The Truth Behind the Lie

Here’s another idea for an RPG campaign that I’ll never get around to running, partially because organising even a single gaming session – let alone a campaign – when you get to my age requires a major effort, and partially because it touches on some tricky issues that I’m nowhere near good enough to handle in a suitably respectable fashion. Oh, and also because I’m explaining it here and my players are a bunch of dirty cheats who’d read this post in its entirety and spoil the whole thing.

So, it starts out as your standard fantasy RPG game, although the players would notice a few non-standard features of the setting. The PCs are all resistance fighters on the run, living rough in the wilderness while fighting back against the evil empire that has conquered the once prosperous realm. Sort of Robin Hood meets John Connor’s guys from The Terminator.

They need to sneak around, gathering resources to survive, making alliances with groups and individuals who may or may not be trustworthy and launching risky strikes against the foe whenever they can manage it. It’s a highly uneven battle – the enemy holds all the cards while the PCs have little but their determination and belief to keep them going.

While the warriors of the enemy are tough, the greatest threat to the PCs are the mind-bending magics of their sorcerers, capable of rewriting memories and personalities and turning trusted friends and allies to the side of evil. Being captured and subjected to mind-magic is the thing of nightmares and to be avoided by the PCs at all costs.

As the campaign progresses it should gradually become clear to the players that things aren’t all that they seem. As evidence mounts up it should slowly dawn on them that the PCs are not fantasy heroes valiantly fighting evil…

…they’re mentally ill homeless people living rough on the streets of a modern day city. The evil forces ranked against them are cops trying to maintain order and the terrifying mind-wiping sorcerers are social workers trying to get them into treatment.

As I said I could never pull this off in a way that firstly works, and secondly doesn’t make a mockery of the very serious issues of homelessness and mental health. But someone else might be able to manage, so have at it!

(Inspirations for this concept include the Tube Station scene in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Dirt Merchant Games’ extremely messed up – and extremely funny – “LARP” Freebase, which is well worth looking up.)

Dungeons and Dragons – Necropolis Part III

Wow, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Life getting in the way. But here we go with part III…

The task before the players appears simple, venture into the vast cemetery of Necropolis on certain carefully determined nights and place enchanted capstones on 26 pre-prepared pillars. Of course if it was that simple there would be no need for the Council to hire heroes to do it.

There are a number of threats to be encountered in the crypts and avenues of Necropolis, the majority of which are detailed below…

Grave Robbers: Theft from the graves and tombs of Necropolis has always been a problem. Regular patrols and threats of eternal damnation have historically kept this to a minimum, but with sensible folk increasingly too wary to enter the grounds, the patrols have fallen off, and a variety of vultures have turned up to take advantage. Small bands of opportunistic scavengers are not likely to prove a problem – many of them will be dealt with by the other threats – but could slow the party down. More dangerous will be the two or three well organised and heavily armed gangs that have moved in and are competing with each other for salvage rights. They are more than capable of engaging in running battles among the tombs and could easily put some of the players in graves of their own if they’re not careful.

Wandering Monsters: The dark force that has moved in to the heart of Necropolis has lead to a variety of undead and other unwholesome creatures taking up residence. Some of these have been brought in deliberately, some have been attracted by the presence of evil, and some are the result of spontaneous ‘resurrections’ among the internees. The outer regions of the cemetery play host to scattered, weak willed, non-intelligent undead, but the closer to the Avenue of Heroes the players venture, the more powerful and numerous these creatures will become. Worse, when the force becomes aware of the players and what they are attempting, it will start directing its minions to harass them directly.

Perhaps the most unexpected of the entities to have found their way into Necropolis are the vast things that have moved into the lakes. Getting to the pillars on the islands may prove very ‘interesting’ for the players.

The Force: The biggest threat the players face is of course the evil force vying for control of Necropolis. This is an alliance of several powerful Vampire Lords and a Lich, who aim to turn the cemetery and town into a stronghold of the undead. They are headquartered in the catacombs beneath the avenue of heroes and are carrying out a series of powerful magical rituals to corrupt the site, while also building a network of informants in the town. This network is in its infancy and as such it will take some time for the alliance to discover the great enchantment and start moving against it.

While the Alliance work together, they do not trust each other and are constantly trying to manipulate each other to gain the upper hand. This division could perhaps be exploited by clever players…

Anti-Heroes: Once the Alliance becomes aware of the players and their scheme, it will not only send ghouls, ghasts and worse things after them, it will also take a more subtle route. While the Priests and Clerics on the Council are devoted men and women of faith, some of the merchants are not quite so pure, and gold – particularly in large quantities – can open a lot of doors. One or two members of the Council will be convinced that delaying the progress of the great enchantment would be a good way to line their own pockets, and will go out of their way to make things a little more difficult for the players.

It should be noted that none of these merchants are downright evil. The forces arrayed against Necropolis are subtle, convincing, and skilled at manipulation. The offer of a bag of gold for – for instance – delaying a meeting by a day sounds like a harmless way to make some cash on the side. If the merchants were to be shown exactly who was paying their extra income they would be horrified – although it should also be noted that they have pointedly gone out of their way not to ask such questions.

One way or another their duplicity will be exposed when the players are given a corrupted capstone – supplied though a series of middlemen by the Alliance. Rather than protecting an area of the cemetery this will make it a haven for evil and act as an  beacon immediately summoning all monsters in the vicinity. It will also weaken the entire enchantment, opening previously protected areas of the cemetery to re-infestation. The corrupted Council members will be just as appalled by this as the loyal members – some will immediately confess, while some will flee. Chasing down and recovering these fugitives could prove an interesting side quest.

As well as corrupting the Council, the force will hire several teams of adventurers to take on the players directly with ambushes and attacks. While most of these will be made up of lowlifes and mercenaries, at least one party will be virtuous heroes who have been conned into thinking the players are the enemy. This group could prove a valuable ally if the players can sort out the confusion, but will be responsible for destroying several activated pillars (requiring them to be re-activated with new capstones) before any resolution can be bought about.

The Wildcard: There is one wildcard in the players’ quest, and his name is Marcus. Marcus is an ancient and powerful vampire who has occupied a neglected and swampy corner of the cemetery for upwards of 300 years. Unlike most of his kind, Marcus is a recluse who avoids other beings – even to feed – and simply wants to be left alone. His alignment is Lawful Neutral and he has developed a deep knowledge of magic, even though his undead state affects his ability to use it.

Marcus’s quiet existence was disrupted by the arrival of the Alliance. They were surprised to find a Vampire already occupying their chosen home, but quickly altered their plans to offer him a part. He completely rejected their entreaties and told them to leave. This lead to a number of attempts by the Alliance to drive Marcus out, all of which he completely repelled. The two sides have now settled into a state of resolutely ignoring each other, although both would be extremely happy if the other were to vanish.

One of the pillars is planned to be located right in the middle of Marcus’s territory. While he is not evil, the presence of such a powerful enchantment would require him to abandon his home and start over elsewhere, something he is reluctant to do, to say the least. As such he will sabotage the pillar as soon as it is set up, resulting in the capstone crumbling to dust as soon as it is placed. He will do his formidable best to frustrate any further attempts to extend the enchantment to his corner of Necropolis, all while attempting to conceal his presence as he has done for the previous three centuries.

Despite this, a confrontation with the players is inevitable. They have several options. Killing him is possible, but difficult. Driving him away by other means may also work, but will gain them a powerful enemy. Striking a deal with Marcus is the best option, although it will be difficult to gain his trust.

The best way to gain Marcus as an ally is to agree to conspire to place a modified capstone on the pillar. If a capstone is supplied to him he will be able to modify the enchantments so that it appears to function, but does nothing. This will not seriously impact on the overall enchantment and will allow him to continue his solitary existence.

Once this is done Marcus will lend the players substantial assistance in their fight against the Alliance. His catacomb – while somewhat unpleasant – is a safe refuge from the creatures inhabiting the cemetery, and he has some rudimentary healing skills. He will also be a valuable ally in any final confrontation with the Alliance, being skilled in both combat, and basic spellcasting.

So that’s it for Part III. Part IV will contain an overall summing up of the campaign and a conclusion.

Dungeons and Dragons – Necropolis Part II

I meant to get back to this much sooner, but here’s part II…

Back to Part I

The Council of Necropolis have determined that an evil force – of powerful but as yet undetermined nature – has taken up residence in the heart of the cemetery. It appears to be centered somewhere in the vicinity of the so-called “Avenue of Heroes”, a boulevard of the largest and most impressive tombs and monuments than run down to the largest of the Necropolis’s ornamental lakes. Rather than confront this force head on in a dangerous (not to mention expensive) battle, the Council have decided to place an enchantment over the whole cemetery, a massive Protection from Evil spell that will either drive out the force, or weaken it sufficiently to make a confrontation viable. This is where the Players come in.

The enchantment will be established and maintained via a series of stone pillars placed at carefully selected points within the cemetery. Each will initially offer protection to its immediate surroundings, but as more pillars are placed, their protective fields will grow in both range and power until the entire 5,000 or more acres of the site are covered. The setting up of a pillar requires a complex ceremony featuring elements of both Divine and Arcane magic – this can easily be done during the relative safety of the daylight hours. The final activation of each pillar however must be carried out at the stroke of midnight on a carefully determined date – failure to do so requiring a full month before the activation can be attempted again.

The Council require the Players to carry out these activations. They must venture into the Cemetery, carrying the carefully enchanted capstone for each pillar, and put in in place at midnight, facing down whatever horrors stalk the graves at night. Ample payment is offered, but will be only be delivered in full on a pillar by pillar basis.

There are 26 pillars to be capped in total, starting with those on the edges of the cemetery then moving inwards towards the Avenue of Heroes. Certain pillars present unique challenges – three must be placed on islands in the ornamental lakes and at least one is located with the extensive catacombs that riddle the site. For the enchantment to take effect no more than two pillars may be activated a week, so the task will take several months, during which time the evil presence at the heart of the Necropolis can be assumed to continue its growth.

Are the Players up to the challenge? And if so, what specific dangers and obstacles will they face? Tune in soon for Part III of Necropolis!

Dungeons and Dragons – Necropolis

Over the last few years the plot for a grand Dungeons and Dragons campaign has slowly assembled itself in my head. For various reasons it is unlikely that I’ll ever be able to run it as an actual game, so I thought I’d make it available for anyone who’s looking for something new and perhaps different to inflict on their playing group. Below, please find part one of the campaign sketch that I have decided to name ‘Necropolis’.

Over a thousand years ago the wise and powerful cleric Angevin passed away after a long life tending to the sick and destitute. His loyal disciples constructed a temple and small monastery around his grave, which over the years became a site of pilgrimage, attracting penitents and miracle seekers from across the known world. Many sick and elderly visitors sought nothing more than to be buried near the tomb of the blessed Angevin, and a cemetery grew up, tended by the brothers and sisters of the monastery, which grew rich and powerful on the bequests of the interred.

Over the centuries the burial ground grew larger and larger, and a town grew up to service the cemetery and its visitors. The great and powerful now sought to be buried there, with towering monuments and mausoleums rising above the simpler headstones. Catacombs and ossuries were dug into the hillsides, water courses were diverted to create streams and lakes, and gardens and shaded avenues were laid out among the tombs, creating a sculpted and manicured landscape to soothe the cares of the grief stricken mourners who now accompanied the bodies of their loved ones on the long trip to their final resting place.

Now the great cemetery covers over 5,000 acres, surrounded by miles of high marble walls. The burial ground and its attendant city – full of shrines, temples, inns and taverns to cater for the many visitors – are united under the name of Necropolis. Governed by a council made up of both businessmen and clerics it is a wonder of the world, and even the poorest beggar dreams of one day going to their rest among the heroes and saints that consecrate its soil.

But, all is not well in the city of Necropolis. The Council has so far kept matters quiet, but rumors are starting to circulate that a dark force has infiltrated the formerly sacred avenues and groves of Angevin’s resting place. The people of the city are loath to enter the cemetery alone, and all but the bravest (or most foolish) will not set foot within its bounds once the shadows begin to lengthen. As the rumors spread, visitors are starting to question whether a grave at Necropolis is such a prize after all, and the Council – for reasons both sacred and profane – has decided that action must be taken.

So it is that the word has gone out – discretely – that experienced adventurers looking to make a profit in both this world and the next should apply at the Monastery of Angevin before the next full moon…

Coming Soon – What’s going on, and what the Council want the Players to do about it!