Things have really been going well for me in the realm of D&D right now. My Skype game is continuing to meet weekly, and after a short holiday break will head into a section of my campaign world that is a huge re-write of one of my all time favorite classic modules. After a several month hiatus, my face to face group has met twice the last two weeks and finished one of my most challenging scenarios, setting up a bunch of unscripted (sandbox) stuff for the next few after holiday sessions. All in all, I do some work daily fleshing out both campaigns, and I love it. It's given my impetus to pull out some of my decade old campaign notes and go over them for themes I might work into my present adventures (which all take place on the same campaign world, Azura).
While researching some tidbits from my campaign world, I came across the game play notes to my first two campaigns set in the world of Azura, right after I had tentatively created it and fleshed out a small sandboxy section of islands to start out adventurers on. These 14 year old campaign notes show just how far my campaign world has come in the last decade and a half, and have re-ignited my imagination in my first adventuring area, a small island chain consisting of five large islands and dozens of smaller ones. The largest such island had a fairly large trading center and port, but the real action was on the smallest island in the chain, Tiranouq (all the islands in the chain were named after members of the original adventuring band that discovered and settled the chain about 100 years earlier). The small island had one village, Rotwood, and their main industry was gathering reeds and weaving baskets....seriously.
Of course, from this sort of setting, you would expect most adventurers to want to leave..immediately...and not spend a bit of time exploring their island. However, I had seeded about half a dozen possible adventuring sites there to give them experience and then head on to bigger and better things. The characters began this first ever campaign in my world as simple farmers, fishermen, and goatherds, but eventually left the island chain on a series of adventures that culminated a couple years later (real time) with them controlling a nearby island chain after wiping out the pirate lords that ruled there.
However, at the beginning, there was just a group of inexperienced kids who wanted to explore the old abandoned manor on the other side of the island (Cough---U1---Cough). They soon acquired a sponsor for their group, who was a retired mage of some power, who mentored the spell casters of the party by giving them spells and sundry one-shot magic items to assist them. Jaylen the mage was a respected elder and member of the town council, and the kind of guy who would let a young mage copy a spell out of his own spellbook for nothing.
Jaylen was also an evil demon worshipping lunatic....which leads to this confession.....
When I first created the island chain (called New Empyria) and Tiranouq, I did some work on a back story.....not that the characters would ever fully know the full ins and outs, but I wanted to create a place that was "real" to me and had a history I could use if the occasion arose. Part of this was very vague adventure hooks for all the islands, including Tiranouq. One hook was that an isle about a mile off the coast had a long abandoned mage's tower that no one on Tiranouq had ever investigated. It sat within an owlbear-infested forest. There was also rumored to be an evil druid there who guarded the tower from all intruders.
It was meant to be the kind of adventure hook that you mention to players who perhaps wait a few levels to follow up on (the presence of owlbears and an evil druid were the warnings they would have to gain some experience to find out the mysteries of the tower). Little did the characters know, but the seemingly jovial mage Jaylen was there on the small isle in the middle of nowhere specifically to get inside that tower....for the demonic knowledge involved. Long ago, he had learned of the existence of the tower, and the extensive library within, but his research also showed it had been protected by some ancient mage through traps and glyphs keyed to specific individuals...and Jaylen was one of these. His infamous reputation as a necromancer (forbidden in many societies) had led to several confrontations with minions of good. He was a well-known, feared and hunted mage throughout the empire, which caused him to maintain a low profile as a kindly old mage in this out of the way island, awaiting his chance to get inside the tower and increase his power.
After many thwarted attempts to get inside, he hit on a plan: take a group of young people, sponsor them, and have a homegrown adventuring group assault the tower, and since he was a trusted mentor and teacher, have them unwittingly retrieve the books he wanted that would lead to dangerous (for everyone else) knowledge of the summoning of demonic beings. The party was actually his second such attempt; in my history, I said an earlier group attempted it and was destroyed by the dangers of the island (and their bodies would have been found had the party ever gotten to the island).
However, players often take you in unexpected directions. For many reasons, this plotline was acknowledged but never followed up on as the party acquired a pirate ship early on, and decided to sail away to see the wide world (which was logical, since all they had ever known as characters was the boring life on Tiranouq). They never really made it back to the island, which (I said to myself off-screen) infuriated the mage Jaylen to no end.
After a couple of years, the original party was high enough level that we decided to begin another group with their henchmen and followers. The group was about half the original players and half newbies, so once again we started out in the comfy confines of the isle of Tiranouq and village of Rotwood, where the fledgling adventurers had been sent to be sponsored and mentored...by kindly old Kaylen the mage! (He'd changed his name, but was still the same old demon worshipping psycho)
Once again Kaylen attempted to put his plan into action, appearing the friendly old sage, but subtly pushing adventurers to investigate that abandoned tower on the isle full of owlbears. Once again, when the party reached a certain level (after I ran the excellent Citadel by the Sea from Dragon mag) they decided to investigate other islands in the chain, and follow up on knowledge they had gathered of a group of slavers operating the nearby seas....so once again Kaylen watched helplessly as another possible group of mercenary muscle slipped out of his grasp....!
Thus, Kaylen is really the oldest plot device in my campaign world....going back 14 years, and never a player realized it. Hell, they didn't even suspect it in the least....Kaylen's helpful demeanor took both groups of players in hook, line and sinker back in the day, and I have no doubt that had they been high enough level to eventually investigate the tower, Kaylen would have managed to acquire his books of power and become a major baddie in my campaign world. Whew...what a burden off my back, confessing this!
As for Kaylen, to fail once (the pre-campaign group that was killed) was annoying. To be thwarted twice in his gathering of patsies was very upsetting. To be turned down three times was maddening. If I was to play him again with another beginning group, I think I would make him just a bit more desperate and "hands on" trying to get the party to the island, merely because he has been waiting so long for his chance....
So, my confession, to anyone who gamed with me back in the years of 1996-2001 or so, was that the kindly old mage Kaylen who mentored you, gave you mage scrolls, and was always available to help out with potions of healing or just sage advice in general, was a wolf in sheep's clothing. Better you guys headed out into the wide world of adventure than be taken in by him and unknowingly fetch for him the ancient tomes of evil he would use to possibly destroy Rotwood, Tiranouq, and perhaps the world beyond.
That being said, maybe it's time to dust off the old campaign notes of Rotwood and the Isle of Tiranouq, and give poor old evil Kaylen yet another shot!!!
Back Cover adventures of POPEYE (1943-44) - *These strips appeared on the back covers of Popeye issues of Dell's Four Color comics. Two of the pages are signed BZ (with a bee), the work of Bela Zab...
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