As Todd and I and a few friends started talking about running a new campaign for Arrowflight I volunteered for the game master chair. There was a scenario I had run a couple of years back that we had to cancel before finishing because my family and I moved out of town. I thought it would be a fun run for the mixed experience group we were putting together. In my first run-through we had to stop before we got to the really cool twist and I really wanted to get to the really cool twist. (We’re not there yet. Still 2 or 3 sessions out.)
The set up is straight forward. The players have each been hired to guard a caravan heading back home. The trip to the current city was rough with the usually easy roads having a lot of goblin and troll attacks so the caravan leader wants extra protection. The night before they leave the leader of the caravan is murdered. It is a locked room mystery and there are not enough clues to solve it then and there so the caravan heads for home. Adventures (and clues to the mystery) ensue along the way. All well and good but then Todd threw a wrench into everything. (It’s his way.)
Todd created an elven noble who is crazy good with a bow. He didn’t min/max the character (which is incredibly difficult to do in Arrowflight) but he pushed it right to the limit. And as I looked at his character and thought about my bloodthirsty hordes waiting to attack the caravan I thought my hordes don’t stand a chance. As long as the Lady Zarabeth (Todd’s character) had decent cover she would murderize my hordes. What to do? Easy. Take away the bow.
And really, Todd has no one to blame but himself for this. You see with the creation of the Airship Daedalus game and books Todd has driven home the fundamentals of pulp story creation. One of the first is “First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble.” (Quick aside, check out the definitive guide to writing pulp short stories by legendary pulp writer Lester Dent, writer of the Doc Savage novels, among many others. It is a heaping barrelful of great advice you can translate into campaign creation.)
How best to do that? Well we already had a murder, so let’s have a frame up. Quickly follow it with an arrest and confiscation of all the goodies. Now this wasn’t done just to give Lady Zarabeth some alone time away from her bow (she has an obsession), it worked for the whole party. Turin the mage had all of his spells using his staff as a special focus. Once the staff is taken away, he can’t use his spells and is now forced to use his other skills. Korfe, the Montaka ambassador doesn’t speak the native language. Getting caught up in something like this presents interesting political dimensions and tough problem solving around the language barrier. Tyna and P’trice have reasons not to trust authority figures and reasons not to be in one place too long. Plus now instead of just sharing stories over ale in the tavern, the party has an intense way to bond.
I need to emphasize that none of this was done to be mean or to be an adversarial GM. It was one way to build tension, force players to get creative in problem solving and create a space for roleplaying. And yes, once they have their stuff back I give them some foaming at the mouth hordes to cut loose and murderize.
All that is left is for me to create the villains behind the set up and tie them in with the villains of the original scenario. For this, corrupt officials who are working with the Cult of Marg fit quite nicely. And away we go.
The party handled it well. I mean besides carrying a deep and abiding grudge for the marshal who arrested them. You will have to stay tuned for details on how it went down. First though I want to take a couple of posts to talk about the player characters and the choices behind their creation.
‘Til next time. Game on.