Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Campaign Concept: Barbarian Valley

[I caught an important typo before hitting publish. This campaign concept was nearly called 'Barbarian Valet', which sounds like an early 1990s Schwarzenegger movie.]

En lieu of the final play report from Crown of Kings (two sessions of play), I thought I'd offer you a look at our next fantasy campaign. Possibly. We won't be starting until 2014, I guess, with Munchkin likely the game of choice this week. This outline was developed using the 'questionnaire' found in OpenQuest 2e. When/if we play this campaign, we will likely use a d100 ruleset. Not sure which one though...  

Campaign Name: Barbarian Valley

The Gottans; flint-speared hunter gatherers win glory by bringing down bears, mammoths and Bigger Things in the wide, untamed land that the Civilised peoples call Barbarian Valley. Monsters prowl the woods, chiefs scheme to make a kingdom, and the Civilised peoples bring new Gods, new ideas - and bronze! - which threaten to revolutionise Gottan society. But all this takes place in the shadow of Evil stirring in the mountains, with rumours that a Sorcerer has established his dominion over the lost city of Esom the Founder. Make your mark as a Hero of your clan; resist the encroachment of Civilisation or ally yourselves with the Children of the Sun God; free your people from Sorcerous evil, or enchain yourself to the wills of the Dark Ones in pursuit of powers undreamed of; explore the decadent City States of the South, or reshape Barbarian Valley in your image…

Level of Magic: Low/Medium
Within Barbarian Valley only a few native people – mostly shaman and witches – have the ability to use magic. These rare individuals use Animism to contact Ancestor Spirits and other Spirit World entities. A few exceptional non-magicians know a handful of Folk Magic spells.

Beyond Barbarian Valley there are organised religions which use Divine Magic, Sorcerers, and, perhaps somewhere distant, Mystics who have disciplined their body and mind to perform supernatural feats. The PCs will come into contact with the Divine Magic and Sorcery, initially in the form of NPCs (Sun God Priests and Acolytes of the mysterious Sorcerer). The potential for a PC to learn these magical skills exists (or even for a replacement PC to begin play as a Priest or Sorcerer).

The Gottans of Barbarian Valley can be imagined as pseudo-Celts with a heavy dose of the Native American hunter gatherer nations of the Great Plains. Most clans subsist by hunting and gathering, but a few have settled and adopted some basic agriculture. Despite limited material culture – largely consisting of wood, hide, bone and stone – the clans have a sophisticated oral culture maintained by Lawspeakers. The standard organisational level is a clan who claim descent from a heroic ancestor, though sometimes a powerful or charismatic leader binds several clans into a tribe and rules as a (Petty) King. There has not been a High King of the Gottans since the death of Esom the Founder, who led the Gottans to freedom from the slavery of the Snake Men in the Distant South.

At the beginning, your PCs know little of what is beyond the borders of Barbarian Valley. They do know that there are Civilised (ugh!) settled people, who build towns and cities. Not only are the Civilised people soft and have forgotten the ways of their Ancestors, worshipping a family of Sun Gods instead, but most Gottans find the idea of living with domesticated animals disgusting. That the settled people share their towns (even homes) with the animals that they eat reminds the Gottans of the way in which the Snake People held the Gottans as if they were cattle before the coming of Esom. This Civilisation – the Children of the Sun God – a collection of independent city states with a common culture, could be imagined as pseudo-Mythic Greeks crossed with Babylonians. Adventurous Civilised people enter Barbarian Valley as traders, missionaries, monster hunters, and as slavers.

Starting Level of the Characters
Player Characters start as young adults, out to make a name for themselves. They will be exceptional young adults, with generous character generation options ‘switched on’. The early time frame will progress rapidly (if appropriate) allowing the PCs to develop (both mechanically – in terms of skill %, and in terms of character) into notable people, a cut above the ordinary.

Types of Adventures Available
Adventures will typically be one or two sessions of play. Adventures can (and likely will) end in failure (often short of death). Success or failure will have consequences, so the PCs will shape Barbarian Valley through play. Longer adventures will emerge ‘organically’ as PCs pursue their goals and respond to events. In the first few ‘seasons’ (in the US television parlance) typical adventures might include.

1. Hunting for dangerous big game or monsters. Success on the hunt wins the hunter glory, and well as bringing the clan food and other resources.
2. Stealthy raids on rival tribes for plunder or ransom. Raids are an accepted, valorised part of Gottan culture, and do not necessarily involve fights to the death.
3. Ambushing the caravans of soft civilised merchants, or even the borderland settlements. This banditry is an extension of Gottan raiding culture, though different rules might apply to the treatment of captive foreigners.
4. Protecting merchants from raiders from of rival clans. At least one Gottan clan chief will want to cultivate an ongoing relationship with the Children of the Sun God, even if it means dishonouring the Ancestors. Bronze is that valuable.
5. Taking part in inter-tribal ‘war’. This would usually involve a series of skirmishes to determine access to hunting grounds, sacred sites, etc.
6. Exploring ruins dating back to the time of Esom (or earlier?), ruins of citadels constructed from vast stone blocks. The PCs might be looking for treasure, magic, or other sources of glory – both personal, and for the clan.
7. Resisting/thwarting the depredations of the foul Southern Sorcerer who has established his base is a lost city in the mountains. Several clans have been corrupted or enslaved, but he also has inhuman servants. It is unlikely that the PCs would be able to defeat the Sorcerer himself at this stage, but if they really wanted to try…
8. Interacting with Spirits – malevolent, neutral, or friendly – for the benefit of the clan. Or, perhaps, for the personal power of the PCs.
9. Explorations of new territories, primarily to claim hunting rights, but who knows what might be discovered.
10. Involvement in tribal intrigue, as prominent hunters vie for clan leadership, and chiefs eye the title of tribal King.

1. Rivals for glory in the same tribe. These rivalries are likely to be non-fatal, but could have serious, long-lasting consequences in the lives of the PCs.
2. Heroes of rival clans. These would represent a greater physical danger, but custom still largely avoids inter-clan rivalry degenerating into all-out blood baths.
3. Agents of the Sorcerer. These would include both open antagonists – renegade Gottans, foreign mercenaries, and sorcerous acolytes – and covert corruptors within the clans.
4. The Sorcerer himself, perhaps, even if he only casts a shadow over the valley.
5. Dangerous Spirits – amoral Nature Spirits, Ancestors with an interest in the material world, and foul Spirits of Death and Disease.
6. Predators and prey; Bears, Boars, Bison and Bigger Things, such as Mammoths and Dinosaurs…
7. Civilised adventurers and slavers – ignorant of custom, deliberately blasphemous, or outright hostile.
8. Priests of the Sun Gods, bringing their strange foreign religion and ideas about settled life to replace the ancient customs of the clans.
9. The Things in the Woods – Beastmen and worse…
10. Gottan lawbreakers. The PCs might have to take physical action, but adventures might also involve investigation, or even taking a part in clan decision making.

Potential Allies
Well… all of the above, I guess! Most of them, anyway. Even the Sorcerer, in extremis.

Important Cults/Organisations
1. The Ancestor Cults of the Barbarians
2. The Temple of the Sun God
3. The individual clans (and, at a level above, loosely affiliated tribes).
4. The Sorcerer’s ‘kingdom’

Campaign Themes
1. Winning glory and reputation among clans and tribes in Barbarian Valley.
2. Resisting/Accepting/Exploiting the encroachment of new ways and customs.

3. Encountering true evil in the form of the Sorcerer.

The influences on this prospective game should be fairly obvious...

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