Campaign Ideas

Lately, I seem to have gotten rid of my “RPG system ADD” - I used to get ideas for campaigns in different systems and genres, but now I’m just getting ideas that I can put into ACKS… but there’s way too many of them to play anytime soon, even if I do want to develop most of them (to say 5 pages each).

So I figured I’d share some here, in case anyone else finds them interesting enough to make use of.

The Orc Campaign
A campaign about orcs! All PCs are orcs and other beastmen races (I’m putting in orcs, half-trolls, and half-ogres, probably). This campaign would need multiple classes for the various beastmen races - I’ll get around to making many, based on the helpful instructions on these forums.

The basic idea would be a pretty simple variation on a typical campaign: sandbox, dungeons, etc. - but with a lot of e.g. dwarves, elves, gnomes, halflings, and humans as enemies. Can you lead the horde that will conquer the human realms?! The main attraction would be playing “the bad guys” and an interesting, brutal, and possibly funny beastman society.

Hex dungeons & underworlds could be very useful, with many orc etc. lairs located in connected underworld areas, with underworld “wilderness” and dungeons and lairs about.

Based on & inspired by Natuk, a great old-school shareware RPG (from the maker of the 1994 retro-classic Nahlakh), heavily based on D&D (down to hobgoblins having white apes in their lairs!); my original AD&D 2E designs pretty much just drew everything straight out of The Complete Book of Humanoids. The game is a huge sandbox with a loose overarching plot, and you mostly follow rumors to find dungeons to kill monsters and get loot & experience. Excellent, tactical, and challenging turn-based combat, but a LOT of it.

The Prison Underworld Campaign
Based heavily on Spiderweb Software’s epic Exile series (I got the first one before the second one game out, and have played them all) and its exellent remake, <a=“”>Avernum.

There’s a great underworld of massive caves and endless tunnels beneath the world, and the rulers of the world above send their undesirables down there through a one-way portal. The underworld is inhabited by all the monsters that were driven out of the surface world, and by darker and deeper secrets - nodes of magical power or unlife, and demonic rifts…

The first campaign I’d run would be the original expedition: a huge sandbox exploration & mapping campaign using a hex underworld filled with lairs and dungeons. The PCs would map and explore, discover and conquer, meet monsters and beastmen, and so on. After the campaign feels like it has gone long enough, or the entire party is slain in some misfortune, you close it and…

… the second campaign takes place many generations later, when the underworld is inhabited by prisoners building their own cities, etc. The previous campaign would heavily inform the setting: the dungeons might have been re-occupied or repurposed, but many things the original party did would still have an effect; their mage’s sanctums might still exist, as would any fortresses they may have built to establish underground domains, and their first contact with beastman races and powerful individual monsters (dragons, etc.) might have a huge effect on the setting’s politics.

This could be continued, campaign after campaign, each with generations in between them, and each campaign changes the underworld and affects its history. I think many players would get a huge kick from seeing their actions echo down the centuries, and from exploring dungeons their PCs delved decades or centuries ago - perhaps to find mighty magic items they left behind, hoping that the creatures that once defeated them are now dead…

I’ve got plenty of other ideas brewing, some of which I’ve been developing, such as…

  • A Savage Frontier setting based only on the original AD&D 1E Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, Waterdeep and the North, the first Ruins of the Undermountain, and N5 Under Illefarn. I’ve got many a twist; the main rule is that “nothing goes in that I don’t explicitly put in” (i.e. it’s a setting based on the published material, but the setting is not the published material), and I’m currently playing with the idea of replacing all the evil gods (Bane, Bhaal, Talos, etc.) with demon lords (diabolism being very traditional for evil/chaotic clerics, IMO)… it’d be heavily centered on Waterdeep, ruled by cruel masked Lords who use the Undermountain as a dumping-ground for prisoners, undesirables, and just about anyone found guilty of Unsightly Loitering. The Savage Frontier would provide ample room for dungeons, even other megadungeons, and for conquering and settling many, many domains, then defending them from neighbors and orc hordes.

  • A Dragonlance original modules campaign (I got started on DL1 with AD&D 2E with all the options stripped out, but then I found ACKS) using Domains of War and going off the rails as far as the PCs dare take it. The old-school module material will be an easy conversion, and I’ve already created classes for Knights of Solamnia and Kender Handlers, as well as converted draconians… I’d love to see what my players would make of the War of the Lance and its aftermath!

The less developed ideas include…

  • A 17th-century Weird Gothic Earth, set in Europe around the Thirty Years’ War, probably using some LotFP material (certainly Better Than Any Man, the only LotFP module I find playable on its own). Main inspirations would be R. E. Howard’s Solomon Kane and Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne. Humans only, and the magic-using classes (mage, priest, witch, maybe cleric and warlock) might need tinkering. Fighters, thieves, assassins, and explorers would be straight in.

  • An Ancient Mesopotamian campaign (inspired by, but not based on, the awesome old CRPG Dragon Wars), where the central megadungeon is the underworld of Irkalla, with other mythic vistas to explore, like Dilmun. This setting would be a fantastical place, rather than historic Mesopotamia, but draw heavily on the imagery, names, and mythology of Akkadia, Assyria, Babylon, Elam, Phoenicia, and Sumeria. A Bronze Age sword & sorcery setting with high-fantasy overtones of adventure in the mythic realms.

  • A Roman Empire -era campaign set on a borderland of a far province (such as Britannia or Gallia or Thracia), where a single small border fort/camp manned by a single legionary cohort guards a large valley inhabited by the local barbarians. The valley contains a great, dark forest full of mystery and magic, as well as many dungeons and monster lairs, and several local barbarian settlements. The exact nature of the region’s contents will depend on the location; I’m thinking I’d set it in Britannia (inspired not just a little by Spiderweb Software’s Nethergate), involve faeries, and put in an entrance into a re-imagined Annwn-as-Hades, ruled by Arawn (as Arawn Death-Lord from The Chronicles of Prydain). The campaign would start with the PCs (all Roman legionaries or auxiliaries or officials, at the start) being sent to look into rumors of the dead walking.

None of the ideas are, in essence, original, but I’m fine with that. “I’m not going to not do something because someone else did it or else I wouldn’t be playing D&D.” My own original setting is on a back-burner (though copious notes are being constantly assembled), and far from ready to be shared; these ideas are something easy and fast to hammer out and put a twist on.

Obviously, comment on these, expand on them, and share your own ideas!

I had an idea for a campaign recently while reading enormous amounts of random tables.

True Chaos - In this campaign world, the forces of Chaos have won. Every time the party enters a hex (whether it’s a new hex or one they’ve entered before), it is randomly generated. Everything in the hex is done randomly from scratch every time the party crosses the border. The goal for a Lawful party would be to bring order back to the world by locking in hexes so they no longer randomize, and this could be done in a number of ways; the first one I thought of was that if you clear a hex completely of all lairs and dungeons, it locks in. Of course, if the forces of Chaos then come in and wipe out all significant settlements in the hex, it unlocks and will randomize again.

I’m very interested in the Prison Underworld campaign, as well as the Ancient Mesopotamian campaign. Both are unusual and interesting. And yes, I LOVE Avernum: Escape from the Pit.

That sounds very Michael Moorcock, and especially reminds me of the Champions of Law in Elric’s world, who could create new lands - apparently complete with settlements and people - from the roiling Chaos at the southern edge of the world.

Speaking of which, I’ve got notes back home on a campaign in Elric’s world… I’ll have to put something up when I get back home (in a few weeks), but the basics are pretty simple: use Chaosium sourcebooks for background, Melniboneans are elves, lots of meddling by Lords of Chaos, lots of dimension-hopping, cosmic threats, etc. …

I’m writing up a sort of “unified fantasy myth” based on various Mesopotamian myths (Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian)… the ziggurat-temples of the gods and the cities built around them will play a central part in the setting as I’m fleshing it out, although the existence and status of gods can be left ambiguous.

The myth is cheerfully (and inevitably) “mangled” (although it’s hard to get more mangled than ancient Mesopotamian mythology, where some “key” myths are missing huge parts or critical context), with the main focus on the “feel” and “style,” and on borrowing names and concepts. Incidentally, this is all making me realize just how completely Dragon Wars lifted names from real myths (e.g. Namtar).

A teaser of sorts:

The world was created from the mixing of Apsu, the Cosmic Waters, the Freshwater Ocean, and Tiamat, Ummu-Hubur, the Saltwater Ocean; their children, Lahmu and Lahamu, begat Anshar and Kishar, the Ends of Heaven and Earth, and Anshar and Kishar begat the Young Gods. When Apsu turned on the Young Gods and slew Anshar and Kishar, their chiefs, Anu, Enlil, and Enki, rose in rebellion and enspelled Apsu, trapping him in the Underworld. Tiamat gave birth to dragons and monsters to avenge her lover, but the Young Gods overcame them, and Anu slew Tiamat and her new consort, Kingu. Kingu’s blood mixed with clay to give birth to humankind …

The known world of mankind is called Dilmun, held by them to be the land where the Young Gods dwelled before. It is walled in the east by the smoking mountains of Kur, reputed to be home to a terrible dragon bearing the same name. The river Hubur flows through Dilmun and into Kur, where it is said to descend into the Underworld and rejoin the Cosmic Waters of Apsu. Dilmun itself is riven by wars between the great ziggurat-cities as kings and sorcerer-priests vie for power and hegemony. Great heroes and fools may seek their fortune in wars, by looting the great Houses of the Gods, or by descending the river Hubur into Irkalla, the Underworld, and seeking the awesome treasures thought to exist in this chtonic realm.

Dragons and monsters are either the spawn of Tiamat (the primordial Chaos; Apsu is the cosmic Law), such as dragons and hydras, or creatures of Irkalla, such as goblins and ghouls. Plenty of sorcerous creations abound, too.

“The Land of Kings” will have a strong theme of Law (Apsu, the deities of Heaven, Anu and Enki and Enlil, the Tablets of Destiny) versus Chaos (Tiamat, the deities of the Underworld), but my vision is portraying it more akin to Howard’s Hyborian Aeg than Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion. It will manifest, essentially, as the conflict between wild, destructive natural forces and ordered civilization; the Chaotic monsters forever seeking to overtake Dilmun from without and beneath, and cultists working within it to bring down the dynasties that preserve the worship of the Gods of Heaven and Earth.

After the battle between the Young Gods led by Anu, Enki, and Enlil, and Tiamat and her monsters, the gods who allied with Tiamat were banished into the Underworld, Irkalla, by the power of the Tablets of Destiny held by Enki; and these chtonic powers still resent the gods of Heaven and Earth, and their ordered creation and the hierarchies of the humans they made with the blood of Kingu, Tiamat’s son-consort-general. Not all of the gods of the Underworld are enemies, however: many of them are neutral or beneficient, or can be propitiated; Namtar will hold at bay his diseases and vermin in exchange for sacrifice, and Ninazu is the God of Healing. Irkalla herself, and her consort Nergal, may have dark designs on Dilmun… I’m far from settled on every little detail, and I’m going to try to leave things open while suggesting many (often conflicting) directions to go with the material.

Without a doubt, though, the Chaotic monsters of the Land of Kings setting - beastmen, undead, etc. - are either from the Underworld, from the ocean deeps, or from the laboratories of sorcerer-priests who have made pacts with the powers of Irkalla.

I envision the setting free of “metaplot” but full of explanations and excuses for might magics and supernatural vistas; with some reworking, old-school modules should fit in wonderfully. As I see it now, it will be a “human world,” devoid of demi-humans (but well stocked on beastmen).

Another idea was accidentally injected into my head: the Mesoamerican campaign setting. A fantastical setting modelled on the Pre-Columbian empires of Middle America and South America: great city-states warring against each other, intrigues played by kings and priests and sorcerers, hidden cities of gold, entrances into underworld, rich mythology, et cetera.

Like my One Thousand and One Nights campaign setting concept (in another thread), this one might draw on old AD&D 2E material (Maztica), but would be far from a copy; for one thing, I won’t make foreign invaders a central element. I’m more interested in portraying intrigues, religiously motivated wars, and an environment that will hopefully feel unusual and exotic to most roleplayers, used to (inundated, even) fantasy worlds based on European and especially Western cultures.

What I think will be particularly interesting with this setting is fitting the campaign classes to it: the core classes are always easy, but even with the Mesopotamian setting, it’s fairly easy to imagine how paladins, witches, et cetera fit in; it is, ultimately, shared cultural heritage for European cultures. But fitting warlocks, barbarians, assassins, and the like into a Mesoamerican setting will require greater re-calibrating of your assumptions and imagination, I think. It’s something I find I quite enjoy…

Again, though, I think this setting will be sparse on playable non-humans, although I could certainly use Thrassians to create a lizard-people… I’m not very familiar with Mesoamerican mythology, so a lot of reading will be required before I can dive in. (Currently, I’m still in the process of getting a better general impression about Mesopotamian, Persian, and Arabic mythology…)

Dwarves should be in a Mesoamerican setting also, but quite different from “normal” dwarves. The Nahuatl word for a dwarf is tepozotl, and they seem to have been considered “macabre tricksters” and intermediaries with the spirit world.

The Mayan Popol Vuh has a race of dwarfs (the ch’at) existing before humans, which had eyes that could see through space and time. They became distracted from worshiping the gods, and the gods sent a flood to destroy them, but some escaped by entering caves in high hills.

That’s excellent, and makes for a very easy adaptation, as far as mechanics and basics go! (I’m trying to keep these settings to the existing classes etc. as much as possible.)

I’m going to read up on both the tepozotl and ch’at.

Thank you very much for the references!