It’s been a long time. A really long time. However, today I pick up more or less where I left off…just with, oh, eight more months of playing games in Liafa. One of the games is still going strong, and I expect game two to resume sometime in the New Year. 2021 hit me really hard, and it’s been a tough one. Shit, who hasn’t felt this way, though? Anyway, on to better stuff. Today, I want to share the player-facing entry for the Mists, a supernatural phenomenon on Liafa.
Wherever one goes on Liafa, the Mists are with them. It clings about the ankles and knees, rising up in the dark and cold. It darkens torches and lamps, and obscures even the most observant eyes. The Mists at times grow thick, and creatures and shapes can be seen lurking within. In the worst cases, these things come forth into the world, and must be bound or fought back. Still, the Mist is seen as a balm – a soothing gift from the Witch to salve the wounds of the world. It has helped heal and hide Liafa from the terrors of the Hunter in the Void, who still seeks to reclaim Liafa.
Remaining in the Mists for too long poses not only a danger to the body in the form of horrific creatures. It also poses a danger to the mind, causing those who remain too long inside dense Mists forgetting who they are and what they are doing.
Some recover from this exposure, but not all.
What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse
Way back when, I got asked to run a D&D game for some friends. I said sure, and that we’d have a session zero. Unbeknownst to me, the players got together and crafted these elaborate backstories where they all had different curses, including one player that specifically wanted to be a were-hellhound. Were any of these curses linked in any way? Nay, of course not. Anyway, I wrote a background and then began building this world around what the players came to me with. Setting aside the setting details pieces, my chief concern was around players accidentally boxing themselves out of having a good time.
In short, players who were cursed and transformed wanted to play it as a their Main Deal (I built a class solely around what I was hearing from them)..but also as a Terrible Secret!! Sure, that is well and good and is definitely something worth exploring for the player, and I wanted to support that. However, I, personally, believe that using your abilities and features is fun. I built the class to do that naturally as part of their story over time, but that’s only a stopgap if the player wants it to be. I wanted an “Paradox-free” area, like Brandes Stoddard showed off in his excellent Mage: the Awakening game that I had the pleasure of playing in, that would allow the players to wolf-out and just go hard if they wanted to without fearing like their secret is at risk. Since that, on the face at least, requires some amount of supernatural influence, I just decided to lean into it.
Gentle readers, if you know nothing about me, it’s important you know this one thing: I strongly believe if you are going to do it, do it as hard as you can.
You can be as silly or tropey or as self-serious dramatic as you want and if you lean into it and embrace it in a way that makes sense within the setting and game you are running, it’s going to bang. That’s what I did with this idea…I made it the Mists.
A Planar Rift by Any Other Name
While I will forever decry the horrible marketing for the game, I’m actually a big fan of the original release of Rift, the MMO. I loved the season approach to outdoor content, which focused heavily on these planar intrusions into the world. They were often season or weather-based, though you’d happen across some that were more traditional planar incursions. I have good memories of these massive water invasions in some end-game zone, though the details blur. I loved the fey maze stuff and the nature incursions were some of their absolute best work. Having the high elves be based on the Hellboy 2: The Golden Army elves certainly didn’t hurt. Also, that movie is great. Haters gonna hate.
It is also no surprise to anyone who has ever read this blog that I am also heavily drawing upon How Stuff Worked in Planescape regarding planar travel and the interpretations of the Lady of Pain’s Maze.
The Mists in Action
I’ve used the Mists pretty regularly across both my games, and I think I can safely say it’s a hit. It’s a Big Chance to get weird, let the players wild out, and share all sorts of esoteric game lore. When I want a combat for the sake of pacing, world-building, or team/character growth, the Mists have been my go-to. Everyone is well aware this is a Thing Most People Are Onboard With, so players feel free to dive in and push the forces incurring on the world back. Players also get to prep for the Mists being a regular thing, so they get to feel cool and ready when the Mists overtake them and they get to slough off its effects. By teaming with different NPCs and groups, the players have also been able to build reputations and put time and effort into making sure their allies are supported. The result? The NPCs saying stuff like, “Hell yeah, look at these adventurers ready to push back the planar forces! They are so cool!”…and the side quest rewards have always been nothing to sneeze at, either.
One of the ways I’ve baked it into the game world is through the seasons and how they weaken or strengthen connections to certain themes and concepts. For example, I had a one-off Creature Feature session for a game because the players wanted to go perform some missions for the Arch Knights in exchange for some coin to better outfit themselves – they were feeling like they wanted some more options and were trying to afford some minor magical items that would let them have that flexibility. Since the time of year was the season of Awakening (re: Spring), they faced a very specific type of creature making its way through the Mists from the Mirror Lands.
The Mist-drawn Air Mantis
Here is the campaign guide entry on the season of Awakening:
Awakening marks the beginning of the wet season of Liafa. Awakening is marked by the new growth of flowers, trees, and animals, after the harsh period of Fasting. Storms are frequent during Awakening, and it is here that the world tends to shake off the lethargy of the cold months and spring into action – for good or for ill. Storm and water-touched creatures are more common during Awakening.
Mist-drawn creatures are pulled from the Hidden or Mirror Lands, or sometimes rarely from outside the Arcane Hedge, Celestial Lattice, or the Citadel. Mist-drawn creatures on Liafa are not native, and are a direct threat to most ecosystems of the world. The Mist-drawn creatures carry within them a portion of their home, and are able to open contact with their home as part of their powers. These creatures tend to consume and devastate the lands they come across. There are those who seek to tame Mist-drawn creatures, most notably the wicked Ulthos the Tyrant.
Thus far the party has encountered the following Mist-drawn creatures or environments.
A giant mantis imbued by the essence of Awakening, embodying the wicked winds and tumultuous storms of the time. The Air Mantis lashes out with slashing air and uses aetheric lightning to control and trap its foes. The Four Swords encountered an Air Mantis on the Kassowar farmstead to the southwest of Shatterstone, the largest and closest farm to the Crumbling Pillar.
This fight was fun as hell. I had the cave broken up with rivers and streams, mushrooms with corpses inside for the bugs to infest, and lots of smallies already on the field. Due to the range on the creature and it’s ability to hang over the water, there was a tense game of melee controlling adds and the ranged interacting with the boss, with a lot of legwork done by the players to draw the creature closer so the melee could pile on to it.
The group did an amazing job of point control and breaking the nest lines, while also being pretty rad on saving throws and feeling like bosses because Strength saving throws as a feature aren’t all that common. The damage on the fight was significant, but well controlled by the party as they used their spells and abilities throughout the fight for attrition and positional pressure. Everyone got a rockstar moment, which is always great.
In quick summation, I’m really happy with the Mists so far, and how I’ve been able to leverage them for worldbuilding and overall storytelling. It’s a great chance for weird stuff to shine, and for players to really just blast and have a good time. Other uses have been similar, with varying degrees of encounters and foes. Seems like a good success, so far.