Sessions the First: Setting and Characters
As is often the case, my regular lay group opted for a collaborative setting creation approach. This time we kept it light, rather than giving it the full-bore Microscope/Dresden Files treatment. We settled on five guiding principles as a group and each player (plus the GM) contributed one or two prominent setting features, NPCs or locations. From this our GM (or any of us, really) could adopt a 5×5 approach to generate adventure ideas. Or so we hoped.
The first five: campaign themes
I’ve been reading Primeval Thule recently, being a kickstarter backer, so we cribbed a few ideas from the worthy folks at Sasquatch Game Studio to get us started:
1. Life is cheap
2. Civilization is ancient and wicked, built on the bones of what came before
3. The wilderness is spectacular, savage and untamed
4. The gods are distant and aloof at best, capricious and terrifying at worst
5. Player Characters are adventurers rather than heroes
The next five: some design parameters
1. Focus on a small(ish) area and grow as required
2. Human culture is the ‘norm’; non-humans are exotic outsiders
3. Governments and powers are local and accessible rather than global and remote
4. A conquering army (ala Alexander) has recently passed through the area, leaving a governor behind
5. For flavor, picture Normans vs. Saxons (though it our case, it’s more like Greeks vs. Celts.)
Finally, some people and places: A few more than five
1. Marius the Bronze, governor of Byland, who rules from Caer Caedthwaite
2. Gregorios the Sheriff, Marius’ lieutenant, who roots out insurrectionists and casts them into the Jailhouse
3. Prince Bowen, deposed nobleman, who lairs in the High Forest and plots his return
4. Sister Brevard, a priestess and rebel, who leads the Rangers of the Grove as they work for Marius’ defeat
5. Grisyn the Mystic, a mad warlock, rumored to be more snake than man, who can see the future and lives alone in the Whispering Caverns
6. Iskandar the Warlord, foreign conqueror and sage who impressed an entire generation of Fenian youth into his service and departed to the east to conquer the world
7. The Forest of Doors, a haunted wood from which few emerge and into which many fled during the conquest
8. The Wizard Red Talon, who milks the undead in the Screaming Catacombs for foul ichors that he transforms into magic elixirs.
With that as a starting point, our story in brief became this:
The region known as Byland was historically home to the Feni, a clannish human culture fond of squabbling among themselves via cattle raids and the occasional blood feud. A few years back, invaders from across the sea arrived in huge warships. Calling themselves the Danaoi, they over-ran the poorly organized Feni as they swept through Byland heading east to further conquests. They left behind a satrap and many troops; occasionally a supply caravan departs to the east and travelers speak of the warlord Iskandar’s further conquest, but no one knows when, or even if, he will return. His governor rules with absolute authority and for all intents and purposes is the King of Byland, Marius the Bronze, first of his name, long may he reign.
Although Iskandar himself is convinced he is destined to conquer the world entire, he has left tremendous chaos in his wake. Marius the Bronze was once a true believer, regarding Iskandar as something of a philosopher-king, but as the years wear on with no word from his liege he is forced to turn his attention more fully to ruling the very fractious and noisome Feni as best he can.
That leaves him with a considerable challenge. He has two groups of rebellious Fenians to handle, an influx of carpetbagging Danaans from across the sea to accommodate, a mandate to supply goods and troops to Iskandar and tribute and taxes to Danaan, and his own conscience to wrestle with, because as it turns out Marius has given a bit more thought to his own legacy than Iskandar has to his.
And finally, the players:
Into this we insert the following:
Cinder, and elven monk and guardian of an ancient secret. He quotes the dictates of Master Po in the face of any uncertainty.
Jolly Cotton, a halfling bard, fire swallow-er, cut-purse and all around good sport.
Erdan, an elven warrior of slight build and eldritch inclination
Morgall, a half-orc barbarian from the north, orphaned by raiders, ignored by his tribe and much loved by the peasantry
Palegius the Wise, a Danaoi rogue with a thirst for secrets Best Left Alone.