Friday, November 16, 2012

Collaborative Roleplaying: Lords of Waterdeep

I will always admit that I run a very peculiar series of D&D Campaigns. I have taken a lot of cues from other games I have played or read about, implementing different gameplay elements as I feel it necessary. Some of the collaborative story game elements from games like Fiasco have been working their way deeper into my D&D game with a great deal of success. I thought I would highlight a way that I have changed the player's contribution to the game through a somewhat unexpected turn of events.

The Lord of Waterdeep

When developing my Waterdeep-centric campaign, I decided to take my own spin on the Masked Lords of Waterdeep. Inspired by the Brethren Court in the film Pirates of the Caribbean and their magical "Pieces of Eight," I decided that the thing that made a person a Lord of Waterdeep was a powerful artifact, a Lord's signet. Generally, these were transferred in a matter consistent with existing Waterdhavian history, but sometimes the Lord's signet would fall into stranger hands. Lords would know, via the magical signet, when and where meetings would be held. This allowed me to maintain that the Masked Lords often don't know who the other Masked Lords are and, to a certain extent, even how many Masked Lords really exist.

The Lords of Waterdeep are just like these guys. But
with more masks. And less... hair.
Why is this important? After the mad gnome meteorologist Chet Doppler unleashed an elemental storm on Waterdeep, the Head of the Waterdeep Meteorologist's Guild, Sir Winston Cloudstorm, was summoned by the Lords of Waterdeep to address the ongoing elemental threat to the city. The players decided that they needed to be at that meeting since they had actually defeated, captured, and concealed Chet Doppler without informing Meteorologist's Guild. Furthermore, as they suspected potential treachery amongst the Lords of Waterdeep, this would be a good opportunity to start looking for it.

This seemed like a great plan but I quickly realized one problem with all of it: that meeting would require me to enact a politically charged meeting of 9+ Masked Lords of Waterdeep entirely by myself. I had to think fast so I came up with a quick solution: each player would create his own Lord of Waterdeep and play that character during the meeting. If it went well, we may even do it again. People seemed to be into that and we ended the session with each player wondering about what kind of Lord of Waterdeep he may play.

Creating the Lords of Waterdeep

I always imagined the Lords
of Waterdeep as more sinister
looking than this.
Since the idea was that not every Masked Lord would necessarily know who the others were, I decided that each Lord's signet had a history to it, including an iconic name, such as the "Lord of Blades" or the "Lord of Secrets." To give a few examples, I quickly scribbled out some ideas as to what I was intending with all this. The following is one of my example Lords I presented to my players:
Prometheus Godstorm, Lord of Death
When the High Necromancer Szass Tam seized control of Thay, many of the less sinister Red Wizards of Thay were driven out. Many of them, such as Prometheus, moved west, finally settling along the Sword Coast. Originally, Prometheus tried to set himself up as a mild-mannered enchanter in Waterdeep, but quickly found himself involved with a group of questionable wizards within the Wizard's Guild of Waterdeep. Using his arcane knowledge and background to his advantage, he organized a cabal of necromancers and seized control of a significant portion of the Undertaker's Guild within Waterdeep. Now, he provides a relatively stable supply of "working undead" to less reputable agencies within the city and surrounding environment.
It's not clear how Prometheus became a Lord of Waterdeep. Typically, a necromancer who sells corpses (both animated and not) on the black market is not typical Lord material. Yet, despite that uncertainty, it is clear is that he possesses a Lord's Signet, a sign that he is a true Lord of Waterdeep. Legend goes that the Lord of Death's signet was last possessed by Kerrigan the Anarchist, the only Lord known to have betrayed Waterdeep, lost for over two hundred years.
Currently, my players are still throwing around ideas. My intent is to give each of them information that their lord would know about and play up the meeting of the lords as a way to expose some peculiar information. One of my players quickly came up with his lord, the Lord of Spice. The description he provided was part culinary master, part international importer, and part serious drug lord. Strangely appropriate description for the Lord of Spice, I thought.

Of course, I have yet to see how this bit of collaborative gameplay will turn out. Everybody seems relatively excited about it so far, but only time will tell if the meeting of the Lords of Waterdeep turns out to be a positive contribution to my D&D game or not.

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