Lowrollers Live: The Rise of the Wounded King DM's Thoughts
Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to finish a story arc in my ongoing D&D campaign. This chapter was called “Rise of the Wounded King” that played on the idea of trust between the party. I figured I should attempt to give a little insight into the creative process of storytelling a campaign. When I write story line for a game that takes place over several years of our reality, I plan it in five sections. An introductory arc, an arc that has worldly consequences, a 3rd arc that is more about characters versus themselves over a great evil, a couple of arcs completing some backstory elements, and then the final arc against the big bad that I attempt to foreshadow at the beginning. This arc is my 3rd arc; the players are not fighting an obvious villain, and the goal is to see major character growth.
To set this up, I create a mythical tower based on the Christian bible and the Argentine short story The Library of Babel. The Tower has all possible knowledge of all possible books that can ever exist. The concept is based on the idea that even a monkey on a typewriter can eventually strike gold and speak the truth. With that, I sent my party to three major places in the current lore: Warbid, the Clockwork City, and Zhengzhao. The concept was that they were looking for parts of a jade stone that should form a key into the Tower of Babel.
Warbid is run by two gay Kings in a desert Arabian feel culture. For this approach, I really wanted people to be more accepting of my tiefling player character and really challenging to my elves who normally walked into places without any trouble. I also wanted to tackle some progressive thoughts on the idea of a masculine based culture and sexuality. The culture was also open to sexual advances; with nobility tending to be very elitist and putting emphasis on looks. A river ran next to Warbid, and like the Nile and the ancient Egyptian culture; I played an emphasis on the river overflowing and fertilizing the land. It is believed that the Nile flooding had a parallel to an orgasm and therefore sex was highly prioritized. The party had to infiltrate a party of a prince and thus hilarity pursued.
The Clockwork City ran on greed; even the King was there to make a quick dollar, very obviously extorting the party by charging them a pretty penny. The party must dwell in the Underdark to meet a new culture of Duergar, normally very evil creatures. I tried to put on a twist where these people who had recently converted to Moradin and thus had the lawful good tendency. I also tried to teach the party a very strict lesson here: not all fights are meant to be fought with swords. Every fight in this particular chapter would have provided a better outcome if the party had simply made a tactical retreat. A lesson I don’t think the party actually learned and it involved a party member ultimately leaving the group and remaking his character.
Zhengzhao had two major influences: Chinese heritage and the culture that Patrick Rothfuss made in the Wise Man’s Fear of the Adem people. The idea is that these people had a vastly different lifestyle and that they were known for rigorous philosophical and martial training. The culture didn’t have any place for music, physical touch, or overall emotional things. I took notes from the Art of War by Sun Tzu and basic monolithic training. For everyday life, private lives were private and must be kept that way. I prepped a whole montage on "physical touch" just to show how rare the action was. Oddly, my party ended up getting into political debates based on the idea that governments needing a fair amount of transparency instead of privacy. The jade was rather easy to obtain, but it allowed the party to feel wholly uncomfortable in the new environment.
The arc theme was trust; a topic that is becoming extremely difficult in the current political climate and one that I actually punished the party for. From the beginning, one of my player characters was actually the villain of the arc, coaxing the party to a goal. He kept up the guise (and passed all his deception rolls) and was able to use the party to unleash a great evil; the beholder god known as Lecherous Lion, the Wounded King. These consequences are going to set up the next arc quite nicely, as trust was betrayed. Can the party truly redeem themselves in light of all that has happen? Well, we will find out on January 8th at 9 pm in the new year with "Shadow of Death: The Road to Redemption". Stay tuned for more details of Lowrollers Live.