Building a Campaign from the Ground Up: Part 2

Hello, fellow DMs. It’s about that time of week again. Last time we developed a 7 step outline for our campaign following writer Dan Well’s (I am Not a Serial Killer) method. To Re-cap real quick, our story outline looks like this:

Hook: Adventurers are slaves forced to fight for sport.

First Plot Point: Adventurers discover way to traverse shards and use it to escape slavery.

First Pinch Point: Unknown force comes for adventurers and they begin to feel the after-effects from jumping the shards.

Midpoint: Our adventurers, after learning that traversing the shards will turn them into sub-dimensional, tortured demons who haunt the shards for eons to come, decide to reconnect the shards in an attempt to save themselves and the world from their eternal damnation.

Second Pinch Point:  Gathering all relics.

Second Plot Point: Adventurer’s return all relics to the center shard.

Resolution: Adventurers re-unite the shards of the world

These points will be our initial guide for building our campaign’s world and all its encounters. It could change as we go, but we’re going to start with the intent to sticking with it. Honestly, the first step seemed straight forward; but I have no idea how to move on from here. If I was writing, I would just start to write, but this is a bit different.  I think the best way to work is to let the story help do the world building for us and fill in the details later; or as we go—who knows?

Chapter 1: Trials of Slaves

Not a bad off the cuff title huh? Let’s look at what we want to achieve with the first chapter or two. We need to show our characters how terrible their slave hood is and hook them into the adventure. We need to make them want to escape slave hood.  We need to introduce them to the possibility of an escape and take the leap of faith to escape. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Let’s focus on that first sentence and consequently our Hook. How do we get our adventurers into the action and at the same time make them no longer want to be a slave. I mean sure it’s enough to get them into the game by throwing them into an encounter. But what’s to stop them from idly living the slave life and fighting encounters on the reg. Maybe they like being gladiators and want to live it up; become the next Maximus.

I think the best way is to strike fear into them. We start hard and fast with them entering the coliseum, or battle arena or whatever, with a group of other dragon fodder slaves. We build them up to the event. Start in the tunnels below; let them talk to each other as brand new slaves, maybe with a veteran who’s made it through a few fights. Let them enter to the roaring sound of the crowd with battle drums resounding in their chests. Then their fatal opponent is released and it’s got to be something they have no chance of surviving. If it were a band of kobolds, it wouldn’t be that entertaining or scaring. If it’s too easy they want to keep running the gauntlet. We HAVE to make this encounter appear deadly—and even be fatal if they make the wrong move.

So, here starts my Polls of the Week! Like I said, we’re in this together. That means I need your input. What deadly creature can the adventures face—let’s say their level 1. Let’s not go to big, an adult dragon is too much—slavers aren’t selling tickets for a massacre, they’re selling entertainment. They want the audience to be on the edge of their seat; yearning to see whether a band of 10 slaves can eliminate a monstrosity. Don’t forget, we CAN pick whatever beast we want. We have creative control. That means we get to define the walls of the encounter.  Do we want it to be something they can actually fight through with enough time and luck? Or do we want to create the encounter in such a way that they can survive by the skin of their teeth. Or do we want the encounter to end when one of them dies/insert cut seen when they would die?

There’s a lot of questions to be answered. And so this poll will be a doozy.

What Monster does the band of Slaves face in the coliseum?  I Will pick the highest voted suggestion between here and BLOG. To make this easier, we’ll say we have (including party members) 10 slaves. All NPCs will be weak humans with no special skills or anything; save one. That means we need to use a monster that is deadly to 6 Level 1 characters but nothing too great. The idea being that after they grow enough to face one of these later, there will still be greater challenges out there. This can even be a made up monster! Why not? We could choose a monster to base it off of and adjust it to our needs.

What are our boundaries for this encounter? Should we let the characters die if they’re dumb enough to try to fight it head on? Do we create a unique way for the characters to fight it? Or have an outside event kill the monster and save them? Or do we allow the characters to fight until one dies? I’m open to whatever here. Again, the most up-voted suggestion will get the application and we can work it in from there. We can, and should, have multiple outcomes available even.

I’ll let those two huge decisions rely on you. Take your time, think about it, and get your suggestions in so we can all debate. While you’re doing that I’ll continue here a bit.

Let’s set the scene. Having an idea of what we want is good, but the point is to flesh this baby out for all to use. The DM using our campaign needs an idea of what to say to the characters before entering the pit. I’ve worked on this a little and I think it would be a good introduction paragraph:

You’ve been waiting in the tunnel for an eternity. The daylight reaches through the gate to illuminate the others around you; fellow slaves facing the same grim fate. You can’t help but ponder over the choices that led you hear.

The sores on your wrists ache under the shackles; each chained to another poor soul. Whatever horror awaits you in the arena, you better work together. Your eyes follow the chains up to a dirt caked hand attached to a bearded man with three teeth. He smiles shakily.

A sturdy woman with glistening biceps at one end of the slave chain turns from the gate to face the rest of you…

From here, we’ll prompt the DM to role play the veteran slave. We’ll create our own for use, but as always, this kind of thing will be a suggestion for the DM. They can use our Veteran Slave or throw it out. Either way, I think it’s a great opportunity to scare the players away from being career gladiators. We’ll show them how dangerous and awful the fights can be as well as *SPOILER ALERT* kill off the veteran slave without a blink of the eye. Show that they could stick around, but even after years of fighting, it could all end in a second.

The Veteran Slave also gives the DM a chance to pump the characters up, explain any questions they have about their predicament, and whatever else. I think it’s a nice ‘calm before the storm’ moment to help the DM and players adjust to what’s about to happen. The DM should also explain the dangers of their situation and possibly start leading the characters down the campaign’s designed path.

So, let’s go over our designed Veteran Slave and what the DM will need to properly role play her.  Again, everything we decide will be suggestion. Any DM can choose not to use the NPCs we provide and that’s ok.

I look to you guys for a few of the key qualities.

What’s her name? Race?

What weapon does she have?

What’s her personality?

For simplicity sake we’ll base her as a level 1 fighter while the other slaves are random people. We could give them stats but why bother? They’re going to die anyways—unless our adventurers decide to save them. We’ll plan on killing them off regardless, but leave the option of saving a few open for the DM running the campaign. They could want to give the players a friendly NPC with a shared experience.

Anyways, back to the veteran. We’ll provide her stats for the DM to use (I’ll post link for this and other stuff as we move forward in a shared google drive).  We’ll also write out her glorious death once we decide our monster.

That’s it for today. You readers have some homework. Let me know what your thoughts are on the BOLD questions above. Next week we’ll take the most popular answers and put them together and begin fleshing out the encounter. Then we’ll look at compiling this info into a presentable way a DM can use. By next Wednesday I will put together the Google Drive to start storing our campaign bits and pieces as we build them as well.

Any questions or comments, hit me up! I look forward to what you guys come up with.

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