It’s Day #2 of the Zombie Apocalypse… and you have survived the night after barricading your group in a home with the acrid stench of a burnt pile of victims still wafting underneath the front door. Tears stream down the paladin’s face but the fighter’s remains resolute. #GiveEveryMonsterLife This is a game reflection and follow up to this post from a few weeks ago. https://plus.google.com/104073087524335945732/posts/2hj9Hj2s9au
Today I ran a “Second Shot” sequel to a one-shot game. The part that was wildly successful came from the reboot character generation session at the beginning for about 30 min or so. I revised a few of my generic zombie-trope breaking questions and I made them more setting specific and incorporated the DM Principle of “Draw maps, leave blanks” by asking a few key questions to the players to generate a richer backstory for the world. My backstory prep started with a rough sketch of Eberron’s Undead Nation Karrnath for a basic storyline and setting… and projected it thousands to millions of years into the future with the question of “What would happen if a nation led by a Lich-God King had fallen to the Silver Flame? http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/ebwe/20041206a
I had each player pick an index card at the beginning with seed questions like:
— “You were raised in the outskirts of Trendorfell” (the starting steading)
— “Your grandfather bragged about being a descendant of the Hero of Trendor, but you know it’s nonsense. Wait, is it?”
— “You know someone from the inner sanctum of Trendor. Who is it?”
— “Everyone talks about how pious and pure Trendorfell is as ancient site of power, but people often forget about __(rival city) too!”
— “The last time you were in Trendorfell, you barely escaped”
— “You meant to take the Pilgrim’s Path, but you never quite got around to it…”
From this, I asked questions about everyone’s character which planted the key plot element seeds.
The bard’s father was a town innskeep; his father bequeathed a magical lute to him and his nanny/barmaid was a halfling barmaid named Esmerelda (who of course became the first zombie with a face they knew). The ranger came from an abandoned town named Aquabog that was a “swamp” all the way across the country (the player pointed at a blank area on the Eberron map that was the Talenta Plains and since it was unmarked, he asked me ‘is this swamp?’ and I said ‘Sure, of course! And it used to be like the Shire, before it became the Bogs of Blood.’) This turned out to be a key part of the storyline as the ranger’s elven homelands (a millenia ago) marched upon the Evil undead nation from “Aquabog” to “Trendorfell”(Eberron’s Vulyar to Atur) and the Hero of Trendor paid the ultimate sacrifice to rid the world of the Accursed ones. The elven wizard was on the lamb after becoming “The Wizard” solely by stealing level 20 arcane secrets from his evil master. A bounty hunter was on his tail, but was stymied by the fact that the wanted posters basically looked like the Sun God had committed a crime. The cleric was a priest of Woodmorning (which had started off as a silly pun off of the poorly named elven wizard Morningwood, who was identical in appearance to his moniker).
I used the Pilgrim’s Path move I made from #ClericWeek to good effect for heavy-handed plot-reveal of key visions and to provide cryptic blessings that would push along successes on very important rolls to defeat the undead menace.
I had the group choose between the starting town locations of the Butcher, the Baker and the Candlestickmaker, which would set the plot along a combat/weapons vs people/protection/resources vs legends/lore route which unbeknownst to them, worked wonderfully. After picking the Candleshop/Library as their starting point, they proceeded to avoid zombie combat as much as possible and a lot of time was spent on the mystery of the Zombie plague and the ritual that the wizard would need to complete in order to reverse the curse. (Spoilers, the curse is spread by a Vampire Lord and can’t be reversed… the zombie apocalypse can be stopped only by basically burning a huge pyre of eldritch brambles at the center of the town which burns with an “unseen flame” and basically microwaves everyone in the area and the death curse can be controlled only by being inflicted onto a pious cleric who becomes the new Vampire lord and chooses a different path.)
Key lessons: in media res is AWESOME for story building (allows for ret-cons galore), being curious and asking carefully crafted leading questions can really push along your story arc and you can fill in all the gaps with a web of character-hooks.
There were a ton of other satisfying character denouement moments, like “Elan the Bard” being rescued by his father ominously clad in full plate, beating out a Pied Piper rhythm to mesmerize the zombies and lead them away… but I digress.
Dungeon World Rocks!!!!