What’s Happening in-game
They knew from the archive that their enemy might be the legendary heretic Verathensia. They wanted to probe for her with a psychic dream. So the two female PCs (yeah, I may not have mentioned that Habakkuk dropped the game and was replaced by a ninja girl named Yuki?) go to the visionary chambers, the Elder Sybils light up some herbs, start up a chant, and soon Fair Lady and Yuki’s minds are whisked off on a trippy nightmare about being buried alive.
The dream gives them some clues about where the witch has been hiding, so the party meets up with their bribed NPC spy, Pan. He didn’t find the witch but did find a hidden room – prersumably her lab. They snoop around, have a surprise confrontation with her, and fare a little better in combat than I wanted them to.
GM Tip: Watch What You Say
Fun fact: it’s the players’ job to turn your throwaway remarks into story material.
Last week, the party needed an NPC old enough to know certain information. In the interest of providing a nicely rounded description, I made up detals… I made it an NPC cluster called the Elder Sybils. Too old to hold leadership positions, their purpose was to have dreams and visions. The idea was that people who would be dismissed as senile in our society were revered as prophets in theirs. And of course that was just set dressing – all these NPCs were going to do was tell the players about the villain’s forgotten backstory.
But of course, I’d said these women have and interpret visions, so the players had to jump on that whole thing. They wanted to have a prophetic dream where they’d find out more info about the villain – I figured I’d allow it because they were pretty interested in the idea, and since the party’s coming was literally foretold by a goddess, they’d probably have some insights the Elder Sybils didn’t.
More on their dream below. The lesson here is: players will take your stray words and turn them into plot elements. Or in other, more optimistic, words, give your players round, full descriptions, and they’ll always know where they want to go next. (you just better be ready when they get there!)
GM Technique: Dream Scenes
(I wrote in depth about this technique itself on Thursday. Here’s the actual dream I gave them.)
The PCs find themselves descending a long spiral staircase. As they get to the bottom, they step out into a dark, yawning chamber. It appears to be rectangular – that is, the east and west walls are close enough to be visible, but the north south walls are out of sight.
If they explore the room, they’ll find that the walls are etched with unholy writings - in inconveniently large print.
If they look up at the ceiling, they’ll see a relief of a reposing Bast female, face-on.
If they look for the stairs again, they’ll find they’ve disappeared.
The room starts to appear smaller and smaller until, all at once, all four walls are touching the PC – it wasn’t a room at all, but a coffin. There were two PCs; both experienced this simultaneously, as if they were overlaid in the same space. And, horribly, there’s a third body in the same space – one filled with dark and cold.
Then there’s a clear, cold, call from above – impossibly far above – and I tell the PCs they somehow know it’s the sound of stars falling into place.
If the PCs attempt to lift the lid or break out, they’ll burst out into the room that had the stairs in it: an underground vault where the coffin lies. This room exists somewhere in the temple, but was overlaid with the coffin itself for the purposes of the dream-vision.
Their viewpoint whisks up the stairs and out into the light – then back into their own bodies.
Why did the room become a box? Because I wanted to give them a dream about coffins and deathlike slumber, and that was an easy way to add interest by disguising it. It also works as a glimpse of into Verathensia’s waking-up experience: it’s conceivable that her slumbering consciousness, lying still for centuries, might have perceived the coffin as a room until she began to wake.
Game Repair Technique: When Players Roll Too High
The party’s first confrontation with Verathensia was supposed to be a draw (and that’s not necessarily railroading, since the purpose was to make the coming boss battle more dramatic). But the party came up with some lucky rolls and clever moves that I didn’t want to just shoot down, so I had to find a way to save her from them.
BAD TECHNIQUE: Give her a super high attribute so she can effortlessly deflect their blows and say, “fools, your puny attacks are nothing against my sorcery!”
GOOD TECHNIQUE: Give her a new ability like transforming herself into a horde of snakes, which go slithering away and escape.
Ok, both methods are BS. The first kind makes player rolls less exciting, while the second makes the story more exciting. The first kind adds nothing new to the scenario (except a player inability to do anything), but the second kind adds interesting new dangers.
You could say the only difference is player perception. But, really, if players perceive your game as a place where they can’t do anything, that’s bad. If players percieve your game as a place with continuously changing challenges, that’s exciting. So those “have to lose” fights are all in how you sell them.