Hey all. So I'm a first-time DM, about to start running Second Darkness for a 4-player party. After reading the adventures, I'd been looking around the forums to get advice on how to run it and have consistently seen that there's definitely a few issues with this path. By that point, my players were busy getting attached to the characters they were making, and I honestly like enough of the basic concepts that I decided to go for it... But with some changes.
As such, I'm posting my plans for what to alter here, in the hopes people might be able to offer me thoughts and advice on my plans and how likely to succeed they are.
(PSsst: My players STAY OUT, spoilers abound)
Twin Fetchling (Kiss, female acrobat-rogue, and Tell, male dark-tapestry Oracle). Their players requested "mysterious backstory even they don't know" and are playing their characters as orphans in Riddleport who don't know their own species nor origin.
an estranged father (Rhydderch, male human fighter) seeking to reconnect daughter (Lia, female human diviner), who was left an odd deed to a home, along with a promised wizard apprenticeship, in a town called "Siavenian" by her half-elf mother.
My planned changes are as follows:
This is not the first occurrence of the Blot, although the last one was smaller and persisted for less time, so it wasn't noticed as widely. It occurred a little less than two decades ago, and the starstone called down mostly burned up in the atmostphere. It's cargo however, did not... This was the very first test run the Drow did, since I didn't see any timelines given and all elves are notorious for being able to plot century-spanning plans.
I decided to change it so that there's stronger Shadow Realm elements, with the starstones being pulled through the Shadow Realm as a sort of "shortcut" to move them from the Dark Tapestry. This time whenever a starstone is summoned, it drags with it pockets of the shadow realm containing a few trapped denizens of the shadow realm- Fetchlings, shae, etc. They usually are killed upon impact, but a pair managed to survive- these are my Fetchling players. The Blot is now both a targeting "device" and a weakening of the barrier to the shadow plane.
My Fetchling players happened to design their characters as having pitch black skin and white hair... So of course I jumped at the idea of having them mistake the Drow for their own kind, and, hopefully, pursue the plot seeking to discover their own origins.
I also wanted this similarity to make sense. This ties into one of my major issues with this campaign: The Drow themselves. I know, I know, why am I even running it if I don't like Drow? The thing is, I do like Drow when they're portrayed like this. My problem is, SD assumes Drow are considered a myth and are an unknown and surprising thing.
Lets face it, out of game, they are not. They are ridiculously well known.
There is no way offered to communicate in-game that Drow are a myth without tipping my hand. My players are VERY roleplay heavy, and frankly I hate the idea of them trying to 'fake" shock at what is meant to be a very real twist (the reveal of Depora). So I decided to keep playing with the Shadow Realm approach: if there are shadow-realm humans, why not a similar race for elves? Why not have the Elves the Drow descended from be affected by negative energy pockets in the Darklands in a similar way to humans trapped on the shadow realm. Allevrah's discovery of the starstone not only allows them revenge, it allows them a way to make the world more comfortable to them, more akin to the shadow realm.
There's still a few holes with this, but the basic idea works for me. I'd keep them mechanically nearly the same, maybe change a few abilities to be more "shadow" like. The big change I want to make would be physical: I don't want my players to instantly recognize it's a drow upon hearing about it or seeing a picture. Have them use the norse term "dakkalfar" instead of Drow. I want them to slowly figure out they're fighting drow from the experiences, but initially think this is something new and bizarre.
The kicker: I also want them to still be similar enough to the fetchlings, visibly, that there will be a moment of confusion all around. IE, keep pointed ears, dark skin, white hair.
My current design takes the unnaturally long and disporportinate limbs of the Fetchling illustration, turns their hair into hair-like "quills" that can raise and flatten according to emotions, and flattens their nose to the point you almost can't see it. It's in the right direction but I'm not sure exactly what else to do. Anyone got ideas?
As for my human side of the party, I'm hoping to use the mystery of the deed and waiting apprenticeship in Siavenian to motivate Lia, whether via curiosity or just pure ol' greed. Her father, whose character is based around trying to get to know her better, is probably the most obviously good aligned and so the combo of his daughter's potential investment and his own moral obligation, will hooooooopefully serve to self motivate.
The other issues of the AP...
The biggest ones I've seen called out are the railroading, the a+@%* elves providing poor motivation to help them, and of course the entirety of Memory of Darkness.
My plans with the railroading is to let go of the reigns a little and use the adventures that're worse at it, like Armageddon Echo, more like the sandboxes they seem like they sort of tried to be and failed. A lot of people on these forums suggest letting the players find information themselves that is otherwise handed to them in chunks by NPCs. I'll use provided random encounters and other events to let them just do explore as they like in Endless Night, let them discover the drow-disguise spell in Armageddon (someone suggested it be a drow spell that they could find notes on and repurpose). That kind of thing. Let their plans that may differ from the tracks succeed, as long as they can logically pull them off. Reward them for ingenuity.
With the elves, I'll leave the big guys kind of haughty... But allow for a lot of interaction with the grunts and civilians, and let there be perfectly friendly and likable people amongst them. As a player, I've found myself randomly charmed with random improvised NPCs, from guardsmen who managed to survive a Wyte attack, to the old guy running the stables, to random village urchins. Showing a little "humanity" amongst the people who AREN'T in charge will go a long way to making it clear the elves don't just ALL DESERVE TO DIE. In addition, I'll make the Queen slightly less manipulative, and have her let them in on the conspiracy, admitting she'll deny everything of course.
I'll play the Winter Council as more or less a proper dungeon, with the council as boss monsters. Although they'll have the chance to talk to the members, I'll work it so they can, for the most part, still just go through without setting up the meeting, although I'll still arrange it so Hialin goes Drow at the end. I might put some sort of hint as to a concrete reason why particular elves go Drow, just to establish he wasn't simply one in disguise. Not quite sure what exactly, possibly something to do with the shadow realm, but I don't want to push that into TOO many places. But yeah, the cut-scene nature of the tower always bothered me, so I'm going to work around it. Give the party a bigger role than messangers.
Those are the vast majority of my plans. The main key is being flexible, allowing the players to lead the way and reward them for taking initiative by sprinkling info for them to find themselves, establishing not all elves are awful, and letting the players motivate themselves (by the offering of a revealed backstory for the fetchlings, and a personal material investment in Kyonin for the other half of the group).
And mixing up the Drow's appearance, although this isn't as vital so much as a personal preference.
Now if only it wouldn't be a hideous amount of work to replace the demons with a different type of outsider... Don't get me wrong, demons are a blast, but the beastiaries offer what, five different evil outsider groups? Some of whom are REALLY interesting. It'd be nice to see it get mixed up with some of them.
So that's that. If anyone has any thoughts or opinions, I'd love to hear them! Likewise, thanks to the forums as a whole for providing me so many resources to edit and adjust this AP.
I can give you the issues I had with my game so far.
I can give you the issues I had with my game so far.
** spoiler omitted **
Actually I have a plan for that! I remembered seeing that mentioned on the forums, and one person mentioned when they ran the adventure, they had it so Saul genuinely liked the PCs.
So this way, his reason for betraying them is a bit stronger, and also adds some fun conflict to the situation. Will my PCs kill him anyway? Will they decide to take pity on him and convince him to spill the beans?
In our run thorough
In our run thorough** spoiler omitted **
Ok, well I definitely want him to come across as a desperate man who does what he does out of fear. So far I ended up playing him kind of fatherly (since 3 of the PCs are teenagers and the remaining is ALSO a father), and they seem to like him a lot.
So thanks for the input! If anyone has any comments on other aspects of my plans, feel free to throw those in as well!
Especially for ideas on my drow condundrum? How do I make these things look less obviously like drow (I'm an illustration student, so I can draw something up rather than just describe it), but keep the humanoid with dark skin/white hair/pointy ears look?
I just want my players to feel actual confusion and surprise when they see it, have it ACTUALLY be something they've never seen before, so I don't have to fudge it and go "Psssst and btw Drow are a myth you've never seen this before, ACT SURPRISED". Real shock is always better than fake, if you ask me.