I made my party miners working for Smenk, through endentured slavery. Becuse they were all orphans from the plague 19 years ago. So it comes to the last month of the party working off there "paid for", by Smenk childhood. (Smenk errected this temporary orphanage for this reason alone.) Now the party is finally free to explore the world. With 3 Mths. wages.
I created character writeups similar to Erik's. They're posted here:
This was my first foray back into roleplaying in 15 or 20 years, and I was starting out DMing. I'm playing with my girlfriend and kids, who had never played before, so I came up with the characters myself.
I think you could easily allow your players to come up with their own characters and even have some input into the character backgrounds and still tie them into Diamond Lake pretty well.
I also created an NPC elf ranger who is a member of the bronzewood lodge. I didn't write a character background for him, but I have a hazy idea that one or both of his parents was killed by worm filled undead, and that he's got a wish for vengeance. Since he's a ranger, this also give him the class feature of favored enemy: undead. I've got the vague idea that he's a representative of the bronzewood lodge sent to diamond lake by the leader of the lodge, and that he's been hanging out at the Feral Dog trying to gather information, where he's met the other players. As I said, I haven't had to flesh his story out. We've only played one session, although it was a long one and it went really great. I've been holding out on adding detail to him for more information on the bronzewood lodge and how it ties into everything.
My group and I just kicked off the Age of Worms campaign last weekend. Most of the session (predictably) was spent getting characters ready to play, but I used that time to work with each player in turn to develop a reasonably detailed backstory for the characters. We then played out a fun little introductory roleplaying encounter where they all came together and got started on their quest to explore the Whispering Cairn.
Here's the cast:
"Fleece", CN male human rogue
This exceedingly short, sneaky, young human is the only PC to have grown up in Diamond Lake, and thus the only one really familiar with the area. Orphaned when a tragic (and suspicious) mine collapse killed off the only family he knew, Fleece (a nickname used in place of his embarassingly silly-sounding real name) raised himself on the streets and alleyways of this wretched little hole in the wall. (His family home, the now-dilapidated structure an hour outside of town detailed in Dragon #333, is serving as the party's base for this stage of the campaign.) He recently discovered--in the abandoned office of the mine manager who once employed his father and who has since sold his remaining operations to Balabar Smenk and departed town in a hurry--that he is owed some inheritance from his father's estate, but it is locked in a bank in the free city, three days ride from Diamond Lake. In order to claim his money, he needs to get there...and in order to get there, he needs money to pay for the trip. (I've told the players that the wilderness between Diamond Lake and the city is particularly dangerous, and not a trip that can be safely made on foot at their level.) Fleece, incidentally, harbors murderous feelings towards the mine manager he blames for his father's death in the mine collapse and is determined to find him. I also dropped the suggestion, though, that Balabar Smenk was able to "buy out" the missing manager's operation very cheaply after the collapse, and that he may have played some part in orchestrating the disaster for his own financial gain.
Gerkin, N(E) male gnome psion
This hooded and enigmatic gnome was recently incarcerated in the town lockup after a mischievious confrontation with a town official (I originally mentioned Smenk, but I think I'm going to suggest Governor-Mayor Lanod Neff instead when we continue the game.) Using his psionic power to animate objects, he managed to escape and hide from pursuit, and spent the night tucked away in an empty stall of the Lakeside Stables, where he planned to steal a horse and ride away at first light.
Cree of the Wolf Clan, N(G?) female human barbarian
Child of a nomadic barbarian clan, this young warrior was abandoned in Diamond Lake as a coming-of-age rite when her tribe passed through the area. In order to find her way in the world, she must hone her survival skills and learn to deal with the "civilized" humanoids that populate the area. In time, she can rejoin her clan...but for now she must see to her own needs. Because she could not afford a horse, she indentured herself to Lanch Faraday, owner of Lakeside Stables (who I have made a somewhat more honorable fellow than the abusive grump presented in the Diamond Lake backdrop). They worked out a deal where Cree can sleep in the stable loft and earn her keep by tending to the horses by day. In so doing, her "wages" as a stablehand will be held towards the value of a horse, and when Cree has paid it off with her service, she can take the horse and leave. At the present rate, though, it will take her about 4 months to pay off this debt, a setback to her coming-of-age challenge that she finds almost unbearable.
Adnar Qel'Caezal, N male human wizard (diviner) [NPC]
Adnar (an NPC I included to round out the party) is an ambitious and exotic young apprentice to the mage Allustan (and is visually based on the artwork of "Lamishal" from page 58 of Dungeon #125). While he respects his master's tutelage, he feels that he has reached the limits of what Allustan can teach him, and is interested in beginning an adventuring career of his own. Allustan may be content to rest idle in the corrupt little mudstain that is Diamond Lake, but Adnar forsees (literally) a much grander future for himself, and is eager to set events in motion that will propel him to greatness.
To get the ball rolling, I had the trio of free city adventurers pay a visit to Allustan, to consult with him over a scrap of lore they found in an old tome...a legend that set them on their journey to Diamond Lake in search of riches in a long-forgotten cairn. I haven't written up that scrap of lore yet, but I decided that it would feature multiple words and phrases referring to "whispers" and "voices on the wind".
I had Allustan's apprentice--my NPC, Adnar--overhear some of this conversation, and the reading of the old lore rang a bell with him. While the adventurers spoke with Allustan, Adnar dug through his master's maps of the area to find one old mine map with the "Whispering Cairn" labeled, and tucked it away...saying nothing to his master or the adventurers. Armed with that bit of information and knowing that the three adventurers are looking in the wrong place for whatever it is they seek, Adnar bumps into the other PCs by a stroke of chance (or fate):
Gerkin, the gnome-on-the-run, hid in an empty stall at the Lakeside Stables, where Cree, the barbarian woman, is currently employed. Several failed listen checks later, and the gnome managed to rest through the night in the stall while the barbarian slept in the loft above, completely ignorant of the stranger in her barn. Of course, a stablehand rises with the crack of dawn, so Gerkin didn't have much of a chance to escape before she awoke. Before they encounter one another, though, the human rogue "Fleece" wanders in, under the pretence of looking for a horse to buy. (He's really scouting the place for a way to steal one.) While the barbarian and rogue exchange pleasantries and talk about how much they'd each like to get out of this town (they hadn't met before), the gnome decides to speak up and introduce himself. After a brief and entertaining standoff between a suspicious pitchfork-wielding barbarian and a mysteriously-appearing hooded gnome, my NPC Adnar shows up to break the tension, on an errand to fetch a pack horse for Allustan. (Since they both had been in town for some time, we decided that Fleece and Adnar had some basic familiarity with each other, and have even shared some drinks at Lazare's House.) Greetings were exchanged, and Adnar, after having overheard the conversation about a desire to get out of this town, mentioned a way that they might all be able to get some money with which to travel: He presented the map he had been carrying and invited them to join him on an expedition to explore the cairn and loot its treasures.
The gnome was all set to Mind Blast the stable owner, take a horse, and ride out of town before Sherrif Cubbin could catch him, but he allowed Adnar to have a go at it first. One 'charm person' spell later and Adnar had arranged for some leave time for Cree (her honor wouldn't allow her to leave before her debt was paid otherwise), and procured a pony and a pack saddle.
Of course, as they were preparing to leave, they spotted Sheriff Cubbin and some constables patrolling the route out of town and questioning passersby about a suspicious gnome. We ended up putting Gerkin on Fleece's shoulders (Fleece is, himself, less than 5' tall...) and wrapping them both in a heavy cloak, disguising the two of them as a hunched elderly human, with Adnar and Cree serving as escorts to help him/her along.
As they were about to be interrogated by the patrol, Gerkin psionically animated a big basket of watermelons on the back of a passing wagon, causing it to jump off of the wagon and splatter Sheriff Cubbin and his goons. (A natural 20 on the attack roll, no less!) The party used the distraction to hurry past unquestioned, made their way to Fleece's ruined home outside of town, and thus began the Age of Worms adventure path.
In spite of a very successful introductory session, the party in my campaign might be going through some changes already. One player wants to revamp his psionics a bit (which I approved since we haven't really gotten into the adventure yet), and another is keen on playing a warforge cleric (even though we aren't technically playing in Eberron).
I'm inclined to allow the warforged PC, even though it will almost certainly make social encounters more difficult for the party. It occurs to me that the Whispering Cairn's unspoiled areas provide a great way to introduce the warforged, perhaps having been held in stasis through the ages, only to awaken with no memory of his background or how he came to be there.
Has anyone else ever dealt with a warforged PC in a non-Eberron setting? I'm still undecided about allowing it, but I don't want to foist Eberron on the players who aren't interested, and I myself haven't even finished reading the campaingn book. At the same time, I don't like to bar character options from players who are interested in pursuing them. I imagine that the warforged would be met with much suspicion if not outright violence, and even the more enlightened NPCs may jump to the conclusion that he's the property of the party's wizard (creating some interesting roleplaying possibilities but some extra complexity for social situations throughout the adventure path. Any thoughts on this?
Grey Elf Male Wizard (LG) of Celene is apprentice to "The Smartest Man in Town" and overhears Khellek's Dragonchess Cairn stories and dreams of the riches that lie beyond unfound passages.
Human Male Rogue (NG), the only native of Diamond Lake, is approached by mild aquaintence Grey Elf Wizard with Khellek's stories. Rogue mentions the spooky old Cairn nearly forgotten from his childhood. Can't recall why he hasn't been back...
Wizard knows they may need some "fodder" and arranges for a Dwarf Male Fighter (NG) who is displeased with his assignment to the Greyesmere Company. He had no idea Diamond Lake was such a hell hole when he took the assignment.
Wizard, still not satisfied with the quality of his "fodder" seeks a Wild Elf Male Yeoman (NG) from the Lodge to assist with any survival skills lacking in the foursome.
The foursome arranges to meet at the abandon Mine Office (as it is near the Cairn) and discover a Kobold Male Sorcerer, and future Dragon Disciple (NG) has run away from the Emporium. He proclaims He isn't a side show freak. He is a decendent of Dragons! He won't return to a life of servitude.
I had Mr. Albino Half-Orc kick the crud out of one PC :)
The usual suspects:
Reason, warforged fighter, drifts into town and runs into the Gang of Five. They ambush him (ooh ray of enfeeblement in the back) and beat on him for a while, dealing a reasonable amount of non-lethal damage. I figured that Kellum (sp?) does this every so often on a lark.
Fortunato, human hexblade (ex-miner named Fred Bloggs), was sitting in the Feral Dog when this happened. He didn't get involved as he had had his runs with Kellum, but when prompted by a friendly NPC helped carry Reason to the healers.
Seeker, warforged cleric, had heard the noise and was heading that way. They met up and Reason took some of the weight of the 400-some-odd-pound warforged. Oof.
Melina, human sorcerer, is apprenticed to the healer, and arrives when they get there. Healer and her try to get rid of the strength drain until it goes away a few minutes later (I figured nobody knew about RoE and ability penalties).
The next day Fortunato, possessor of a map he stole from good 'ol Balabar, makes a "proposition" that they explore these areas. He asks the warforged for their armor and Melina as the healer's apprentice. The healer, an old adventurer, tells her to go "but keep up on her studies".
And in the most amusing bit, the rogue, Jack, knocks on the door of the abandoned mine office after they were done looting it (he was absent for the first session). He'd been watching and trailing 'em. Intro was a bit forced, but it's all good.
The key parts for me were 1) get antagonism against Mr. Half-Orc and 2) get people to hate Balabar. The final piece of the puzzle was the rival adventurers... the local-town people (Fortunato and Melina) wanted to show them up, and the out-of-towners (Jack and Reason, with Seeker a bit on this side) were just bored and easily led.
Similar to a post I saw somewhere, I'm starting the party out on a couple of different adventures, then moving them to the Age of Worms once they are about 3rd level. This helps on two main fronts:
1. I can beef up certain parts of the adventures, but not have to worry about some parts being too tough for them as written.
2. I can sort out a couple of "logic" problems I see in the Cairn the way is is written.
I have started them on Mad God's Key, a great adventure for 1st level PCs that gets a group up to 3rd (if 4 PC's) or 2nd (if 5+) level. It starts out nice and slow, and does not require the party to have met previously. I let everyone just choose whatever character they wanted, as long as they were in the lawful or good spectrum, and worked it out from there. Given their backgrounds, it ended up they started off as three groups of strangers - two elven druids who were kidnapped from home and ended up in the Free City of Greyhawk (dropped off by Rhennee barge-folk), a Scarlet Brotherhood Monk who escaped from the Pomarj when they found out he wasn't "pure" (or quite evil enough), a rogue who ran away from the Hardby nunnery she accidentally burned down (she met the Monk on the way up north, and they stumbled into the City), and finally an actual Free City resident, a strange Dwarf with a growth disorder and terrible personality who recently left home because he was "too weird".
Mad God's Key is great, in that the only motivastion the PC's need to get going is to do something about a crime they see in progress... as I say, the first couple of encounters are not terribly challenging, certainly not deadly, but a lot of fun, and good to get the party started and working together somewhat. In fact, my PC's were very gung-ho int he first couple of sessions, and cleaned out the whole Green Dagger Gang headquarters in one quick-fire session without resting, virtually running from one encounter to the next in their haste to get at the thieves who were, from their point of view, simply defending their home. A lot of luck later, the "bad guys" fell down just before the party did, leaving four PC's on about 1 hp each, and only one PC in the negatives. Which lead to a great role-play session the next time, as the group got to grips with their actions, and decided what to do next.
Anyway, the great tie-in of course is the Cult of Vecna, who in Mad God's Key are behind the theft of a book that contains secrets about undead and so forth... half of it goes missing, so as a DM you can make up whatever the other half is, which for me is, of course, things about the Ebon Triad, Kyuss, etc - not that the PC's need to know, or evem me really. Leading the PC's from Greyhawk to Diamond Lake is now easy - simply drop in a suitable link in the cult leader's notes, mentioning Diamond Lake, and mentioning the Whispering Cairn. Bingo - the PC's now have a lead that the Cult of Vecna is in Diamond Lake, and they may well be hiding in the Whispering Cairn! Of course, this is a false lead, but serves to get the PC's looking into the Cairn - eventually, they will find out the cult is actually in the mines (BTW, I moved the Hextor and Erythnul cults into the abandoned mine, leaving only Vecna's cult in its original place; the Erythnul cult is significantly further down the mine than the Hextor one, and if the PC's ignore the Hextor door, they can wander down and find the Grimlocks just fine. This makes it more likely they can rest / go back to town, without stretching beleivability).
Also, I'm throwing in a couple of other little adventures too...
1. The "Dark and Stormy Knight", recently posted in the wizards site - modified to remove the storm, it's now just another Cairn on the way to the Tomb of Blood Everflowing, and the group meets a hermit who lives on top (he will become a mentor to one or more PC's, helping them learn the ways of the wizard i.e. help them multi-class). So far, the group decided to by-pass the inside of this cairn, perfering to get to the main bad-guys (because they, quite rightly, suspect they have just got the means to open this book, so they want to get them as quickly as possible). This is funny for me, because the group were very divided as to whether to investigate this cairn first - one thought it might have something useful against the Blood Tomb inside, the other really wants to help the hermit, and the other three think they need to make haste, even though out of character they all suspect it's a part of the main adventure and they really should investigate. Little do they know... it's a pure "side quest", and when they come back the hobs will have looted the place, leaving only the Dark Knight inside (I'll modify him now, to be a Corpse Creature Bugbear Ranger 2 from the BoVD).
2. a follow-up Cult of Vecna quest in the City of greyhawk, where an arm of the cult is rising once more... This is actually where the PC's will get wind of Diamond Lake (a letter to the 'Dark Lord' mentions Diamond Lake, and also mentions the Whispering Cairn, although only vaguely).
So, to come back to my original points...
1. I now have a more gradual lead-in for the PC's - they are simply a group who happen upon adventure and an evil conspiracy together. I can now beef up certain parts of the the Cairn and Mines, but not have to worry about some parts being too tough for them as written. Given there are 5 PC's, they will only just reach 3rd level when they enter the Whispering Cairn, so I'll beef it up as per instructions, just trim out one or two pieces. The Mines adventures, I'll beef up the end parts only, as they will be 4th level by then but I don't want the Hextor piece to be too hard, just interesting (and the PC's won't be motivated to kill them all anyway, more likely just the Vecna cultists)
2. I can lead them to the Whispering Cairn with the motivation of sorting out the Cult of Vecna, not just to make money. This removes the terrible co-incidence of the PC's stumbing into the one Cairn that no-one else has plundered (why didn't they just go looking in one of the other cairns around town?)
I'll also manage to get the PC's adventuring in three cairns , all of them very different - lots of good Greyhawk flavour (after all, it's not called the Cairn Hills for nothing!) And (from what I can tell) they will get to return to Greyhawk one day too, which will be good, as they are only now starting to get a handle on the place and soon they will be leaving for Diamond Lake.
As a final note, obviously a few other minor details need sorting out in this scenario. For example, the "rival party" are actually locals in my game, who spent some time in the "big city" and have returned for a while, their egos now suitably inflated. Oh, and I replaced Kullen with Irontooth - nothing like a recurring "villan" - the PC's shot him full of arrows in Mad God's Key, then revived him, interrigated him, and let him go. So I've had him leave town asap, and (co-incidentally) move to Diamond Lake, where he falls in with a group of thugs (perhaps he killed Kullen, or at least replaced him in the group). When the PC's see him again, it should be fun - Irontooth will, quite naturally I think, be afriad of the PC's given they whalloped him last time, but of course he has to "keep face" in front of his gang - should be an interesting piece of role-play.
I hope this inspires others to do something similar... Mad Gods Key is certainly a good alternative to get your campaign going, and can be tied into the Age of Worms quite easily through the Cult of Vecna.
Haven't actually started yet, but my players have already made new characters for when their current game gets TPKed (they think I really have it in for them). The game'll take place in the full Greyhawk world, not just the Core books' watered down version. Here's what we're looking at so far:
Danar, male human (Oeridian) Fighter, LG, plans on multiclassing to Paladin after he picks up a few extra fighter-feats.
Wanda Marakov, female human (Rhenee) Cleric of Wee Jas, LG so she can channel Positive Energy. Uses Magic and Repose domain (like Death, but without all the Evil spells in it).
Valdamir, male drow elf Bard, either NG or CG, definitely a "fish out of water," even in Diamond Lake!
Xadria, female human (Oeridian/Flan mix) Fighter, LN, maximum height (for a girl) and rolled a nat 18 Str! She's a bruiser.
Faenryth, male high elf Wizard, CG, took the optional Generalist Wizard class from Races of the Wild; spells galore!
Agrimar, male dwarf Rogue, LN, Troubleshooter type, maxed out in Disable Device, Search, Appraise, Open Locks, etc. but couldn't Move Silently or Hide if his life depended on it. "I'm not that kind of Rogue."
Samhain, male halfling Ranger, CN, favored enemy: Humans. Definitely the wild card of the bunch.
My set up is this... Valdamire (the drow) has been performing and "on display" at the Emporium for some time now, so his appearance doesn't necessarily cause panic in the streets. Still, he gets no respect from other Diamond Lake residents and not much more from his employers. He hears about the Whispering Cairn rumor, and decides to investigate with the aid of a few other "oddballs" around town. Xadria, daughter of a local prostitute, is militia-trained, but won't serve the garrison under the command of a man (Mom's a hooker, and Xadria's a bastard -- it's safe to say that she has issues). She'll jump at the chance to a.) prove herself, and b.) raise enough money to take her far away from Diamond Lake. Danar is some sort of prodigy, sent to learn humility and respect for authority at the Temple of Heironeous. His superiors at the temple will order him to investigate this ruin, and keep an eye on the drow. Samhain has been working at one of the mines for near-slave wages to work off an extreme gambling debt owed the mine's owner. The miserable halfling is befriended by Agrimar, a young dwarf prospector, so they encourage each other to join the "crazy drow's expedition." Wanda is has a morbid fascination with death and is drawn by the tales of magical power that Valdamir tells; he assures her that more can be learned at the cairn. Finally, Faenryth was apprenticed to the human wizard Allustan as a favor to Faenryth's extended family, who have befriended Allustan in the past. Allustan encourages Faenryth to accompany the party to test his mettle (and so that Allustan can keep an eye on this new band of adventurers).
Sound pretty organized?
My group started with a human rogue. He had worked in some shady venues in town, but got into trouble, so he ran to the monks to hide, and picked up on some of their ways (latter multiclassed with a level of monk). Unfortunately, he just didn't fit in over all, and headed back to DL, where he started working again, this time under Smenk. He was still good and worked on the things he learned in the monestary, however, and so he eventually got fed up with Smenk, and deserted him after taking a small journal, which happened to passingly mention possible wealth in one of the cairns outside of town.
Smenk sent out a half-elf hexblade to kill the rogue, but the vain warrior was persuaded by the theif to desert his boss and try to strike it rich in the Cairn. The hexblade contacted his half-sister, an elven ranger from the Lodge, and brought her in on the plan. The rogue secured the help of a dwarf barbarian, disenfranchised with his life thus far, and they set out.
As a side note, the original rogue died in a very unfortunate series of roles when he tried to tumble around the Wind Warriors in the True Tomb (he was going for flanking). 60 feet latter, the party was short one sneak... The player made a halberd-wielding rogue/ranger who had straggled into town after setting off with an ill-fated party from the nearby metropolis. He was the only survivor, and after his mourning time, he sought to join up with the rest of the party to continue his career.
3 miners are released from Smenks service, these miners have been working to pay off the debt to Smenk. ALL there parents died during the plague out-break years Back. Balabar saw this as an oppertunity to get slave labour and builds a orphanage for the orphans of Diamond Lake, untill they are ready for the mines. 10 years later heros emerge from the mine, although they do not no it yet!
A wanna-be monk trained in the city square by the drug-dealing monks,when he was not in the mines working for mere coppers, who's best friend from the mines is an apprentice wiz. to "the smartest man in town". Along with the two is a rogue who has had no formal training, except from the mean streets of Diamond Lake, set off to investigate a local cairn for the wizard Allustan...
Just posted this in another thread, but it works here too.
I think I'd just make them all drinking buddies who had grown up together. As youth, they are not so much interested in having to actually go through any effort to find better work. Diamond Lake is all they know, and while they loath the place, it is home, and they've slipped into jobs that give them some spending cash. Take a look at the kids in any real life small town.. Lots are there because it is simply to much effort to leave...now if they could just get rich quick...
Sitting in the bar one night they hear the other adventurers talking about the Stirgenest Cairn.
In a drunken stuper one mumbles,
"Dath wud we aaad'u do ::belch::...We cud be adven...advent...heroes... 'Member dat plathe we use'ta ::hick:: go on da dareth? I bet ith full'o trea..tre..treasu...gold. Leth go get it ::Thud of head hitting table::".
The next morning they all find themselves decked out as best the could in the midst of the night in their drunken stupor...why is the fighter's armor on backwards?... lying in the grass infront of the Whispering Cairn with the taste of vomit still in their mouths.
"What the hell we doing here?...Is your armor on backwards?..." "Hell since we are here we might as well check it out, 'sides, my Pa's gunn'a beat me if I go home and he finds I blew all my pay last night."
This could also explain why they are being accompanied by escaped circus midgets, hookers, or any other character outside their cilque.