In the past 20 years, I’ve run a lot of campaigns set in Greyhawk, and we’ve often flirted with the idea of dealing with the threat of Iuz. His priests and orcs have popped up every so often, but they’ve never been the full focus of a campaign. That’s about to change.
Running a game set in an existing campaign world is a different matter to running one in a world you create; however, there are more similarities than you might first think. Even if an existing world gives you a wealth of campaign material to draw on, it’s not going to give you everything. You’re going to have to make up the material that’s missing.
Why do I run games in existing campaign worlds rather than make up my own? Primarily because I use the material as inspiration, and it takes me in directions that I wouldn’t have thought of by myself. Even if I were running a homebrew, it’s likely that I’d be incorporating published adventures and material from other settings into it rather than creating everything myself. That’s just the way I run games.
Although I’d planned for this campaign to revolve around Iuz, it wasn’t my intention to move it there so quickly. This is just the effects of the players on the storyline. The characters were meant to be travelling to Veluna from the City of Greyhawk, but, as the journey was going to take about a month, I put in a couple of side treks along the way. (They were exiled from the city after an enemy bribed the city council!)
The first was an encounter with gnoll raiders, based on an idea that Shawn Merwin and Chris Sniezak described in their Down with D&D podcast a couple of months ago. I was testing out some new mechanics for gnolls, but I couldn’t find a form I liked. The story was interesting though, so I used that.
The second involved a quest to find the Tomb of Thrommel. This is me extrapolating greatly from what originally appeared in the World of Greyhawk boxed set and the Temple of Elemental Evil adventure. In those sources, Thrommel is captured by the Cult of Elemental Evil. Our play of the adventure didn’t rescue him, so – some years after the event – someone must have found his body and built a tomb. And in that tomb, the players found his legendary sword, Fragarach.
I don’t include many magic items in my game, but those that do get included are often really powerful. Giving 5th level characters Fragarach isn’t quite the same as the time I gave a vorpal sword to 4th-level fighter (that was fun!), but it does allow a really interesting item to be included; one that will make the game memorable. What I didn’t expect was that no-one wanted to keep the sword. Instead, they decided to give it back to the royal house of Furyondy.
Right. Didn’t expect that. Who’s king of Furyondy these days? No idea. This campaign is set in about 625 CY, or about 50 years after the original boxed set – I’ve run many games there, and so the timeline has progressed. Belvor is dead, so some other line must have taken the kingship. Let’s call him Tobias III. Unfortunately for Tobias, I’d just watched Richard II on the previous night, so that’s where his personality came from – a foolish king. As Richard decided to invade Wales, so Tobias took the return of Fragarach to be a sign from the gods, and this was the very chance he wanted to take down Iuz once and for all. The characters, now heroes of Furyondy, have been volunteered to perform a scouting expedition into the land of Iuz!
This is the way of Dungeons & Dragons when you’re not using a prewritten adventure. In fact, even when you’re running a prewritten adventure you can always make things up when the players walk right off the page. Don’t get me wrong: I love running the hardcover campaigns, but it’s also fun to let the players have free rein. The trick is to give them enough information that they can make interesting decisions. I’ve dropped enough history about the sword and Thrommel so that they knew about Furyondy; otherwise, they’d have no idea who might want it. But, now that they know, I’ll have to make up a royal court of Furyondy, encounters in the borderlands, and, finally, an idea of how the war between Iuz and Furyondy might play out.
It’s certainly going to be interesting!