Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Overly Ambitious Campaign Design!

Well, I have to admit, I think the design of my Adventure of Whitewode may have been just a wee bit too damn ambitious. I want to explain how it came about, what my thoughts were, how it played out, and what the downstream consequences were... maybe this will be of interest to other GMs, or for future reference somehow.  I don't know.  But it was a fascinating project nonetheless, and though at least one of my players absolutely hated it with a purple passion, no one quit, and no one is likely to ever forget the experience.

Now, I want to say in advance that what you are about to read was written in two parts... the first pass was mid-campaign when things were still foggy and the heat was on. And now I am coming back to this draft and finishing it... a long time later and so much of what I may write will be from recollection.  Hence, I expect this post to be both long and confusing.  You should too.  To try to make it a little more palpable I will include some colorful images, and hope that helps.  Here we go.

So, it all started one day when I came across this odd little map in my wanderings online. This amazing little isometric style map is actually an image of an underground city in Cappadocia, Turkey. A place by the name of Derinkuyu, and if you want to see images of the place itself, which very much inspired a large portion of this Campaign, take a look at the article. It IS amazing.

Which inspired me to create these two maps.

Grimdel's Lair - Level 1

Since these were pretty sensational maps I decided it would be a real shame not to use them in a Campaign. So I called together my play testers who had completed their last campaign between 2011 and 2014, having saved the village of Yellow Clay from the Brigands (a "seven samurai" story ala Akira Kurosawa, with sub-plots).

After having saved Yellow Clay Village the main Characters retired. Hermel, the ostensible leader of the group, married his magical fairy-canary girl that he found in the salt mines of Unicorn Vale.  Ischandar, became the founder of the highly successful "Rockafeller Sulfur Mine" (the yellow in Yellow Clay Village).  Star of Justice had ventured off on a lonesome quest to rid the world of an Evil Relic that got dredged up from the salt mine during course of the adventure. The others either got married and had kids, and /or lived idle lives on the reputation and earnings they accrued during the adventure. All was well in the world of Elthos.  The former Characters were rich fat and happy, and none of them wanted to come out of retirement in order to explore my new wondrous cavern!

What to do?  What to do?

I needed to find a way to draw them into the new adventure. After all as Hermel, one of the Characters, put it - "I'm happily married with a child - there is NO WAY I'm risking that on some fool adventure!"

And so ... a Plot Hook was required ...

Three years after the last adventure an "Urgent Town Meeting" was called during which the village elders spoke to the villagers about the recent problems in Yellow Clay.  Now that the village was prospering with the success of the sulpher mine, problems arose... including riotous behavior at the local Taverns, and the introduction of a gambling hall, and the conflict between the farmers and the miners, and two rival gangs that supported the owners of the Wine House and Beer Hall respectively, and lastly and most urgently, that several children had gone missing over the past several nights, vanishing from their beds during a series of violent lightning storms.  The meeting was long, but hardly tedious, and throughout the rumblings of an oncoming thunder storm storm could be heard.  At the climax of the meeting, as the lightning began to flash, Hermel, who was sitting on a bench outside listening to the proceedings with his wife, asked her "Honey ... where is our daughter?". "At home in bed, of course" was his darling fairy wife's reply. And there went Hermel running pell mell down Main Street into the night and down the road back home. It was too late. His daughter, whose name was Peaches, was gone. And so the adventure began!

Now yes, some of you will point that that this was a sneeaky low blow on my part as GM.  I agree. It was as dastardly as it was hilarious. And at the time it seemed a lovely way to get the main characters involved.  And at that it succeeded admirably.  Sneaky and low or otherwise, it certainly did the trick.

With his handful of friends in tow trailing behind him, Hermel leapt forward, followed the muddy tracks to the East Gate of Yellow Clay and out into the wilds, calling "Peaches!  Peaches!". Through the stormy night they ran, and with his excellent tracking skills he pursued the kidnappers into the infamous Red Hills.

The first place of note the party came to was an ancient dolmen with a hidden cave beneath it that lead into a sandy cavern. When they encountered a large clay pot in the sand, that turned out to be filled with black scorpions they beat a hasty retreat out of the cave. Only Praymar the party's odd little Albino lizardish boy remained behind out of curiosity. There he found a Kobold wearing a red cap in the shadows but he learned little of value and didn't pursue it further ("NO SIDE QUESTS!" had been Hermel's constant party mantra all along, in every adventure to date). And so they departed the rather fascinating and treasure packed Scorpion Cave having only gone from the Opening (A) to the chamber with the shelves of scorpion filled pots (D), and scarcely interacting with the Kobold (named Krut-Krut) at all.  Ah well.  At least they picked up a Player Character there by the name of Delvin who happened to have just gotten there and was exploring the place on his own when they arrived.

I won't describe the rest of this leg of the adventure other than to say the Red Hills is a mystical land with the following regions: Six Crooked Highways (of giant stone slabs jutting at crazy angles out of the ground), Seven Sad Forests (all the trees were dead), and a Dozen Dead Oceans (lakes filled with ghost fish and giant albino reptiles). (Yes you may recognize the source of this imagery, but my players didn't recognize it at the time).

This adventure through the Red Hills actually took a few months of play time, playing every other week for about 4 hours per game. Along the way they picked up Untaka, a native of the Red Hills, and a member of the Green Serpent tribe, who became a devotee of Praymar, the Lizardish boy with mystic powers and mysterious past. Over the course of the entire Campaign they would go on to split the party many times, but this was the first. Praymar chose to follow Untaka through the grim forest in the hopes of discovering the truth of his mysterious past (he was an orphan child raised by a foster family), and took the powerful fighter Bantum with him.  That was an adventure unto itself and took a month or so to play out.  During this part of the Campaign we switched between the split groups, and didn't spend much effort on keeping each other's adventures a secret.  If for no other reason than two players were playing three characters each, and so the split was not really so much a split of players but of Characters... and it all worked out ok.  Not bad.  I have great players, fortunately.

Anyway, under Hermel's leadership the other party continued following the tracks left by the kidnappers. They managed to catch up with them, and there they fought a battle during which they discovered some hidden magical tunnels with crystal caves, and in the end they slew one, and captured another of the kidnappers. They turned out to be a band of green cap'd Kobolds.

And so Hermel rescued Peaches from a magical "Place Changing Bag" in which she had been trapped. At this point they could have called it a Victory! and gone home, as Hermel's daughter had been rescued. But the tale of woe was not finished. Instead, they chose to forge ahead and try to rescue the other three kidnapped children from Yellow Clay village. 18 months later and here we are... and the adventure is nowhere near finished. Haha. I love this stuff.  My players hate it, though. And that's not so much a problem, actually, as an interesting fact.  And as I discovered, when they say the hate it, they don't really (necessarily) mean they hate the game itself, but more that this adventure, with its villains (who we will find out are enormously complex) and victims (who are also perplexing) and the glooms in which the entire setting is shrouded has born down on my poor players a bit too heavily, perhaps ... But I digress.

What they learned from the soup loving and endlessly rhyming Kobold ("Master good, Master kind, Green Cap learning how to Rhyme! Ha ha ha ah!") is that he is the servant of one Master Krumpus, and the one to whom the children are being taken. Before they could find out much more than that, the dear little monster managed to escape in the night. Kobolds in my world, unbeknownst to my players, are pretty darn magical.  They should have known because of the harrows they went through to capture the creatures that a simple rope would not hold it for long ... especially if they were not watching it. In addition they failed to discern the distinction between this Rhyming Kobold in the green cap and the one they met in the Scorpion Cave in the red cap, who told no Rhymes and was instead rude, petulant and clearly a dangerous menace. The red caps are mining Kobolds formed from stone, while the green caps dwell in the deep forests and are creatures of wood. A subtle distinction, but an important one to the larger back story. 

Finally the Adventurers followed the Crooked Highway out of the Red Hills and discovered old man McFearson at his strange stone cabin in the wilderness. They had a confrontation, and experienced a madness inducing encounter with a Great Time Beast that turned the forest into a whirlwind of seasons. One of the characters chose to stay and witness this event, and it definitely drove him insane, though it took quite a while for that to become evident to the rest of the party. This Character's name is Grasshopper a monk of the Iron Bear Temple (Kung Fu). Instead of going immediately insane, however, he rolled a critical success and gained insights into the nature of the Cosmic Reality, and that is why he is able to identify Time Distortions, and to some degree comprehend the nature of the Time Beasts.  This stood him in good stead later on in the story wherein he was able to befriend the youngest of the Time Beasts, but more on that later.

There was a bitter confrontation with old man McFearson wherein one of the hobbits, Lido, was killed by his son while he was trying to steal one of the goats in the yard and was discovered.  This is the same old man McFearson, by the way, from McFearson Hill in the Hamfest Campaign a few years prior, whose daughter Pam was killed in the fire that destroyed his house.  When he fled with his son, this is where they fled to... a lonesome cabin outside of Hobbington in the hill country.  The old man was still haunted by memories of his daughter, and there was some suggestion that she was a ghost still lingering with him.

Afterwards the party beat a hasty retreat, and Hermel decided to search down a nearby well to see if any clue of the other children might be found... which turned out to be quite a dangerous thing to do. Delvin was sent first, as he had the most spelunking experience of the group. After a brief introductory exploration wherein "something of interest" was found, they decided to split the party (surprise).

Some climbed down the well and into a side chamber they discovered. On the other side of a grate that was set in the well wall about halfway down the found a narrow crawl tunnel (an air vent which you can see on the Level 1 map). Passing through this they found an open low ceiling chamber with a door, in which they discovered another Place Changing Bag hanging on the wall. Inside of this magical bag is another dimension which contains a small house in which Hermel discovered Thomas, one of the kidnapped children. He figured out how to rescue the boy, and sent him up to the other members of the party. Now they had rescued two. They could have declared victory!  But no.  Having saved two, they decided to forge ahead and save the rest.  This is a party of good guys, after all.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Red Hills Praymar and Bantum, being lead by Untaka to his village, were introduced by the green skinned native to an old man by the name of Gray Warden who had been living in the Red Hills for a long time.  He told the them the tale of his journies, and explained that he was unable to return to Yellow Clay due to the magic of the place which held him there. His warlike demeanor and abilities in combat earned him the respect of the Chief of the Green Serpent Tribe, and the hand of his daughter whom Gray Warden married.  They had a daughter, and she was a beautiful young girl with long black hair and a wistful smile. They lived together on the outskirts of the village in a reed hut, and had a fine garden and a waterfall behind their house.

As soon as she saw him Gray Warden's wife revered and dotted on Praymar, and for some unknown reason even began to cry.  Overcome by her emotion, she told her husband that they must bring the albino boy to her father the Chief. And so they all went to the main village on the shores of White Serpent Lake. After a ceremony on the cliffs overlooking the lake, by which the old Chief determined it should be so, Praymar was given leave to take passage across the lake and enter The Forbidden Land of the Serpent Kings.

As they descended to the boat on which they were to journey they happened upon Star of Justice.  The poor man had entirely lost his memory.  He had been wandering aimlessly through the Red Hills for a long time.  He had hidden the relic in a leather cloth, but no longer remembering what it was. At this point he didn't even remember his name.  Fortunately, some time prior the famous astro-archaeologist, Laraby Jones happened to have been exploring the Red Hills on a lone expedition to explore the ancient Ruins of the Serpent Kings, and had found Star of Justice half starved and dying. The goodly astro-archeologist nursed him back to health and took him along, never suspecting that Star was holding a secret of incredible antiquity... and Evil. Star, though he couldn't remember a thing, kept the evil well hidden. Somewhere in his fevered mind he must have held on to the fact that his mission was to destroy it. And yet how could he do so when he couldn't remember what it was, where he got it, or what he had been sent off to do with it? And so the evil festered unseen within Star's cloaks.

At any rate, once on the other side of the lake, they discovered a stone fortress within which was a cave. Our heroes fought some heavily armed Lizardmen and were captured. Inside the cave they were brought before the Serpent Priest. After passing "The Test of Virtue", by which the Priest came to understand Praymar's true status in the world, Praymar was given a magical snake headed staff and bidden to walk through a strange stone portal with his companions. It transported them to Level 2 on the map above. They then adventured upward through the cavernous labyrinth until they came into contact with Hermel's group. We had now been at it for about ten months or so of game time.

The Lizard Priest

As you can tell this was a very long winding Campaign, that seemed to have no focus.  However, behind the scenes there were threads nevertheless being followed.  Some of them tied into the previous Campaign. Some of them were new. Everything, in fact, centered around the evil relic that Star of Justice was holding.  But again, I digress.

And yes, I know this is really a long blog post!  And I'll have you know... I'm just getting started. :p

Meanwhile Hermel's group had gone down the well and entered the underground complex in pursuit of the Kobolds who scrambled through a doorway and down a dark flight of stone stairs at their approach. So down the stairs the party ran, and so discovered the Chamber of the Red Statue (Lord Scarparelli, which you can see on the Level 1 Map).  Of course the chamber is booby trapped and they and wound up accidentally sealing the room shut with the giant stone wheel-door. Not being able to open it again (there was a complicated trick to do so, but they didn't figure it out), they rebuffed a mysterious stranger from below (Fabian the Scarlet Prince) who offered to arrange "a deal" for them to obtain the children they were seeking.

Hermel absolutely (and astutely) refused any deal, saying that all of the children had to be returned by the kidnappers or no deal would be made. This of course ignored the precariousness of their position, and yet was a bold and forthright approach that also avoided any kind of possible compromise. Although it lead them further into the maze, it was in fact a shrewd decision.  Any compromise would have left them uanble to achieve their actual goal.  And so Scarparelli's man returned to the darkness, only to be followed up by a brutal berserker (Thorgrim) who challenged them to one on one combat in exchange for one of the children. This also was rebuffed, and the berzerker, a sad sack of a warrior long trapped in Scarparelli's web of deciet, also retreated into the darkness below. The party followed, having little other choice.

Following Thorgrim's trail by tracing his footsteps along the sandy floor, and that of his two half-crazed Gnoll-Slaves, the party wound their way through the caverns. They passed the pool of deadly waters at the bottom of map Level 1, and made their way to the entrance of the cave mouth there (if you happen to have noticed that the cave mouth looks actually like a mouth, with an arm and a face, and clawlike fingers along that side of the cavern you'd have a keen eye and also be quite right - that is Grimdel, the true Lord of the Cavern, and hence the entire complex is named Grimdel's lair).

It is not obvious from the maps as presented above, but Level 1 and Level two link through the cave entrance that forms Grimdel's mouth, which leads on Level 2 to the chamber with the four floating gems above the cone shaped 'mini-volcano'. Here's the connection for your convenience.

And so, Hermel lead the party through into the chamber with the four glowing gems.

"DO NOT TAKE THOSE GEMS! IT'S A TRAP!" he commanded, and so they simply followed the foot prints of Thorgrim and the gnolls through the chamber to the doorway on the right and in their usual great hurry went through... without triggering the obvious and horrendous trap.  Darn.

The next chamber is a large cave with moss, ferns and lichen growing in a musty mist. They passed through as quickly as they could but not before arousing a twinkling greenish cloud of dust motes (Pixies, lead by a beautiful but capricious little queen) who alighted on Lido, the party's 'good' hobbit (also a PC). The pixie dust put him fast to sleep during which time he had a great dream during which he found himself with Ischandar (the party's other 'bad' hobbit (also a PC)) and they had an adventure together in dreamland that looked somewhat like this and took about a month or so of play time. It alone was actually a fabulous adventure where they met three Princess Mermaids, and the King of the Good Giants, and Ishcandar introduced them to alcholol (brandy to be exact), which triggered the ruin of that once great Kingdom thereafter.  Ah well.

Lido's Dream Adventure

Meanwhile in the "real world", the party encountered Thorgrim and his Gnoll henchmen again. This time they accepted his Challenge, which had the stipulation that if any one of them could best him in combat he would tell them where one of the children were. Despite Hermel's apprehensions, Arik the Dwarf accepted the challenge and promptly and immediately subdued Thorgrim with a few pretty darn lucky rolls. Beaten, and disgraced, and bitter, Thorgrim, severely wounded, accepted defeat and told them that the children were being held in a place named Whitewode, on the far side of the Cavern, and he pointed his finger into the darkness yonder. Not being even nearly satisfied with that Hermel had the wounded Berzerker tied up and took him along to show them the way personally. The two gnolls, seeing their master beaten, shamed and in captivity cravenly followed behind in the shadows at a distance, making the party very nervous.

Thorgrim and his Gnoll

The heroes plodded on, carrying the limpid and occasionally muttering Lido, until they arrived at a set of five Gnoll Fortresses made of stone cone shaped towers being built by the Pech people (an ancient race predating the Dwarves, as Arik (himself a a dwarf), well knew). It was here that the Gnolls attempted to take their revenge, but failed.  The first Gnoll was killed (but didn't stay dead for long) by an amazingly well aimed stone to the head, delivered by Arcturius (another PC who put in several cameo appearances along the way and was a member of my original gaming group at University of Maine in 1990-4).  The second Gnoll was captured after a long and heated combat with lots of fancy tactics. It was a really great fight scene. Having captured the remaining Gnoll and chaining him to the wall of the stone tower, the party hastily made their way towards Whitewode.

And so ended the first part of the Adventure... wherein they finally discovered the location of the missing children.  We had made it about 1/3 through the Campaign at this point, though no one would have guessed that in a million years - least of all me.  This Campaign went on forever and ever and ever due to some dark and mysterious force that compelled us ever onward.

Now at this time I had been watching the old TV Series 'Dark Shadows'.

In addition, Christopher Lee just passed away.

As a kind of personal tribute I went to youtube to find some of his original movies and stumbled upon "Horror Hotel" (aka City of the Dead).

The rest of the Campaign, and the Overly Ambitious Part of this all began here!

Yup. None of the stuff prior was overly ambitious, and all standard RPG fare for my World of Elthos. But now, I jumped the shark completely. I wanted to introduce something different. Something challenging. And that something has everything to do with Dark Shadows and City of the Dead, of which Whitewode was destined to become a horrifying fusion.

As a pre-amble (as though you poor folks can tolerate another digression!) I should mention that there was a hook into the Barnabas Collins theme from the first campaign that relates to a certain NPC by the name of Doctor B. Sniloc. He lives in Hobbington the main town of the region and happens to be the medical Doctor at the Adventurer's Guild. I had had him there as a place holder for quite a while. And now that thread would be picked up again in Whitewode, and thus tying the place and its story to Hobbington... something I found interesting and desirable. So this thread had been latently waiting for this adventure since 2011 or so. At any rate, what was the challenge?  I'm so glad you asked!

Story Map During the Campaign
As I watched the 495 episodes of Dark Shadows (on Youtube over about a year's time) it became evident to me that from a story perspective the thing is pretty frikking outstandingly awesome. Sure, Barnabus was a vampire. And evil as hell, for sure. Evil as frikkin hell, was he! But... I mean BUT!! He had his reasons!, as we discover very very slowly through the course of the show. You see, the amazing thing about soap opera's is that they can do character development over very long spans of time like absolutely no other medium (except, as it turns out, RPGs!). We don't find out anything about Barnibus in the beginning of Dark Shadows at all. In fact he doesn't even show up until episode 210! And he's THE MAIN CHARACTER of the series! That's frikkin incredible. So very slow, well paced, Back Story and Character Development that trickles of hints along the way is a characteristic of the Soap Opera approach that really amazed me. I wondered - can I do that with my RPG World of Elthos? That's going to be a challenge! Ok! I'm going to GO FOR IT!  BLAHAAHAHA!!

If I sound like a mad scientist at this point... please forgive me. That is in fact exactly what I became for this project.

So I embarked on introducing the several key NPC Characters very, very slowly, with tidbits of hints along the way. I started that with the mysterious Krumpus. If you notice the name looks similar to Krampus, you'd be right. At the time I created this campaign I'd never heard of Krampus. I don't think many people I knew had either at that time. I ran into him from a post on someone's blog about how Krampus kidnapped naughty children at Christmas time, and that was the genesis of the Whitewode Campaign concept. He'd take them to Whitewode and the party would rescue them. And the twist was that Krampus is Saint Nicholas' brother, and in fact his kidnapping and tormenting of the children was not evil at all, but done in order to teach them a lesson and straighten their naughty butts out.  So a built in plot twist that I figured would be totally unexpected by my players.  After all, none of us had heard of Krampus at all, so I figured my little MWAHAHA would work perfectly.  How hopelessly wrong I was!
One of the Story Maps During the Campaign
I changed the name to Krumpus to leave a clue, but hopefully not make it one that they'd 'get' immediately. Which now that I think about it is kind of dumb, but the dumbness didn't dawn on me until just now.  I thought a one letter change to the name would suffice just fine. I guess since I had never heard of Krampus at all, I assumed hardly anyone else would have (some totally oddball quasi pagan East European Christmas Tradition buried under mounds of dust ... how could I have known that Krampus was on the verge of becoming a freaking household name in a year or so!!?). That said, it actually did work just fine, which surprises me a lot... But, even so, eventually, at the very end of the Campaign, one of my players who seems to know every historical, folklore, film, comic and literary reference imaginable, announced that it was obviously KRAMPUS, and he'd assumed everyone else knew that all along. Others chimed in with the fact that a movie named Krampus was coming out in December (2015), and everyone had a great big laugh. It all rather spoiled my fun as I was pretty sure they'd never have guessd the connection if that damn movie hadn't come out a year after I started my Campaign. Ah well. That taught me - no matter how obscure a historical, literary or cultural reference you think it is, there's a good chance that there's plenty of people in the world of RPGs who already knows all about it. Yup. In fact, my all-knowing player even mentioned the City of the Dead during one of the games, as in "Wow, this is almost like The City of the Dead with Christopher Lee!", but they all passed over that and no one mentioned it again, to my great relief! Damn!  The one thing they didn't catch on to, though, was the link to Dark Shadows, and there were a lot of overtones of that in the game.  So I can still sit with a tiny vestage of smugness over that.  Yay for me.

Ok, so anyway, I was shooting for something ambitious already, which was the concept of Slow Backstory and Character Build like a Soap Opera. Now for the next layer of ridiculous over-ambition... and what put this completely over the top. The witches!

Yup. Those damn witches from Dark Shadows really spun my GM Doilies. I got a LOT of ideas on how to run witches for my game from watching both Dark Shadows and The City of the Dead. And what I really adored the most is that they are frikking unbelievably sneaky! They lie, and they lie, and they lie, and on top of that they use their mind control powers to wipe memories, and they lie some more, and use magic spells, and charm person, and seduction, and power plays and manipulation and the whole nine yards to get what they want. Which is power.  They want lots and lots of Power.  So this gave my GMing brain such a thrill... I just had to try it out!

So the idea of running a Soap Opera style Campaign was NOT enough!  My Level 2 Ambition was to create a Campaign that reflected the super-sneaky and deadly-dangerous manipulation power of the witches in Whitewode. Even the name of the town Whitewode, by the way, comes out of the City of the Dead's town of Whitewood. Hehe. I left lots of hints in the game along the way. I just felt that the mixing of Dark Shadows with the City of the Dead would throw even my all-knowing player sufficiently off the trail to make it work.  What I like to do is provide the clues, and then hope like hell they never notice them... so I can gloat about it all later and say "Ahhhh... but you didn't realize that XYZ was actually ABC! Mwahahaha!" 

Anyway, so the second layer of Ambition was to include the fact that the witches were going go lie, and use Charm Person spells and memory wipes on the PCs if given the chance. And so, that was Level 2 of my Ridiculously Overly Ambitious Design Concept for the Whitewode Campaign.

And lastly, the cherry on top. Yes, I had to do it.

I have an Under Story which involves this vast science fiction concept and relates to the Elthos Cosmology. A vast and ridiculously deep Under Story. There are Gods. But what do the God's actually do? I mean what motivates them? Why do they wake up in the morning and what are they trying to actually accomplish? And how vast are their powers, actually? Well, I'm going to leave that there. That's just way too big a spoiler to give out on my blog. But it's there. And Whitewode happens to be smack dab in the middle of that question and as a hint, it has to do with the Time Beasts.

So the map shows the region of Whitewode. The town had sunk into the ground because the witches had come along some hundreds of years prior and cursed the damn place with their foul magic and evil manipulations of the towns people... in particular the ill-fated Mayor Muttmaw, and the poor miserable village priest, who played a pivotal role in the entire story.  If there is one thing witches really don't like ... it's a damned ornery, fire-and-brimstone village Priest.  And so, the town sank into the bog... literally.  And a cavern grew up over a hundred years around it... and there was Whitewode... sunk in the dark glooms of it's cavern, the people trapped in the town by magic, and illusion, and the witches praying on them and slowly devouring them all.  So horrible!

Ok.Nuff said on the setup.  That's it.  I'm done.

So, how did it go?


Haha. As it turns out, it was way, way, way too ambitious a concept. I should have picked one idea and run with that.

Actually, to be honest, I don't think it went shitty until somewhere towards the end. We'd been playing for about two years, and though the players truly hated Grimdel's Lair with a depth of loathing hard to conceive, the Campaign had been going rather well by my lights.; Adventures were plentiful, intrigue high, the back story lurid and full of colorful characters and dread histories ... it all was going along nicely until the players, long suffering and and confused-as-hell by those lying witches and their play things, started to fray at the edges. And at that point I feared they began looking for ways to exit the darling Campaign, call it quits, and get their Characters back home safe and sound and in bed where they belong! Maybe, they wondered out loud and quite often, this is all some big bad dream and they'll soon wake up from the shrouded glooms of Whitewode. Maybe, some day, they will discover it was all just a passing dream and in the morning they will awaken to bright sunshine and coffee and biscuits and butter and jam and birds singing and gentle breezes with girls and laughter and ... hmm... nope. When a Campaign gets to that point, it's just about time to climax the thing and call it a day, I think. But that just had no hope of happening at all. Sigh.

So ... what went wrong?

Basically, my players are used to other GM's RPGs where you either root around through a dungeon looking for treasure and killing random monsters that have little or no reason to actually be there, or story-style games where they are Heroes! who charge in, pound the bad guy and his minions to smithereens and go home triumphant with tons of loot! Either of those two works for them. What doesn't work? My complex, confusing, and irredeemably convoluted Campaign. Oh darn.

The Long and Torturous End

So here's where it went from there... So there they were, all in Whitewode together finally, having split party multiple times, but now rejoined. They found out that the "kidnapped" kids are indeed being held in Whitewode, but that they had each volunteered to go with the Kobolds, and that Krumpus was actually a Professor of Metaphysics who sends the Kobolds out to find promising young intellects who happen to be too naughty for their age, in order to bring them back to the Old Schoolhouse in Whitewode and straighten them out.  His goal was to teach them them what they need to know (history, mathematics, metaphysics) in order to help the Elkron (the Gods of Elthos) in their vastly monumental effort to ... haha... I almost said it!  Well, to do what it is the Great and Mighty Elkron actual do. Which makes Krumpus a Good Guy after all. So the party hit their heads hard on the fact that it wasn't a case of "pound Krumpus to Smithereens and get the children back" Boss Fight type scneario. That went down like a lead brick with my poor long-suffering players.

Still though, at this point the mission could have been accomplished with relative dispatch and very little fuss or muss.  Go to the Schoolhouse, knock on the door, parley politely with the Kobolds, and be a patient enough to wait for the Final Exams to be finished, and voila - the kids would have been delivered to them without any fanfare at all.

Instead, the party decided to explore Whitewode a bit before tackling Krumpus at the Schoolhouse. OMG.  Dream comes true!  And so they met Reverend Russel and his granddaughter Patricia (ala the City of the Dead). For these two I followed the exact plotline from the movie. The witches want to complete their coven and need to do so in order to achieve true immortality and be able to escape the accursed Whitewode where they are trapped - before the underground and accursed township is finally and completely sealed away ... forever.  So for the witches it was a gambit - either they escape with Immortality and incredible magical powers and go on to conquer the Kingdoms of the Upper World... or they are trapped forever in a sealed tomb devouring each other endlessly in a hell of their own making.

Dark Shadows and city of the Dead Back Story

(Warning: Spoilers ahead)

Backstory of Whitewode: The town was a prosperous seaside town 200 years prior, with a ruling merchant family, very wealthy and powerful. Following the Barnabus Collins family story, Jeremiah Collins, the patriarch of the family, a religious but selfish and ambitious man, bought the high hill overlooking the ocean in order to build his estate there. This happened to be where the widows of the town's sailors who had been lost at sea would go to morn their husbands and pray for them. Old Jeremiah Collins built a mansion there and forbid the widows from their morning visits to Widow's Peak. The widows cursed Jeremiah something horrible, and one or more of them flung themselves over the cliff into the sea below Widow's Peak. Not long thereafter everything started to turn ugly for Jeremiah and his unfortunate family. His son, Barnabus, who was due to marry his true love, Josephine, wound up being briefly seduced, possibly with a single kiss, by Angelique, Josephine's handmaiden, while on vacation in Martinique. As it happend Angelique was a witch. This was the beginning of the end for the Collins family. The seduction lasted only an evening. But that was enough. Afterwards, coming to his senses Barnabus scorned her love. In revenge, she ruined his family, killed his little sister via a voodoo-doll sickness, drove his mother insane to the point where she poisoned herself and died in his arms, and in her triumphant grand finale cursed him to become a vampire to the end that he would himself kill Josephine. In order to evade the horrific fate of being turned into vampire herself, Josephine flung herself off of widows peak to her death!

Wow. How's that for Reveeeeeeenge?! Holy crap! Damn! Do NOT mess with Angelique!

Jeremiah, confronted by the fact that his son had been turned into a vampire and was forced by this to stalk and pray on the women of nearby Collinsport, chose to imprison his son in a specially crafted coffin in a secret chamber in the family mausoleum. And there lay Barnabus for about 200 years in the torment of the damned... until one day a greedy local thief and geniuine asshat who had been harrassing descendants of the Collins family at their mansion, was touched by Barnabus' Evil Mind. The thief, seduced by false dreams, became the Vampire's slave, and so released Barnabas from his prison.  The Vampire began stalking the modern world. And this is what Dark Shadows is about. Though, it should be noted - Barnabus was, hitherto the curse, a good, descent, and upright young man who was bequiled by magic and tragically destroyed. During the course of the series he consistantly tried to help his cursed family avoid the worst, and it was this that redemed Barnabus in the eyes of the fans of the show.

The Whitewode Campaign borrows extremely liberally from this back story and merges those with elements from the City of the Dead, mostly by introducing another facet of the story - that of the coven of witches in the town who need to gain one more convert to be complete their coven in order to escape Whitewode before the curse laid on it comes to full fruition and their ultimate and horrific doom is sealed.

So let the convolutions begin. I am now about to launch off into the deep abyss that is the story of Whitewode.  Beware ... it's a long, twisted and tragic tale... and played brilliantly by my wonderful players.

And so, the patriarch of the Sniloc (Collins) Family was cursed originally by the widows of the town when he bought Widow's Peak and refused to let them morn there. And so on tracking along with the afore mentioned plot...

Meanwhile, there was a hero of the town, a goodly Paladin by the name of Lord Pendelson, who was known far and wide by his magical emerald bladed sword with which he slew giants and other monsters in the in the mountains near Whitewode. Lord Pendelson's best friend was Sir James, who was known for his sapphire bladed sword with which he was known to slay evil spirits and demons. Between the two of them, the town was well defended from evils of all kinds, and was a center point of civility and prosperity for a long time. Lord Pendelson was happily betrothed to the daughter of Jeremiah Sniloc, and they were true loves, and her name was Jeanette Sniloc. And then the curse took hold.
Whitewode Tactical Map

Just prior to the wedding a Green dragon appeared in the countryside. It would fly down and grab horses or cows or a peasant, and fly off. On the day before the wedding was due it attacked the town of Whitewode. When it did Lord Pendelson and Sir James attacked it, along with - yes - Grasshopper the Monk! As it happens, far off in the future Grasshopper, who understood the Time Beasts, had found the old Temple of the Blue Flame during the first part of the party's adventure to Whitewode. Via a complicated storyline involving the Blue Flame and the Time Beasts he traveled back in time to the day of the Green Dragon's attack.  He attempted to help Lord Pendelson and Sir James when they fought the dragon. The result was that James was flung to the ground by a whip of the dragon's tail, and Pendelson was lofted into the air by the great beast and carried off into the clouds. The curse had taken root. Once this happened, Grasshopper, having inappropriately inserted himself in the history of the town, fled back to the future with this critical bit of knowledge.  And so, Lord Pendelson had been carried off into the clouds by the raging beast, leaving his poor bride horrified and heartbroken, and the township bereft and miserable.

Slowly over the years the town began to sink into the ground ... very slowly, year by year a foot or two. Just about that time Nicholas Blair (the demonic Master of Witches from Dark Shadows), arrived in the town with Sylvia Lawless (the witch from City of the Dead), his acolyte. They began quietly building their coven there. Scarparelli, who is the devil himself, had sent them along to that place... the township having been cursed, he would be able, he thought, to uproot Krumpus from his Schoolhouse one day. It should be noted that Krumpus had picked Whitewode long, long ago, for his School. And that Krumpus and Scarparelli are enemies from the days of yore ... and Scarparelli never liked the fact that Krumpus' students turn out to become outstanding members of the community, religious leaders and good citizen heroes of one sort or another. And so Scarparelli has been trying to uproot Krumpus without success for quite a long time. Now Scarparelli thought he could finally achieve his ambition of shaming, and perhaps ruining Santa Claus' brother, Krumpus. So the witches arrived and began to do their mischief. This is about 200 years, perhaps, before the time of our Campaign.  Remember, though, Time Beasts are involved... and time is slippery enough to begin with even without them.

So back at the beginning of our story, the good old fire-and-brimstone Priest of Whitewode, Reverend Russel (who lived on for a tragically long time and was witness and woe-begotten participant in the tragic tale from the beginning to end), fervently wished with all his great heart to keep the town safe from Evils. He was not well suited to handle an invasion of witches under the rule of a devil like Nicholas Blair, however. The first thing Blair did was convert the Mayor of the town, a cunning and diplomatic man by the name of Roger Muttmaw. And then Blair, with the Mayor's help, ensconced himself as a leading and highly successful merchant, and began operations as chief rival of the Sniloc Family. Blair's only restriction, stipulated by Scarparelli himself, was that he, nor his Coven, could leave Whitewode until the Coven was completed. He needed 13 members. He recruited 12 quickly enough, but needed but one more. Over the next few centuries years the Witches persued that goal with singular and excessive devotion, devoured the citizens of the town one by one, by machinations, curses and magical spells, as the township sank further and further into the earth, until it eventually became engulfed inside of Grimdel's Cavern. Still they had not found the 13th! By the time our Campaign began only a 100' hole at the top of the cavern allowed the light of the moon to stream in on certain rare cloudless nights. The Witches were seething with anxiety!

Fast forward to the current Campaign Timeline ...

At the point when the party arrives, it is many years later. Before I pick up where we left off with the party, I want to do a little back-filling of the story to give you some idea of what the road to Whitewode was actually like. Remember, the entire place is inside of Grimdel's Cavern...

While on route towards Whitewode the Party, lead by Hermel, found themselves trapped in a series of canyons populated by very unfriendly Black Ents with bizarre mystical powers. They nearly died there. However, before all was lost, they found an passage to Sniloc Manor. The descendants of Jeremiah Sniloc grew up there, and this is the 2nd Manor House of Sniloc fame (akin to the 2nd Manor of the Collins family in Dark Shadows). One James Sniloc remained at the Manor in the unwitting employ of Mr. Scarparelli. He served as Chief Scientist working on secret projects. The Party was served an elegant dinner, and having learned a few interesting things from James Sniloc, the party continued on their way to Whitewode. The journey there would be long and torturous, and so Mr. Sniloc gave them ample equipment with which to travel there. During the dinner he engaged Arik, the Dwarven Warrior, in a contract to locate a massive amethist that was buried under the Manor somewhere, and this being agreed, the party moved on, well fed, rested, and informed.

They made their way down The Long Path which would wind its way around northern rim of the cavern. At this point, they lost Thorgrim who took the opportunity to run off with his Gnolls and vanish. Not wishing waste time pursing him, they continued on blindly without him. This entailed a journey past an eight-sided garden of statues, and further on a canyon cliff trail covered over with hords of giant Cave Spiders. Dreadful creatures! There were several engagements that they barely made it through alive.

They passed a forest of dimly glowing crystals, each about 10' to 20' tall, and in the center of which looked to be Greek temple down away from the trail toward the center of the cavern. Laraby Jones and Star of Justice, who had joined the party with Praymar and Untaka (as well as Gray Warden and his wife and daughter), went to investigate. The rest of the party continued on to Whitewode. The two intrepid explorers never made it to the Temple, however, as the going through the crystal forest was a bit too rough, being fiery hot, and occupied by flaming birds and fire breathing lizards. They too nearly died in the sulphuric heat, but before their untimely demise they were rescued by Arik and Praymar. It was chance that played a role this time, as Arik and Praymar had taken a very wide detour through the Realm of the Earth while rescuing one of the kidnapped children by the name of Mary Higgins, the naughty mathametician, who had been imprisoned alone in a Study Hall by Krumpus.

And so, the party had gone on on to Whitewode while Star and Laraby were making their way into the fiery peril. When they arrived they found the ancient underground township shrouded in fog, nestled as it was at the top of a sheer cliff which formed a giant stone wall around it. a narrow path followed along the base of the wall with a 60 feet drop to jagged rocks and, what looked to be by torchlight, a vast seething fen below. The fen was full of insect sounds, and rustlings, and the breaking of branches.

Bob the King's Troll
As they passed along the Rim Path they encountered a wooden bridge that crossed the front of a cave. There they met "Bob" (not his real name) the King's Toll collector, a genuine (and fairy tale traditional) troll with a big nose and rough laugh. He had a troll-dog with him. Bob demanded a gold piece for each character crossing, but with the exception of Delvin (a PC), none of them paid the toll. Instead they sought to hack their way past. When that looked like it would turn out to be a disastrous decision, Hermel came up with a brilliant plan. He, being something of a spell chanter, created an illusion of himself holding a Sun Flower. These are magical plants in certain areas of Grimdel's lair which they had encountered along the way that when open emit true sunlight. Trolls fear these flowers greatly and the illusion was sufficient to cause "Bob" to flee back into his cave. The troll-dog, however, had not the intelligence to avoid such a thing, and continued to fight. Fortunately for the party, their magic spells were sufficient to subdue it temporarily and so they quickly pressed on.

When they got to the West Gate of Whitewode they encountered a shadowy apparition in the fog, who beguiled Delvin into following it down a narrow flight of stairs and into the fog shrouded Old Cemetery, wherein he found the Tomb of Lord Pendelson. At this point no one knew anything about the Whitewode backstory at all, and this mystery occupied them for some time. They woke up the ghost of Pendelson who began crying out at his great loss, though he didn't articulate it. The ghost of Lord Pendelson was blind to the party, and made its way up the stairs back to the West Gate where he vented his grief with great wailing cries of enormous despair. The kind that riddle the soul with fear and horror.

 As the rest of the party followed the apparition back up the stairs Grasshopper discovered a secret entrance to the temple of the Blue Flame. He was advised that a magical emerald sword's existence might be discovered in Pendelson's tomb, and was given the Time-Altering amulet of the Blue Flame.  This was not for no reason, but why the Blue Flame did this was not immediately apparent. The party spent some time trying to figure out the puzzle of the Emerald Sword, but failed to do so. What they did do was disturb Lady Pendelson's ghost by heaving her sarcophagus open. The transformation of her skeleton into a beautful woman in a green dress and streaked with blood was sufficient cause for the party to run away screaming back up the stairs to the West Gate, at which point her apparition appeard in a cage hung along the outside of the town wall, with the ghost of Sir Pendelson moaning horribly beneath her, grievous in the terrible foggy darkness.

Having enough of that, the party members decided to bust right on through the old decrepit wooden gate, which they found was rotted out and appeared to have been disused for a very long time. Bantum the gentle giant, a long standing party member who was a dumb as he was strong, had no problem removing the gate from its old rusted hinges.

And so, finally, the Party actually entered Whitewode! Dead tired, and half starved they made their way up a dark deserted street. It seems the town was completely unoccupied. As they walked they became aware of three shrouded female figures in the darkness, but the women would not speak but only stared at them in deathly silence. These were the three Widows of Whitewode.

This was going along the lines of my slow-reveal strategy. None of the encounters thus far revealed anything about the back story, but everything contained copious amounts of foreshadowing. They had encountered the ghosts of Whitewode... mysterious, otherworldly and frightening.

The Pechs
The party, lead by Hermel, skirted past the old women and forged their way up through the foggy cobblestone streets towards a tower that overlooked the West Gate.

Within the West Gate Citadel they discovered Johnathan Black, the Captain of the town's West Militia. He revealed himself as the guardian of the West Gate, and stated that he lived in the Citadel alone. This was a lie.  He was far from alone in there.  He gave them no egress and poured a large dose of warnings to leave Whitewode at once, "before the bad things begin to happen to you".

The town was almost completely dark, windless and shrouded in a deep fog. No one seemed to live there, and everything was covered in a layer of dust. They had the impression that the town was almost completely abandoned. Since they declined to leave the town, and persisted in asking for directions and information, Johnathan instructed them to head on up the road to center of Whitewode where they would find The Black Raven Inn.  There they might be able to gain some hospitality. And so there they went. And it was there that they met Sylvia Lawless.

At this point, instead of doing what I expected the Party-of-Never-Go-On-Side-Quests to do, which would have been to immediately seek out the Schoolhouse, confront Krumpus and grab the children and run, they took rooms at the Inn. 

Sylvia Lawless, the 300 year old witch, happen to be on the hunt for a final convert to her coven, and so eyed each member of the Party carefully over dinner, and instructed Jennifer, the Inn's maid, to search their rooms and equipment for anything of interest. Sylvia also had the cook sprinkle a dash of Dreaming Poison on the food, and so after the feast everyone went to their rooms and had absolutely horrendous nightmares galore. I played those out as though they were actually happening ... as in "your character is tucked in bed and sleeping when a strange sound on the other side of the dark room wakes him up... what do you do?"... which of course was actually the beginning of the nightmare, and went on from there.  It took some time for each of them to catch on that they were in a nightmare and actually dreaming, though a couple of players were never quite sure afterwards whether or not it was a dream they had or not.  Mwhaahah.

Well, everyone had a nightmare except Hermel who had been very convinced that the food would be poisoned and refused to eat or drink anything all along.  Smart lad. This is to be considered normal behavior for Hermel. He's the Highly Suspicious type, and Whitewode raised his hackles as far as they could possibly be raised.

Ahriman Behind the Scenes
The nightmares for each character were different, by the way, but all involved monsters of one sort or another. Delvin's was by far the most interesting in that he found himself in a tavern where the waiters were animal headed giants who were serving various dishes of cooked and delicately prepared humans to other monsters sitting at tables enjoying themselves. I was delighted that the players assumed, as we all usually do while dreaming, that no matter how bizarre, the dreams were actually real. Another dream involved a barn from which emerged a gigantic fanged moth with glowing green eyes that rose up to the sun and devoured it whole. And so on. When they awoke the next day, everyone was rattled.

As Hermel asked a lot of questions during the feast, Sylvia recommend he meet with the local town historian, Nicholas Blair. When Nicholas arrived the next morning (remember, morning was not light as the entire town is inside a cavern), they met in the study room, richly furnished, and quiet. Hermel asked him several questions about the history of Whitewode, to which Nicholas told him things that were obvious, and lied quite a bit about the town's people, and the history of the township. Then he pulled out a jeweled cigarette case and offered Hermel a cigarette, which Hermel declined. However, (dice roll!) the case was a magical charm and Hermel was entranced (taken directly from an episode of Dark Shadows, btw). I didn't tell the player that Hermel was entranced. I simply described the jeweled case in extraordinary detail, and how Nicholas was talking about the reflecting and refracting lights on the jewels and how beautiful they were if you looked at them deeply enough. While under the trance Nicholas found out everything he wanted to know about Hermel and the party, its intentions, and particularly what their abilities were. The player had no idea, and the only clue to this that I gave them was that when he returned to meet his companions I said he returned after two hours, when the conversation he had with Nicholas was only taken ten minutes in terms of what Hermel had spoken with Nicholas about. The player didn't notice that detail, and I skimmed past it with the intent to bring this up later ... at the worst possible time.  That seed planted, we moved on.

Around this point Hermel discovered that he'd lost a magical item he'd been carrying around since the previous adventure. It was his very special Dragon Tear jade stone. He instantly suspected that Jennifer the maid had stolen it, and went to confront her, but she insisted she had never seen it, and became very afraid that Sylvia would punish her. She begged for Hermel to not tell Sylvia. Hermel was furious, but took compassion on her, and assumed that Sylvia knew something about what happened to the jade stone.

At this point Hermel began to desperately desire to get out of the Black Raven Inn, realizing that something was drastically wrong with the place.  Kind of like when you wake up in Hotel California, and think "I want to get back to the place I was before" but ... can't.   Remember, though, that none of the players had an inkling whatsoever that the town was occupied and controlled by a coven of black hearted witches at all. Not the faintest idea.

When his companions would not answer their doors and were found to be in comatose states due to the dreaming poison, Hermel of course assumed the worst and after waking them all with great effort went to confront Sylvia directly. She denied any knowledge of it completely and quite convincingly (it was one of my better improv performances as a GM, I must say). Hermel, absolutely infuriated, actually attempted to cut her throat with his sword, but then, when the rest of the party expressed their utter horror that he would do something so rash and violent, he relented, only giving her a nick on the neck, which bled profusely down her dress, but was not life threatening at all.  The player later said it was the worst thing he had ever done as a role player, and he felt quite guilty about it. Of course, what he didn't know was that Sylvia in fact had been lying through her teeth and he would have been eminently justified in cutting her head off. But as he couldn't prove anything, he reversed his opinion and decided she had might have been telling the truth. Perfect. And this is exactly how the witches work. They sow confusion, point minds in the wrong directions, obscure, bedazzle and in the end, get what they want through this kind of evil trickery.  It's so great!  You can't imagine how satisfying all of this was to me as the GM!

Gamemasters's Note: So far things were going along as I had hoped. The town was dismal and gloom-shrouded, the witches deceitful in perplexing,  and backstory of Whitewode and it's residents were being revealed slowly, just like in a Soap Opera of Horror (like Dark Shadows) ... and it was all just as fantastic and wondrous as I had imagined it would be!

Except my players absolutely hated it. There were no clear answers, and there was no one Big Boss Fight to be had there. They didn't expect that the Bad Guy was really a Good Guy, nor that their allies in the town would turn out to be shadowy Agents of Evil.  They didn't realize until it was far too late just how desperately they needed to do exactly what Hermel had advised at the outset - his Cut-Through-The-Fog-Direct-Action style could have taken them immediately to the Schoolhouse and left the witches to their own horrific devices. That's what I expected them to do at the beginning of the Campaign, frankly, and what they should have done as players. Had they ignored the witches completely, or brazenly grabbed any of them and turned the screws hard enough, they would have discovered what was going on and easily avoided 3 years of convoluted and horrific game play. But compassion stayed their hands.  And because of that... things got complicated!

Story Map of One Segment of the Campaign

After the debacle with Sylvia, to make amends and smooth over hard feelings, Nicholas Blair invited the party to a Masquerade Ball for the next night. Of course it made no sense.  But Blair's intention was to lull the party into a sense of friendly vertigo wherein he could attempt to lure any one of them into the Coven. As he already knew that this was a team of Good Guys, he realized such a feat would not be easy... but this was their last hope, really.

The reason, I should mention, is that the ceiling of the Grimdel's Cavern had a small 100' hole remaining at the top directly above the Whitewode township. As the town sank into the cavern over the years, this became last vestige of hope for the Witches, and once this was gone, the town would be sealed forever... with the Witches trapped inside - unless they could complete their Coven before that happened. That was the curse the Witches were under. And as it happens, the hole would surely finally be sealed this year, they were all quite certain.  In fact by Candlemas to be precise.  For this too happened to be something that they repeated to themselves over and over again, least they should forget.  After 300 years, the Township would be Doomed. This did not give Blair and his witches much time.

The Masquerade Ball is one which the Witches hold and invite a few of the remaining towns people to once a year, six days before each Candlemas. There were not many common folk left in Whitewode by this time, however.  Most of them had been killed by "bad luck", unfortunate interactions with the Witches, or being sacrificed in Evil Rituals, or being devoured by some horror brought about by the Witches.  It was a tradition that thirteen miscellaneous people from the town would be invited and attend (or suffer the consequences). Among the towns folk attending the Witches would seek out a convert to their cause. But after nearly 300 balls, no one thus far had made the grade... and more than a few suffered the consequences of their failure afterwards.

At any rate, every guest was required to go in costume, and so Bantum, Delvin and Lido went to the Clothier's Boutique across the street from the Inn and got costumes ordered. The Ball is in honor of one of the two Main NPCs of the entire decade long Glendale Campaign, and the first time any Player Characters have met her, or even heard of her - Moon Flower, the Princess of Oswaldia. The other is her brother, Golden Eagle. I won't go on about them at this point, but suffice it to say I gleaned these two, and the idea of their imprisonment at the beginning of the entire Campaign Arc, about 15 years ago, based on my reading of The Romance of Photogen and Nycteris, an 1882 fairy tale novel by George MacDonald.

Hmm... I just realized I'm probably going into way too much detail. But it gives you an idea of how convoluted the adventure that got played actually was.  There was a LOT going on in the Whitewode Campaign! It was an intertwining of several mysteries that were introduced by the Party's interactions with the Witches, but had their roots in other parts of my World.

In any case, I won't go on with the details. I'll try to recap the adventure and conclude. There were adventures galore over the three years we played, and a huge amount of details of things and deeds great and small which I am excluding from this account.

Eventually, the stalwart adventurers discovered that Witches were at work, and that they intended to complete their Coven, and had to do so by Candlemas. They discovered this when they introduced themselves to Reverend Russel, who himself was a long term victim of the Witches. They fought the three demons that were vying for the souls of the Witches. They participated in the War of Whitewode, which broke out between the Pechs Poeple and the Witches and was converned with the acquisition of Star's Evil Relic wherein the township suffered the attack of the Gnoll Army, suffered the intrigues of Scarparelli and The Wizard of White Tower (Ahriman), and gained the upper hand because of Grasshopper's friendly relationship with one of the Time Beasts. They beheld, though scarcely comprehended, The War of the Time Beasts as they were confronted by the Scientists of Sniloc Mansion and the mysterious Master Remis, the roboticist from the future. Grasshopper even went back in time 300 years, and returned to tell the tale. And many other adventures besides. It was all quite grand and fantastic!

And in each game my players would say "You know... if there is one thing I hate in all the world ... it is Whitewode!"

Scarparelli considering his next move

The Upshot

The upshot is that the concept I had was far too ambitious! I wanted to create an intertwining mystery story, with Witches, and a cursed town, in a dark cavern, to which a climax would finally conclude the dreadful tale of woe, one way or the other. If the players did things the way I expected, actually, the game would have taken 5 sessions and they'd have discovered that Krumpus was not the bad guy, and taken all of the children home after their final exam (only a day away). The town would have been attacked by the Gnoll Army under the military leadership of the Pechs who were intent on gaining the Evil Relic that Star of Justice had brought into the town, and as a consequence Scarparelli and his demons, who coveted the evil relic above all, would have been banished back to hell, the Pendelson Ghosts and the Widows laid to rest, and the town restored to its former state with Reverend Russel presiding over a faithful flock of survivors.

I expected there to be a great deal of background thrills and drama, with NPCs shouting from the ramparts and buildings burning while the PCs hustled the children away, either through the opening in the ceiling of the Cavern, or up the Long Stairs that passed White Tower.  There were allies, such as the Owl Men and the common villagers whom they might have solicited for aid along the way, and even a pair of secret Angels who were disguised as a doctor and a nurse who attended the sick and poor at the little clinic in the poor section of town.

What happened instead was that they got caught up in every intrigue the Witches and the Ghosts sent their way, fell for every lie, and split the party to the point where the mottos of the Campaign became "Don't NOT split the Party!" and "We've been Whitewoded again!"

Had Scarparelli, the Arch-Devil, obtained the relic he would have gained a God-Weapon and this would have been very bad, indeed, as it would have allowed him to finally destroy the Schoolhouse, and upended the long rooted Metaphyiscal School of Master Krumpus.  The effect of that would have been to deprive future generations of many of their heroes in the ages to come.

A few additional tidbits about the Campaign

At the beginning of their adventure inside Whitewode the party had a conversation with Reverend Russel wherein the old decrepit priest revealed that the Witches would one day be destroyed by the Shadow of the Cross. That had been completely forgotten by the PCs, but in the end that's what came to pass, as most of the Witches were indeed incinerated in exactly that fashion.

The Witches needed to complete their Coven. To do so they required a willing convert, and a sacrificial victim. They had many sacrificial victims at hand, but no convert.  With both they could complete the Coven and would have been able to use the Power manifested to defend the town from the Pech assault, and taken possession of the Evil Relic for Scarparelli.. To this end they had captured Mary Higgins, who was a student of Krumpus.  She had been "freed" from Krumpus' protection by the Adventurers themselves, which made her vulnerable to Nicholas Blair's machinations. Meanwhile, Blair had had his eye on Hermel for the Coven, but Hermel was in fact far, far too stubborn for that.  He then tried for Delvin via a seduction play, but he was too good a guy to fall for this as well. None of the other Characters in the Party could be turned either, and so the Witches plan fell to pieces before Nicholas Blair's eyes.  I will honestly say, GMing him under these circumstances was a thrilling exercise in frustration.  I absolutely could not get any of the Player Characters to capitulate to his will, no matter how devious the plot.  Kudos to them!

The East Wall of Whitewode as viewed from Dragon Lake

Meanwhile the moon had slowly been moving into position throughout the entire Campaign, which I occassionally mentioned as part of my background descriptive narrative, so that its Ray of Light would shine down on the Silver Bell of the Whitewode Church and be reflected directly to the top of the West Gate Citadel, where the witches had long planned to conduct their Coven-Closing Ceremony.  As a last ditch desperate measure Blair had a demon seduce and captured Patricia Russel, the Reverend's grand daughter, and were attempting to force her to agree to join them by any means Nicholas Blair could think of.  They wanted her to perform the Sacrifical Rite on Mary Higgins.  But all their trickery was at an end, and nothing worked.

And so!  The Witches were destroyed in a brilliant conflagration on the top of West Gate Citadel as the War of Whitewode raged outside the gates.  Animal headed Giants and their minions battled with the Gnoll Army, as the Lizardmen Warriors who live in the catacombs under Whitewode joined in at Praymar's command.  As it happened Praymar, the Lizardish Boy, turned out to be their True King, another facet of the story that was played out in all its long and convoluted glory throughout the Campaign(s). The end of the Campaign entailed chaos and fire, screaming towns people, a blazing township under magical assault in a collapsing cavern at the cataclysmic end of The Curse of Doom.

It was glorious. Hermel, Ischandar, Lido, Star of Justice, Bantum, Praymar, Laraby, Delvin, Grasshopper and Arik did manage to rescue the children, who were all returned safely to Yellow Clay.  However, in the end Hermel sacrificed himself for the greater good, allowing the others to escape, and stayed behind in Whitewode where he remains to this very day.

The entire Campaign lasted 3 years or so in real time, and about 15 days in World Time, with the adventures of Whitewode Township taking up about 6 of those days.

It was my worst, and most gloriously fabulous Campaign to date.  I do not advise anyone to ever follow in my footsteps.


Vernicus said...

Epic writeup and epic story! Well done.

vbwyrde said...

Thank you kindly! :)

Jeremy "frothsof" Smith said...

Great post VB.