Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Starting an Adventure: Populating your Campaign World

Starting an Adventure

The basic idea for this adventure came to me very quickly: a small gem stone operation has been interrupted when a rock slide opened up a cave system, and a bunch of giant rats came out to attack the miners. The miners were gnomes because gnomes loved gems according to the Player's Handbook. My logic was infallible.

You can read more about getting started on this campaign here.

While I sketched out the map, the two players I had started out with their character development. One wanted to be a fighter, the other a cleric. So I quickly added both a monastery to my notes and a fort where a local Baron ruled. Both characters decided to be humans so right now I only have the rock gnome miners, and a bunch of humans running around. But this was a wealthy town (gem stones and metals) and so I wanted to figure out what it looked like. Being the good DM that I am, I immediately turned to the Monster Manual and decided to roll everything out. This is how it was described the area according to my notes:

Village of Highfall and the North March Barony

The Village of Highfall is a quiet village surrounded by farmland, and under the shadow of the Frost Wall Mountains. Four large peaks, former volcanoes, tower above the sky and watch the activity in the valley below. Before the arrival of the barony, local tribes worshiped these mountains, associating them with the seat of their gods. The village is close to Forest Watch Keep, the seat of the North March Barony. 
From the Keep, Baron Eberhart and his soldiers, guard the land from the constant incursion of barbarian raiders, goblin tribes and the never ending supply of bandits from the Staghaunt Woods. The Baron is a kind, but hard, man and is well liked by his men. He is considered fair and just, and has done much for the local population.  
At the edge of the Staghaunt Woods, a small monastery was established. The order of priests raises blackberries and apples that they turn into wine and hard cider, which they sell to fund their order. Less well known is their library, a small collection of holy works that they continue to expand upon. 

After writing out the above, I used the Monster Manual to actually determine what the Barony looked like. The results are below:

North March Barony & Village of Highfall

  • Baron Waren Eberhart (6th Level Human Fighter, Lawful Good)
  • 10 Gentry (17 Guards, 46 Servants)
  • 3 Knights
  • 44 Soldiers (Including 1 2nd Level Lieutentant, and 12 1st level Sergeants/Corporals)
  • 22 Mercenaries
  • 16 Farmers
  • 81 Peasants
  • 9 Craftsmen
  • 7 Priests
  • 9 Rock Gnome Miners

So now we have a very general idea of what is out here in the woods. Later I would add a wizard tower and two wizards and three apprentices so that another character could play a wizard. The wizards had six servants, and eight guards at their tower. The head of the tower is 5th level, and is often consulted by Baron Eberhart on things magical. Additionally we expanded our map to a lake at the end of the valley and this is where the small village of Dawnfields was added - being primarily a halfling village under the protection of the Barony. This also marks the full range of the Barony.

Village of Dawnfields

  • Master Warden Collyn Longwood (3rd Level Halfling Fighter, Lawful Good)
  • 6 Wardens of Dawnfields (2nd Level Halfling Fighters, Lawful Good)
  • Master Priest Reya Merryberry (3rd Level Halfling Priest, Lawful Good)
  • 91 Halflings
  • 8 Human Craftsmen
  • 10 Human Sailors

At this point we know what our happy Barony looks like - but what makes it unhappy? Barbarians, bandits, and goblins! Because random encounters are so important, I decided to put together a random encounter table, and decided that it made sense to roll on that table every five miles that the players traveled - which we estimated to be about two hours of game time. To save time I decided to re-purpose the monster summoning table from the Monster Manual. I made it focused on what it was I was trying to accomplish for the feel - plus keep it balanced for the number of adventurers I had. Roll 1d12:

  1. Wolf
  2. Bat, huge
  3. Orc (1d2)
  4. Barbarian (2d4)
  5. Goblins (1d4)
  6. Bandits (1d4)
  7. Rat, giant (3d4)
  8. Kobold (3d4)
  9. Wolf
  10. Bandits (1d4)
  11. Bat, huge
  12. Rat, giant (3d4)

So now we have our overall environment: towns, the land, encounters, and more. At this point I felt ready to begin the adventure. But first - here is the updated map!

I recreated the map in Hexographer, something I will review at a later date - but have no financial interest in or relationship with beyond me using it to make maps. This is fairly basic, and each hex represents 5 miles.

So the adventure begins! My starting characters were a Human Fighter and a Human Cleric. The fighter was a former soldier of the baron who had finished his service and was looking forward to adventure. The cleric was a trainee at the monastery ready to go out into the world. They now had a place to explore and people to interact with.

Next post I'll actually put up the adventure!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Building a Kingdom from the Ground Up: Magic

Decisions on Magic in a New Campaign Setting

Back in my previous post on Building a Kingdom from the Ground Up, I talked briefly about character creation and how I and the players built out at the same speed. As the players grew, the campaign world grew. A player wanted a halfling, so we built a halfling village. Another wanted a wizard, and so we quickly addressed magic in the setting. I then took a moment to beat on the Forgotten Realms as that is one of my favorite hobbies.

But let's step back for a second and examine the consequences and design decisions of the various levels of magic.


Magic is one of those things that can be defined on a simple scale: None, Low, Medium, High, Extensive. This is the basic Likert scale I use to define fantasy worlds. I'll quickly give a basic breakdown of them below:

  • None: This is a fantasy world with no magic. It might have something like orcs, or goblins, but in general, there is zero magic involved in the campaign setting. Examples would include The Three Muskateers or the Count of Monte Cristo, fantasies in zero magic settings. It could also occur in D&D if you were to use an all fighter or all thief campaign, without magic items. Not necessarily the most common or favorite of anyone.
  • Low: A lot of people point to Middle Earth as an example of a low magic campaign and I tend to agree. A small handful of magical items, a heavy dependence on fighter types, and if wizards are present - they are rare. I generally prefer this setting type, though it is hard work. Magical practitioners will either practice physical magic (i.e. sleight of hand) or be hedge wizard types. Another example would be the Kingdom of the Isles in the Riftwar Saga, while Kelewan would be an example of a medium to high magic campaign setting. In general, average folk will know magic exists and they will either be hostile or neutral towards it. I generally prefer neutral, but have played at tables where it was hostile.
  • Medium: An example of this setting type would be Pre-War of the Lance Dragonlance. The distrust of magic was strong and wide spread, and while magical items and the magical gods do exist - as does an organization of mages in the Tower of High Sorcery - they are on decline. The campaign is not necessarily magically hostile - but Wizards still have to be cautious. Average folk will know wizards and magic exists, they will know it can generally be helpful, but they will have little to no practical knowledge of what magic can do. Most folk will range from nervous to generally enthusiastic about magic.
  • High: Most campaigns in the various incarnations of D&D fall into this category. Magic is pretty much everywhere and magic users can be encountered in every town and region. Although some campaigns might stop short of magic shops in the market, it is a "Just barely" kind of thing. Mystara, Greyhawk, and the Forgotten Realms are all squarely in this setting, with Mystara and Greyhawk handling it well, and Forgotten Realms handling it poorly. In general, people will have a neutral to positive feeling in regards to magic, and a solid foundation for player character wizards. In my mind, this is the default setting for most D&D campaign worlds and is the easiest for DMs to implement.
  • Extensive: The opposite of none. Pretty much magic is in every part of the campaign world from the word go. This could take the form of the Eberron where there are magical trains, to the world of Golem Arcana where even the poorest outcasts are able to assemble powerful magically forged Titans to defend themselves. Such campaigns are often built on the "What ifs..." that we all ask when we first start going through the spell lists... "What if I cast continual light on a bunch of stones and use them as street lamps?" In an Extensive magic world there is a city employee doing just that. In general average folk love magic, and probably practice it themselves. Forgotten Realms crosses into this realm every once in a while.

Thinking About Magic

The purpose in thinking about magic is to think about your long term, without planning out every aspect of your long term. In a high or extensive magic setting, for example, you have to not only deal with planning epic encounters, but also building in defenses against magic wielders as well. Magic is powerful, and it has the potential to completely derail a well thought out campaign. If you are going to go high and extensive you need to think in that dimension. You need to consider what will teleport and fly do to your campaigns. What about polymorph or wish? If you have an extensive magical campaign, what happens when bar fights start having web or summon monster used? 

Planning a magic level is something you should work on with your PCs finding a comfortable fit for what they want out of the world and what you want out of the world. At the end of the day, however, the DM makes the final call. 

Further, because random tables are fun, I threw this together as well - if you don't know what you want to do - or just think rolling dice is fun - then use the following tables:
  1. How will average commoners react to a magical spell in your campaign world? (Roll 1d10)

  2. How common do you want NPC wizards to be? (Roll 1d6)

  3. When you hear "Magic Shop" your reaction is... (Roll 1d6)

  4. How do you want players to react to a +1 Sword? (Roll 1d8)

Now simply take the results of each roll and look at them. Mostly low? You would prefer a low magic setting. Is it a mix? Take the one in the middle. You have one or more extensive results? Consider using that as your magical base. 

As a note, if you use these tables I'd love to hear your results. I am generally biased towards low settings and as a result these tables are too - please feel free to play with them!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Neat! I got reviewed!

Adventure Anthology One: Shepherds of Pineford

I wrote an adventure many years ago called Shepherds of Pineford for the Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game. You can find it here. It's on page 28! Recently I was shocked to see that Jon Bupp had decided to review my adventure and noted that he really enjoyed it - and that it was an easy convert to 5th Edition! Thank you Jon!

The kind words:
The Shepherds of Pineford has two locations, the town of Pineford, and the simple ruins. I may use the town at some other time. Pretty straightforward, but with a few hooks, and a few suggestions on why the party might be there. Perfect for a sandbox game. I was able to to a quick read thru shortly before our session and felt comfortable running it.
You can find the full review, as well as some of his play notes, at his blog.