Good Evening, All:
In last night's game, I revealed one of the big secrets of the Madlands Campaign to my players: shapeshifters have been replacing various important personages in Fellgorge and the surrounding area in preparation for "opening the gate of the Madlands into the realm of their homeland." While the party is in the midst of completing their current chosen path of adventuring, they are definitely looking forward to dealing with this particular situation when they return to Fellgorge later on.
While I designed the initial concept of the Madlands Campaign, I began by using the 5x5 Method to develop plot arcs for the setting. I enjoy getting the chance to make the "Big Reveal" for these elements, and I think it adds a significant amount of depth to the setting as the various plot elements reveal themselves and the pieces start falling into place. I really like the look in the players' eyes when they realize that the events of their second adventure over a year ago were another aspect of the same plot arc as their previous adventure, and they all folded together to create the situation that will be at the center of their next adventure. Last night's reveal was particularly satisfying, as the knowing nods and general "aaaah" tones from the party demonstrated to me that I'd done a good job in laying out the clues and then bringing it all together.
The next major plot development will focus around an Arch-ritual, the Rite of Worldly Transformation. Arch-rituals are plot devices, general held to be as powerful as 10th-level spells (in a world where Wish is a 9th-level spell). Arch-rituals are difficult affairs, being long and involved arcane rites that run the risk of being cast incorrectly, or of otherwise failing under many circumstances. The results of failure are devastating, but the rewards of success often drive people (primarily NPCs, of course) to pursue them. In this case, thus far I've informed the party that the Rite of Worldly Transformation allows its caster to alter the very fabric of reality in regards to one particular element, once it is successfully cast. The players know that the Dark Gauntlet of Sorrows is a section of the Faerie Courts (an extraplanar fey realm) that was trapped on the Plane Prime by a botched attempt to cast this particular rite, so they are aware that the consequences of failure are world-changing. Of course, I've also introduced a very irritating magus, Pezegrin the Proud, who plans to use the Rite of Worldly Transformation to take the power of a fallen goddess's divine spark and become a god of magic himself, so they know the power of the rite is equally world-changing. One of the players has a personal goal of finding the arch-ritual so that he can bring the dead goddess back to life. Now, that's going to make for a cool session, I think.
As a Referee, I've learned to be okay with player-induced changes to my campaign settings, particularly on big scales such as this one. After all, if I'm going to give the party a mission to save the world, then I have to be prepared for them to fail. If I'm willing to let that happen, then I think it's not much of a leap in my mindset to allow other dramatic changes to take place, so long as we have a big build-up to them. I want such events, whether introduced by me or by the players, to invoke a lot of player interest and investment as the story builds toward that particular climax. Without that investment, Referees will either never allow such a change to take place (which means there's no risk in attempting to save the world) or that the change occurs in such a manner that it doesn't impact the players significantly (and thus probably comes off as boring and lackluster).
It should go without saying, though, that a good Referee will consider both success and failure of such efforts, just in case. For example, if the player succeeds, then a goddess returns to life, and he will be recognized for restoring the pantheon. (In addition, the player gets to brag about having a character that resurrected a god.) If the player fails, then it depends on how the failure occurs as to what possible consequences might occur. For example, if the player fails because the magus succeeded in his particular plan, the setting gains a new god of magic, and things become interesting for the players depending on how they treated him in the last days of his mortality. If the player fails because the ritual was interrupted and thus it was miscast, then a great magical catastrophe occurs, and I get to impose some other major change to the campaign. It could range from a change in the map to a change in the history, or what have you. There's at least two groups that are after the Rite of Worldly Transformation as well, a circle of necromancers that seek to control an undead god and a cult that seeks to use the power of the ritual to free their imprisoned god of chaos (i.e. my Cthulhu-inspired plot arc). You can imagine what would happen if one of those two groups succeeded in casting the arch-ritual instead of the party. Overall, things should come to a head as the players get closer and closer to the discovery and casting of the arch-ritual.
Have any of you, either as players or as Referees, participated in a world-changing event that caused a major change in the campaign? How do you feel it went off? Was it orchestrated well, or could it have used a little help? What would have made it better from your perspective?
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