I've completed graduate school! That means it's time to play RPGs again and get really serious about running a big fancy game. It also means that I'm listening to an hour of Mike Duncan every day as I power through Revolutions during my 30 minute commute. Also, it's 2018, so the only game anyone will play is D&D 5e, but I plan to cram it full of any ACKS rules and concepts that'll fit.
So, with that in mind, here's my campaign premise: A game set in Eberron's Stormreach, based around hexcrawling the jungle. Some setting info:
Stormreach is a city-state that grew out of a pirate hideout. ~200 years ago, an admiral sent to capture the city lost the initial naval battle against the United Outlaw Fleet, but subsequently managed to ally with four pirate captains to stage a coup and the newly minted Five Stormlords signed a formal treaty with the empire to become a mostly autonomous client state.
Stormreach is on the coast of Xen'Drik, the mysterious jungle continent. Ten thousand years ago, it was the jewel of the Giant's empire, but it exploded. Xen'Drik is full of Weird Magic and Ancient Artifacts. Xen'Drik is impossible to map and extremely dangerous.
The main continent, Khorvaire, just wrapped up a world war that saw numerous secessions and new states, and the result is a dozen little kingdoms with tense relations that aren't quite willing to go to war. Also, there are a dozen powerful guilds called the Dragonmarked Houses (because their founders have hereditary supernatural powers that manifest as birthmarks) that function sort of like megacorporations.
As a client city that continues to rise in wealth and military power while remaining socially archaic even as its theoretical 'masters' continue to decline in power and progress socially, a Stormreach revolution is inevitable. It remains to be seen what form this will take- A Stormlord secession? A PC-lead coup? A workers' rebellion? It remains to be seen whether it's 1765, 1789, 1795, or 1848.
Expedition licenses to go into Xen'Drik and bring back rare goods are tightly controlled. The PCs, collectively, have one such license, making them one of only a dozen groups allowed to explore. This means that, prior to each expedition, requests and suggestions will accumulate with their secretary, allowing me to publish and update an ongoing list of possible objectives.
The Xen'Drik jungle is highly sensitive to lunar movements, and is actually on a 23 day cycle. For 16 of those days, the jungle is attuned to the Plane of Beasts, and repels sapiance, reducing anyone caught inside to animal intellect. This is almost universally unpleasant, and those caught will immediately make for the nearest border. Every session represents a 1 week of expedition, plus a couple days any city-business that's worth roleplaying. Parties that don't wrap up the session with a successful return to town risk abandoning their gains as their stupid bodies slough off packs and walk away from wagons. Between every session is a downtime period. (PCs are aware of the results of these rules, although they're unaware of the precise causes and mechanics, at least until someone takes up astronomy)
Common knowledge states that Xen'drik is 'unmappable.' This is for two reasons.
First, Xen'Drik appears to be a continent, but it is actually an archipelago, with each 'island' existing as a semicoterminus demiplane. The best way to visualize it is as a vertical dungeon, where each 'floor' is a 30-60 mile radius plane, and "stairs" are ancient ruins or magic portals that connect them. Thus, a party might set out from town, go to the Fire Shrine, enter Hot Xen'Drik through the furnace, then go to the Coal Factory and access Dark Xen'Drik. Every 'island' shares its external border- Those leaving Xen'Drik always find themselves on the same shore, so the party is never more than three days travel from the relative safety of the beach, which they can then follow back to town.
Second, every island has constantly changing terrain. Hexes move according to a system, which varies from island to island. For example, the "Hub" plane (the one players always enter when arriving from Stormreach) rotates ~60 degrees every month. Clever PCs will probably figure this out pretty quickly, and I'm going to have fun thinking of interesting patterns for the rest of them. The main challenge for me is finding patterns that are easy to automate and don't require me to redraw 100 hexes every session.
Xen'Drik is packed with
Magical Item Components Occult Substances. Magic Item Component sounds sort of sterile, and reliable, like a spring or a gear. Occult Substances seem poorly defined, and a little untrustworthy. I'd like players to look at them the way I look at batteries, which is with the utmost certainty that if I forget I have this thing I'm going to accidentally break it and it's going to be full of acid that melts my flesh. This is an important decision because it opens up a few new kinds of play: First, easy access to naturalistic problem solving ("If the venom boils at room temperature, how do we keep it cool all the way home? We can't power a refrigerator in the jungle. Unless..."). Second, it provides a good inroad into an alternative progression system: Contacts. Just knowing someone who wants Fool's Bacon instantly transforms a trap into a puzzle. Third, champions of industry tend to be well connected, so if the PCs are suppling half the ambergris for the region, they're going to be friends with perfumers, and perfumers probably get and give away invitations to the gala.