All Souls

As it turns out, I can usually find something to write about for the RPG Blog Carnival quite easily most of the times. July’s theme comes from KJ Davies at “In My Campaign”: Using the question “Who’s running this show, anyway?”, he invites us to talk about the Movers and Shakers in our campaigns:
What do they do? What plots do they have in the works? How can they be supported or suppressed? Are they known to the PCs? Are the PCs known to them?
As usual, I’ll use both my favorite campaign worlds to tackle on this theme: Eberron and Ravnica, talking about the movers and shakers in the campaigns I’m currently DMing. For this first article, I’ll start with Eberron: let me introduce you to the villains of “All Souls”. I took inspiration on the Millennium group from the namesake TV show from the late nineties.

A new Millennium

The Magnificent Order of the Nine Hierocracies first started as an early sovereign sect. By the time the Kingdom of Galifar was founded, the Order became an ally to the Crown, adopting the ouroboros as its symbol and the phrase “this is who we are” as their motto. However, a new generation of members around this time schemed against each other within the group, trying to decide which of the Sovereigns was the leader of them all. Elderly members decided the new generation was misguided, and decided to hide and protect the Order’s sources for power and influence. These relics were said to be capable of ultimately defeating Evil in all its forms if used correctly. Despite these internal rivalries, the group persisted during the Last War and well into the 998YK.

As the millennium approaches, The Order’s internal differences began to manifest into two factions: the first one, namely the “Roosters”, believed in a religiously eschatological view of the end of the world, while the second one, the “Owls”, believed the world effectively is about to end with a secular natural disaster for which the Mourning is just a preface. Both factions are radicalizing against each other, effectively plotting to bring the end of times so the world can be re-created again by the gods. Both groups also have found dissidents emerging, which identify among themselves as “foxes”, as they try to overcome both owls and roosters. They are the ones who start looking for the Relics of All Souls, as in their minds, they are the only way to prevent the apocalypse the other factions are about to bring into the world. Unlike the two villainous factions, the Foxes use adventurers as proxies as they don’t want to alert them of their actions. By doing so they can still pretend they are loyal to the misguided ones.

All this has happened behinds the curtain, so our heroes know almost nothing about it. As they face enemies stepping on their toes, they will start catching up contradictions on their motivations; for example, the Roosters need gods to reclaim their weapons, so they want them to rest wherever they are, while the Owls want even to find a way to destroy them if necessary.

Your first three lessons

  1. Be consistent for your villain to be realistic. What your villain is willing to do in order to accomplish their goals needs to be consistent with them. In my campaign, for example, the Roosters will try to sneak and steal the recovered relics before the heroes submit them for custody. They will use bribery, law enforcement or even enchantment magic to fulfill their divine mandate. On the other side, the Owls can become very nasty: sneaking turns into ambush, bribery turns into blackmail and evocation and necromancy are just tools of the trade to finish the to-do list.
  2. Give your players a way to figure out your villain’s goal. If you don’t like the found-letter or dying-witness cliches, use an unexpected twist: someone in the organization may have been double-crossed and now is willingly able to give intel to the heroes, for example.
  3. Plan ahead, but don’t show your hand too early. You need to know your villain’s weakness (please, give them at least one!) but give time and resources to the heroes to figure it out. Ask question to your players just to hint at how to find the answers (Why does he live so far from civilization? What happened to his wife and children?)

Join me in a few days to tell you about the upcoming Ravnica apocalypse and who’s planning it (it’s my campaign, so no, it’s *not* Nicol Bolas!). In the meantime, keep your masterminds moving and shaking as if they really mean it.

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