Friday, July 22, 2011

Terra Incognita - The Plot, Part 2

Okay, so where were we last week? Ah yes, I laid out the basic history of Polyphemus the Cyclops and his magical stone Eye, which can pierce illusions and translate languages. The PCs have stumbled across Polyphemus on his mysterious island, and are fighting him.

Here I use a narrative cheat, encouraged by some RPGs and GMs and hated by others: Polyphemus won't just die. When he reaches 0 Hit Points, uses up his Stress and Consequences -- whatever -- he surrenders instead of dying. At this point, of course, he loses his plot-induced immortality, and the players are free to either finish him off or, preferably, let him talk. This is the big plot exposition scene, where the players/PCs learn all of Polyphemus's history and how evil the Atlanteans are. Whether the PCs believe him is, of course, up to them -- my original group took him at his word, while my TV characters were less trusting of a giant who had just tried to kill them, and wanted to trade with the Atlanteans. If the PCs do kill Polyphemus, then I suppose there will be an alternate way for them to get the relevant information -- a room of ancient documents, perhaps, or maybe the Atlanteans will give their take on the story when they arrive...

Did I not mention the Atlanteans arriving? In the original run of this adventure, it ended just after the fight with Polyphemus, as he died of his wounds from the fight. Of course, he gave them his eye (tearing it out of his head) and coerced a promise from them to fight against Atlantean tyranny, before he finally succumbed. It was only much later that the PCs in the original campaign would encounter actual Atlanteans, much less the evil king who leads them. For the TV pilot, however, I wanted to establish the Atlanteans as a real threat right away. Hence, I had them happening to arrive on the island just after the heroes, also after Polyphemus's Eye... and yes, I realize it's a horrible, unbelievable coincidence, that I just never got around to fixing. I suppose I'll have to explain why the Atlanteans arrive just as the PCs do.

Perhaps the timeline is that the Atlanteans were always about to go see Polyphemus, finally taking back what's theirs (the eye, that is) on order of their new King, and the PCs are sent to intercept (either by the Fae NPC or John Dee, Queen Elizabeth's magical adviser, depending on which way I decide to go). This makes sense, and adds narrative thrust to the opening -- but I like the idea that the heroes just stumble across this hidden world while trying to go elsewhere. Actually, now that I think about it, I've done a terrible job deciding between these two ideas in every version of this story: it has always been that the heroes are sent by Queen Elizabeth to "find Atlantis and gain the treasures of hidden lands," and then have no idea how to go about their goal until they happen across Polyphemus's island. That's awkward. For the new version, I should decide between a definite quest by Elizabeth that directs them at the island (its location lifted from a piece of ancient magical literature, Fae information, or somesuch), or have the PCs on an entirely different mission -- a diplomatic mission to Greece or what have you -- before they stumble across the island and have this new world opened up to them. I'm not sure which I like better (hence the awkward balancing before), but I think I need to make a definite decision.

Anyway, the alternate reason for the Atlantean arrival could be that they detect the PCs' arrival and want to know who's messing around with their island. This makes sense, and would work well to be less coincidental -- but it does necessarily lose one piece I want to include: the arrival of the Atlantean King.

You see, according to Plato, Atlantis had ten kings, each of which controlled one-tenth of the island (except Atlas, who was the "high king" and had power over the others). I posit that as Atlantis's power grew, each of these kings added other mythical lands into their holdings, and each became a dynasty. By the time Terra Incognita takes place, King Azaes the 54th is one of the most powerful kings in a constantly contentious, backstabbing royal family. Azaes is the one who made the deal with Polyphemus, and is intended as the Big Bad for the series (or at least, the first one -- like Apophis of Stargate SG-1, he may eventually be eclipsed by a larger threat).

In the original campaign, the PCs never encountered Azaes until they met him at his palace in Atlantis and overthrew him. While the players had plenty of venom for Atlantis, they didn't much care about the central villain, having never met him or heard much about him. In contrast, I ensured the PCs in my current City of Lives campaign encountered the Big Bad in their second session -- and though they never actually spoke to her, just heard her behind a door, seeing her villainous behavior so early helped them care and really want to foil her evil schemes time and again. Hence, I'd like Azaes himself to visit Polyphemus's island and encounter the PCs.

Two potential problems:
-How to keep him alive? In the TV pilot, the heroes wounded him and he got one of his magicians to heal him while the heroes ran. I can't count on the players to run -- they're much less predictable than fictional characters -- so I'll need to make him invulnerable or able to escape somehow. Eh... either one is easy enough to fudge. He'll just have Damage Resistance 30 or something absurd like that, and if the players don't figure out they're not yet powerful enough to defeat him, they deserve to die.
-Can he come across as evil enough in this short encounter to earn the players' everlasting hatred? I suppose I'll have him heartlessly murder Polyphemus, a few of the PCs' crew, and maybe even some of his own men, let him monologue for a bit, etc. Workable.

In any case, Azaes finds the PCs and they fight -- either the PCs attack him, or he derides any attempt to be friendly by saying they have nothing he needs, and he sends his men to kill them. During the escape, Polyphemus hands off his Eye to the PCs, preferably in exchange for a promise to end Atlantis's tyranny, and the PCs escape. Cue credits, and the heroes sail off to their next adventure.

I've realized, by a discussion with one of my IRL friends, that before I run off and write the adventure, I'm going to have to write up some rules hacks and world-building to prepare people, because no system is perfectly designed to handle Terra Incognita. Join me next time to build some foundations!