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And I really need some advice.
Here's the plot, I'll try to keep it short as I can:
Based on Ancient Greece, there are numerous cities and settlements but none stronger than the twelve "theopoleis", or "god-cities", one for each Olympian god, which have aspects of their patron. So Ares' is very war-like (think Sparta), Zeus' is built in and around a mountain that goes up into the clouds, Dionysus' is a big party town filled with drunk and reveling satyrs etc.
The PCs first have to find a king of a small city's princess and missing people. Turns out they're being kidnapped by undead, which are thought non-existent. After they traverse the dungeon and get the people back, the king advises them to go to Apollo's city where the Great Oracle lives to find out more about an ancient prophecy which could explain the undead, and why the gods are being silent and prayers go unanswered.
En route they are approached by Hera, queen of the gods. She says undead are rising in small isolated areas and it must have something to do with Hades, god of the dead. Zeus, unwilling to accuse his brother Hades and start a war, has closed Olympus and refuses to allow any god contact with mortals for fear of escalating the situation.
Hera explains she needs them to descend into the Underworld and imprison Hades, replacing him with her daughter Angelos as ruler of the Underworld. To imprison him they will need 12 sacred keys located somewhere in each of the theopoleis.
So they quest all over Hellathia and do various tasks and trials to get these items. There's also a big sea voyage bit where they kill a cyclops then Poseidon punishes them by sending storms that force them onto various islands filled with stranger beasts and peoples. Yes, that's a shameless rip-off of the Odyssey.
They are followed and fought by a witch who tries to stop the PCs at every turn, who has a vendetta against the Olympians after Zeus smote her family when they failed to produce a good offering at a festival.
Plus, there's a large sub-plot about arcane magic, which is punishable by death, becoming more commonly practiced. This is eventually revealed as Hecate, goddess of magic, who is on the side of "Hades", to distract the gods from the undead problem. One of the players is an inquisitor, you see.
PCs descend into the Underworld, get to Hades palace, bust down the door... wow! Plot twist! Hades is in chains and it's now Thanatos, personification of death, running the show. He threw in his lot with the primordial deity Chaos, in an attempt to speed death up and make his job easier. Remember the witch? Yeah, she's angry her master, revealed as Thanatos, not Hades, manipulated her to turn her evil, and fights Thanatos, leaving the PCs to fight and drive back Chaos/a reskinned Cthuhlu.
Oh there's also a dragon in there somewhere. An oread PC wants vengeance.
And I'd like the PCs to hear the prophecy sometime.
Phew, sorry for the long read, if anyone has advice on pruning the story and making it shorter, my appreciation would be endless. I imagine the first thing to go will be the big sea voyage. I also really want ot keep the witch recurring villain, she's one of my favourite aspects of the story. :)
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I like it, even though it's really like the Odyssey.
So maybe you can reduce it, making the king, the king of Apollo. So they princess herself is Possesed by Hera.
Now to shorten you can also make them travel 2 places by sea, perhaps the cyclops island and the witch island, in the process they will be encountered by a rival party that is also collecting these, if they beat them, they get the rest of they keys. (this will be a hard encounter)
You can put a gold dragon, or bronze dragon, they feel they are guiding humanity towards enlightment, but really they are just enslaving them, without meaning any ill.
and yeah they could discover the dragon is not evil and at the end receive the prophecy from him, by the love it has for the people, he asks the PCs to guide them, because they understand humanity more, and gives them a powerful artifact.
Ok and finally you reach the final encounter.
It is a nice story :D are you planning to use mythic rules btw?
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My advice would be to fold the Odyssey section into the main plot. They still are sailing about, but they already are traveling to each city-state, so there is little need to stall them with too much side questing. Plus, you don't really need an excuse for some god or another t be mad enough to force them onto plot-point-island. They are already set to upset most of the pantheon and earn the curse of every city.
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Yes, folding plot elements is going to be key, here.
First: eliminate the wilderness encounters, outside of plot-relevant ones. No random battles. This slows things down, and only serves for treasure and XP.
Second: as the others have noted, blending two different things at the same time will drastically reduce the amount of sessions something takes.
Naturally, how long each session is going to last varies by group to group, but here's how I'd run it:
Plan for each city be one session. That eats up 12 of your 20-session budget.
Budget for about half of those "one-session cites" to be a bit longer, say an extra half-a-session each. That's a total of 18 of your 20-session budget.
Add in one session at the beginning for introduction, and one at the end for wrap-up. Voila a 20-session budget.
Third: You're, uh... you're really going with Cthulu? Wow. Okay. That's... big thinking.
In that case, plan your character progression thoroughly: you'll either need the PCs to start at a higher level, to gain one level (or mythic tier) per city, ... or most likely, both.
If they do start higher level, have them already having completed various trials and adventures. This explains why they were summoned as Heroes in the first place.
You could tie their mythic power to the number of "keys" they have: one key per tier, plus one key to allow them to be mythic... and one key to grant them a simple mythic template (the last key they acquire). If they lose their keys, they lose their mythic status. You'll need to think hard about this option, however. You'll also want to add the mythic flaw variant rule, if you want the Grecian feel to this whole thing: that's a fundamental part of the Grecian myth, that each creature has a flaw of some sort.
So, spoilering some of the below elements for length. Be warned: I write a lot. :)
- open with research/establishment
- shift to mooks or puzzle
- go to puzzle or mooks (whichever one was not already accomplished)
- boss (if there is one; not every city needs to have a boss)
- their departure (in which they level up/gain a tier)
In some cities, this will be blended together (the mooks are the puzzle; the puzzle is the boss; the mooks are the boss Ares' place?; or the mooks are the puzzle are the boss such as the city of Dionysus, maybe?; or something else altogether will replace that set up - simply put, have a basic pattern, and the vary the daylights out of it about 12 times.
Keep each "section" budgeted within the time-constraints of your play sessions. If you play for four hours, for instance, the opening and departure should be about fifteen minute each, and the other three should be planned to be no longer than about forty-five minutes each. That leaves you with about 90 minutes for non-planned events: role-play, digging for clues, getting lost, item purchase/money handling, etc.
To keep things on track, make sure that you're not only aware of, but very deeply knowledgeable of your own cities. Don't place the mooks/puzzle/boss in a single location - or, rather, have a single location for them, but have that location be 'mobile' according to the needs of your campaign; thus if your players chase a rabbit trail... suddenly, it's not a rabbit trail! It leads them where they needed to go all along. How odd... it's almost like gods are guiding them or something! ;D
Before you begin the game, give the players a small but thorough background package.
While there are numerous cities and settlements, none can compare in power, grandeur, and might, to the twelve theopoleis - the twelve "god-cities" - spread around the land, each dedicated to a different god, which reflect aspects of their patron.
<Put some basic information on a few of them, here.>
You are recent arrivals to one great theopoleis, Apollosia, the City of the Sun, in the land of the gods, Hellathia! No, seriously, though, feel free to change the name of "Hellathia" and/or "Apollosia", they're just a placeholder.
While originating from some of the smaller settlements, you have come in response to the call for heroes - citizens of Apollosia have gone missing, and most recently the princess herself seems to have vanished with them! What's worse, the oracle has closed its doors, and the gods seem entirely silent!
<Put in a few more character-specific hooks. Make sure they have reason to work together.>
Next, get a basic idea of the sessions.
Session 1: "Help!" i.e. "the Introduction"
- The PCs arrive, and are escorted to the king.
- A meeting occurs, they are hired to find out the information, and they are informed that they are not the only one.
- They are then sent to the oracle, to see if they actually can get in... and they do! ... though only after a few difficulties.
- Hera herself possesses the oracle, and converses with them, informing them of their quest. She warns, however, that they are not the only heroes she has sent - this is a test for them as much as others... but she notes that the others have become corrupted and will fail. (Hera, being Neutral and all about the Intrigue, is probably lying.) She informs them that there is time-pressure, and that they will not be permitted in the Oracle again.
- The missing Princess is secretly Hera's own daughter, Angelos, fostered by the king's wife (this may be unknown to the PCs until near the end of the game - it may even be unknown to Angelos herself!)
Session 2: Apollosia!
This is the quest of the city of Apollosia!
- One thing that is good, here, is that you can blend some of this with the above one. In fact, if you want, you can have the first session be the full quest. They might even need the key here in order to be permitted to see the Oracle. In which case, you've effectively saved a whole session! (See, Optional Encounters, below.) If it doesn't work out that way, that's fine, too... it means that you're on-track.
- If you can, wrap this city up, and, with the looming time-pressure, get them on a ship and out of Apollosia. They're probably on the trail of the missing Angelos... or with her as a tag-along (if no one wants to be a healer, this is a great opportunity for her to become such, being a valuable assistant to the party in that manner). You may wish to extend this voyage over two sessions (the end of this one, and the beginning of the next), but that's up to you. Either way, at the end, you get them to... Another City!
- Note: if you prefer, the other heroes could have already acquired this city's key... or, perhaps, a given city can produce more than one key, and the other heroes already acquired this one's.
Session 3: Another City!
This is the first non-Apollosia city! Woo!
- Give them a strong description, but make sure that at least some of the elements described fit with Apollosia: this is a new city, and a new culture, but there's a meta-culture at work that provides familiarity. The primary reason for this is so that, later on, you can cut down on your descriptions, and the players still know what they're looking at, because you've given them such a solid foundation.
- You only have this city for one session (budgeted), so limit your encounters... and make them come on hard, and fast. This city should be relatively straight-forward, compared to some of the other cities, and should teach them the basics of how to research. If Angelos is there, she can be the first voice of direction (though make sure she asks - often - what the PCs want to do, and adjusts plans accordingly. It's important that she be not leading them along, if she's even present in the first place, but rather working with their ideas. This is, it should be noted, the only city they'll travel to, that she has any kind of familiarity with. Hence, after this city, it's going to be on your players to come up with ideas. Make sure they know this out of character, too.
- After the five-part city events (as described above), they leave and move on to the next city.
Sessions 4-12: More Cities!
This is rest of the primary quests!
- These are the remaining cities. In a general, vague sort of way, they function like Session 3, however with less hand-held guidance (or, if your players need it or prefer it, with the same hand-held guidance).
- The first few should be more rich on description, but overlapping with Apollosia and the second city. Thereafter, once you've fully established the "this is exceedingly similar in all the cities" you can start hand-waiving that part of the description without too much (or any) damage to the players' verisimilitude.
- Please, please, please keep in mind: it's exceedingly okay if they manage to breeze through a city more rapidly than you expect! Here, let me say that again, [bigger]DO NOT ADD ADDITIONAL CHALLENGES BEYOND A CITY'S BASIC BUDGET[/smaller]! Why? Because you've got plans for that extra time (see below), plans that cannot be accessed if you adjust things. Point in fact, make the first couple of cities relatively straight-forward. If they breeze through them, all the better. As the challenges are likely going to be varied and increasing in difficulty over time anyway, they might eat that excess budget automatically, later on.
- Despite naming these "Sessions 4-12", this isn't really true. This could easily be "Sessions 6-18" or "Sessions 4-18" or "Sessions 4-6, 9-15, and 16-18", or whatever it takes. Be flexible, here. The most important part is them getting the twelve keys - that is of far greater import than the cities themselves. If you end up having to cut some of the cities due to time, that's fine. In that case, if there are specific cities that you want them to go to (because they're so cool!) simply arrange the cities so that some of your more interesting cities are closer to where you want than some of the less interesting cities... but don't cluster them all together, and be prepared to cut something. (See below, for how.)
- This should cover all but the last city.
Optional Sessions: Sessions 15-18
This is where our otherwise neat little plan gets a little... complicated. Each of these needs a full entry, but I don't have the time or information to do that, so they're all just lumped here. The short version is that these are the quests that you add to take up extra time (because the PCs are blowing through the cities at a phenomenal rate) or that you add to subtract time (because the PCs are going slooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwww...) or that you don't use at all (because the PCs are doing just as expected: 1.5 sessions per city).
- Option 1: The Successful Other Heroes (-<Variable> Sessions): In this option, some other heroes, tasked by Hera as the PCs have been, have collected the keys over time. This is your Ace-in-the-Hole Session; should your PCs only have completed half of your quest by the time you need to get to the boss fight? BAM! Instant rival heroes! The PCs face against their rivals (who are, in the end, odious creatures, who have not so much quested for the keys themselves, except maybe the Apollosia one, but waylaid the other heroic groups to steal from them... at least they did, if you want them to be villainous), and acquire all the missing keys from them - except for the last one! The Dragon could be placed here.
- Option 2: Father of the One-Eyed Monsters (+<Variable> Session): This provides and easy way to add an extra session if you need them to fill out your 20-session budget. You know the plot to this, just make it last as long as you need. Need only a few at the end? Cyclops' waylay the ship! Need a long inter-campaign sequence? Go hunt the Cyclops! Then go atone to Poseidon! Then go do something else! Really the sky's the limit for what this can do for you.
- Option 3: That Other Isle of Nifty (+1 Session Each): This is really a recurring element that you can use whichever way you want to. Since the PCs mostly go by ship, this shouldn't be hard at all. Dragon can be here (and can be longer, if you like).
- Option 4: That Witchy Witch! (+/- <Variable> Sessions): Basically have the antagonist show up, cause a complication, and "Make like a tree and get outta hea'", as Biff would say. One of the interesting things, however, is that her meddlesome ways don't always have to go right. It's quite possible that she meddles in ways that harm the gods, or other people in the city, but indirectly help the PCs sometimes, despite her enmity towards them... which might drive her to frustration as well.
Sessions 19: The Final City!
This is rest the last one: the final key, and the last city! It should be a place with a river, and connections to the Underground somehow... probably Hades' city, and probably the farthest away/last city on the list. It doesn't have to be, though - it's up to you. And, probably, any city could be the last city: simply utilizing the twelve keys at the temple could open the way, as it were, to the Underworld.
- This one, especially if it's Hades' city... is shockingly easy. As in, there is little resistance, little to no one fights them (or at least no one that they can't easily handle), and over-all, they should get the feeling that something is amiss.
- As soon as they acquire the last key, the gates to Hades' realm of Tartarus should open up. They should totally take their last food and drink before they head down though... and they should be reminded of Persephone at some point.
- If you have time, go ahead into the Final Confrontation during this session. It's likely to be too big and too epic to fit in one Session anyway, so this will help you finish your story on time.
- Be sure to have a few "built-in-breaks" during the final confrontation, so that, when your group is ready to break, you can. Make sure to have a few of these in battle.
- Hecate might make an appearance, but as a neutral arbiter, along with Nike. Sure, she helped Thanatos, but she's not going to interfere: she's completely insane, after all, and this was all a delightful chess game to her, so she's interested in seeing how it all susses out. Nike, on the other hand, is here to ensure that everything runs according to the rules of engagement... and plus it's a way-cool battle between gods and mortals! This is gonna be great! She, too, is an impartial observer. IF YOU HAVE TIME, you might want to mention Hypnos, who may (or may not) have a part in this. Perhaps Thanos assisted him, so he was giving the PCs nightmares, or perhaps he loathes Thanos, and was giving the PCs benevolent, guiding dreams. Choose how to use him according to your own fashion.
- Regardless, it becomes clear why the city itself was so easy: the gods are working to bring this thing to a confrontation to see what happens.
- The witch shows up, as planned... and may even be Hecate herself, perhaps possessing the woman at this time in search of vengeance against Thanos. It's possible the nightmares she'd been experiencing (blamed on her traumatic past/Zeus) were Hypnos' way of trying to tell her that something's wrong... or, if Hypnos is a villain, his way of manipulating her into Thanos' service...
Session 20: The Way of the Gods
Hopefully, this will be your last session.
- It's very likely you'll have started the combat in the previous Session and not finished it. In that case, you'll need to make some good notes, and pick up en media res in this one, complete with gripping, tense, and poetic description of what happened last time, and what's happening now. Make it sound Dire with a capital "D".
- Make sure that the fight between the witch and Thanatos is quickly brushed aside, due to Chaos' rising. This is not good... this is great. Have the PCs aware of just how big a deal this is. Put lots of hints in your city descriptions, but don't dwell on it: be sure to note that the gods had to work together to contain each titan, that teamwork was entirely necessary, and that none had the power to do that alone. Pepper this information (repeatedly, and subtly) throughout the campaign - maybe a relief in one city that talks about how the gods had to band together to seal a single Titan away; or perhaps an ancient seer preaching on the glory of the Unity of the Gods against the individual Titans who, though stronger than the gods, could not overcome them when they worked together; whatever: just make sure the PCs know that a) the Titans are BigFriggin'Deals, and b) Leaving someone alone with a Titan is a no-no.
- Make the fight as climactic as possible. If one or more of the PCs die a heroic death, that's excellent because, you know, TITAN, (also CTHULU), and that's within the spirit of Greek Tragedy.
- If you have the opportunity, and you think it's a good idea, have the Titan gloat over them, call them by name, know something intimate and secretive about each of them - a weakness, a preference, something that it shouldn't know. And then have it offer them its power, to become the new gods under its rule, overthrowing the old. It's lying, of course, but the PCs don't have to know that, unless they pass their Sense Motive checks. If you don't think that's a good idea, don't do it.
- Make sure the battle ends, one way or the other, here, now. If need be, have them free Hades who dies taking
Cthulu Chaos down, as the last act of the battle, if the PCs simply can't do it... and if Hades can't, then Angelos is forfeit as well.
- In any event, wrap the battle up before the halfway mark of your session, if at all possible... but if it's not or if it's going EPIC, than run with it as long as you need.
- Leave yourself suitable time for a solid denouement. The PCs have basically become gods by this point (having defeated Chaos and put him in chains), and may face consequences for this... such as being forced into Hades' role (especially if both Hades and Angelos were killed) and thus unable to leave the Underworld, the forever-guardians of Chaos; or perhaps, now, they have to establish cities of their own. Or maybe all of their mythic power is revoked, using the twelve keys to lock Chaos away once again. Or something else.
All in all, that should help cut things down, and it should help budget your game to a 20-session campaign.
Anyway, hope that helps!
And remember, if they finish early, that's not a bad thing. If you make in 12 sessions instead of 20? GREAT! Now it's time for new adventures! Possibly as gods! Maybe they need to find a way to make their divinity permanent... perhaps by destroying those rampaging cyclopses, and establishing a city in their honor...
(And it's always possible that your time will be shortened anyway...)
Regardless, I hope you guys enjoy!
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I would add EMAIL to the list of helpful things to do.
You can send out emails with the city introduction, with shopping, and with travel details that include random encounters that are story only. [I.e. encountered giant boar en route to city, had a big hunt, someone got hurt but is healed by arrival time, and had a feast of boar meat.] You can also use it for player input with suggested research of upcoming city, who is being sought out, and so on. Kine of like the play-by-mail, but with the majority of action in the session but lots of details come out in the email.
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Glad to hear you guys like it! Actually I only meant the ship section to be like the Odyssey, it never occurred to me that the witch was like Circe haha, perhaps it was a subconscious thing. :)
Yes we're definitely using Mythic rules, the whole idea came from my urge to use Mythic Adventures, and being a huge Greek mythology nerd it all seemed to fit together perfectly!
Yeah... Cthulhu, I think when it comes to it I'm going to ask the boards for advice on nerfing him slightly. Maybe. ;D
Guys, thank you for all the suggestions and advice, it's invaluable to me. TacticsLion... that's fantastic. Engliosh doesn't have a word to express this much gratitude, no way did I expect you to write all that for me and give me so much practical help too. :) You're awesome.
Best get writing, then!
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You might consider a higher teir of gods thus limiting the # of keys.
Use events or small complexes rather than 20-30 room dungeons.
For instance a short mystery discovering undead, which unfolds into dramatic revealing of undead localized zombie outbreak. This could be 2 or 3 encounters and some investigation as opposed to dungeon exploration.