Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Traveling Monster Show

I started with 15 monsters inside a 35 room dungeon and converted the whole thing into The Traveling Monster Show ! I started with the idea of a monster owned and operated book mobile. It would drive around to the various wee-witches and tempestuous trollkins, delivering everything from recipe books for potions to comic books for the younglings (a favorite being, Sirius Payne, Human Head Hunter). Eventually, I kept adding to it, and turned it into a caravan of attention seeking misfits and sketchy misanthropes. It was easy to make up adventure hooks, (since these monsters had a mobile headquarters), and could get into the mix as fast as Fred could drive the Mystery Machine. 

The set up was simple: PCs meet the caravan on a lonely road, outside of town. They meet the performers and are offered a job. PCs are hired as bodyguards to protect the players, while putting on the show (and replenishing supplies) once inside the town. They will act as the monster's "go between", in order to ease racial and alignment tension. The monster's secret plan is to abduct a towns person (or heist the local bank, or both) during the last night of the performance. In the play, the protagonist is falsely imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. He escapes the prison by switching places with his old dead friend, and is pitched into the sea, and swims away. During that scene, the monsters will smuggle a victim/ treasure into a false bottom of the book mobile, end the play and drive away. PCs that discovered the theft are framed for the crime and left behind, to face the villager's wrath. 

Now a days, the caravan has become as ubiquitous as the opening bar scene to countless adventurers. It's a device that's been taxed out, but I had dreamt it up before I read The Gypsy Trail in Dragon magazine. Plus, the Traveling Monster Show was a clever location in of itself. I wrote it up years before Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and played out that train scene (with River Phoenix as 'young Indy') a handful of times before the movie. I had trap doors, sliding walls, false floors and ceilings, with trained animals sitting nearby, in secret compartments, next to trunks full of disguises, pyrotechnics and stage props, with monster-centric possessions (everything from the classic 'eye of newt' to the less familiar 7 to 12 feet tall phosphorous strangle weed). It was eleven caravans long. Each one, it's own deathtrap dungeon.

 It also worked on another level: These monsters (having been exiled by their own kind) were an adaptable bunch, and smarter than the average monster (with IQ's of 10 or above, these monsters could think 'long term' and adjust to events on the ground, quicker than a monster stuck on the lower levels of some dungeon, controlled by an evil wizard). They were also more socially aware and had an intimate knowledge of the towns and cities in which they performed: specifically, where all of the gold was stored, where the weapons were stashed and where the orphanage was located. Disguised as normal races, the monsters were able to hob-nob with the local big wigs, pick up supplies from the market and pass through border patrols, given their reputation as 'seasoned thespians' ( think Kevin Bacon-like popularity, but for a half orc with a photographic memory, disguised as a charismatic elf). Well known and easily recognized, (in their altered shapes) it was not uncommon for the monsters to have garnered fans along the way- even those willing to unintentionally help them with their illegal capers. 

I really had not thought about these adventures in years. If I ever get around to going through all of my old D+D files, I've got to rescue these adventures. I'll try to  post some of the stuff from those games in the future. Right now, I'm much too busy trying to finish off a batch of things I started a few months back-and I can't afford to get too distracted, just because I'm so close to the end. But yes, sooner than later...    

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