Just before you take your leave of the room having loaded your bags with as much treasure as they can hold, you notice a small statuette just behind the giant statue of the Frog King. Curiously you reach down to pick it up and examine it closer. Within your mind, you hear the sound of a choir of ominous chanting of a single note endlessly. The noise becomes deafening as your companions try to speak to you. It feels like eternity, but the chanting soon dissipates and leaves you with a clear vision of a temple surrounded by swamps that soars you through the chambers within to rest in a sealed vault. A larger version of the statuette in your hand sits on the floor, holding a ruby in the shape of a human skull. Telling your companions your vision, a silence is answered by them all as everyone realizes you received the best lead of the Gem Skull’s existence and location. There is only one swamp within a thousand miles from here, and it’s the very last place any of you want to be.
For me, plot is difficult. Everyone can come up with a general idea for a plot such as someone stole something and the group needs to bring it back, but that’s just a concept of a plot. It hasn’t been fleshed out or tested. The latter is even more important. When someone is writing an adventure module for publication, it is often play tested numerous times to flesh out any bugs, loopholes, or imbalance issues. Yet when we as GMs write up a concoction for next Saturday’s game session, we test the story out on the day of the show. There is no true testing for amateurs, which often can lead to poor stories or game experiences. Players can suddenly become tremendously empowered or supremely wealthy all too soon or well fleshed out campaign-long villains can die by a single encounter. Plot is important to every story to give the game a point. Even the most die-hard hack-n-slash gamers enjoy some break in the action from time to time.
Much of the plot for my lighthouse scenario is thought of. The dragon, Vipros, destroyed the small town of Cascade a few centuries ago, and the town’s lighthouse was perfectly preserved onto the back of the dragon as it plowed through the village. Today, he resides in a colossal cave where the Neishek people reside, providing the much needed light from the lighthouse in order for their crops to grow after he destroyed their illuminating fungi. Several former citizens of Cascade that perished in the assault now dwell in the lighthouse as ghosts seeking for the afterlife. Their torment will forever occur unless the lighthouse is vanquished, but the citizens of Neishek will starve without the light source. Since the lighthouse is now biologically a part of Vipros, only the destruction of the dragon will put out the light. However, if the party can comprise of an alternate to the light source that has a similar intensity, then the dragon need not be slain.
Then we have some side plots for the players. The Sage, Wizholme, requires a tome that will allow him much more power than he is willing to admit he possesses in exchange for an answer by the players. Bartholomew Blackbeard, despite being a ghost, requires the Pinpoint Sunrise in order to find peace. Nicodemus would love to find a way to break the enslavement Wizholme has placed upon him and would be willing to do anything shy of being enslaved by the players. Then you have Jyk who is on a quest himself to create the perfect glass heart to save his dying wife. Perhaps there is more to the story there such as his material supply is running low and he is unable to leave his post without someone else taking it.
In all, I have one main plot and at least four side plots to flesh out and continue on with. So let’s work on the main plot first.
The biggest gap right now that is glaring at the plot is the Neishek people. It seems that if the players can simply create some kind of permanent light source, the problem is solved. This doesn’t bode well for a challenge because if they are powerful enough to tackle a dragon, they might be powerful to have a wizard in the group who can cast Light on an object and use a form of Permanency upon it. So there has to be a uniqueness to dragon’s fire that regular illumination can’t handle. This could tie in Jyk’s ability to create glass containers that can hold the dragon’s fire inside safely. However, to create a globe that large would require a vast amount of material, most notably sand. The cave can be in a part of the world where sand is quite scarce, so a sage would come in handy to answer where the location of sand of that amount can be found. Of course, this then tie further into the side quest of the tome Wizholme desires. So a side-run for the tome. Players could have the option to receive the answer in advance with a geis to acquire the tome unless killed or receive the answer when they return with the book but lose precious time.
I’m not going to flesh out the side quests because they are plots that go beyond the confines of the lighthouse, and our focus on this exercise is to remain within the structure and leave avenues beyond for future work.
Hauling that much sand will be problematic all the way back to the cavern unless the portal will be close to the location of the sand in a certain number of days. They then have a deadline to reach the sand and stock up before the portal, including reaching the tome.
When thinking of plots, I generally try to play the game in my mind as an overpowered, rules-savvy player who enjoys finding exploits and loopholes in the game. If I think “Eh, that’s a bit of a stretch to come up with that loophole,” it means it is going to be discovered by a player. It never fails. Even when I think of seemingly everything to challenge the players, they come up with an idea that trumps everything including the challenge. So although there is a general plot, I try not to spend too much on alternatives. I think of any glaring loopholes and then throw it all at them to see what they come up with.
Bartholomew’s predicament is merely a hunt-n-grab, but the entire plot could be reaching the ends of the world to acquire the teardrop artifact. Nicodemus’ situation could be as simple as slaying the sage, but then the players will discover Wizholme is more than just a man of knowledge but of tremendous power. Wizholme might reveal his true nature as a powerful demon to the players if provoked enough. His enslavement on the Tiefling is going to be far too powerful for any wizard in the party to dispel, which should give a good warning to the party the sage is more than what he presents himself to be. Perhaps a more powerful artifact can destroy the spell? To make it less overwhelming to players, connecting multiple side quests together (or with the main quest) will encourage them to bite more aggressively, so the Pinpoint Sunrise that Bartholomew desires could be simply loaded with 3 very powerful wish spells.
Given all of this, it’s clear that the task of establishing a one-page adventure is going to be next to impossible simply because of the addition of all the NPCs. So I am going to cheat a bit and place the background and plots on the actual page with the list of NPCs as an appendix. It will still turn out to be a clean look.
I hope you could take something from this mini-series, even if it was a great way to kill a few minutes between more important things to do. I feel that focuses on abridged formatting when writing adventures or scenarios can help reduce the chance for writer’s block or GM staleness. Give yourself small exercises to keep your mind sharp, fresh, and focused, and you shouldn’t have too many problems getting through the long haul of a campaign.
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.
The Roaming Lighthouse
Once part of the seaport, Cascade, the lighthouse became fused onto the back of the ancient red dragon, Vipros, when he barreled through the city for his amusement. The force of the beast mixed with luck caused the building to position onto his back fully intact. Over the years, the dragon’s scales grew within the building as it became biologically a part of him.
Standing 60’-0”, its base spans 75’-0” in diameter and tapers to 15’-0” at the top. It has an outer wall that rotates clockwise, making a revolution every ten minutes, which lines up to the inner wall door for a short time. The building has 4 floors and a cellar. The ground floor holds a small market with three vendors: blacksmith, glassblower, and a summoner (described in the appendix). The first floor contains a moderate size library, spanning 50’-0” across and hosted by the great sage, Wizholme, who enjoys challenging riddles and puzzles to those seeking knowledge. A hidden book will open the ceiling door to the 3rd floor, which contains a mischievous portal whose sister portal teleports randomly throughout the world. The room is filled with star charts and maps used by the last keeper who was in search of the great artifact, Pinpoint Sunrise, which would grant him the ability to communicate with dead gods. The final floor’s light source comes from the fountain on the ground floor that is filled with the dragon’s fire. It rises in a tube and spews outward like a volcano and collected in trays for recycling. The fire is used by many of the vendors to create powerful magical items. The cellar is accessed by inserting all three keys from each vendor into a hidden compartment on the fountain. Down below, the room is filled with ships in a bottle that are real ships that crashed in the past. Uncorking any will cause the ship to teleport to the nearest water source and scale to the size of that water, even if it’s a puddle, with a full crew.
The PCs must choose whether to aid the ghosts who reside in the lighthouse, shadows of former citizens of Cascade, by extinguishing the flame in the lighthouse, or aid the cavern citizens of Neishek who rely on the light source to grow their crops. They could convince Jyk to build a container filled with draogn’s fire to nurture Neishek’s crops, but he will need more sand. The sage knows where an abundant of sand is, but requires a tome in exchange. The 3rd floor portal’s sister will be near the sand in just a week, so time is urgent. Finally, the PCs must slay Vipros in order to put out the lighthouse fire permanently.
Hrothgar Bennington [Dwarf, Legendary Blacksmith]
Motivation or Life Goal: Creation of the perfect weapon made only through the fires of a dragon. Personality: Happy when working, disgruntled when interrupted. Annoyed by the other vendors. Obsessed on the perfect weapon. He has a secret weakness for kittens.
Vipros [Ancient Red Dragon]
Motivation or Life Goal: Collection of wealth, finding amusement, keeping everything in the lighthouse a secret. Personality: Highly intelligent, insanely evil. His knowledge is almost endless and unforgettable. Torments the Keishek for amusement. Extremely agile. Hates riddles. Loves learning the unknown.
Jyk Thorne [Elf, Glassblower]
Motivation or Life Goal: Create a magical glass heart to save his dying human wife. Personality: Optimistic with hidden doubt. Huge heart. Enjoys whistling harmonically with Kasandra. Paranoid about others. Hesitant to stop his construction of the heart but will always happily do so.
Nicodemus [Tiefling, Summoner]
Motivation or Life Goal: Capture and summon any creature at will. Personality: Two-faced, charismatic, jovial, conniving, deceitful. Hates Wizholme for enslaving him. Scowls when summoned. Only eats fish; loves salmon. Enjoys playing head games. Easily bored.
Wizholme [Unknown, Sage]
Motivation or Life Goal: Obtain all truths by any means. Personality: No morals, evil. Unknown race. Demi-god-like demon. Opium obssesion. Timeless. Enjoys riddles/puzzles and sending people on wild goose chases. Brash, almost arrogant, subtle and calm.
Bartholomew Blackbeard [Human Ghost, Lighthouse Keeper]
Motivation or Life Goal: Communicate with Lenora, goddess of night. Personality: Giggles with hands on his belly. Neglects duties searching for the Pinpoint Sunrise so he can talk to Lenora. Hopeless romantic. Delusional in love with goddess. Loses the pencil behind his ear.