Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Cult of Undeath template, part 2

Wake of the Watcher is part 3 of the Carrion Crown, and I can actually do this particular module more or less as written.  Sorta.  The concept is that one of the artifacts stolen earlier on in the series (from the poor guy who's funeral brings together the PCs in the first place, actually) isn't one of the McGuffins needed for the ritual to bring to life the Dweomer Lich after all; it's instead a Deep One (of Lovecraftian Innsmouth fame) idol that the Black Path have stolen to trade with the Deep Ones for the actual artifact that they want, which is actually located in the undersea (actually a large inland sea-scale lake rather than the ocean in this case) city of the Deep Ones, here represented by SRD scum.  There are actually a fair number of fish-people analogs in D&D; the scum and the kuo-toa are the most similar to Deep Ones.  Wizards of the Coast decided to keep kuo-toa "product identity" however, so they are not in the SRD.  My own ruleset for m20 does have Deep Ones identified as such, and again--I'm less likely to prefer the proliferation of the same concept into a large variety of different monsters than D&D itself is prone to do.

However, the concept of Wake, as described by the designers, is to be a "reverse Innsmouth."  The PCs are meant to discover that the Deep Ones have somehow been discovered by a cabal of mi-go, who have now enslaved them.  In attempting to overthrow their new mi-go overlords, some of the scum (or maybe it's human cultists from the city) have attempt to contact Shub-Niggurath and Dark Young are at risk for manifesting (which, if I recall, is actually the climax of the adventure.)

I, again, find the concept of monsters and cultists being presented as sufficiently sympathetic that we're supposed to save them, a difficult concept to swallow, and sadly, its a recurring theme throughout this adventure path.  But that's relatively easy to work around; if the PCs need to either find the McGuffin, or stop the bad guys from finding the McGuffin, or at the very least find the clue that leads them to the next adventure--as campy, predictable and railroady as that concept kind of is--then we at least have sufficient motivation to play the adventure out more or less as written, even if they don't want to bother saving the cultists of Illmarsh (Innsburough--let's be plenty clear what we're pastiching here) or the Deep Ones--which seems to me to be perfectly reasonable--they still can explore the area, have the requisite encounters, and whatnot.

I certainly won't include the detailed exploration of the caverns below the city where the Deep Ones live, because again--dungeons.  I don't do them.  I dislike strongly the blinders that module designers have where they can't help but turn everything into a dungeon.

When we get to the penultimate adventure in the arc, we--again (sigh)--find ourselves meant to ally with the monsters, and save vampires from something worse than vampires or something like that.  In the backstory of the campaign, in the waning days of the reign of the Dweomer Lich, many vampires turned away from him, looking instead to capitalize on their parasitic relationship with humanity and therefore foster their continued existence.  The Black Path adherents, however, have allied with a coven of witches and made a deal with them in which they brew a potion or elixir which is like a drug to lesser vampires, particularly spawn.  Hooking a lesser vampire with this, they've convinced him to betray the vampire hierarchy in the capital city (Grozavest).  This guy has been running around murdering vampires secretly and framing a patsy for it.  He's also moved quickly up the hierarchy of vampire social status in the meantime.

The PCs are meant to enter this entangled web of deceits and to some degree sort it out.  They may well have little or no sympathy with the entrenched vampire hierarchy and may in fact well celebrate the fact that it's being destroyed, but the fact that it's to be replaced (in the mind of the young vampire responsible for the murders) with a younger, more aggressive, less cunning generation of vampires means that it's likely worse for the poor citizens of Grozavest.  Also; there are two side effects of the success of this scheme; the Black Path gets the last item that they're looking for in their quest of a string of McGuffins and can go attempt to bring the Dweomer Lich back.  This is, of course, the whole deal that the PCs have been chasing after the entire time they've been playing this.  However, we introduce another wrinkle; the two witches are trying to reform their hag mother, who has been stuck in a swarm form for years, by gathering all of her bones and assembling them together.  That's the stake they have in this whole thing, and what the Black Path has bartered for their help.  Stopping this from happening, or better yet, putting the entire trio out of their misery, is a great secondary goal.

In the final chapter of the series, a very prominent nobleman (Seneslau Lechfeld) has been kidnapped; supposedly if the various McGuffins are used on him, the spirit of the Dweomer Lich can possess him and thereby return to the world from its trap in the tower/prison in which it remains today (the Spire of Neb Ankh.)  The PCs have to race to the sinister cursed lands surrounding his ancient capital, work their way through various undead haunted areas to confront the head honcho of the Black Path (Grigore Stefanescu) who has by now himself turned into a powerful lich, and stop him from enacting his ritual, save the damsel in distress (who happens to be a man, sorry) and halt the plans for the return of the worst villain the entire campaign setting has ever known.

There's also a gratuitous slam at right-wing type guys because on the way, you're supposed to find a group of crusaders falsely accusing a "witch" of being a witch or something.  Blah.  I'll absolutely either cut or completely change that one.

While numerous details of this don't appeal to me, and the structure of the entire thing feels way too much like simple slogging from one combat to another without anything more interesting happening, at a rather basic level, I think it works fairly well and I'll probably approach this with a slightly lighter touch than I have some of the previous chapters in this arc.

There's some interesting suggestions at the end for continuing the campaign from there.  One is that our damsel in distress, Seneslau Lechfeld, starts having visions after his experience of the seals that hold the Dweomer Lich captive failing.  He has reasons to believe that there's something to them, so he contacts his trusted friends and rescuers, the PCs, for help.  Another suggests that the hag mentioned in part 5 is reborn.  Another is that the vampires from part 5 have an all-out vampire war break out in the capital city.  Another is that various former lieutenants of the Dweomer Lich from the time of his undead rule manage to sit up and take notice, etc.

Anyway, we'll see.  Clearly, I'll have some work to do to clean this up into something that will resonate for me personally and my tastes, and the slightly bohemian "misunderstood monsters" and "evil intolerant crusaders" vibes will have to be excised as well as the dungeons, and if I can figure out how, the heavy-handed railroading that the modules assume.

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