Friday, June 29, 2012

Isles of the Saharan Sea: The Campaign Arc of Mavarasha...

Good Afternoon, All:

As a further exploration of the adventure potential for the Isles of the Saharan Sea campaign, I'm going to explore the concept of applying the Nine Act Structure to a campaign arc focused on one of the major villains of the setting. If the setting is strong enough, enough basic concepts should exist to create a possible Plot Point-style campaign arc. Consider this to be a "proof of concept," as it were.

First things first, we should choose which one of the major villains we should use from the Hall of Infamy: Mavarasha, Priest of War; Peleon Nightshade, Ninja Master; or Warlord Tal-kash, Gorllia-man Emperor. Mavarasha is actually intended to be the ultimate Big Evil Bad Guy for the setting, so let's start with him. As a reminder, here's his blurb:

Mavarasha, Light Upon the Throne Triumphant
The Vanaran known as Mavarasha, Light Upon the Throne Triumphant, is a devoted priest of Thanatos, the Flame Lord. Conquest is a sacred responsibility to Thanatos, and the Light Upon the Throne Triumphant is no stranger to war and battle. He has conquered many of the Smoking Isles, and has set his sights on the islands closer to the mainland of Mediterranea. Mavarasha wears the Flamegold Warmask into battle, whether on land or see, as a sign of his devotion to the Flame Lord.

And here's the blurb for his "base camp":

Lukrada, Ruins of: Once an ancient city under the patronage of Thanatos, the Flame Lord, Lukrada has long since fallen into crumbling ruins. These ruins are located atop a mesa overlooking the Burning Bay, and is very difficult to reach on foot, save for a narrow winding road leading from the beach to the flat mesa top. Necromancers and priests of Thanatos populate a few of the ruins, all in service to the Vanaran known as Mavarasha, Light Upon the Throne Triumphant, a High Priest of Thanatos.

With these details in mind, here's a very quick "off the cuff" plot arc:

Act Zero
Thanatos is a god of death, fire and war. The city of Lukrada once stood as a shining beacon of flame, resplendent even in this realm of eternal day. When it fell to the unified forces of those who would oppose his priesthood's conquest, such was a glorious day for Thanatos, and the souls of his faithful who had fallen in battle made for a grand sacrifice. Recently, with the Wrath of Serpentis and the disappearance of the snake goddess from the pantheon, the Flame Lord has noted a new opportunity to spread war, death and fire. Calling one of his greatest priests to the former site of his greatest temple among the Isles of the Saharan Sea, Thanatos bade his priest to lead a Crusade to take the lands once controlled by the followers of Serpentis. Since then, Mavarasha has become the Light Upon the Throne Triumphant, and is ready to lead his legions into war.

Act One
The ship upon which the PCs travel is attacked by pirates as it rounds a small island, introducing the characters to one another and to another passenger with a desperate mission. He has a map to a hidden treasure, and has to get there before his rival does. He'll split it with the party if they save him and help him find it. This leads to a wild chase across a tropical island as the party is pursued by pirates and the map owner's rival. In the end, they find the treasure and a few mysterious items.

Act Two
When the party or their partner attempts to sell a particular item (or are seen with it in their possession), they come to the attention of Mavarasha's followers. The party are pursued by cultists of the Flame Lord, who are after the item, and may stumble onto the preparations for a secret assault on a nearby port. Depending on their actions, they could become heroes or scarred by apathy here.

Act Three
Mavarasha and his retinue of major NPCs are intrigued by the news of the special item, as well as perturbed by the thwarting of their plans (if such has happened due to non-apathetic heroes). Mavarasha arrives with his Man-O-War and demands the party as tribute, I mean "honored guests". After meeting the mastermind and his flunkies, they learn that the special item they possess will lead him to the equivalent of the Ark of the Covenant. Before they can decide to hand it over, though, a freedom fighter breaks them out, and they are able to escape, although at the cost of the capture of their new-found ally. (Upon review, this sounds like a lot of exposition. I should come back to this one and rewrite it at some point into a more action-oriented adventure. But this is an "off the cuff" description. Perhaps this can be expanded on a "Well of Souls" scenario that shows the location of the Ark, and the PCs escape with knowledge of the Ark's location, although they know that Mavarasha possesses that knowledge as well. Yeah, that's the ticket!)

Act Four
Knowing the location of the Ark of the Covenant item, the party is in a race against Mavarasha to get to the site first. Now's the time to introduce a nice jungle temple dungeon adventure, with lots of deadly traps, nasty critters and even a puzzle room or two. Of course, the players have seen "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark", so they are expecting to be caught when they step out of the main entrance, so they need a back way out, so they can escape and feel good about outsmarting Mavarasha. (I'm beginning to feel a theme emerging here. Time to consider changing it up because the players will sense it, too.)

Act Five
Shortly after their escape from the temple, the party begins to hear of Mavarasha's successful crusade, launched without the Ark of the Covenant item. All of their enemies to this point, as well as backstory elements, should come to the fore here. This should be filled with major stumbling blocks, and they should really grow to hate Mavarasha's success. This storyline has to become personal for them, even if it means taking a well-loved NPC and torturing or killing him at the hands of the Light Upon the Throne Triumphant. It is with this final sacrifice story-wise that the players find out that Mavarasha's power stems, not from the Ark of the Covenant item, but from a sacred figure from within the jungle temple. (Maybe they see it on the prow of the ship as a new figurehead or something.)

Act Six
Some research reveals that the idol of the Flame Lord was forged in sacred flames from a volcano, and in order to be destroyed, the idol must be returned to that same volcano. They must find a way to capture the figure (easy enough to do while Mavarasha's men are raiding a great port), but they are then chased with a fierce determination. The final scene culminating in the destruction of the idol should be one of the most memorable of the entire campaign. (Holy Shades of Mount Doom, Batman!)

Act Seven
Without his source of power, Mavarasha is still powerful in terms of numbers. However, the forces of his enemies gather as well, leading to some potential for mass battles leading to the ultimate mass battle for the War of Mavarasha. Some element needs to be worked in here for the last fight where the party must lead Mavarasha away so the two armadas can fight without major PCs involved, leading to greater losses among the NPCs while the party and Mavarasha battle it out. Alternately, one of the PCs could challenge Mavarasha to a duel, seeking to end the battle with one fight rather than massive forces. It should be harsh, and either through victory or treachery and flight, Mavarasha leaves the fight alive.

Act Eight
The final adventure sees the party chasing Mavarasha back to his lair on Lukrada. Here's where they get to face off against all of Mavarasha's lieutenants and such (those who haven't been killed) as part of the final confrontation with the Priest of War. Thanatos should honor this battle with his presence, in some form or fashion, and deny Mavarasha's call for aid with his dying breath, taking the soul of the slain priest as a sacrifice when the party wins. (That is, if they win. It's the last fight of the story arc, so it's no holds barred.)

So, what do you think? There will be a number of other adventures in-between each of these, of course. That is the nature of a Plot Point-style campaign story arc. However, is there enough material available to create a good set of adventures to scatter over the breadth of a character's career? I think so, but it's always good to hear the thoughts of others.

With Regards,

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