Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Butchering the Descent

Jeff Long’s ‘The Descent’ is a good book and very good if you play RPG’s. You should read it.

Long subscribes to the Neal Stephenson school of writing. If he has a good idea during writing, he puts it in the book. If there is no room, add more pages. This lead to books with lots of stuff. Stuff may be frowned on in some literary circles. Fullness is not really respected as an artistic choice. But we don’t need to care about that.

It has at least two campaigns and one adventure in it, probably more. I will now proceed to ruin it for you. So if you believe me when I say you should read it then stop reading now because what follows will fuck up an otherwise pleasant experience. Only keep reading if you are sure you are not going to read the book and you just want the RPG-able elements cut out like a clumsy butcher. Of if you didn’t believe the first part?

Last chance, stop now...

Campaign One

Profiling the Devil

The PC’s are brought into a search. The subtlety of the introduction depends on the skill of the DM and the motivation of the players.

Someone is trying to profile Satan. Who is a real dude that you could actually meet. Not a supernatural force. This person, or group, needs your help. They think the devil walks the earth and no-one believes them. They are willing to pay.

You do this by finding evidence the devil left behind, recording and collecting it. You may invade ancient sites, break into vaults beneath the Vatican to raid its secrets, seek out warlord in the darkest corners of the earth who say they have a contract with the devil, assaulting an orphanage where the cellars lead into the caves beneath and guards ring the outside to prevent whatever is inside escaping.

So the PC’s mission after mission, find all this stuff, they piece it together. If they didn’t believe in it to begin with they certainly will now.

An immortal genius banished to the underworld. A brilliant leader, politician, strategic genius, liar, demagogue, master of disguise, sometimes able to change his shape, or at least inhabit new bodies over the years.

Someone who has lead great and terrible empires stretching back into pre-history. Someone who has managed to hide or destroy almost all evidence that they exist. You don’t know what they look like or where they are. You are hired to build a psychological profile of the devil. The face and name may change, but the patterns of behaviour may not, and these could be valuable weakness if you intend to fight him.

 Creating and secreting devil-evidence would be a pleasurable piece of campaign prep I think.

Then, they realise something is wrong. Someone is following their footsteps. Witnesses die in accidents. Sites are smashed, carvings broken, museums burn. You try to warn the people who hired you that the devil is on their trail, but you arrive too late to save them. Then someone starts hunting you.

(The secret is that your employer is the man he hired you to find. He used you to trace all evidence of his existence, then destroyed it behind you. How and when and if the PC’s work this out is up to them)

Campaign Two
Colonisers of the Underdark

Billionaire Underdark-Magellen-wannabe wants to cross a major ocean underground. He needs troops, scholars, porters and Problem Solvers/Scouts.

The expedition has two leaders. The billionaires nephew, a soft-faced Creep. And a HardCase General played by Stephen Lang.

The expedition will be supplied by dwarven mega-drills dropping supply pods at specific points along your journey as specific times. Get there too late and the underdark dwellers will get the stuff, or you will have to fight them for it.

The Creep is laying a series of ‘message transmitters’ during the expedition which can be used to call for help in an emergency. They can only be used once and he will refuse to activate them in anything but apocalyptic circumstances. Only he has the magic doohicky that activates them.

In fact the ‘transmitters’ release a deadly plague that has been created to kill every living thing that has not specifically been inoculated against them. Only he has been inoculated. Billionare bastard guy means to de-populate the Underdark and turn it into a new empire for him only. If this guy ends up in enough trouble, he will use the device to kill everything. Up till that point he will keep you alive as he needs you to get out.

Hardcase General is slowly going insane. You will carve your way through the dark at the head of an army. Half way through, as the supplies get low, he will leave the porters to be consumed. It is evident that this was part of the plan from the beginning. A week after that he will abandon the  scholars at the shore of an underground sea, taking all the rafts. A week after that, the remains of his army will be cornered in the ruins of an abandoned city and crucified by the dwellers of the Underdark.
Of course none of this has to happen, it depends what the players do.

The Adventure

PC’s hired to guard spiritual minded idiots on journey to holy mountain.

Trapped in mountain cave by blizzard mid-way. Snow falling blocks the entrance.

A body. Naked, male and dead.  In the lotus position, facing the light from the entrance.  Normal human, went missing 40 years ago. Has tattooed over his body, by him, his life story, tales of enslavement, adoption and conversion by an underground race. Across his chest, from nipple to nipple ‘my name is Isaac’
Idiots start to go missing. PC’s investigate and find, in order of dept-
-Trail of gold coins, ancient, different kinds from different ages, clearly left in place for many years, evenly spaced, leading into the darkness, very obviously a trap.
- Abandoned idiots gone crazy.
-Bits and pieces of idiots
-Blood sprays on white stone
-Leathered remains of ancient army of famously dangerous warriors, hung and dried above an abyss.
-Undisturbed sand mandalas of deep complexity.
Isaac wasn’t dead. And he’s not on your side.

And all the other bits and pieces I can remember right now

Giant pile of war dead from an awful massacre. PC’s hired to guard the pile as is evidence of terrible crime and may be covered up. Something is disturbing the dead and carrying them away. No tracks. Its burrowing up from below.

Plume of nitrogen from mass grave so thick it kills birds and rots trees. Suffocated investigators. Down helicopters by stopping the engines.

Ancient city, terracotta army. Channels of mercury and phosphorescent stuff. Tall thin tower in the centre. Climb the tower, just enough room for one person to stand up. Meditate without passing out and the mercury and dye lines resolve into a 3d map of the Anticontinent. The earth crust under the ocean, seen from below. Showing the reach of a lost empire.

An archeo-site exposed by a terrorist blast, illegal to investigate but can only do so so long as a war rages around.

A corrupt hospital for the aged poor. A deamon girl who hunts there, chewing the soft tissue from the feet and calves of the terminally ill and bewildered. The girl still less evil than the hospital authorities.

A nation declaring war on hell.

An elevator to the underdark that can drive you insane.
A underground lost city slowly being consumed by flowstone. Obsidian towers breeching the white rock. At its centre, and untranslatable library of forgotten knowledge.

Colonial Underdark frontier towns with arc-light walls. Moneygrubbing wild west miners vying with mutated military personal and warped underclass.

Osteocysts. Going underground for long periods changed your physiology. It poisons you or wakes up old genetics. You grow horns and get generally weird. So if your nation declares war on hell, you end up with a lot of freaky veterans.

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