What Would I Run? - Forgotten Realms
I've re-read some excellent 3.0 / 3.5 material recently; namely, the Shining South source book for the Forgotten Realms setting. There's something about the nation of Halruaa and the mages who run it. The nation is nicely meshed into the metaphysics of the setting, including their fervent Mystran and Azuthian Churches. Given my habits as a GM, I want to include a cult or coven to Shar as well... I love using cults - just ask any of my players. And I wanted to give the characters something different to chew on for this game.
So, add all these habits and drives up and what do you get? What would I run using 3.x Forgotten Realms?
Short answer: The PCs would be members of the cult of Shar hidden among the Halruaan nobility. The coven is busy, working toward the fulfillment of The Prophecy. For more details, check it out after the break...
The Attractor - the Cult
Shar may be listed as a Neutral Evil goddess of Shadow, but for this horror-oriented game to work, the cell of worshipers would have to have some guiding hierarchy. That's where the Child and her Prophecies come in. The Lady of Shades has made it a priority to bring together the cell of adventurers, and her High Priestess claims to know her grand designs. Should none of the PCs want to play a mage specializing in Divination counters, the Child will have an older sibling (once thought to be the Child) who is a master of this odd magical pursuit. He will also be trained in a special Knowledge skill: Shar's Prophecy. PCs are allowed to take training in this skill as well, should they feel the need (and after the first few games, they should certainly feel the need).
Investment for the PCs comes in the form of either a bonus Feat (something Shar would approve of and grant), a profound magic item, or access to unique magics.
Initial Conflict - Hiding the Child
At the onset of the campaign, the challenge comes from outside the cult. Player characters will learn about the police forces and Inquisitors of the mighty nation of Halruaa. Contacts should be established with the seedy underside of this shining feature of Faerun. Forward thinking PCs will work toward putting mundane investigators in their debt. Reactionary PCs will have to move the Child from one safe-house to another, and deal with her outbursts at having to leave behind her friends.
After the first move or two, the Child will develop an imaginary friend. Just before the next section begins, one of the least arcane-trained will be able to see the shadow-friend as well...
Further Trouble - Training the Child
Here, the PCs will be charged with delivering the Child to various sages and magi for her metaphysical training. Given how the game has progressed, the choice for the development of the Child should be made by the GM; training as a Wizard, or as a Sorcerer. Wizardly training would allow her exposure to the careful rules and laws of Halruaa, and develop her disdain for the country's mores.
Training as a Sorcerer leads to further unseemly-society as the "scent" of the Child's magics becomes apparent to her instructors. For the PCs, the work of fulfilling the Prophecy becomes an extortion game. Keeping her teachers in the cult's pocket, or sufficiently threatened that they do not call the Inquisitors down on their heads.
One of the Inquisitors will gain a serious lead on the locale of the Child after one of these abused instructors is attacked by the Child's shadow-friend (ruining the agreement they'd made with the PCs).
Developing Trouble - Controlling the Child
Once the Child's shade gains a taste for blood, it will become more and more difficult to contain her temper. She will begin understanding her importance to the cult (this group of people who have raised her away from her parents, and forced her into the cruel and insipid tutelage of the society of Halruaa). In addition, the High Priestess of the cult will want to begin examining the Child's development.
Here are where things get really difficult for the PCs. Should the Child begin seeing them as obstacles and liabilities instead of trusted companions, they could be faced with a visit from her shade. Additionally, the High Priestess will begin a set of interviews with the Child to determine her progress. Specific tests will include learning her level, her attribute modifier (for her preferred class), and the number of ranks / total modifier for the Spellcraft, Knowledge (Arcana), Knowledge (Shar's Prophecy), and Knowledge (Halruaa Nobility). She will want the Child to have the maximum available Ranks in these skills, and to otherwise be adept and ready for a potential confrontation with other mages and Inquisitors.
Should the Child have chosen to invest her resources differently (based on the GM roleplaying her since the beginning of the campaign), the High Priestess will begin sorting out who allowed her to be otherwise influenced (or who may have deliberately influenced her in other directions). Depending on how the PCs and the Child spin things, the characters may find themselves on the receiving end of the shade's dire attentions. Alternately, they may find they are no longer protected by Shar from certain magics. Specifically, they will find that Feats that affect their saves don't work against the Child. In addition, they get a -4 to their saves when subjected to the magics the Child has chosen to specialize in.
Climax - Unleashing the Child
After the High Priestess has tested the Child, the Inquisitor who has been harrying the party will finally discover her location. I would suggest that a contact that the group has made inside the official machineries of state tip the PCs off to this information. Obviously, resulting in a chase across the city. Unfortunately, the Inquisitor in question has convinced the Diviners of the true threat (plus, the Child and her Shade are beginning to seriously show up on their mystic radar, so to speak). The longer the chase lasts, the more resources the officials of Halruaa will gather to put this anathema down.
The penultimate battle will be a serious conflict with the Inquisitor confronting the party with several Azuthian Mystic Theurges, a brace of Jordani, and the cooperation of many of the city guard and police. Pull no punches. Grind them down as hard as you can while the Child and her Shade begin helping out in the fight. Should either of them kill one of the city's defenders, increase the effective Strength of the Shade by 4 for each individual put down. When the Shade begins destroying the arcane / divine opposition, its substance will grow even darker and it will gain in Channel Resistance by 2 for each. The environment should begin reflecting the conflict taking place. Dark clouds begin to roll in. Temperatures drop.
When the Inquisitor herself falls in battle, the Shade and the Child will fuse. The skies will darken, the wind will kick up, and her unconscious form will begin levitating up into the open air. Start counting up the levels of spells aimed at her; they're being absorbed. When the nascent Child has endured 20 or 30 levels of combined levels of incoming malevolent spells, her transformation will be complete. The Child is now a fully formed Apsect of Shar, guided by the consciousness and personality of the Child. Time to go Godzilla in Halruaa.
Remember that, at this point, the Cult's purpose is fulfilled and Shar will demand that her followers reap what they have sewn. Those that performed well and obeyed her dictums will (at this point in the campaign) be immune to much that the Aspect will throw around. Characters who earned the High Priestess' emnity will find those penalties to their saves painful as their charge begins using her powers without regard to their safety. PCs who have disappointed the Child, or otherwise had antagonistic relationships with her, will be some of the first that the new Aspect actively seeks revenge against.
Welcome to the end of Halruaa.
Yeah, I'd be very interested in running a game like this one!