So, since the final Quest is started, I guess I'll start explaining some of What Might Have Been with regards to my Quests. It's a loooooong story, so bear with me.
So a while back, I was looking at the game and seeing a ton of elements that were introduced but never really expanded upon. Thus began a crucial element of my most recent QMing philosophy: building Quests around concepts and gameplay mechanics and loot that I really wanted to see in players' hands, and then work backwards from there to construct a plotline that would justify them. At the time, my pet cause was the Weather system and Weather Mages, since if I recall correctly (I can't be bothered to do too much PM-digging for dates ), the Weather Mage class had been introduced but not given out yet; thus, I thought up the Circle of Tempestas, a Circle of Mages scattered across Olegaia who helped keep weather within reasonable limitations, and where that was impossible could at least take some of the sting out of the worst weather-related disasters. Now, I originally had this idea back at the height of my My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic obsession, so my original concept had them outright manually changing the seasons, resulting in a Quest I did an outline for called Winter Wrap-Up. Originally pitched as a co-host between me and Sandy, it would have involved three differently-leveled teams of three (a la Quest 66), who would have been temporarily re-classed into Weather Mages at the start of the Quest and given a set of three gems per team to divide between themselves (a la Quest 3). Each of the three locations would have had a weather-related puzzle battle against environmental obstacles (i.e. snowdrifts, fallen trees, etc.) that would have been weakened by one of the weather types; however, before the battles took place, the parties would be approached by two of the city's factions and offered reputation if they managed to maintain one of the other weather conditions for the duration of the battles (i.e. the portion set in the Hovels would have involved setting a Dim weather to help Wolfgang agents escape a Town Watch raid or else a Bright weather to help the Town Watch catch the Wolfgang, though I don't remember the third gem I'd assigned that group); all battles would have been on timers, with success defined as a certain number of each obstacle removed, so the difficulty was deciding if you wanted to actually do your job and clear up the leavings of winter, or if you wanted to potentially sabotage your efforts in the main quest for some relatively easy faction rep. If the party did well enough, everyone would get access to Weather Mage and rep with the Ziegfrieds, but if they all resisted the siren call of reputation, they would have gained access to a bonus battle against what was effectively a piñata of permanent stat-boosts (i.e. the party would get more boost drops the more damage they did) on a very short timer.
There was one big problem with the Quest however: it was extremely time-based, which meant I'd have to host it at the end of winter/start of spring, and I just did not have the time to do all of the necessary prep work (not to mention Sandy would have had to build a ton of sets to be ready by then). Thus, I shifted Winter Wrap-Up to the back burner and instead shifted my focus to developing the Circle of Tempestas in preparation for that Quest. Enter: the sprawling monstrosity that effectively ended my Heroica career.
It didn't start out too crazy: I already had Amara Jing from my Halloween Anthology quest, so I retconned her into a Weather Mage and a member of the Circle and (stealing from MLP again) made a new character named "Ditzi Dew", who would be the main MacGuffin of the Quest. The pitch was similarly simple: Merryweather Ziegfried, Arch-Meteorologistrate of the Eubric chapter of the Circle of Tempestas, approached Heroica on the advice of her nephew Arthur and asked them to find her two missing Weather Mages. How did it all go wrong?
My original concept for the Quest was something of a fun road trip into Baltarok (another lore element that, at the time of conception, was in serious need of a revisit). Additionally, since I wanted to follow up on the Dual Dragoons storyline, I decided to make that trip happen by way of Duplovia, so players could get to revisit Darius Kaan and his subplot about finding Sirone Valishter's younger brother. But then I realized that if I wanted that interaction to be at all meaningful, I'd need to lure in a few of the 104 group, and that meant making it a Diana quest. That's when things started getting crazy.
Once I realized I needed Diana, that meant I also needed an angle for Wolfgang involvement. While Diana's particular excuse of "infiltrating Heroica and cementing old bonds" would have worked, it felt flimsy to me, so I came up with the idea that a group of the Wolfgang's more criminal element had fled to Duplovia and were causing trouble, so the Wolfgang wanted them taken out. I then realized that this was a perfect way to tie in Darius and make him maningful: Sirone's brother Arryn had been taken in by the Pact, and was being used for his "observational skills" (I'll be honest, I didn't have his specific talents super fleshed out ), and Darius needed Heroica's help to free Arryn. "But wait," I asked myself, "why wouldn't he just outright hire Heroica for a separate Quest?"
I think you can see where this was going.
After a lot of development and secret plotting and coordination, the Quests exploded. Let me try and simplify things as much as possible:
In Chasing Echoes, the first of the two Quests to launch, the Heroes hired by Darius would arrive in Newharbour, who would explain that Arryn had been taken by a group of Ex-Wolfgang ruffians exploiting him for his skills. Darius had a partner on the inside (who, in fact, had financed Heroica's involvement), but he'd lost contact due to Arryn's sharp mind making passing info too dangerous. After escorting the Heroes through a battle in an unusually fierce storm, they'd arrive in Duplovia, where they'd do a Professor Layton-style puzzle (specifically based on the lantern puzzles near the end of the second game) to do a full day's surveillance. After a full day in the rain, however, they would become ill, forcing Darius to find them an inn for the next night on short notice; fortunately for them, however, he found one...the Inn of the Wayward Angel. That night, at the height of the storm, the party would have had some insane nightmare sub-quests in PM customized to each of them (I'd tapped Endgame to handle the sets and some of the writing for this section). The next morning, the Heroes (minus Darius) would have been taken to the Palace for questioning and met Eyric Rone, and after some discussion they would have been given a brief (read: one item per character) shopping opportunity before they had to meet up with Darius at a local restaurant he suspects is a front for the Pact.
At the restaurant, the group solves the latest coded message from Darius' informant, while also interacting with two of the servers, a pair of children named Delphine and Eireen. When both children appear at the table at once (as soon as the puzzle is solved), however, Delphine would recognize Eireen as Arryn, prompting the Pact members disguised as patrons to pull their weapons and attack. Grabbing Delphine to keep her safe (as the Pact was attacking her as well), the party would slip into the Pact's secret tunnel beneath the restaurant (a simplified grid battle where the entire party moved as one along a narrow track rather than the complicated mess of 118), where they'd gain unexpected aid from Darius' hidden informant...Walbartan. At the conclusion of the battle, Walbartan would reveal the reason the Wolfgang are backing Darius (namely, that the Pact are a blemish on the reputation that Ulfric was trying to cultivate and that they thus needed to be taken out), and would officially join the party for a second track battle in the warehouse next door to the restaurant...which would have in turn served as the reveal of Darius' dragon partner Kreika, who was now a full-grown adult. At the conclusion of a fight, the remainder of the Pact's leadership, with Eireen still in tow, would flee, forcing the Heroes to pursue; however, with the Pact being mounted, they would quickly outpace the Heroes, so while Darius tracked them by air Walbartan would take them to the Inn of the Wayward Angel to settle their tab and let them drop off the (underleveled) Delphine if they so wished. Afterward, Walbartan would take the Heroes back to Newharbour in a rented cart and use an Artifact to Track Down where in town the Pact had fled.
Meanwhile, in Stormy Weather, Merryweather would have arrived in the bar, given the Heroes their mission, and then hung around while they looked for leads. Diana, who'd joined the Quest based on a few rumors she'd heard (and wanting to meet up with Walbartan, who she'd heard was in Duplovia), helped the Heroes scout out some leads from the Inn of the Waltzing Dragon (including that the residents had been suffering from some intense and disturbing nightmares during the storm that heralded Ditzi's disappearance) before revealing what she knew: that Ditzi had been spotted stowing aboard a ship headed for Duplovia a few days before. The party then would have had to negotiate passage to Duplovia; while I had three ideas in particular (with one, the Flouncy Phoenix, being the backup if no one else had a good connection), my plan was to just wing this section so that the Heroes were cashing in on their connections to gain passage. After a battle at sea (re-used from unused 104 content), the party would arrive in Newharbour just in time to run into Darius, Walbartan, and the other Heroes. Diana, being the murderhobo she is, wants a second shot at Darius, but Walbartan (and hopefully the rest of the party) would eventually manage to talk her down (though I did have "potential PvP?" in my notes for this section ). The Stormy Weather party would give the Chasing Echoes party info on a ship they just spotted leaving the port on a course for Charis (and would let Chasing Echoes use the ship they'd chartered to get Stormy Weather to Newharbour in the first place), while the Chasing Echoes crew would pass on a tip they'd heard from a mysterious woman in the Wayward Angel, alerting them of a different Weather Mage of Water in Duplovia, who might know more about Ditzi's whereabouts. With information, pleasantries, and a few threats exchanged, the two parties would part ways.
Chasing Echoes: the remainder of this Quest was a mess. Basically, I designed a hugely overcomplicated open-world setting in Charis proper, with events and encounters cleverly rearranged and reused such that there were effectively two "paths" the Heroes would take that would eventually take them through most of what the city had to offer. To vastly oversimplify: there were three main faction-like leaders the Heroes would be dealing with in their search for the Pact members: Count Blaise, a harsh taskmaster obsessed with purity, Count Eiffel, Elven politician currently in charge of general policing, and Count Fioretto, a jovial Ombrazzi party-thrower (and uncle of Syrio Fioretto from...I think it was 93?) who, as the Count who'd managed to snap up the most of the Shadeaux holdings upon their banishment from Charis, was the target of quite a few assassination attempts. Highlights from this portion of the Quest would have involved:
*The revelation that Falana Wine is grown on a vineyard built atop an ancient graveyard, which was currently being damaged by Auntie Diluvian, a former Sister of Danab who'd turned to necromancy and gotten turned into a vampire (fun fact, the Shroud of the Tempest Namyrra got from Grogmas 2016 was originally intended as Diluvian's drop)
*An anti-undead group called the Diamond Coalition, whose agents the party could potentially piss off by inadvertently stealing their hat order from a local hat shop; said agents' code names were Double Diamond and Diamond Tiara, but their real names were Jasper and Pearl and they were blatant Steven Universe ripoffs
*The opportunity to either assassinate Count Fioretto or save him, which either way would result in having to fight off a mob of panicked partygoees whose clothes the party would receive as loot
*A were-cat drug dealer named Blaze, who was dating one of the Pact members
*Encounters with both the Priests of Mercutio and the Sisters of Danab
*A completely separate side-quest where participants could learn a *ton* of info about Charisian dragons and Dragon lore from a Dragon who'd turn out to be Miirym's mother, and where if the right people had participated there could have been some insane drops for Winged Warrior Siercon and/or dragon powers if I'd managed to draw in a Dragoon (I was specifically angling for Thormanil): Elemental Master - [Dragonname's] [original element]-elemental breath attacks have a 1/6 chance of dealing the [appropriate Ethereal Gem effect]-effect; this chance increases to 2/6 when the Dragon is a Youngling, 3/6 when the Dragon is an Adult, and 4/6 when the Dragon is an Elder.
Alatreon's Fang - [Dragonname] may make a non-ranged, non-elemental bite attack; successful hits with this attack have a 1/6 chance of removing a random immunity; this chance increases to 2/6 when the Dragon is a Youngling, 3/6 when the Dragon is an Adult, and 4/6 when the Dragon is an Elder.
*Two possible unique Vindicator oaths, as well as a Vindicator's Seal (I was also angling to try and grab Vindsval):
Oath of Enmity (Vindicator’s Oath: After the targeted enemy damages an ally, the enemy immediately becomes Jinxed, and the vindicator becomes Lucky.)
Oath of Restitution (Vindicator's Oath: After the targeted enemy damages an ally, the ally gains Gold equal to the damage received.)
(all of the above was Sandy-approved, BTW, among an absurd amount of other items, if I find my full list I'll try and drop it into a separate post)
Eventually, the party would have figured out that Blaise was the one partnered with the Pact, hiding them due to their connection to his secret daughter Blaze. Depending on who they killed/spared (both Blaze's boyfriend Ember and Count Blaise himself would have been killable), a number of different endings would have opened up, with the net result being that whoever got custody of Eireen (who at that point had been revealed as trans and thus preferring the name the Pact had given her) would give the party reputation: Shadeaux for Darius, Wolfgang for Walbartan, or a gold reward for Blaze if Ember was spared. (There also would have been an experience bonus if the party brought Delphine with them and kept her alive long enough to hand her over to whoever they handed Eireen to).
Jumping back to when the parties parted ways, the Stormy Weather crew would have the chance to visit the Newharbour Library (mentioned in a few Zepher quests), and learn that someone (possibly Ditzi) had been in the library when the storm hit, flooding the building and ruining the majority of the library's collection on ancient demons. Once on the road again, they would have encountered a number of Pact stragglers chasing after the Chasing Echoes party, who'd attack them on sight for being Heroes. In Duplovia, they would visit the Wayward Angel and learn the whereabouts of April Showers, a Weather Mage angling to become the Arch-Meteorologistrate of the High Kingdoms. At April's home, they would meet April's rival, May Flowers, a Wood-specialist Weather Mage from Delfrin, who's in an argument with April over April's supposed overuse of her powers. On her way out, May would complain that April hadn't told her that her old apprentice Amara was in town, alerting the Heroes that the woman they met in the Wayward Angel was indeed Amara; meanwhile, April would confirm that Ditzi was last spotted the previous day in the marketplace, and express regret that her own former apprentice (Ditzi) had not come to visit her directly. No matter which lead the party decided to follow, they'd be stymied (at the Marketplace by the shops imminently closing and the shopkeeps only being able to tell them that Ditzi was headed west towards Delfrin and not why she was there in the first place, or at the Wayward Angel by the inn having mysteriously vanished). Either way, May would approach the Heroes and apologize for her rudeness by helping them set up tents outside town (the tents being a roleplaying mechanic to last the rest of the Quest). The next morning, the Heroes and May would head east along the road to Delfrin, but would be stopped by a bunch of washed-out bridges in a nearby village called Garran, where they'd meet...
Duplovia Quest part 3
Yeah, this was intended to be a surprise crossover with the Duplovia Arc by @Legonater . His party and a number of NPCs would also be stuck in Garran, which would have had a number of puzzles and some unique shops (including a weapon type-changer for ranged weapons only and a unique crossbow-bolts system that Diana would have been using from the start, with May helpfully having a few Ethereal Emeralds the party could buy off her as one option for unique bolts). After helping rebuild the bridges by solving some of the puzzles, the parties would travel together for a roleplaying scene before camping for the night at the crossroads between the road leading to Delfrin and the road leading to Baltarok. After a joint nighttime battle together (of course), the parties part ways in the morning, the Stormy Weather crew having by this point figured out that to find Ditzi they just need to follow the trail of storm damage from the unnatural storm she seems to be causing wherever she goes.
After doing some stuff in Carn (I actually don't remember much, I think those notes are in a PM somewhere and PMs are a pain to search now so /shrug) and parting ways with May, the party would have been met on the bridge by an Orc NPC named Styrazt (a leftover from a previous scrapped Quest in Baltarok), an optional recruit who'd only join the party if one of the Heroes successfully lost to him in 1-on-1 combat. (I bring this up because to this day I'm still proud of this subversion of the traditional Heroica encounter structure of "win battle, get reward", and want to brag about it even though I never got to put it into play. ) Whether recruited or not, he'd direct them to first a shoreline campsite (for another night in tents for roleplaying and rest) and then to Vim-Lhzar, where Ugroot would escort the party into Grishnod's court. It would turn out that due to the "water-witch" coming to the town, the city was being inundated by a never-ending storm that was bringing constant nightmares, and the people had discovered and arrested Amara because of it; while Grishnod knew Amara was not the Weather Mage they wanted (she uses Wood instead of Water), he had no choice but to hold her, but offers to set her free if they can manage to dispel the storm. The party would promise to set out in the morning, but upon failing to find an inn with open rooms to stay in overnight (and the storm making camping impossible), the party would encounter Golem Hybros (from 118), who would take them to the Wayward Angel's new location. After some more roleplaying stuff (according to my notes I was angling for a party there of Kiray (duh), Warlen, Annie, Jinnipher, and possibly Bobby, in addition to Diana of course) as well as nightmare PM sub-quests for this party as well, the party would set out the next morning for Grazolag, the highest mountain in Baltarok and possibly the entire world. On the way up, they'd find a legion of Orcish soldiers locked in an endless slumber, save one (Vinnier) who could be revived and who would reveal more information on a shrine at the top of the mountain where Ditzi appeared to be performing some sort of ritual. The party would climb to the top to confront Ditzi, only to find out...
Angels and Demons
So remember Vaermina from 147?
...yeah, that was me.
While I was plotting out this Quest, I made up Vaermina as the villain and told Endgame about it in hopes he could have Charon name-drop her as foreshadowing. Instead, he offered to have her cameo...which eventually turned into her becoming a full-fledged member of Immortalis' forces and getting introduced before her actual Quest. Oops...? Originally the person Vaermina was turning into a Nephilim was going to be Ditzi herself, but between the timing of my Quest moving back and back and back, and Charon's character traits meaning he couldn't let Vaermina's victim live, the scene got changed to feature a random person rather than being direct setup for Stormy Weather.
Anyway, at the top of Grazolag at the party would finally find Ditzi, who would turn out to be the Nephilim of the Dark Angel Vaermina, who is trying to resurrect her lover, the ancient demon Nocturnal, who was banished to the moon a thousand years ago. She planned to do so by using the Skull of Corruption (Nocturnal's recovered artifact) at Nopcturnal's Altar to siphon the souls of the citizens of Vim-Lhzar through their nightmares, granting the demon enough strength to break free. Vaermina would send all of her slumbering minions--the Orcish soldiers, several Ice Drakes, and Ditzi herself--to battle the Heroes; when she was out of minions, she would transform their bodies into the beings from the Heroes' nightmares. Once Vaermina was defeated, her sister Solaris would have appeared, banishing Vaermina to join Nocturnal in the moon.
I'll pause here to explain a few things. Solaris was intended to be my one big contribution to Heroica lore beyond just the Circle of Tempestas; basically, as an angel of the sun, her main goal was to combat the Nephilim of Dark Angels by empowering mortals to fight them. To that end, she would have offered Jinnipher specifically (and, more reluctantly, the other Heroes in the group in turn if Jinnipher turned her down) one out of a set of powerful soulbound Artifacts designed around the theme of resisting mind control and punishing enemies that used such abilities. The idea was that, after making the pact with Solaris, said Heroes would go on their way, and if they accomplished significant feats that Solaris would approve of (i.e. by killing Dark Nephilim or powerful demons or Dark Angels), she would appear at the end of the Quest and give them another piece of the Solaris set of their choice. The set was (self-edit: I found the pitch I gave Sandy, so I'll copy-paste the whole proposal here for posterity):
Hero Title: Sentinel of Solaris (a la the cosmetic titles that Heroes have been awarded in the past)
Ability: Sentinel of Solaris - Solaris is [heroname]'s Guardian Angel. While their defensive roll (Sentinel, Guardian Angel, Defend, Aura, etc.) is active, all enemies whose attacks are blocked/reduced/redirected take Fire- and Light-elemental damage equal to [heroname]'s Level, tripled if the battle is taking place in sunlight. Additionally, [heroname] cannot be possessed or mind-controlled while standing in sunlight.
The idea behind the ability is that, with Solaris as the guiding force behind the Sentinel's defense, she would take a more punitive style against her Sentinel's enemies; additionally, since Solaris is sun-themed, the sunlight ability is a small touch that gives both a mechanical boost (increased damage) and a roleplaying advantage that QMs can play with as they see fit (similar to the Crown of Sea Kings you dropped in the Fields from the Jade Kraken Threshold Monster).
In addition, the newly-minted Sentinel of Solaris would be allowed to chose ONE of the following items, with the implication that other QMs might award others in their own Quests for actions favorable to Solaris:
1. Solar Flare Helmet (SP:3, Power +3, user absorbs Burning damage as health and deals equal Burning on successful hits; headwear, suitable to Sentinels of Solaris only)
2. Solar Flare Breastplate (SP:9, +3 SP for each Sentinel of Solaris artifact worn, grants Aura of Honor (see Guardian Knight); bodywear, suitable to Sentinels of Solaris only)
3. Sash of Solaris (Bearer absorbs and deals Fire- and Light-elemental damage, and may share this ability with a number of allies equal to the number of Sentinel of Solaris artifacts worn; backwear, suitable to Sentinels of Solaris only)
4. Solaris' Touch (User may sacrifice half their remaining health to remove the Hexed, Confused, and Enamored conditions from an ally; the ally also deals Fire- and Light-elemental damage for 3 Rounds; handwear, suitable to Sentinels of Solaris only)
5. Solar Flare Leggings (User no longer deals Hexed, Confused, or Enamored, but their WP is tripled on any attack that would otherwise deal these effects; footwear, suitable for Sentinels of Solaris only)
6. Solaris' Standard (Bearer's Power is tripled if an ally becomes Hexed, Confused, and/or Enamored, even after the effect is removed (may only be triggered once per battle); accessory, suitable to Sentinels of Solaris only)
7. Shield of Solaris (SP:9, Immune to Hexed, Confused, and Enamored, shield SP is tripled against enemies that deal Hexed, Confused, and/or Enamored; shield, suitable to Sentinels of Solaris only)
8. Sword of Solaris (WP:9, Fire- and Light-elemental, deals triple damage (ignoring all immunities) against enemies that deal Hexed, Confused, and/or Enamored; elements may not be changed; greatsword/longsword, suitable to Sentinels of Solaris only)
9. Vindicator's Seal & Oath of Solaris (Vindicator’s Oath; whenever the targeted enemy attempts to deal Hexed, Confused, or Enamored to an ally, the Vindicator gains an immediate Free Hit against the enemy, taking place before the enemy's attack or Special; suitable to Vindicators who are Sentinels of Solaris only)
This gear is heavily inspired by the Dragon equipment from Endgame's Dragon Quests; powerful, but narrowly specialized, in this case making the wearer incredibly powerful against enemies that deal Hexed/Confused/Enamored, but just "good" against other enemies (also note that Solaris has a theme number of three, contrasting with her sister's theme number of 7; it's a plot point, but only a minor one ). The big difference from the Dragon sets is that instead of a set of Artifacts distributed across the entire party in one Quest, it's a set of Artifacts that's granted to one Hero across several Quests; after Stormy Weather is done I have no more plans for Solaris, but I'll ask other QMs to actively pick her up and use her, and grant pieces from the armor set as rewards to suitable Heroes for finishing side-goals and Quests that Solaris would approve of. This way, the entire set has SOME chance of all ending up on one character, and it gives other QMs a reason to reuse Solaris.
Anyway, after that finale, the party could either return to Grishnod and free Amara for a happy (well, less sad) end and some minor bonuses, or just head home for their promised reward and nothing more.
So yeah, that was the monstrosity that nearly killed me. Looking back, it could have been really cool, especially if I'd gotten the party I wanted, but it was a stupidly large undertaking, so I'm not surprised it eventually overwhelmed me. I also had a follow-up Diana N. Justus/Olivia Scelyn Quest involving the Diamond Coalition getting a hold of the Harvester remains from one of Endgame's quests and wreaking havoc on the Hovels, specifically involving them stealing Diana's sense of love, but those notes are all in my PM with Endgame and screw trying to look through that ridiculously-long monstrosity. Anyway, hope y'all enjoyed that look at What Might Have Been, and I'll see about finding that full loot list when I get a chance.