Earthdawn: First Dawn – The Campaign that Wasn’t

As mentioned previously, for the last two months I have been running an Earthdawn campaign I had titled First Dawn. The story was originally intended to cover one kaer’s reopening to the world above and the adepts who were sent to scout the surface. The game was scheduled to run roughly six to eight sessions and start with the exploration of the valley between Southhome, the player’s Kaer, and Northhome, their sister kaer.

Unfortunately during the second session I let the campaign take a sharp left turn away from my intent and things only went downhill from there. I primarily blame myself for this, but afterwards I just couldn’t get the story back on track. I’m going to try and identify the problems I had and what I could have done to correct them below. However in order to convey the magnitude of diversion from the intended story and feel I first need to start with a description of the campaign as it was intended to be.

As detailed in my first blarg on the campaign we did character generation as a group, and as part of character generation we started building the setting that was Kaer Southhome. What I mentioned in that blarg but didn’t expound on was how well the collaborative story fit with my intended plot.

The only background I started with when setting up this campaign was to have two sister kaers at either ends of a valley (geographically isolating the area and containing the campaign). The characters would leave one to check on the other only to discover the northern kaer had been broken out of and all the inhabitants had been killed in a complex ritual. They would find clues alluding to something similar about to happen in their own kaer and rush back in time to stop the ritual and save the kaer and its inhabitants. It was a simple plot to say the least, but once the players got in to character generation, it began growing in complexity:

Before the Scourge, the valley (which was never really named in-game) was governed by a family of elves who protected its denizens (many of their elders had mastered magician Disciplines) and had negotiated with the Therans for the Rituals of Protection. However wards against the horrors had come too late, and the primarch of the elven family had already been tainted. Using knowledge granted to him by his horror master, the elf devised a plan to use the life force of the inhabitants of the valley to open the way for his master to enter the physical realm.

With the Scourge approaching quickly there wasn’t enough time to corrupt the entire valley and perform the ritual before the denizens retreated below ground, so the elf expanded a plan. The horror was patient and saw no need to manifest during the Scourge proper. Instead he would be summoned closer to the end of the Scourge when he would not need to compete for survival with the other Horrors.

Through the elf the Horror carved an intricate ritual on twin orichalcum slabs. Together servant and master then corrupted another of the eldest of elves and as the Scourge approached, each elf – now a Harbinger of the horror – took one slab into the two kaers that the people of the valley had constructed. In addition the elves used their influence as headmen of their kaers to alter the Naming Rituals the inhabitants used on each newborn. Every child ingested a seed from a tainted Cherin plant which was supposedly meant to symbolize the seed of hope within each Namegiver for the time they could return to the surface, but instead had a darker purpose. Every generation the harbingers selected a successor from his family and passed on the horror’s corruption until the day it was time to summon their master into the physical realm.

As the time approached in Kaer Southhome Laelaron Lightfeather, that kaer’s current Harbinger (and the PC Eltherin’s father), need a reason to gather the kaer’s inhabitants in one location and trick them in remaining passive long enough to complete the ritual. The plan was as follows:

  1. Organize an expedition to the surface to determine the status of the Scourge. This would occupy a number of the kaer’s adepts, insuring they wouldn’t be able to interfere with his plans. Laelaron wasn’t able to convince the council to send the most powerful adepts out, but he’d settle for what he could get (the PCs).
  2. Conspire with one of the kaer’s nethermancers (the PC Thok) to help frame Torvis Sternhand (the one human on the kaer council of elders) to accuse him of horror taint.
  3. Once the adept expedition had left the kaer, accuse Torvis of taint publicly with the support of the elves, who would be under the impression it was just a maneuver to gain the Torvis’ pivotal seat for themselves.
  4. At Torvis’ execution and the elevation of the newest councilmen to replace him, enact a ritual that would awaken the corrupted Cherin seeds each kaer member had ingested during their Naming.
  5. The seeds would spout forth and mass together, creating a tainted conglomeration that would channel the combined lifeforce of the kaer’s inhabitants into a specially prepared orichalcum cage, which would then be combined with the lifeforce of the opposite kaer (who’s similar sacrifices was being coordinated by that kaer’s harbinger) to summon the horror.

As the adepts explored the valley, their primary clues would come from messages Jaspree was attempting to send them in response to the corruption of his domain (plantlife) being used to summon the horror. A shared vision of the past would have a friendly elderly gardener of a village give the characters information that would lead them to seeing the orichalcum tablets and a perverse grimoire in the possession of one of the Lightfeather ancestors. They would also witness a Naming Ritual from the time that didn’t include the ingesting of a Cherin seed (that part of the plan hadn’t been formulated yet). Considering denizens of the kaer would have been told that the current naming ritual is the same that has been used since before the valley was settled, this should raise some questions.

Later after the vision they would find the remains of an enchanted grove choked over with tainted brambles. Clearing away the brambles and purifying the fountain in the small temple to Jaspree at the center of the grove would reveal a carving of the Passion that looked just like the gardener from the vision. In addition anyone drinking from the blessed fountain would begin retching within minutes, eventually coughing up the tangle of black vines that was the Cherin seed from their Naming Ritual. The PCs wouldn’t know what that meant right away and might even scare them, but if they were astute they may start to piece things together.

Eventually the characters would arrive at Kaer Northhome and find it overgrown with similar tainted plantlife as the grove of Jaspree, including odd-shaped cocoons containing the kaer’s denizens. Exploration would turn up that kaer’s harbinger’s orichalcum slab, which would reveal the purpose of the plants, where the denizens were (if they didn’t already carve open a cocoon to look), that it was all part of a ritual to harvest life force to summon a horror, and that the ritual was to be duplicated in their own kaer for the summoning to be complete. At that point the PCs would have to race back to their kaer to save its inhabitants. I had a number of ways to handle the finale, but it all was going to depend on how the players had reacted to different aspects of the story along the way.

So that was the plan for First Dawn in an (admittedly large) nutshell. I had high hopes for this game and had plenty of visuals and descriptions I wanted to give the players of the post-Scourge landscape but unfortunately fate decided it was not to be and the campaign got derailed early on, as my next blarg will detail.

2 thoughts on “Earthdawn: First Dawn – The Campaign that Wasn’t”

  1. That’s a neat story. I wonder how long you could have gone without just “giving it away” on the slab.

  2. I had planned to be pretty obvious with many of the clues, and there was an NPC with the party (an obsidiman who had been in The Dreaming since the beginning of the Scourge) that would help them piece things together as the adventure went along. The slab was going to be my backup in case they missed something along the way as well as confirmation that their guesses had been right.

    At least, that was the plan. 🙂

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