Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Lord Skullcleave Ravenshadow

Lord Skullcleave Ravenshadow’s skeletal nightmare jaunted saunterly over the mooring meadows. The air vibrated with cleanliness, and with each step that his morose steed misgave, he felt his lungs empty of the sulfur from his home. It was a startling feeling of freshness, a lifting weight he’d not known was there before.

His orcish entourage—Febrar; Maker of Mincemeat, Grinchwin the Basher, and Dolt—fanned out behind him. Ever alert, their ceremonial gauntlet spikes shone like the black diamonds they were, embrued with the souls of the orcs who had served faithfully the Ravenshadows since time immemorial.

Suddenly, Lord Skullcleave’s lingam clutched inside his onyx codpiece. Danger was near. There was a bustle in the hedgerow beside him. A pale white fleshman tumbled from his hiding place. These, who had been but hairless apes when the Ravenshadows had build their glorious crystal castles ‘neath the sulfur puts, had taken over the countryside with their squat stone dwellingplaces in recent millenia.

Lord Skullcleave thought back to his tutelage under master Crackwhip so many centuries ago, and brought to his lips what little monkeytongue he remembered from his lessons.

"Fart nary, wee meatcreature. Though brazen am bashful, and wish you no mincery." His words froze the very air they touched, and had the opposite effect as what he’d wanted on the little creature. It began to whimper and release liquids from various orifices. For a moment he felt pathos for the small monkeything quivering below his exsanguinous mount. Then Grinchwin’s overzealous warhammer came down, and its suffering ceased.

Amends would have to be made. He would personally see a retinue under the black flags of peace, carrying the body of the fallen victim on the ends of pikes, as befit one who died a warrior’s death. He would make Grinchwin set torch to the stonedwellings in penitence for his brash bashing, and once the village was razed would erect the finest black towers from molten minemetal for the squalid meatcreatures to occupy as an offering of peace, that they might better their lot in life.

Surely they would be thankful. He wouldn’t want to be a bad neighbor.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Clone Big Baddy

This is re-purposed from a reddit comment.
I want to make a BBEG based around the powers of the X-Men character Multiple Man, need a little help on the execution… 
I was just thinking it would be interesting if, when finally able to confront the BBEG of the campaign, instead of just the party vs. one big powerful boss, he splits and the clones work together or have some type of synergy between them. 
I guess I was just wondering if anyone knows of a Monster that can already do this, or things I could use to make the clones seem unnaturally able to work together (hive mind style)?
One way I can think to hack this is to use changelings.

Changelings are chaotic creatures that take on the form of other nearby beings. Their goal is usually to cause mischief, insomuch as they have human-understandable goals. The way they work is that when no one is looking, a changeling can change appearances to be similar to anyone within their line of sight. They don’t just change outward appearance—they actually change into the person they’re mimicking, so their thoughts, memories, manerisms, memorized spells, etc., are all 100% the same. The only differences are that 1) detect magic/evil works on them and 2) where their heart should be, they have a solid black gemstone instead.

Changelings are the kind of creature that are as much trap as monster, and whole sessions can be taken up by the political, personal, and physical chaos that ensues when a few changelings are thrown into any regular situation. The intro adventure included with Lamentations of the Flame Princess is pretty much exactly that. The players don’t know who are who, everyone is freaked out by the fact that all of a sudden there’s two of some guy, both of whom are exactly the same and can’t be told apart. Imagine if you had a perfect double of someone just appear some day. Fucked, innit?

Enough introduction, here’s the idea for the big baddy:

The way it started, the big baddy was originally but a simple wizard who’d memorized a specific spell that works as a kind of memetic virus, such that anyone who has it memorized is compelled to keep it memorized. Lost the spell slot, kind of a bummer. But he alone has discovered something else about this spell. When a changeling changes into a person who has this spell memorized, they find it impossible to change again. In essence, the desire to keep that spell memorized is stronger than their desire to wreak havoc, so they essentially become that person.

The first time this happened, it was by accident, and he freaked out about having a changeling clone. However, being a (soon to be) big baddy and smarter than your average bear, he and the clone eventually realized that in being the same person, they could trust each other implicitly as long as they always took the attitude that they were indeed the same person. They always knew what the other one was thinking or would think given a situation, because that’s what they’d think.

Once they agreed, they began searching out other changelings at great cost, and forcing a change by putting the changing and the big baddy in the same room until they changed into him, and then bam, he had another him running around. They discovered that any clone could make another clone of the clone and the same would happen. A changeling truly becomes the person they are mimicking.

So through this process, the baddy slowly became an actually big baddy. He and the other changeclones work in perfect harmony towards the same goals, always perfectly trusting each other because they are the same person. If one dies, that’s too bad, but they’re all the same so as long as it’s for the greater good of the cohort, even the one dying is usually happy with it. They’ll even lay down their life for the greater good of the hive if they need to.

So, how do you play this? I’d recommend a few things.
  1. Have an adventure that is completely focused on changelings at some point. Get your hands on the Lamentations of the Flame Princess one if you can, at least to read about them in-depth. This shouldn’t in any obvious way be about the big baddy, it should seem like a stand-alone adventure, but it will introduce the players to most the key concepts.

  2. The mimetic virus spell should also come up at some point. Maybe the wizard accidentally memorizes it as part of a trap (and thus loses a spell slot). Maybe it’s just mentioned as lore. Again, it shouldn’t be directly tied to the big baddy in any way—this is giving your players enough info to later figure things out without spoon-feeding it.

  3. Have the players meet up and fight a single wizard at some point. Make it a fight that’s hard for them, but that they should with some cunning win. Once they have, they’ll think they’ve won against a pretty big baddie. Then once they see him again later, or hear that his trade is still booming or plans are still percolating or whatever, only then will they know that something else is up. Maybe they’ll think it’s a resurrect spell, who knows. Make sure to let them think what they will.

    The easiest way to do this, I think is to someone involve the players in the changeling trade.

    How does the baddy find new changelings? Is there a cottage industry built up around this? Can the party use that to sniff him out potentially, or find some of his non-clone lieutenants to learn information about him. Does he even use non-clones in his plans any more?

    This is what I personally would use to give the players a chance to figure out what’s going on, but only through really good research on their part. In addition, make sure the baddie changes his plans based on what the players learn. If they gain info from a human lieutenant, maybe that’s when the baddie stops using non-clones. That kind of thing.
  4. You’ll have to figure out some of the details. Are the changeclones telepathically linked? I’d play it that it seems that way, but in reality they just always know what they would do, so they know what their clone is going to do. But, that doesn’t mean that they know where they are or what they are doing.
  5. Is the original wizard still around pulling the strings, or did he die at some point and now it’s all changeclones acting as him? Does that even matter? If the original wizard dies, what happens to the changeclones? I’d play it as it doesn’t even matter, and even they don’t know who is who. Maybe even that once they did know, the original would willingly kill himself off for the good of the hive.

    Finally, this is what special power he has, but what is his final goal? To rule the kingdoms? To make money? To make everyone a subject to his clone army? In other words, this power is what makes him big, so what makes him a baddy? Or is he simply someone who crossed the players at some point, so they’re going to crush him regardless of whether he’s really that bad or not.

  6. The then big fight. This should be pretty epic—tonnes of wizard clones all fighting the party. One interesting thing is that they might be at a weaker level than the party without the party realizing it. So any individual baddie is only level 3 or so, but their acting together is what makes them big. They also don’t have to have resurrect spells, healing spells, etc, that the party might think that he does have from previous fight where they thought they killed him, then he came back later. Will make for a slightly more fair fight too.

    Then you throw a bunch of them at the party and see it go. A few notes on tactics: any individual baddy will gladly lay down its own life, but only if it (and thus all of them) thinks it’s for the greater good. This probably means they’ll come in waves, not all at once, in order to minimize damage to the hive. That is, they’d rather 4 die outright than 25 get injured. The goal is always that the hive continue and achieve it’s goals, not that any individual baddy does.

    If they’re telepathic, then all the clones should have the same spells memorized. If not, then they can all have different spells. Even if they’re not telepathic, they should work with more coordination than most enemies, because they know how the others will think.

  7. What does winning look like? Sewing dissent? Breaking the changeclones free, turning them back into changelings by tricking them into using (thus un-memorizing) the virus spell? Does killing the original big baddy to release the other clones, or does that not do anything anyway? Is he even still alive? Does it even matter? If a few changelings change into someone who also has the spell memorized, will that get the other clones not to trust each other? Is there any other way to do that?

    If one of the party, or someone else, did memorize the mimetic virus spell, then can the changelings change into them? Maybe even against their (human) will? Does the big baddy know this is a possibility, or is it an unknown weakness? A potential reward for a wizard who is down one spell slot for session after session, or for players who figure out the background details of how the baddie is managing all this. Just don’t spoon-feed it to them.
    Ideally there is a better way to win than just “the party fights them all and beats them all”. I’ll bet your party will come up with a few you and I never will together once they learn all the facts, so listen to them.

  8. And don’t let them forget that the gemstone at the heart of a changeling is worth beaucoup bucks. Wouldn’t want to deprive them of the scene where they’ve covered themselves and the baddy’s lair in inches of blood while hacking through the check of each captured baddy, looking for the gem.
Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster. And if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.