Just a thin mist greets you as you pierce through the old worn town sign, its name long since eroded away. Crickets and frogs harmonize with cicadas as the crisp but eerie sounds echo off the dark and silent buildings on either side. Though these sounds fill your ear, the lack of the usual sounds you would expect from a village drowns them out. This is a town that has been touched by a curse. Be wary of your footsteps and be vigilant for you are not alone in this seemingly abandoned community. It is clear the Touch has reached here despite its isolation and remote location closing in on the country’s border. It would seem the entire country has lost the battle. You grip the handles of your Warhammer and mace, knowing the things that now dwell here will soon grow bold and come for a closer look of your flesh.
One campaign I particularly enjoy running is those of hopelessness and loss. I find it more challenging for players and rich for story. Instead of having champions of some deity or king as the players’ character, instead I set out for creating a low-magic (or low-fantasy) setting where the players are at a disadvantage beyond having a lack of skills and power. These characters must struggle while they find their name in the world while facing impossible odds. There is always some form of challenge in every campaign (assuming the GM has an idea), but when you are pitted against the entire world rather than whatever encounter the GM throws at you, then suddenly you approach the campaign with an appreciation and respect. There are not as many “I burst through the door” moments. There is a level of cautiousness that allows players to reconsider and form a better strategy before moving forward.
My idea is not original, but is a concept I have had on paper for a while. The characters are in a declining world – one where the Age they are in is drawing to a close. For years, a sickness or curse has befallen the land, causing some kind of change in behavior, looks, abilities, etc. in everyone who succumbs to it. The plague and zombies are often turned to when campaigns think of widespread epidemics, but I think my campaign would be a different effect. Chris Perkins, senior producer for Wizards of the Coast (co-creator of 3rd edition), through the unique feature that everyone in his world had Wild Magic that allowed everyone to cast at least 1 spell which would amplify on certain days. While this would not cause despair in a country, I like the idea whatever the case may be changes on certain days or time periods. A harvest moon, lunar eclipse, etc., could be frequent enough in the world that it will matter. The world has become extremely dangerous because of this phenomenon, making monsters even deadlier and mundane people dangerous enough. Mutations would be a possibility as long as their minds have become animalistic so they act on instinct and anger and have no chance of being talked out of a fight. This will put the players on guard more and lessen the frequency to parlay with enemies, but there will be moments for that as well.
The premise is the cause is brought about by either one man or a collection of people who are working to gain favor for a brand new god who appeared. This god has granted a list of progressively more powerful abilities and spells the more the collection of people can convert the world into these creatures or entities the deity is demanding. There’s a percentage that increases as the players discover new areas have been affected. This grants the collection more abilities to do on the country that changes the very physics of the world such as sunlight hours, weather, gravity, and time. These events will occur throughout the campaign to give change and challenge to the players.
They’ll find towns filled with converted people, mostly seeming abandoned. Actual untouched people are now below ground. Somehow the dwarves are more resilient to the Touch, as it is now called, than any other race. They were aware of the collection of people behind this phenomenon and allowed those unaffected to come into their underground kingdoms. These areas became sealed vaults to the outside world, completely self-sufficient unless breached. This concept is directly from the Fallout video game franchise. I like the idea of the last remaining few to be hiding and the players will have to find certain ones who are key in stopping the Collection. Some vaults are breached and have been ransacked, though players can venture in to scavenge and find potentially hard to find magical items left behind depending on what creature breached the vault. The creatures may use the vault as their home now though they have no use for the items left within.
The Touch can’t be lycanthropy or a zombification. Those are used so much. However, both have the characteristics I want in the phenomenon: a lack of a conscience mind and some metamorphosis. Fingers and teeth become elongated or they become ethereal or corporeal. Perhaps they adapt a black tissue that covers part of their body and causes them to act violently or angrily like Venom’s symbiotic suit. It wouldn’t be the entire body, pieces of it and different parts of the body. Perhaps the legs are covered, causing the person to move incredibly fast almost like teleporting that makes him hard to hit. One arm could be coated which makes the fingers extremely long and sharp. Their head partially covered over one eye or the mouth brings their teeth longer or their eye to glow red and can see better in pitch black.
Some could be completely coated, and these have been granted a more powerful set of abilities, perhaps even some semi-intelligence. The idea of the blackness would be that it is linked to a living creature that is far below the surface. It’s ironically well protected in the Dwarven kingdoms because it is considered an avatar of their god. This avatar is actually one of the Collection’s members, having been granted the ability to mimic almost demi-god like powers to fool the dwarves. This would allow the Collection to send assassins and specially trained creatures and people after the vaults to gain access through trickery.
So the goal of the group would be first to explore the world a bit to understand nearly the entire world is lost to the Touch. Danger is everywhere now with creatures and people affected. That would be the first story arc. The few remaining are hidden in vaults scattered across the land, giving the players things to seek out. They will encounter random assassins and things working for the Collection, having a rival group especially that tries thwarting them. Once they discover the dwarves and vaults, they will need to discover the false avatar god tied in with the Collection though they have speculation rather than facts. This would be the second story arc. So they must discover somehow that there is a handful of people who possess the ability collectively or the knowledge of locating and destroying the Collection. The players must locate each one in the vaults (one perhaps not being in a vault, just isolated), and bring them together in a final showdown.
This is more ramblings of brainstorming, but it’s essentially how I work on brainstorming for a campaign. I am not scared to steal ideas right from other sources because I’m not selling it for profit. The familiarity sometimes is laughed at when the players identify a “rip off” segment, but that familiarity allows them to relate to it better and imagine it with a clearer picture.
Having said all that, this is nothing more than ideas that I happen to be interested in. It’s not fleshed out, there aren’t any villains created, the world itself is not imagined, the cities have yet to be built, etc. A one or two page idea is one thing, fleshing it out where it’s ready to be run is another. It’s best to break your campaign into story arcs, that is, little chapters. Take the first one and focus JUST on that. Don’t worry about creating the dwarf vaults or fleshing out what avatar the dwarves worship because the players aren’t even going to discover that for a while. Worry about creating some countryside villages filled with weird strange monsters or people. For the climax, a particularly large or powerful creature that’s demise would ease a bit of the danger in the area. Then create a little snippet of information where it leads to them seeking out the dwarves and the vaults (perhaps finding a small nook of a vault with dwarven architecture). A campaign is made in bite sizes just like you run it in bite sizes. Otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed and bogged down with too much work and the players will have little focus.
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.