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Paradoxical Mouse

Writing a Campaign Plot

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I'm currently working on writing my first homebrew campaign set in Eberron (as well as DMing the early phase of it). I'm trying to plot out story arcs, but I have a dilemma with placing an arc. I want the final villain to be Nyarlathotep, inspired by both the Mourning and Bones 4. But my other arc requires my players to be unwillingly sent to another plane (player backstory arc). I was going to have the extraplanar arc be caused by Nyarlathotep's summoning by House Cannith trying to make a great war machine for the Prince of Cyre, but if that is the order, I don't think I can make Nyarlathotep powerful enough while avoiding a mid campaign party wipe. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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I haven't GM'd anything since the pre-Pathfinder, D&D 3.5 days, but any time I felt an encounter was going to be too tough and needed to be scaled back, my players always came up with something and totally crushed the opponent.

 

I guess what I'm saying is go with the tough encounter, but make sure the players have plenty of options to come up with unique solutions.

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1 hour ago, Paradoxical Mouse said:

I'm currently working on writing my first homebrew campaign set in Eberron (as well as DMing the early phase of it). I'm trying to plot out story arcs, but I have a dilemma with placing an arc. I want the final villain to be Nyarlathotep, inspired by both the Mourning and Bones 4. But my other arc requires my players to be unwillingly sent to another plane (player backstory arc). I was going to have the extraplanar arc be caused by Nyarlathotep's summoning by House Cannith trying to make a great war machine for the Prince of Cyre, but if that is the order, I don't think I can make Nyarlathotep powerful enough while avoiding a mid campaign party wipe. Does anyone have any suggestions?

You could avoid direct conflict with nyarlathotep. If your reason for an extra planer arc is that nyarlathotep was summoned, make the heroes trade places with it so that they need to screw up the summoning from the other end and forstalling the direct encounter until the end when you have them both in the same place at once or something.

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Just now, Werkrobotwerk said:

 You could avoid direct conflict with nyarlathotep. If your reason for an extra planer arc is that nyarlathotep was summoned, make the heroes trade places with it so that they need to screw up the summoning from the other end and forstalling the direct encounter until the end when you have them both in the same place at once or something.

That could work, only they need to end up at a different plane - one of them is not from Eberron, and I was going to use this to do an excursion to explore his backstory arc. I.E. Kind of like traveling from Eberron to the Forgotten Realms, only this new plane was a player's creation. So I'm not sure how Nyarlathotep would have been the to switch places with. I was thinking that the summoning might cause a planar tear...

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1. Wooooooo Eberron!!!!

2. I have lots and lots and lots of thoughts, opinions, feelings, lore, etc. to share, but it's going to have to wait until I'm not on my phone (because keyboards). Maybe tonight. Meanwhile, some questions:

 

1. Given that Eberron is canonically separated (no longer canonically inaccessible, but generally unknown and hard to reach) from the rest of D&D cosmology, how did your outsider PC get there, and where did they come from?

2. Are you saying that Nyarly was summoned by Cannith for Cyre in an attempt to end the War, which caused the Mourning, OR that some part of Cannith is now working for the Cyrans in their refugee state, and is bringing in Nyarly as part of some attempt to essentially restart the War?

3. Where is Nyarly's native plane? Xoriat? Dal Quor?

 

As for your Nyarly encounter dilemma, I might suggest that you could divide Cannith's efforts into multiple labs. The first lab is where Cannith developed the Proof of Concept, so the boss fight there is a smaller extraplanar creature (if Nyarly is a Pit Fiend, maybe this is a Nalfeshnee or a few Vrocks), then the party gets pulled into the extraplanar plot arc, then eventually the PCs find the second Cannith lab where the House has developed on their prior of concept and is now summoning Nyarly. This especially works if the party believes the first lab is the only one, so they gradually discover there's a second lab.

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I do a lot of weird fiction in our games, and specifically have run a long-time game set in Silent Hill, with Mythos fragments thrown in. I find that it's both scarier and less convoluted when I do not overthink these things, or stick too specifically to canon as provided in rule/sourcebooks, etc. Continuity is always important to some degree, but keep in mind that Lovecraft himself considered all of this stuff to be best when re-interpreted, scattershot, inconsistent, etc. It adds to the mystery and the chaos of the thing.

 

All that said, the first thing that comes to my mind, is that Mythos creatures tend to dream and to think in the abstract, and any consideration they might have in passing for us mere mortals can skew our reality or our perception of it pretty severely. I think you could just get away with the backstory character somehow popping up momentarily and incidentally on Nyarlathotep's radar. Any intense emotions, lingering guilt, whatever the character is subconsciously experiencing, would be enough for proximity to an Eldritch being to propel him (and companions) to the other plane, etc.

 

In our games, it is generally understood that the action is mostly taking place in a demiplane of the characters' unconscious design, populated with clues and reminders of whatever they are trying to repress. Simple proximity to the power that enables this shift, is enough. It's like not knowing you are psychic, until you come within range of a powerful battery, at which point your demons are activated against your will.

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2 minutes ago, Sanael said:

1. Wooooooo Eberron!!!!

2. I have lots and lots and lots of thoughts, opinions, feelings, lore, etc. to share, but it's going to have to wait until I'm not on my phone (because keyboards). Maybe tonight. Meanwhile, some questions:

 

1. Given that Eberron is canonically separated (no longer canonically inaccessible, but generally unknown and hard to reach) from the rest of D&D cosmology, how did your outsider PC get there, and where did they come from?

2. Are you saying that Nyarly was summoned by Cannith for Cyre in an attempt to end the War, which caused the Mourning, OR that some part of Cannith is now working for the Cyrans in their refugee state, and is bringing in Nyarly as part of some attempt to essentially restart the War?

3. Where is Nyarly's native plane? Xoriat? Dal Quor?

 

As for your Nyarly encounter dilemma, I might suggest that you could divide Cannith's efforts into multiple labs. The first lab is where Cannith developed the Proof of Concept, so the boss fight there is a smaller extraplanar creature (if Nyarly is a Pit Fiend, maybe this is a Nalfeshnee or a few Vrocks), then the party gets pulled into the extraplanar plot arc, then eventually the PCs find the second Cannith lab where the House has developed on their prior of concept and is now summoning Nyarly. This especially works if the party believes the first lab is the only one, so they gradually discover there's a second lab.

So, I'm gonna try to answer your questions, but the answers are kind of interconnected. Firstly, here is the background I was given for the outsider PC.

Spoiler
Quote

Many Morrows ago; The great and powerful BORK LESNAR, after sending countless souls to the afterlife, founded an empire in little  known land of Saskatchewan. Upon this land he used his conquered subjects to build the capitol, known as Suplex City. His reign was long and terribly awesome. rivers of mead flowed, food was plentiful, and most importantly the woman were most buxom. Unfortunately heavy lies the crown, and in the darkness a force of destruction rose up against him. It became known to his people as The Shield. Three dark warriors clad in black. Ambrose the maniacal, Rollins the Betrayer, and Roman the Mad Dog. Together the three conjured a dark and terrible curse known Diverticulitis, and cast it upon the mighty BORK. Knowing that his life contract would not afford him the time to deal with The Shield, he   entrusted his treasured heirlooms to his humble Envoy....... Paul Heyman. Paul Heyman fled the kingdom with them, so as not to fall into The Shields hands. BORK then summoned his three faithful Knights of The New Day. Kofi, Xavier the Professor, and Big E the Juicy, used their fabled Power of Positivity to stave off The Shields final assault. There are no surviving accounts of the epic final battle, but the common folk of the areas surrounding the now ravaged kingdom report seeing three dark figures looming on the horizon.

 

Paul Heyman carried the sacred treasures of BORK far from Saskatchewan. Where he eventually encountered a race of builders. Seeing an opportunity for the Resurrection of Suplex City and the Great House of BORK. Paul commissioned the builders to create the ultimate weapon of war. Forged to even more imposing specifications then the Legendary BORK himself. He Endured rigorous training both armed and hand-to-hand. Various teachers taught him advanced grappling and throwing techniques. Upon the completion of his training, Paul Heyman bestowed upon him the treasures of BORK LESNAR. The Hammer of Levesque, a sledgehammer like weapon, rumored to have unknown mystic properties. The Shorts of Jimmy John, black shorts with the sygil of the wizard Jimmy John, said to make the wearer freaky fast. Finally Paul had him marked with The Demonic Skull of House BORK. Paul did withhold the fabled Belt of BORK until such a time that Suplex City was reclaimed. Even without it this hulking brute marked a new age. It was time for the Son of BORK.

 

Son of BORK fought a long and vicious campaign through the land scape back to Saskatchewan. Laying waste to the likes of the Midcard Bandits and their leader Heath Slater. A few villages may have fallen along the way but who’s keeping count. His path led him to a fateful encounter with Rollins the Betrayer. While BORK was distracted eviscerating one of the Midcard Bandits Lieutenants, Adam Rose. Rollins stealthily Bashed Son of Bork over the head with a chair forged from Steel. While unable to kill Son of BORK it did cause him to lose his memory. Leaving a small dent in otherwise flawless physique.

 

Son of BORK became lost and started to wander. Eventually Son of BORK was found by a halfling child named Hornswoggle. Hornswoggle while initially scared of Son of BORK, became attached to him. Son of BORK became a protector of sorts to little Hornswoggle. As you can imagine the 6ft 5in behemoth did not fit in among the halflings. After a group of rangers attacked attempting to capture the “metal giant”, Son of BORK was forced to leave. As his very presence attracted danger the halflings were unprepared for.

 

Now Son of BORK travels, trying to remember, searching for the purpose he was meant to fulfill.

 

 

I was planning tor him to have gotten to Eberron via the Mourning, which was House Cannith's first attempt at harnessing the power of Nyarlathotep. House Cannith isn't trying to summon Nyarlathotep per se, just utilize his power to build a great war machine for the prince of Cyre. The prince plans to reform a new, strong Cyre, and, furthermore, resurrect Galifar as an empire with him at its head. I was thinking Nyarlathotep would be from Xoriat, as that appears to be the best place for him to be from.

 

Also, on my player: He's a very enthusiastic guy, and a great player, but he likes to use a lot of ridiculous references. His previous character was a bard who'd drank a potion that basically gave him unlimited range blink but no power over it (he couldn't consistently make it to sessions, so this was the out he gave me). 

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If I'm understanding correctly, you want the big bad to show up mid campaign and engage in a conflict with the PCs, but the result to be inconclusive? I lack sleep so apologies if not.

 

You can have a reason for the BB to not be as powerful as it would be, just make sure the players know it. For example, if a creature was summoned it might not be fully manifest in some obvious manner, thus preventing it from unleashing its full powers. You could have it phasing in and out of reality (powerful attacks missing as it phases out) or only partially through a portal and describe how this interferes with its actions. It might possibly motivate the PCs if they think they have a chance of preventing the creature from arriving fully.

 

Another idea is a timer on the battle. For example, put it in a room with a bunch of columns. Columns break, ceiling starts to collapse, throw a few boulders at everyone, and leave the PCs an escape route. Eldrich fissures open up, fire bursts from the ground, all of the fun dynamic environment stuff. Some players might even grab onto the idea that the are supposed to collapse the room and work towards it. Either way, after x round the room collapses (hopefully with the PCs outside of it) and the BB buried under tons of rubble. World saved... or not?

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1 hour ago, Auberon said:

If I'm understanding correctly, you want the big bad to show up mid campaign and engage in a conflict with the PCs, but the result to be inconclusive? I lack sleep so apologies if not.

 

You can have a reason for the BB to not be as powerful as it would be, just make sure the players know it. For example, if a creature was summoned it might not be fully manifest in some obvious manner, thus preventing it from unleashing its full powers. You could have it phasing in and out of reality (powerful attacks missing as it phases out) or only partially through a portal and describe how this interferes with its actions. It might possibly motivate the PCs if they think they have a chance of preventing the creature from arriving fully.

 

Another idea is a timer on the battle. For example, put it in a room with a bunch of columns. Columns break, ceiling starts to collapse, throw a few boulders at everyone, and leave the PCs an escape route. Eldrich fissures open up, fire bursts from the ground, all of the fun dynamic environment stuff. Some players might even grab onto the idea that the are supposed to collapse the room and work towards it. Either way, after x round the room collapses (hopefully with the PCs outside of it) and the BB buried under tons of rubble. World saved... or not?

So this "Big Bad" is only the Big Bad for this arc. I have yet to decide on the finale big bad. I know I want the other plane arc to occur around tier 3, and I want this big bad to have the presence it should, considering it is a Great Old One. I'm just concerned about tier 3 player characters facing this thing. 

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Ok, here we go...

 

Your player's backstory is ridiculous and absurd and sounds like he'll be fun to have at the table. Also, if the player hasn't seen John Oliver's piece on the WWE last weekend, clearly they need to.

 

If you feel like you need stuff for getting this guy onto Eberron, I think travel through the Astral Sea is canonically the way otherworlders arrive. This could just mean he was adrift, unaging, for untold eons before getting somehow sucked into Eberron's sphere... Or maybe he meet some gith who gave him passage (which could give the character knowledge of some extraplanar sort). 

 

As for Nyarly... Wow, the Great Old One is a mid-level boss? Phoooooo. You need something SCARY for the top baddy, then.

 

Luckily, Eberron has a ready-made final boss in the form of the Daelkyr. Just the sort of guys who might have eyes in a Cannith lab...

who might suggest the best way to get what the Cyran Prince wants is to tap into Xoriat...

who might ensure the energy conduit in the war machine ruptures and becomes a full on portal...

who might know just the right (incantation/music/crystalline vibration/Morse code) to attract Nyarly from the other side...

who might be really happy to just sit back and see what happens.

 

A Daelkyr might do much.

 

Then, after dealing with Nyarly, your party just has to figure out who "enhanced" the war machine, and you have an investigative path toward the Daelkyr end boss. Through a Cult of the Dragon Below, a Daelkyr could have an extensive network... If the Cannith person in charge of this project is a cultist, or if the Cyran Prince is a cultist (or both) the party could discover that after the Nyarly fight, then either fight or talk their way through the cult network (and increasingly difficult aberration encounters: mind flayers, beholders, dolgaunts, etc.) until they ultimately reach the Daelkyr Lord.

 

I think you can pretty easily justify Nyarlathotep being something mid level characters can handle. See, the Elder Gods are terrifying, mind-bending creatures of ineffable power, but they don't really understand material things. This is one reason Cthulhu is defeated by a freakin' BOAT. So Nyarly can maybe go the same way: you've gotta get past its defenses, but if you can actually physically hit it, you can hurt it real bad. You might think about running it like a Zelda boss battle: give the enemy a particular weak point the players can exploit if they time it right.

As an example: I ran a low level party against some beetles with a very high AC and a nasty set of attacks; every time the beetle attacked, I described it opening its wings to appear larger and more threatening. That behavior also opened the wing cases, which exposed the much softer abdomen. One player asked to make a knowledge Nature check to understand the beetles' physiology, the rogue asked to make a spot check to notice any weak points (and I would have suggested those checks if they have come up with them themselves, but these players are already learning that I do this as a DM). Once the party knew to hold actions until the wings opened, the beetles went down very quickly.

I also really like environmental battles like @Auberon describes.

 

The Daelkyr, though? They have all the crazy mind-altering presence of an Elder God, but they also understand people and (sometimes) want to meddle with people... Which IMO makes them much scarier than Nyarly.

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1 hour ago, Sanael said:

Ok, here we go...

 

Your player's backstory is ridiculous and absurd and sounds like he'll be fun to have at the table. Also, if the player hasn't seen John Oliver's piece on the WWE last weekend, clearly they need to.

 

If you feel like you need stuff for getting this guy onto Eberron, I think travel through the Astral Sea is canonically the way otherworlders arrive. This could just mean he was adrift, unaging, for untold eons before getting somehow sucked into Eberron's sphere... Or maybe he meet some gith who gave him passage (which could give the character knowledge of some extraplanar sort). 

 

As for Nyarly... Wow, the Great Old One is a mid-level boss? Phoooooo. You need something SCARY for the top baddy, then.

 

Luckily, Eberron has a ready-made final boss in the form of the Daelkyr. Just the sort of guys who might have eyes in a Cannith lab...

who might suggest the best way to get what the Cyran Prince wants is to tap into Xoriat...

who might ensure the energy conduit in the war machine ruptures and becomes a full on portal...

who might know just the right (incantation/music/crystalline vibration/Morse code) to attract Nyarly from the other side...

who might be really happy to just sit back and see what happens.

 

A Daelkyr might do much.

 

Then, after dealing with Nyarly, your party just has to figure out who "enhanced" the war machine, and you have an investigative path toward the Daelkyr end boss. Through a Cult of the Dragon Below, a Daelkyr could have an extensive network... If the Cannith person in charge of this project is a cultist, or if the Cyran Prince is a cultist (or both) the party could discover that after the Nyarly fight, then either fight or talk their way through the cult network (and increasingly difficult aberration encounters: mind flayers, beholders, dolgaunts, etc.) until they ultimately reach the Daelkyr Lord.

 

I think you can pretty easily justify Nyarlathotep being something mid level characters can handle. See, the Elder Gods are terrifying, mind-bending creatures of ineffable power, but they don't really understand material things. This is one reason Cthulhu is defeated by a freakin' BOAT. So Nyarly can maybe go the same way: you've gotta get past its defenses, but if you can actually physically hit it, you can hurt it real bad. You might think about running it like a Zelda boss battle: give the enemy a particular weak point the players can exploit if they time it right.

As an example: I ran a low level party against some beetles with a very high AC and a nasty set of attacks; every time the beetle attacked, I described it opening its wings to appear larger and more threatening. That behavior also opened the wing cases, which exposed the much softer abdomen. One player asked to make a knowledge Nature check to understand the beetles' physiology, the rogue asked to make a spot check to notice any weak points (and I would have suggested those checks if they have come up with them themselves, but these players are already learning that I do this as a DM). Once the party knew to hold actions until the wings opened, the beetles went down very quickly.

I also really like environmental battles like @Auberon describes.

 

The Daelkyr, though? They have all the crazy mind-altering presence of an Elder God, but they also understand people and (sometimes) want to meddle with people... Which IMO makes them much scarier than Nyarly.

Thank you! You gave me just what I needed! And a way to really well make the next arc hook into the rest of the plot. See, the next arc is accompanying a Marked member of House Cannith (Ashley d'Cannith - based off of one of my favorite player characters for myself) to find dragon shards in Droaam and the Shadow Marshes. She's trying to become a strong artificer on her own because she's suspicious of her house. They also have an option to accompany a Professor's expedition to Xen'drik, but they appear to be taking the Droaam mission, based on last session. If they had chosen Xen'drik, I likely would have chosen a different final plot, but I was excited to utilize the Houses in this storyline. They've already made an ally in House Tarkanan (they found an aberrant who accidentally kept lighting fires in taverns, and decided to take her there), as well.

 

This is the first time I've had the plot points so clearly in my head. My players aren't experienced enough to do sandboxes (I found that out the hard way - they don't even know what to do when given free time), so they need a more branching or linear plot. This has me sooo excited. And should give them an array of things. They'll see a bit of the Cults in work in Droaam and the Shadow marches, as well...

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Glad I could help!

 

If your party is headed to Droaam, here's another tidbit that could be of use:

One of the major officers of the city of Graywall (the border City between Droaam and Breland) is a mind flayer. This mind flayer is allowed to Droaam and the Daughters of Sora Kell, so he's unlikely to be in league with your Daelkyr, but if your players do him a favor he may very well have info about any aberration-oriented cults in Droaam or Western Breland.

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