. If the PC reads the diary, they will learn – among other things – that The False Prophet had discovered the whereabouts of Moander’s decayed heart.

If the player approaches Lord Roberts, the mayor will note with interest the presence in town of some powerful adventurers and will only comment that he might have need of them shortly. This might allow for a sidequest from the mayor. Otherwise, it is obvious he is too busy planning the town’s final defenses.

This leaves the player to explore the town and engage in other sidequests. If they try to leave through the front gates, they will only be told that the gates are closed by order of the mayor in order to prevent any encroachment of The Wasting.

At some point, the St. Cuthbertians will send for the party. When the group returns to the temple, they will learn that Deacon LaRue isn’t simply away; he actually led a small elite band on a mission to strike at a nearby fortress that serves as the Moanderites’ forward base for their assault on Veronsport, but no one has returned. At this point, the St. Cutherbertians are convinced that something is wrong and would like to task the party with investigating the Deacon’s fate. They will also note that the fortress is likely to be where the High Priestess the PC is pursuing went (assuming the PC has revealed their mission here). Either way, the Cuthbertians point out the fortress’ locations and give the party a pass to leave the city.

The player quickly finds that his/her characters’ strength and constitution slowly decrease as long as they are within the Wasting, although the PC can restore these attributes with restoration spells. (However, the attributes will immediately begin to decrease again after the spell restores them.) Also, the Moanderite fortress – and anywhere else inhabited by the Moanderites – is free from this effect and the losses will cease so long as the players are within these buildings.

After battling through several odd monsters within The Wasting, the party finally assaults the Moanderite outpost and destroys the garrison there. Deacon LaRue can be found in some cells, where he will reveal that the High Priestess did, in fact, stop by for a sliver of Moander’s divine essence, but she has already procured this and returned to her own plane of existence. In addition, in case the player didn’t read the diary, he will reveal that the False Prophet had found the location of Moander’s heart. Finally, the deacon will volunteer that The False Prophet “disappeared” from Veronsport when he sailed across the sea some years before. He had been an old and sick man and, having won no new converts to Tyr in Veronsport, he had given up hope and retired to the Isle of the Dead to die.

As the Priestess now has a divine sliver of Moander, the only thing left is to stop her from fusing it with Moander’s heart, and the only person who knows that location is The False Prophet. However, obtaining a boat to the Isle of the Dead in a port devoid of ships will be difficult.

Back at Veronsport, Deacon LaRue will consult with the party and Mayor Roberts about using the Mayor’s personal yacht. The mayor will note that the destruction of the Moanderite outpost has bought the town a few more days, and in thanks, he will agree to loan the PC his yacht... on two conditions: that the PC allow the entire remaining population of the town to use the portal back to Faerun once their mission is complete and that Deacon LaRue join them on the journey to The Isle of the Dead. It is assumed the player will agree to this, and they will be able to depart for the Isle of the Dead with Deacon LaRue in tow.

The Isle of the Dead was to have been very much like the old P&P module “Isle of Dread” complete with dinosaurs, dragons, oversized animals, and a lost temple. The party would consist of six or so 13th-14th level characters at this point, so the challenges would have to have been pretty tough, and this area would have been organized something like Saleron’s Gambit Part IV.

After several adventures, the party penetrates to the depths of the temple to find a single skeletal figure praying at an altar to Tyr. The figure will rise, address the PC as Tyr’s Champion, and then tell a strange story.

In life, he was a devotee of Tyr living as a hermit on Faerun and spending most of his days on a mountain in prayerful meditation and solitude. One day, Tyr came to him in a vision, saying there was a mission uniquely suited to him. He was to proceed through a portal into a new dimension in which the last Tyrran had died decades before. Because there were no Tyrrans in this alternate dimension, Tyr held no power whatsoever there, but if he were to go to that dimension, his existence would allow Tyr to grasp the slimmest of toe-holds.

(Note that in TMGS I, when Tyr talks to the PC on the snowy mountain during the Trial by Tyr's Justice - when the ranger companion is looking for them - Tyr will mention that Malar was able to enact his plans in secret partially because Tyr's attention had been drawn to Tethyr and a distressing situation developing on another plane entirely. This was yet another presaging of TMGS II.)

The False Prophet briefly attempted to win converts to Tyr as a means of increasing Tyr's power in this dimension, but his primary mission was to keep an eye on the Moanderites, uncover the location of Moander's heart, and determine when and under what circumstances the Moanderites would attempt to raise him again.

Eventually, it became obvious that The Prophet would fall asleep before Moander's plans came to fruition, but instead of allowing him to die, Tyr converted him to unlife. The Prophet needed to live long enough to maintain Tyr's miniscule hold here. In addition, because Tyr's power here is not enough to manifest at will and state the information directly, the Prophet would be able to pass to the coming Champion the information he had gleaned about Moander's plans and the location of his heart.

Next, he will present an arcane text to the PC that details how Moander’s heart is being guarded by twelve Cormanthyrian baelnorn (good liches) in the ruins of the ancient city of Tsornyl in the depths of the Forest of Cormanthor. Finally, the False Prophet will note that his life’s purpose is now complete and that he has earned his rest, and his bones will simply collapse to the floor as a portal opens behind him.

The party can use this portal, but Deacon LaRue will note that the PC made a promise to Mayor Roberts about saving the people of the town. The player will be able to return to the town and use the Moanderite ring to reopen a portal to Faerun in town or else they can give the ring to the Deacon, have him return, and use the existing portal. Ideally, returning to the town will lead to a tougher Act III – as the Moanderites will have more time to prepare – but add a few resources in TMGS III, as the party will be able to save a few more people from the Moanderite siege there. Whatever path they take, the party is on its way back to Faerun and Deacon LaRue leaves the party for good.

Note that Deacon LaRue, Mayor Roberts, and the refugees from Veronsport would have all played a role in TMGS III, but that’s for another time.

Next Post: Act III: The Heart of Decay

Thursday, January 6, 2011

TMGS II: What Might Have Been

OK, I've taken a couple months off and I'm more convinced than ever that I'm done with large projects. It's not that I'm out of ideas; I've got enough of those, but as I stated previously, I can't justify the time expenditure given other more important commitments. My problem is that TMGS I took well over two years of pretty intense work. Backing off to a level I'm comfortable with would mean TMGS II wouldn't see the light of day until 2017, and that's simply ridiculous.

I am, however, inclined to put out small projects of only one to two hours of play time more akin to good sidequests than anything else. I'm building a belief in my mind that that's probably the way to go to be able to indulge a bit in a hobby without sacrificing other things that are important. Nothing that I've said until now is new for this blog except that my mind is still resolved on that after a couple months, but everything I type from here on out will be first time.

I've already started a bit on a small project. It's a small continuation of TMGS with the same cast of characters, but I'll delay further announcement on the specifics for another time.

For now I've been thinking about releasing my thoughts on where I would have taken TMGS in future full-length campaigns. All of this would have been secret, of course, had I committed myself to releasing them, but now that I've committed to the opposite, there's nothing to lose and I figure some people might be curious.

If you don't want to know, stop now. I'll wait...

OK, if you're still here, you must be interested, so here goes.

First, while TMGS I concentrated on establishing the relationship between the PC and his/her principle companion - either Tancred or Verona - TMGS II would have returned to a full party with the ranger love interest forming just one of the group, albeit one that would have required further exposition and greater attention.

TMGS I also focused on establishing a second crucial relationship that would have flourished in part II: Gron. In part II, the orcish prince would have played the part of bad-ass tank and bruiser. He would have been something like a barbarian 7/divine champion 4, had very high strength and constitution, and sliced and diced with his massive battle axe. The core relationship would have been one of new convert & mentor with him asking a variety of tough theological questions that the PC could have answered a number of ways.

This was why so much time in TMGS I was spent on a seemingly innocuous side story at the orc village and the Tomb of the Just Ones. I always "knew" that Gron was coming back, and he needed to have an established reason to implicitly trust the PC and also accept him/her as an authority figure, at least in a religious sense.

So that gives us the cleric PC, the ranger love interest, and Gron. The fourth member of the group was going to be a female moon-elf bard with an as-yet unsettled name, although for current purposes we'll call her Sylvaria (a likely candidate). This character, an ambassador from the Church of Oghma, would have been met at the adventure's outset and would have, in fact, been the initial quest giver. More on that later.

The final member of the party was as yet still murky. I had a few thoughts but the two most likely were a male human rogue or a male half-drow wizard. The background of each and where they would have been met were different from each other and still not 100% set, but the most likely scenario is given in my summary of Act I below.

The level range would have been set to start around 12 and end around 15-16.

Now for the plot.

Act I: Darkness Rising

The player is recalled to the Bastion of the Maimed God by the newly-elected Grand Prelate. After some scene-setting, they are led into the council chamber – the same one in which Dezlentyr gave his speech in TMGS I – in which a meeting of the church elders is being conducted. Central to this meeting is an Oghmite ambassador, Sylvaria, who has come bearing news of an ancient prophesy that foretells the return of the Darkbringer when certain signs are manifest. These signs, including a comet in the southern sky and a great earthquake in the east, have now come to pass, and the Oghmites seek aid from a religious order with more military might to stop the impending return. Note that “The Darkbringer” is a well-known nickname for Moander, so the identity of the new threat will be immediately known in contrast to the plot structure of TMGS I. For those who may not know, Moander, the one-time lord of rot and decay, was killed during the Time of Troubles.

Next the new Grand Prelate introduces the PC, a rising star in the church who now has a reputation for resourcefulness and solving special problems, and the trio of Sylvaria, the PC, and the PC’s love interest, either Tancred or Verona, depart for the Starmounts, a range of mountains deep within the High Forest that are the only locale specifically mentioned in the prophecy.

The group has a few adventures along the way, one of which leads to the addition of Gron. Gron claims to have had dreams in which he was ordered to aid the High Witch/Great Shaman against the enemies of Tyr and so he left his village to come west to find the PC. Another possible addition in one of these adventures is a human rogue.

Once in the High Forest, the party infiltrates a ruined mountain outpost of the ancient elven empire of Earlann, an empire of special fascination for both Verona and Tancred. As the party works its way up levels towards the mountain’s peak, they encounter several tricks, traps, and unique battles. Not all of these tricks are “mad wizard” puzzles; some are nothing more than finding a way across a fallen bridge or around a collapsed tunnel. Within this dungeon, the party encounters an old forge still manned by a ghostly blacksmith who presents Verona/Tancred with a magical short sword, long ago forged for the warrior of nature that would defeat the Darkbringer. (Note that this scene was presaged in TMGS I if the PC managed to convince the companion to discuss their dreams during one of the fireside chats.)
Atop the Star Mounts, the party finds the Priory of First Union, a temple jointly devoted to Corellon Larethian and Sehanine Moonbow and their initial union of blood and tears that first formed the elven race. On the snowy peak, the group confronts and does battle with another high-level party of Moanderites with as-yet unknown motives. This is the boss fight for Act I. After defeating these adversaries, the group finds a strange ring on the corpse of the party’s leader, but without any other clues, they have no choice but to enter the temple.

Within are histories on the wall that tell of the defeat of Moander by the elves of Cormanthyr (to be clear, these defeats are not the final one that caused his death - way different eras) and still more prophecies of his eventual death and return. The group will learn through ancient texts that the heart of Moander lies dormant in the forest of Cormanthor and only awaits a sliver of Moander’s divine energy to rise again. As they explore the temple, the party finds a room with a portal. An investigation may reveal – depending on the PC’s skills – that the portal once allowed instant travel to any part of the elven empires and even into other elven strongholds. The destination was set by assembling a series of magical runes into the sides of the portals with each combination of runes accounting for a specific destination portal. Further on, the party comes to a final altar room that has been ransacked and now contains the freshly-killed corpse of a half-drow wizard.

The party members will strongly suggest the PC “raise” the drow, a power now well-within the abilities granted by Tyr to the PC, so that they can interrogate him. Once done, he reveals that the Moanderites hired him to guide them to this temple so that they could learn exactly where the heart of Moander was located within Cormanthor. The Moanderite High Priestess apparently discovered the location in one of the texts and took it with her. But before she left, she killed him to prevent him from revealing just the information he now gives to the PC. In addition, he learned through communicating with the Moanderite party en route to this temple that they intended to gain the requisite divine spark in another dimension where the cult of Moander still holds supreme power. Each of the two Moanderite leaders had a ring that would allow a portal to that dimension to open. The PC should now recognize that the High Priestess had one but the second must be the ring they found on the corpse outside the temple. Finally, the half-drow mentions he is a wizard of some power and asks to join the group so that he can enact revenge on the Moanderites for the betrayal. There will be some hesitation on the part of Sylvaria (a moon elf) and Gron (an orc), but they will eventually agree if the PC presses the need for more strength before journeying into the Moanderite dimension.

With everything now settled, the group uses the ring to open a portal to the new dimension and chase after the High Priestess, not only to stop her acquiring the divine spark of Moander, but also – as a last resort – to learn the specific location of Moander’s slumbering heart.

Next Post: Act II: The False Prophet

For the record, all my acts have names, although they are never seen on-screen. For TMGS I, the three act names were “Descent into Darkness” for Act I, “The Curse of the VanGhaunts” for Act II, and “Excommunicate” for Act III.