Tales from Arkos: The Tomb of the Dragon Priestess

Hello there! Welcome back to Always Split the Party, and part two of my adventure series “Tales from Arkos” where I go over the most recent adventure in my ongoing campaign, giving a brief synopsis of the session and rambling about something it brought to mind. First, the synopsis.

The party awoke in the ruined kobold camp and set out bright and early for the Tomb of the First Priestess of the Dragon. They were joined by a Keeper, a traveling historian and scholar, who they had rescued from the kobolds the day before. Their prize was the Ashes of the First Priestess, a relic holy to Selena’s tribe.

After delving down into the tomb, fighting skeletal guardians and passing through a series of tests, they came at last to the Chamber of Ashes. There they faced the last test, the Test of Fire. Together, they bested the guardian, a dragon, and claimed the Ashes for their own. Rather than explore the parts of the Tomb they had passed by, they returned to the surface.

That night, however, the Keeper, named Marlin Davos, stole the Ashes and rode off into the night on his horse. Selena and Andariel gave chase on another horse, while Chiron and Ahkmet remained helpless at the kobold camp. After a fierce chase, and much tracking, which lasted for nearly twenty-four hours, Andariel and Selena managed to catch up with Marlin and knock him out. At that exact moment, however, a cloud of dust appeared on the horizon, and a large group of people began to head straight for the two women.

That is where we ended our second session. The players were really excited with the way it went, and some of the new roleplaying and narrative techniques we tried, like Collaborative Combat Narration, which I’ve talked about before. We also tried out a new idea which I don’t have a name for, but I think is pretty awesome. Every so often, I’ll call on my players to describe something, like their morning routine, their state of mind, the way they feel about the mission later in the day, the look of the new sword they found, their dreams from the night before, etc, etc.

We all found that this really helped everyone get into and stay in character throughout the session. It also provided me with insights into the players themselves, what stood out to them as important at the time, and the way they viewed their own characters. Finally, I was able to tie in a dream Chiron had into the adventure itself. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, and it doesn’t have to be, but it can change the entire feel of the game, and really gives the “storytelling” a shot in the arm. I heartily recommend trying it, at least. Be open with your players. Tell them that they can get inspiration if they do a good job, and then be liberal with the inspiration. It gives players the confidence to start narrating along with you. Can’t really beat that.

Another thing this adventure did was open up the world for the players. At the beginning of a campaign, the party is always stuck in one location. The “quest” they begin with is the entire game to them. The world is linear, as is the story. Only after a few sessions does the world begin to open up to them. I like to say that when the players have missed half a dozen possible adventures in favor of a different one, then the world begins to feel real, and alive.

This was the case here. The players heard from the Kobolds that there were Ghouls in the north of the valley, and many more tombs. Then there was a fissure leading down into a darkened cave, with a trail of blood trickling down into it. There was the Tomb of the Priestess, only partially explored. And finally, there is the cloud of dust in the south.

Each and every one of these is a session or two (or more) adventure waiting to happen. And the players know that. They could go and explore any of them. And they chose to go the way they did. This does two very important things for the game. First, it solidifies the idea that the characters are free to act in the world, and that the players are not being railroaded into any one set structure. And second, it provides a sense of realism in the world. There are things happening in the world, places to go, and people to meet, and the players will never experience most of them. And that is fine. It’s more than fine, in fact. It’s excellent! It provides mystery, realism, and, most importantly, it provides choice.

Never make the mistake of only giving your players one thing to do. They should always have too many things to do. They should always have to choose. Do we finish investigating the Tomb, and then track down Marlin? Should we track down Marlin and head immediately back to Selena’s tribe? Or do we head to the north end of the valley and see what is causing the ghouls to stir? Should we wait for the dust cloud to catch up to us and see who is coming? Or do we ignore it and continue with our current situation? If your players are asking questions like this, you are doing something right.

Sometimes, the players will be in such a hurry, or have such a pressing objective, that you know they will not choose one of these other options, but will continue down their chosen “main quest”. You might wonder if there is any reason to offer them the choice if you know they won’t take it. And the answer is, “Of course you should! Now is the best time to offer them the choice!” If you know the players will not investigate the mysterious disappearances in the town of Oakhurst when they have to save their mentor who is being held hostage in the city of Rogueport 200 miles to the west, then you can add in the “choice” without the need to really prepare it, thus adding realism with almost no extra time spent in preparation. (Just make sure the quest you want them to do is more interesting to everyone than the side adventure you didn’t really prepare.)

I hope these pieces of advice have been helpful. Let me know what you think of them! How do you provide realism and choice for you players? Do you only give them one main quest, but different ways of completing it?

Until next time, happy gaming!

And remember to Always Split the Party!

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2 thoughts on “Tales from Arkos: The Tomb of the Dragon Priestess

  1. I like what you’ve got going here. Your “character development sketches” idea (if I can suggest a term for you) seems like it would be a really good way to get reluctant roleplayers to engage. I’ve got mostly actors in my groups so that stuff usually happens on it’s own for me. Also, since there’s so much role-play flying about it makes if feel safer, I’m sure for those few non-actors in my groups to let loose and get into it as well.

    Realism and choice are the hallmarks of my mission as a DM. The biggest things I do to promote those are 1) provide a world that is believable, comprehensible, and predictable with as little work as possible on my end, and 2) not handing out quests.

    I set my world on an alternative Earth (one where magic and other intelligent races exist) in 1550. That way I don’t have to say, “you find yourself in a bustling metropolis, much like London or Paris.” I just say, “You are in London, standing between the Tower of London and the Church of Olave.” It’s much more immediate and personal that way.

    I let my players define the quests. I do lay out hooks, but they are all attached to different lines, unlike what most modules suggest. You don’t feel interested in that hook? Cool, there are several others over here, and a few more down that alley, oh, you found one under the carpet? Great, take a bite, see what happens. Every hook a different adventure. And like real life, most adventures don’t have a big ending set-piece to work towards. Whatever happens, happens. All according to logic and physics (and magic, where applicable). I don’t invest in conclusions, I don’t invest in plotlines. Those things happen by themselves if you let them. Inject some drama along the way, but the players should be steering their own ships, not trapped in the Boxcar-of-today’s-adventursode.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed. Rather than plan what my characters are going to do, I instead focus on NPCs and locations. If you build a great place and fill it with interesting people, there will be drama and conflict. I might write another post just about that. We’ll see.

      Like

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