2012 Planning "The Storm Clears"
I really love creating my own world whenever I start a new campaign, so I thought I would write a bit about my process. This time I will be focusing on “The Storm Clears,” my current campaign. I usually start with a theme or concept, something that will drive the rest of the campaign. Then I determine the major players in the campaign. This would include NPCs, mythological elements, religions, and countries. The next important element is relationships. Relationships between the various players help the world feel lived in. Finally, I add as many random events and red herrings as I can think of; various facts about regions and characters. Sometimes this leads to the PCs following an unexpected chain of events, but I believe that it helps remove the feeling that the game is following a single course and makes the world feel lived in.
In “The Storm Clears,” the theme is PC influence in the world and the conflicts between powerful countries. The PCs operate on an individual human level, while countries, organizations, and individuals with the powers of Gods battle it out. But even with these great moving powers, there is room for the PCs to become heroes and influence the world. I added a modified version of the Influence system from VtM to my game in order to create hard stats for power, influence, and control. To make the world feel like it was changing and fighting back, I asked a few friends to make “NPCs” who also have backgrounds, influences, and their own unique goals. Some of these NPCs have already completely changed the way the world operates.
Next, I came up with three countries that could enter conflict with each other and had very different philosophies. They all surround a constantly swirling Maelstrom that keeps them from entering direct conflict and is a constant threat due to monsters, wild magic, and terrible storms.
Embler-Tannith was the first country to be fleshed out. It is the only country with a Republic and representational government, and it is also the only country with a land bridge to the Maelstrom. Due to its proximity and access to the Maelstrom, it is one of the most naturally dangerous areas of the world, and its people grew up desperate, independent, and strong. Dark magic is used to twist animals and destroy country sides, while those that are deemed criminals or enemies of the state are sentenced to prison in the form of slavery. It is a place where anything is a valid option if it will protect the people. With this philosophy, the country expanded to fill its continent, until it was stopped at the border with Dalorn.
Idrial is the second country, which was mostly created by my brother. It has a strong navy and the smallest population. It makes up for its size by having one of the strongest central governments and a philosophy of working together and looking out for each other. There is a king who oversees national issues and the military, but Houses, or Guilds, govern the majority of the day to day. Much like modern corporations, the Houses operate on a merit system and each is responsible for an aspect of society, from mining to regional trade. They are also rife with internal competition and the potential for corruption and nepotism, since the leaders of each House are incredibly respected, influential, and wealthy.
The third and final major country is Dalorn. Dalorn has no central government much like ancient Greece or Italy before unification. Instead individual royal families, who trade, intermarry, and make war with each other, rule various city-states. But the continent holds a national identity and when international conflicts occur, they have been known to unite. I specifically designed Dalorn with an anything could happen multiple culture style, since this is the country the party would begin their adventure.
I had some ideas about the religions, mythology, and history of the world, but when an old friend of mine offered her ideas for an NPC, it become much more complex. She offered a number of ideas about her character and the character’s history that inspired me to infuse my campaigns mythology and history with her back-story elements. You can see specifics of the campaigns mythos here.
Finally I started to actually plan the first session. I ran the first session of the campaign three times. First, I taught a teaching game at Game Empire and decided to do a Prologue to the game during the war between Embler-Tannith and Dalorn. The second time, players were not quite ready with characters, so I prepped a dungeon that linked into the mythology of the world.
The party was made entirely of pre-generated characters that I had made before the game, and they were sent to investigate a mysterious cave that had been temporarily revealed after Idrial experimented with weather magic off the coast. Inside was a temple from an ancient time, rife with reference to mythos and history before the written word. The temple was full of acid pits, long falls, and channels to move water through. I had ORIGINALLY planned for the party to essentially run to the bottom, since the temple was empty other than the devices and natural dangers. However… the party decided to dive into pits of acid to try to get treasure, and then ran full speed across a bridge with running water. A few acrobatics checks later, and the party had already taken heavy damage.
In the final chamber, one of the party members (Satine Phoenix) gave into the dark whisperings of an ancient evil, and some internal party combat later, they took some terrible damage. Once the monsters started to actually appear, and the temple began to collapse, the party ran in different directions, entirely out for themselves. And well, they died. I didn’t feel particularly bad about it either. I legitimately believe that if they had stuck together instead of running straight into the meat grinder one by one, they would have survived.
2017 Update: The Campaign continued for years, ended with an awesome epic battle, and we even had an epilogue session afterwards where the players played out what happened to their characters after the events of the campaign.