Campaign story advice needed

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I'm running a long term (1-30) campaign that is just making the move from the heroic (level 1-10) to paragon (level 11-20) levels and I could use a bit of advice. I have a good idea of where I want to go, but there are a few things along the way that I need some help with. I started this campaign with the ending in mind after having read through "The Plane Above". 

The entire section on the God Erathis (Goddess of civilization) and her work to restore the lattice of heaven sparked some great ideas and I decided before even beginning that the game would end with the party stopping their main villain from attaining Godhood and claiming a lost astral dominion with Erathis' backing. However, the method for reaching that apotheosis would be too far along to stop so one of the players would have to step in, possibly sacrificing themselves (or attaining their Epic Destiny to become a God) if they wanted to save the souls of countless innocents who were tied into this great ritual somehow. 

So with a traditionally good deity (technically unaligned but mostly thought of as good) backing the bad guy, I thought it might be interesting to give the players an evil deity as a patron, despite their good alignment. With that in mind, I decided that it would be Vecna (God of necromancy and secrets) who would help them out. Erathis wants the lattice rebuilt and is not terribly picky about how it happens, but she knows some of the other gods would object to her methods so she is trying to keep her involvement here mostly quiet. That is the kind of secret Vecna would love to have and to have proof of to exploit in the future. 

I've been laying a lot of groundwork with events in the Heroic tier for allies and enemies that will come back for the endgame and I think I've done a fairly good job of that. Beginning in the natural world the adventuring led to a brief turn in the Underdark and now they are exploring a lost city that is mechanical in nature (think Eberon) but was constructed eons ago as a massive planar vehicle. The entire thing will soon be ripping itself apart when the current bad guy tries to activate it. This will lead to some plane jumping adventures as we get into the Paragon levels. 

Here is where I could use some advice. I want to start giving the players hints that they have gotten themselves mixed up in something a lot bigger than they thought and also to introduce them to an agent of Vecna. Odds are that they will reject his help right away, but I intend to have him give them a way to contact him in the future, maybe even without them knowing he did it. Something like a talisman that you have to whisper a secret to in order to activate it. But I'm not quite sure the best way to play off an agent of Vecna as an ally while still keeping the feeling that this is an incredibly dangerous ally to have. 

Furthermore, when the party starts to really get in the way of the villains plans, Erathis will start to intervene. Subtly at first, but as they get into Epic tier (levels 21-30) her forces will openly oppose them. Angels of various types are the most obvious things to send against them, but what other sorts of creatures would make sense for her to send? 

This is my first foray into the higher tiers of play so I'm feeling a little bit nervous. Any advice or help or just random ideas would be greatly appreciated. Like I said, I've been unable to discuss this with anyone and it has been just killing me. 

I should also mention that the ultimate villian is going to turn out to be an NPC that is currently with the party.

On their way to finding the lost city that they are currently exploring, they found a broken and bairly functional mechanical being. In game terms, he is a Warforged. The history of this city that the party is just starting to figure out is that the entire place was constructed as a planar vehicle, allowing an entire civilization to move and explore at will. Furthermore, this civilization developed a way to transfer their consciousnesses into mechanically built and mystically powered automatons (the Warforged). 

What they are only just starting to understand is that the process is far from perfect. Many died trying to make the transference and those that survived went (to differing levels) insane. The longer they lived in these mechanical bodies the crazier they went. The NPC they found who had been essentially deactivated for millenia has almost no memory of who he is or what has gone on. He has given the party some cryptic information about "The Makers" but doesn't seem to know he was one. The other remaining Warforged in the city are completely berserk insane with no real rational thought left to them. 

As the party progresses the NPC (that my son nicknamed "Rusty") will begin to regain bits and pieces of his memory and with it his overriding desire for immortality and power that was the original goal of becoming a machine man. 

When the party gets to my version of the Darksun setting, "Rusty" is going to get way too interested in how magic works there. The idea is that magic is tied to life, so unless you are really careful casting a spell means something dies. The up-side of that is that the spells can be essentially supercharged by drawing on more life energy. Being a creature powered by magic, he is going to learn how to do it and take that knowledge back with him to further empower himself. 

I'm not 100% on the details beyond that for his Godhood. I know I want him to betray the party and leave them for dead about half-way through the paragon levels and go off to construct some sort of great machine. This machine will allow him to bind himself to thousands of people and simultaneously drain them off their life/soul energy to become a God. 

This will also lead for a bit of a dilemma for the party when they finally get to stopping him. The machine will be on and starting up, so if they kill him all those people could still die. My intention is that one of the party will step into it to control it and safely release all of those people. If they do that, that PC will still have the effect of attaining Godhood from the device. Alternately, they may choose to just let it wind down doing who knows what to the people tied to it, or destroy it and probably kill all of them.  

Again, thanks for any thoughts or advice.

-Chad 
You have a lot going on in your mind about this campaign so first and foremost, I'm going to just straight up tell you that your players will make decisions throughout the campaign that will completely throw you and your large-scale plan out the window.  Instead of simply finding and hiring a boat captain, they'll buy their own boat and spend an entire adventure trying to find and then have the group's druid tame a Kracken who will become the boat's "motor."  Yes, that happened in my previous game, and reminded me of Ferris and her sea-dragon friend Syldra from Final Fantasy V.

That said, you want advice on planting the seeds of Vecna in the group's heads.  Dreams are a very good place to start.  For example, ell them that they each have recurring dreams where they're seeing and hearing Erathis speaking to them, but it is clearly not their own body they inhabit.  Maybe they also have times in the game where undead enemies seemingly act on the party's behalf - they're about be be killed by a dragon, but a hoard of undead kobolds the group just finished slaughtering comes to the group's aid at the last minute.

Are ideas like that what you're hoping for? 
Oh I know the players exsist soley to destroy my awesome ideas.  They have already done so and will continue to as long as they play.  But at this point, they seem to be more or less on track with what I want to do and so I think I'm ok with at least having a few major story points that I want to hit.  Even if I need to rework them a bit or even run them a little out of order.

The party by the way consists of the following:

Corrin the Halfling rouge. Traditional backstabby thief. This is played by my friend Jason who is the only one with D&D experience in the party aside from me. 

Sereya the Human rouge. Designed as a former acrobat and entertainer who specializes in throwing knives. Played by my wife. 

Umlot the Goliath runepriest of Kord. Played by my friend Dave who is new to D&D and is now interested in running a few sessions as DM. 

Odoetta the Changeling sorcerer. Wild, random effects from most of his spells, and backstory of trauma leads him to believe he is a human wizard, so he is always convinced his spells will do something else and his changeling tricks happen rarely and without his knowledge. Played by my 19yr old son. 

We originally had a Paladin in the party as well, but that friend lives a bit too far away to make the games regularly. My youngest daughter (16 this past weekend) has recently expressed an interest in playing though, so she might come in to round out the party a bit in the near future.  

So most of the players are fairly inexperienced and are all about just having fun with where the story goes.  It took a lot of convincing at first that it was up to them what to do next, not me.  They are starting to take to that with gusto now, so it should be interesting to see where things end up.

Now, your advice...

I LOVE the dream idea.  I'm actually feeling kinda stupid for not having thought of that myself as I was even considering a visit to the plane of dreams for them.  I'm so gonna use that in some way.  Thanks a ton for the idea!

-Chad 
Wow, that's an interesting party.  I'd strongly suggest you bring in an NPC Leader, or else the party won't have any bandaids!
Interesting is one way to put it.  Laughing

I tend to pride myself as being a DM who says "Yes" as often as possible.  When we started the game I let the players choose whatever characters they wanted and decided I would roll with it.  Now, when we started we also had a Paladin and between him and the Runepriest the healing was just fine.  Now...  Now things are a bit more complex but not as bad as you would think.

The Runepriest is the defacto leader with some healing abilities and various zone effects that either buff the party or debuff the monsters.  My wife's rouge, being both a thrown weapon specialist and built as an acrobat, has a lot of things that can hit hard from far out but she can also move in and shift multiple squares with a lot of her attacks.  This lets her hit hard and get out.  The halfling rouge has some crazy high stealth and manages to get almost constant sneak attacks and the sorcerer, if the die comes up right can just unleash massive chain attacks that can nail most anything on the map.

Definately not a traditional party but they have managed to make it work so far.  I have a number of NPC's in my back pocket that I can bring out to help them if/when the time comes but they have not really needed the help so far. 

-Chad 
Check out all the monsters in the compendium that have the "Mount" keyword too.  Players, especially new players, love getting a Giant Ant or Skeletal Horse!
Have you thought about making a timeline for the campaign, so that things happen with ot withut the players intervention, so that if they players decide to monkey around doing random stuff, they will feel the repurcossions(sp) of not getting involved? this will also make the world more alive in the eyes of the players. It doen´t have to be worldaltering events that happen just because the players decide to explore something different just enough to get them wondering on why this happened and also might give them some clues as to the endgame/plan of the deity and villain. Like the dream idea, its a bit of railroadding but not to obvious as the players themselves decide on what to do with the dream information, they might even try to find a soothsayer that can help them interpret these weird dreams they are having. Furthermore Rusty´s behaviour changes could be signs to the players, and he could even hint at or ask about certain magical phenomenon and get the players to think along new lines, thereby planting hints through him.

As to opponents and difficulties sent against the players from a god of civilization, i suggest bureaucracy, increased taxes, fines for what not, lawyers, barons, high influence traders. These are things that can make the players annoyed and might also give them clues. Once you fine the goliath to be to tall in accordances with the city code the players will discover that there is smething really wrong with the rules, maybe even have him arrested and stand trial because he wouldn´t oblige the law and kept flaunting his lawbreaker, afterall he could just have made himself shorter and payed the fine in the first place :P

I have not made a formal timeline, but have had some notes for what would happen if they decided to go off in a different direction than I intended.  I think it is probably a good plan for me to get a better one down as they are slowly getting more comfortable going off on their own and will probably catch me at least a few times with something I did not intend.

The idea of bureaucracy as an opponant is truly brilliant.  I am going to have to start slowly introducing that kind of thing right away and slowly ramp it up.  Fining the Goliath for being too tall in really inspired!  Definately making a note of that for the future.

-Chad 

Glad you liked it, thought it as a rather fun way of showing them that they might not be the problem but rather it´s the rules.


This picture helped alot though hehe
www.djibnet.com/photo/motivational/speed...


I myself like to use the timeline, it makes the world more dynamic and allows the players a bit of a pace up when they are stuck/doing something else Also makes my characters more motivated, often i change something in the timeline because of the players actions as they tend to go out of the way to ruin the brilliant plan the arch villain has prepared for world domination.


Who is the current "bad guy" Erathis is backing? and how will the transistion from that guy to Rusty be? or will Rusty attempt his own ritual?


You talked about Vecna as an ally for the players. Pre-dark sun i think that Rusty should be idifferent to that idea, but afterwards very supportive of that idea. As necromancy is very much tied into his own attemtpts at godhood and he thinks he might be able to ferret out some ideas from that partnership, that might help further his own plans.


What kind of side-adventures do the players go on? might be able to tie them into the main plot somehow through Vecna or Rusty or merely have the planar travel city make a decision for them on the next stop (think star gate universe) have a whole side adventure where the city overpowers and is close to a meltdown and the players have to run around reading ancient inscriptions, doing rituals and just doing damage control on this vast ancient planar device. Let them discover a lost library that tells of the importance of cosmic/godly balance and gives the players some free ranks in religion or arcane or some other. afterall its an ancient city of god-like creatures, there has to be some long lost knowledge hidden somewhere.

I've been trying to lay some groundwork really early on for allies and enemies that are going to come back to help/haunt the party before the major story arc swings into full gear.  Things began with a very typical "save the village" kind of senario, but I added a few little twists to it.

 People were dissapearing and while hanging around the town they ended up seeing an abduction take place and kinda stop it.  Robed figures had grabbed a few people and were running off with them, the party attacked to try and stop them and managed to save a few people, but a couple attackers still managed to get away with their prisoners.  Durring the fight, they saw that the attackers had a strange scarred appearance with stiches all over them.  After dealing some damage, the attackers were revealed to be animated skeletons with litteral body suits of stiched together flesh concealing what they were.  The party followed the trail of the escaped skeletons and found a wizzard experementing with necromancy and human sacrifice for summoning.

After defeating the wizard and his minions, they found a demon summoned and trapped in a circle of binding demanding to be set free.  Instead of that, they used the ritual book the wizard was using to send it back to where it was summoned from.  The creatue swearing revenge on them the whole time.  They returned the villagers who were still alive safely and everything seemed well.  The Paladin left to bring the book to a monistary of some sort where it would be safe and the halfling stayed in the village, enjoying the rewards of being a hero.

The rest of the party went off on some side adventure here to try and find where some of the remaining villagers were.  It seemed the wizard sold some of them off to a group of slavers.  Durring this little trek they saved the life of a young Iron Dragon.  When they returned, the village was millitarizing and slowly slipped into an almost fanatical police state under the control of one of the villagers they saved from the wizard.  When they eventually got to the bottom of things, they discovered the woman was a Succubus who had been summoned by the wizard in a botched ceremony.  She essentially possessed the woman who was intended to be the sacrifice.

From there...things did not go well.  They managed to stop the succubus, but in the ensuing mele they burned the entire village to the ground, killing almost everyone in the process (but to be fair, most were completely under the sucubuss' control at that point).  They escaped down a massive secret tunnel a Drow shopkeeper had established to the Underdark.  After having a run in with the "Lost Empire of Arkosia" (crazy Dragonborn whom they befriended) they found the city they are currently in.

The current problem they are going to be facing is going to be a sibling of one of the late addditions to the party, a Genasi Swordmage.  If you check out his character page, you can see where I'm comming from with that:

www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/curse-o...

I intend for the summoned demon, the succubus and even the paladin who went off with the book (the player who is no longer in the game) to return as antagonists latter on.  The dragon and the army of Dragonborn will come back for the end-game as allies of the party.  So here is my rough breakdown of the timeline/major events as I see it...

Heroic Tier:

1) Natural World - Summonder/Village/Succubus
2) Underdark - Finding and befriending the Dragonborn
3) Lost City - Discover "Rusty"/find a planar airship that will be home base for a bit as they repair it
4) Some minor plane hopping as the ship malfunctions

Paragon Tier: 

1) Stuck in Darksun - Recover some artifacts to break through the plainar walls keeping this world removed from all others
2) Shadowfel - First contact with an agent of Vecna/Rust begins to put his plans into motion
3) The Astrial Sea - Rusty leaves the party for dead on a tiny mote/party survives and aquires a new ship to hunt Rusty/party discovers more of Rusty's plan

Epic Tier:

1) The Nine Hells - On the trail of Rusty as he gathers info & materials for the Great Machine that will lead to his Godhood
2) The Elemental Chaos - Still chasing Rust & trying to prevent him from gathering elementals to power the machine and an imprisoned Primordial to use as the key componant
3) Return to the Astrial Sea - On a shattared dominion where Rusty has set up his machine the party deals with allies Rusty has gained and ones Erathis has sent.  The party will have help from what allies they have gained.  The natives of the dominion will also play a part if the party can convince them to rise up against Rusty.

-Chad 

The current problem they are going to be facing is going to be a sibling of one of the late addditions to the party, a Genasi Swordmage.  If you check out his character page, you can see where I'm comming from with that:

www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/curse-o...



-Chad 



Their problem or your problem?

I like dreams.  I also like avatars.  Fizban was a great avatar for Paladine.
 
Use various guises depending on who the avatar is approaching and have tells. 

First person approached is the halfling rogue.  This cloaked (can't see eyes) one-handed halfling approaches him to talk about the strange NPC and expresses suspicion about the unusual contraption. Perhaps he gives the rogue something of use against the NPC, but tells him not to tell anyone or they may think he's crazy or jealous.  If the rogue asks what happened to him (hand) he can say "treacherous allies." Or even "that's a secret." 

Have a one-handed skeleton with part of the skull missing (particularly the eye socket) hand the last PC in the room an item of interest then fall apart.
Parenthood: Gain rage class feature. While enraged, take ongoing psychic damage equal to half the child's level. Dealing damage while enraged is against your Code of Conduct and you will be depowered.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/13.jpg)

^^Wow, is that really how I came across in that personality thing or was this chosen at random?
Just a quick idea. If you're going to start putting beauracracy in the player's way as an opponent from the Goddess of civilisation, who's to say that Vecna won't do what he can to help them overcome this.

Got a devoted city official who is adamant that this new law impeding the part be imposed? See how pliable he becomes when the party suddenly know about his secret mistress or that he's been dipping his hand into the coffer. If you want to start getting a little more obvious you could even have them discover the secret when it appears on a scroll pinned to the wall of their room with a dagger (Vecna's favoured weapon).

It sounds like a really interesting campaign, I do hope the party continue to behave themselves and play along.
All awesome ideas guys, thanks!

I really like the idea of each of the party members being approached individually first and maybe not relating what happened to the rest of the party.  Little intrigue there that I like.  When the time comes, I might even have those interactions with the players via email or Skype a day or two before the game and let them decide what to do with it.

Giving the "good guys" the opportunity to blackmail their way out of red tape is awesome as well.  I'll probably start them off with a situation that involves a blatantly corrupt official, but slowly move the slider over to more ambiguous things so that they have to make a choice about moving through things quickly but ruining a fairly good and decent man to do it or being nice and lawfull about it and possibly loosing track of Rusty.

The next game is comming up on the 2nd, and that will be finishing up the lost city arc and probbably begining my "DM break" where one of my players (the Goliath Runepriest) is going to take over for a session and I'll be playing.  It is going to work that everyone is going to make a jump through a portal, he and I will stand up and switch places at the table, and when the party comes through his character is missing.  They will soon meet my character (who would otherwise be an NPC) and have a side adventure before hitting another portal (without my guy) and ending up in the original destination where they find the Runepriest battered, beaten, exhausted and nearly dead next to Rusty in a small makeshift camp in a desert waste.

This is how I intend to introduce Darksun.

-Chad