Worlds within Worlds

Before I discuss this campaign, I should probably put a warning here for any of my players who may end up reading this blog. This article includes massive spoilers as to my ongoing campaigns. So if you want to enjoy the twist and turns of the game, please stop reading now.

Ok.. now that I’ve got that out the way, I’ll discuss the key elements of the campaign, and the challenges I’m encountering on this, the most elaborate campaign I’ve ever attempted.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog, that I like to run a Horror-themed adventure around Halloween for my group. Last year it was Zombies on a Cruise Liner, which went well. This year, I decided to run the Horror game as the precursor to a larger campaign arc, but that the players wouldn’t realize this at all until later. The Halloween game (that I’ve already run) used the Eclipse Phase RPG, an interesting sci-fi setting that I had wanted to run for a while. The setting focuses around transhumanism, where humanity has become effectively immortal, living in designer bodies, and having regular backups of their mind, so that if there is an accident, their backup gets placed into a new body. The horror adventure itself was quite short, and revolved around a group of “Gatecrashers”, adventuring types who’ve signed up to go through mysterious wormhole gates to unexplored alien worlds.

The players went through a detailed mission briefing, and were then sent through the wormhole gate (known as Pandora Gates), to survey and investigate the planet for future colonization. It was at this point I put the first eery element into the story, just to unsettle the players a little, one of the NPC team members who went in first, simply did not arrive at the other side. This didn’t seem to bother them much, and so the players just continued to move through, and started setting up a small outpost, fired off a surveying satellite into orbit, and started looking around. I created a basic alien landscape using Terragen to show them, a rocky earth-like world with a couple of lakes, and covered in a blue-green moss.  They spent their first day investigating that blue-green moss, because it was the only real feature of the land around them. As night fell on the alien planet, a powerful thunderstorm moved in, which caused the players to huddle together in their outpost while poring over the data they’d collected during the day.

During the storm, a number of unusual events started to occur, which quickly alerted the players that they weren’t alone on the planet, that something was interfering with their equipment, one of their team kidnapped, etc. The theories the players came up ran the gamut from being the missing team member gone crazy, moss-men who only come out at night, aliens, and remnants of the AI killing machines (known as the TITANs) that had nearly destroyed earth in the setting back-story and disappeared through the very same wormhole gate they were now investigating. As the story unfolded, they eventually settled on TITANs, got out their guns and explosives, and set about trying to fight back. Thankfully for them, they guessed right about what they were facing, and did manage to do some damage, but eventually the nano-machines prevailed. I ended the Halloween game with players being enveloped by swarms of nano-robots, and then falling into unconsciousness. What had happened, was that the TITAN machines had manipulated the characters minds, implanting triggers that would turn them into sleeper agents for when they get rescued.

A rescue team did eventually arrive, finding the characters all laying unconscious near the Gate entrance, with nothing else in sight. I described to the players how they hazily glimpsed the rescue team in their disoriented now-wakening state, described them being picked up and moved back through the gate, and how when on the other side  what appeared to be a decontamination team was waiting for them, that looked at them, and then said, “Take them to the Facility.”, thus ending the Halloween game.

This is where things get a little unorthodox, upon realizing the characters met something on the alien world, a secret organization called “Project Ozma” have taken over, kidnapped the characters, sedated them, and transported them to one of their secret facilities. At this facility, they discovered that something had altered their brain, and they correctly suspected that they’ve become sleeper agents for some as of yet unknown agenda. In order to find out what and why, they’ve decided to place the characters into a highly detailed virtual reality sandbox, in an isolated secure system. It’s important to note, that Project Ozma does not have the players best interests in mind, once they figure out what agenda was imprinted into them, they’ll destroy the players, they’ll never be restored from a backup, they’ll just have mysteriously disappeared from existence. Ozma wouldn’t want restored copies of these players come snooping around asking what happened to them.

The characters will be connected into this world, assigned prefabricated identity packages, and then bombarded with keywords and images to trigger their sleeper programming in a safe environment. Simply placing them in a copy of the Eclipse Phase world wouldn’t work, the characters would know it too well, the world chosen is designed to be entirely unknown to the characters, so that nothing of the world is “remembered”, to avoid the characters minds from subconsciously alerting themselves of irregularities in the world that would cause them to fall out of sync with the program.

The world chosen for this virtual reality, is a D&D campaign setting from earth’s past, the details for which was commonly believed to have been lost during the war, this campaign setting is Eberron. This is where the players rejoin their characters, as I start a D&D 4th edition campaign using the Eberron campaign setting. The players are entirely unaware that this campaign will be linked to the one we just finished. This is where things become tricky, how can I lay down hints that they’re in a simulation, that are subtle enough to not tip them off completely, but memorable enough that when they do finally find out, they’ll realize the clues they missed?

My first thought for this, was to intentionally make reference to things that are too modern/futuristic for the fantasy world, and to try to make the players think it’s just the Dungeon Master making mistakes, not thinking about what they wouldn’t do/have in Eberron, a fantasy world, or simply the DM not trying to make everything immersive and realistically “fantasy”. An example would be, the players go to the Mayor’s office, and when they walk in, the Mayor is arguing with a small black object held to his ear, as the players approach, he holds up a hand to tell them to wait. A while after, he finishes the phone call, turns to the players and says “Sorry about that, it was an important call. Now, how can I help you?”. To some degree, this kind of thing  could be excused in Eberron, which is a little more “steampunk” than the standard D&D worlds (they have elemental-powered trains in Eberron), and the device could easily be an enchanted item. So really, I intend to play up the more modern elements of Eberron.

There are a few basic elements of both Eberron and Eclipse Phase that are similar, such as, they’ve both recently recovered from a devastating war. They both have AI automatons walking around as citizens (Synthmorphs and Warforged, both having had a big part to play in the recent war). The political factions cover some of the same archetypes, the central nations/planets consisting of  big controlling political powers, and smaller fringe powers on the outskirts. I intend to focus on the elements that are similar as being major plot points of the D&D game. The idea would be for the original simulation created by Project Ozma to put the players into scenarios similar to those occuring in the Eclipse Phase world that would hopefully trigger any imprinted programming. For example, to test whether the programming would make the players try to destabilize government facilities, the Ozma mission would take the players to a government facility. To test whether their programming would cause them to try to infect AGI Synthmorphs to turn them into AI killing machines (like what happened in the fall of earth), the Ozma mission would take them to a large community of Warforged. That’s the idea anyway.

The spanner in the works for Project Ozma’s plan, is that their rival secret organization, called Firewall, has been monitoring the players activies, and have discovered Ozma’s simulation plan, and gained access to the system via double-agents. Firewall and Project Ozma are opposing factions both clandestinely monitoring and protecting the world from Alien or AI threats, they both have similar goals, but entirely different ideologies and methods. Firewall is working to rescue the players from the simulation/facility to recruit them. That’s not to say that Firewall isn’t interested in whether the players trigger and become sleeper agents, they are, but they want to intercept any important information before Project Ozma gets it, to prevent the wrong things getting into their hands, and then to swoop the players out from under them. To this end, Firewall will be taking a meddling hand in the events of the Eberron world, trying to sow the seeds of distrust with the factions that Project Ozma agents are directly controlling. Unfortunately for Firewall, Project Ozma was quick to present themselves as the good guys, their intention being to use the good nature of the characters to create obedience. Firewall, as rebels, will be encouraging the players to distrust the good guys, to follow along with their plans, but to report to the more morally ambiguous groups that Firewall have managed to control within the world.

At the end of the D&D campaign (epic levels), there will be two potential outcomes for the players:

If the players follow Firewall’s path, and not complete the last mission (therefore letting Eberron be destroyed by an apocalypse device), the Eclipse Phase characters will wake up, and will then be immediately swooped up into a daring escape attempt aided by Firewall. I’ll be jumping straight into an Eclipse Phase campaign after the end of the Firewall path, as soon as I finish describing the Eberron campaign coming to end, I’ll give them their old Eclipse Phase character sheets, and keep the game going.

If the players follow Project Ozma’s path, and complete the last mission (to save Eberron from an apocalypse device). The D&D campaign will end, and so will their Eclipse Phase characters, who will never wake up, their backups destroyed, as if they never existed. If they take the Ozma path and destroy their characters, I’ll probably still run an Eclipse Phase game, just with different characters, playing Firewall agents, and not necessarily ever learning that there was a link between Eberron and Eclipse Phase at all, though I might tell them eventually, I could have their new Firewall characters stumble across the simulation facility, and learn from documents there that the Eberron simulation took place, and be told the names of the characters involved, seeing their old characters names, and realizing what they did.

So yeah, a lot going on with this campaign, my most ambitious by far. There’s some obvious inspirations to the concept, films like Inception, games like Assassin’s Creed, but I think it’s a cool idea, and I’m going to try my best to pull it off.

 

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