Sunday, 29 May 2016

The dark god syndrome

The dark god syndrome

So every book, movie, etc has the same plot or ending, the dark god is going to destroy the world unless the heroes stop him.

Harry Potter = Dark god; Lord of the rings = Dark god; All Feist books = Dark god, Star Wars = Dark god, Every comic book ever = Dark god, I had a list but I am writing from memory atm.

So basically ya, all the heroes go kill the dark god and the world is safe again. How not original, how not fun, how boring, how arrogant that one person thinks they can destroy the world. Not a country, not a state, not a town, but somehow the world. So every single rural town too right?

Now it's great to have a villain or an antagonist for the PC's to battle right? Sure, but to make him black and white? We have to start to think outside the box, to make a villain truly evil he has to have started somewhere, you need to see where that is, you need to come across events and become involved in a story and feel a need to strike back, to fight. Simply hearing a tale in a tavern is not cause for YOU to be the one to kill this 'dark god'.

It's not everyday you walk down the cobblestone road of the great city and hear “We need to stop the villain from destroying the world!” Oh no is the Lich King back again? Funny side story on that here too btw.

Let's take that warcraft example a bit further for a sec. I might get some wrong but stay with me here. So Lich King comes out right? Do the heroes get the mission “kill the lich king?” No they don't. They first get to explore all of Northrend with no goal or end game to speak of, just quest and story that “Ties in” with what will happen. Next it's off to Naxxramus to battle an evil lich lord as our Dark god who needs to die. Then after much story later, we go into the depths of “Ulduar” where the “Dark god” Yogg Saron needs to die, from here we do more story of a crusade who are holding a tournament to prepare to enter the lich kings castle where we learn more story and deeper immerse ourselves into why were after this guy, what he's done and why he needs to die. Finally we enter his lair and battle his minions to stop him from 'Dark godding' all over the lands even joining forces with our enemies to do so. Hmmm seems it wasn't a grand plan to just kill the villain after all, but there were stories, hundreds of them that needed to be told to prepare us for this end game (which isn't end game cause its a living breathing world, and there is lots more to come)

Let's take a look back if we can at some long running campaigns for this is about long running. We are not looking to wrap up level 1-20 in a few months, remember it took years before. To me it's about the journey, about fun and about the stories, the people we meet along the way, to race to “the end” makes no sense because the it is over. So back to our campaign, let's start back in the year 2002 at our friend Todd's house.

It was Me, Bill, Andy, Todd, Sylvia, Dean and maybe another (was long ago) and I came up with a plan for a campaign. It was a series of adventures set of time hoping to bring us from 1-20 and it all started with a simple ½ episode of Xena Warrior Princess.

In this episode Xena had stumbled across a dead man who held a clue to a vault of treasure and when she got the clue other started showing up with clues of their own. These men were evil and deserved death but she could not kill them for they had clues committed to memory and destroyed the physical clues to the vault which she needed to get into. So working with her enemies she suffered until they all got to the vault the betrayal happened and she saved the day.

Hmm interesting, but that was a half hour, how would this take us over three years real life time to accomplish in D&D. Well it wasn't telling the players “Hey the end game is a vault you need to get into to stop the dark god”. No it was far from it. The first part was easy, I killed them. Yep 100% dead, but here’s what didn't go to plan. One player decided he would out smart me and avoid the death via the game rules. Ok fine, but sorry I need you dead and I can't tell you why so we will play the rules. I did so and gave him a personal adventure while everyone sat and waited for him to finish showing off and die. It took about an hour when I finally got him. Once he was dead, the bitching started, if he was to die, why did we waste an hour and kill him if he was to be dead anyways?

It was because he didn't want to die and wanted to outsmart everyone else. Think of it as he wasn't told the end of the story so he didn't want to participate in the adventure written for everyone. Once he did die and quit the game we moved on and I am glad we did without him, for it was one of the best games we have ever played.

So with Andy dead and gone the players found themselves in the waiting area between planes waiting for their deities to come bring them to the after world, but someone else showed up. The goddess of FATE and gave them a decision, “I can return you to life if you bind yourself to a mission I have for you, or you can remain dead.” The PC's chose to take the mission and and return to life. They had no villain at this point, no “End game” just a quest.

  • Seeking the Second Clue
  • (The twelth adv/ played Dec 2003)
  • Lauren Returns..
  • (The Thirteenth adv/ played Jan 2004)
  • Bill DM'S
  • (The Fourteenth adv/ played Jan 14th/31st 2004 R.L.)
  • The Underdark Unlocking The White Crow's Vault
  • (The Fifteenth adv/ played Feb 7th- March 3rd 2004 R.L.)
  • Drake DM's Into the east...
  • (The Sixteenth adv/ played Apr 10th- May24th 2004 R.L.)
  • A Detour in the Desert
  • (The Seventeenth adv/ played May 24th- July 9th 2004 R.L.)
  • The Black Sun
  • (The Eighteenth adv/ played July 12th- July 31st 2004 R.L.)
  • Who Invited Jenna?
  • (The nineteenth adv/ played Aug 7th 2004 R.L.)
  • A Favor For Morgan
  • (The Twentith adv/ played Aug 14th - Aug 22nd 2004 R.L.)
  • The Curse of the Pale Moon
  • (The Twenty First adv/ played Aug 27th - Sept 6th 2004 R.L.)
  • The Curse of the Pale Moon [Part II]
  • (The Twenty Second adv/ played Sept 24th 2004 R.L.)
  • Govac's Castle
  • (The Twenty Third adv/ played Oct 1st- 23rd 2004 R.L.)
  • ...and just then, everything went to darkness
  • (The Twenty Fourth adv/ played Nov 4th 2004 R.L.)
  • A Dwarf in Need [Drake DM's]
  • (The Twenty Fifth adv/ played Nov 18th 2004 R.L.)
  • The Princesses Spies
  • (The Twenty Sixth adv/ played Dec 4th- Jan 2nd 2005 R.L.)
  • The Valut of Eternal Knowledge
  • (The Twenty Seventh adv/ Played Feb 2005)
Keep in mind these "adventures" were long games spanning months of play

Without finding notes from 2002 I can't tell you all the steps, but there were quests all over the land and they led eventually to clues. The clues hinted at a vault of the gods and the PC's figured out they needed to get there, but the clues were very vague and each hinted at how to open the vault one at a time. As the PC's gained clues, NPC's gained clues, including an assassin and a warlord who were evil and against the PC's but had to work together to help each other get to this vault, but for why they didn't know. They just knew it had to have something good in there.

As story lines came and went the PC's went on searching for clues, items, levels, and the like learning little bits of the over all story. Then they learned of the evil leader of Silver Lake named Gabrielle who was claiming to be a goddess and had sent her champion the red knight to claim the treasure in this vault as well who ended up with a clue.

As the PC's near epic level and the vault they see more and more pieces fall into place. Why is a so called goddess (Gabrielle) trying to get into this vault, couldn't she just use her power?

In the end the PC's enter the vault after trying everything possible to obtain the other clues from the villains and the villains trying to obtain the clues from the PC's. They work together and the betrayal happens as they find a treasure on the first floor. “The Kryton Key” A well known legendary artifact that was said to lock up the food of the gods “AMBROSIA”. Finally! After three years real time we learn we were sent into the vault that gods could not penetrate to destroy this dangerous artifact (Or use it). Anyone eating the food of the gods would become a god! That is why Lady Gabrielle was so worked up over entering the vault, if she could have her champion get the ambrosia she would attain real godhood and conquer the other kingdoms (Dark god reference), if one of the villains got it he would be a evil god, if the PC's destroy it for the goddess of fate they are the heroes, of if they betray each other one can be a god!

THIS ALL LEAD UP TO THIS! Godhood! Or stop the bad guys from being gods. And none of it, none of it was explained up front. I did not tell the PC's they had to enter the vault to stop others from becoming gods and that was their mission, I did not break all side adventures and quests and weaving of assassins they could not kill, warlords who hurt families and ruined lives, and a mad woman waging war from her city against other kingdoms who wanted ultimate power. They lived and breathed them all, they learned, they watched them unfold, they drove the story as they made decisions that protected the clue bearers and drove their goal closer. They did it for adventure to see what was the climax, what was in Roland's Dark Tower so to speak, they were on an adventure that lead to the ultimate prize the fantastic end goal, and not one of them knew a hint of it until they saw that “Key” in the treasure room, one floor away from the vault.

It was the greatest campaign I ever ran, a trill from start to finish over three years all based off a ½ show. It was not linear, it was not spelled out, it had no one clear villain to stop, it wasn't do this or the world will end. It was just an every day D&D quest that lead to further and further intrigue and adventure.

When you take notes, pay attention, stay off your phone, invest time into characters, story and gain personal enjoyment from the “moments” in D&D you see this. To this day Jeff can't stop talking about fooling Drake into thinking the airship was going to crash and accepting a “Teleport” spell which was actually a “mind rape” spell to allow him to steal Drakes clue. These are the moments that come from playing and exploring and investigating in D&D, you don't get these by being told who the end boss is or by ignoring the games subtitles and going straight to “The end”. Grinding levels to get to the finale isn't what the game is about, it's about Alice exploring Wonderland and finding weird situation after weird situation until she finally see's her goal and comes home having had a grand adventure.

While this adventure could have had a dark god, it wasn't about setting out to kill one or stop one in anyway. It was open, the ending could have had an NPC succeed or a PC succeed like Jeff tried to do when he turned on the party and tried to take the ambrosia for himself.

When I ask questions in a fun game at the start of a new game of Pathfinder and you say “No one is as invested in your world as you are, we don't know your characters, your lands, your world.” Then Drake proves everyone wrong and gets every answer right because he dose take notes, he is invested, he did pay attention for the last 14 years of gaming in the same world, they why can't you? It's a matter of putting phones away, taking notes, investigating, exploring, learning and playing in the world your given to play in.

I made a mistake a few times and listened to one player over others. We restarted over and over, new rule set after new rule set for this player because “I can't just drop into the middle of your adventure” or “There is no clear villain”, “I don't do mercenary quests” or even “I don't like the rules in this game, let's go to less rules”. This was a huge mistake to listen to one player over the others who were having fun and led to a splitting of the groups. After realizing I knew the rules better than this player about his character and watching him over and over try to abuse and use the rules wrong in his favor we even switched to a game with less rules where the first things were to find rules for abilities that aren't in the game instead of just role playing.

About mercenary quests, I have written an entire article about mercenary quests in D&D and why they are a huge part of it. Get hired, do a job, get paid, its in the damn DM's guide to do this! Each player is different, why yes some like gold as a motivator, others don't. D&D at core (All the greats say the same thing) is about slaying monsters and using their money to go shopping.

While everyone is different, I have to consider that article after article in dragon magazine, online, and in forums are correct. If one player can't get along with everyone it is time to stop playing with them. Now I don't like to do this unless it's a huge deal, but after finding no way to please this player I have to give up DM-ing and let someone else try to appease him and continue DM-ing in a separate group.

It's very sad to me to see this, that someone can't find the joy in the adventure. Can imagine the color of the leaves on the trees in a druids grove or the way an enemy would leap at them with a clumsy swing and have his dented blade hit a rock and gain another dent. Sometimes people one wait for their turn and roll dice for numbers on an attack. It's part of the game sure, even optimization is part, but if the wizard Alatar in this deep blue robes with white stars glued on and his funny upturned mustache don't make an impression as he's hiring you to rid his cellar of rats, then your not winning anything. It's about picturing his problem, taking his gold to get good stuff, and helping him with his problem, no dark god, no end game, no A to B, make up a fun way to do it and do it.

I can go on endlessly, I really can because I have something no one else does no matter how much they think they know more. 14 years experience with running D&D, I have encounter every situation and made every attempt to correct how things work. Why walled cities? Because when I had towns with problems, the PC's actually went to the city and had the guards take care of the problems (ya it happened) so the adventure to the goblin caves for the night was off the table. Why should the PC's risk their necks to kill goblins when the town guards can do it for them? Hmm good point guys, guess if the cities were walled and holding back hordes of demons then the guards would be occupied with that and unable to help every citizen with problems, now the PC's can shine.

But why don't you give us a quest with a main goal or end game and we just do that? Again I did, so say you have to go into the woods to recover a magical bucket and bring it to a wizard. Clear goal right? Not so much as you think. This is called a “Hook” and it's in every published adventure out there. The PC's are sent to do something they think and end up doing the real adventure. So in this case the PC's are sent to get the bucket but when they get there they find werewolves are attacking near by. (Here is why I don't do this now) the PC's grab the bucket and went back to town . . . yes they really did. Because that was their quest, they only did what they were told, it was their justification. Many times I went through this because this is how you use a hook in D&D. They are NOT there to get the bucket and there is no reward for the damn bucket, you are there on an adventure and when something comes up you explore it are involved and off on a quest or new theme.

Some new players are our table (good people, but new) aren't seeing this because I solved it. I don't use get the bucket for me, now I use check rumors in the woods of odd happenings and other vague references to peak interest that something is going on there they might want to find out about. So now they are confused, why can't we have clear goals, well this is why we solved it, you did and turned a blind eye to the entire game to do a clearly silly hook to get you into the story. Now we get you into the story you don't see coming by having you explore it.

Black and white or good and bad do not work in such lame terms. The adventure we had where the wolfwere's and the werewolves were battling and the PC's accidentally sided with the 'evil' party was memorable to see the looks on their faces when they realized they had helped the wrong side and that the wolfwere's were actually the good guys. I could never have given my players the memories of this that they talk about to this day if I said “Uh guys the werewolves are the villains.”
This is also another side note on why “Detect evil” doesn't work in a Ravenloft game. The game is mystery and suspense mixed with gothic horror, if you can use detect evil off the bad and find the villain at the start, the game is over. You haven't won, you've lost as you've ruined the adventure for yourself.

Constantly saying “I don't get it” or “I am lost” or “I don't know what to do or what my goal is” Isn't the DM's fault, it's your poor note taking, investigating or exploring skills. If your lost, it's because I need you lost and to find your way, if you don't understand, it's because your not meant to understand an alien mind of madness who is trying to drive you insane. Not knowing who the villain or 'dark god' is, is the fun of unraveling the plot to see! And no you can't 'get it' if you don't pay attention or keep notes on the game your playing. You can't put your phone down on your turn and roll dice and expect to catch the relationship between two people from different planes who have an intertwined destiny. You don't just shoot the goblins and realize the noble families have been poly morphed into goblins and you just slew them if your not exploring the plot and looking for some end game villain who did this to them.

The game is story telling for a reason and your the players who drive the story and change it. How could I possible write the ending or 'end game' to a tale you've wove by your actions? I always have and always will write the story around the players and their decisions, their interpretation of whats happening and not put in a “Dark god” for them to slay.