View Full Version : Not As It Seems - campaign idea/questions

2009-11-09, 06:39 PM
First thing to say is that if you are someone who plays in my PbP or FtF (table top) games and might be interested in playing in one of my future games, you should not read this thread. If and when I put together a new campaign, it will likely be this one.

The next post will contain actual info and questions.

2009-11-09, 07:33 PM
The post is behind the spoiler.

Today I thought about running a campaign based on The Matrix. Mainly the idea about a society being ruled by overlords in secret, and most of my questions revolve around how to make it work like the movie in D&D. If anyone here has run or played in a campaign like this, it would be great to hear how it worked for you.

The game will most likely be D&D 3.5 and would stick to core books as much as possible. Of course, I'm certainly open to tossing in something from an expansion/splatbook if it works for this world. Also, I do like Eberron, and if took place in that world, materials from all Eberron books would be open to players. Pathfinder is another option.

Alright, so here are some ideas and questions, in no particular order:

1) Overlords - Mindflayers come to mind as a race that would benefit from an enslaved population by actually feeding off them. Plus, they are smart enough to pull off someting like this. From reading the MM entry, it appears that a brain is a brain, so mindflayers don't gain any benefit from a eating someone with a high Intelligence score or more Hit Dice. Is there anything out there that plays up this angle?

Quori come to mind for an Eberron setting, but I have minimal (and bad {but at least due in part to improper usage}) experience with psionics. Any other creatures (or classes?) out there who would be good for this sort of role (i.e. feeding off others in some way)

2) Setting - I'm not sure what angle I want to take yet, but most like the movie would be for people to have their consciousness in an imaginary/illusionary/dream world while their bodies are stored in some type of factory farm complex. My guess is that it will take a homebrewed artifact to make this happen. It would be best to base this part off actual rules as much as possible, but I don't mind making up something new for it.

My experience with illusion magic is slim, but I know the nightmare spell can tap into the dreams of a creature. Are there other illusion spells (core or not) that tap into dreams? It could be that everyone's mind is trapped in a dream caused by magic. Another similar angle would be for creatures to have their mind/consciousness trapped on a different (dream?) plane that looks just like the real world (or what the real world used to be) where their bodies are trapped. So if/when the PCs break free into the real world, it will look structurally similar but like a wasteland version of the world they knew.

Alternatively, it could be a lot less like the movie and simply be that a secret society/order is in charge, so the world is an illusion in the "just saying" (can't think of the word right now) figurative sense.

3) Blue or Red - If the magic angle is used, I think the pill that breaks it will be a potion of break enchantment, but is there a spell that makes people forget? If not, it can just be a homebrewed potion that does it.

4) Weak Population - One way to help keep control of the population is to keep it weak. The society will probably be pretty peaceful (at least on the surface) and safe, so people don't have to face many challenges that will increase their character level. Maybe some challenges that arise are due to glitches in the system (places where the magic just doesn't work quite right or anti-magic areas that aren't completely suppressed) or from mayhem caused by Resistance members trying to do good. Of course, sometimes people do gain levels - if mindflayers were used and Int or HD mattered to them, there would even be good reason to allow this - and when they are nearing a level that could be a possible threat, they are approached by those working for the Overlords. Maybe if 6th level is considered a threat, they are contacted at 5th level. Basically, the Overlord emissary tries to get the person on the side of the Overlord, without actually telling them the truth - perhaps someone who is trying to achieve a position of power, such as a high ranking city or military official - but basically roping them into something that allows the Overlords to keep tabs on the person and even use them to further their own aims. If the person is resistant or just seems like someone who won't fall in line or is too hard to deem reliable, they are eliminated (eaten, put to some sort of slave labor, jailed) or maybe even dominated as to not arouse suspicion.

On the flip side, the Resistance also approaches people at a certain level. The higher the level, the more likely that the person will be helpful and survive, and as such, PC classes are better recruits than NPC classes. Maybe 4th or 5th level if 6th level is what the Overlords consider dangerous. Or the Resistance could even recruit at higher level than the Overlords consider a threat if they feel the person can be turned to their side.

5) Entering the Matrix - If the movie angle is played up, the freed PCs will need a way to get back into the matrix, whether it's a dream or plane or illusion, and I'm guessing that some sort of magic portal is the best way to keep in similar to how the movie uses phone lines.

6) Awesomeness - In the movie, freed people can upload info and abilities into their minds. What would be a good way to do this? I thought about maybe having the matrix be a place where magic and/or class features don't exist for enslaved people, but people who portal into it would have their full range of capabilities, so by default, people who dial in will be that much more awesome than the enslaved population and be able to do things that seem impossible. Another way to do it is to homebrew a system where those who dial in can gain boosts while in the matrix, probably based on character level. Maybe the person could choose between an extra feat or skill points or spell slots or ability score increase. The higher the level, the more one could choose.

There is more on my mind about all this, but I think this is plenty to start. If possible, please number your replies based on the numbered question/idea. Thanks!

2009-11-09, 08:03 PM
Re: mind flayers.

You're in the Eberron setting, so this may or may not be of use, but given mind flayers seem to be extraplanar and get around a bit, it might work. There's a section in the "Baldur's Gate II" game where the PCs are taken prisoner by mind flayers. No stats, unfortunately, but the concepts might be of assistance.

Couple of features of the mind flayers' lair in the game are:

(a) a Matrix-like structure where they basically harvest intelligence or mental energy from their prisoners in the interest of creating "mental collars" -- a device that, once put on, permanently enslaves the prisoner to the will of the mind flayers. In the game there's about ten or twelve prisoners hooked up to this thing.

(b) An "Elder Brain", which is probably in a splatbook somewhere, but which I basically interpreted as a kind of overmind for the mind flayers -- a massive brain which has correspondingly powerful psionic strength. In the game, killing the brain is basically the only way to open the exit to the Mind Flayers' domain.

Possibly the prisoners in your Matrix scenario are required for their mental energy to feed the brain, or something...?

2009-11-09, 09:02 PM
Modify Memory (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/spells/modifyMemory.htm) might work for step 3.

2009-11-09, 09:11 PM
If you aren't totally averse to psychic rules, I have an idea. For the mental prison you're going for, you could make a non-consensual variant of Metaconcert. (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/psionic/powers/metaconcert.htm) Either an individual or a group of mind-flayers/quori maintains a dreamscape that manifests in the material plane as a truly immense cloud, and the warden(s) is/are maintained and fed along with the prisoners.

Since the psychic gestalt was engineered to allow the warden(s) to forcefully add non-psychics and maintain an indefinite number, it would be easy for a low-level psychic to re-enter the system once she has learned how to break out. With a few mindlinks (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/psionic/powers/mindlink.htm), these psychics could function as Operators, requiring their linked Agents to reach whichever loophole in the dreamcloud they've found (any pool of water, any trapdoor, any latrine, etc) to be pulled out. Ending the dreamcloud from the outside would be a fairly trivial matter of killing the wardens if, you know, there wasn't the significant chance of all prisoners' minds becoming irreversibly severed from their bodies.

2009-11-09, 10:18 PM
an idea:

The mindflayers have the ability to plane shift across worlds, they find one place (likely a very Earth-like place with at most a few psychic quirks that make illusions more likely to work) and decide to build their own little city in it.

They then travel to the material plane and kidnap people, plane-shifting them to their new home and brainwashing them into thinking that its their new home (or maybe they don't and just let everyone think that they got sent here by accident).

The mindflayers then use magic or psycic powers to disguise themselves as normal people and take up positions in their little city. They secretly control the population, making sure that there is food and water and medicine to keep everyone there healthy. They also make sure that things are controlled, criminals who cause problems tend to 'disappear' at the hands of guards or agents. These agents are either disguised Mind Flayers or thralls to them.

The reason for all this? Mind Flayers like their preys minds to be intelligent... not only for the 'nutritional' value or flavor of them but the sheer idea that the creature they are eating is a skilled mathematician instead of a cow or a drunken hobo.

Thus, The City is filled with magical innovations (ever burning lanterns, create food traps, readily available alchemical substances for medicine and industry, and lots of books and stories) information is a commodity, with people getting jobs in accounting, filing, searching for clues, or researching technology.

A great deal of the government and industrial positions are maintained by normal humans who have no idea that there are mind flayers around... some do know about them but are either thralls or have positions of power and are working with the mind flayers. The mind flayers basically control everything and see everything, if somebody shows signs of getting powerful then they know about it. If they get anywhere near strong enough to be able to fight a mind flayer then they get their brain eaten... its not so much a matter of killing heros when they are weak, its more that the brains of heros taste better then the standard fare and the flayers are eager to eat their brains before someone else grabs them! If the mind flayers do let someone get very strong, its because one of the top dogs wants to see just how rich the hero can get before they feast on their brain.

Imagine something like Sigil where there are people from all over, but people only come into The City, they never leave (actually some might leave but only if they cut deals with the Mind Flayers to let them head back home... usually it involves getting something valuable back from home).


Officially, The City is just some crazy world on the edge of the multiverse where people randomly show up at when they fall asleep or get caught in storms or disasters or whatnot. The people find themselves there and are picked up by the city guard and find work somewhere.

There are lots of 'precursor' artifacts, buildings, and magic items. These tend to have lots of sigils and runes and stuff on them and do things like make food and water, heal people, or generally make it possible to live in The City without heading into the empty wilderness outside the city walls (there are others that let you spy on select spots in The City or to see whats happening in the other planes). There are plenty of newly constructed buildings that people have made over the years and they are seemingly run by the various people who got sent here and made up their civilization.

The people there tend to concentrate on keeping busy, enjoying themselves, or researching things. Sure, strange people tend to randomly shift in out of nowhere, but the city guard quickly shows up to take care of them (unless crimminals decide to take advantage of the 'newbies'... which stops when the guards show up).

People generally figure out a way to fit into The City and do their jobs. There have been countless cases of homesick people trying to get back home... but it either never works or the people vanish without a trace. They either actually made it (unlikely) or they got caught up in with all the crimminal elements that con suckers who try making a leap of faith to get home. There are enough crimminal gangs out there that mess with people that nobody suspects it when a Mind Flayer eats someones brain and disposes of the body (heck, there are plenty of Mind Flayers who are controlling the crimminal gangs to get access to brains as it is... the standard method for mobs to dispose of corpses involves green slime, a sewer, or cutting them up and serving them in restaurants. Nobody notices a corpse with the head missing).

In short, The City is just a place where some Mind Flayers dump people from other planes and let them take care of themselves. By culling out anyone with the magical power to actually escape the place or to challenge the Mind Flayers then they have the place under their control. They might disguise themselves as humans (not sure if the core DnD describes them as too alien to even act like people or have human desires and goals) but its mostly for fun and to see up-close what their little 'pets' or 'farm animals' are capable of.

2009-11-10, 10:35 AM
I hate to join in with the cries of "you vould do this with psionics" when you said you weren't too keen on that idea, but....

Microcosm (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/psionic/powers/microcosm.htm) could be used as at least inspiration for your "Matrix". The limitations on area and number of targets could be a problem but you could create a Microcosm based item/artifact which can be used to continually add new creatures to the same shared catatonia. Or just an Epic Microcosm power which can affect huge numbers of people. The Flayers would need something to feed and water the comatose people but some sort of creepy, spidery-looking construct to do that is both within their means and fitting with the source material.


Dream Travel (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/psionic/powers/dreamTravel.htm) could be argued to be a way of getting in and out of such a microcosm. (In fact, the Flayers could theoretically use it to herd all their prisoners into the same microcosm to keep an eye on them...) If the PCs are going be hopping in and out then they should probably be given an item that does this. I know enough about Eberron to know it has airships so I'm going to suggest a Dream-Travelling airship named after an ancient king.

2009-11-10, 10:46 AM
Why 3.5? Im pretty sure an actual Matrix roleplaying system exists, and I've heard it's pretty decent.

2009-11-10, 11:15 AM
Here's an idea, combine the Matrix idea with a 1984 bent.

So you have a whole society being dominated behind the scenes by Mind Flayers, no one but the very upper escehlon of human (or whatever dominant race) knows it. The population is entirely sequestered into various highly-controlled city-states. Travel and communication are restricted due to "the war" being waged elsewhere. There is, of course, no actual war. Its just an excuse to keep rations low and for conscripts to be taken on a regular basis. (These conscripts never go to war, they're dinner or experiment subjects or whotnot).

The Mind Flayers and their agents use their psychic abilities to keep tabs on the population in an effort to root out any potential rebelion from starting up. Part of this would be rooting out anyone who gets above a certain level, or manages to gain any levels in non-NPC classes.

The "enter the Matrix" portion of the campaign can come from the players being contacted by freedom fighters from an unconquered human city. They use methods of teleportation to get into the Flayer-controlled cities, and various methods of mind shielding to keep from being detected.

You know what... I think I'll actually DM that setting if I ever get the chance.

2009-11-10, 11:18 AM
1. Mind flayers and kaorti are both quite alien. In my own campaign setting, mind flayers are a hybrid of the two races. The Mind flayers of Thoon variant flayers from Monster Manual V would be especially appropriate, as they are focused around harvesting a mysterious substance called quintessence, which they can obtain from certain creatures. Farming people to harvest their quintessence is a bit more stylish than keeping them because their brains taste good.

2. Communal dreamscape or something similar is appropriate. Your concept is so vast and all-encompassing that it moves out of the realm of "spell effect" and into the realm of "plot device". Thus, all you really need to do is invent some rules around it, defining how to enter and leave the dreamscape, what players can do with the environment, what the illithids can do with the environment, and how it interacts with spells like dispel magic, break enchantment, and disjunction.

3. There are several spells in the Spell Compendium that affect memories. One or two psychic abilities do as well, although I know little about psionics.

6. I would agree that suppressing spells and class features is probably the easiest way to model the awesomeness of the players with respect to the normals.

An issue to spend much time on is what sort of adventures players will have in the setting. If the bulk of the population has no special abilities and powerful monsters are rare or non-existent, then the only opponents really worth mentioning in the dreamscape are the Agents (in whatever form they might take). Why would the players enter the dreamscape? What would they accomplish there? Who would oppose them? What sort of adventures would occur in the desert of the real? Who would be their allies there? Who would be their enemies? How would they travel? Where could they rest safely? How easily could they perform typical D&D downtime functions like buying and selling items, crafting, and researching spells?

2009-11-10, 12:25 PM
I thought you were going in a slightly different direction when I first started reading the original post. If I were going to do something like this, here's how I would proceed:

I would first aqcuire a copy of D20 Modern since I don't have it.

Then I would have the players make regular D&D characters just like they would any other time. I would even play a couple of regular old adventures. I'd throw in a couple hints that things were... odd. I would try to keep them low level. I absolutely wouldn't let things get past 4th or 5th level.

That would be when the resistance guy would offer them the two pills. Maybe following events closely or parrallel to the movie.

When the characters wake up, hand them their D20 Modern characters. Same mental stats, perhaps different physical stats. These characters would only be 1st level. Or even 0th, waiting for the players to fill in things like skill points and feats and so on.

The thing they discover is that the AI's (or whatever Big Bad you use; perhaps tech savvy mind flayers have discovered a way to slowly siphon all they need from a large population) have decided to keep the world enslaved by having everyone playing D&D in their virtual coma's.

Expereince between the characters wouldn't translate between the two, or at a much reduced rate. 'Levelling' could be expressed as program upgrades. Heck, characters might be swappable in the 'Matrix/Game' world. Just keep mental stats the same (or not, if you wish).

See The 13th Floor and Hack.// for further inspiration.

2009-11-10, 01:01 PM
(b) An "Elder Brain", which is probably in a splatbook somewhere.

Lords of Madness has stats for one, and a lot on Mind Flayer society. How much of it would be useful for your game is up to you. One Mind Flayer objective is to blot out the sun, which was done in the Matrix setting... although for very different reasons and by the other side.

2009-11-11, 11:13 PM
Thanks to everyone who responded with ideas and mechanics! It may be a few days before I can go over all this, but I am excited to go over all this and will get back to everyone.

Also, I do have a sour taste in my mouth about psionics and wouldn't want it to be used too much in the game, but I'd be fine with it being used to create the maxtix and other on-going things along those lines. I would just work it in a way so non-psionic characters would be able to do what is needed, whether that be through regular magic or psionic items or technology.

2009-12-15, 02:28 PM
Just wanted to say that I've been pretty busy with current campaigns and still haven't had time to go over all this wonderful info but do plan on getting back to everyone over the holiday break.

2009-12-15, 02:38 PM
Our DM once killed our entire party at level 2. He didn't tell us this and we merrily adventured for many many levels untill we rolled a sufficiently high will save to find out that we had been dead for months and our reanimated corpses had been stuck in a inn for all that time. Looks like the BBEG had take pre-emptive measures to stop us foiling his plans while we where still in our infancy. The look of horror on everyone's face as the dm discribed the rotten maggot infested meat they where ingesting at that point will remain a highlight for years to come.