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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Pixie in the Playground

    Join Date
    Apr 2015

    d20 Campaign/Story idea (advice needed)

    I need some help with my Pathfinder campaign idea - feel free to use it as well.

    I want to use the old "so, you're all at an inn, when ..." opening and put a spin on it. I'm planning to start my characters "waking up" at a table in some tavern basement. They all look at each other and have no idea who each other are and how they ended up there. The room is locked from the inside and there are several numbered and sealed letters on the table. (I'll use actual letters for the players to open and read)

    At first they have to manage with the general situation - I'm pretty sure at least one of them will freak out in some way, because it's pretty screwed up to suddenly sit in some basement with guys you don't know. Maybe a fight breaks out, I don't know.

    additionally to the letters there's a small note that states: "only open a letter if you're told to. this is of utmost importance. you're memories have been stolen, but you have planned for this and you can trust each other. open letter 1 now."
    on the bottom of the note are signatures of all characters. some of them even wrote a small line like: "I know. But you can trust them."

    one of the characters (the lawful good one) realizes that he wrote the note (as well as the letters as the story unfolds)

    I expect them to then open letter 1: "The local academy of mages plans something you can't know for now. They have stolen your memories, but you must get them back. The academy is protected by a powerful barrier, but you should be able to get through it. Leave all your weapons behind, including all items that can be used as weapons, and place them into the ritual circle in the corner of this room. Take the letters with you and open letter 2 once you're inside. Make sure no one outside this group reads any of the letters."

    The backside of the letter also has strange markings and a skill check reveals that it's part of a ritual circle, just like the one in the room (smaller though).
    There's also a strange box/device inside the circle. a very high skill check reveals that it's a "void bomb" that annihilates all matter inside a small radius. (there's a small note on it: "don't touch this!")

    The players then have to navigate the town to the academy - which is a really big tower at its center. There's no way to climb up the walls and the only way in is through the main gate. Which has some form of watery barrier (think of Stargate). In front of the barrier two guards (which appear to be proficient wizard/fighter or magus types) stop the characters and they have to roleplay their way in the academy. If anyone asks about the barrier the guards say that it protects the academy from harm.
    They can actually simply walk right through it.

    Inside they should try to not create any problems and roleplay one or two finicky situations, for example a staff member asking what they're doing there.
    letter 2 says: "great, you're in. here's a map how to get to the place your memories are stored. (most of the letter is a map which leads a way through the basement) you aren't allowed in the basement - so make sure no one notices you. once you're in the basement, right before the black door, open letter 3."

    there aren't any patrolling guards inside most of the academy, just some staff and students running around. the players have to distract them or something to get to the basement.

    once there in, they almost run into a guard - which they should be able to avoid by being careful, otherwise it's likely game over for them.

    they stand before a huge black door that's locked by a complex combination of magic and mechanics. letter 3: "Use letters 1 to 3 to form a magic circle. Once formed it should activate and summon your weapons and a device you'll need. Place it right against the door and press its button. Then make sure to quickly move away. It's likely that you'll find enslaved beasts guarding the rest of the basement, try to hurry! you have to find a document that lists the contents of all cells in the basement and find the cell that contains "archmage prisoner". open the last letter in front of it."

    the bomb annihilates all matter in a small sphere around it (as well as itself) without any sound. it's like they blinked and there's a hole. They have to squeeze through (it's just big enough).
    Inside there's complete darkness. Once they get their light ready they realize they are standing in front of a hydra (or something like that) and wake it.

    there are several more encounters like that. depending on how long it takes them to beat them the guards realize someone broke in. Fortunately it takes a long while to open the door - since it's mechanically broken by the bomb. Only one guard after the other can get through. If they were clever, they might have filled the hole with something beforehand to prevent that

    If they manage to beat their way until the find the right cell in time, they open the last letter: "Here you are. Find a way to open or break the door. You'll find a person inside. You have to make physical contact with each other and use this scroll to escape. (there are some magical runes that fill the rest of the letter)"
    Inside the cell they find a person (which is actually the character of another player that joins the group starting the next session). All of the characters feel like they have seen him before and he knows their names and is very happy to see them. Apparently he knows about the whole thing and hurries them to use the teleportation scroll. They vanish right in time the second an army of guards (and mages) runs around the corner.

    They find themselves in some forest, a few miles off the city and can see the academy in the distance.

    The first session ends here on a cliffhanger.

    Next time they find out that they actually deleted their own memories (no one stole them) to get their guy out - which had broken in the place and stole something the group needed to proof that the academy is actually involved in some very bad demon summoning plans which would have harmed the whole country or even world. One of the adepts at the academy found out about the demon stuff and his morals forced him to become a traitor to the academy. He found the group of adventurers and told them what they would have to get to stop it, and provided the bomb and the map and some information. but because of the barrier they can't get in there that easily. The barrier actually reads the minds of anyone who enters and anyone who knows anything about the demon stuff or anyone or anything about the basement is being noticed by it. The only way to get it was to delete their memories.

    this adept comes out of the forest and is very relieved to see the group. they talk and he explains the whole thing and now they have to get to the king (or someone else who has the power to stop the academy) and present their proof. (I'm not sure what this proof would be, since it can't be any item - but I'll figure something out)

    afterwards the'll have to deal with academy people trying to catch (and kill) them for obvious reasons
    one of the mages thats after them is a real pain in the ass, since he's pretty good at tracking people down - he'll be the "antagonist" for the second session of the game.
    once they manage to get past him and do one or two side quest things they'll reach the king (or someone lawful with a lot of power) and have to convince them to stop the academy
    the party won't have any further role in this - unless they want to. but they will be used as witnesses in a tribunal against the academy.
    the archmage is a pretty dubious guy and manages to mind control the judges and so on - so there are some problems for the third session to deal with - although the party plays more of a story supporting role. after he (as well as most staff members) get sentenced to death and the academy is issued to disband - the archmage reveals to host some powerful demon who breaks out and is the boss for this three part campaign starter. the party will be too low level to fight him directly, so they're ordered to kill the lesser demons that spawn during the main fight - while some strong paladins (tribunal guards) deal with the demon. they manage to seriously wound him - but still die - so the party has to jump in and make the killing blow, although it's likely that at least one of them will eat a hit and die.
    afterwards they can do whatever they want - but if they (for whatever reason) left the guy that tracked them in the second session alive, he'll find them again eventually and will seek his revenge

    as you can see these are all rather general ideas, I haven't planned out much of the details yet

    what do you think about this - any advice?

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Orc in the Playground
    Join Date
    Jul 2014

    Default Re: Campaign/Story idea (advice needed)

    I like it

    Why was it necessary to lose their memories - not needed for this adventure but certainly for any follow up
    Will those with no memories still be able to cast spells (have they lost their spells until they get their memories back)
    What happens if someone keeps a dagger hidden - will that be discovered when they enter the site

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Dwarf in the Playground

    Join Date
    Sep 2014

    Default Re: Campaign/Story idea (advice needed)


    First of all: very fun idea.

    My impression is that you've scripted out a lot for this adventure, so I would advise ensuring that your players are actually up for a bit of a railroad experience, rather than a sandbox experience. Alternatively, you could try making it less 'railroady' by coming up with multiple routes that lead to the same quest.

    Also, as the PC's have no memory, the players who like to roleplay a lot and come up with complicated backgrounds (and use that to get 'in their role') might be a bit disappointed because they won't be able to do so right at the start (or not at all if they don't follow your quest hook).

    That said, here is some more detailed stuff for you to consider.

    What would happen if they open all the letters right away? Because I would, if I were a player in your campaign. You can considering just giving them some kind of item that allows them to read messages that are concealed in the places where they should get to, instead of giving them all of the letters right away.

    Same goes for the void bomb: a 'don't touch' warning is likely to have players injure themselves in the inevitable stampede to get their hands on it. Is the adventure 'ruined' if they do? Probably so, because they need it to get where they're going. Have you thought of an alternative route?

    I would also plan for extra ways to get into the academy. Giving them just one option puts the quest in jeopardy. What if they fail? Maybe they can get in via the sewers (and level up on some rats)? You could simply have the barrier encircle the entire academy to force them to pass through it regardless of point of entry (and not render your plot useless as a consequence of there being a second entrance).

    Also, I'd think of extra ways to get into the basement. Creating a distraction is good, but what if your players want to get martial with it? Or if they want to sneak in? What if they don't manage to avoid the guard in the basement? I don't think 'otherwise it's game over' is a lot of fun, but that depends on your group, I guess.

    So from session 3 onwards, the party moves into a supportive role, you say. I don't often deal with PC's that like to be in a supportive role. And being witness in a trial might actually bore a few of them (again, depends on players). I'd spice things up with a few shapeshifters posing as judges, assassination attempts, or maybe even a jailbreak.

    The fight with the demon might be a bit frustrating for some players, since they're backseat to the paladins. It could be especially frustrating if you anticipate them dying. As a player, I find it annoying when my chars die because of some overpowered enemy or because the plot requires death. Even if I get resurrected afterwards, I always thinking getting one-shot is no fun.

    Overall, I think it's a cool idea. Some tweaking here and there and some expectation management with your players could go a long way to make this very enjoyable!
    Get on Stage:

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Pixie in the Playground

    Join Date
    Apr 2015

    Default Re: Campaign/Story idea (advice needed)

    they haven't lost all their memories - just the last couple of days/weeks or so
    it's not like they know nothing at all, I'm sure at least one of them knows the city
    they just don't know each other and anything about what they are going to do

    if anyone tries to sneak anything through the barrier he will get caught. there's a strict no-weapon policy for any visitors

    thanks for the advice!

    I'll certainly try to implement a few alternative ways to reach their goal. However - I'm really not sure why people would open all the letters? I wouldn't - as a player. If they screw things up they do need an other way in, so I guess sewers are a great option.
    Concerning the railroad experience: yes, I know - I try to lead their adventure pretty tight in the beginning and let them loose after a while. If they really don't want to be witnesses for the tribunal ... they simply can't go I guess.

    I also have a few side quests prepared (one being a witch hunt) that they can stumble upon if they decide to do other things.

    I don't think the fight against the archmage/demon is going to be too much of a backseat experience. They will have their share of stuff to kill and they will have to deal with the big guy after it kills the paladins. Death is just a real possibility, since I want to make this really thrilling. (something that's able to wipe out several high ranking paladins surely is able to kill an unlucky adventurer - even gravely wounded)

    Maybe I'm going to make their role more active by being the target of an assassination attempt, right before the tribunal (so they can't be witnesses) - I'm sure this will make them more invested in the whole thing. Also - they need to get some nice reward for their academy break in, otherwise I don't think all of them would have agreed to the plan (and getting parts of their memory wiped). Maybe there's loot to get in the basement? some exotic magical items? although they won't have much time and have to quickly grab something.
    Last edited by Orni; 2015-10-28 at 07:44 AM.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Dwarf in the Playground

    Join Date
    Jul 2014

    Default Re: Campaign/Story idea (advice needed)

    I haven't counted, but from one read-through, there are at least a two-digit number of places where things can easily go wrong in such a way that you would have to say: "That's it, Game Over, you lost".

    For example:
    - The letters: What if they don't read them / read them in the wrong order / don't trust them / burn them / lose them / show them to someone else /...
    If anyone told me: "Leave all your weapons in the magical circle" without explanation, I would immediately assume that this is a really dumb idea and keep at least one weapon hidden on my person for emergencies.
    - The void bomb: With or without skill check, a note "Don't touch this" screams "TOUCH ME" like nothing else... If they figure out what that thing is, chances are high that they simply pocket it.
    - All the encounters at the academy: Each represents a single point of failure - if they don't manage to find a way out, it's over. You can rely on the fact that at least one of the players will blow at least one of the involved rolls.

    And so on...
    Basically whenever you write "They should do ...", "They will do...", "Hopefully they..." you should also think about "What if they don't?"

    I think the concept of the adventure is fantastic, but as written, you are either in for a walled-in railroad track ride or complete and utter chaos as your plan unravels on first contact with the enemy (the PCs in this case).

    So, to "player-proof" the idea:
    1) Ensure that each letter can only be read at a certain place or a certain time. Maybe it needs to be touched to a certain spot before the writing becomes visible.
    1a) Have a backup-plan for when they don't manage to read a letter (maybe they lose/destroy/sell it or simply don't reach the correct spot)
    1b) Tell them WHY they need to place their weapons inside the circle. "You can't get through the gate carrying any weapon whatsoever, but you will be able to summon them once you're inside" should suffice.
    2) Since the mind-reading portal to the academy is the sole reason for wiping their minds in the first place, it has to remain as the single point of entry. But then you should make sure that it is really easy to get past this obstacle. Why place guards if noone dangerous can come in anyway?
    Alternatively have the mind-reading field permeate the whole academy, thus enabling multiple ways of entrance. Now they can climb a wall, bluff themselves throught the front gate or bribe someone to let them in via the servant's entrance.

    As a rule of thumb, there should be at least three clues for each information you want them to have and at least three ways to overcome any obstacle (that is: three ways you can think of. Expect the players to find the fourth way you haven't thought of).
    Also, always be prepared to carry on somehow if the players get stuck or fail at some point.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ettin in the Playground
    Join Date
    Oct 2011

    Default Re: Campaign/Story idea (advice needed)

    Quote Originally Posted by Orni View Post
    the archmage is a pretty dubious guy and manages to mind control the judges
    the archmage reveals to host some powerful demon who breaks out and is the boss for this three part campaign starter
    what do you think about this - any advice?
    A soon as the archmage mind-controls someone, there should be someone in the courtroom who can make the Sense Motive DC to notice. At which point, they realize how stupid they've been to put an archmage on trial without taking proper precautions and shut the thing down.

    As one of the most trivial of these precautions is Protection from Evil to prevent exactly this sort of thing, at least this defense is enacted before the trial restarts.

    So that, when the demon breaks out (assuming it can, because they didn't just shove the archmage inside of antimagic)... it finds it can't move anywhere due to all the overlapping areas of protection from evil. The government kills it, PCs never have to get involved.

    Or the PCs are at the trial... which you describe in a 5-minute overview if you believe the PCs would be bored by more details - but give them the opportunity to be (one of) the ones who make the sense motive check to notice the mind control. In this scenario, when the demon finally breaks free, they get to help kill the demon. Or get to fail their knowledge/spellcraft rolls, and do the wrong thing(s) that let the demon escape, so that it can become the BBE you had planned.

    Oh, and given that this water-like field can read, not just surface thoughts, but memories, and then parse those memories for certain kinds of knowledge instantaneously (and it has other detects thrown in, to prevent people from bringing weapons?), the government needs one to use for trials. Just tune the arch by reading off the accusation, the accused passes through the watery arch of justice, and is judged. No need for a lengthy trial - or for judges that can be bribed, mind controlled, etc. Totally creating a god(dess) of Justice with domains law, water, justice, and magic based on this. :)

    As others have mentioned, be prepared for the unexpected. For example, the PCs open all the letters, figure out what the void bomb is, take their gear with them, use the void bomb to open a hole in the outer wall very close to the prisoner (via the sewers, I suppose), avoid most of your encounters, hit areas they were never supposed to be in (since they came the "wrong" way), and run out through the hole they came in, having never alerted the guards, or the NPC who was supposed to explain things. They add "scroll of teleport to forest" to their inventory.

    Or... PCs take the void bomb to the archmage, try to sell it in exchange for their memories back. They then a) make the sense motive to realize something is up, and then kill / are killed by / investigate / join / ignore the archmage, or b) fail the sense motive (and subsequent spellcraft) to realize something is up, and choose to fail their saves against the archmage's "totally harmless spell to return their memory"... in which case they probably wake up in time to be sacrificed to the demon.

    Since Forgery is more a Rogue skill, seems like the rogue would be more likely than "the LG one" to recognize their own handwriting - and perhaps even include a hidden message in their words. Or even expect to have done so, and not believe the note if it did not contain such a hidden message! You'll need to know / work with your players here to make this work.

    Also... why take away their memories so far back that they don't even recognize each other (other than that it sounds fun)? And, given the premise that this has been done, why would the party feel like they know the mage in the cell, when they didn't recognize each other?

    Quote Originally Posted by Surpriser View Post
    Why place guards if noone dangerous can come in anyway?
    Quote Originally Posted by Orni View Post
    The barrier actually reads the minds of anyone who enters and anyone who knows anything about the demon stuff or anyone or anything about the basement is being noticed by it. The only way to get it was to delete their memories.
    Unless I missed it, the OP never said the barrier directly prevented entry. Perhaps all it does is alert the guards standing there when one of its rules (carrying a weapon, knowledge of the cult, etc) is being broken. Which begs the question - how do the cultists enter, given that they certainly know about "the demon stuff"? Perhaps all the mages do make the barrier "ping", in which case the guards know to let the wizards pass, in which case the party could disguise themselves as guild members. Or perhaps the cultists have their own "waterless" secret door, in which case the party could just (find and) use that.

    Personally, if I had a powerful mind-reading barrier like that (whether or not it actually prevented entry), I'd want to post guards to downplay the barrier. Given its appearance, I'd probably have it be able to put out fires, too - both as a cover and because it would be useful. I approve of the "If anyone asks about the barrier the guards say that it protects the academy from harm" line.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Dwarf in the Playground
    Join Date
    Sep 2015

    Default Re: Campaign/Story idea (advice needed)

    As others have mentioned, there are several spots in the plan that would mean a quest failure and story derailment if the players don't act as planned or if certain critical rolls don't favour the PCs. Open up the bottlenecks, add in other avenues for the characters to advance the plot, plan contingencies for a lot of actions could likely do as well as failed rolls in critical situations. What are the consequences of those actions or fail-states and how could they get back on track?

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Pixie in the Playground

    Join Date
    Apr 2015

    Default Re: Campaign/Story idea (advice needed)

    thanks for all your help!
    I'll try to make my story less linear and provide more possibilities for the characters

    concerning some plot-holes:

    the mind reading barrier is "reacting" to predefined knowledge. so if the would have known about the cult or the basement (or having weapons on them) it would react and change color or something - so the guards would take care of the situation and maybe even take them in for "questioning"
    it's actually not easily possible to create such a barrier, since it requires to always have a decent amount of magical energy around it it can draw from (the academy provides this)

    you're right about the lack of precautions at the tribunal. I could explain this away by making the demon cult more wide-spread (as a secret cult) and the person responsible for the precautions is actually one of them and even helped to get the mind affecting spell on the judges going.

    one of the PCs notices this and the group has to handle the situation in some way. they might alert the paladin guards - which won't believe them at first, but get more suspicious as the judges seem to not rule against the archmage, at which point one paladin believes that what the PCs said is true and dispels it.
    the archmage has to stop the act and try to break out with all force, so the demon appears and we have our boss fight

    if the PCs do not interfere in it or fail in some way so, the judges actually rule in favor of the academy (because of lack of evidence) and they'll have quite a problem on their hands. same would happen if they'd never appear at the tribunal ... although they are ordered to be witnesses.

    I'm fairly sure my players won't screw up completely and open all letters or detonate the bomb or anything - they haven't done anything like that before. In fact they do like to be railroaded a bit, at least at first. I'll open up the campaign after this plot concludes.

    thanks guys - I'm going to finish the encounter design now and report back after we've played the first session (november 7 or 8)

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