Saturday, December 17, 2011

(12 Days) #4 The Death of Echellon

So, yesterday's post tried to address my biggest failure I've dealt with as a gamemaster, and it was tough. Not that I'm perfect, but I do my best to roll with the punches and adapt to the disasters presented to me. I am serious when I tell you it took three days to figure out what exactly could be construed as a disaster.

As promised, I bring you the death of Echellon.
Echellon was a cleric during my college campaign, run by my roommate Steve. After ten years, I know Steve can't run a completely straight character and Echellon was my baptism by fire.

Born out of the brothel in a trade town, Echellon was enslaved by pirates. While aboard one of their vessels, he was befriended by a fellow slave named Mohammed. Mohammed taught him everything about the Chinese god of the sea Tshang kai Ching. Together they plotted to escape the ship and set up a monastery to raise pigeons. As they jumped ship and swam to shore, Mohammed was attacked by a shark! In the commotion, the pirates fired their catapult at the distrubance, hitting the shark and sending both the shark and Mohammed to the bottom of the sea. Echellon got away and began tending numerous animals, continuing his love for pigeons.

That was the back story I got to work with when Steve introduced the character. As to be expected, Echellon wasn't your stereotypical hero, but he was competent comic relief:

He had accumulated a menagerie of animals, including portable coops of pigeons, all of this BEFORE the left the town to explore their first dungeon, The Temple of Alasku. Afraid to leave his travelling show, he stayed above ground to guard the animals and provisions while the rest of the group made their descent.

When the party released Carthon, a gruff looking fighter, from the prison of the Dread Lord, he ran upstairs to find Echellon and the parade of biology. Echellon begrudgingly gave him some provisions and soon Carthon was tending to the animals for pay.

Echellon had not even been in his first fight yet, and already had a hireling/retainer.

In later adventurers, a strange alignment of magic spells and area effects allowed for Echellon to befriend a wolf, and soon thereafter find out he had a telepathic link with him. Pathfinder was a loyal sidekick for the entire campaign, and again, Echellon got campaign bonuses due to a fluke.

Soon the team of Echellon and Pathfinder roamed the area, occasionally even looking for adventure. Carthon tended to more and more coops of pigeons, along with the help of a homeless boy named Timoth, and the group finally got a big adventure, direct from the High Priest of Akana, the state religion, to evict a rogue priest from their compound. I'll spare the details, but let's say the entire party got teleported far, far away, fought gods, prevented invasions, and discovered a dastardly plot involving spider dopplegangers which took months. When they finally got back to the village which was their home base, all trace of Carthon, Timoth, and the animals were gone. A few miles outside of town, the group passed a homestead where a very clean Timoth, and well-feed Pathfinder burst out the front door.

Echellon last's words to Carthon before embarking on their journey, "If I don't come back soon, sell off the pigeons and make sure Timmy's taken care of."

Echellon might have been misguided and self-centered at times, but he wasn't a complete dick.

Echellon had been raising a certain type of pigeon that fetched a pretty penny when they turned into adults. His love of pigeons prevented him from selling any, but following his last words, Carthon turned a ridiculous profit on them which bought them the homestead. The Chateau d'Echellon was created.

At another time I'll be happy to talk about It's a Wonderful Reunion, how the group nearly burnt down the village to avoid a Spider People infestation in the noble ranks, how he discovered he was the half-brother to the party bard, Talis Makolin, or how he became defacto Baron of Eding,

After all that backstory, let's get to the dude's death.

Prophecy had a huge impact on the campaign: The Cult of Apotheosis appeared day one and always lingered in the back story. A wee bit fantatical, but nice guys to have around if you needed food and shelter, so as you let them tell you about their God/King/Spirit/Tuesday Night Bowling Buddy who was coming back soon to reunite the world... SOON! The group didn't even freak out when random fortune tellers, random diviners, and little old ladies off the street would tell them that they were the chosen ones in the battle of the apocalypse. Standard adventuring fare at best.

They did begin to seriously take heed when they came upon an estate auction of a random scholar/wizard. Droz's character Ashe had won a bid on a giant oil painting that would look great over the hearth in the Chateau d'Echellon. When the painting got clean up and hung, the group gasped. There was an odd mountain spewing steam and a team of adventurers standing on another mountain, observing. The members of that party looked a lot like members of the group: Ashe, the half-elf ranger, Norm Dingelberry, simpleton dwarf, and Echellon. What other dude would wander the mountains with a brown sackcloth robe and a trident?

Soon, the research and taverhopping began to find out the legend. The mountain was said to contain three weapons of massive power that the chosen ones would obtain to fight in the impending apocalypse. The group bought into the idea, and prepared a journey to White Plume Mountain to try to find the weapons.

Then Echellon had to up and die.

No review is necessary, The Mark of Amber is a sucky module, but I needed some filler to accomodate a few weeks of low attendance, a weekday desire to get in some extra time to game, etc. During the adventure the PCs were caught in a dream sequence and a mind flayer ate Echellon's brain. After the remaining PCs escaped the dream state, they discovered that Echellon was completely gone, vanished. Nothing.

And with the recent MIA status of Ashe, the Chosen Ones within the party of destiny had been whittled down to a nose picking dwarf warrior a la a smart Ralph Wiggum.

I was willing to continue as is, propehcy is always subject to interpretation, the world was a big place to adventure, and the apocalypse wasn't even going to formally begin for a few months of real time.

Then Steve broke me with his new character.

"I'm going to play a really old guy, 85+. He's been a cleric his whole life, but the problem is, he's a half-orc and they max out at 4th level. "

Why I allowed such a character concept, including the hitting of 'young whippersnappers' with his cane, falling asleep at the wrong times, and completely doing something absurd during the goods times, I'll never know. He did, however fall within the guidelines I provided Steve (-2 levels from the character who died, no more than one stat at 18, only 2,000xp worth of magic items).

Ozark the half-orc cleric was the hyperpole of comic relief. It was almost painful to get through a full session, even with the laughter and good times. Ozark could easily kill off the party through his geriatric incompetence.

Echellon needed to come back, because I feared what Steve's 3rd concept for a character could be.

Even with the bumbling half-orc, I upped the ante with the cults, the apocalypse, and the personal implications they caused to the PCs. The party got back on the save the universe bandwagon and off to White Plume Mountain they went, to get the battle axe Overslayer for Norm, and pray they could find a ranger and a dude proficient in trident to use the other two weapons.

The timing in the dungeon is sketchy after more than ten years, but I think they went for the battle axe first. There was a deep pit full of hot bubbling mud and a series of small wooden discs attached to ropes to get across. Talis the only rogue in the party and only guy with a decent dex tried to get across to help stabilize them and get the rest of the party across. Talis, a suave ladies man, a man who went from legend in his own mind to budding legend, the man who was the party's leader with the loss of Echellon, failed his rolls miserably and fell into the muddy pits, completely unrecoverable.

Some of the group did manage to make it across, defeat the vampire and find the battle axe. The room was subdued, save for Hoyce, the man running Talis. He was in shock, betrayed, and angry, and if I learned anything from kicking his ass at Samurai Swords, no one ever wants an angry Hoyce.

With the party leader gone, the group flopped around the second part of the dungeon looking for the trident. Party cohesion had disentigrated when the party encounted a giant 100+ hp crab. When all seemed lost, a huge flash appeared in the underground cavern, a clap of thunder, and the giant crab was struck down by a man holding a trident.

After months away, his spirits communing with his god, Echellon was returned to Georic by Shiang kai Ching. Ozark had already been conveniently killed in the crossfire.

I guess it worked out. Echellon was back to lead the mini-legion of good (more like a cabal of people who disliked evil), but the face of the game turned grim. Hoyce's new character, a dwarf named Kyril, was all business, and only made attachments with the group through loyalty. Characters were dropping like flies as the evil spread across the vally.

I do question the return of Echellon. I was hoping the over-the-top nature of the character would infect itself within the party again, but I hadn't realized that that particular chapter in the campaign may had ended with a kobold mariachi band many months earlier (yes, a kobold mariachi band). Even if I hadn't planned on the campaign ending at a certain point, the game had evolved, and I should have just killed off Ozark, in a humane and fair way. This wasn't some stupid series of novels where everyone always gets away scott-free. This had been a realistic campaign full of quasi heroes trying to figure out how to become legends, or at least not die.

Hoyce has only told me that the death of Talis sucked. Truth be told, he would have made an awesome Hackmaster character, but the restrictive nature of 1e/2e crippled an awesome character mechanically.

After everything was said and done, the evil had been discovered and vanquished, peace spread across the lands for a few more years, and Echellon even ascended into godhood.

In the end, Talis did get the final words of the campaign in a nod of respect towards the character. And that is where we'll turn for tomorrow's post "The Reality of Imaginary Stories"

Or maybe I'll just talk about ducks.

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