Saturday Seeds – 6 (Palladium Fantasy)

This Saturday Seed is also for Palladium Fantasy.

This seed is ostensibly for a good or mixed good/selfish adventuring group. They can be in any part of the known Palladium world when it begins, and could even be used as an additional starting hook for a new batch of characters. While it could be employed with a group of evil-aligned characters, I doubt it would have the same resonance or impact without a significant amount of work on your part.

The Seed: The members of the group all share similar dreams, impressions, and convictions, that somewhere, someone has been or will be wrongfully imprisoned in a terrible and confusing place where the normal rules do not seem to apply, where each moment threatens to drive them deeper and deeper toward insanity.

In the early stages, these ideas will seem only like dreams, but over time will come to take on weight. Adventuring parties who do not share their inner dream lives openly with one another (and why should they?) will gradually become aware of the active and sometimes frightening dreams of their companions over time, as they take their turns on watch, as people catch cat naps, and after the fairly regular (for recurring dreams) but not routine occasions when the dreams are so intense the dreamer fails to get good rest and arises on the wrong side of the bed roll. Over the course of long months or perhaps years adventuring together, this quirk they all share would eventually have to become common knowledge – spoken, or unspoken.

Characters with psionic abilities will have more vivid dreams, particularly if their talents are primarily sensitive. Those strong enough to be considered major or master psionics, might make noise, or speak semi-intelligibly during very intense dreams – especially if they would like to communicate with, or identify the prisoner.

To use this as one of the unifying factors of a PC group, have the players understand that in addition to these vague, troubling, recurring dreams, ever since they were children, they have felt drawn to certain places. Over time, the understanding of these places has grown clearer and clearer – ultimately resolving itself into a strong attraction to areas with a view of high peaks and access to passes through the mountains. As they entered their teens, they began to have an awareness of seeing the same group of other people/beings in their dreams over and over, trying individually to answer the same call. Over the last few months to a year, they have met those beings one by one, and seen the light of recognition in each others’ eyes. The dreams continued, but as each new member of the group was added, the fabric of the dream changed to reflect the group working as a team, while others were still on their own, trying ineffectually to answer the cries for help within the dream.

If or when you are ready to bring this seed to the forefront, have the dreams become an intense nightly experience that have those characters whose players fail to roll below their ME trait wake up panicked, disoriented, and desperate to rescue… someone. If the group organizes itself to analyze the dreams for clues, and seek to follow them, the dreams will decline in intensity, but increase in clarity. If they decide to disregard them, they will have recurring nightmares each time they sleep, and begin to suffer the effects of sleep loss. Those who repeatedly fail ME checks (fail 3 out of 5 rolls, over a course of weeks) will develop insomnia for increasingly long periods, and begin to have waking dreams, hallucinations, and difficulty thinking clearly. The nightmares will not end, even if drunk, drugged, or ensorcelled to sleep until the group choses to work toward doing something to rescue the prisoner.

It is important to build a sense of time for this. Keep running unrelated stories and adventures of varying lengths and types in between sessions which deal with the dreams directly. Mention the dreams in passing, at some point during each scenario, for some of the characters – just to keep them firmly established in the players’ minds. (ex: “While on watch, you notice that the priest seems to be having one of the dreams again. It doesn’t last long, and he soon lapses into a deeper, more comfortable sleep. The wolves that have been following your party do not press any closer tonight, but you know they are out there, and your experience tells you that within a few days their hunger will drive them to try something.”)

Once you have chosen to deal with the dreams as the main story line, the characters will need to travel from wherever they currently are, to some distant point of your choosing. The journey should provide the usual perils and problems, and should not be glossed over. Each encounter, damsel in distress, lion with a thorn in its paw, little boy stuck in a well, or mysterious stranger in a tavern with a job offer should seem like a barrier between the group and their goal…. but how can good people turn their backs on people in need? Whatever they choose to do (stay and help, or journey on) is fine, but they should be made to make the choice often, and you should note how and why they decide their course of action. There may be no reason to shift their alignments over time if their motives are pure, but then again – they might be being worn down by the never-ending pressure on good people living in dark times.

The details: That the characters are being assembled for some purpose will become obvious to most, if not all as time passes. Once the details of the dream have been made known to the whole group, the dreams will become more descriptive and slowly lead the group toward their destination. This destination will be a mountain range of your choosing, in a forgotten and treacherous pass. Only by virtue of the clues they have dreamed will they be able to find this pass, and survive its perils.

A basic framework for the dream will need to be worked out, and each character’s own personality will need to be allowed to influence and distort that basic framework. No two dreams should be exactly alike, nor should no two characters’ dreams be exactly alike until near the end of the quest. No single character should have all the clues, and each character should be able to provide a needed clue, or helpful perspective over the course of the quest.

Due to the frequency with which most games deviate from the GM’s attempts to predict what might occur, it might be necessary to feed players clues by using IQ checks (provide a small bonus for psionic sensitives). As that sort of thing is never as satisfying as figuring stuff out by oneself, try your best to make this subtle and come as far in advance as possible. (ex: the group is passing through the last town or settlement before they get to the mountain range. You have planned a set of encounters which include altitude sickness, an area of loose rock, a hungry predator, and a fork in the trail. As the characters move about town getting supplies, make secret IQ checks for them, and then pass them a note indicating that for some reason… perhaps something they saw in a dream, as their eyes pass across an item of potential usefulness, they might like to pick it up, just in case. Perhaps the rope seems like a good response to the sudden impression that somewhere ahead, the terrain might become uncertain.)

*Do remember that sometimes a player’s character is actually smarter than the player. In the same fashion that players can thrill to the imagined feat of crushing an enemy with their character’s prodigious strength, so too should we make the imagined feat of successful deduction be.

Hopefully, the players will be able to use their notes about the dreams to interpret the events as they happen. Some of their theories are very likely to attract your attention as possible diversions, or main quest elements. Go with them. Take as long as you want/need to peel this particular onion to its rotten core.

The dream(s): The basic elements of the dream, are few, but potent. From these elements, you will be able to tailor and personalize the dreams over time, and on the fly for the PCs,  and be able to create flashbacks to earlier, more innocent periods of their lives.

Most of the time, memories of the dream will be extremely vague. In many cases, they will be nothing more than impressions or feelings. In the early stages of the story, there will be little sense of urgency, but a very high sense of fear from the ‘prisoner.’  As the story reaches the point where it is shifting into focus, the sense of urgency will increase significantly. It will become clearer to them that a rescue is required, and it might begin to seem reasonable to look at the dreams as a form of prophecy.

The themes of the dream are fear, confusion, disorientation, and imprisonment. The one theme which predominates the dreams is imprisonment. Most of the time, the dreams will be highly personalized in terms of imagery, but characters will know which dreams are related and which are just underdone bits of potato.

The dreamers will have a sense that someone is calling out for help. Sometimes, and more often for the real hero types who groove on rescuing Timmy from the well and climbing pony-tails, the call will seem to be directed at the dreamer personally. (eg: Save me!  Only you can free me from this prison! Where are you? Why won’t you answer my call?)

The dreamers will not be certain of the gender of the prisoner, but if they discuss it openly, a rough consensus that the prisoner is young, innocent, and in a great deal of distress can be reached.

Most dreams will include views from high, cold places with the world spread out invitingly below, either at the beginning with a descent into terror and imprisonment to follow, or as a disorienting interruption to horrible visions of fear, winding and inescapable mazes, and pressing walls. Also, most dreams will include impressions of an arrangement of standing stones. Over time, dreamers will notice that the arrangement is always the same or similar, but the locations are different.

As characters age and mature, the images will be drawn and shaped by their experiences in the world. As the world shows them more and more of its horrors, and the self-centered innocence of childhood is left behind, the dreams will become more and more about what the prisoner fears, and less about what the dreamer fears.

If the players choose to have their characters follow the dreams, it is important to remember to avoid describing areas or geographical regions in humanoid terms. Use enduring natural landmarks only (rivers, peaks, valleys, etc) regardless of what has come to have been built there by the sentient creatures of the world – with one exception: specific, ancient arrangements of standing stones. (Perhaps Spriggans dream too?). Once on the trail of the prisoner, these stones will serve as route markers, and may perhaps be one of the most convincing pieces of evidence for the characters that the quest is real. The stones will be in out-of-the-way and untravelled areas, away from current trails and established roads and routes. With luck, you will be able to revisit some sites of old adventures and cast them in a new light by having the party stumble across another set of stones, not far from the site. Perhaps the characters had stood within metres of them, but circumstances and terrain kept them from view. (“We were right here!”)

It is also important for you to remember that the dreams are not prophetic visions per se, but rather an awareness of connections. They see places or desire to visit locations, and this might come with an awareness of dangers or conditions associated with those places, but will not be directly warned or guided. Instead the dreams are a trail of breadcrumbs, insistently leading the characters ever closer. The characters and their players should feel that the dreams are prophetic, and that they are being drawn to the right place and time to save the prisoner from the terrible fate they have been dreaming about their whole lives, but sadly, this belief will not be the truth.

What’s going on?: In simple terms, one of the servitors of the Old Ones is having disturbing dreams in its timeless sleep, and due to the nature of its servitude – that of scout and forerunner – has deep connections to certain blood lines across the varied species now found on the Palladium world, which resonate with and are felt by the characters, and perhaps others as well – perhaps others who have yet to be born.

Somewhere, under the mountain range you have chosen, lies its prison. It might be near the established places where Old Ones lie bound, or it might be in some other location of your choosing. It doesn’t much matter. The object is not to free or deal with the Servant, unless that is where you wish to take the story. Instead, this seed is about providing an opportunity to look at the lens of perspective, while going on a near endless series of action-packed adventures.

If you present the dreams appropriately, the characters will desperately want to free the prisoner from captivity, and will have spent years or perhaps even decades of their lives with this dream haunting them. That the prisoner is an innocent captive, tormented by some crushingly evil force should never be brought into question.

The climax: Upon struggling through great dangers and natural obstacles reaching the place you have selected for the location of the high plateau overlooking the vastness of the world, characters with the right skills and experience will be able to notice a variety of signs and things which  may lead them to believe that there is a hidden passage leading down into the mountain. The plateau should be fairly extensive, above the comfort zone of climbers, and show no obvious sign of habitation or life having existed there – ever. Once characters get their bearings:

  • There is vague, distant magic to be sensed somewhere below
  • The stones appear to knowledgeable eyes, to have been worked
  • A ley line seems to reach its terminus under the mountain, spearing downward below the surface of the world deep in the mountain’s core
  • Each character feels a vague sense, as if from a dream, that as they gaze out over the vista before them, that they can turn around and pass through a gate or doorway of some kind… but there is nothing there except a seemingly blank wall of stone
  • Close examination and minor excavation of grit and pebbles will show a sigil that is reminiscent of the pattern of the standing stones was etched in ages past on the stone of the plateau.
  • Close examination by those with appropriate skills might reveal the eroded remains of a similar sigil on a wall of rock.

Touching the sigil in any way, by any of the PCs/NPCs who share the dreams, will result in the opening of a wide door providing access to a steep tunnel down into the mountain. Characters who do not experience the dreams will have no effect on the door.

What lies within the mountain can be as large or small as you require, with as many wonders, perils, or empty nothingness as you require. Keep in mind, the place is a prison from ages past, and one should not have guards waiting for all eternity in 10×10 rooms, if you know what I mean. Normal, natural or supernatural cave and complex-dwellers are more than appropriate to either include or exclude. It works either way, although I think I might prefer to have the complex be devoid of all life. Still, it might be fun and both metaphorically and metaphysically appropriate to have certain things living within, such as jellies, or molds.

The complex has large interiors, and many rooms which seem to have been dedicated to circle magic – all useful traces of which have been carefully expunged. What appear to be servants’ quarters or barracks for humanoid races contain evidence of art such as wall paintings and etchings seemingly showing, to those with the IQ and training to deduce such things,  transformations from one form to another… not necessarily humanoid in either case.

Deep within the complex there is a large square room with an enormous Power Circle etched into the floor in platinum and diamond. The room is blindingly bright. In the effect zone of the circle there are two arcane evocations to be seen. The first is a brilliant ball of white light near the ceiling, the second is a shimmering, whitish dome of force.  Under this  massive dome of translucent force is a circular pit filled with a thick, slowly undulating liquid, topped with some sort of darker, leathery-looking skin or crust. It is not unlike some foul pudding left in a cup to die a baked death of loneliness and evaporation. Trying to pass into the other zones of the circle, which is sealed, results in the usual effects and penalties but at a circle strength of 18. Entering the effect zone (directly ahead) incurs no problems or penalties, but attempting to leave does. Leaving will seem to apply the same penalties and difficulties as trying to enter a sealed circle, and these effects will persist until they return within the confines of the circle or “die” from the damage inflicted. More on this later.

The dome will allow living objects to pass through it from the outside, but will prevent these things from leaving. An arrow shot to arc through the dome across the pit toward the far wall, for example, will be repelled by the dome, but a bird could fly in and become trapped.

Being in the room will elate the characters and give them a sense of nearing completion or victory, as well as a sense of homecoming. The blinding light is not painful, just inconvenient, and makes seeing detail in the room difficult, due to glare from the smooth, polished walls.

There are no compulsions from this point, but characters will become aware of a few things:

  • The source of the dreams is in the pit
  • They are in some way connected to the thing in the pit
  • Summoners or those with knowledge of circle magic in the group will recognize from the behaviour of the circle, if the group enters it, that the group is in some way being affected by the circle as though they were its target – or similar enough to the target to be included in its effect.
  • There is a pile of discarded equipment and clothing to the side of the dome, neatly stacked and folded. Close inspection from within the effect zone of the circle will reveal the items are from some time far in the past, and include normal adventuring gear, and some useful magical tools and weapons, not unlike what they have acquired to survive their own adventures.
  • Whenever they near the edge of the dome, the thing in the pit undulates more significantly and almost seems to be trying to extend a pseudopod toward them.
  • Gazing into the pit for any length of time long enough to note details of its surface or dimensions, will give the character the sense that they can be absorbed into that which lies within, and rest – giving up their heavy burden of knowledge, and obtaining the glorious rest of the triumphant hero
  • Circumnavigating the circle will eventually allow the group to see the full extent of the circle and its symbols, including the name of the entity in the pit. If the characters read the language of dragons, they will be able to identify the being’s name as being something like Ronchol, and translate its title as ‘Taster of Lives and Toucher of Worlds’

If all works out, it may be possible for the characters to conclude that the being in the pit is or was in some way able to dispatch parts of itself and transform them into different life forms to explore and experience this world. It is asleep, as are the other Old Ones, and bound here under this mountain, but parts of its being still roam the world, being passed on down the blood lines of the varied races of the world.

They are in no way compelled to free it – the horror of the Old Ones runs too deep for such weak compulsions as the being here can summon from its stupor. They may, however, be horrified to realize that they are in fact… part of it.

They may be able to conclude that a previous generation of adventurers travelled here, and descended into the pit to be one with Ronchol, leaving no traces of themselves other than their gear.

Leaving the Circle: If the characters leave the circle, they will of course be inflicted with pain, penalties, and direct to HP damage. If they fall to or below 0 HP, they will seem to die. Play it up, really make them believe the magic of the circle is killing them. Make them face the fear that they have three options, leave and be slain, stay and starve, or stay and enter the pit to be absorbed. If they take the first option, they will be ‘slain’ and lie dead to all senses for a moment. Once that moment passes, they will simply start to live again. They will be unharmed, however, upon reflection, they will feel different somehow… perhaps cleaner. They will no longer be able to enter the Circle, and will feel no connection to the being in the pit. After a few days, they will realize that the dreams have gone as well.

If the characters join with Ronchol, the game has ended for them, but their memories and skills will be added to those the beast has already absorbed from others. Lucky it.

The purpose of this is in no way to communicate that the Old Ones are ‘not evil, just misunderstood.’ If the players start developing that reaction in the end scenes, it may be necessary to have them discover a side tunnel with art depicting the depravity of the thing’s daily life, absorbing lives, memories, creating flesh for experiments, creating whole families for torturous examinations that will make tough men whimper in dismay, etc, etc.

The purpose of it all, is as I mentioned before, to offer a chance to look at how perspective is usually a barrier to perception, and look at issues like the corruption and manipulation of good intentions, the responsibilities of power, and the effect of deeply held belief, all within the context and framework of heroic fantasy.

If you end up using this idea, I would very much like to hear how and where it went~

Speak your piece~

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