For the first time in a little while, I started a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign on Friday. As with most of my home campaigns (as opposed to the store-based play where I run the published adventures in the Forgotten Realms), this campaign is set in the venerable World of Greyhawk setting. I’ve been running campaigns in that world since 1998, and I was playing the world long before that. So, I have a wealth of history to work with. I’m very familiar with this world.
Although I’m writing much material for the campaign myself, I don’t limit myself to not use published sources if convenient. So, the beginning of the campaign draws upon material published by Troll Lord Games’: Gary Gygax’s and Jeff Talanian’s Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works, being the first such source. I’m lucky enough to have a copy – if you click on that link, you can see what a limited supply does for the price… However, if you are familiar with The Keep on the Borderlands, you’ll soon understand the set-up of the Mouths of Madness, those humanoid-infested caverns that ring the base of Castle Zagyg/Castle Greyhawk.
In summary: there’s a great ruined castle with a lot of dungeons below it, and, although there are entrances to the dungeons from the main part of the castle, there are also entrances from the Mouths below.
Many a D&D campaign has started with no thought more than “let’s find monster and kill them”. It’s an extremely fun way of playing a game, but I want this game to be (slightly) more than that. So, I did two things to start this campaign off in a distinctive fashion.
The first was that I got all the players to submit character ideas to me secretly. That is, each submitted three character concepts (consisting of race, class and some background details) by e-mail, and then I chose one for them to play, keeping an eye on overall party balance. I then discouraged players talking about their characters in terms of game mechanics. The initial introductions were very interesting, as everyone tried to work out what everyone was playing. The discussions about party marching order were particularly fun.
The second was I gave the initial quest to them by a moderately shady character (there’s a secret entrance to the castle’s library from the caves – use it to recover a scroll for me), and also gave each of them a secret quest/information based on their backgrounds.
So, we have a standard dungeon adventure, but with each of the players not knowing exactly what characters everyone else is playing, nor what their goals are. No, these ideas aren’t original to me. However, it makes things interesting!
A word about the Mouths of Madness. They’re very definitely based on the Caves of Chaos of Keep on the Borderlands. Each holds a different humanoid tribe (orcs, goblins, gnolls, kobolds), and each has grudges against the other tribes and wants to gain supremacy of the area. The Mouths have more notes about the humanoids allying with the characters against the other tribes than in the original Caves, but the map of the Mouths isn’t as well-constructed as the Caves. Which is to say, the Caves guided new characters to the easier tribes first; the Mouths don’t have that guidance. Thus, in the first session, the PCs ended up investigating all the high-level caves first!
I have definite ideas about who the mysterious patron is, and the main factions moving behind the scenes. More on those in future instalments!