Friday, January 5, 2018

Campaign Oultine

Yeah, I've been a little stuck in work lately. Every time I think I'm getting a little ahead, I just end up stuck deeper. As the recent month long break in blog posts, no doubt attests. But, Christmas Break just landed! Yay!! And for those of you who don't know, I'm an educator and though we don't get as many workdays (and hence the pay) throughout the year, we do enjoy several unusually long breaks. Yay!! And, other than fun family stuff, I'll have some free time to catch up on my posting. I know you've all been waiting for this ...

Today I wanted to share some of my plans for the campaign over the next few months, and what we might do thereafter. It's kind of a mini-study in how to take old 1e modules and tool a campaign for 5e, but honestly, I'm a going to run a little thin on details.

Our last campaign was in my homebrew world of ArborDale (the main city we were playing in and near) and centered around the rising of an ancient Necromancer in the Broken Finger region to the northwest of ArborDale. We played 5e characters through to about 8th level and called it quits to start a new round of characters. The players were new to 5e by and large and wanted the chance to spread their design wings and try new classes and builds. By the way, I did cover some of this campaign in previous posts, but never got around to a blow by blow--something I've always wanted to be better about.

So we started a new campaign set in the Forgotten Realms (since I had the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide and it gave us some more build options) and ran The Lost Mines of Phandelver. It ran quite well, and near the end I wove the main villains of that campaign into the Against the Slaver's campaign from 1e and 2e. A1 to A4 were 1e tournament creations and not perfectly suited to campaign play, but rather more old school episodic play. So I drew some from the Against the Slavers of 2e and before long we were dealing with a hex crawl through the Mere of the Dead men to get to the start of the slavers adventures. By the time we started however, my players were a bit too strong for a 1e 4-7 adventure. Thus I had to retool some of the encounters to make them more of a challenge, and strategize a bit more. This worked well, as the Slavers series is about thinking as much as hack and slash and thus far things are clicking along nicely. In fact, in the last session they were about to headstrong and ended up alerting the inhabitants of the temple and were almost killed before they fled down into the dungeons below. They ended up spell spent, out of healing and about to enter the belly of the beast. The next session found them trapped in a massive cave-in as the majority of the slavers retreated with the slaves to the docks. A furious battle occurred which ended with a cliff hanging moment as the slavers pull away from the docks and the players can;t attack the ships without condemning the slaves to drowning. We are playing again this Sunday so we'll see if they can manage a full victory or are left once again chasing the slavers into the sunset.

Assuming they survive, they will have the option of staying on the slavers' trail, as they are developing quite a hatred for them. In which case the plan is to run through A2 through 4 afterwards. I set A1 on the isle of Mintarn, but changed the name to Highport. A2, the Slaver's Stockade, will be set in the Troll Hills near the Troll-Bark Forest. I am structuring it as a waypoint, or holding pen for slavers moving south into Amn and Tethir. The Slavers Lords, a shadow branch of the Zhentarim are spreading north to capture slaves which are being by and large sold in slave markets in Amn and Tethir. On a larger scale, the Zhentarim are using the connections of the Slave Lords thieves' and assassins' guilds to infiltrate the Lord's Alliance and the governing bodies of small towns throughout the Sword Coast region. The connection between the Trade Way and Coast Way has always been dubious and not well maintained--hence the Slaver's Stockade. This hill fort now sits along a newly made road that runs from Dragonspear Castle through the Fields of the Dead and to Baldur's Gate. Of course, the region is known for its vast and wily Troll population and the Slave Lords have bargained with the local menace for protection through the region in exchange for the weaker and younger of the slaves. Thus I've woven into the A2 storyline both the troll influence as well as the political machinations of the larger forces involved. The Winding River provides an entry to the region, where slaves can be transferred via slave barge to the Upper TrollClaws (the mountainous region just south of the Troll Bark) and the Stockade along what is being called the Troll Road.

However, the origin of the Slave Lords and their associated Thieves' and Assassins Guilds, The Zhadow (Zhentarim born Thieves' Guild) and the Silver Pin (a group within the Zhadow that acts as its assassination arm) are unknown to most even in the Zhentarim. Which is where the Drow enter the story. If the players get past the Stockade it will be clear that the slavers are connected to a Drow plot (it is already becoming clear that the Drow are somehow involved). The information they uncover in the stockade will lead them to the Aerie of the Slave Lords, tucked away in the GreyPeak Mountains. There, they will discover that the Drow are clearly calling the shots and using the Slaver Network to inflitrate the Lord's Alliance in preparation for some greater invasion into the Sword Coast.

As they follow the leads after defeating the Slavers in the Aerie, it will be clear that the giants are being stirred up to action to harass the northern regions. This will lead to some sort of a G 1, 2, 3 mash-up deep into the Silver Marches, which eventually will lead to D 1, 2, and 3 and the real plot of the Drow working with Lolth to take over Faerun. The 

elemental aspect from the Giants and Lolth will also play heavily into the overall story arch.

Quite ambitious, I know. My players are relatively new to D&D, and have never heard of most of these modules, let alone played them, so that should be great. However, we are talking about a fairly long campaign arch. By the time we are done, though we should be to level 15 or so and getting a taste for high level 5e play. It takes us a little longer to level up as we only play 3 hours at a stretch once a week for most sessions. And I have to weave the sessions together a little better as a lot of between module play can lead to increases in level that puts them out of the written play range for the module series in question. I learned that going into A1. But these are relatively easy things to manage.

Retrofitting the modules to work for 5e is a bit easier, since 5e does 1e quite well, but in my experience you have to up the power levels. 5e encounter building is already unbalanced in favor of the players, and 1e monsters are not quite tough enough to withstand a party of 5e players. That being said however, I like to leave many of the 1e monster abilities in tact as they are tougher and more unforgiving and represent more of an actual risk and challenge. But HP value, AC, melee damage number of attacks and such have to usually be increased. I wish there was some sort of decent conversion for these things but it's really more of a gut thing. That, and I am okay with one encounter being too hard and another being too easy as balance is not my favorite thing in the world. Wish me luck as I continue tinkering ...

Now, to get the far future rolling, I'm really digging the Midlands Setting that I reviewed in my last post. I am thinking about starting a new campaign there when we finish the current one. Though ultimately, as I always do, I will go with consensus of the players. It's important that they are excited about a new campaign and into the direction and milieu. So we'll see what happens when we get there. As for now, We have miles to go before this campaign sleeps, and many promises to keep.