After a discussion with my prospective players for my upcoming Barbarian Conqueror King campaign (ACKS Dinosaur & Wizardry AKA Sword & Lizardry), I’ve had an idea - rather than start the game in the current timeline, i.e. the year 3341 AS, with the City-State of Harat already liberated from its tyrant Sorcerer King and ruled by the slave-rebellion leader Hardun, why not start the game 15 years earlier, in 3326 AS, when the Sorcerer-King still reigns? The PCs will be escaped slaves, or peasant rebels, and will have their chance of participating in Hardun’s Army of the Free, possibly ending up as his vassals when they’ll reach name level; eventually, after 3341, they might even replace him as the rulers of Harat!
This will give the game a clear conflict to motivate things. This will still be a sandbox, and they can sill amass treasure and power (probably as part of an independent detachment fighting the Sorcerer King’s forces). But there will be the backdrop of rebellion against the forces of evil sorcery.
The idea is as follows: early in their travels, the PCs, possibly escaped slaves, will join Hardun’s Army of the Free fighting in the Great Servile War against the sorcerer king; they’ll be an independent detachment, fighting for the Cause, as well as for gold and glory, detached from the main forces. At the beginning, this will mostly be a guerrilla war. Eventually, especially as the PCs will rise in level and hire mercenaries (or shape escaped or liberated slaves into an army) and grab power locally, and, later on. on a larger scale, as vassals of King Hardun, the Lizardman Gladiator and leader of the rebellion who’ll take Harat itself.
Dungeon crawling will be part of this; after all, they’ll need money and resources to fund their war, and also they will have to protect locals against Chaos and marauders (who are usually in league with the Sorcerer King).
The campaign will take place in the swaps south of Harat, where the rebels - escaped slaves - hide, and where much older things sleep (AKA Barrowmaze), and will, eventually, reach Harat itself.
Points I’ll have to watch out for:
I’ll have to make sure that while Hardun is the PCs’ patron to a degree, they run their own show, and he doesn’t steal their limelight. An independent guerrilla band is a solution for this - the PCs will have to walk the fine line between righteous war and banditry, and make their own choices, later run the villages they liberate.
I’m thinking about how to start this campaign. One possibility is for all PCs to be slaves, then let them escape (maybe during an attack on their master’s mansion?), but I’m not sure how Mages and other classes who are powerful at level 1 will fare as slaves. Another possibility is to have them recently captured by slavers, then the first adventure would be prison break (and grabbing gear of the slaver guards). Yet another option is start them as villagers and send them on a small adventure, then return to their village to find out most of their friends and families being rounded up by slavers and taken away. In any case, the idea is to start off with a bang to give some motivation. What they do from here on is their choice.
They’ll need a home base fairly early. Maybe give them access to a rebel camp with some services, maybe let them liberate a village early on.
What do you think?