Sunday, December 10, 2023

Planting Seeds of Adventure

Sorry I haven't been posting about the War Machine revisions I've been working on. I did check out the version in Dark Dungeons X, which was recommended to me. It's simplified many aspects (including making it opposed d20 rolls instead of d% rolls, so smaller numbers to work with overall), but has some layers of complexity that I've gotten rid of in my current version. Anyway, I've been too busy with grading assignments and other real world stuff to bother much with it this week. Probably not this coming week, either, but who knows. 

Today (my final day at the ripe young age of 49), we had a really fun session of my TS&R Jade campaign, and I think it illustrates some of the things I'm doing to enrich my campaign world and plant seeds of future adventures, including setting up potential for "end game" domain/war game/planar adventures type things in the future. 

Before I talk about today's session, readers will need a bit of background on the campaign. 

So it's an Asian goulash fantasy setting, and I've started it from a home town area with a 1 mile per hex scale (although there's a local region map at 6 miles per hex, and the PCs have ventured off the initial map once to visit the daimyo, more on that below). The home town is called Pine Bridge Town because it sits at the confluence of two small rivers into a lake, and has a large bridge across one of those rivers. Near the home town are some smaller villages, and plenty of ruins and monster lairs, including The Pits of Lao, the local "megadungeon" although it's only 3 levels deep and I don't plan to increase that. 

Early in the campaign, there was a group of martial artist bullies who came to town. They were disciples of Coiled Serpent Bao, a martial arts master warlord (BBEG type). The PCs managed to kill or capture all but the leader of this group, who fled back to Coiled Serpent Fortress (on the regional map, not that close to Pine Bridge). Because of another early adventure hook in which the constable of Pine Bridge was neglecting her duties (actually an Asian doppelganger called an aswang), the party decided to visit the daimyo, tell of defeating the ruffians, and get some support to protect the town. This succeeded, and the daimyo sent a troop of soldiers to guard things while the PCs sorted out the aswang menace (eventually). 

Meanwhile, they did make a few light forays into the Pits of Lao. They also explored some other local adventuring sites, like protecting the Holy Tree from yasha (small annoying demons), battling bandits and finding out that the local Imperial garrison doesn't care about the bandits or the bakemono menace, and visiting the local Yokai Village and making some friends there. 

Oh, another rumor that they initially started to follow up on but dropped was that the local Temple of Morning needed money, and would provide sohei to support they group if they would eliminate a lair of nasty bakemono that were causing trouble. 

Most recently (the previous three sessions) they were following up on a rumor. The nearby Nabeoka Village had a plague, but the local wu jen (magic-user) Seung had read of healing waters in the abandoned Nishino Iron Mine. They also encountered some ninja who also were seeking a plague cure (a potential seed for later) He sent the party to get the waters so he could make medicines. In the process, the party made an alliance with some bakemono (goblins), found out that koropokuru (dwarves) had set up shop in the upper levels of the mine [bakemono and koropokuru don't get along], and that various dangerous giant bugs lived below. Well, long story short, after three sessions and several slain henchmen, they recovered the waters, along with a magical spear, a spellbook, and a foreman's tally book. 

I'd originally put the tally book in just as a bit of color. But one of the players kept asking questions about it, hinting that possession of it might lead to information on who has claim on the mines, wondering if the PCs might take it over. Well, I wasn't going to let that go to waste. Over the break, I gave them a rumor that says the Nishino family served the Hasegawa family, so any deed to the mine is probably in Ghost Castle Hasegawa (long time readers may remember that name from my Chanbara playtesting--yes, I'm reusing it). The name has kept them away from that dungeon despite other rumors trying to draw them there. 

Additionally, the magic spear, I decided on the spot during the previous session, was forged by the legendary Huang the Swordsmith (a special encounter in the Pits of Lao), as was the magic blade of the koropokuru leader. More seeds. I gave the party a rumor that Master Xu, the Lotus Fist, might know more about Huang. The 18 Chambers of Lotus Fist is a location on the local map that they were curious about, but hadn't visited before.

Finally, now that Seung the Wu Jen has made medicine and the residents of Nabeoka are recovering, the 12 yangban (aristocrat) families of the town invited the PCs for a celebratory feast. But Uncle Chiu, who runs a noodle stand in Pine Bridge and always has lots of rumors and inside information, warned them that the yangban families probably just want to give them some bothersome mission or other. That was the third rumor I gave them. 

OK, lots of long set up done, but it is necessary to demonstrate how all of these seeds, interconnections, and rumors can play into each other. Sometimes I have these things planned in advance, other times I make the connections on the fly, as demonstrated above. But you can't make any connections if you don't have more of the world planned out than just enough for the next dungeon delve. 

Today's session in brief. After discussing rumors the party (level 5 vanara thief/ninja with level 1 dog hengeyokai sohei retainer; level 4 crane hengeyokai kensei with level 1 human mudang retainer; level 4 human wu jen with level 1 raccoon dog hengeyokai retainer; level 4 human blade mage with level 1 human fighter retainer; plus one man-at-arms that they more or less forgot about and dismissed after the first day) set out to the feast at Nabeoka. Arriving at night, they learned a little about the village (12 aristocrat families, other lower class families serve them, mostly rice farming going on), and the feast would be the next day. 

With plenty of time on their hands, they set out to the 18 Chambers of Lotus Fist, which was only 9 miles away. They met Master Xu, and found out that the temple was overrun by monsters. He had cleared out the main hall, but in order to train others, the 18 Chambers (training halls) would need to be cleared. The party set out to clear the Hall of the Foot (Dex related), fighting ethereal marauders in the Chamber of Balance (harder than expected fight, they lost the wu jen retainer), and quicklings in the Chamber of Reflex (hard but manageable). 

They decided not to press their luck, and headed back to Nabeoka for the feast. They found out that yes, the yangban want them to get some bakemono who have been kidnapping children (the same as the Temple of Morning rumor mentioned above), and they would like the PCs to investigate. 

The next morning, the PCs, refreshed with new spells, and having recruited a new 1st level wu jen henchman, decided to return to the Lotus Fist temple and finish the job on the Hall of the Foot. They fought two flailsnails in the final chamber to clear it out, and collected some loot. Master Xu told them that Huang the Swordsmith can be found on the third level of the Pits of Lao (they've explored about a quarter of the 1st level, but have a map bought from a thief with some vague indications of areas they haven't explored).

But on the way, they had a  random encounter with "martial artists" which presented me with a nice opportunity. I decided on the spot that if reactions were unfavorable, they were Coiled Serpent martial artists coming for some payback. If they had positive reactions, they were looking to become students of Master Xu. They ended up being Coiled Serpent lackeys. The party avoided them (they managed to surprise them), but considered returning to take them out after battling the flailsnails. 

In the end, they decided not to go after them at this time, but they had another random encounter with bakemono. They first tried to fast talk the goblins, but that didn't work and a fight broke out. After slaying the bakemono, they went through their belongings looking for evidence of kidnappings. There were none, but now they seem hooked on that. 

On the return trip to Pine Bridge, there was one more random encounter. I rolled for 2 duelists. Well, of course they were not a friendly pair, it was a stand-off! I've been waiting for this result to come up for a while now. The party stopped to watch. My 9 year old, Steven, wanted to interfere, but everyone stopped him. Then the players started taking bets. Denis (who plays the kensei and mudang) bet on the samurai, everyone else bet on the ronin. Then I gave control of the duelists to Denis and Steven. They played out the duel, and the ronin won. Everyone had a lot of fun with that encounter. 

Nate (playing the thief and sohei) commented that they shouldn't try to ally with a disgraced ronin, and I commented, maybe he just earned his honor back. Anyway, the ronin waved to the party then headed on his way. But that's another potential seed for adventure in the future. 

So after this one adventure, we have all sorts of potential for future adventures. 

  • There are bakemono kidnapping children. 
  • There are 15 more chambers of Lotus Fist to be cleared out, and potentially training with Master Xu some time in the future. 
  • There are more areas to explore in the Pits of Lao, and they have yet another rumor to follow up (there are several outstanding rumors about the Pits), one which could result in custom made magical weapons. 
  • There is the tally book, pointing to Ghost Castle Hasegawa. 
  • There are Coiled Serpent martial artists in the area, apparently looking for revenge. 
  • And there's this mysterious ronin duelist. What's up with him? I have no idea yet. But he may well return some time in the future.

Experienced old school DMs probably don't need to hear this, but if you're new to DMing, or you've just been playing the WotC way, this is how you start building up that campaign world. Make connections. Tie this to that. Think of ways to turn random encounters into adventure seeds. Give the players rumors and hooks. If they don't follow them, maybe let the laps. Or maybe, find a new way to get them interested. 

My players weren't interested in fighting bakemono with help from the local temple, if they had to split the profits. But rescuing kidnapped kids? They're all about that. 

The players have ambitions about making their place in the world (using the mine operation as funding, for example), and I've given them hooks to follow to make that happen. 

One player has his wagon currently undergoing renovations to become a battle wagon. There is a tanuki armorsmith who can make mastercraft armor, who is doing the work. Another session or two and the battle wagon will be ready. 

Another player wants to head down to the coast on the regional map to buy a junk (Chinese ship, not garbage) and maybe become a pirate captain. 

If the players can end the curse of Ghost Castle Hasegawa, the Hasegawa clan can reclaim it. Daimyo Isenoumi would like to send his army to check the growing power of renegade warlord Han Ji Shen (haven't mentioned him yet to you guys, but I've dropped rumors to the players -- another potential BBEG). Having the Hasegawa clan restored would help that effort. 

Exploring the Pits of Lao, the PCs may encounter all sorts of other encounters which can lead to further adventure (dragons, planar portals, treant gardeners, evil cultists, allies and enemies...)

Some of these things I've had in the works since I made the regional map (Warlord Han Ji Shen, Coiled Serpent Bao, a few other potential BBEG types). Some since I made the local map (The Pits of Lao, Ghost Castle Hasegawa, the 18 Chambers of Lotus Fist). Some I've thought up based on previous PC actions. Some I just make up on the fly. No matter where they come from, they can all make the world richer, and more lived-in. And they get the players into a situation where they have more goals and ambitions than they can handle at one time. And my campaign is just transitioning to the mid-level sweet spot zone. 

When we get to high levels, I plan to continue to put as many irons in the fire as possible for the players, to keep the campaign fresh.

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