Sunday, April 24, 2016

Experimenting in Ravensburg: Three People Can Make a Difference


Running a game for Brie has resulted in a longer continuous game than I've run since high school or college. This in turn has given me a really good chance to analyze my own GMing, find areas for improvement, and experiment with a lot of things. This is the first of several posts where I'll talk about some of my experimentation in our Ravensburg campaign and how those experiments are panning out.

Three People

I never really thought much about connecting the PCs to the world in my game, largely because I've typically run short campaigns and it never seemed too important in that context. As my campaign with Brie ran longer, I thought I should change that. So I asked Brie to come up with three people that her character, Olivia, knew in the world. I specifically didn't have her write a complete character history because frankly I hate those as much as I hate complete game world histories – lots of verbiage and little practical use. Rather I had her just imagine three people she knows in the world and put them in a bullet-point list. They could be anything or anybody. So she came up with:

  1. her mentor Gustaf, who taught her magic; 
  2. the neighbor's child Chloe to whom Olivia taught archery; 
  3. the Cult of Vecna, who were responsible for Olivia's parents' death. 

Conspiracy Theory: From Disparate Hooks to Plot

The other thing that I've tried in conjunction with this is that I initially started the campaign with absolutely no plot in mind. I tossed out a bunch of unrelated adventure hooks, and sat back and watched which ones Brie would have Olivia pursue. After several sessions I decided to pick some of the hooks Olivia had followed and connect them to each other.

So in the early stages of the campaign, Brie had Olivia pursue something like the following six hooks.

  1. investigate mysterious occurrences at a dead necromancer's tomb; 
  2. deal with goblin bandits near Ravensburg;
  3. investigate the activities of a local business woman suspected of being involved with trying to bring the necromancer (the one from hook 1) back; 
  4. take out a local thieve's guild; 
  5. take down the assassins who killed the elvish ambassador in Ravensburg and find out who hired them to do it; 
  6. investigate Bugbear raids on Elvish settlements in the Grim Forest; 

Personalizing the Plot: Three People Make a Difference

From these I picked numbers 1, 3, 5, 6 to weave together along with Olivia's personal connections to the world (I provide here only the info the Olivia currently has of course, in case Brie reads this post).

  • Two hundred years ago, the necromancer Dargol was a bigwig in the Cult of Vecna (hook 1, connection 3). 
  • The Elders of Briarwood were an alliance of elvish and human mages who killed Dargol and nearly destroyed the cult as well (hook 1); Olivia's mentor, Gustaf, is the last living member of the Elders of Briarwood (connection 1).
  • For decades the surviving cultists were too weak to do anything other than seek revenge – killing off the Elders or their descendants one by one whenever they got the chance; Olivia's parents were descendants of the Elders, killed in revenge by the cultists (connection 3).
  • Now the Cultists are getting stronger again. 
  • Their high priestess, Lilith Tenebris (the business woman), is the one who took Dargol's body from its tomb and wants to raise it from the dead (hook 1, hook 3).
  • The Cultists want to ensure there is no alliance of men and elves to thwart them this time; to this end: 
                  --Gustaf is besieged in his tower by the cultists (connection 1, connection 3).
                  --Lilith's second in command, Eileen Pitworthy (a rogue member of the
                     Ravensburg city council) hired the assassins to kill the elvish ambassador
                     in Ravensburg and thus drive a wedge between men and elves (hook 5).
                  --Pitworthy has also hired Bugbear mercenaries to raid Elvish villages in the Grim
                     Forest as a diversion from cult activities (hook 6)
  • Chloe is now a guard in the elvish village of the Grim Forest where she and Olivia grew up (connection 2).

Into the Future

Of course this didn't all come to Brie/Olivia as a single massive information dump. She got the info gradually over several sessions. But that's where it stands now. Even though all the previous plot-hooks are now connected, there are still a lot of ways for Olivia to go. Pursue Tenebrith? Pursue Pitworthy? Try to break the siege of Gustaf's tower? Help defend the elvish villages? And whichever course of action she chooses next, there's no way to know how the paths not chosen will evolve.


  1. Very cool. I like this approach.

    1. Thanks Ken! I don't know if it would work in a big group of players, but it seems to work well with one player and would probably work well with any small group.