Today I ran my first session of 4E and it went really well.
My fellow players and I decided that we were going to play as if the campaign was a long-lost mid-90s console RPG, so I wrote up a few paragraphs of background with that in mind and Untervolkstum II: Doppeleffekt was born. I hacked the desert map from Link to the Past into a suitable encounter map, created some 8-bit gnoll tokens for the initial opposition, had the players pick PC sprites from Final Fantasy Tactics, and we were good to go.
Yesterday, Dev sent me the following character background for his Dwarf Earthstrength Warden:
Korin Slatesinger is made of moxie and courage. She has grey eyes. Like slate. She loves hiking and breaking rocks with peoples faces (and vice versa). She always sticks up for her friends, but has trouble backing down when she gets in over her head. She recently became old enough to choose her calling as Warden, but her parents didn’t like that at all. Everyone in her family has worked at some level with the local clergy – if not directly serving the dwindling Dwarven churches, then adventuring as a Cleric or Paladin. It seems like she’s set herself up to be something of a black sheep, but there’s something in the wild mountains that seems more real to her than the dusty divine tomes. Indeed: although none in her family recall it, she is actually one of the descendents of Kirohim Gravesinger, a Cleric of a forgotten dwarven God of the Earth, who adventured with the Noble Ones but was lost in the escape from the Old City. She perhaps has more in common with her long lost ancestor than she knows…
And Eric sent me the following for his Tiefling Fey-Pact Warlock:
Melia dates from the original “Untervolkstum,” where she appeared as a minor antagonist before joining the player’s party. Melia proved to be a popular character, particularly due to endless fan debate over whether she had sacrificed herself to cast a final spell, or had simply expended her “demonic vitality” and fallen into a stasis. As a result, Melia appeared in early promotional material for “Untervolkstum II: Doppeleffekt,” both laying on a funeral slab in the crypt of the palace and also as a mysterious hooded figure in teaser magazine ads. In the opening dialogue of “Untervolkstum II: Doppeleffekt,” Melia awakes from her thousands of years of slumber, having been revitalized by strange forces concerned about the fate of Svartalfaheim. To reflect this pact, Melia’s Job Class has been changed from “Mage Knight” to “Warlock.”
Eben’s playing a Gnome Cunning Bard, but kinda made his character, Genia, on the spot, so she ended up being the childhood friend of Dev’s character, which was fine for this genre.
I narrated the title screen of the game with some ominous chiptunes music droning in the background, something like: “You fire up your Wii and open up the game in WiiWare. ‘Presented by KraftKomm in association with Nintendo.’ The game opens on a black screen and slowly some text appears… ‘5000 years ago, the underground kingdom of Svartalfaheim was destroyed by a mysterious force. The survivors fled to the surface and their ancestors have lived for many centuries in peace. But, deep below, something stirs…’ And then we see that promo shot of Melia lying on a stone slab amidst the ancient destroyed palace, surrounded by rubble. And right as the music reaches it’s climax,” which it was currently doing, “Melia’s eyes open.”
“The title appears, ‘Doppeleffekt,’ with ‘Press Start’ flashing below. It asks you to enter the name of the protagonist and you put in KORIN.”
I also framed the intro sequence but had the players jump in as needed. It opened on the hacked desert map and I threw Korin and Genia’s tokens in the bottom right corner, saying: “Okay, you’re both 8-year-old kids, and one of you has dared the other to go hang out around the ancestral tombs and touch the plaque at the foot of the entrance steps.” Eben decided that Genia was daring Korin and they played that out a little bit before approaching the platform and Korin running up to touch the plaque. I said there was a floating triangle icon above the plaque that meant you were supposed to press A to read it.
Reading the plaque, I described the icon of the conjoined twin-fairy that led to the destruction of Svartalfaheim in the original game, followed by some explanatory text and a keyhole, with text near the keyhole saying, “These tombs are sealed forever, guarded by the spirits of our dead, so that the evil cannot escape, only the Gravekeeper’s Key can unlock it.”
At that moment, the screen shook. Frightened, the characters ran back across the desert. Korin’s father appeared, reprimanded the girls for playing out near the tombs, and dragged Korin back home by her ear. Then he took her out into the fields to show her that a strange black corruption had seeped up from the ground and was killing their crops.
The intro cuts back to the tombs, which rumble once more. Suddenly, in a flash of green light, Melia appears, having teleported to the surface. “It has begun again,” she said, before walking off the screen into regions unknown.
Fade to black…
10 years later, Korin is kneeling beside her father’s deathbed. The old man has eaten too many corrupted crops from his field and is dying. He hands Korin the Gravekeeper’s Key and says that it belonged to their ancestor, known as The Gravesinger. She must use it to descend into the tombs and destroy the source of the corruption, before the rest of her family grows ill or, even worse, the entire village dies from hunger or eating corrupted crops. Then he dies.
Walking outside her house, Korin bumps into Genia who, of course, follows her as she travels to the tombs (“Genia joins your party!”). They arrive to find a group of gnoll graverobbers camped out around the stone plaque, eating one of their comrades who died on the journey here. They talk amongst themselves in a cut scene and reveal that they are waiting for their commander, the Great Rondu, who will tell them how they’re supposed to enter the locked tombs. As Korin and Genia prepare to sneak across the desert toward the gnolls, Melia steps into view atop the hill in the northeast corner of the map. “A mysterious stranger joins your party!”
Encounter 1-1: Tomb Sweeping Day
Um, we killed a bunch of gnolls? The fight was fine but nothing to necessarily write home about. Eric kept Melia focused mostly on zapping one of the 2 gnoll huntmasters and staying concealed, which worked okay. Dev got Korin into trouble early when she got jumped by a pack of gnoll minions doing 7 damage each (5 + 2 for gnoll pack attack) and actually fell unconscious. Luckily, Eben was able to use Genia’s healing powers to bring Korin back and the three of them managed to mop up the rest of the gnolls without much more trouble, staying in cover to avoid the huntmaster’s bows and picking off the minions one by one. The lack of area-effect powers, aside from Korin’s encounter power, was felt, but that’ll probably be fixed as folks level up.
After the encounter, Korin opened the entrances to the tombs and I narrated a cut-scene in which the gnoll graverobber boss, the Great Rondu, finally appeared, praised his now-dead minions for having successfully opened the tombs and quickly ran inside through the far western entrance. The players wondered idly whether their characters saw that happen or if it was just directed at the players of the video game, ultimately deciding that such a distinction didn’t really matter.
And that was our first session. Very cool, actually, and everybody’s excited to see where it goes from here.