Identify, React, Adapt: How Brinedeep Thrived

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Picture of Sun Tzu from www.history.com

The Wisdom of Adaptation

It’s said that no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy. This phrase is true in GMing, although instead of “enemy” I would change this to “gaming group”. I felt that I had GM’ed my way into a corner of sorts, and was having trouble coming up with interesting storylines that progressed the plot to where I could reveal THE BIG THING. At first I thought perhaps a time skip would solve the problem – maybe level the group up and advance the plot this way. Then I thought I would hand the GM reins over to Kurt for awhile. But this felt like I was abandoning my players and running away from my problem. Finally, I had an epiphany of sorts regarding my campaign. One night I couldn’t sleep and I came up with idea that was so crazy it just might work.

I have been reading comic books since early grade school. A common theme inside those pages was alternate universes. In my opinion, my first try at Brinedeep had become too mucked up and a complete reboot was necessary, but I didn’t want to throw away all of my player’s progression and start over. This brought me to the decision to have the players sent into an alternate universe. Their levels and powers would be the same, but the Brinedeep they knew was gone, replaced by one that was physically similar but the inhabitants were quite different.

Adapting and Reacting to the problem

My players were ready to continue on with business as usual – I didn’t let them know about my change in plans. They were aware that I was having some difficulties with campaign progression, but they were expecting me to carry on with the working plot. So after the party had their revenge on one of their oldest enemies, I had an even older enemy, Theria (the party cleric’s former deity and patron), show up to activate my plan.

I already knew what I liked and didn’t like about Brinedeep Prime. Like the hull of an old ship, I just needed to scrape away some of the paint and replace a few rotten boards. Sent into this new Brinedeep by Theria, the party was at first unsure if what they were experiencing was real or simply a dream. It was a strange new world – Sandrine had her missing eye back, Foubert was missing a hand, and Gerard had been doing A LOT of Crossfit.

My players were quick to roll with the changes, and quickly found their footing. Although many of the faces around them were unfamiliar, a few were people they had met in Brinedeep Prime. One such person was Pirate King Victor Malice, the leader of a pirate fleet the players found themselves part of. They knew in their world, Malice had been an elder red dragon posing as a human pirate captain.

New Knowledge, New Players, New Reveals

Armed with that knowledge, the party was eager to impress their new boss, versus ending up as a snack. Several adventures later, Victor was suitably impressed with the party’s ability to get the job done. When some of the other fleet captains were revealed to be traitors, Victor entrusted the party with finding out who was turning his people against him.

Successfully sewn into their new setting, I felt that it was the right time to reveal the plot threads that I had gotten so tangled up in in Brinedeep Prime. The lack of the Maelstrom in their new world was known to the players, but they had dismissed it as a curiosity to be explored later. So when the players went to find out who would be so stupid as to conspire against the best boss in the world (seriously, Victor is a pretty amazing boss. My players lamented they may have to return to the other world at some point and not work for him.), they learned more than they could have guessed.

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Accompanying the group into the enemy stronghold was Victor’s right hand, Minerva Steelsails. Paladin and all around buttkicker, she came with the group in case things got crazy – which they did. Inside of an active volcano, which was Victor’s “old bachelor pad”, the party found two dragons – old frienemies of Victor’s. After a pitched battle, where the party cleric was knocked out of the battle by icy dragon breath (but was revived by the quick thinking of his fellows), the party decided to escape from the active volcano and head back to Silent Bay and Victor.

After a victory party (they are pirates after all), Victor wished to meet with the crew and discuss recent events. Victor made it clear that he had been aware all along that they were not who claimed to be – they were in fact stuck in the bodies and suppressing the souls of their alternate selves. He said he’d seen this dark magic before, a long time ago, and wanted to know the truth about who they were and what they were doing here. So he waited and watched to see how things would shake out, instead of, you know…immediately destroying the party in a fiery inferno of doom.

Victor also revealed that he and Minerva were not who they seemed to be either. Victor admitted to being a red dragon, and Minerva was the legendary hero Kira Thornwood. Long ago, they’d fought the angel Raziel together and won, stopping the Maelstrom from being created. This is where the players knew in Brinedeep Prime, Kira had fought Raziel by herself, and had died after only stopping the Maelstrom from growing any larger. Kira/Minerva told the party that the Maelstrom was actually a tear in the fabric of reality, which would have allowed the Dreadnaught that slumbered beneath Terebellum to have limited access to the material plane. The cleric was more surprised than anyone to discover that this Dreadnaught was in fact, Theria. This explained why Theria had more influence in Brinedeep Prime than here – she could “sneak out the bedroom window, no one the wiser” to paraphrase the party warrior, whereas in this reality, Kira and Victor had put the stop to her freewheeling.

Ideas and their Gestations

This idea about Theria, a.k.a. THE BIG THING, had the gestation period of an elephant (I’m not kidding, it took the campaign years to reach this point). To say that dropping this secret on my players was satisfying doesn’t even begin to describe how I truly felt. And that they seemed genuinely excited and surprised at it made it all the sweeter. I am looking forward to our next gaming session, which is something I haven’t been able to say in so very long.

Rebooting the campaign has turned out to be well worth the work it required. If I hadn’t taken the chance on the alternate universe, this campaign would more than likely be collecting dust in a binder for the rest of my days. But now, my players and I get to try to figure out a way to get back to Brinedeep Prime and put a stop to Theria’s activities before she gains even more control over it’s inhabitants. Have you ever had a campaign that stalled out on you? If so, what did you do to get it running again? Let us know in the comments.

-Jenn Patz

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