A4 Series #1
As a Game Master, your big responsibility is building the campaign your players are going to be running their characters in. What I’ll be attempting to do in this series is taking you through what I do in building my campaigns … lessons learned through painful (and embarrassing) failures, and also the success in running campaigns that were enjoyed by the players and myself.
Having had some successes (and lots of failures) in creating campaigns, the greatest lesson I have learned is that my most successful campaigns storyboards are outlines, not fully developed but with major milestones laid out. The old saying alluding to battle plans not surviving the first shot fired applies quite well to campaigns. Players are going to do the unexpected, they are going to think of things that you never imagined and will do things you never dreamed of them trying. Having a detailed story line will only frustrate you and limit your players … the opposite of what everyone is expecting in a fun campaign.
Having said that, elements that I generally try have more developed are the setting and the major villains. Having both of these categories well-developed will allow you to react to what your players are doing by knowing where they are going and what they will encounter, and by having villains react “in character” to the players’ actions.
This first article will be developing the setting including where the campaign is going to take place and a general feel of the area. This will help guide players in what sorts of characters will fit in well with the campaign, or, if they wish to play outsiders, what will be abnormal in the campaign.
Our campaign setting is going to be a region known as the Lake of Sorrows. The region is dominated by a massive freshwater lake surrounded by hills where the Humans (the dominant race in the area) live in clans (culturally similar to Scottish Highlanders). Halflings also make their homes in these hill lands as longtime companions to the larger Humans. The relationship between Humans and Halflings is quite close and both respect each other and generally get along well.
To the north, a range of impassable mountains creates an effective northern border. The mountains are known to hold the remnants of a once massive Dwarven kingdom fallen centuries ago to an army of humanoids (Orcs, Ogres, Goblins, Hobgoblins, etc.) which now roam about the mountains. Giants are known to live deep in the mountains along with rumored Dragons and even more fell creatures. To the east, the mountains also create a substantial barrier, but there is a pass through the mountains that allows this region to trade with an arid region beyond that range known as the Sea of Dust. A strong tribe of Orcs inhabit the pass, but long ago an agreement was reached where traders pay the Orcs tribute to gain access to the pass. The southern hills descend over the course of a hundred miles or so down to a grassland plains area that is controlled by tribes of Wemics, Thri-Kreen, and nomadic Human tribes. On the western border of the region is a series of cliffs known as The Wall which drops down over one hundred feet to the lands below. Beyond is a huge forest that is inhabited by Elves, Fey creatures, along with regions held by Kobolds and other foul creatures.
Two major cities of Humans are in the region. To the west is Elevarium, which is split into Higher Elevarium at the tops of the cliffs and Lower Elevarium at the bottom of the cliffs. The city is near a feature known as the Tears of Bellerous. The history of the region says that during the forming of the world the Goddess Bellerous lost her love when he fought a creature of horrible evil that caused a great crater to form surrounded by the hills and mountains. Her tears filled the crater, creating the Lake of Sorrow. A tremendous waterfall, where this lake falls over the cliffside into a lake and river below, is called the Tears of Bellerous. Elevarium is a major trading city connecting this region to other lands further to the west. Politically Elevarium is one of two archduchies in the region. It is also the location of the region’s main religious complex and holds a school for magic.
The eastern city, Teygras, is the capital city of the region and hosts the King and Queen. Traditionally the city itself is ruled as an archduchy separate from the region’s rulers. The city holds both the palace of the King and Queen and a separate complex for the Archduke. The main college for magic as well as the fortress for the personal armed forces of the King and Queen are located within Teygras’ extended borders. The main portion of the city lies several miles from the shore of the lake but the docks region (a large town unto itself) is ruled as part of Teygras.
The dominate religion of the region is known as the Seven Divines. Each of the seven worshipped deities has their own order of priests within the larger religious structure. The primary focuses of the deities are Combat, Agriculture/Weather, Wilderness, Healing/Life, Death, Knowledge/Crafting, and Protection/Home. Priests or Clerics can be of a specific deity or the church in general. Halflings follow the religion of the humans while Dwarves and Elves have their own separate religious traditions.
Dwarves reside in the remnants of their ancient kingdom within the mountains to the north. They actively trade with the Humans of the region and generally are allied with them too. While they face constant skirmishes with other creatures of the mountains, there have been no major incidents in several hundred years.
Elves reside in the forest to the west of the region. They remain generally aloof and apart from the Human settlements. They are sometimes seen in the trade city of Elevarium but are rarer in the Lake of Sorrows region proper.
With the general layout of the region set, time to move on to the story … in the next installment!