(To start at the beginning of my blogging about my Veins of the Earth Campaign start here)
For the start of my Veins of the Earth campaign I wanted to do something a bit different than just a typical start to a campaign. I didn't want to have the players start on the surface and begin traveling down into the underdark. I was going to do the underdark as a mega-dungeon and wanted them to essentially be trapped in it, with no choice but to explore, delving deeper and deeper.
So I needed a way to have them start in the underdark, far away from the surface, unsure of how to get back. I also kind of wanted to start them off where they wouldn't have a lot of advanced preparation, time to know where they were going and to buy items and gear.
I ended up on deciding that they would be lured into the underdark by a dEr0 Dream Machine. A machine that an escaped dEr0 slave/experimental subject (there's not really a huge difference) was using. All dEr0 slaves have had Congruity Knots affixed to them so the dEr0 can control them. The book doesn't describe what they are physically like so I imagined them as metal skull caps that replace the top part of the skull and have long metal pins sticking down into the brain.
Anyways, an escaped dEr0 slave was using the Dream Machine to lure people down from the surface. Or well, presumably escaped, the dEr0 might have let the slave think he escaped so he could lure people down from the surface that they could use. The machine basically looks like a strange contraption of silver wire and electrified crystals that had wires affixed to the metal skull cap.
It would let a person hooked up to it, when sleeping, send their dreams through the rock. These dreams could be transmitted to other people who would fall into a fugue like state thinking the dreams were real. However, (as most dEr0 technology does) the machine would also influence and work upon it's user as well as those it is used upon, generally causing paranoia.
To simulate the this fugue like dream state that lured the players from the surface, I started the first session by reading:
"You find yourself in some kind of mansion. You are not sure where you are or how you got here. You look around and see your fellow compatriots."
And using the following chart to generate the mansion as they explored it:
Looking glass on a table. Whomever picks it up see’s everyone but themselves reflected in it.
A marble plinth with a labyrinth carved in it’s top one that looks like a bunch of interconnected rooms. It seems to shift if you try to trace it making it impossible to find it's center.
A painting of a cross section of an ocean. From sail boat on top descending down to black depth where strange things swim. If cut or damaged will endlessly gush water.
A hourglass that is broken and the bottom half is endlessly spilling out sand onto the floor. Petrified bones can be pulled from the sand.
A wooden coffin in the middle of the floor. Inside is another. Like russian dolls nested inside each other they seem to just get smaller and smaller. Inside the smallest coffin is the the corpse of whomever is opening them but as they were when they were a child.
Brass door with strange markings
A marble statue of Atlas holding up the globe on his back. But the globe seems to be a hunk of rough coal black stone. If touched the globe becomes to much for the statue and slowly crushes Atlas.
A candle burning with a black flame that seems to hiss strange static sounds like burning and bubbling metals at high degrees. If blown out the entire room will go pitch black and a deep sense of loathing will be felt like they are being watched from the darkness.
Doorway covered with drapery
A grandfather clock which ticks slower and slower and louder and louder until it booms so loud and deep around the room it becomes deafening and feels like an earthquake.
A decanter with two glasses full of water. Ripples seem to form in the glasses which are full like something is dripping into them and a sound is heard like something is dripping but there appears to be nothing.
Descending cellar staircase
A 6 foot tall ant farm with a magnifying glass next to it. If the ants examined they are found to be clock work. Like someone designed them to be looked at but not this closely.
Secret door behind bookshelf
A large scenic painting of a mountain side. If examined there appears to be a number of oddly shaped holes in the mountain that are the exact outline of all the characters. The holes go into the mountain.
Doorway with open wooden door
A fishbowl on a plinth with only darkness inside. If reached into it feels like there is an immense space inside.
Each eerie thing is meant to kind of give an unsettling sense of the Veins of the Earth; it's immensity, it's claustrophobic nature, how old it is, how time is almost meaningless in it, etc. All without referencing the Veins of the Earth themselves. The mansion itself, with it's endless rooms and nonsensical nature, was supposed to be like the caves themselves
Every time someone investigates one of the odd things in one of the rooms I had everyone make a saving throw vs magic and they heard a tearing sound and feel an earthquake. Once everyone, or the majority of the players has succeeded one of these saving throws, a crack tears open in the wall of the room they are in. The sides of the crack are made of stone and they can feel air gently blowing from it. It’s large enough for them to just squeeze through. If they go into any other room of the mansion it follows them. If they squeeze through this crack they end up in the first room of the cave system I had generated.
They would then all awake from their fugue state and realize that for weeks, or even months, they had been traveling down, down, into the earth through endless caves. That they could remember scattered fragments of their journey as if it were a dream. They have no items, no food, no water. Their clothing is in dirty rags and they are filthy. They have awoken and come to their sense and found themselves IN THE VEINS OF THE EARTH.
*cue exciting reveal music*
Overall this is the most 'artistic' start of a campaign that I've done. It kind of worked well for my purposes where it got them in the underdark without any items, kind of scared and worried about their characters.
Because there was no combat or stuff they really needed their character sheets for in the dream manor, it allowed me to really set the tone and atmosphere of the campaign. Where they were purely in exploratory role playing mode.
It also kind of broke up the first session nicely. Once they entered into the first cave of the system when I revealed they were in the Veins, we then broke out the Veins of the Earth character sheets and transitioned over characters and I answered basic questions about the Veins and what kind of a campaign it would be and their current general situation. I also made them all roll once on the Madness and Insanity Effects chart to represent mental derangements they had picked up from their fugue state. Where they were slowly going insane and adapting to the Veins in unexpected ways.
After this bit they began exploring the rest of the cave system. This was a few weeks ago and my memory is a bit fuzzy on the details but I will try to recap.
The entire cave system they found themselves in appeared to be some kind of salt mine where the walls were made of salt and the rooms looked like they had been mined out.
The first cave they found themselves in had a bunch of crevasses which, at the bottom of one, was a corpse and a softly glowing orb. Having no items they decided to loot the corpse and climbed down into it. They found a few items, I rolled a few times on my Veins item chart. The softly glowing orb was a glass globe filled with water in which a luminescent fish swam. It had a STR of 15 and was their first lantern.
After this cave they entered into the next cave, a large cavern with strange murals hand-painted on it's walls in rough pigments. There was a throne of salt at one end behind which a gigantic setting sun had been painted. This was the throne of the Sun King. Across from the throne were some skeletal remains of prisons that had been chained to the wall. They broke apart the bones of these skeletons and fashioned rough daggers and clubs out of the thighbones.
They found some footprints in the salt dust on the floor leading from this cave and followed it. It led into another cave in which one of the walls was an iron door with a small grate next to it, letterbox size. They were too afraid to open the door so they pried the grate off the wall and the specialist crawled though. They found a body of another adventurer, dead and stuck in the letterbox. They pulled it out and looted it, then the specialist continued through and looked into the next room from other end which also had a grate on it.
I told them it looked like the magnificent bedroom of a king, kind of like the manor they had been in before in their fugue state. They weren't quite sure what to make of this but decided they better investigate. They opened the metal door, it was unlocked but had a trap on it that would electrify the opener. The specialist avoided it. They found a hallway beyond it at the end of which was another door. The strange thing about the hallway was the first half of it was rough stone and cave like but the second half was like the hallway of the manor. It kind of slowly transitioned or morphed from one to the other like the wooden floorboards had been laid over rough stone, etc.
They went down it and opened the door at the end. They found themselves in the stately bedroom. A figure was asleep under the covers in a bed at the far end. They approached it and the figure woke up. He seemed alarmed and called for his guards who rushed into the room from another door. They were well armed.
The character who had been sleeping introduced himself as the Sun King. The party conversed with them and he revealed that he had sent them terrible dreams of being in a cave system to lure them to his manor. And that they were all to swear fealty to him in his throne room and be his faithful servants. The party asked him what this entailed and it basically meant living forever in his court as his courtiers and being at his beck and call. The party, naturally, wasn't too thrilled about this but decided to go along with things until they could figure out the situation more.
The King and his guards led them out of the room back the way they had come into the throne room. Except that wherever he went they noticed that a bubble of the manor seemed to follow the King and that the King and his guards didn't cast shadows and were probably illusions. They tried to explain to the King how he was likely living in a cave in the Veins of the Earth but he just laughed at them and called such ideas preposterous, that it was he who has sent them the dreams of traveling and being in caves to confuse their minds while they traveled to his kingdom.
They entered the crude throne room they had been in before to find it a magnificent throne room fit for any king with dozens of watching noblemen and courtiers. The King then told them to all kneel before the throne and forever become members of his court.
The players weren't really quite sure how powerful he was, if he had some kind of magic to actually make the oath they swore binding in some way where they couldn't get out of it. They talked amongst themselves a bit about what to do and decided they weren't going to swear this oath and so decided to make a run for it.
They ran from the room, dodging the guards (who they found out, while were illusions, still had mass and could harm them) and ran back the way they had come, to the Kings bedroom. They managed to get ahead of the bubble of illusion and ran into the room and slammed the metal door holding it shut.
Looking around the room they saw it as it truly was, a rough cave, and in the corner on a dirty mattress was a emaciated old man who was hooked up to the dEr0 dream machine. It loomed at the end of the room a giant thing (so big that stealing it was was impractical, I made sure to highlight this to them) of metal wire strange electrified crystals and blinking lights. Think early Nicola Tesla/Thomas Edison type stuff.
They successfully unhooked the frail old man from the dream machine. The banging at the door stopped as the illusions died. He woke up and seemed shocked about where he was, wondering what happened to his kingdom. They explained things and questioned him for a bit. He didn't seem to know much, only that before he had been a King (he refused to think of himself as anything but) he had been a slave and he and the other slaves had mined the salt mines for their Masters who were lords of the Veins of the Earth.
They began to ask him other questions about his Masters. He began to tell them a little bit but didn't get to far as he suddenly began twitching and his eyes bulged out of their sockets. His head exploded right before them sending his metal skull cap flying high into the air.
Splattered with gore the party then had to decided what to do next. They ended up exploring the cave system a little further, they found a pool of water in the Sun Kings room that lead to an underground river and swam it for a bit before finding another exit in a previous room and coming across a gigantic cave where the river spilled across the rock making crossing the cave treacherous.
Anyways, overall this concluded the first session.