Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Digging Up Something D&D

A while back, I asked for some tips on making a D&D campaign, mostly with worldbuilding, and I got some helpful responses with good resources. Now, I'm trying to think of a way to expand it. Originally, I was thinking of the players deposing the local Big Bad around level of 7 or 8, and they'd be at the island setting because of shipwreck. Now I'm thinking of changing things up a little to give players some choices in the matter, since some players/characters resist Closed Circle scenarios (and I don't blame them). I'm trying to think of a way to get some level 1 characters steadily built up until plot hooks lead 'em to the island. Also got some miscellaneous stuff I could use some help in brainstorming.

The lay of the world: There are two major continents involved. The eastern one's essentially Europe, and the western one is Africa-like. They're technologically on par with each other, mostly. The islands in the original scope are in the middle between them, slightly north of the equator. They used to be used as a stopping point for inter-continental travel, but unusual incidents have gotten them a reputation for being cursed. Sailing technology developed enough that they could be safely passed by.

The islands themselves: Concept is a vague mix of Japan and Hawaii. They're very backwater, and still working on a way to produce reliable steel. When they did have contact, they tended to gather steel by gift exchanges with sailors. Magically, they're distinct from the rest of the world. Instead of arcane magic (genetic mental block), divine magic (no deities they worship), or psionics (means of developing it tightly controlled), they have magic with the elemental "power source" from animistic elemental spirits. When I was working in 3.5, I was using the Shugenja class. I'm retooling other classes appropriately.

Hook concept 1: One of the islanders barely manages to make it to the eastern continent and tries to find some adventurers to help him out. He ends up having to perform in a circus for the sake of room and board, showing off his brand of magic and performing some fake fortunetelling. The ringleader doesn't want to let him go.

Post-adventure: The islanders will be pretty much willing to let the PCs take over ruling the islands, expecting them to do a kinder job than the tyrant. I suppose his underlings could potentially survive to cause problems. There's economic opportunity as a tourist location as well as the pearls the islanders have gotten good at farming for magic and currency purposes (they sometimes use 'tile' seeded pearls as currency). Of course, if the PCs aren't the type to take over, they'll settle for showering them with gifts, which will include three giant sacred pearls I haven't settled on properties for, yet.

Suggestions for handling aquatic combat: The islanders have a natural swim speed, so some of the evil ones will try to claim that as a terrain advantage.

General suggestions for the build up will be appreciated. I have limited DM experience, and level 1 would probably be simpler to start from.

Just kind of throwing this out, so any random ideas would be appreciated.


RodeoBob said...

OK, a few thoughts...

Where do you want the dominant action of the campaign to occur? It sounds like you want to mostly use the islands as a setting for adventure. And that can work well, provided you set it up right. Think of the Grecian archipelago and all the myths set therein.

If we accept the Eastern and Western continents as being relatively civilized, relatively stable, then the islands along the trade routes become more interesting places for adventure. There would be a few major islands, with strong settlements, located along established trade routes. There would be a lot of uncharted islands and reefs off the major trade routes. Some traders would have their own "secret" routes thought the islands, complete with known "safe spots" to refill water along the way.

Naturally, these 'secret' or 'new' routes would be risky in and of themselves, but if the established routes went north & south of the islands, then these routes would be faster, and thus profitable.

And, of course, when you have large trade routes around an unmapped area, and secret routes going through said area, piracy becomes an obvious choice, with some of the islands having pirate caches, or even a fortified stronghold.

This gives you a few areas:
1.) Major civilized cities with intrigue on the main continents, at the harbors. They're established enough to have knights and feuding lords.

2.) Frontier towns on the major islands of the trade routes. Some might be colonies of the major continents, while others might be ruled by strongmen. The islands would have their own goods and trade, but mostly work with the folks going between the continents. Your enslaved people with the strongman could be one of these areas, or one of the 'wild towns' below. There's some form of law here, but also a moderate amount of risk. The Sea-Devils don't raid the big ports, but smuggers abound, trying to get stolen artifacts from lost islands back to the mainland and whatnot.

3.) Near-lawless "wild towns" inside the islands. See also: Tortuga from PotC. Less law, more fun. The only time the pirates take up swords from each other is to turn back raids by Merrow (sea-ogres) or Sahugin.

4.) Genuine wilderness. Uncivilized islands with monsters & terrors, tribes of goblins worshipping young dragons and necromancers exploring forbidden secrets in the jungle. (2nd edition D&D Necromancer's Handbook featured an "Island of Tranquility" on that last theme)

Now, as for hooks, consider the idea of a more seasoned adventurer, looking to retire. Not wanting to cow-tow to either continent's nobility, he wants to secure more of the islands for "decent, kind folk". To that end, he's started recruiting pirates to his (slightly) more lawful end. (his motives aren't 100% noble; establishing safe waters would open up a new trade route that he would control)

The PCs can be recruited pre-game, or they can be sent out by various powers-that-be on the Continents to try and get a sense of what this "foolish renegade" is up to. Naturally, as this NPC's influence grows, he'll start infringing on the BBEG, or at least become aware of him, and that can naturally build to a conflict.

An early adventure can be as simple as looking for a lost (presumed shipwrecked) ship, in order to recover the navigator's log. (and possibly their secret routes)

Bronze Dog said...

Thanks for the suggestions, RB. I think using piracy as a reason to attract player interest is a good option. One way I thought to tie it in with the specific islands I have in mind are some pirates picking up a "Sea witch" who's one of those locals they pick up. I'm currently writing down answers to PC Wrede's Worldbuilding Questions, and ended up getting the idea that their spellcasters actually get more powerful with senility.

RodeoBob said...

One thing I've found that helps avoid the "closed circle":

Start several plot arcs, and let them play out even if the PCs take no interest. The Duke who's trying to start his own island kingdom is one example, the BBEG who is enslaving the natives is another. If the PCs get involved, fine. If they don't, let these things scale up in the world. The rumor about a band of daring pirates that stole a merchant vessel at 1st level may become the daring privateers who stand up to tyranny at 8th level. You don't have to fully plan out the arcs, and it's best not to really. But as things go along, having these 'side developments' makes the world feel less static.

If the PCs start out helping the Duke, but go their own way later, having the Duke "keep going" means he remains a viable plot hook later, and the players stay interested.