[RPG Blog Carnival] Campaign Idea: Putting a twist on transport circles

Campaign Idea: Putting a twist on transport circles

Continuing the December Blog Carnival idea of putting a twist on things (the original post can be found here), this blog post is an idea for a campaign setting that puts a different spin on the transport circle; this idea will work best in a fantasy-style campaign where magic is available and their is some reliable means of magical transporting available, whether this be transport circles, portals or whatever, for convenience i’m going to refer to them as transport circles in this blog post.
Campaign Idea: They Come from the Circles
  
Background: Transport circles are one of the most convenient forms of transportation for those who have either the magical know-how or the money to pay someone who does, allowing for almost instantaneous transportation from one circle to another, no matter the intervening distance. Occcasionally people feel a little nauseous or dislocated for a few moments after transport, but it quickly passes and the effects are harmless.

To the lay-person it seems as though powerful mages and articifers are capable of creating transport circles wherever they wish, however, the truth is a little more complex, normally the innate reality of the word resists transport magic, making it very taxing to cast such spells, however, there are spots in the world (that can be identified by the those with the appropriate arcane learning) where the reality of the world is weaker, allowing for construction of transport circles with far less effort and expense, large cities tend to build up around these areas as wizards and those seeking to benefit from the circles flock to such sites.

The campaign begins: Below is the suggested sequence of events for a campaign using this model, feel free to intersperse events and adventures not related to this plot between the suggested points otherwise it will feel like everything is connected somehow to the transport circle and it may seem a little laboured or forced.

  • Have a few adventures reference the use of transport circles in very minor ways, perhaps have the PCs use them or an ally use them, but make them seem very much like a convenient plot device or background element trying not to draw too much attention to them.
  • A notable mage vanishes whilst attempting to create a new transport circle.
  • If there are any mages in the party perhaps have them make a couple of rolls to determine some basic facts about transport circles, such as the weak points in reality that allow them to be easily constructed.
  • Over the course of the next half dozen sessions a number of people are found brutally murdered and torn apart near transport circles.
  • The bodies of the murdered people appear to have been slashed to pieces by extremely sharp and thin blades (infact two-dimensional claws).
  • In the area where the murders took place, both existing transport circles and any magic dealing with transportation or planar travel is easier to cast and lasts for far longer (this is due to the fact that reality has been weakened by the appearance of the creatures from beyond the circles).

The Truth

The weakened points of reality that allow for the construction of transport circles are actually areas where creatures from another dimension have broken through into ours; normally these creatures do not appear in our world, however occasionally the conditions are just right (the stars align, ley-lines converge, or whatever is suitable for your game) to allow these creatures to enter our reality and hunt the people and animals that live there (whom they see as particularly favoured prey). When these creatures arrive they shred reality in the surrounding area as they pierce the invisible membrane between our world and theirs, weakening it to such an extent that magic can be used in our world to travel from one location to another.

Messing around with transport magic in the areas of weakened reality eventually attracts the attention of the creatures who hunt, attack and eventually kill their quarry; inevitably the creatures will eventually catch wind of the PCs and will attack them. Unfortunately the creatures (which resemble two dimensional hounds made of shadow) are very difficult to destroy since they are capable of instinctively using transport circles themselves, however, any effect that prevents magic or stops a transport circle working binds them to our dimension for it’s duration making them easier to deal with. The creatures are intelligent hunters who are fully capable of withdrawing if they seem outmatched (aided by their ability to instinctively use transport circles or just fade back into their own dimenion) and using pack tactics; a party who believes they have successfully seen off the hounds may find themselves menaced again by shadowy creatures from transport circles in the future.

Additional Suggestions

Perhaps the PCs eventually find a way to enter the Hounds own dimension and take the fight to them or perhaps there is some way to poison/proof transport circles and magic against the attention of the Hounds.

[RPG Blog Carnival] With a Twist

This post is for the RPG Blog Carnival about December’s subject of ‘With a Twist’; the original post (written by Mike Bourke) can be found on the Campaign Mastery website here.

In his original article Mike discusses how often the methods of introducing plot twists in literature and other forms do not work so well in an RPG due to the amount of creative freedom that the players have, he suggests some alternatives and rules for working plot twists into your RPG session.
He also discusses what he considers to be the key different types of plot twists, pretty much covering almost all eventualities that could be required in a roleplaying game; i’m going to retread the ground covered by Mike but I do want to look at a few specific methods that I have used (to varying degrees of success) over the years when it has come to creating a plot twist.

  • Playing with Character Identity

Using this method the very identity of the player characters may be called into question; I used this recently in my Numenera game (session video playlist can be viewed here) where the players slowly discovered that they were not who they thought they were but were in fact duplicates or replicants created from the memories of possibly the last original living human, using a powerful machine. This idea was originally suggested by one of the players and was expanded to encompass all of them; when using this suggestion you need to be extremely careful, messing with someone’s character can result in tension and bad feelings if you’re not sensitive about it.

You also want to make sure that at some point the players can start figuring out that they are not who they originally thought, odd incongruities or discrepancies that hint at the truth being different from what they believed are one method, depending on their true nature then biological discrepancies/differences may also become a factor. Above all try to make it clear that the PC not being who they thought they were, does not invalidate the work that the player has put into creating it and don’t just use something like this without a very solid reason behind it, trying to wing a plot when you have revelations like this involved can be a disaster.

Generally this sort of thing works extremely well for personal horror, since we all like to think that our identities are pretty untouchable and that we know who we are, done carefully, revealing that this is not the case can be a good way to not only unsettle/scare players but also to get them to cling more tightly to those things that they know are real (like each other).

  • Playing with the Established Reality

Related to the point above but expanded to encompass the game world rather than just the players, in my own game the town that the PCs believed they had grown up in was actually an artifical creation built on top of a huge machine that had fabricated the whole place as a way of saving part of world already destroyed.

Again a word of caution if you decide to do this, playing too much with the established reality can result in the players becoming frustrated and not knowing what  they can and cannot reasonably accomplish in the game; if the very fundamental laws of nature (gravity, etc) are not constant then it can be difficult to get a handle on how your character should be reacting; however discovering that the ancient manor house on the hill is actually a cunningly disguised space vessel does not change the basic laws of the setting but it does add a twist when the players pierce the disguise.

  • Throwing a different light on established facts

Mike makes the very valid point in his post that the GM should not lie to the players or out and out contradict themselves and I think that this is a good point, even in a game where a lot of things are called into question the players need to be able to trust what the GM says to a certain extent; one way to create an interesting twist on established facts in a game without changing them is to present a different viewpoint from the one that the player characters currently hold.

I find that a good way to do this is via flashbacks; for example, if we are running a cyberpunk game and the PCs are all set to raid the warehouse of an evil corporation who are producing illegal drugs for distribution then perhaps running a scene where the players take control of the production level line workers of the corporation, who know very little about the evil schemes behind the drugs, they’re just working to get money for their families or something similar makes it a bit less cut and dried for the players. This shouldn’t be overused but a few scenes like this, scattered throughout a game can help prevent the players viewing world as being split into simply goodies and baddies.