Monday, May 22, 2017

Elantris Appendix N Musings

When you read a beefy tome like Elantris, many elements may start to swirl around your brain and demand a place at your gaming table.

1. Take the most popular city in your setting and destroy it. Forgotten Realms? Waterdeep sent into the plane of Shadow. Eberron? Sharn collapses and is surrounded by a psionic energy barrier that flares with runes similar to the various house marks. Greyhawk? Well, of course, Greyhawk city!

You can either have it happen right at the start of the campaign or as something that has happened in the recent past. No one knows how or why it happened but it gives the players the chance to explore the ruins of a freshly destroyed city. They can hunt for survivors. They can hunt for lost lore. They can try and return the city to its former glory. The options are almost limitless when you're dealing with a subject as big as a lost city in a magical setting.

Players may also get caught up in the changes that are wrought by a major city falling. For example, if Waterdeep itself falls, what about the various farms outside of Waterdeep? What about the various towns outside the city? Will they rise and take over the maintenance of the roads leading north? Will they be destroyed by raids from nearby towns looking for plunder?

What about the political situation? Waterdeep, as a large city, an old city, as a trading city, has many alliances and enemies. Will those in the South use this as an excuse to invade their northern neighbors and become the new "Gateway to the North"? Will those in the north use this as an excuse to start an extermination of evil in order to safeguard their own lands and ensure that the same thing that happened to Waterdeep does not happen to them?

2. NPC Motivations: Some characters aren't necessarily evil but they have a goal. That goal can range in time and tune with the evolution of the campaign. In Elantris, Roial and Ahan are merchants that compete with one another. Roial always getting the better of Ahan. Under the promise that Roial would be imprisioned, Ahan betrays Roail and their friends. Thing spin rapidly out of that as the one Ahan betrayed the group to decides not to imprison Roail and the others, but to kill them. An event completely against the wishes of Ahan but outside his control once the ball started rolling. Things move as motivation directs them for a character, but when that motivation encounters other character's motivation, it can spin in a completely different fashion.

Are there secrets that friends of the characters know? Are there things that might make others jealous? Have the players learned something that is of vital consequence to others in the region but they themselves don't see it that way?

And motivation doesn't have to be used against the players. One of the main characters of Elantris, Hrathen, is the high priest of Fjordell and is in Arelon to convert the people. This is his goal. To convert the people.

When he learns that his church never had that as an intention, he turns against them. This is the classic case of organized religion versus a man's own interpretation of that religion and the organization fell short.

3. Secrets. During the course of the novel, prince Raoden uses two different aliases in order to move forward with his own plans. During the course of the novel, we learn that Raoden's father was a member of a cult that engaged in ritual sacrifice. As the novel unfolds, we learn of a hidden cult of killers within the religion that Krathen seeks to bring to the people of Arelon. At the end of the novel, there are still mysteries left to ponder. Keep some things hidden from the characters. Keep enough elements of the campaign that the characters may choose to follow a few of them without ever knowing what the others lead to.

Now mind you in a multi-year campaign where the players are playing the same characters and growing in tune with the campaign itself, that's a little harder to do but in many campaigns, especially shorter-lived ones, it gives the players something to look forward to the next time they come back to the campaign.

4. Minor Characters: In a dungeon crawl that's packed with monsters, Non-Player Characters aren't necessarily that important. Oh sure there might be a 'Meepo' in the waiting or something of that nature, but mainly, it's about the crawl.

In a city-based campaign, in a campaign that interacts with civilization, it's in part about the people. A Game of Thrones, one of the most popular of novel series, has dozens of characters. While Elantris in one book does not boast quite so many, it does have numerous individuals. For example, Sarene is married to Raoden. Raoden and Sarene both have fathers. Sarene also has an uncle. That uncle has children. Some of those children are married. Many of these characters have their own little niches about them.

The depth and details of the campaign can shine much greater when the players have an actual attachment to the campaign. Some of these can serve as mentors, as friends, as allies, as rivals, as enemies. The amount of swordplay or violence directly in a mirror to what the player's do.

5. Social Combat: One of the most interesting aspects of Elantris to me, from a gaming point, is the lack of fighting.

Hrathen vs Sarene: As a high priest, Hrathen is out and about preaching. He is intent on bringing the people into the fold. Sarene has seen the works of the church in other countries, sometimes resulting in bloody revolutions and is determined to stop it. So when Hrathen is out preaching, Sarene is there asking questions that undermine the church.

Sarene vs King Iadon: The King has no use for women in the court. He feels them useless and out of place among the political games that go on. Sarene is having none of that and at first, plays off as if she were too dumb to understand the problems that Iadon has with her being in the court. She does this once by pretending to paint and claiming it's part of her own courtly duties.

Raoden vs Sarene: During part of the novel, Raoden is in exile in Elantris and Sarene is bringing food to the people of the city. Raoden is in many ways the default ruler of the city but doesnt' control all of it and seeks to keep things are while at the same time trying to get more supplies to improve the lot of the people of Elantris. This leads to a list of goods needed by Raoden while Sarene not trusting him, provides corrupted versions of them. For example, instead of blocks of iron, bent nails or near transparent sheets of metal.

The use of social combat and the gaining and losing of status is often underlooked in roleplaying games. Most of the rules in games like Dungeons and Dragons are for spells and combat but social combat can be a little more involved and allows the players to occassionally lose without dying on the spot.

Are there any other parts of Elantris that you'd bring to your campaign or thought would make for some interesting bits in a game?