Arcana Unearthed — Scorched Sands and Souls

Time for another trip down memory lane, as we’ve been doing the past few days. This time, though, we are exploring my post-Japan game of Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed, which is without a doubt my favorite game to ever come out of the d20 System boom. I would still run it in an instant, given the opportunity.

I consider myself to have run two successful campaigns: my early college Rimfaust game (3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons) and this one. Although the game that Markus and I ran in Japan went well, it faded off at the end and never reached a truly satisfying conclusion.

Unfortunately I don’t have many extant notes about the AU game. The following notes were actually written after the game had wrapped up, as I was moving away and the intention was to pass the torch on to another GM. Sadly that didn’t happen, and in fact my “campaign bible” as I called it ends quite abruptly, as you’ll see. Still, it contains some interesting reflections on my opinions about running a game that I thought I’d share.

Everything’s after the cut, per usual.

Scorched Sands and Souls
An Arcana Unearthed Campaign Bible

Introduction

To you who hold this meager manuscript in your hands, I bequeath the knowledge of my Arcana Evolved campaign so that it might continue after I am gone. Herein is contained an overview of where the story began, how it has progressed and—most importantly—where it may lead. There are few statistics for items or NPCs; admittedly I often develop these as they are needed, with only the most necessary information supplied. Following in my footsteps, I feel you are more than capable of doing this as well.

We shall begin with the principles I have tried to hold while DMing, followed by the major cast of NPCs, important items, and finally the overarching plot threads that have made up the campaign and will hopefully continue to have some influence.

The Ethics of DMing

I have tried to follow these basic principles in each session I plan for and run. They are not secrets to map-making, stat generation or fudging the dice for or against players; I trust you will find your own methods that work well for you and the players. These are more overarching ideas.

You create the world, you do not tell the story. This is the first and most vital rule that I have tried to adhere to. Focus on the world—the organizations and people within it, and what their goals and motivations are—and the story will follow. Story happens organically as the player characters react to the world around them, which in turn reacts to them. Having a firm grasp on the world means that if the party does something that totally baffles you, you merely need to take a break, ponder what and/or whom in the world it would effect, and how it they would react in turn. This, rather than a beginning-to-end script, is how the campaign has evolved.

Actions have consequences. Following on the idea of an organic world, the PCs should have real influence on what happens. If they want to kill a local government official and plunge the town into chaos, expect more important political figures to show up and perform serious investigations. When the PCs leave someone for dead and that person happens to survive, expect that someone to be rather bitter about it. In this way, consequences become their own future story hooks.

People want to live. Few hired soldiers or goons—faceless and numberless as they may seem—are willing to throw away their own lives, major villains even less so (although capture may be an equally grisly proposition to them). Intelligent creatures should surrender or run away in most circumstances, barring magical and non-magical compulsions, strong values, or lack of options among other factors. Even unintelligent monsters and animals tend to run away if not cornered. This makes the world seem a little more real.

Be prepared for divination magic. This is the downfall of many a DM. Especially in a game like AU, where the spell object loresight gets thrown around a lot. Learn what these spells reveal, and for important parts of the game have these answers in advance, ready to go. Don’t be afraid to gloss over something if you don’t feel it’s important—not every run-of-the-mill sword has a tale to tell—but don’t discount all non-major things, either. You never know what the players may decide is important, and that’s what you should be working with. Feed their curiousity and paranoia, and half your job is done for you.

Follow the instincts of the players. This builds off the above point. If the players find an item like an expensive vase or suit of magical armor that isn’t meant to be anything more than that, but take an interest in it, there is no reason why it couldn’t become important in the course of the game. Similarly, if the players are hell-bent on investigating something that wasn’t at all important, don’t be afraid to spice it up. Some improv skill doesn’t hurt here, but remember to take good notes on what gets made up on the fly, or have a really good memory.

Have fun. Seriously. Don’t stress too much, and don’t be afraid to call things off if your or the players’ interest begins to waiver. The world hasn’t ended yet, and we can theorize that there are still plenty of weekends left.

Dramatis Nonpersonae: The Supporting Cast

This is a quick and dirty rogues’ gallery of the current NPC list both living and dead, so you know who is (or was) involved in what and who could be called on. I have also included race and class levels, although the actual stats I leave to you if and when it becomes important. The list is complete but not exhaustive—if you ever pass the campaign on, this bible should have quite a few more names here that have sprung from your own damn imagination.

Norran Lukane (male human unfettered 7) is the head of the Biting Thorn Alehouse in Junrath. Although the party has learned little about him, he was once a pirate of some skill and his daughter has followed in his footsteps.

Danforth Manson (male human commoner 3) works for Norran at the Biting Thorn Alehouse. He is a fairly straightforward and normal man.

Dinela the Restless (female sibeccai 2/warmain 3) leads the Cerulean Circlet, which provides Junrath with security from the monstrous threats of the outside world. She knows the true name of Forganthus, who is her brother, but would only share this information with the party in the most dire of circumstances and even then with reluctance.

Hathegor the Forthright (male sibeccai ritual warrior 4) is Dinela’s second-in-command. He is contemplative and spends a lot of time meditating and practicing his martial skills by the Boar River.

Kerwin the Liar (male sibeccai oathsworn 5) was guarding the ruins to the northwest of Junrath when the party first encountered him. A fight ensued because of Jade and Saevan’s attempts to sneak inside, which Kerwin didn’t tolerate. He was left for dead, and appeared several months later in Junrath looking for a shield that the party supposedly excavated from the ruins. They had not, however, done so, but managed to make peace with him and get the shield.

The Spider once lead a slave ring operating out of Khorl and proved a major nemesis of the party for several months. He is responsible for the death of Listelle the Blessed and the plague that beset Junrath.

Forganthus (male sibeccai greenbond 7/darkbond 3) is Dinela’s brother. He is a darkbond, and appears to have a special interest in Lykisbi.

Gavarren was a bandit lord who lived over three hundred years ago to the east of the Elder Mountains, where Junrath is now. He successfully captured a dragon and with the assistance of a number of magisters constructed a network of machines to drain the creature’s energy while still keeping it alive. However, the party discovered his skeleton sitting behind a desk in his lair, long dead. Whoever killed him remains unknown.

Items of Note

The short sword discovered in the ruins to the northwest of Junrath once belonged to Gavarren.

The shield in the ruins was stolen by Gavarren and was originally crafted to be given to Thedrik the Defender. However, Miellir Fanthras, Thedrik’s wife, was killed before she could deliver the shield. It is a +2 large steel shield, but also serves as the key to the runed portal in the southwestern ruins of the Junrath. This is a property of the door, rather than the shield.

The puzzle box currently in the party’s possession was found along the bank of the Boar River by Hathegor the Forthright, who passed it along to Farrokannis the Chronicler. It is inscribed with images of strange, monolithic ruins. A Knowledge (architecture) check (DC 25) is necessary to

[END.]

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