When setting up a new campaign I start out with the basic premise. What is it I want with the campaign, what do I want to tell or show? This time things were done a little differently, since we needed an extra campaign.
A Spare Campaign
We needed a spare campaign for those sessions, where one of the players were absent resulting in the remainder of us being unable to play. So a campaign that could be played once in a while with short notice. D&D 4E had just been published and while we were running a 3E-campaign, it could be fun using the new rules. So for the rules D&D 4E were chosen. Furthermore since the campaign is only supposed to be played, when the one of the players is absent, it is shaped in episodic manner. Think of e.g. Star Trek. Each session represents one episode and we therefore need each episode to end after one session.
Same Setting, New Place
Next the campaign were set in the same world as the primary campaign (the wizard campaign) but far away. At present there is great war beginning, and though the primary campaign is far from the border it is central in the war. Now we’re beginning close to the war zone. Two mighty empires are at war, and among the first casualties are their flying fleets. The idea was to have the campaign follow one of the surviving airships and its journey. Again think of Star Trek. The PC’s arrive at new place each session or they meet some flying foe, that they must deal with, and that is the focus of the episode. In this manner I get to present some the remote areas of the campaign world, as the ship arrives, that we otherwise would not get to see.
The last airship, The Sky Eagle, is sent on a secret mission to ally with the Dragons at the Wyrmsteeth Range. In a former campaign we had the Order of the White Drake play a role. The order had been involved in the earlier wars between the two empires, and the mission were in part to revive the dragon riding order. Each session the air ship encounters a flying foe or arrives at a destination, where a mission or problem awaits the crew.
The Material for the Players
So the general concept were presented for the players. I gave them material about the setting background: The Thyatian Empire, the cultures of the Empire and the Immortals they worship and like details. The Mystaran setting is based on various historical cultures, so part of the description is informing the players on which historical culture the various peoples of the Empire are based on. Using historical cultures has the advantage that the players can easily identify and recognize the various ethnic groups making it easier to use the setting.
Next were the specific rules. From olden times there are no half elves as such, at least not as a race with specific abilities, and even though never versions of D&D contains half elves, they are still not used in the setting (at least I am not). Likewise the new races of 4E are not present, so if a player wants to use them, they will have to reskin them (as Lupins, Rakasta or some other humanoid Mystaran race). Otherwise they are not available (which suits me fine, I don’t mind Tieflings when playing Planescape but having them present as regular race does bother me).
So new races are off-limits and classes that are simply too alien for the setting is likewise off limits. However if a player can reskin the race or class to fit into the setting, it is accepted.
Backstories are kept to a minimum. The stories will instead be developed during play. This will be done through flashbacks, and they affect the rules, so that using a flashback has mechanical value. Some of the sessions also used Rules of the Day.
Levels are gained on a regular basis, and there are no XP-rewards. Level gain applies to all the characters.
Sessions and characters
As the GM I play the ships captain, Captain Glantripopulos, and he orders his men on missions. Each player have three different characters and after the mission have been presented, each player chooses one of his characters to go on the mission, thus creating the away-team of the day (although there are no red shirts on these missions).
Some of the players tied their characters together, like playing three dwarven emissaries from the same clan chosen for their insight into dragons, while other players simply chose different types of characters, some tied directly or indirectly to the characters from our primary campaign. They also chose their characters from what sounded interesting or exciting to play. Since we have a total of 15 characters, we did not bother with balancing the party between various types (defenders, strikers etc.), and since the party will change from episode to episode, we will risk weird combos now and then.
Playing the Campaign
So far we’ve played four missions. Each mission is usually build around an encounter and a skill challenge with a minimum of preparation and it is to be played in one session.
Mission 1: The Assault
The town where the air fleet is stationed is assaulted in a surprise attack. We follow a small pat of the crew, as they flee through the burning city – part skill challenge, part combat-scenes, where the goal is to exit the playing field rather than defeating all the enemies.
Rule of the Day: Embarrassing Moments
Mission 2: The Queen of the Desert
The ship have crossed the Empire’s borders flying. The crew are flying across the Desert Nation of the Ylari people. The country have often been involved in the struggles of the two warring empires in the past, until they succeeded in driving out both empires. Supplies are low and a team is sent to the town of Kirkuk to buy supplies. Meanwhile a second team is sent to explore mysterious ruins, that can be seen from the air. An abandoned camp belonging to the enemy, The Alphatian Empire, is discovered. Tracks from the camp leads to underground grave dedicated to a princess from an ancient forgotten civilization. While battling the undead hordes, the adventurers are assaulted by the psychic powers of the undead princess and the paladin is possessed by her spirit – we’ll return to this later in the campaign.
The part in Kirkuk is played as a Skill Challenge with the Rule of the Day: Telling Stories
The part in the ruins are played as a series of encounters.
(This was a double episode, so it took two sessions to play)
Mission 3: Trolls in the Air
Nearing the northern border of the Emirates of Ylaruam the land changes. Huge mountains greets our heroes, as they reach nation of the dwarves, Rockhome, and at the border they encounter a huge fleet of goblin air balloons. The PC’s battle some of the airborn goblins and then enters a huge cloud formation, where they using a Skill Challenge hides from the goblin fleet (think submarine movies with the airship gliding silently through the clouds).
Mission 4: The Figurehead
Captain Glantripopulos knows that a famous, retired pirate is hiding in a border town between Rockhome and Soderfjord. He sends a team to contact the pirate, who possesses a map of where The Flying Flaem [The Flying Dutchman or in the case The Flying Flemish] disappeared in a volcanic region of Rockhome. The ship carried a famous enchanted figurehead, which Glantripopulos wants for the Sky Eagle. Retrieving the map was played as an encounter, where the goal was to pick up the map and get away, and flying among the volcanoes was played as a Skill Challenge.
Mission 5 will be about visiting a secretive, cursed dwarven clan known as the Modrigswerg and hire them to fit the figurehead on The Sky Eagle.
The House Rules
- Loose and lazy initiative
- Embarrassing Moments
- Telling Stories
These house rules will be covered in the next series of posts.