Thursday, November 6, 2014

Drama Bombs for Hoard of the Dragon Queen

A drama bomb is a situation a PC can't ignore that forces upon them an ethical or personally dramatic choice.

The reason they can't ignore it is that the PC wants something, is committed to defending or performing or upholding something, and the bomb represents an obstacle, opportunity, or threat in that context. 

They each require some concrete action to resolve, during which time the PCs will have to take dramatic stands, but not in a way that's forced or mechanized. It's simply a consequence of the situation. 

Use these one at a time. Probably don't introduce another while one is active. Don't need to use all of them or really more than one.

What these drama bombs say may or may not be true. Decide for yourself or randomly determine it, now or later. If you randomly determine, I'd prejudice the roll in favor of PCs that have suffered greatly in holding to their beliefs.

That said, I'm only presenting one drama bomb in this post. I'll provide more later. 

This one takes a bit of setup, and, to be effective, it has to be true.

Before you drop it proper, show that there is a war on by showing the horrors of war.
  1. When they travel on the road, each 6 mile hex there is a 1/6 chance of encountering a city's army, mustering, retreating, what have you. This is flavor and theme. The point of it is to establish that it's going on and to drive home that it's awful. Amputees everywhere. Wounded screaming. Orphans following. 
  2. When they stop at a village, 1/6 chance it is burned out from war and has few to no survivors. Orphans. Invalids starving to death. 
  3. When they enter the wilderness, 1/6 chance of seeing mass graves or awful camps of the city militaries. Prisoners of war tortured, no one safe from rape and slavery. 
  4. In taverns, people are talking about the war. Escalates to violence 1/6 of the time. 
  5. In towns, orphans and invalids swarm the temples.
  6. When they ask who's fighting whom or what about:
    1. Northern confederation of city-states vs southern, with frequent backstabs and incursions
    2. Rumors of terrible brutality on the other side
    3. Territorial encroachments
    4. Succession disputes
    5. Religious apostasy
    6. Political ideological zealotry
Now then, here's the bomb proper: when they capture or subdue a cultist, or if it seems fine to just let one surrender, use this one:
  • BET (cultist—Conservator), wiry, tattered robes, pensive, head half as large as it should be:
    • goal: persuade the characters to join the Conservators, who wish to summon Tiamat to usher in an age of equality and peace, with no war but lots of human sacrifice and vegetarianism: all meat belongs to the Great Queen
    • wants: to be accepted into the group; to know what it's like to hang out with friends
    • history: orphan librarian, fled the Stormfront cult faction 
      • mother ran off, father executed in Baldur's Gate for theft, raised in Candlekeep with two sisters and a brother
      • learned about Tiamat @ Candlekeep, joined cult when Candlekeep was raided
      • part of a cult faction called the Conservators ("not a drop of blood wasted"), who follow an ancient cult of Tiamat who holds that violence is sacred and may only be used in self-defense or to sacrifice to Tiamat
    • when you want to humanize Bet:
      • have him suddenly give someone a massage—undeniably feels great, +1HD roll in temp hp if they let him finish it
      • ask for better clothes; he hasn't had any since he fled the Stormfront; is very grateful
      • have him get drunk and start telling you a story; +inspiration if you listen; it's basically Jack & the Beanstalk, his favorite story from childhood; it's the only thing he remembers his mother doing for him; he'll ask what your favorite story is; he'll say that's a good one too and fall asleep, preferably on or near you
    • useful because: 
      • makes artfully styled maps of everywhere traveled
      • knows five languages
      • knows lead to dungeon guarding dragon mask
      • knows a friendly wearer of purple, Melshas (zany, nose like squid, stoner)
This bomb also unlocks a couple factions:
  • Stormfront, encountered in Greenest, are blue/black dragon flavored
  • Conservators, few in number, who are the purest and oldest strain of Tiamat worship, heavy on the Lawful
The Conservators are correct that Tiamat's reign would bring peace. The Drakarchy would enforce non-violence by constant threat of superior force, and would in return demand a constant stream of human sacrifice. But, on the upshot, her reign would mean only a tenth as many deaths as all the wars would claim in her absence. 

The players and PCs will likely not believe this. Ensure that every avenue of research they pursue confirms it. They can still disbelieve it, of course, but the evidence is against them. Whenever they find draconic lore, confirm it there as well. It's like the ending of Watchmen

So what do the characters do? If they help the cult summon Tiamat, they will save a ton of lives and be rewarded richly for their service. They may still have trouble with the more barbaric Stormfront faction as well as other factions in the cult, not to mention the five "heroic" factions and the city-states. But there you go.

Now the thing is, to make this mean something, you have to show consequences. So, if they stop the summoning of Tiamat, you have to make the war even worse: World War II on steroids, mass awfulness. The factions come together only to devolve into bloodshed. And, as the party stands athwart the carnage, ask them: did they make the right decision? Ask the players what they think. Do an epilogue, briefly, as a montage, showing the effect the campaign had on each PC. Etc.

Similarly, if Tiamat is summoned, present her reign of terrible peace; and do the same procedure above. How do the PCs react?

Their reaction determines whether it's a comedy or tragedy, regardless of what happens. 

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