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The Dungeon Master's Journal of the Unquiet Lands

Acqua Alta: problems with precognition in hindsight

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". . . decide to stay in Beilston Mound, they will become involved in hostile encounters between disciples of the Great Master and members of the Matchless Gang. The party may attempt to remove themselves from the fray, play one side off against the other, or side with the disciples, but it is most likely that they will find themselves aligned with the Matchless Gang . . . Over the next day or two, they will fend off attacks from the disciples . . . culminating in a large scale raid on the Garden of Preparation . . . If the party sides with the disciples, they may experience the same encounters, but on the opposing side. . . .

"The Acqua Alta is normally a natural phenomenon that occurs every few years. This time, however, it has been exacerbated by a pact drawn up between the Magus of the Library of Saint Ioun and Eirin Tuwi, the Feywild Territory Lord of the Cloud Vale. . . . The chances of the party uncovering this are dependent on them actually entering the Library before the end of the second day, which is remote. If they do, they may be able to discover the locations of the remaining . . . Scrolls of the Amber Room and directly confront the forces of Eirin Tuwi, a scenario that will only be developed further should the need actually present itself. The situation in Tanisaor may be adapted from my notes for [an undeveloped campaign.] If resolved, it is likely that the party will already be at the second level by the final encounter of the adventure, maybe even close to the third level . . . .

"By the end of the third day, it will become apparent that the flooding is not receding . . . . The party . . . may make common cause between the Matchless Gang and the surviving Disciples . . . in order to . . . escape from the doomed city . . .
--excerpts from the notes for Acqua Alta, written on the night of March 15, 2009

So let's see what's happened so far. The party ducked out of combat for the first encounter, which was unexpected but encouraging. I was sure I'd have them firmly siding with the Matchless Gang by evening, game-time. The next encounter could have been one of several, but it turned out to be the likeliest one, the fight in the dining room of the Little Ortalan. That went smoothly, too.

Then the party veered sharply off course when they decided to go directly to the Garden of Preparation, probably because of the unexpected number of PCs who were part of the Great Master faith and the fact that one of the PCs managed to save the life of the dragonborn initiate from the first encounter. Now I was starting to believe that the party was going to throw its lot in with the disciples, which they did, but I was already set up with the "mirror-image" encounters so that was okay.

After a halfhearted attempt to see if the party would still deal with the Matchless Gang that went nowhere, one of the PCs decided that she would visit her old friend, the bookseller. That's what she told me from her character's background. Unfortunately, there was only one bookseller in Beilston Mound, and that was the one that was part of the Library and Scriptorium complex dedicated to Saint Ioun. Now the party was heading straight into never-never land.

Fortunately, time moves slowly in the play-by-post world, so I literally had months between when I first knew there was a significant chance that the party would run headlong into the lion's den, and when they first set foot in Erszebet's library. That was more than enough time to map and stock a dungeon I only included out of an existential need to justify the scenario I had planned.

By now I figured the party was directly on course for what had originally been my least-likely scenario, so I also began work on the Cloud Vale and its denizens. With a sigh, I mentally consigned the various encounters set in the streets of Beilston and its underground woerd to the dustbin. As it turns out, I still got to run about half of them, since the party heroically decided they would rescue Lywthast and travel through the woerd to do so. Of course, in the original scenario, they were supposed to be her kidnappers.

The hunt for the Scrolls of the Amber Room got bogged down, and really brought home the timing headaches involved when a party splits up in a play-by-post game. Fortunately, they found one, and set off to the land of Tanisaor.

The Tanisaor scenario went more or less as planned. Of course, by the time I fleshed it out, in early 2010, I had over a year of experience dealing with play-by-post games and the party in particular. There were a number of different routes to get to and through Tanisaornkuld, the keep in the Cloud Vale at the center of things, but this time I got it right: the party consistently chose the expected paths, which were also the most interesting from my perspective.

When the party reached the festivities in the heart of Tanisaornkuld, they interacted with the various factions present less than I expected. Bakkish, the "MC," was probably in their faces too much. They also skipped a cue from Menash Oom during the big confrontation with Eirin Tuwi that might have made their lives easier. Still, it worked out in the sense that they got the big payoff: Beilston is no longer doomed.

Of course, that means Beilston will be sitting there through the rest of the campaign; the disciples of the Great Master and the Matchless Gang will still be at one another's throats; and for that matter, the Matchless Gang really has it in for the party, nowadays. It's a good thing I've had a couple of years to think through what all that entails.

My take-away point from this whole experience is that play-by-post adventures need to be much more focused. However, I'm also happily reminded of the fact that things can go well even when things don't go as planned, and when things go well, the interaction between a game master and a group of good players ideally makes life interesting, in the positive sense of the word, for both.

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  1. yukonhorror's Avatar
    sorry.... If it makes you feel any better, I don't trust the Matchless Gang OR the great master.
  2. Palpatim's Avatar
    The best laid plans something something.

    For what it's worth, all the paths we explored felt well-developed and vital to me. It'll be interesting to see how things develop if/when we make it back to the Valley.

    Out of curiosity, what was the cue we missed from Menash Oom?
  3. Umiushi's Avatar
    Nothing important in the greater sense, now that you've won. He tried to convey the message to focus on defeating Eirin Tuwi over healing Ariellana as much as he could without directly saying it in front of Eirin. Whether or not that would have been a sound tactic for the party, it was sound from his perspective; his thinking was that many enemies would, at least temporarily, refrain from targeting Ariellana while she was down, but they would of course attack her as soon as she was back on her feet, so continuing to heal her meant continuing to keep attacks focused her way, and would keep her erstwhile healer busy when that person could instead be working towards taking out Eirin. It also goes without saying that his claim to becoming Territory Lord in part hinged on the fact that he was the last person to down Ariellana before Eirin Tuwi was killed.