Just a note... I have been following the thread here and it's great. I've been copy/pasting everything into a text document, with the intention of just reading it once I got a few sessions together. I did that today, for the first time, and even without the sidenotes, the text is about 12 pages. The beginnings of a novel, no doubt!
Beyond that, awesome stuff. Your players don't play like they have little experience with the system, truthfully, and the encounters seem to be very well thought out and executed. I love the flavor the city has... I keep seeing a cross between a constantly raining Venice and New Orleans, especially with the last installment of the parade of floats.
Keep up the good work, and please don't be offended if I steal your concept lock stock and barrel sometime down the line. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all!
Thanks so much, guys. It really means a lot to me that so many people are enjoying this stuff. It's a lot of work to write it all down sometimes, but it's totally worth it to know that there are people out there who look forward to reading more. And Bug, please, feel free to take and expand upon any of the ideas that you like. I've put a lot of work into Strasa, but so have a dozen or so other posters here. The one aspect of Strasa that I enjoy the most is that its creation is a collaborative effort.
I'll post some of my ideas for the next session(s) over the next few days. Essentially, my plan is for the Raven Watch to launch a counter-offensive against Zessith's invasion force. I'll handle it kind of like a dungeon, except, instead of being underground, the group's navigating through the winding streets of Strasa under cover of darkness. They'll be able to sneak past heavily fortified positions, use streetwise to detect the best routes from point A to point B, etc. Since I've got some new players, I've been hesitant to put them into a full-on dungeon up until now: I needed everyone to understand their character classes; to get a feel for the group dynamic in combat; to understand how to do skill challenges; etc. So in the past, I've really only put them up against one or two fights at a time. They haven't really had to worry about Action Points, Daily abilities, etc. But this next session will be a new experience for them: they'll have to figure out how perform in what I like to think of as an "endurance challenge".
It's going to be a whole new experience, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it goes.
I need to brainstorm some ideas for the next session. I hope you guys don't mind if I use this thread to do it, lol. I'd really appreciate any input, because even though I know pretty much exactly where I want to go with this, I'm not sure how best to handle it.
The first thing I want to do is flesh out this black dragon. It's important to me that my players understand that it's a unique character in its own right, and not just "Zessith's dragon". I've had this idea of the character for a while now, but it wasn't until a little while ago that I decided to toss her in as a part of Zessith's invasion plans. I'm calling her Vhauglohrl (Vow-Glor-il): she's a young black dragon (young in the reckoning of wyrms, anyway -- I imagine she's at least a hundred) that's worshipped as a god by a local tribe of goblins called the Crow Eaters. These goblins are particularly vile, and they're fanatically devoted to their "Mother-In-The-Swamp". She's an incredibly capricious character, prone to fits of tremendous anger, yet seemingly easily placated by the offering of jewels and fealty. Vhauglorhl is a consummate miser, and treacherous to a fault. She really has no redeeming qualities, save that she's always been relatively uninterested in Strasa -- for the past century or so, she's been content to lurk about the surrounding swamplands, being worshipped as an all-powerful god by savages.
She stays out of Strasa's way, basically, and Strasa stays out of hers ... until now.
My imagining of the situation is that, at some point, Zessith approached Vhauglohrl with a number of offerings, hoping to secure her partnership in the invasion of the Raining City. Zessith's a tactical genius, and he knows that with her help, he'll be able to devise a plan that's capable of bringing Strasa to its knees. What I imagine he didn't count on, however, is that Vhauglohrl is every bit as cunning and perfidous as he is. Strasa would make an excellent lair for a young black dragon: it's well-fortified, packed full of resources, and the deep, maze-like canals would be a perfect place to lay her eggs. Vhauglohrl also knows that Zessith hasn't the military strength to dig her out if she decides to settle in with the Crow Eaters.
I imagine that Vhauglohrl will suffer the indignity of being ridden into battle by Zessith in the beginning, but after the initial push, when the 'Watch is holed up in the Temple of the Everlasting Storm, she'll abandon the lizardmen's plans, and do her own thing: I suppose I can see her taking up residence in a ruined section of the city, and establishing a base of her own. The Crow Eaters scramble up and down the streets, hunting for survivors, and bring them before their Mother-In-The-Swamp. Black Dragons are fond of "pickling" meat, so I can see her drowning people in the canals, and waiting until they're especially rotten before devouring them.
Meanwhile. Zessith's invasion continues throughout the rest of the city. He doesn't have the strength to force the dragon's allegiance any longer, but at the moment, he doesn't need her. His focus will be on conquering the rest of the city: hunting down survivors, eliminating pockets of resistance, and orchestrating a bloody siege of the Council building.
Anyway, like I said before, I'm really just brainstorming here. These are things I'd normally write in my notebook, but I figured, what the hell, I might as well post it here and see what everyone thinks. Any advice would be greatly appreciated, of course.
I think that the major thing you have to consider is what are Zessith's plans for conquering the city? I see a few general categories
1. He is trying to destroy the city: The most basic and probably least likely plan of action. Strasa is not all the stable structurally and toppling a few towers into each other is pretty efficient. Not sure why exactly Zessith would do this, but at the very least it can provide a nice distraction from other plots he is going on. He probably doesn't have the troops to accomplish this in an efficient enough manner to kill the population of Strasa before they get reinforcements.
2. He is trying to take control of the city: Zessith wants to permanently establish control of Strasa, so he probably won't take out any of the key economic infrastructure, but will hit all major points of government and military. The goal would be to get the government to surrender to him and legitimize his reign, always a good start for a burgeoning warlord. I particularly like this one because you can make the Watch 'criminals' in an occupied territory. One rumor that I heard was that Zessith organized with some of the criminal underworld of Strasa to help sneak in troops, supplies and weapons, with the promise of repaying the crime lords with high ranking positions in the new government. Just a rumor...
3. He needs something that is secure in the city: Overall I think that this has to be the true reason for conquering the city and the rest is just a ruse. If he captures the city, that's great, but that ancient artifact buried deep in the hidden vaults of an arcane academy is really what Zessith is after. With it, he will be able to perform a great and powerful ritual for Zehir that will make conquering the city and surrounding area a breeze.
Now for the best part. To tie it all back together, Zessith has been misinformed. The Abiding One has lured Zessith into the city for the purpose of performing this dark ritual, but this dark ritual isn't going to unleash Zehir, but weaken the boundaries to the Far Realm or such and such. A perfect double cross scenario that I would save for the finale of heroic tier. Players love that kind of thing and will talk about it for years if you can pull it off right, even better if you get the players to somehow play into your hand (maybe it would unleash Zehir, but the player's interference causes it to work for the Abiding One).
Anyhow, back to your black dragon, I personally see it as kind of forced that the players would go after her first as opposed to Zessith, since Zessith is rampaging and Vhauglorhl is settling in. What I see as some options here is either making Vhauglohrl just a viscious monster that will destroy the city (kill everyone in it) regardless of Zessith's plans and makes Zessith look like the lesser of two evils OR Vhauglorhl is set up in between the Temple of Everlasting Storm and the council building and the players are going to have to go through her territory anways. OR another idea is that Zessith will soon realize that he needs Vhauglohrl to bust into the council building and will eventually supplicate her with enough treasure or offerings that she will perform this last favor for him. The party must kill her before this occurs, otherwise the city will be forced to make some very bad conditions of surrender (most of the government is killed, lots of people carted away for unknown ends, lizardmen are placed as the city guard, extreme martial law, forfeit the city treasury to Zessith etc.) . If they succeed, Zessith offers relatively favorable terms (government stays largely in place but answers to Zessith, martial law, city guards are mixed under control of lizardmen, but still less brutal, etc.)
I would like to know if you are planning on having the invasion succeed or not. I think it should, but it's your game. Just my 2 cps.
I'm not sure, I guess. I'm more or less just brainstorming out loud at this point.
I certainly wouldn't force the players to go after Zessith or Vhauglohrl first. That's completely up to them. I'm likely to place them on opposite ends of the battle area, so the 'Watch would have to choose which "direction" to head in: going after Vhauglohrl first might allow the players the opportunity to persuade her with gifts of their own, or it would be a chance to take her down before she can wreck any more of the city.
I've been considering Zessith's motives a lot lately. Obviously, they're pretty important. To be honest, I hadn't even considered the possibility that he'd want to capture and hold the city. Maybe I can see him thinking it, but I can't imagine it happening. I love the idea of his forces laying siege to the Council building, infiltrating it, and forcing the Council to legitimize his rule. Unfortunately, I can't see the group playing along with that. Like, I know these guys; they're not going to allow Zessith to take command of the city. There will be no integration of guards along Cecil's Wall -- they'll lay siege to the Council building the same way Zessith did: infiltrate it, then force him out of power.
I don't think it's a bad idea at all. And I could certainly play it out that way, but the fact of the matter is that my group will not allow that to happen, lol.
But, honestly, I'm loving the idea that the local Thieves' Guild is responsible for helping Zessith infiltrate the city. I think that's fantastic, actually. There must be some reason they'd want to work with him, which is something I'd have to work out, but I think the idea is rock solid. Obviously, the idea that he's after some ritual scroll or something that benefits Zehir (but is actually helping the Abiding One) is perfect -- that might also be going on in the background. I need some way to turn this back on the Abiding One, after all, so that's a route I'll more than likely flesh out, too.
Let me take all this on board for a bit, and see where I can take it. Thanks for all the help, Shov.
I feel like I should expand on my suggestion that Zessith take the city. I want it to make the players angry. Angry enough to do something about it, but Zessith has the city by the balls. The Council would reluctantly give up power and try to prevent any outward unrest by telling the Watch to lay low, but I think it is ENTIRELY unreasonable to expect your players to not do something about it. The key would be to make Zessith unattainable/unbeatable at the outset. He's hidden behind too many bodyguards, too many minions, magical protections and even if you get to him, he's a monstrous combatant that chews up heroes and spits them out for breakfast. He's such a BAMF that he doesn't even care when his dragon abandons him. You need to make your party afraid of him somehow, but hate him all the more for it. Everytime they screw up when trying to attack him, he kills civilians and friendly NPCs as a reprisal.
A way that you might be able to make this happen is to have the party go on an assault to lift the siege of the Council building. They meet up with the captain of the guard who has mustered a large force of resistance fighters. He marshals the party in concerted effort to break the siege, in which the party serves as an advance force to accomplish strategic goals (your dungeon), but along the way they occaisionally see the captain being awesome (like fighting off 20 lizardmen and casually taking down some sort of big brute type character). Eventually they get to the Council building, which is absolutely swarming with lizardmen. The lizardmen are preparing to fell a tower into the council building, which will definitely break the defenses. The party is charged with stopping the sappers from planting their charges (or even better, redirecting the charges so it will fall on the lizardfolk siege), while the captain and his men defend the tower from the counterattack by the lizardmen. All is going well until the party manages to defuse the situation in the foundations, as they run topside to escape/blow the tower they see an elite squad of lizardfolk champions working their way to the front gates, perhaps even engaging in one (a tough elite), while the captain fights off another. Then from amidst the crowd of oncoming lizardmen, Zessith makes his appearance (in a way that he will first engage with the captain). The captain tells the party "Your job is done here men, get out with your lives". The fight is short and brutal. Zessith catches the captain's blade bare handed then chokes him to death as more lizard folk champions march past, slaughtering those guardsmen who are brave or foolish enough to stay. There should be 8-10 lizard folk champions between the party and Zessith by now and the situation should look bleak. Have an NPC handy to offer them a way out if they don't look for it (A good place to introduce a Styxian riverman, maybe). Hopefully your party does manage to blow the building right in Zessith's face, but it shouldn't kill him, but perhaps leave a nasty scar and a vendetta. I wouldn't have the explosion end the siege, but it would make Zessith reconsider a frontal assault. He now works on gathering up civilians for brutal demonstrations at the front of the council building as blackmail and consolidating his power in the rest of the city. He has divided and conquered most of Strasa and regardless of whether he is legitimate, he controls the city.
At this point you hand your players some thick rimmed glasses and V-neck t-shirts from American Apparel and tell them it's time to go underground if they want to take on Zessith. Now you get to mix up your players with all sorts of questionable characters with their own agendas, like necromancers, bootleggers, thieves and resistance groups as they struggle against the reptilian menace!
I want to toss in the idea that the black dragon is actually working for the Abiding One. Zessith believes he has coerced the dragon into a partnership, but it is really a partnership between the aboleth and the dragon to use the lizardfolk as pawns.
Why? Mechanically, it makes it a little easier to set up a take down order: Zessith, dragon, aboleth. It progresses the overarching story while still being a side arc, as you can delay the aboleth until much later still.
Storyline why? I think it goes back to ApokalypseShovel's #3 above. He needs them to retrive something, or do something. Zessith may want to have the town to legitimate his lizardfolk clans, thus his willingness to attack, but the dragon is requiring a service for the aboleth. The question that remains is what the dragon gets out of the deal with the aboleth. I'm a little stumped there.
Guys, this is sounding really good. I'm actually meeting with Akkarin's player today, a bit later in the afternoon, to go over some of the dungeon planning. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I never get to play in pen in paper games, lol; I'm always the DM. Which is cool, I mean, I like to write stories and facilitate everyone's fun, but I haven't been able to play D&D since I was like 16 years old (we're 27 now). Akkarin's player has been a good friend of mine since we were kids, and he was actually my first DM back in high school. We all moved apart for several years of college and travel, but now that we're all living near one another again, I decided to start up a 4th edition game with him. My hope is, and we've spoken about this several times, that he'll eventually feel comfortable enough with the system that he'll want to be the DM. I'm hoping that, sometime before paragon tier, we'll be able to swap out, but we'll just see how it goes.
Anyway, since he's got some (3e/3.5e) DM'ing experience under his belt already, I wanted to involve him a little in the creation of this dungeon. We've accepted that he might get wind of a few storyline spoilers, but frankly, I'd like him to get some design practice in because the sooner he's comfortable with the system, the sooner I can play. Mostly, I just need his opinion on how best to run the dungeon. In previous editions, we really didn't use miniatures; we more or less just narrated through our journeys underground, and whipped out a white-board if we ever needed something to look at. Fourth edition is so miniatures-focused, though. I'm thinking the best route to take might be to narrate most of the way, then slap down encounter zones when they pop up. Maybe that sounds obvious, but at first, I was considering using all my tiles to actually create the entire dungeon setup.
But that's a lot of work.
Anyway, I may run some of these ideas by Akkarin later today, and see what sticks. I'll probably tell him that I've got multiple ideas for how this whole thing could go down, and that it'd be nice if he could give me a little input on what sounds best. After all, stuff that sounds good to us might not appeal to him. We'll see how it goes.
By the way, I do actually have a character ready to go for whenever I get a chance to play, and I can post him here whenever. Maybe I'll do that later today. I've had several concepts, actually, but I keep changing my mind: the first was a female half-orc barbarian. She had taken a spear to her belly when she was younger, which rendered her infertile. The only way, she feels, that she can help her clan now is to fight alongside the men. The orcs of her clan teased her at first; called her the "Wife of Battles", but she's proven herself to be one of the most cunning and ferocious of their warriors. No one's laughing anymore. My idea, at the time, was that her clan was at odds with Zessith's forces, and that conflict would essentially be her recruitment point.
I've kind of switched gears, though, because Barbarian doesn't really interest me as much as I thought it would. Now I'm thinking Sorcerer pretty hard. Obviously, a Storm Sorcerer fits pretty well in Strasa. I'd actually kind of like the character to act more like a Cleric than anything else. I figure he's a holy man, and sees his storm-based magical powers as gifts from Kord. Sorcs aren't normally trained in Religion, but I could make it happen with the proper background work. More than anything, though, since I'd be replacing Akkarin, I'd feel more comfortable replacing his Wizard with a Sorcerer, since they're both sort of magical AoE classes. The difference between Controller and Striker is big enough, but I think it's a much better "fit" with the group than, say, Barbarian.