“I thought WE were the good guys?” – a story framework

This is the outline of the story that turned the encounter Little Demons on the Prarie into a 2 session event.

Presented here is the overarching story framework and the elements that define the core ethical dilemma of the piece – the running of this scenario involved additional encounters along the way, which will be presented in separate posts at a later date.

Themes and Objectives:

This story engages an old device that pits the characters’ morals against their integrity and reputation. A powerful being engages the characters to complete a task that seems entirely reasonable, but as they discover more about the task they realise they are potentially acting on behalf on the bad guy of the story.

In this scenario I’ve combined that plot twist with two other story telling devices (because who doesn’t love an over complicated story?) the device of the characters having to travel a distance to meet a deadline and facing delays along the way, and the device of the identity of the true antagonist being hidden.

Background:

In Exalted, this scenario involves two terrestrial gods. The lowest ranked of the two is the god of cactus seeds that spread on the wind. The second is his superior, the god of the seasonal wind that spreads the seeds.

In Exalted, ‘heaven’ is a giant beurecracy and many gods are beurecrats fulfilling a portfolio, overseeing an aspect of the world with varying degrees of efficiency and corruption.

In the context of the backstory of Little Demons in the Prarie, the demon-farming has interrupted the natural flow of things, and as the cacti farmed by the village are now being cultivated, they are no longer releasing their seeds into the wind. This has directly diminished the influence of the cactus god who desperately wants to reclaim lost status.

The wind god has also been affected, but much less so as its portfolio is much broader. The wind god feels more of a personal sleight as the village once offered prayers and tributes and has now fallen silent.

The wind god, however, is rather easily manipulated, so the cactus god (who is a manipulative little prick 🙂 has convinced the wind god that the situation is quite dire and warrants a strong response – hence the hidden antagonist, as from here it is the wind god who is presented as the main antagonist while it is actually the cactus god pulling the strings.

Ultimately, you have the cactus god manipulating the wind god into smashing the village so that the cactus seeds are free to fly around again – which is all the cactus god cares about, and the characters get stuck in the middle of the knot and then have to work their way out of it.

How it plays out:

The wind god engages the characters through whatever mechanism works for your game, and asks them to travel to the village and rid the area of demons. In the first encounter the wind god is very unfriendly and impatient (he’s a blustery wind god, after all), while the cactus god comes off like a cheerful and friendly aide to the more powerful deity.

The drama from this part of the story comes from the fact that they village is a significant distance away and the PCs keep running into other minor encounters that would delay them. Each encounter should force the characters to confront their motivations. In exalted 2e this is easy enough through the mechanics of character virtues (and just a little bit of knowing your players enough to provide story hooks that intrigue them). In essence, to create drama and tension, every random encounter should involve a really tempting choice, or challenge the characters’ values.

The first time the PCs are delayed, the cactus god (who claims he is acting as the messenger for the wind god, but in reality is anxious to hurry things along) returns and informs them that the wind god grows impatient.

A second delay, and the cactus god informs them that they have begun to take matters into their own hands and the wind god is summoning a storm to batter the village.

Each subsequent delay results in the storm being stepped up in intensity, and as the characters approach the village the ferocity of the storm may cause difficulties for their journey or even be damaging as rocks and objects flung by the wind become deadly projectiles.

Once the characters arrive at the village and play through the Little Demons on the Prarie scenario, it is then up to them to resolve the conflict between the god and the village, and there are a number of ways this can be achieved:

  1. Amicable resolution: Any hope of reaching a peace between the village and the wind god depends on the characters figuring our that the cactus god is really manipulating the situation and nullifying it. A moderately skilled exalt with social charms should be able to figure this out, otherwise a stealthy character may observe an interaction between the two where the cactus god convinces the wind god that any offer of peace is a lie and the village deserves to be destroyed. Once the cactus god has been subdued, a peace can be negotiated between the village and the wind god.
  2. Evacuate the village: This is perhaps the most challenging outcome. The people are reluctant to move and will take some rousing speeches and strong arguments to be convinced to abandon their home. If the characters try to move the villagers while the storm still rages then there is no mistake that some people will die.
  3. Overcome the gods: the players may opt for a more direct use of force against the gods, and this can be handled in one of a number of ways. If you as Gm are happy for force to win out, then provide some challenging stats for the wind god and cactus god and have at it.  Just as the cactus god is being sneaky in social manipulation, so to will it be sneaky in combat, and play the role of the unsuspecting bystander until an opportunity arises to blast the characters in the back with some cactus barbs. If you would like this combat to be more perilous, then you could have the storm’s ferocity result in the summoning of a Storm Serpent that slowly winds its way down towards the village  – which will result in inevitable devastation. This puts a time limit on any combat, plus it means that the characters can’t afford to kill the god as they need it to end the storm and dispel the serpent.

In the game I ran with this scenario, the players negotiated a truce, and taught the villagers new rituals around their farming, which included paying a tribute of seeds by scattering them on the wind in order to appease both gods.

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