Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Complete Campaign - Lessons Learned Along the Way, Part 2

I’m wrapping up the first campaign that I’ve intentionally completed. EVER. I’ve learned a lot from the process and am quite thrilled at the idea of finishing a campaign on purpose with a fairly tidy ending (I hope). I feel that this was one of the most interactive and fun to GM campaigns that I’ve ever run. In this short series I’ll be sharing a few of the lessons that I learned along the way with examples from the Solo Ravenloft campaign. Hopefully you’ll end up inspired to try something different for your next campaign.

Smaller is better! – Focus on the details to make the story stick.

This game was built outward from a very basic setting. The first half of the game took place in Nidala, a domain of dread that isn’t very fleshed out. The second half of the game took place in Kos, a domain of dread created based on the player character’s background. By expanding on small details, the story really took root.

NPC’s – a few basic backgrounds brought the game to life:
Elena Faith-Hold, one crazy paladin

 Elena Faithhold, the Dark Lord and ruler of the land was a crazed paladin bent on destroying evil in her land but her obsession lead her to rule her people in a tyrannical manner and kill many innocent people. She worshiped Belenus, the official state religion. She even used a fake dragon scare to keep people in line and to cover for her razing “corrupt” villages. Under Elena’s rule music, alcohol and public promiscuity were all forbidden. A myriad of laws were given out every week in her attempts to curb all evil. This NPC is briefly mentioned in official source materials.

Alikain Loreweaver, now a vampire?
Alikain Loreweaver, a traveler from the lands beyond the mists, fled from Barovia and brought her faith in Elhonna to Nidala. As a very virtuous and truly good paladin, she had converted many to her religion. Alikain was not as severe in her views of the world and many people saw her as a potential savior from Elena’s rule. A confrontation between the two paladin leaders was inevitable. This NPC was originally a character that I had played previously as a player. Recycling at it’s finest!

Varola Deathsong, now the Vampire Bard is a Dark Lord

Varola Deathsong, a selfish, social and highly manipulative vampire enjoyed plucking at the strings of the underground society without actually playing the game. Watching events unfold and setting up situations of conflict were the best forms entertainment and amusement for Deathsong. While she had her fingers in practically every illegal pie in the land, she never had the motivation for directly taking over the land. Spurned years ago by the one man she actually cared about, Varola has turned cold. While highly popular for owning and performing at The Sour Ghoul, Varola’s other illegal activities and contraband dealings are not widely known. This was a brand new character that I created specifically for this campaign.

A few key locations:

Faith-hold Keep – Where a confrontation between two armies was brewing and where a crazed vampire took out her aggression. Many red cloaks (worshippers of Belenus) live and work in the Keep or one of its satellite monasteries. This location is briefly mentioned in official source materials.

The Sour Ghoul Tavern – a very rustic and highly illegal tavern in the capital city of Touraine. Since music and alcohol are illegal in Nidala, this bar and inn is off the grid. Many of the game’s plot twists and story elements take place or are heard about in The Sour Ghoul. The tavern is usually lively – it’s owned by a vampire bard who keeps several bards working on the stage every night. This location was created through a random tavern generator.

The streets of Touraine – Two factions of opposing paladins and many rebellious citizens fight often in the streets. Public burnings, wanted signs, martial law and rioting were all part of the story. The capital city wasn’t really fleshed out at all in the materials that I had, so I did my best to create details for it.

The Hasty Unicorn, an inn and restaurant (with no alcoholic beverages) owned by a few of Alikain’s most loyal followers. The Hasty Unicorn is named after her deity and the best room in the house is reserved for the righteous paladin herself. Many blue cloaks (Worshippers of Elhonna) gather here. This tavern was generated randomly.

Key Events, some major  happenings:

The Death of Alikain Loreweaver – the player character had been sent to kill Alikain Loreweaver by the ruler of Barovia (who needs no introduction). Little did he know that his actions would set off a major revolt and put the entire land of Nidala into a state of chaos. This was expected.

Elena goes off the deep end – taking advantage of Alikain’s disappearance. She captures many of the higher ranking individuals in Alikain’s order, including Kimurn the Fleet – Alkain’s second in command. More crazy laws are posted. Violence on the streets worsen and Elena razes several villages that harbor rebels and sympathizers. This was expected and part of the time line that I had prepared.

Deathsong's Revenge  – when Deathsong discovered that Elena had been holding Kimurn the Fleet (her unrequited love) in Faith-hold Keep and had possibly killed him already, Deathsong went into a rage and killed Elena. Deathsong, as the new Dark Lord, took her vengeance out on many of the red cloaks in the keep. This was not planned at all! This was in response to some actions that the player character took.


Knowing a few important people, having a couple of key locations and letting some events fall into place worked well.  By keeping the overall activities in the region in mind, the curve balls that the player threw at me were easier to handle. 

Topics to come:

• Random Awesome – Mixed results with online tools.
• Audio/Visual Success – What props worked and what flopped.
• Tall Tales – Why not let the character do that?
• Epic Endings – How to make the final game memorable.

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