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One of the recent issues that has occurred with my Dungeons and Dragons game, Curse of the Black Pearls other than an extended hiatus, has been that two of the players don’t have any direct experience with the villain of the campaign. One of the original things I was quite happy with when I started this campaign, was giving my players direct contact and interaction with Talitha right off the bat. This was great because it gave them a direct connection and knowledge of the antagonist. It can often happen in DnD or similar long term games where focus on who is actually their opponent can be lost. Or worse, you’ll encounter them maybe once in the entire campaign and usually that’s also the time that villain makes their exit.

Talitha on a day where she is in a good mood

Unfortunately, my work in this area has largely been undone due to the terrible beast of real life, which unfortunately rears its ugly head. Several of my players had to leave the game for various reasons, which means I’ve gone from having five players all familiar with the antagonist to only three. This is a bit of a bother, because I like to make sure that the villain of the game is actually in focus and “present” in my games. It helps because I like to build the core villain as an actual character and try to give my players opportunities to roleplay with them.

The challenge here is that I didn’t have any plans to reintroduce Talitha back into the campaign for a while. Now I’ve got to find out how to do so and in an interesting manner that fits into the story easily.

Several approaches are pretty valid for this:

1) The first is that I could reintroduce the character as she goes after one of the pearls that the PCs are. Probably the easiest option and would also have a neat “Race against the antagonist” feel. Kind of like the Indiana Jones movies.

2) Magical communication or similar might be an option. Perhaps a long distance sending message or something like that?

3) The “Mouth of Sauron” style, where a summoned creature, demon or similar takes the form of Talitha and then might segue into an interesting fight. Of the various options I think this has the most direct appeal to me and easily fits into the general sort of “Powers” these Pearls have displayed so far.

4) Directly use the Pearl when the players acquire it and have some kind of encounter with Talitha that way. For example, picking it up may draw the PCs into another realm and allow Talitha to communicate with the party for a while? This could have some neat applications when applied with 3 actually…

Additionally, the good thing about some of these, most notably the last two, is that once there is a precedent for it there won’t be a surprise if I do it in future. This can add an interesting twist to gaining the pearls, which the PCs can then predictably prepare for – especially given that Talitha didn’t need any such fancy tricks with the pearl the PCs already found (because it would be coming into her possession anyway).

There is another advantage to this in that the magical means of conversation avoid some of the classic “Introduce the villain early” pitfalls, like them dying or being killed by some accidental combination of spells (Hold Person being the classic). Additionally it means I can reliably and in an interesting manner have some kind of interaction between Talitha and the PCs. It provides reliable means of exposition and interaction, which can help to get the plot a bit on track (we’ve been wandering around in a jungle for a while now).

Another big decision with this game, plot and pacing wise, was that I’m going to design most (if not all) adventures to finish within 2 sessions. Currently Coils of the Serpent Queen has been going on for a while now, but that’s mostly because I put a lot of other encounters in and tried to really emphasize the travel aspect. Unfortunately pacing wise it has meant that since February (IIRC) there hasn’t been a lot of impetus or motivation plot wise. Some of my players have made the odd comment that they don’t feel like they are moving anywhere in the plot and to be honest, I’m feeling that as well.

Fixing this is easy, because all I have to do is cut down on the number of encounters I am tending to run per adventure and think more carefully about what’s really pertinent/interesting to each one. For example Coils of the Serpent Queen could easily have been 2 adventures: The first being the journey from Newthrone to the Dragonborn Kingdom and then the second being from there to the Yuan’ti city (which my players are arriving at tomorrow, probably). This would have taken a couple less sessions – due to the way I shifted around encounters – plus would make it feel like there was more “story progress” being done. Control of pacing is important to if I want the game to move forward, especially as DnD moved from being every week to once every two weeks – where feelings of progress can substantially bog everything down.

In any event, I am looking forward to the return of DnD tomorrow and I hope you’re looking forward to the return of DnD write ups along with it!