The Alexandrian

Go to Eternal Lies: The Alexandrian Remix

Eternal Lies - Campaign Overview

Campaign Overview PDF

The Campaign Overview for the Alexandrian Remix originated as a planning document and now serves as a general reference document for the GM.

LOCALE CLUES: Each locale in the campaign has its own internal structure of nodes linked by clues. The campaign also has a macro-structure, however, which links the various locales together. I find it’s easiest to separate these structures, tracking the macro-clues that are integrated into the various locales separately from the clues that move you around the locale itself. This reference sheet summarizes all of the macro-clues that lead from one locale to another.

CAMPAIGN CLUES – THIBET REVELATION: As discussed in the introduction to the Alexandrian Remix, there is an additional meta-mystery that requires the PCs to piece together clues from multiple locations in order to figure out their final destination. Whereas the locale clues are independent (you can pick up any of the clues that point to Malta, for example, and use it to get to Malta), in order to reach Thibet you need to have three separate pieces of information. Following the Three Clue Rule, there are three clues pointing to each of these pieces of information. This reference sheet summarizes them.

CAMPAIGN CLUES – DESTROYING THE MAW: Another key revelation for the campaign is how you can destroy the Maw of the Mouth. This reference sheet summarizes teh methods and how they can be obtained.

CAMPAIGN CLUES – FINAL RITUAL: When the PCs reach the end of the campaign, they’re going to need several key pieces of information in order to solve the problem. This reference sheet summarizes where they can gain those pieces of information (once again following the principles of redundancy laid out in the Three Clue Rule).

CAMPAIGN CLUES – APOCALYPSE: As with the Thibet Revelation, the information for realizing what’s happening at the end of the campaign is spread throughout the campaign.

CAMPAIGN CLUES – IDENTITY OF THE LIAR: This sheet is complicated by the fact that there are several red herrings in the campaign pointing the PCs towards false identities. This discovery requires a two-step revelation: First, the PCs must realize that the Liar is the Prisoner of Glaaki. Second, they have to figure out who the Prisoner of Glaaki is.

REFERENCE – WHO BELIEVES WHAT: In large part because the Liar is obfuscating his identity, it can get a little confusing about what the various NPCs know and believe about it. This reference sheet summarizes what the 1924 Cultists, the 1924 Inner Circle, the 1934 Cult, and the various cult leaders all currently believe.

REFERENCE – 1924: This summarizes all the known facts about what happened in 1924, including the known members of the cult, Walter Winston’s investigators, and what happened on the night of August 13th, 1924.

REFERENCE – MINOR MOUTHS / MAJOR MOUTHS: All of the stats for the Mouths summarized on a single sheet for easy reference.

REFERENCE – NECTAR: All the rules for researching or consuming Nectar.

REFERENCE – TRAVEL TIMES: A hodgepodge reference using real world figures for transcontinental travel in the 1930s. You should be able to interpolate from this data to come up with relatively accurate travel times for any locations the PCs might decide to hare off to.

SUGGESTED READING

The PDF also includes a recommended reading list for familiarizing yourself more intimately with the various Mythos elements that the Eternal Lies campaign is based around (including my additions to the campaign). This list primarily revolves around the lore of Gol-Goroth and the tales of the Severn Valley (including, most importantly, the Revelations of Glaaki). However, there are a few additional stories included here (mostly because their material appears in the various Mythos tomes found in Echavarria’s library and Savitree’s research).

Robert E. Howard
“The Black Stone”
“The Children of the Night”
“The People in the Dark”
“The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”
“The Thing on the Roof”
“Worms of the Earth”

Ramsey Campbell
“The Inhabitant of the Lake”
“The Stone on the Island”
“The Church in High Street”
“Cold Print”
“The Room in the Castle”
“The Render of the Veils”
“The Plain of Sound”
The Last Revelation of Gla’aki

H.P. Lovecraft
“The Shadow Out of Time”

David Drake
“Than Curse the Darkness”

Lin Carter
“The Fishers From Beyond”

Chaosium Cthulhu Scenarios
Masks of Nyarlathotep
No Man’s Land

The Chaosium scenarios are strictly non-essential, but there are oblique references to No Man’s Land in some of the lore books (largely because one of my players created a PC who used the scenario as part of his back story). And Masks of Nyarlathotep, unsurprisingly, serves as the fountainhead for several key pieces of lore regarding the Black Pharaoh (among others).

Go to 1.0 Maps and Campaign Props

Eternal Lies – The End

July 17th, 2015

Go to Eternal Lies: The Alexandrian Remix

Eternal Lies - Apocalypse

Campaign NotesDioramaProps Packet

SPOILER WARNING

Eternal Lies is a truly amazing campaign. When it comes to spoilers, however, it is remarkably fragile. Two words, in particular, can really ruin the whole experience: One is the true name of the Liar. The other is the actual title of the final chapter.

I’ve done my best, even while sharing my notes for remixing the campaign, to NOT use those words in these semi-public posts. (Or, at least, not use them in a context that would reveal their significance.) However, now I need to discuss running the finale of the campaign and that necessarily carries with it the need to get a little riskier. The best I can do is to simply add another ablative layer of spoiler warnings.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

Seriously. If you’ve landed on this page and you’re not 100% sure you want the Eternal Lies campaign spoiled for yourself, you should really stop reading.

Okay, that’s the best I can do.

(For similar reasons, I didn’t label the final set of my notes in my binder for the campaign in order to minimize the risk of my players accidentally seeing the title.)

SEQUENCE 1

The most important part of this sequence, in my opinion, is the beginning: Triumph Atop Mt. Kailash. The players may have some nagging doubts about the vision they just received, but it’s really important that they also feel a legitimate sense of having won.

Towards that end, I’ve added an actual mechanical reward here to emphasize the moment.

Once you’ve built them up (and, just importantly, let them build themselves up and celebrate), you’re ready to start revealing the growing horror of what’s happening around them.

SEQUENCE 2

I’ve discussed the general theory behind this sequence in my introduction to the remix. The idea is that there are four thematic concepts that make up the REVELATION:

  • Great power requires great sacrifices
  • Edgar Job played a key role in Echavarria’s ritual
  • Echavarria’s ritual had two layers
  • Azathoth was the true focus of Echavarria’s interest

The specific details listed in these remix notes are specific to my PCs. They reflect the events that (a) actually happened in our play-thru of the campaign and (b) which seemed to have particular resonance for my players. For your campaign, you’ll want to similarly construct a personalized Revelation.

The timing of using the Revelation is more of an art than a science: With the additional data point of the Liar’s final vision (plus the horrible things happening around them), it’s not impossible for the players to figure out what’s happening. (Particularly if they’ve asked certain questions of Gol-Goroth or if they’ve paid particular attention to certain volumes in Echavarria’s library.)

When this happens also depends on exactly when your players start falling into a serious discussion about what they’re seeing and what they think happened. My players started that midway down their descent of the mountain. Other groups might get all the way to Darchen or even Burang before they start trying to figure it out. My suggestion is that you want to hold off on pushing for the Cthulhu Mythos spend until after they’ve realized that the problem is global in scope. (In other words, let all the Mythos stability checks in Sequence 1 play out.) Once that’s happened, play it by ear and then tell them the Cthulhu Mythos spend is both available and, if they can’t figure it out on their own, required.

(If they proactively ask for the Cthulhu Mythos spend, of course, you can just go with it whenever they request it.)

SEQUENCE 3

In order for the Apocalypse to be effective, I believe that it has to be personal.

As a result, the Scenes from the Apocalypse that you’ll find in my remix notes are, once again, very specific to my PCs and the things that they had experienced up until this point:

  • Ulysses had a close encounter with a Hound of Tindalos in the original back story for his character. It made sense to bring that full circle as the barriers between dimensions collapsed. Robert’s visitation from the dead was a similar callback. (You might consider looking back at the original character backgrounds to find elements for use in your apocalypse.)
  • The PCs has rescued Monte and Alexi from Malta and taken them to Paris to be cared for by a Source of Stability. (Monte’s cure as a result of destroying the Liar was also a good way to remind them that defeating the Liar had been a triumph, even if its unintended consequences were horrific.)
  • One of the PCs was from Chicago and had a Source of Stability there. (This kind of remote news that they can’t really do anything about is a good way of emphasizing how widespread and catastrophic things are.)
  • The PCs had gotten Janet Winston-Rogers to set up a safehouse for loved ones who had been threatened by the cult.
  • The death of Frank Kearns was a good opportunity to emphasize the emotional trauma being suffered by civilians in the setting. It also makes the death and destruction personal.

(In actual practice, these elements played out in delightfully unexpected ways: The PCs reached Paris. They learned that the boys had been evacuated to England and that Chicago was burning. They were chased back to their plane by a cannibalistic mob. Deciding that time was running out, they bit the bullet and used the Create Hyperspace Gate spell to jump directly to Savannah. As they left, however, they told Frank Kearns that they needed him to get their plane safely back to New York and check on their loved ones… which gave him enough sense of purpose to avoid giving into despair before they had managed to save the world.)

The published campaign has an interesting grab-bag of apocalyptic imagery (some of which I summarized at the beginning of this sequence of this remix as a grab bag from which I could improvise additional and/or alternative scenes if the PCs took a radically different route than I was anticipating).

SEQUENCE 4 & FINALE

As I noted above, my PCs used the Create Hyperspace Gate spell to go directly to Savannah. I decided that the dimensional disruption around Edgar Job would force them to appear on the outskirts of town so that the Into Savannah sequence would still play out. It may not be entirely clear from my notes, but the asynchronous appearances of the Feral Child in this sequence are meant to be intermixed around the other moments.

EPILOGUE

As a final note, the epilogue of the campaign — with its cycle of three questions for each player — is brilliantly conceived and provided a note-perfect conclusion to an immersive and emotionally-wrenching campaign.

Eternal Lies - Chicago Burns

Go to After Action Report

There’s a particularly prevalent — but completely incorrect — belief wandering around that sandboxes don’t have scenario hooks.

To the contrary: A good sandbox has scenario hooks hanging all over the place. The successful sandbox will not only be festooned with scenario hooks, it will also feature some form of default action that can be used to deliver more hooks if the players find themselves bereft of interesting options.

For example, a typical hexcrawl sandbox features a rumor table (which serves up some arbitrary number of scenario hooks to the PCs) and a default action if none of those rumors sound appealing (wandering around the map until you find something interesting).

A megadungeon sandbox similarly features a rumor table and a default action (go explore some unknown part of the dungeon).

Prepping this plethora of scenario hooks can be daunting for a GM who believes that every scenario hook needs to be linked to a distinct, unique plot. The trick to a sandbox is that you don’t prep plots: You prep situations. And for the sandbox you’ll be able to hang countless hooks off of every situation. You’ll also discover how sandbox situations “stay alive” even after the PCs have interacted with them (instead of being completely chewed up and discarded).

For example, let’s say you’ve got a dungeon a fair distance outside of town that’s the remains of a Neo-Norskan temple complex. It’s currently being occupied by a Bandit King who has forged together an alliance of humans, goblins, and ogres. He’s also renting skeletons off a nearby necromancer.

In terms of scenario hooks, there’s all kinds of stuff you can hang on this situation: Bandit raids are terrorizing local villages. A powerful magical artifact was stolen from a local caravan. There are old legends about the Neo-Norskan temple and what it contains. Because of the skeletons, there are false rumors that the necromancer lives there. Or that the necromancer has allied with the Bandit King. (And you can salt these scenario hooks into the campaign in any number of ways: Rumor tables. Lore recovered from other locations. Allies of the PCs who are now in need. Et cetera.)

So one day the PCs grab one of these hooks and they go off and they kill the Bandit King and they take the magical artifact he was carrying.

Over and done with, right? Only not really, because the guy who originally owned the magical artifact still wants it, so now the PCs are getting attacked by bounty hunters attempting to recover the artifact. Meanwhile, they didn’t wipe out all the bandits and the remaining goblins are renewing their raids under the leadership of the One-Eyed Ogre.

So the PCs go back to the Neo-Norskan temple and this time they wipe out all the bandits, permanently ending their threat to the region. Except now the Necromancer sees a big, open dungeon complex filled with the discarded corpses the PCs have left in their wake, and so he moves in and animates the corpses as a skeletal army.

Which all sounds like a lot of work, but because you prepped the whole thing as a situation to begin with you haven’t needed to spend more than about 5 minutes “refreshing” this content between sessions: You’re reusing the same maps and stat blocks over and over again. You spent a little time putting together new stat blocks for the bounty hunters when they showed up. And there was probably some light re-keying necessary for the changes the Necromancer made when he took over the complex.

You didn’t have to buy a whole new set of tools every single time. You just occasionally added a new tool when necessary. (And occasionally removed a hammer that the PCs had broken.)

This can be easier to visualize with a location (which is why I use it as an example), but the same basic process holds true for, say, factions in an urban campaign. Create a gang that’s, for example, manufacturing and marketing a drug derived from blood that’s been harvested from vampires and you should be able to use that toolkit to generate dozens of sessions of play.

The other thing that happens in a sandbox campaign is synergy between the different elements of the sandbox: By holding onto the artifact that was stolen from them, the PCs make enemies of House Nobuzo. This unexpectedly earns them a patron in the form of House Erskine, unleashing a flurry of scenario hooks from the “feuding noble houses” toolkit you designed. As the PCs get drawn into that world, they’re approached by a minor house named Tannar: They’re currently allied to House Nobuzo, but their daughter has been murdered by the Necromancer who has now stolen her body in order to transform her into his Corpse Bride. If the PCs can rescue their daughter from a fate literally worse than death, they’ll break their alliance with House Nobuzo and pledge for House Erskine.

After that scenario has resolved itself, you might find that the players are now actively looking for minor houses that they can endear to their political causes by doing favors for them. (Which would organically create a new default action for delivering scenario hooks.)

In any case, once your sandbox toolkits start interacting with each other like this, you’ll quickly find that the sandbox is basically running itself.

Eternal Lies – Thibet

July 15th, 2015

Go to Eternal Lies: The Alexandrian Remix

Eternal Lies - Thibet

Campaign NotesDioramaProps Packet

As with the Yucatan, Thibet is organized in sequences and locations instead of around nodes. Primarily sequences, because this location is largely about journeying deep into uncharted territory in search of a finale.

Speaking of finales, we’re getting near to the end of the campaign so I’m going to refresh our:

SPOILER WARNING

I’m going to do my best to keep things fairly vague at this juncture so that someone casually glancing at these pages won’t have the campaign spoiled for them, but since we’re also nearing a critical juncture it wouldn’t take much to spoil yourself.

MACEWAN: One thing you won’t find in my remix notes is the explosives expert MacEwan. This is nothing personal. By this time in the campaign, my PCs had become so completely well-versed in explosives that they had no need for MacEwan and I didn’t bother prepping him.

HIGH ROAD, LOW ROAD: One big shift I did make is bifurcating the first sequence so that the players have a choice of the route they want to follow. This is designed as a pretty straightforward incomparable: One route is fast-but-dangerous; the other route is slow-but-safe.

Eternal Lies - Mt. KailashThere’s a sequence of photographic props designed for each of the routes. If you’re playing with the poster maps, you can put these travel photos directly onto the map in a rough sequence pointing towards the mountain.

THE RAVINE: In a similar fashion, I’ve tweaked the design of the final descent into the Devouring Ravine. Regardless of which method the PCs use for destroying the Liar, there is now trade-off between going deeper into the ravine (which makes it easier to destroy the Liar) and staying higher (which is safer).

As written in the original campaign, the Devouring Ravine is cripplingly difficult. For my remix, I tried to take the “auto TPK” quality out of it (primarily by treating the entire descent as a single Mythos experience, so that the maximum Stability loss gets capped). But, in practice, I discovered that it’s still too tough. I’ve talked in the past about the numerous hard limits that the GUMSHOE system has which severely limits your flexibility in scenario design. In this case, the scenario drains out the Athletics and Outdoorsman pools of the PCs and then auto-kills them.

When I run the campaign again, I’ll be re-visiting these mechanics once again. Without doing a thorough analysis, I’d suggest (a) getting rid of the auto-kill climbing mechanic and (b) reducing the Athletics climb check difficulties by 1. Also: If the PCs make ANY attempt to gauge what they need to do to destroy the Liar (and they have the appropriate skills), I would make it clear what the trade-off is between going deeper and staying higher. After they’ve made the initial inquiry, I would also offer appropriate spends to give them specific number (the Liar’s inertia and/or the number of explosive charges required at each level of descent).

FINAL VISION: I’ve shifted the wording in the Final Vision provided by the Liar in order to obfuscate that it’s revealing the completion of a sacrifice. This is deliberate. I want to give the players a chance to discover that idea for themselves instead of having it handed to them. I think it makes for a more powerful “oh shit” moment. (It’s a problem if they don’t realize it, of course, but there’s a thematic Get Out of Jail Free card programmed into the final chapter of the campaign.)

PROP NOTES

DIORAMA: There’s a large number of “mystic paintings” in the diorama material for Thibet. I wanted to strongly instill the sense of Mt. Kailash (and its surroundings) as a holy place, so that the contrast between that and what’s lurking inside the mountain would be as large as possible.

You may also note that a large number of diorama elements actually feature Mt. Kailash. This presumes that, by the time the PCs are coming to Thibet, they already know that the Maw of the Mouth lies within the mountain. If they don’t know that — for example, if they’ve built up a theory that the Maw must be somewhere else in the region since the Emporium of Bangkok Antiquities didn’t find anything on the mountain — you’ll want to hold back those elements so as to avoid tipping your hand.

Eternal Lies - Thibet

Go to 3.2 The End

White Flag of Surrender

In 26 years of play, I have literally never seen PCs voluntarily surrender. Admittedly, beyond a certain point my villains largely stopped asking.

The only time I’ve had PCs taken prisoner is because they’d been beaten into unconsciousness. There was one incident about 3 years ago where a single PC got separated from the rest of the party and was captured (the rest of the party ended up using a wish spell to rescue her). The previous incident was about 4 years before that where all but one of the PCs were captured (the other PC was somewhere else at the time that the rest of the party was beaten unconscious).

Recently, I was running Eternal Lies, a published campaign which, on two occasions, expected (but didn’t require) the PCs to be captured. In one case, the PCs simply avoided the entire situation by staying three steps ahead of the bad guys. In the other, the NPCs whose “vast numbers” were supposed to make them surrender got hosed down in a hail of machine gun fire before they had a chance to even open their mouths and demand the white flag.

There was one group about 4 years ago who briefly discussed surrendering because they were near death and had been cut off from the surface by a half dozen giants and an entire platoon of orcs. They decided that it made more sense to literally cut their own heads off so that the elven wizard could stick them in a bag of holding, turn invisible, and fly them out to get resurrected. (Surprisingly, that worked out for all but one of them.)

Whenever I see a published adventure that requires the PCs to surrender, I take it as a very strong indication that the product was never playtested. (In my more cynical moments, it also makes me suspicious that the author has never actually played an RPG.)

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