If your adventure says “by now the PCs will likely investigate”…

… you don’t play with the same kind of people I do.

I kid, but only a little. I was reading an independently produced module, XP2: Song of the Beast Gods, when it occurred to me how spoiled I am by the OSR’s emphasis on exploration and sandboxes. It’s rare that I read what I used to think of as “an adventure” before I got the OSR bug. Even good adventures–and Song of the Beast Gods is a very good adventure–tend to assume a certain amount of player engagement, simply because if you’re playing adventures and not a sandbox, it’s not cool to blow off whatever the DM prepped.

On the scale of assumed engagement, where 10 is Death in Freeport and 1 is Tavis Allison’s White Sandbox, Song of the Beast Gods is definitely on the low end. It’s a location-based adventure, so that means that the author, Thulsa, does not assume any sort of time-line or sequence of events. Instead he lays out some NPCs conspiring to conduct a ritual sacrifice, three separate and detailed locations for the action, and three or four suggestions on how to involve the PCs in the conspiracy.

In this, he’s my kind of adventure writer, because instead of assuming the players care about a Chaotic outpost (B2), some amnesiac priest (Freeport) or the threat of being executed if they don’t murder a bunch of giants (G3), Thulsa gives us a Situation and a couple of ways into it.

The PCs can either cross swords with a venal slaver and rescue some sexy handmaidens–getting as a reward the instant enmity of the cultists–or they can find themselves caught up in an attempt by the cult to kidnap victims for their upcoming crazy-ass ritual. Unfortunately for DMs like me, if they get to the location in some other circumstances, the adventure assumes they will likely start their own investigation. Hence the title of this post.

If you know anything about Red Box Vancouver, you’ll have some idea of how much I laughed at the idea of PCs deciding to investigate the weirdos running some podunk town, when they could just as easily… leave. Or get drunk. Or find some horrible prehistoric beast to murder. Especially since these are supposed to be Swords & Sorcery heroes! They’re supposed to do Conan stuff, not investigate decadent nobles acting a bit strangely, even if it is on the say-so of a drunken guard or an attractive handmaiden.

Then I remembered my One Page Adventure experiment from last year and figured this was the perfect opportunity to road test that idea with a for real adventure that I’m going to run for a couple of friends. So here it is, my One Page Adventurizing of XP2: Song of the Beast Gods. (Spoilers for XP2: Song of the Beast Gods follow.)

Revenge of the Hyena Priestess

The Situation

A long-lost princess has returned to usurp her younger sister’s place and get her revenge, with the help of cultists of a former god of her people.

NPC Goals

Evil Princess: Kill opposition to Hyena God Cult. Sacrifice Good Princess when The Stars are Right. Stay disguised as Good Princess ’til then.

Handmaiden: Free Good Princess. Expose Evil Princess.

And here’s where I run into my first challenge. Other than the Handmaiden, who has already been caught by the slavers at the start of the adventure, every other NPC described is either one of Evil Princess’s minions or has no goals other than “keep the status quo”. There are a couple of acolytes of the current god who would oppose the Evil Princess’s plans, and of course the captain of the guard isn’t keen on any plots that involve impersonating the legitimate princess, but until any of these guys have proof of what’s going on, they sit around eating dates in the palace.

It also means that unless the PCs get hot for the Handmaiden when they run into the slavers at the oasis at the start of the adventure (the adventure assumes that the PCs are heading for the city where all this is going down–which is a perfectly acceptable assumption. Even a OPD has to assume you go into the dungeon!) the DM has to rely on a bit of luck and force to get them involved. The adventure suggests they get attacked by cultists, which in my games usually ends with a pile of enemy corpses, which could make the players curious enough to investigate. Or it could lead to the players deciding to skedaddle.

There is another option, not suggested by the adventure, but that seems really obvious to me if you know the people I play with: they’re hired by the Evil Princess.

If I was an Evil Princess looking to bump off the King, some Priests and other upstanding members of the court to clear the way for a mass human sacrifice to reinstate the worship of an ancient beast god, I’d be hard pressed to find better employees than a team of wandering killers with no connections in town.

So that’s going to be my entry point: barring unexpected interest in the well-being of slave girls and small-time nobility, I’m going to plan for the PCs being propositioned by the agents of the Evil Princess to do her dirty work. So the Evil Princess is going to need some serious opposition, because right now there’s only a slave girl standing between her and apotheosis as the Hyena Queen.

Come back for part two to see where we go from here…

8 Responses to “If your adventure says “by now the PCs will likely investigate”…”

  1. Keeping the status quo is a weak motivation.How are they supposed to do that? Either they’re trying to get rid of somebody threatening the status quo or trying to strengthen an institution that supports the status quo, both of which are ins for PCs. Unless the status quo is all hookers and blow, of course.

    In semi-related news, I had a discussion about how to run a sandbox for RuneQuest over on Story Games, so I’ll post a link here for the sake of posterity, for when I want to go back to it.

  2. Exactly! You’ll have to wait for part two, but I don’t think you’ll be surprised at how I amp up the Situation.

    “Hookers and blow”? No, more like “Black Lotus and slave girls”. This is Swords & Sorcery!

    I’ll go check out that story games link in a bit…

  3. I have to admit my eyes glazed over a bit while reading that thread, because I know so little about RQ or Glorantha, but I thought your advice was sound.

    One thing that’s interesting is that although a lot is made of the difference between “sandbox” gaming and “adventure” gaming, is how much they have in common. As you pointed out on Story Games, it’s a continuum. On the one hand, you’ve got the sandbox ideal of a world that is generated and operates independently of the players, but then as the sandbox gets played in, the stuff the DM has to prep starts becoming more and more a response to player activity, so that very quickly it can start to look like a game like Burning Wheel, where players explicitly tell the GM what the adventure is going to be about.

    I think a lot about Mouse Guard being a sort of middle ground. You’ve got this clearly defined setting that everyone is agreeing to before they sit down to play, which has a lot in common with traditional D&D (“you play Conan, I’ll play Gandalf, we kill Dracula!”). But then you’ve got the Story Games flags telling the GM what you want to do in the game (“I want to prove myself! Yeah and I hate weasels!”).

    You could easily see how some kind of middle ground for D&D sandboxing could work, like a hexmap of things to do, each with an XP value attached. How crazy would it be if RBV players could look at the map and see “Oh, Caves of Chaos is worth 9,000xp. Seems too tough. Instead let’s hunt bandits for 1,000.”

  4. The actual good part of that thread is epweissengruber’s posts, not mine. Everything else is pretty much extraneous.

  5. Oops, his were the long ones I skipped. I’ll have to go back and check it out. 😛

  6. This analysis is Good Stuff, and any DM planning to run “Song of the Beast-Gods” should read these blog posts first. I have added links here from the supporting material section of the XP2 product page: http://xoth.net/publishing/xp2/#support


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