Island Border Setting

I launched a new campaign setting on my group, which I am really excited about.  Its focus is an island city-state that is under a terrible curse. Supposedly no one has yet returned to the cursed isle… and lived to tell about it. Until now.  Players were shipwrecked on the island and returned to tell the tale.  Now, word is spreading that the wealth of the city and all that the island holds is ripe for the taking.

My vision is a small village on the mainland, some 20 miles from the island, becomes a wild-west style boom town. Tent city springs up overnight with bars, mercs, gambling dens, merchants, etc all show up to support adventures taking boats over to plunder the city.   

Overview: Ruined City with several mega-dungeons, island size of Havana with multiple ruined villages, townes, etc.  and of course lairs of monsters.

The campaign is inspired by an old ICE ShadowWorld location called Zinvar.  It was never developed, but I latched onto the idea and ran with it. Here is my beginning campaign blog.  

That's great and all, but I have a problem. The players can take a boat ride ANYWHERE on the island.  They can sail to the south, the north, or anywhere in-between.  They can make a run for the ruined big city, or they can goof off in the smaller ruins of fishing villages on the island.  I cannot control where they go.

How do I structure low-level areas to high-level areas that the players will understand?  Landlocked campaigns are easy for ascending dungeon level placement and wilderness conquering later in the campaign. But I don't have that control. Damn my inspiration.....

 Ideas on how to handle this?






Could you make the outer circle of coastal points of interest fairly low level, with lowest-level close to settlements and moderately mid-level if away from settlements or on lonely islets or isolated lagoons and so on? Then have the interior be the truly dangerous place.




Sailing long distances is still hazardous due to random encounters and such, so the usual method of putting more dangerous areas a long way from the starting point should still work to some extent.

But there's an almost-insurmountable natural border you're overlooking: The sea itself. Or rather, the surface of the sea: You could easily put your really high-level megadungeons underwater, making them inaccessible to adventurers who lack the relvant magics.

"Deep beneath the sunny lagoons and shining sands you know is a nightmare realm of crushing darkness and freezing depth. There, in the deep abyss where even serpents fear to go, strange dungeons and caves lurk. A few are bubbles of air and light that cling to the sea floor in a mockery of the surface, sustained by ancient enchantments and overrun by mad decendants of mortals who fled there to hide. Others are surface fortresses and ships dragged beneath the waves in ages past, haunted by the dead who commanded them in life. Most terrfying of all are the cities, sprawling metropoli that have never known the surface, never felt the light of the sun. Illuminated by cold, magical light they are, and guarded by the slithering things that build them, cursed by gods and undrempt of by man..."

GMJoe - Interesting idea. I think I am going to add a deep blue hole in one of the bays and add a dungeon.

Alex - The idea of coastal villages being low-level gets me halfway there.  The island really supports about 20 adventuring sites plus the City-State proper is going to be a mega-dungeon with different districts being leveled areas (ie Old Town might be a level 1 dungeon, Temple district level 2, Necropolis level 3, etc.), not to mention multiple dungeons under buildings in those districts.

I wonder if I should kill the island part and just make it the mega-dungeon city crawl, but I wanted the territory to conquer and new places for keeps, walled towns, etc to develop over time.  Of course, some places will be friendly to players, some not, depending on how players treat them early on.