Friday, May 14, 2010

Creating the Final Battle: Plot

Finishing this series of entries, I'm going to explain some of the plot elements in the final battle as they relate to each of the PCs. My thinking is that each character should have something on the line in the final battle so the player is really invested. I'll start with the least developed character.

The player of the wizard makes almost zero distinction between himself and his character. Beyond a vague physical description (which was essentially, "Me but taller") there was no character background for his character. He has said little ever about character goals. But he has been somewhat loot driven and responded a little to magic items placed specifically for his character directly. Here are the three elements that I included which I thought would appeal to his character. First, the loot on the "lackey behind the bad guy" is a pile of wands. This won't motivate him to get into the combat but will motivate him during the combat. Second, the characters have been offered a large sum of 200,000 GP (far above that expected for the level) if they kill the Lord of the Blades. The player's response was one of the few times that he was clearly in character, "Sweet, I'm gonna build a tower." Third, one path to the final combat or an epilogue following shortly after the combat is a trip to one of two creation forges created by the Lord of the Blades. In this forge, he will quickly discern that in addition to runes of artifice and creation, there are also planar runes. I'll describe the forge in something like the following terms, "It is a working marvel of arcane and planar knowledge that could expand your knowledge of both domains far beyond your current levels". These three hooks will hopefully give him something memorable for the end of the campaign.

The player running the cleric character is new to the group. He has done a reasonable job playing up the ethos and keeping others from performing unjust actions. His attendance is difficult to count on but I've planned a few elements to tie in for his character. Some will be larger if he is there and smaller if he isn't. Two sessions ago I gave the cleric a vision of his god while preparing his spells for the day. The major D'oh! moment that session was that the player wasn't there the session but I still played it up taking the spot light away from the PCs who were there. There will be a brief reprise of that vision and the sense of embodying his God during the final battle as he gains the ability to cast Conjuration [Healing] subtype spells even though they are in the Mournland. Second, presuming a victory, he will have converts to the Sovereign Host. Third, an NPC who guides the players to the final battle will also be a cleric and appeal to his sense of justice to expand on the explanation of the need for the Lord of the Blades to be killed.

The ranger is played by the player who usually excels at roleplaying and tends to be much less crunch driven than the others. He was absent a couple of sessions due to work commitments and I realized in planning the final battle that I hadn't included enough elements in the entire campaign that utilized the back story he wrote for his character. So, I read his back story again and have included a couple of guards near the final battle that are his first favored enemy type (which ties in with his back story). The character also has a distinguishing facial feature (CHA:6=uuuugly) and a world view that anyone who treats him badly about it is a bad person. So, the BBEG and lackey will definitely taunt him about this feature. In addition, a captive I'll describe in the next paragraph will respond positively to the character despite his ugliness if they free her and that character is still alive.

The rogue is played by the fiancee of the warforged member of the party. She is a member of House Orien and a dragon marked heir. Her mother has figured prominently in earlier sessions. About 5 or 6 sessions ago, I gave the party an opportunity to find out that the rogues' mother had been kidnapped by the Lord of the Blades and brought to the Mournland as a direct result of hiring the party for earlier missions. The players didn't get curious enough to find this out but I'll be giving them the information as they go through the dungeon crawl on their way to the final battle. If that doesn't intensify the conflict enough, I'm putting a public execution of said mother as the precipitating event for the final battle. The rogue will be invested at that point if not before.

I've saved the central character for last. The character is a warforged, fighter 6/ranger 1. He was at first very reluctant to fight against his own people on this mission until he learned what the Lord of the Blades was doing to his people. Now he is facing this mission as regrettable but necessary. The roleplaying scene between this character and warforged refugees who has escaped from the Lord of the Blades was some of the best roleplaying of the entire campaign. He even took a level of ranger so that he could get Favored Enemy: Warforged specifically for fighting against the Lord of the Blades. So, his investment is a little bit of a given. I've got a couple of scenes to characterize more concretely the cruelty of the Lord of the Blades even against warforged as the PCs get closer to the final battle. There will be some pre-encounter indications from NPCs that there is hope that cutting down the villainous leader will be liberating for the warforged who remain. And, if all goes well (and I hope it does, and I'm the GM so I can help it go well) he will be named the new Lord of the Blades when he and the party defeat the Lord of the Blades and he'll have the capacity to use negotiation to turn back the army sent to destroy Forge. This will, I think, be a surprising but also happy ending for him despite some of the tragic elements that will also come from their victory.

I hope that these 2-3 ties per character will help make the Final Battle thrilling and enjoyable for the players. The purpose of this series of posts is to expose all of the elements of the Final Battle. I'm posting them now to enhance the learning that I gain from this experience because when I do the postmortem after the last die roll, I can review which element(s) did and didn't work and consider how I can enhance my planning for future campaign endings.


  1. Excellent job and trying to integrate the characters into the plot. It's really hard when they don't gave a rat's ass. That's around the time when I say screw it, through up my hands, and build a really, really, really mean monster. Kudos for your perseverance.

  2. Yeah, I have been tempted to make the BBEG tougher. I've already told them that character death is a definite possibility in the final combat. But ultimately I just want everyone to enjoy the end of the campaign.

  3. In the end of the Freeport Campaign, I knew that there wasn't a happy ending for the characters. Your win condition was stopping the end of all existence, as glimpsed back when you were level 4ish (those were some great end-of-world descriptions, and one of my strongest moments as a plot-centric GM). I knew that, by stopping the cataclysm that destroyed the Serpent People's culture, humanity would stay enslaved for a good millennium's long time. So yeah. No happy endings. But there was a sliver of hope for the future, instead of the annihilation of everything on the material plane. With that knowledge, going into the final battle I didn't give a rat's ass for player death. If I recall, several of you guys died, and someone ended the campaign as a bureau of drawers (being touched by pure chaos is funny like that).
    The difference here is that I warned you guys, well in advance, that there might not be a happy ending, and failure was a definite option. In my version, you guys ran an amazing series of adventures, which my next campaign will pick up on several thousand years in the future: a bunch of enslaved humanoids go on to overthrow the serpent people, leading the goodly races to victory (don't worry, every player will be fully informed of the heroics of Those of Have Gone Before).
    You, however, were just playing for time, so your job is probably to make everyone have a good time, provided they don't screw up majorly. Then you can kill them.
    Still, though. 1/day Blade Barrier. Think about it.