Last night, we continued our "quick sessions" style to conclude my wife's investigations of the ancient tower and underground areas that she's been exploring for awhile. Last night was one of those "all role playing information dump" kind of games.
I will not love my NPC or plots
From day 1, I've been very leery of how much to involve my NPC. I've treated him like another character in terms of advancement and opportunities, and I've tried to always play him second fiddle to my wife's character, Aeli. He gets spells as he finds them - he doesn't even have Detect Magic and wants to find more spells to trade with. He tries to help but not be overbearing. I've come to like this mage though - and although I find it easy to keep him hamstrung because I don't want to make a mistake and create a "DM's favorite" - I find I am developing a bit of emotional investment to him. Probably time to kill him off. :D I don't want to fall into that trap.
I have, however, gotten over my reluctance to suggest directions and point out things that the NPC knows and would want Aeli to know, and last night, my NPC semi-lectured/chided Aeli for some things. It was a moment where the NPC showed Aeli that he really is fond of her and is now involved in her goals and priorities, and was able to deliver his thoughts and suggestions without me feeling like I was railroading her.
I think that the solo game has a slightly different danger than I had first supposed - the DM becoming emotionally involved in the goals of the player to the point where it could have the DM railroading for success. It's harder when you're dealing with just one person - especially since this is my wife and I am having fun as she's having fun. It occurs to me that the danger of "falling in love" with her plot is real - and that I have to remain as impartial as possible.
I realized this because of the NPC talking to Aeli about his thoughts on her actions and possible things he's seeing from her. I realized what a slippery slope I'm on - and that I have to let her develop her own story without railroads. Gah, I think I'm never going to be truly comfortable with this edge - and maybe that's a good thing. It keeps me honest so that I don't abandon her to no help at all - in a group setting, she'd get it; at the same time, I don't railroad her.
Identifying Magic without Identify
I am playing D&D without the Identify spell and it's making it interesting as Aeli puzzles over the items she's found in the ancient mage's library/tower.
Potions can be sipped and at least hints of the effects can be noted - Cure Light Wounds is an obvious one that Aeli knows full well now. Aeli's strange sword (inscribed with script that reads "Covet Me") has given her some interesting moments, but she's not too concerned about it.
For the ring that Aeli just found, she's had to jump through some hoops. Since the NPC mage doesn't have Detect Magic, he was limited in what he could do. Through Detect Evil, they found that the ring doesn't have an evil enchantment. So they went to see if someone else in the farm town could help them. The Detect Magic that the Patriarch cast shows that the ring is magical in nature, but it will require a sage to study the ring to discern its properties - in the meantime, she's wearing it to see what happens.
I like this "figure it out" approach - it just feels right. I'm sure she's curious and now I have the fun of making some sort of effect happen when the ring does what its going to do.
I also got to plant some "magic can be nasty" seeds in her head - the NPC mage did not just want to cast Read Magic on ancient mage robes with runes - some of them may explode when read and he didn't know if they were enchanted or not.
Another Just In Time sandbox prep - combined with published modules
My sandbox is based in large part on the old late-2E Fast Play rules (1998 Fast Play and "Crypt of the Smoke Dragon" Fast Play) and setting, as well as the . I've now started incorporating both of the follow-on modules Wrath of the Minotaur and Eye of the Wyvern.
One of main points to "Wrath" is the ancient mage Alaxus, and that this dungeon is related to him. Now the trick was how to integrate Alaxus to the sandbox and campaign.
- In the module, he was an evil mage in control of the area called "the Vale". OK, no problem, we'll keep that.
- How does he relate to the history of my campaign? Aside from controlling the Vale, he was also one of the founding members of Um-Loran - the black school of magic. That was a spur of the moment decision, and since I have broad brush strokes on what Um-Loran is all about (except that they're hunting Aeli), this was an easy detail to fill in.
- How does he fit into the "overall timeline and events of the world"? Oh, I can't reveal that just yet, but Aeli has to do some digging and exploring (not to mention, face an actual Dragon) to see if he does fit in - this was thought up as I was just mentally exploring how Alaxus fit into things.
- Can the campaign continue if she decides to not explore further? Yup, it can and will. She's got the freedom to do what she wants.
- Can I tie in the monsters to other things going on? Yup, already made changes.
All in all, the changes to the module and the details took me about 15 minutes. I have some notes to make now after the game, but it was the play that really pushed how he integrated.
The really neat thing is that I can also include "Wyvern" into this as well, as I've planted the hook in front of Aeli - if she takes it, then I can run that module - if not - then she doesn't and it's doesn't mean the campaign collapses. It'll be interesting to see if she does.