An Essay by Justin Alexander
This is an example of prepping a detailed scenario
timeline, an important part of scenario-based prep as described in Don't Prep Plots.
It's taken from my current campaign, In the Shadow of the Spire.
basic scenario is the "Temple of Deep Chaos", which is part of Monte
Cook's Night of Dissolution,
a series of interconnected adventures set in the city of Ptolus.
All you need to know for the purposes of this example is that
several groups of cultists -- the Ebon Hand, the Brotherhood of Venom,
and the Cult of the Tolling Bell -- have joined forces to conduct a
series of vile experiments. They have taken over an apartment building
and have been experimenting on the former residents, transforming them
into venom-shaped thralls.
In the depths beneath the apartment complex, there
is an extensive temple complex dedicated to the ancient gods of chaos.
When the PCs first arrive at the apartment
complex, tensions are rising between the three cults. In the original
adventure, in fact, two members of the Brotherhood of Venom
have killed an Ebon Hand cultist on the second floor of the
apartment complex just moments before the PCs arrive. When the PCs
eventually open the door to this room on the second floor, they're
confronted by the two murderers stooping over the body of their victim.
Wanting to make things a bit more dynamic, I
decided to alter this set-up slightly: The fight between the cultists
would start a few minutes after the PCs first entered the apartment
complex. I had the vague idea that they would hear the sounds of combat
coming from upstairs and be able to either investigate it or avoid it
at their choosing.
Fortunately, I didn't spend too much time thinking
about it because that isn't even remotely what happened. Instead two of
the PCs snuck into the neighboring apartment building and used clairvoyance to spy
on the compound. This triggered the murderous cultists and started the
ball rolling. The PCs then left the area.
In addition, one of the PCs (Tee) had ended up
working for the cultists. From midnight to 6 AM every day, she kept a
surrepitious watch on the apartment building from an alley across the
As part of the prep for my campaign, I maintain a
Campaign Status document. This is my one-stop shop for (a) daily news
on the street; (b) upcoming events; (c) the activities of major NPCs;
(d) the status of dangling plot threads; and (e) the developing status
of hot spots in the campaign (like this apartment complex).
So as part of my prep following the session in
which they witnessed the murder (and started events rolling at the
apartment complex), I wrote up the following timeline of events:
Audon and Uranik (BV) kill Reggaloch and
leave his body in the apartment complex.
Audon and Uranik (BV) return to their
quarters during the day.
Reggaloch’s body is discovered during Tee’s
shift by Theral (BV). This causes a minor commotion as various BV
the Sewers and Deep Temple
come up. Gavele
eventually comes up, has the body dumped into a venom-shaped thrall
area (to be
eaten) and gets the priests under control.
Near the end of Tee’s shift, Rhinnis leaves
the apartment complex and meets with a man on the street. He gives him
(which is taken to the Temple
of the Ebon Hand, telling them what’s happening).
When Uranik leaves during the day, Rhinnis
lures the other two BV priests to the Long Passage and kills them.
During Tee’s shift, three EH from the temple
enter the apartment building. They go down to the Deep
meet up with Rhinnis, and attack Audon. Audon attempts to escape. He’s
in the sewers, but not before Theral, Zlith, and Grealden are warned
and attempt to escape. They
reach the apartment complex. Zlith is killed along with one of the EH
Theral and Grealden reach the street, the EH pursue them into the
kill them. Then Rhinnis and Vocaetun go back inside, while the others
BV bodies and skedaddle.
Uranik returns during Iltumar’s shift and is
ambushed by Rhinnis in the apartment complex. With the help of
thralls, Rhinnis subdues Uranik and then feeds him askara.
Three EH priests with stats identical to the
BV priests arrive in the Sewers to reinforce Vocaetun. (The complex
stabilizes under EH/TB control.)
The names and many of the details may be
meaningless without the larger context of the scenario, but hopefully
the gist of it is clear: If the PCs do absolutely nothing, these are
the events that happen, culminating on 9/20/790 with the complex
settling into a new status quo. The fact that Tee would probably be
watching the complex meant that I had to be relatively specific about
what she would and wouldn't see, but even if she hadn't been there I
still would have laid out a timeline with a similar amount of daily
(The new status quo was a convenient stopping
point, but even without that I wouldn't have bothered planning much
further in advance. I thought it very likely that the PCs would return
to the apartment complex within a few days and, thus completely change
the situation. But even if they didn't, there was no sense prepping
stuff that wouldn't happen for at least three or four sessions.)
In the wee hours of 09/18/790, Tee observed the
commotion that started when Reggaloch's body was found. Using boots of levitation
she snuck up to a window and watched the whole thing unfold.
Later that day, the PCs did, in fact, return to
the complex and wreak havoc. They raided the apartment building and
began destroying the research. I decided, based on my timeline, that
Uranik would come up out of the temple midway through their raid. They
capture Uranik and another cultist named Arveth, question them, knock
them unconscious, and leave them in the sewer. Then they started a raid
on the temple. Zlith, Grealdan, and Vocaetun were killed. A garrison of
ratmen was wiped out. Theral fled into the sewers.
The PCs were eventually forced to retreat, but by
that point everything had changed. This prompted the creation of my
Audon and Uranik (BV) kill Reggaloch and leave his body in the
Audon and Uranik (BV) return to their quarters during the day.
Reggaloch’s body is discovered during Tee’s shift by Theral (BV). This
minor commotion as various BV priests from the Sewers and Deep
come up. Gavele eventually comes up, has the body dumped into a
thrall area (to be eaten) and gets the priests under control.
Uranik leaves during the day, Rhinnis lures the other two BV priests to
Long Passage and kills them.
9/18/790: The PCs
returning from the Long Passage, discovers the battle on the lower
decides to temporarily cover it up; stacking the bodies in area 3. He
into the sewers and repairs the hole in the floor of the apartment
(using a little manual labor and then his mending
escaped. Arveth is taken to the Upper
complex and kept tied up in area 7.
o The City Watch
surrounds the apartment complex for an hour before moving in. They find
disgusting remnants of vile rituals, but no current activity. They
board up the
entrance and place a standard guard of two watchmen until 9/22/790 when
“outraged” House Vladaam reclaims its property.
Tee’s shift, Rhinnis intercepts three EH from the temple a couple
from the apartment complex. He sends one of them back to get more and
takes the others down to the upper temple.
to the Deep
and reports to Illadras. Illadras
agrees to his plan to let the EH take control of the upper temple with
of reconstructing their research.
Rhinnis a letter for Wuntad. Rhinnis gives it to one of the EH priests,
takes it to Porphyry House.
tortured and one of her eyes plucked out before they believe she’s
truth. Then she takes point on gathering up the remaining watchers and
reassigning them to looking for Laurea.
Audon is taken
and force-fed askara in area 7 of
upper temple is reinforced by the EH.
1 elder priests;
5 priests; 6 guards
Half the rat
garrison is replenished from the TRG
Audon cocoons in
area 7. Additional EH priests arrive and begin studying the remaining askara sample and the cocoon in an
effort to recreate the lost research (they meet with little success,
masterwork alchemist’s lab is erected).
other half of the rat garrison is replenished from the TRG. Rhinnis
area 3 of the Deep Temple.
Audon emerges as
a venom-shaped thrall in area 7.
Wuntad sends a
letter back to Illadras regarding the evolving situation.
Rhinnis moves the venom-shaped thrall to area 1.
and a group of BV priests attack the upper temple to avenge themselves
EH cultists who betrayed them (which is sort of true).
I use strike-thru text for events that have
already happened. I used to simply remove past events from the
timeline, but I found that there were times when I needed to reference
that information. The strike-thru lets me still read it if I need to,
but clearly distinguishes it from the stuff I need to be paying
attention to for the current session.
This timeline, you'll note, has a lot more detail
to it. Because the PCs so thoroughly disrupted the cult's activities
and defenses, it's important for me to know exactly what state those
defenses are in when they return -- whether that's an hour after they
left, a day after they left, or a week after they left. By the 22nd,
those defenses have pretty much stabilized and the compound has reached
a new status quo.
I actually have no idea how the Dilar-led attack
on the 24th will turn out. My guess is that I'll never have to worry
about it because the PCs will return to the temple before it happens.
(Of course, even if the PCs wipe out the temple, Dilar and the
Brotherhood of Venom will still be out there. Maybe I'll have them
launch their attack of vengeance on the Temple of the Ebon Hand
directly. That could be nifty.)
any case, if the PCs interfere with these events again I may need to
revise the timeline. (Unless, of course, the PCs decisively resolve the
temple once and for all. In that case, I can drop it from my Campaign
Status document entirely.)