Campaign Diary: Ark, the Eternal Refuge – Upside

by NPC Aaron

I apologize for my absence the last couple of weeks.  I was sick and then had a lot to deal with. Regardless, we are pressing on and I am going to do my best to have something written up every Monday.

Last time we left the campaign with our heroes having endured some pretty heavy losses.  One character’s home was burned to the ground, and another’s ex-wife was murdered.  The characters had decided to hole up in a church basement along with the two elven children they had rescued.  At the end of the last session they had decided to stop letting things happen to them and planned to take on boss Qarl and the Qarl Syndicate.

Turning Things Around

Campaigns need ups and downs.  You can take things away from the players but they need to also gain things and I felt like I needed to focus on the positive this session.  The players were now planning to fight back and I wanted to reward that.  The first tangible reward was the simplest kind: loot.

I wanted to enhance the mysterious nature of the children so I decided to kill two birds with one stone.  The next time the players and the children interacted, the children accidentally enchanted player items that they touched, leaving NPC Chris’ character Trace, and Brendan’s character Icantnam with some magical weapons.  They haven’t figured out exactly what the nature of the enchantment is, but using the children as the source had to increase their curiosity.

The next reward was less tangible.  I wanted to give further character to the Qarl Syndicate since the players were now going to try and topple them.  I came up with a leadership structure based on dominance.  Boss Qarl didn’t found the syndicate, he just defeated the previous leader, and each time the leader was defeated, the syndicate elevated the usurper and took his name.  With the players about to fight Qarl, the chances were good one of them would be rewarded with leadership of this organization, but really it would give all of the PCs and organization of allies for once, rather than just more enemies.

The Confrontation

Last week we found out that Chris’ ex-wife Lyranna had been murdered by shadowy figures.  I texted Del to let him know that this sounded like the work of Shindrogon’s harvesters.  The  other players didn’t seem to suspect that at first though.  When Del had his scene via email with Vernon, Shindrogon’s chief Harvester, he was told to stand down should harvesters come for his allies or the children.  I decided that should come into play now that things were heating up.

The players told Qarl to meet them at the fountain near where Eaton’s had been.  Before Qarl could show up, the Harvesters attacked.  The players defeated them, and Del disobeyed his orders, refusing to stand down and helped his allies survive.  I thought this was interesting character growth, and made note of it so I could start figuring out how Del’s story would develop.

Qarl arrived as the players defeated the Harvesters and let the players know the shadows had come for him too.  The players didn’t really seem interested in investigating that further and they bested Qarl in combat and Chris 2’s character executed him in retribution for costing him his home.  The one who incapacitated him and tied him up though was Icantnam and one of the henchmen that saw that immediately claimed to be a member of the Icantnam Syndicate and took that news back to the headquarters when released.

Redemption?

Del’s character Jon disobeying his master left me with quite a conundrum.  Technically, he got his powers from his familiar, who was a direct conduit to Shindrogon.  I came up with a solution.  Some GMs might strip Del of his powers for a session or two, but I knew that wouldn’t be fun especially since the characters were being proactive.  I did think that Del’s character was changing, and that his powers should be altered a bit to fit them, but not enough that he totally lost the abilities that Del thought would be fun when he made his character.

Del’s rat familiar immediately turned on him and tried to kill him, but the players killed the rat.  Del then came clean about how the shadow was sent by Shindrogon, and that it was connected to him somehow.  Trace was understandably upset, and Del’s character went to the Qarl headquarters to sleep.  In the morning a new rat familiar showed up at the window, but as Del watched a giant owl swooped down and killed it.  Unlike the red glowing eyes of the rat, the owl’s eyes glowed a fierce bright white, and as Del spoke to it, he had a vision of fire and radiance, and his spells were refreshed.

Redemption arcs are very difficult to pull off in RPGs, but I was very excited to see a character who started with a very selfish motivation and a dark past turn around in a compelling way.  After we ended the session, Del sent a message to the other characters in character via email, explaining that he didn’t expect their help after what he had done, but that his parents were in Blackgate, the vampire’s domain and that he had to get them out.  The other players agreed, giving direction to the group once again.

When Players Let You Prepare, Do So

I am the type of GM that wings it a lot.  It allows me to be very flexible with the story.  I create organizations, characters, and places, and just introduce them as the players allow or when there’s a lull.  This works really great most of the time.  Occasionally though, you will end a session knowing exactly where you are heading and what you are doing next session, and when this happens you should prepare so that it feels special.  Don’t squander the opportunity your players gave you.  If they were going into the vampire’s district to heroically rescue important NPCs, they want that to feel cool and have gravitas.

Since that is coming up in the game this week, I can’t go into detail about it, but I just wanted to make the point about preparing well when you are given the chance.  Next week I will talk about building an interesting escort mission, and let you know how the players dealt with rescuing Jon’s parents.

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