Monday Musings: Complications & Campaigns

Last week, I wrote about exposition; this week, it’s time for complications! In a narrative, the complication is the part which introduces the conflict. It’s Gandalf asking about the Ring at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, Captain America receiving the super-soldier serum just in time to capture the enemy agents sent to steal it, or Lovecraft’s nameless narrator discovering a collection of notes or a musty tome left behind by your grand-uncle. The complication marks the real beginning of the plot. And, as I pointed out last week, the shorter an expository phase can be, the sooner the conflict can begin. Exposition is necessary to understand the conflict, but not necessarily interesting.

When I’m planning to run my Pathfinder Second Edition sessions, I generally try to locate the complication as close to the start of the session as possible; in the first session of my previous campaign, I began with a quick description of the setting (a forest filled with mist on the outskirts of a village), their reason for being present and together (members of the Crimson Coast Trading Company), and then had them roll initiative because they were being attacked by orcs who had just raided the aforementioned village.

For this sequel campaign, I’m trying to reduce the reliance on combat as the signal that a plot development is taking place. The campaign’s villain, the Witch-King of Kærth, is under arrest and in North Harbour. I imagine a kind of house-arrest, in which the Witch-King is permitted to occasionally leave their quarters and is occasionally summoned to advise the city council, with a compliment of North Harbour city guards as the status quo into which conflict must be introduced.

Part of that conflict might be expressed in a kind of struggle among the Ysoki, who keep North Harbour supplied with food and act as a kind of underclass. Perhaps the Witch-King is able to gain allies among the Ysoki, who begin performing favors for him: a little extra food, distributing items and reagents, that kind of thing.

The central plot of the campaign should arise from the complication, and lead directly into the crisis – which I’ll discuss next week.

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