Friday, July 15, 2011

Terra Incognita - The Plot, Part 1

Okay, welcome back, folks. I’ve laid out the basic premise of Terra Incognita and taken a look at possible systems to adapt it for. We've had one person vote in the poll so far (other people! Take a few seconds! A sample size of one is terrible!), and so I think now is the time to lay out the basics of what the first Terra Incognita adventure will look like.

It began like this: the premise involves investigating the mysteries of mythical lands. So, the question in my head was: why haven't these lands been found before? This tale is set in the 16th century, when most of the globe had been locked down on maps (the American continent notwithstanding), so it would be hard to justify simply "nobody found them before." So I concluded these lands must have been hidden, cloaked in illusions and something akin to the "Somebody Else's Problem field" to make everyone ignore the fact that they've just taken a roundabout route to avoid something that they're not even aware exists. So -- how can the PCs pierce the illusions? Some form of magic, of course -- but what kind? As this point, somehow I came up with the idea of "Polyphemus's Eye." 

Polyphemus, as you surely all recall from being forced to read The Odyssey in high school, was the Cyclops that Odysseus and his men encountered. According to the tale, Polyphemus ate several of Odysseus's men, Odysseus told him his name was "No Man," and then Odysseus and his men put out the Cyclops' single eye with a sharpened stake. They then escaped by tying themselves to sheep (really! look it up!), so that Polyphemus, dependent on touch, wouldn't realize they were leaving. As Odysseus sailed away, Polyphemus shouted to his brethren "No man has hurt me!" -- and they all said "Okay, so nobody hurt you. So?"

That is the tale of Polyphemus as told in The Odyssey. I wondered what happened next -- and came to the conclusion that he became wise and the chieftain of the Cyclopes, and then the Atlanteans came and gifted him with a magical stone eye to start off trade. And then, because my Atlanteans are pure evil, they stole his entire tribe for slave labor and left him alone for the next thousand years -- and then come the PCs.

Polyphemus's Eye has two properties -- it sees through illusions, and it translates languages, thus justifying the PCs' ability to find these lands and removing the language barrier much in the fashion of Star Trek's Universal Translator. This is kind of a narrative cheat, as it's a little hard to justify why the Atlanteans would give him something that did both of these things -- but the in-universe explanation is that otherwise he would be unable to trade with the Atlanteans, without being able to see them and speak to them. 

So -- the question is, how do the PCs get a hold of the Eye? This is the function of the first adventure -- to get them to the Island of the Cyclopes, have them encounter Polyphemus, and get his Eye. How exactly to manage this has varied in my several versions of the first adventure:
-In the first time I ran this campaign, I had the PCs' ship pursued by pirates, and gave the gypsy hedge wizard a single-use ritual spell called "Safe Harbor" designed to find a safe place to land, no matter what.
-In the first draft of the TV pilot script, I had my own gypsy hedge witch do essentially the same thing.
-In the second draft, I had a Faerie trickster (who was to replace the gypsy as the team's magic-user) divert the ship to the island, with her intention to use the human crew to get the Eye, as her Faerie blood made her allergic to the Eye's magic -- and then she would join the crew with the intention of using them to get revenge on Atlantis.
-I've been considering keeping the Faerie, either as a pregenerated PC or as an NPC, and having her actually come to Queen Elizabeth's court (probably in disguise) and propose the mission to search for Atlantis, guiding the PCs to find the island.

In any case, the PCs are to find the island, preferably in a shipwreck that will strand them there temporarily as the crew fixes the ship... and then the exploration begins. They will examine various parts of the island, discovering evidence of giants living there, and get attacked by gigantic versions of common animals. In the TV pilot, and in the original adventure, there was simply one short scene examining the Cyclopes' village, and another in which they are attacked by a giant boar -- but that adventure was designed to take a single evening to run, so as I'm planning to expand this version of the adventure, I'll have to come up with some more interesting island features for them to encounter.

Finally, the PCs find a temple to Poseidon (Greek god of the sea, and Polyphemus's father), and, bypassing a number of classic dungeoncrawl-style traps, find Polyphemus, who attacks them in a blind fury!

Join me next time as I lay out the plot to the second half of Terra Incognita's "pilot" adventure!