Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An Example of a Story Emerging from Play Part I

This series of posts has its genesis in selfishness, I must admit. I am approaching a major story point in my Lost Colonies campaign that has the potential of world-changing consequences. This story point, however, is not entirely my own — it is something that has emerged from play rather than something I had planned or even imagined. Therefore, I want to put down in writing my thoughts about it in order to help me hammer out some details and see whether or not I have something workable and comprehensible; however, I also think that it might be useful for others interested to see how (at least for me) small things that come up in play develop into story-lines that affect entire campaigns and campaign worlds.

As with many things that I do when I run a game, this whole thing started with a roll on a random table — specifically, the presence of a simple (boring) short sword +1. In order to give it more character, I told the party that it had the word "Hornet" engraved on the blade in Elvish (with Sting from The Hobbit strongly in mind).

Given that the goblins in The Hobbit did not much care for the Elvish blades used by the protagonists of Tolkien's tale, I figured they wouldn't much care for Hornet either. I reasoned that goblins were particularly hated by the sword itself, which would force its wielder to attack goblins within 30' or so unless a save vs. spells was made.

This came up a couple of times during play. When Ahkmed the Dwarf (the wielder of Hornet) tried to use any weapon but Hornet, I added another twist — the sword was getting jealous and would appear in Ahkmed's hand unless he made a save vs. spells.

Ahkmed's player was new to the world of RPGs, with mine being only his second ever campaign. The veteran players had a lot of fun at his expense, as this was his first experience with a "cursed" item. Interestingly, it was really only those veteran players who wanted to get rid of the sword — Ahkmed's player was having fun being Hornet's wielder.

This was all pretty much copacetic until, after "giving his will" to Hornet in order to find a goblin in hiding, Ahkmed killed a goblin the party had worked very hard to capture (and thus interrogate). At this point, the sword was seen as more of a hindrance than a help.

Given that the sword now had some kind of entity to which someone could give their will to (and given the history of special swords from older editions of the game), Hornet definitely would not want to be parted from Ahkmed. Therefore, I reasoned that she (because Hornet was now a she in my mind) would need to offer something to Ahkmed in order to keep her around.

What resulted was the idea of a female elf somehow bound to the sword had been awakened by Ahkmed when he gave his will to the sword. As a result, she was now able to offer him help by acting in and through him. Thus, Ahkmed could gain certain elf-like abilities as long as he remained tied to the sword. Ahkmed gleefully agreed and Hornet became a quiet NPC in the party.

At this point, however, I had no idea how or why there was an elfin maid bound to a magical sword or what that meant for other magical swords/weapons — something Ahkmed's player was definitely interested in finding out more about. In the meantime, he busied himself collecting as many elfin accouterments as possible.


  1. I had no idea how or why there was an elfin maid bound to a magical sword or what that meant for other magical swords/weapons

    Depending on the role of elves in your setting and who the maid is, here are some possibilities:

    * She's a powerful entity, imprisoned in the sword by a rival
    * She's a princess, imprisoned in the sword by a jealous or possessive lover
    * She's dead, but her spirit was fused into the sword by a loved one who couldn't let go
    * She's a magic-user whose body was destroyed while she was using the sword as a magic jar

    The maid's goal could be anything, but there are only two ways to achieve it: guide the sword's wielder into doing it for her, or guide the sword's wielder into somehow freeing her.

    I like your "side-effects," like Ahkmed getting some elf abilities in exchange for giving up some of his will. Depending on the maid's goal, Ahkmed might know what she knows, or have visions of the maid's childhood, or flashbacks of crucial/traumatic moments in the maid's life (perhaps what led her to being bound to the sword).

    On the plus side, there are so many options here. On the down side, there are so many options here...

  2. The Elf-maid in the sword is very appealing. I did something similar with clerical magic weapons in my WFRP (1E) game: their magic was fueled by the bound spirit of an heroic, extremely devout servant of the cult, who agreed or chose to continue serving their god in this world in this form, rather than joining him or her in the afterlife. I thought it made for a more interesting, dramatic story, and it differentiated them from items made by wizards.

    One question: what did you mean by the dwarf "giving his will" to the sword. Does this mean he no longer saves to resist Hornet's impulses (such as "attack the goblin!") ?

  3. @Erin
    Thanks for the ideas...eventually I will have to steal them all ;)

    A goblin had hid in a meat locker, but Ahkmed couldn't find him, so he decided to try and see what would happen when he held up his sword and said "I give you my will, find the goblin." At that point, his character temporarily became an NPC and he went on a rampage to kill off all the goblins in in sight.

    Once the goblins were gone, I gave Ahkmed a save to regain control, which he did. Then he had a conversation with the elf maid and came to an agreement. Frankly, since then I haven't had to impose anything, because Ahkmed's player has so thoroughly embraced being a "dwelf" as the other players call him — thus far he has done everything in a way that his sword would want him to.