Category Archives: Campaign

My AD&D Campaign on Roll20 – Session 1

I won’t do a full session recap here. One instance from the first session of my AD&D campaign on Roll20 stands out to me. I touched on it in my last post.

I have written about some of my ideas for building this new area of my game world, as I pointed to in my last article. So far we have 3 players, two from my Wednesday night game, and one who has played with one of the other two. In the first session, the “new guy” had a last minute emergency, so he had to miss. We decided to play on.

The setting is a low magic setting, where the past ages were of high magic. The players elected to have “evil” characters, which I agreed to. The setup is that they came to this village afflicted by a huge earthquake, and hordes of undead that appeared a day after the quake.  It is now several weeks later and the undead are mostly taken care of with patrols scouring the countryside for any that were missed. Merchants bring food and helpful items, and other wealth seekers show up. One of the merchants pays the party for their guard duty and offers to pay for quality information about the current state of things in town.

The party manages to find multiple people who each will pay for the same information, so they end up getting paid multiple times for each useful tidbit. They learn that this strange black tower that seems to grow periodically overnight, occupied by a wizard, Hanagan the Red, who showed up after the quake and is rarely seen. There is an obvious “buffer zone” where the inhabitants keep clear of this tower.

The merchant perks up at this news. and only gives them a small payment, as that is all they know. Gladly will he pay more if they can learn his name, what books are in his library, and what types of things he is looking to buy.

This is easy! The group agrees to take up this challenge. Before I proceed, I need to describe the characters: Gaul, a half-elf cleric/ranger whose human parent is from the nomad tribes. Dingkus, a gnome illusionist/thief, and Wenrick a halfling fighter.  They go to the tower and step up to the door. Dingkus the gnome points out that neither he nor the halfling can reach the knocker. Gaul asks what he should do with it, and in his interpretation of the gnome’s instructions, vigorously beats the door with the knocker.

An exasperated woman quickly opens the door, and asks what impertinent fools dare raise such a racket? She is a colleague/assistant of the wizard and he cannot be disturbed. they ask who she is, and she gives her name and Gaul detects that she is of the nomad tribes. This intrigues Gaul.

Rather than explain that they merely seek information, the gnome illusionist casts hypnotism. The gnome wins initiative and the female wizard failed her save. She invites them in, gives them her name, and the duration of the spell fades. This time she wins initiative, and the half-elf’s elven blood is not enough to resist the sleep she cast upon them.

The next thing they know they awake in a poorly lit room with bare walls, ceiling, and floor tied to chairs, with the half-elf and gnome gagged, as they both appear to be spell casting types. The player of the halfling is the one who had to miss, so the player who had played with him, ran the character. Standing before them is the woman and an older man with red hair and streaks of white/gray. He is fuming.

The wizard complains that his experiment was ruined. He wants to know which of his enemies sent them. When he learns that they are there for information for a merchant who wishes to do business with him, he demands the name of the merchant, promising to never do business with him. The halfling plays dumb about which merchant it was who sent them, reasoning that they might not get paid.

Once Hanagan is certain they are just bumbling greenhorns, he charges them to go west and find the source of the undead. If they find any magic, it is his. When they all nod agreement, they are again slept, even the half-elf.

Waking a short time later, they are sitting across the street with the gnome and halfling laying across each side of Gaul’s lap. They quickly look to see that they have all their stuff. I said, “You find that all of your money, gear, and other possessions are just as they should be. However, each of you finds a folded parchment on their person in the process of the search.”

They see everyone in town crowded about the now larger “zone of exclusion” around the tower. I let them know later that the wizard made an uncharacteristic display of power, and floated them out of his tower and across the street. This one was seen, whereas the tower only seems to grow at night when no one is looking. They also notice that the tower door no longer seems to be there.

Having been totally surprised that they would go inquire of a wizard and cast magic on his associate, I’m scrambling to make something interesting of this incident. Here is my recollection of what I said was on their parchments in the wizard’s flowery script.

Hanagan’s Writ

From: Hanagan The Red

To all who are friendly with me, know that the bearer of this parchment is bound to me and is on an errand at my behest.

Please aid them, if you are able.

To all who are not friendly with me, I expect you will deal with them as you would deal with me.

Hanigan The Red

Ray, who plays Gaul wonders if they are geased or now indentured servants.

The players also asked if he was evil. I said, “Well, he didn’t kill you and he is known to help the baron, from what you learned later. Maybe he decided to use you to gather information, and punish you with a terrible death in the wilds….”

I really like how this session played out and how the players did something that cried out for a railroad. I dropped clues before this that the chance for riches was said to be to the west. However, I have other locations and things seeded in the area, if they hadn’t chosen to go west. Had they not ticked off a wizard, they would have had free reign to go wherever they wanted. Well, free to attempt to go wherever they wanted. There is always some person of creature or obstacle to any path.

My world is an open world and what the players do changes the course of things I envisioned in my mind’s eye. I like how letting a group of players loose in a setting forces me to think of possibilities I hadn’t yet considered. They pushed and pulled on things in ways only this group of players with those specific characters could do. It has unleashed lots of mulling the possibilities.

We now have two sessions under our belts, and the third and fourth are scheduled. Lots of fun thought experiments for me to tweak how things pan out.


In this low magic setting, any magic user of any level is called a wizard.  So they don’t know if Hanagan would have the level title of wizard or not.


How Much World Building?

I stumbled on a conversation over on Twitter about World Building between @SlyFlourish, @NewbieDM, @Chgowiz, @Bartoneus, @DnDJester, and others. It ranged between no world building/it’s a waste of time all the way to being an integral part of the game.

In the course of writing this article, I reached two conclusions:

  • Every GM is a world builder. It is all a matter of degree of prior effort plus what happens during character building and in play.
    • Every NPC, town, dungeon, etc. involves some level of world building.
    • Even if you use a published setting and published modules, you still weave a story to connect them together.
      • If you ever modify what is in the published setting or module, you are world building.
  • Every player is a world builder, as they bring their perspective into the mix to help shape the world through their character(s).
    • Even if all the player does is roll for abilities, starting gold, and pick a name, race, class, and buy equipment, that is world building. That character did not exist until that point in time. Details of that character help shape the world.

I think in the case of this Twitter conversation, the discussion hinged about the unspoken definition of terms. This is the crux of all discussions/disagreements/viewpoints.  What does each perspectives’ adherents mean by world building. I can’t speak for them, but I give my take in the next two paragraphs.

The no world building viewpoint focused on using that time and effort prepping for the next adventure. They strongly advocate published settings and leaving the players free to do what they want. To me the most valid point is avoiding putting effort into things the players will never see. One has a limited time resource, and so must focus on what must be done for the next session.

The world building is my thing view focused on how it is the DM’s part of play, and that it is a creative and fun outlet for some DMs. I am closer to this point of view, but agree that one must not get lost in the details. For me, world building helps me internalize things and be better able to go with the flow.

As with all things in life, there must be balance and one must seek what works for them. For me, I prefer to build my own world, so that I know it. I struggle with published settings, as they are so intricate, and I get lost in trying to learn them. It is a fun exercise, but it does not move me closer to actual session prep. I have the same issue with modules. I have to spend so much time getting familiar with them, that I could have used less time making my own thing that I already know.

For both modules and published settings, I’m of the “use the parts I like” DM. This holds true of all I read and watch.

This world building/no world building discussion ties into me recently taking my game world to Roll20. Our first session was Sunday. I had a blast exploring a new area of my game world. The players enjoyed it too. Through contact with the players, my game world changed from my original vision. Some of this was expected, yet some specifics were surprising.

I first conceived of my game world way back in college and did a map, and my brother (The artist and my favorite DM.) said, “No, here let me draw you a map.” I still have the map, and I colored it in. Here’s an article where I discuss it. This is not the area of the Roll20 game.

I put all kinds of time into great details on kingdoms and struggling over names for rulers, etc. In the end, I only ran one group for one session in college. I didn’t use it again until 2008 when my sons said they wanted to play. I had been reading stuff online about the OSR and realized I would never use most of what I had, so I focused on a narrow area. I built a town and seeded some adventure sites, monster lairs, etc. We began a sandbox game that morphed to fit what the players did.

Oriental Adventures event charts helped me to plan out a timeline for a year with minimal effort. I seeded those dates in the time line, and let the player’s actions determine how best to implement them. I spent way too much time on weather. I have an old DOS program I found online, and it took forever to get the text file formatted to fit the format I wanted. Not good. For my new area, I am using +Chgowiz’s weather chart. Simple and effective to realistic weather. It was easy to script and do months at a time.

I have become an advocate of just enough world building to have a place for things to happen. I’ve written about the new area in my world here. The campaign category links to more articles,I made a map and tied this region into my existing world. I took ideas and built the basics of a town, a reason for the players to be there, and set the site for adventures. Then I invited others in and watched it come to life.

It is AD&D with my own preferences from back in the day, or picked up over the years. I have a setting document to help get players into the setting. I’ll touch on my house rules in another post. One thing about my setting is no set pantheon based on this idea I blogged about. We got into an extended theological discussion for what it meant for clerics and certain types of alignment defined characters. Part of my recent thinking, is that alignment does not need to be that complicated, and the law/chaos of OD&D makes more sense. That is also something for another post.

My point is, that having this discussion to get the player’s in the right frame of mind both helped them look at alignment in a different way, and helped me clarify what I had in mind. I prefer initial groups of players to be a good/heroic type party. But by our discussion of less reliance on alignment, the players were led to explore what it means to be chaotic or evil. I now have a party of “evil” characters. They are still out for adventure, but the nature of my internal presuppositions about how things would start and pan out, took a major turn.

This is by no means a bad thing. I was a little surprised, but players ALWAYS do things the DM does not expect. I reasoned that my rule of thumb for a starting group best fits for those who are new to RPGs. Two players are in the Wednesday night AD&D game that is over three years old and 158+ sessions. One player has been in that game about 2 years, and about 140 sessions. The other player over a year and about 60 sessions. This means that I know how they play and I trust them as players.

World building happened in concert with the players in at least two ways. First, their backstories indicated where they were from on my map and added events and NPCs. That alone did some work I didn’t have to do. It also gives me an opportunity to answer some questions. Such as, who is the mysterious old sage and his elf associate, the never seen again father of the half-elf character? Where were they going? What happened to them? Etc.

Second, their interactions with the NPC’s when their characters first stepped onto the “stage” of the game built the world. Their choices and actions did a few things. As all players do, they asked for names of nearly everybody. On the spot world building. I pre-generated several hundred names using the free Inspiration Pad Pro, by NBOS. For any NPC I had not assigned a name, I just had to look at my list.  The way they decided to approach “problems*” determined how the NPCs responded. The world further evolved as I had to determine how NPCs reacted and what it meant for the setting.

I would argue that there is always some degree of world building, even if a one-shot. Each person at the table develops a mental image of what the world is. They take the DM’s descriptions and paint their own picture of the world. Whether it is written down or kept in the back of your mind, it is world building. Whether you have a mental framework for what your world looks like, or use a published setting, world building still happens as the actions of the characters via the players make it come to life.

The key to world building, I think, is that the DM has to be willing to let what the players have their characters do change it. The DM can have a well thought out campaign guide/Bible/notebook, but it only comes alive when the clock starts ticking and the players step into it. Every interaction builds something. The world becomes more “real” with each interaction with an NPC, and each location explored.

The DM can generate a random monster lair with a treasure and a map to anther dungeon/lair/treasure. Until the characters find the monster’s lair and then find the map, the map doesn’t really exist. It is more of a potential. Each NPC, monster, town, dungeon, or anything you place in your world, does not exist until your player’s find it. For this reason, I like the advice I read somewhere online a few years ago, don’t save your best stuff for later, use it now!

That is, if you have a really cool idea, don’t save it for the players to never get to. In other words, if you have an idea that requires tenth level characters to make it work, start with higher level characters. If, as the DM, you really want the players to mix it up with a high-level wizard, and stand a chance to live, you have to have higher level characters.

I have a perfect example with my AD&D world. I put a lot of time into it over the course of years. I have an idea for a big bad working in the background. I have introduced hints of a big bad, that is really a henchman to the big bad. The players, my sons & co., haven’t played for over two years. I may never get to play out the idea because I started with players new to RPGs. The idea doesn’t fit my new campaign area, so that may never come to pass.

I have a few locations seeded in the new area, and ideas for more. However, I will only detail them when the course of play demands it.

World building by one’s self is fun, but it amazing the way it comes alive when you invite players in and let them have a hand in filling in something you only have a vague idea about.

*In this context a problem is a challenge, goal, obstacle, or similar. For example, a merchant with the caravan they escorted into town was willing to pay for various information on the current situation. The merchant was willing to pay for information that would help him know what he might sell on his next trip. Saving time by paying a small sum for others to do the legwork, and the merchant spend more time on selling the goods brought this time.

Check this World Building Community on G+.

What is a Campaign?

I saw a question on Twitter today asking how long a campaign lasts. That got me to thinking and depending one your RPG experience and preferences, the term campaign has multiple meanings.

Campaign comes to RPGs from tabletop miniature wargaming, which in turn gets the term from military parlance. The military use of the term  derives from the plain of Campania, a place of annual wartime operations by the armies of the Roman Republic. [1] Generally, a campaign is a specific portion of a war, such as a series of battles or specific strategy. It can also be a region/terrain, such as the desert campaign in WWII.

Wikipedia has a handy page with all the ways campaign is used, including gaming! There are two handy articles, one on campaign in the context of RPGs, and the other is the campaign setting.

The various shades of meaning in relation to RPG’s that come to mind are: (This is in the context of D&D in my mind, substitute your primary RPG of choice.)

  • The entire game world/multiverse and all activity happening under a DM. That is, the campaign setting.
  • A specific connected set of adventures/game sessions with a clear end point.  Often this means the end of that game “world”, and after a break a new world emerges.
    • An example from published modules would be the Drow series.
  • A campaign in a DM’s ongoing world might mean a major event in the world is resolved, or it might mean players have reached a level where retirement is in order and a new batch of characters enter the realm.
  • A specific group of players and their characters. It may be that circumstances prevent that group from playing again, and the end of the campaign is the end of regular play among that group of people.
  • A DM with a single campaign setting can encompass multiple groups of players and each could be their own campaign, or they could be somehow interconnected. There are lots of examples of DMs running the same setting for decades.

When campaign is used to refer to the setting, it can be a single genre, multiple genres, homebrew, or published.

In a multi-genre campaign setting, one could have D&D set in the past, then western/steampunk, then modern, then apocalyptic, then future. The order could be different, such as in Jack Vance’s far future world where there is magic.

Other GMs have a separate setting for each genre. They could even mix and match home brew for one setting and a published setting for another.

A DM can even have a campaign to get the word out that they are looking for new players.

There can even be a campaign of war within the RPG itself.

So a DM can campaign for new players for their campaign setting that features military campaigns in the game.

What does the term campaign in the context of table top RPGs bring to mind for you?

[Tomorrow’s article explores the term adventure.]

Dice Chain To Inspire Number of Player Character Racial Enclaves

I was thinking on some of the ideas I have had for a new campaign setting, and the idea of numbers of major groups of various player character races crossed my mind. I was thinking how to use the dice chain for something else, and this idea just jelled.

Below is how I am considering using it for this specific campaign setting. There is nothing to stop you from using a dice chain with all the various dice you have. One could also mix in story cubes to get a back story for each “nation”. If you don’t have gnomes in your world, skip them. If you want some races to be even more rare, use different dice to represent them, or make their enclaves smaller and further apart. There are so many other tools that one could use to build details. Tables, cards, dice, PDF’s, novels, TV, and movies each have something they could inspire.

One does not have to go into great detail, just make a note about that race with the number. For example, below I have the four shires, meaning four groups of halflings. They could be in a federation or confederation arrangement for mutual defense and trade.

For the dwarves, the idea of a lost kingdom sounded appealing, so in common parlance, it is the seven kingdoms of the dwarves. This gave me the idea that dwarves would call mithril and other hard to obtain things as rare as the eighth kingdom. This generates an air of history, mystery, and legend without much effort at a complex list of names and dates and charts. It leaves room to add them later, but they are not needed at the start.

Multiple groups of each race brings up the possibilities of rivalries, historic ties, and intrigue between members of each group. This would be in addition to any such things happening with the various groups within each kingdom. Add into the mix relations with other races, and it’s politics where ever you go.

Politics and factions arise in groups of all sizes. Families, neighborhoods, villages, baronies, kingdoms, regions, continents, etc. Families go from the basic unit to extended families, to descendants of the children of a common ancestor. Neighborhoods have those that are older and established vs. the newcomer, or other such division. Villages, towns, and cities have competing factions whether by neighborhood, guild, or class. Baronies have divisions between townsfolk and rural folk. Such divisions scale. Baronies more distant from the seat of the king are seen as backward and uncouth. Newer kingdoms more recently cut from the wilds are seen as inferior to long established kingdoms and empires.

Enemies over trading rights become staunch allies when faced with invasion by a mutual enemy. It can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. It is far simpler to have one simple rivalry and one simple commonality between each neighboring “kingdom.” Let the course of play reveal an increase in the number of conflicts or points of mutual interest. Or the initial single point of interest and conflict might be broadened and deepened during the growth of the campaign through play.

As is evident, in my case, a relatively simple idea has sparked my creative juices, and I see all kinds of possibilities. My goal is not to get mired in the details. While I might have four halfling shires, and seven dwarven kingdoms, I don’t need their official names, names of rulers, or location at this time. Adventurers need not be educated about the scope of the world, or even access to maps of the world. They only need a general idea that the four shires are in the east, for example. Unless they are a halfling, they won’t know more than that.

All of this is just a framework or placeholders for ideas. Not all ideas will work into play. Only those ideas that come into play are worth expansion. The most work and detail needs to go into the starting location and surrounding region. This concept easily transfers to any set of rules or genre. For science fiction, it could be how many star systems, star bases, capital ships, etc. a given group has. Narrow the focus to a city and it indicates number of neighborhoods with each group in the city. Use a roll of the die assigned to a given group to generate a random number for whatever place in the setting it is needed. I think that it is a simple enough concept that you don’t need a table, other than as an example or reminder. If you forget and use the “wrong” die, it won’t hurt.

Dice Chain for Number of Nations/Enclaves of Each Race

Original D&D Dice Chain, as I knew it: (One can roll the dice, or take the maximum from each die, or any number that makes sense for your vision of your campaign.)

d4 – Halflings – The four Shires.
d6 – Gnomes – Burrows for dwellings and grouped in clans.
d8 – Dwarves – The Seven Kingdoms of the Dwarves, the 8th Kingdom is lost in mystery.
d10 – Elves – Ten major enclaves of Elves. Could be wood, valley, high, grey, or other groupings.
d12 – Humans – 12 major nations/peoples. Nations with “fixed” borders, or groups of nomads with claims on seasonal lands.
d20 – 20 other groupings of Humanoids, potential other player races.

Half-elves and Half-Orcs would tend to be mixed in with one of their parent’s communities, or isolated communities where they settle.

There are six dice in the above dice chain. Use a d6 to determine which die to roll to determine number of clans in a dwarven kingdom, or how many tribes of orcs. These could always be those that are known. The world is a big place and magic, interdimensional portals, and the like can explain away any sudden appearance when it is “known” that there are no more X in the world.

What die to roll for number of factions/groups/divisions at this level? (d6) (Level can be city, kingdom, continent, etc.) For example, how many major guilds are in the capital city? Of course, if you roll 20, you may be re-thinking the work that would involve, so as always, change it to suit your needs. A good one would be, how many regiments can be mustered, if you don’t want to calculate detailed population metrics. If you roll a d4 and a 1, or a 1 on any die, what story would you come up with to only have one regiment that the king can count on? Rebellion, civil war, invasion, natural disaster, dragon?

  1. d4
  2. d6
  3. d8
  4. d10
  5. d12
  6. d20

DCC style dice chain (d14) or d16

  1. d2
  2. d3
  3. d4
  4. d5
  5. d6
  6. d7
  7. d8
  8. d10
  9. d12
  10. d14
  11. d16
  12. d20
  13. d24
  14. d30
  15. d50
  16. d100

Campaign Idea – The Broken Lands

The Broken Lands – This name comes from the topography that is marked by the effects of earthquakes. Earthquakes were once common in the area, but are now beyond living memory. This will make valleys, bluffs, plateaus, swamps, and any other feature fit. Volcanism or other processes, including magic or gigantic creatures, could be the source of the quakes. The variation in the terrain will allow for creatures of any type. Mountains high enough for cold based creatures in summer, Wet & swampy regions, areas of mountains high enough to block the rains and have arid/desert regions.

Living memory suddenly changes with the earthquake that uncovered a buried structure. (Vault of the Broken Lands? Secret of the Broken Lands? Mystery/Mysteries of the Broken Lands?) This leads to the possible questions: Why an earthquake now,? Can the cause be determined? What is in the buried structure? This area will be the best available farmland in the area, but it is remote and off the beaten path/main trade routes. While officially part of the kingdom and claimed by one or more neighboring kingdoms, it is a march/borderland and is wild. Only the occasional bandit or ravaging monster has come around in recent years, lulling all into a sense of peace and security.

This abruptly changes the focus for the locals, the region, kingdom, and neighboring kingdoms. This is the hook that brings fresh adventurers to the area. This refreshes the minds of elders about stories of the creatures and adventurers of old.

As a new campaign, the initial setting will be centered in a human kingdom, and the first PC’s will be human. It takes time for word to spread and non-human treasure seekers (of 1st level) to show up. Non-human NPC’s of more power, whether in levels, politics, wealth, or other connections/measures will be possible.

This lets the initial players and their first characters in the campaign have a hand in shaping the way it develops.

New player characters will be average character level – 1, but no higher than the lowest level character. So if the average is 4th level, but the lowest level is 3, start at 3rd level.

Leveling up – simplified – Once have enough XP to level must return to civilization/secure and well supplied base/name level stronghold and rest up and re-supply for a week. For treasure to count for XP it has to be returned to civilization with the players.

Smoke Mountain, Smoking Mountain, Fuming Mountain, Fire Mountain, Dragon Spire, Dragon’s Spire, Dragon’s Maw

COOL! – I was thinking of a volcanism and earthquake defined region, and wanted something like Death Valley (140 miles long), and found the terms graben and horst, and then the jackpot, the Basin and Range Province. It is 170,000 square miles (for example: 500 x 340). It covers a huge area in the US southwest and northeast Mexico. It is all terrain I have never seen, except in TV and movies. But I have seen similar, smaller examples in Colorado. There are numerous features affected by volcanoes and various faults. There are plenty of barriers that would make large “uninhabited”/”uncivilized” regions, and multiple kingdoms. Having border areas on the perimeter that are the more stable heartlands of the greater kingdoms/nations, makes for the far off influence of the kings/rulers/government less immediate.

This area in the real world is home to copper, gold, and silver mining. Mountains would be a good place for dwarves, and areas of isolated forests would be good places for elves. Lost valleys of the Pleistocene, or isolated plateaus full of dinosaurs. Aliens, inter-dimensional rifts, and so forth are all fair game.

Having a bit of real world analog to help inform my imagination is helpful, but it is a game and in no way requires me to stick to the way things are in the real world.

I had another idea in the pipeline, but the idea hit me, so I put it down. I plan to take bits and pieces of my current campaign and other unrealized ideas, and make the current center of action somewhat far off from this new area. I have ideas that I didn’t leave a good place for in my original campaign concept that was more top down than bottom up design. I need a different map for my original campaign anyway, it didn’t fit for how I was trying to use it. It didn’t impact the players, but it didn’t really fit for what was developing in my mind’s eye. It’s a great map my brother did for me, but it didn’t afford all the cool terrain that I wanted available for all the things I want to do. I want just enough map detail for a starting area, and a general concept of what is around it, so that there is flexibility to make a place for the specifics that grab the player’s interest.

Having the geologically active region known from the start makes it easy to have some sort of geological activity happen to alter the landscape or reveal something new. This makes the world living in a sense that there is more rapid and long-lasting change to its appearance than in other locations.

Just writing out notes in my preferred text editor, NoteTab*, the ideas just don’t want to stop. I keep jotting down notes of cool ideas that I don’t want to forget. Just when I think I’m done, another idea pops into my mind. It’s great to have the creative juices on overdrive, but not when it is time to go to bed. Even though I have what is now today off, I still need to get sleep and deal with the requirements of adulting.

*See these past articles where I discuss NoteTab. Software, Notes, 30 posts in 60 days [I forgot about this one.], Tools, Written vs. Typed, and NaNoWriMo. I even have my name in the acknowledgements of the help file for my contributions to testing over the years. I don’t want to take the time to learn how to do all the things in another editor that I can do with NoteTab, as I have better things to do.

Sandbox Idea

I wrote about an idea for a new campaign setting last week. Last night I had an idea for the starting point for the sandbox.

An earthquake rocks a region near a village. The ground opens up and reveals a structure beneath that releases creatures that raid and terrorize the village. Some local hero/adventurer types kill/drive off the creatures, find the buried structure/dungeon, discover great wealth within and word soon spreads. These adventurers could have retired or set themselves up as local power/authority figures, or all been killed in their greed for more.

This premise sets up the whole thing to use a module featuring a dungeon, a commercial megadungeon, or developing my own. The level of flexibility with this is enormous.

Of course, this leads to a boom town with new found wealth that garners the attention of the far off king, who sends a newly ennobled baron, a younger son of a noble to come in and restore order and make sure taxes are collected. This will be a challenge to players, and the degree of taxes taken will depend on how law-abiding the players and other adventurers are, and how lawful and honest the new baron is.

The PC’s hear about this chance for riches and glory, and arrive with lots of others to make their fortune. The damage, from the creatures, to part of the village is seen on the homes & buildings closest to the hole in the earth. Earthquake damage is also evident. Merchants, innkeepers, thieves, and oh so many others have shown up and changed a once sleepy farming village into a boom town that is the center of attention for miles around. Think of a gold rush town, but with magic and monsters. One cold place this in any genre, not just fantasy. Weird West, Sorcerous Space, etc. Or take out the magic and just be technology, whatever suits you.

The native villagers are in shock at the sudden changes to their way of life. Farmers will be chasing people off their fields. This could lead to a localized famine if the crop is poor from all the digging.

Of the various ideas I have had to pull this together, many can be implemented before or after gameplay starts to make things more dynamic. A timeline of events leading up to and after the earthquake would also help move things along.


Make this a one-off introduction to the campaign. This would call for a small dungeon that is soon tapped out.

Make this the center of attention for the sandbox with a megadungeon.

Formerly sleepy area of kingdom that has not seen much trouble for generations, near a kingdom that has been at peace, but the sudden surge in wealth has many claiming ancient rights to the spoils and demanding their fair share. Documents, maps, patents, deeds, genealogies, etc. All presented to back up claims to land, mineral rights, etc.

What might have caused the earthquake? Why now? Who is interested in this?

Supply caravans lose guards and others seeking their fortune. Some merchants come in on a caravan, but set up shop selling supplies at exorbitant prices to adventurers.

Mines/Miners – non-adventuring types will be digging for treasure, not caring to risk life and limb in the dungeon. Pre-cut stone is gathered from the structure as all newer groups have used prior construction materials again.

Local farmer/crafter sets up an inn, uses materials from buildings of the slain families to build/expand.

Constable. – Native villager appointed/elected/selected by town to keep peace/order. Active before arrival of the baron. Baron can arrive before or after game play starts.

When baron and his force arrives, they set a levy and require the able bodied to build a low wall and ditch around the town with watchtowers at each approach. The underground structure is mined for building materials and is like kicking an ant nest….

If a megadungeon, there will be some other entrance(s) that keep re-populating the dungeon. If they dig too deep too fast or venture too deep too fast, they could attract the attention of a lot of bad things….

Place other NPC’s and static encounters around the sandbox. Note which ones were there before the earthquake, and which are new arrivals since. Are any new arrivals due to what the earthquake has revealed? An old hedge witch/wizard would be there before, do they know anything about the structure?

Sages, scholars, and wizards interested in ancient things might show up.

Local village cleric/druids overwhelmed. Shrines set up to strange and foreign gods. NOTE: Idea of the powers and work that in to it.

Other farmsteads in surrounding area.

Fallen towers, other ruins, caves, sinkholes, etc.

Rival gangs of adventurers. As with any boom town situation, one of them has a level of clout/influence the others don’t and takes advantage of it. Turf wars/claim disputes/etc. This may or may not be the original “heroes”. Calls for generating multiple rival adventuring parties.

Tavern Name: The Fallen Paladin – either a heroic paladin fell in battle saving the town, or fell from grace….

Thieves guild of nearest city/large town moves in to get their piece of the action. Or a thief of sufficient level moves in to set up his or her own guild.


Campaign Setting Idea

While mowing the lawn yesterday, I  heard sirens and had one of my off the wall thoughts. What if you died and didn’t know it, and could only do the thing that you were doing for eternity?
That’s potentially a terrible curse. But I went with the idea and let the ideas bubble up as i continued to mow.
I have an idea for a new AD&D campaign and want to have fun with it, so I put together some quick notes on my phone in Evernote, when I took a break from mowing. I then cleaned them up and added more ideas below.
  • When I was still on the same thing for eternity idea, I thought about this making people think about their eternal future and learn things that would make them have as much variety as possible in how they do things. For example, learn 100 or 1,000 ways to cut the grass, or maintain the lawn. This will prevent boredom/monotony.
    • I further imagined literate cultures having lots of books on 100 ways to do 100 things, or long lists of ways people have died and ways to deal with that. Pre-literate cultures would have intricate oral traditions taught by the elders on such matters.
      • The idea of dying in childbirth was very unpalatable, and how to deal with that? Perhaps a belief that the mother and child are united together in eternity exploring and learning from the cosmos.
      • This and other horrible ways of dying lead to the idea of nuance, and not being literally the only thing one does for eternity. I am sure one burned to death could be seen as involved with fire in the afterlife, as a shooting star, lava flow, etc. Or they become a fire elemental or other creature on the plane of fire!

This lead to the idea of birth and death augurs, and the points that follow:

  • All humans – Characters are all humans, with rare exceptions. Demi humans arrive via random gates from other worlds. For some reason, the idea of an all-human party is appealing. Maybe the first character for each player has to be human, and future characters can be something else.
  • Birth augur determines class and other affects, etc. Use DCC until generate own lists. Players write a paragraph or two to weave together class, secondary skill (if AD&D), and birth augur.
  • Birth order to get 7th of 7th son/daughter, etc. If roll 7th of 7th son/daughter, get plus 1 to Intelligence and Wisdom, or other cool bonus. Social class, rank, parent’s occupations, season, month, etc, all play a part.
  • Parents would want children to carry on the family business, but if the birth augur says differently, then parents are reluctant to challenge the way things are.
    • Making a character with a class that goes counter to the stats. A high strength for a mage, for example, might indicate one bucking the trend of their birth augur. This should call for interesting role play situations.
  • Death augur, roll on table,  determined at birth. Thus the characters have it at the start of the campaign. Age, season, circumstance, activity, such as battle. Search real world augurs of birth and death. This should encourage players to be heroic and if they are slain, to go out in style.
  • All groups, human and monster believe that what one is doing when they die will determine what they do in the afterlife for eternity. Those slain in battle might be involved in eternal war. The nuances of the death could point to something else related to that circumstance. For example, slain by ogres could mean you awake in a new world where ogres are friendly and you have to work past your issues with ogres to move on. Or you could be re-born as an ogre….
  • Note, raise dead forces a re-roll of birth and death auguries. If identical, signals a blessing from the powers. If vastly different it signals a mark, curse, burden, or quest is demanded to lift or rectify it. If one is the same and the other is different, it presents a fun roleplay opportunity.
  • Those who desire a long life avoid the things that signal the possibility of their death.
  • Certain death – there is a saying, “While death comes to all that is, the only certain death is one that is foretold.”
  • No fear of death.  Fate, luck, etc. all play a part. If character knocked down, but ruled by the DM as not part of his death augur, “flip the body” like in DCC, and just badly injured. Possible permanent injury table.
  • I like the idea of no set alignment, but those on the side of civilization and law, and those on the side of monsters and wildness. More of the law & chaos of original D&D. I had the idea for the name of a rule set, “Heroes & Anti-Heroes.” Those on the side of law are heroic and those on the side of chaos are the opposite. Not necessarily cowards, but their great deeds are infamous rather than heroic.
  • Undead and those who seek to cheat death would be chaos and hidden cults. A lich would be the ultimate in an attempt to cheat death.
    • Demons would be those powers out to trick the susceptible into resisting death at all costs. The “blessings” from the demons would be life as undead.
  • Call Turn Undead “Banish Magical Abomination”, and druids would “Banish Unnatural Abominations”. Let druids turn undead at 2 or 3 levels lower.
  • No set deities. “The powers”, “great ones”, generic name for all the deities. Few groups would worship a specific deity.
  • Any tribes/groups/nations/cultures that don’t follow the birth/death augur tradition will be viewed as “wrong”. This should be rare and not encountered in the core of the campaign region.
This whole idea helped me to see undead and law vs. chaos differently. It is not as confining as one imagines.
This also feels like the idea for a book.  Hmmmm…. Not until I get the first draft of the final chapters of the novel I have yet to finish.