The Patterns of a Long Term Campaign
We are barreling toward the end of the Hell's Rebels adventure path. This is always the best time in a campaign, in my opinion - when the end is in sight, you've totally got a handle on everything's that's coming, and now your primary concern is pacing.
As a DM, you've already gone through the "launch" of the game, where the initial enthusiasm propels the group forward. Then, usually somewhere around session 6-10, that enthusiasm wears thin and you need to re-calibrate and quickly find the things that interest the players to keep the game from becoming a slog.
Some time after that, you get into a rhythm and you just roll on and on. Once the players get used to the routine of playing at the same time over the course of months and not only do they want to play, they expect to play, at that point, you're just holding back your own dungeon mastering demons and making sure you don't kill your own campaign through bad habits or losing perspective on what it's like to be a player.
We are deep into book 5 of 6. The group has taken a side trip into the Feywild in a homebrewed thing I whipped up, because my group likes the city of Vyre and it was an opportunity to work in Fio's backstory.
So as the session approached, I realized I had to actually come up with a bunch of Feywild stuff for the session. I still don't really have a handle on Feywild lore, so I dug up material from the products I am somewhat familiar with:
Dungeon 166 has a high level Feywild adventure in it for the 4e Scales of War adventure path. Running Scales was one of the best things I've ever done as a DM, and I am always going back to it to use stuff. This Feywild adventure was actually not especially essential to the main story, but it has an NPC that I love: The Sky Shaper, a sun with a face on it that will give you information if you flatter it or do cool acrobatic tricks.
Heroes of the Feywild is a 4e sourcebook that has tons of lore and information on the Feywild. I used this mostly just for general ideas, the spark to get things moving.
Then, when I really need ideas, I go to the Dungeon Dozen index and after about 15 minutes I have tons of building blocks to work with.
The heroes made their way into a forest, looking for a captured NPC who is one of Vyre's 5 rulers. They had these goofy encounters:
- A leprechaun illusionist tried to steal colors off of the heroes to make a custom rainbow to impress his Feywild superiors.
- A bunch of snobby talking cats drank from a small milk lake that issued whispers relating to the dark past of some of the heroes.
- A treant had grabbed a stork who was carrying a baby and fell asleep. This was specifically a way to show Essie how her fey baby would arrive.
I knew I wanted to use Pathfinder fey monsters that had appeared earlier in the Hell's Rebels Path. Tooth fairies! Basically, they are Pathfinder goblins with wings and pliers.
I had the NPC glued to a bridge above a chasm filled with teeth. I was using goblin stats for these monsters and checked kobold fight club to see how many goblins were a challenge for four level 11 heroes. the answer: 32 goblins!
I was a little concerned. Can a group fight 32 monsters? I gave it a try and Fio, a spellcaster, dropped 20 in one shot, so everything worked out fine.
I stuck a "tooth golem" in the pit to attack anyone who fell in, and as the battle commenced, 3 of the 4 heroes ended up in the pit, either through being shoved in or jumping down.
Then I had the tooth fairy monarch show up, and the whole thing worked out nicely. The heroes ultimately rescued the NPC and wiped out the tooth fairies.
The Tower of Urm
Last week, I wrote up a guide to Mordenkainen mostly because I knew that the Dungeon Academy group would be going to his tower in Descent into Avernus this week.
In Descent, the Tower of Urm encounter is way too short in my opinion. All they tell you is that Mordenkainen is in the tower, and that a bunch of yugoloths work for him. I have this natural aversion to using yugoloths in my games, so the whole thing didn't sit right.
If I was going to "fix" it or expand on it, I figured I could just use all of the published lore to do so.
The thing that I liked the most from all of the Mordenkainen lore that I found was the notes in the 2e Outer Planes Appendix discussing the Codex of Mordenkainen. In the codex, it is revealed that Mordenkainen went through a magical sleep ritual which allowed him to visit the Coils of Time, which have all sorts of information written on them about places and events.
I love the idea that Mordenkainen learned bits of information about the future on this visit, and that one thing he learned was that my Dungeon Academy group was actually going to assemble to rod of seven parts.
As a believer in "the Balance," Mordenkainen thinks that artifacts need to be locked away. This is actually specifically discussed in Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium. Artifacts are very hard to actually destroy, so it's better to just set them aside and let the knowledge of their existence fade away.
As my Mordenkainen started telling the group about how he thinks they need to give the assembled rod to the Wind Dukes, the group actually piped up and started talking about how it might be best to destroy it. They basically came to the same conclusion that Mordenkainen did with no prompting!
Mordenkainen was impressed. You may be aware that Mordenkainen has had some adventuring groups before - The Citadel of Eight and the Circle of Eight. My Mordenkainen is wondering if maybe these heroes might become a new Circle of Eight, or some new, similar organization of a different name. I think that would be pretty cool.
One other thing that happened in this session was that Mordenkainen cast banishment on Strahd von Zarovich, the legendary vampire. Strahd has been traveling with the group because the soul of his beloved, Tatyana, merged with the party cleric.
This led to an internal debate amongst the group - was this a good thing or a bad thing? Strahd was the cleric's "boyfriend," one player pointed out, and the whole group thought it was not cool to banish a boyfriend.
On the other hand.. he's evil. They noted that he's constantly tempted to drink their blood, and he's had it out for the party fighter since she called Strahd a "pu**y."
If you read Curse of Strahd, you know that Mordenkainen and Strahd are enemies and have fought before. I thought it would make sense for Mordenkainen to do this to the vampire. Additionally, having an evil vampire in the group could upset the group's own "Balance" in the eyes of Mordenkainen.
Mordenkainen gave the heroes a copy of his Magnificent Emporium. Basically, if they write down information on magic items in that book, it will appear in Mordenkainen's master copy. The group immediately pointed out that it was a "pokedex," which is something I never considered.
We're building up to the big final fight with Miska the Wolf-Spider, an ancient demon lord who has blood so toxic that if it gets on you, you must make a saving throw or die. Mordenkainen pointed out that this makes the party's archer crucial in the final battle, so he gave her three arrows of demon slaying and he enchanted her bracers, making them bracers of archery (+2 to hit and damage with bows!).
I'm sort of tempted to have the group visit the Coils of Time, but I think that is something that will require some thought and planning, not just a throwaway encounter. I might write it up at some point in the future. I think I should consult the old 2e Chronomancer sourcebook for inspiration, first.