Postmortem Chapter Three

The adventure Beyond the Veil has something of a strange history. I started writing it around the time we first began having a major attendance problem on Saturdays. It was only a couple of hours before the game, and it sounded like most everyone wasn’t going to be there, and I wanted a simple, short adventure to occupy those who did show up. We had been planning on having the game, and I didn’t want to cancel at the last minute again.

So, I quickly sketched out some encounters and was simply planning on having those who showed up fall through the veil between the worlds, have a brief jaunt through a ruined temple and then hop back out again. Originally, this adventure was called Into the Void, and it was going to take place in the shadowfell. Having a party slip through the veil into the feywild or the shadowfell is a standard approach to interplanar adventure at this level. This is why the temple here is dedicated to the Raven Queen; I actually changed it to a temple of Asmodeus when it first moved to the Abyss, and back to the temple of the Raven Queen later on.

In a twist of fate, however, nobody came to the game! I can’t remember what happened exactly; I guess whoever was still planning to show up assumed the game would be canceled because of the pending absences, and that was that. So, the encounters here were shelved; I thought I was going to have to shelve them indefinitely because the whole thing had been designed for a small group and it seemed as though the game would probably always end up canceled when we only had a couple people available. Furthermore, I didn’t want to distract the party or throw them a red herring by taking everyone into the shadowfell; there was already plenty to worry about.

However, I couldn’t get the hook out of my head. I liked the idea of having the party go dimension-hopping at a tense moment. This was all around the time we were struggling with the giant sandbox that was Welcome to Three Points. I was reluctant to railroad the party, but needing to escape another plane after inadvertently falling into it seemed like the sort of simple adventure we needed to refresh everyone’s enjoyment of the game. Over time, as it became clear that the sandbox was going to need to shrink quite a bit, I decided to use Into the Void to refocus the campaign and effectively overhaul the style in which I presented the players with a quest.

We got a lot of mileage out of this little adventure, story-wise. I decided to move it into the Abyss to connect it to what was happening in the blacksmith’s shop and make the events here feel more significant. I swiped the original title and used it to make a distinction between the Abyss itself and the very bottom of the elemental chaos, where the Chained God is imprisoned. The temple to the Raven Queen became a temple to Asmodeus, which felt a bit more fitting for the area.

As the party moved closer to finding the Candlemaker, it seemed like a good moment to launch this adventure, now called Beyond the Veil. It provided an opportunity to explain what happened to Morgue, and to provide a reason he had been on the run, since his player didn’t have a chance to fill that out before he left. It helped to introduce the old man as a knowledgeable individual the party could trust; he knew how the talisman worked, he was trying to save the heroes from Sharvis’s ambush, and it seemed as though Morgue had come to him for aid.

Finally, it helped us bring in a new player and a new character – Wu, the human wizard. Wu’s player had wanted his character to worship the Raven Queen, so we came up with this concept of an ancient order of wizards associated with that particular god. Although that player has since left the game, the influence of this group will be felt throughout the rest of the campaign. Indeed, it was the Greylit Order who cast the spell that caused the dragons of Arkhosia to slumber, and it was this same group who abandoned Easteral to its final fate in the early days of the Last War. This is one of my favorite aspects of DMing and D&D in general – collaborating with a player to incorporate some aspect of their character into the campaign world, making the game world feel richer, and making that character feel like a part of it.

The temple featured in this adventure shifted back to the Raven Queen when it became an introductory quest for Wu, so that he would have a reason to be stuck in the Void. All of the maps were custom; these were probably the last maps I would draw by hand because I hate doing it. I’ll still make my own maps much of the time, but instead I’ve simply been putting the maps together with dungeon tiles to make sure they work and then taking a picture with my camera rather than attempting to transcribe them. This has worked out great and has turned out to be a huge time-saver. In fact, I disliked my hand-drawn maps for this area so much that I converted them to dungeon tile pictures and threw them out. I’ll probably try to find some sort of mapping tool down the road for adventures that use the battlemat.

This adventure consisted of four combat encounters, one puzzle and an epilogue with a wounded dragon in the bog…although nobody took the bait on that one. I thought everything went great except perhaps the final room. The initial combat encounter featured a mechanic I was pretty proud of…and then nobody really caught on to what was happening! The zombies popping up out of the ground and grabbing at feet was intended to keep everyone moving, but either they weren’t threatening enough or it never clicked that staying on the move would help the players avoid being grabbed. Oh well.

I enjoyed Grief’s destruction of the organ loft in the next encounter a great deal. This was a reasonably fun fight but it did sort of devolve into a slugfest, which was too bad.

The puzzle that followed, I thought, went very well; it made enough sense that it didn’t affect believability, and the party was able to work together and solve it without having too much trouble. It was just challenging enough without going overboard.

The cube fight that followed was perhaps my favorite of this adventure, even though Seamus bit the dust and Wu nearly hit the pavement too. I didn’t think it felt unfair – it was challenging, to be sure, but it was meant to be an optional fight with an enticing reward. Too bad the player the reward was given to has since left the game! Still, you should expect to see lots of little rooms like this down the line; I love optional rooms or even entire wings of dungeons with a very nice reward at the end.

As I said before, I wasn’t entirely happy with the portal room, although I thought it went well enough. It was certainly a tense fight, but it didn’t generate quite as much moving around as I had hoped; in fact, I had to bring in a scary monster beyond the group’s capabilities to help move things along. Furthermore, I am loathe to create situations that could potentially cause the sudden and irrecoverable demise of a character. It just doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, in a world in which most deaths are relatively easy to recover from, it’s important to toss in something like this every once in awhile to remind the players of the danger waiting around every corner. Of course, if I fudge the results when these scenarios do kill a player, it kind of takes the teeth out of it. I don’t believe this will happen again, but at the time it was necessary for the story and the fun everyone was able to have. Story and fun always trump dice rolls.

What did you think of Beyond the Veil?

Postmortem Chapter Three

Beyond the Veil echoshifting