Saturday, January 22, 2011

Now It Can Be Told...

For just over a year, I've been running an OD&D game on a weekly basis.  We've moved from one game store to another, gone from just one player to a group of six to nine players, and their characters have advanced to nearly fifth level.  We've had several characters die, some in some very dramatic ways, others in more prosaic fashion, e.g. "oh, so that trap was poisoned?  I roll a 4.  Oops."  Magic items started off with a magic sword - now in a somewhat dysfunctional relationship with the halfling thief in the party.  Now there is another magic sword, a magic spear, a net of underwater something (no, they haven't figured it out), and one or two minor items.

The impetus for the campaign was simple: I wanted to play D&D, and I did not want to spend a lot of time on setting up a huge homebrewed setting, for fear that (a) the players wouldn't like it, and (b) it would become its own thing, rather than a backdrop for adventure.  I also wasn't sure just what I wanted to do with modifying the rules for D&D, since that seemed inevitable for me.  I decided on using Goblinoid Games dependable Labyrinth Lord; it seemed more easily amenable to modification than either Swords & Wizardry or BFRPG.

Taking a page from Ars Ludi's The West Marches campaign concept, I set things at the edge of a great-but-largely-offstage Grand Kingdom, in the modest frontier village of Kingsbridge.  Right nearby could be found the ruins of a wizard's tower, now long abandoned.  With that, I had the basics covered - dungeon and refuge of sorts.

In detailing Kingsbridge, I found myself liberally borrowing from a variety of sources.  The local tavern was Falgrave's - mentioned in The Dragon #8, "The Development of Towns in D&D" and I kept the Aryan-Transpacific pantheon from my earlier Southlands campaign.  The one place where I began adding in my own creativity was in the realm of NPCs:

  • Sieglinde, the lieutenant in the Royal Army and commander of the local militia.  Sieglinde had a positive dislike for adventurers, but despite that ended up with a fondness for Kyle, the aforementioned hobbit thief.  (It was a series of really positive reaction rolls, and I went with it)
  • Father Xylos, the local village priest.  Very elderly and somewhat frail, Father Xylos became something of a confidant of the party - usually as a result of having to patch a wounded player-character up.
  • Evpraksia, the local soothsayer and alchemist.  Clever, secretive, and more than capable of driving a hard bargain.
Relatively shortly after they began delving deeper into Xylarthen's Tower, I realized that there was a need for more variety.  So I added The Ruined Monastery, roughly two days journey to the south from Kingsbridge.  This prompted me to put together a map of the local area; I added several features, including another town and several dungeons from back issues of White Dwarf.

At the end of a year of adventuring, I found that my bricolage approach towards campaign construction had worked fairly well.  What was missing was a "larger view" of the campaign, or so it seemed to me.  There wasn't much I could do to add to the campaign on a larger scale without breaking out of the purely local framework I had started with.  With that in mind, I decided to shift the party from this setting to something intentionally built on a larger scale: my new campaign, named Aldwyr.

More to follow....


  1. Sounds great. It's always important to remember that the setting exists for the sole reason of giving the players a place to play. Keep it simple, dynamic and fun, and nothing else matters.

  2. Matt - while I agree with you in general, I hasten to add that "the players" also includes the referee. In other words, the setting is created by the referee to be "a place to play" - and for the referee, that is not the same as the "play" experienced by the players. The tension that can exist is between what the referee wants from the setting and what the players want - too much of the former, and the referee ought to simply write novels. Too much of the latter, and the group breaks down. There's a balance to be struck.

  3. To complicate things, that balance is neither static nor universal.

    I still have fond memories of one of the Emersonian DM contingent's campaign--phenomenally detailed, lots of different personalities to riff off of, and the world was not only persistent (i.e., what the players did could make a difference that would carry forward), but it moved when the players weren't looking. The level of verisimilitude was quite impressive; there was always a sense that the world was inhabited by beings with their own agendas, which I found to be kind of cool. Not many people can pull that sort of thing off, though, and I think it really only works well if you're running/playing a lot. Otherwise the referee and the players wind up badly out of sync, and (as you point out) the referee should stick with writing novels.