I am a long time gamer and GM (28 years and counting) who has mostly been creating his own stories for his gaming groups. Right now I am working on the next episode for the game I am running for my players, and I am looking for ideas on how to bring it to the table in the most dramatic and enjoyable fashion. The proposition of our narrative is as follows:
The adventurers have been asked by Lady Alvine, Castellan of Winterwatch Keep, to escort a trek of civilians from the keep to the walled city of Greendale, 150 miles away, as her rangers are bringing in reports of a humanoid horde marching south from the Stormpillar Mountains that is at least twice as big as the one that has sacked the fortress two decades ago with little difficulty. Winter is holding the northern provinces in its merciless grip and Lady Alvine cannot spare much when it comes to supplies or beasts of burden. Therefore, the outlook for the refugees is pretty grim – and the heroes are in for some hard decisions as they desperately attempt to keep their fosterlings alive.
As the trek slowly travels through the frozen frontier, the characters will have to deal with challenges such as dangerous weather conditions, scarcity of nourishment, outbreaks of disease, ravenous monsters, and last but not least the tension and despair that is growing among the refugees as they remain exposed to this extreme situation.
As if this wouldn’t be bad enough already, another member of the infernal cult of the Ironclad Gauntlet is doing his very own to foster and grow the aforementioned tension, hoping to fuel the fire of wrath so much that it will all erupt into glorious carnage in the end.
In this adventure, we are not going to tell a heroic tale. If the adventurers do really well, they will be able to keep the casualties reasonably low, yet they will not be able to save everybody. The situation is so dire, in fact, that it should be considered an achievement if half of refugees reach Greendale alive.
The game is a D&D 5E game (which is fine and not a matter of discussion), so obviously I do not have any tools at the ready that would help me tell this story. I therefore hope to start a fruitful discussion here on how to come up with a lightweight engine to propel the grim narrative outlined in the proposition above.
I was thinking about using PbtA style countdown clocks for categories like tension, despair and exhaustion, triggering events as the clocks are advanced, but that is only a very rough idea right now and I am having difficulty on how to actually implement this.
I also really like the proposition and think that independently of my current D&D game, it could be turned into an interesting and dramatic one-shot with tailored rules.
I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on this idea!