10 Sorcerous Plots

cult priest

Here are some grandiose and mostly evil plans stolen from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and loads of other pulp writers and comic book scribes. I haven’t sorted out this list to match plots with specific Dinosaur Island sorcerors – I figure I’ll either roll when the time comes, or pick whichever scheme would (a) make the most sense for that particular sorceror, and (b) give the party the most interesting challenge.

With minor tweaks, all of these would work for magic-wielding megalomaniacs in any setting. Have fun!

Air colossus 2

#2

 

  1. Build a giant flesh golem/colossus from the bodies of hundreds or thousands of captives.
  2. Summon natural disaster to wipe enemies off the map. Could be related to one of the four elements: earth – earthquake, air – cyclone, water – tsunami, fire – volcano.
  3. Raise a sunken continent. Rumor has it that the dinosaur islands are merely the peaks of mountains from the mostly-submerged Serpentine Continent, which sank in a mysterious catastrophe many millennia ago.
  4. Gather thousands of prisoners to be killed in a titanic necromantic ritual, to open a gateway through space or time. Escape into the past or future, bring forth extradimensional allies, etc.
  5. Wake a titanic sleeping monster, unleash it on enemies and use it as a weapon of conquest. The 5e Tarrasque would be a solid choice, especially for someone with access to mind-control gems.
  6. Create an army of the undead. Maybe need to engineer a big battle first, to supply enough stiffs. Would be awesome if a necromancer deliberately lost a battle just so she’d have a bunch of dead to reanimate – a nasty surprise for the PCs if they were on the side of the first-round victors.
  7. Transfer own mind from ancient rotting carcass to a healthy youth, one of the PCs or a close and valued ally (or a prince or princess, parents hired PCs to get them back).
  8. Put powdered mind-control gems into the local water supply, gain control of an entire region. Subjugated locals are fanatically loyal.
  9. Gather enough mind-control gems to fashion a giant helmet capable of broadcasting the user’s will over an entire realm, continent, or planet, like a mind-control version of Cerebro.
  10. Raise a fleet to invade the mainland. Invasion arks with their hulls packed full of war dinosaurs! This would be just lovely to put into play after the party goes back to the mainland. Oh, guys? Remember the dinosaur-riding sorcerors? They’re baaaaack.
erb_06

#7 – Michael Whelan’s cover for The Master Mind of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

 

 

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15 Responses to 10 Sorcerous Plots

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    The air colossus would be more impressive if it didn’t have a weasel snout.

  2. Mike Taylor says:

    I gotta get me some of those mind-control gems. They sound like a gas.

    More generally — lots of great stuff here, but surely part of you misses the down-and-dirty low-level combats where three kobolds break into the inn where your level-1 characters are staying, and then — horror! — an actual goshdarned orc arrives as backup!

    I feel like tarasques ought to be held back till you’ve been playing for a couple of decades. Otherwise it’s like getting the rocket-launcher at the start of E1M1.

  3. Matt Wedel says:

    surely part of you misses the down-and-dirty low-level combats where three kobolds break into the inn where your level-1 characters are staying, and then — horror! — an actual goshdarned orc arrives as backup!

    I haven’t had a chance to miss that kind of thing, because it happens all the time. Right now the party is a mix of 3rd-to-5th level, and it’s hard to know how fights are going to go down. One day the party is steamrolling a couple of allosaurs, the next evening they’re getting their asses handed to them by a swarm of 7-hit-point giant rats. One thing that makes combat so unpredictable is that in aggregate the party can deal out a lot of damage, but no single character has very many hit points. So if they go up against something reasonably tough – like an allosaur, or especially the tyrannosaur – and the monster gets in even one or two hits, we’re going to have a couple of characters rolling on the Death & Dismemberment table. The only reason we still have a party at all is that the dwarf cleric has access to Spare the Dying and some decent healing spells.

    I like this, because it means that we can’t just line up against a bunch of bad guys and let every PC roll dice like they’re equally effective. We have to think hard about how to deploy each character for maximum advantage. Alethra and Gustav both have high ACs so they get out front and deliberately draw the attacks, which have less chance of hurting them than anyone else. Flint goes behind them, firing sacred flames and guiding bolt, while Vaskin lays down a withering volley of arrows (or at least he did, before he broke his arm in a pointless fight against some pachycephalosaurs that we could have avoided). Aelar and Wilvias, the party’s rogues, get into cover and sneak around backstabbing bad guys. We learned this out of necessity, by getting our asses kicked from less effective tactics.

    I feel like tarasques ought to be held back till you’ve been playing for a couple of decades. Otherwise it’s like getting the rocket-launcher at the start of E1M1.

    Heh. The tarrasque is the hardest straight-up monster in the manual. The T. rex had AC 13, 136 hit points, and was worth 3900 XP. The tarrasque has AC 25, 676 HP, and is worth 155,000 XP. It gets five attacks per turn, any of which would turn our strongest PC into pulp in a single hit. This foe is beyond any of us; it would be a solid challenge for a party of 20th level. I don’t want the PCs to actually fight a tarrasque (well, eventually, sure, but that’s years from now), I want just the idea of the someone unleashing a tarrasque to be so apocalyptically horrible that they’re compelled to stop it. And when the tarrasque finally does get loose, at what will probably be the very end of this campaign, I want the party to have to unite city-states, build an army, and summon divine help just to stand a chance against it. But I’m okay with the PCs getting some inkling that threats on that level exist. As Zak Smith pointed out in one of his essays, knowledge that high-level play exists is a promise that you’ll be playing a different game with different challenges in six months – but that level of cinematic awesomeness has to be earned over the course of a thousand gritty, low-level fights.

  4. Mike Taylor says:

    That all sounds good to me.

    Maybe I’ve overdosed on films where the ad-hoc hang of two to four evident newbs just happens to defeat a super-massive threat. (Star Wars gets a pass on that, since Luke’s force-power means that even at 0 xp he’s functioning as a level-20 character — and there’s a reason for it.)

  5. Matt Wedel says:

    Right. And even then, less than 5 minutes later in screen time (albeit split over two movies) he’s getting his ass handed to him by the abominable snowman. Throughout ANH and ESB, we’re never allowed to forget that Luke is basically a low-level schmuck. He doesn’t start consistently kicking butt until ROTJ, and he’s still more Errol Flynn than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Here’s something that just occurred to me. One of the things you hear all the time about Batman is that theoretically any of us could be him, if we were dedicated enough and rich enough. You don’t have to be bitten by a radioactive spider or exposed to mutagenic cosmic rays to be Batman, you just have to be very, very focused (and rich). And this makes Batman more relatable than other superheroes, or so the argument goes. There’s a similar thing for Jedi, I think. The hyperkinetic Jedi of the prequel trilogy look and act superhuman in a way that Luke never did. Luke seems like someone you could actually be, if some crazy old hermit would show you how to get in touch with the Force (at least until you learn that he’s just a pawn in what amounts to a conspiracy to overthrow the Sith). The prequel Jedi are much less approachable, and none of them seem like someone you’d want to be, even if you could.

    So, ironically, Luke swinging across a chasm on a rope is actually more thrilling than Obi-Wan jumping 200 feet straight up or Anakin jumping out of an airspeeder without a parachute, because it’s a plausible human-scale action. I’m pretty sure that George Lucas doesn’t understand that at all. I hope J.J. Abrams does.

  6. Mike Taylor says:

    … and so yet another thread devolves into a discussion the original Star Wars trilogy is better than the prequels 🙂 That’s just the way narrative gravity takes us — we’re helpless in its grasp.

    I’ve always thought the “relatable Batman” thing is nonsense. It’s like “relatable Usain Bolt”. Yes. he’s dedicated, but a huge part of the reason he can run 100 m in 9.58 seconds is because he’s just built that way, I know for a fact that I couldn’t run 100 m in 15 seconds even if I trained like my life depended on it. I just couldn’t. (And Bolt probably couldn’t write a descriptive paper for a Tendaguru brachiosaur … though I admit the evidence so far suggests that I can’t either.)

    So in fact Batman’s powers derive largely from his birth advantages: money, and the kind of body capable of training to be a super-warrior. If anything, that’s an even more elitist and exclusionary superhero than the more usual super-powered ones. After all, any one of us could have been bitten by that radioactive spider, whatever our background. If Batman is a symbol of anything, it’s (A) the sad truth that accidents of birth account for a huge proportion of success, and (B) a bat. And while he claims there’s nothing that the criminal class fears more than the latter, I suspect the former scares them more.

    With that in mind, Luke in the original trilogy is Spider-Man. He wasn’t born someone special, he had no money, he just happened to draw the get-trained-in-the-force-by-a-crazy-old-man card. Good for him! It could have happened to any of us — so he is us.

    But without even appearing in the prequel trilogy[*], Luke finds his story rewritten so he’s not Spider-Man after all, but Batman. He’s not the son of a humble moisture-farmer and his wife,. he’s the son of the most powerful Jedi who ever lived and a goshdarned actual queen. He is, literally, royalty. And the inheritor of the greatest natural ability in galactic history. No wonder he turns out well. And the message is: it could have happened to any of us … so long as we are the offspring of royalty and superstars.

    Oh, man. I just keep thinking of more ways the prequels suck. How sad.

    [*] Yes, all right, we see baby twins. Whatevs.

  7. Matt Wedel says:

    Solid points all around.

    The random-peasant-turns-out-to-be-hidden-royalty thing has to be a hangover from the Middle Ages, doesn’t it? It’s the destiny equivalent of winning the lottery. Wouldn’t it be more satisfying to end up on the throne because you earned it through your own actions? Conan the barbarian turns out to be a better role model than Luke Skywalker.

    Playing the protagonist-has-a-secret-destiny card is a sort of storytelling nuclear option. Because you can always do it – twenty-some movies in, we could still learn that James Bond is the last living heir of William Wallace, and all of his work for MI-6 has been an extended training session so he can undermine England from within and bring about Scottish independence (don’t let Jeff Liston read this) – but you can never undo it. And once done, it not only casts the story and all of the protagonist’s actions in a different light, it also devalues the latter. Oh, so Luke is the son of the long-prophesied and immaculately conceived One Who Will Bring Balance to the Force and a freakin’ queen (okay, an elected child queen, but still)? Suddenly blowing up the Death Star looks a little less impressive, and his apparent inability to keep rocks in the air looks even more lame.

    Chuck Klosterman wrote that one of the pointless things about interviewing celebrities is that any of 500 young actresses could have been Scarlett Johansson, and that the reason we got Scarlett Johansson instead one of the other 499 was mostly down to luck. (And it’s no good arguing that the real S.J. is just more talented – give the other 499 the same opportunities to deploy their talents and then we can talk about talent versus luck.) And, Klosterman argues, many celebrities are aware of this and it’s one reason why celebrity culture looks so neurotic from the outside. We don’t have the cultural force of divine right monarchies to reassure the people on top (and everyone else) that they belong there.

    I’m just spinning out thoughts as they come to me, not trying to develop a coherent thesis (yet, anyway), but now that I’ve written it, the last paragraph seems to be at odds with the previous two, because it argues that random success is less satisfying than destiny. I wonder if Drew Barrymore and Kate Hudson, being the offspring of actual Hollywood royalty, feel more comfortable about being celebrities.

    But random success versus destiny is a false dichotomy, because they are both unearned. Success is at least a ternary diagram, with Destiny, Hard Work, and Luck as the axes (I realize that in the real world Destiny and Luck look the same – I’m talking in plot terms here [my willingness to discuss celebrities in these terms suggests that I perceive celebrity culture as an elaborate fiction, which it undoubtedly is]). I suspect that when celebrities are nervous about their success, they fear that no amount of hard work will offset the massive dose of good luck that they may also have benefited from.

    I am also alert to the possibility that what makes for satisfaction in real life and what makes for a good story may frequently differ. Determined Young Person Succeeds Through Sheer Dedication does not sound like much of an adventure movie (Bruce Wayne may disagree). Thinking about it in roleplaying terms, it seems to me that fiction is most satisfying when the luck, for good or ill, is on the side of the universe, not the protagonist. Destiny or luck may present a character with a set of circumstances or a problem to be solved, but it’s nice when the character then succeeds purely because of their virtuosity. When we first learn that Vader is Luke’s father, it seems more like a curse than a benefit. It’s only in the prequel trilogy that we find out how ridiculously predestined Luke’s success was.

    Side note: I always thought it was a bit lame that ROTJ makes Leia another of Vader’s children but doesn’t do anything with the Force powers she ought to possess, beyond Luke’s throwaway line that in time she’d learn to use them as he had. That imbalance is magnified many times over by the prequels. Pretty friggin’ irresponsible of Yoda and Obi-Wan to not ‘activate’ Leia, who is basically their sleeper agent, while they had the chance. I will be very curious to see what Episode VII does with Leia.

  8. Mike Taylor says:

    Chuck Klosterman wrote that one of the pointless things about interviewing celebrities is that any of 500 young actresses could have been Scarlett Johansson, and that the reason we got Scarlett Johansson instead one of the other 499 was mostly down to luck. (And it’s no good arguing that the real S.J. is just more talented – give the other 499 the same opportunities to deploy their talents and then we can talk about talent versus luck.)

    I wonder if that’s true. I don’t think there’s any way to tell, short of replaying history with nreps=1000 and seeing what kind of repeatability emerges. I thiknk Klosterman’s assertion that it’s random reflects his internal philosophical conviction rather than data (since there is and can be no data), just as Gould’s assertion that evolution of people was random (while IIRC Conway-Morris thinks it was inevitable) is a philosophical rather than scientific position. (Of course we can do some experiments in evolution, as with generations of fruit flies or E. coli, but that’s not the same as replaying the whole of evolutionary history and seeing whether we get sentient moral beings.)

    But random success versus destiny is a false dichotomy, because they are both unearned.

    Ah yes — the guilty secret that all high achievers live with: all success is ultimately unearned, because the very focus and concentration and capacity for hard work that you congratulate yourself for is itself largely a consequence of genetics and environment. Truly there are no self-made men. I think the world would be a better place if everyone acknowledged that.

    So your three-pronged assesment scheme (luck, destiny, hard work) may all be only a single prong after all: it’s what cards you get dealt.

    Of course as soon as you introduce the cards metaphor, you can see where the gap is: whatever cards you’re dealt, you have a choice in how to play them. Get a rotten hand in poker, and you’ll lose, pretty much whatever you do. Get a stellar hand and you’ll win the pot. But in the in-between, which I guess is most hands, there are other factors at play — skill, ability to assess probabilities, bluffing, Problem is, your ability to assess probability and bluff are also largely (not entirely) products of your inheritance.

    In fiction, at least, the wild card may be virtue, as you hint above. The hero wins not because he is destined, or lucky, or hard working, but because he is virtuous. That of course is true of Frodo and Sam; and also of Jesus. It’s also more or less true of Luke — it’s his virtue rather than combat ability that eventually overcomes Vader, which is why the prequels’ rewriting of his back-story doesn’t quite destroy it.

    On Leia as sleeper-agent: maybe she was Plan B in case Luke didn’t work out.

  9. Matt Wedel says:

    Ah yes — the guilty secret that all high achievers live with: all success is ultimately unearned, because the very focus and concentration and capacity for hard work that you congratulate yourself for is itself largely a consequence of genetics and environment.

    You’re SO not helping me over my imposter syndrome.

    Truly there are no self-made men.

    I’d rather not acknowledge that possibility.

    I think the world would be a better place if everyone acknowledged that.

    Dammit!

    You’re right about virtue being another axis, and maybe THE other axis, alongside Destiny/Luck/Hard Work.

    On Leia as sleeper-agent: maybe she was Plan B in case Luke didn’t work out.

    Sure, but shouldn’t Obi-Wan and Yoda at least have gotten her started on the path before they were both ghosts? I assume that if Palpatine had killed Luke, Yoda would have appeared to Leia and said, “Leia. Kill yourself you must. In the Force, trained you will be, by Qui-Gon Jinn. Taught me how to be a ghost, he did. When ready you are, reborn by the midi-chlorians you will be. Or some other bullshit; let Kasdan figure that out, we will.”

  10. Mike Taylor says:

    What we’re discussing here ought to be orthogonal to imposter syndrome. That is all about whether you are good at something; this is about why you are. So even if you overcome imposter syndrome decisively (which I assume you pretty much have done), you’re still left with the very real question of how much credit you can take for your undoubted achievements.

    On the strategy for Leia: my favoured answer is that Yoda and Obi-Wan figured as follows. Given that the chance of either one of Luke or Leia succeeding was x, and the chance of them succeeding if they worked together was y, then (1-x)^2 < 1-y, i.e. y < 2xx^2.

    But we both know the real reason is “Lucas didn’t think about that.”

  11. Mike Taylor says:

    Oh, great — WordPress stripped out the <sup>…</sup> tags. Now I look like a moron.

  12. Matt Wedel says:

    I put in carets where I thought you were supposed to have exponents. Satisfactory? Did I miss any?

  13. Mike Taylor says:

    Looks right, thanks!

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