By my estimation, there have been roughly a dozen game sessions now since I started my current D&D campaign. The map from the previous post depicts those areas on Shade Isle where the player characters have traveled, except for the detached region on the left of the map which isn't connected to the bigger part---that's a section of the map that was penciled in based on a treasure-map purchased from a peddler of questionable honesty. But more on that in a moment. First, here's the skinny:
Campaign Vital Stats
Title: "The Shade Isle Campaign". This will be the third time I've run this particular campaign, but my first time running it publicly, at a mostly open table at my FLGS.
Rules: OD&D, 1991 edition (Black Box, Rules Cyclopedia), with bits and pieces taken from Engines & Empires and this set of house rules. The main impact of the house rules is to separate race from class (with race providing almost no mechanical advantage to characters, only situational fluff) and to soft-cap player character advancement at the 14th experience level.
Setting: The game is set in a world called Færith, a setting which goes back to my earliest days of gaming. It was the first proper and persistent campaign-world that my high-school chums and I ever devised, and even back then it was a hodgepodge of Tolkien, swashbuckling, and steampunk, before we knew that "steampunk" was actually a thing.
The thrust of the setting is this; a very Europe-like continent called Lethandria is slowly climbing back up to a modern level of technology, a thousand years after a massive magical cataclysm that blasted civilization back to the Dark Ages and made all the world's elves mortal. The landscape is littered with the post-apocalyptic ruins of the previous, highly techno-magical society. And even though the world has rediscovered electricity and steam engines, more of the world remains wild and barbaric than industrialized.
Backstory: The northernmost nation of Lethandria, roughly analogous to Scandinavia, is a human and dwarven kingdom called Laomark. To the south is another kingdom called Rûne, also populated mostly by men and dwarves, which is culturally something like Rohan meets 18th century Prussia meets the Scottish Highlands. Thirty years prior to the start of the campaign, a treasonous knight of Laomark named Sir Svartsen the Black forswore his oath of fealty to king and country and marched his retinue and his armies south into Rûnish lands. There, he conquered and pillaged and generally made a mess of things. Bregus, the High King of Laomark, and many Rûnish lords and princes, all sent armies after Svartsen, but the Black Knight's forces proved too mighty to defeat. In honor of his victory over his former lord and the combined forces of the Rûnemen, Svartsen declared himself prince of a sovereign state, Dolheim, which he has ruled ever since with the iron fist of a tyrant.
For reasons unknown, many of the Black Prince's victims, from dissidents and malcontents to criminals and slaves taken from the Rûnish border, are not killed or imprisoned. Instead, they are transported: exiled to a pœnal colony across the sea, a place called Shade Isle. The campaign begins with the player characters, exiles from Dolheim, arriving at Sægen Village, a shantytown built on the south shore of Shade Isle, at the mouth of the Schönflow River. Every couple of months, a ship from Dolheim drops off a batch of exiles and supplies, and picks up... something in exchange.
The campaign began with three players: Ryan and two others. Before I talk about their characters, a quick run-down of the possibilities:
Race is determined randomly and has only minimal impact on game mechanics. Playable races (at least initially) include humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and ogres. Humans and dwarves are exactly as you might imagine them. Elves are pretty close to standard, except that they only live about as long as dwarves do. Gnomes are basically hobbits (but I'm avoiding using Tolkien words in this setting, so they're called "gnomes" rather than "hobbits" or "halflings") and ogres are basically orcs (but, again, ixnay on the Tolkienisms... by avoiding the word "orc", I can make a very clear distinction between ogres, which are big and green and tusked and barbaric and honorable; and goblins, which are little and spindly and sneaky and cowardly and usually evil).
Character class is chosen by the player, but only after rolling stats on 3d6, so there's an element of randomness here too. Playable classes are the fighter, brawler, expert, druid, artificer, and sorcerer. Most of those don't need an explanation (a brawler is like a monk without the monasticism, an artificer is a scientist and engineer, an expert is a skill specialist which might easily be made into a thief, fighters fight and sorcerers make with the mojo). Only the druid class needs a bit of clarification: rather than being nature-priests, druids are this setting's generalized divine caster, but they're called "druids" rather than "clerics" to give them a decidedly Gandalfy, Radagasty, or Sarumany (depending on whether Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic) "white wizard" vibe.
To sum up: men, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and ogres; any of which may be fighters (Str), experts (Dex), brawlers (Con), artificers (Int), druids (Wis), and sorcerers (Cha).
So Ryan, who I found out on day one was a big fan of Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, dove right in and rolled up Henrik Iverssen, a human artificer specialized in chemistry. The other two players created Viktor Forsman, a human brawler, and Silverhart, an elvish expert. Iverssen was sentenced to be transported for scientific heresy: publishing a paper that contravened the academic orthodoxy back in his homeland. Viktor, being the only character of Chaotic alignment, was content to let it be known that he was being punished for sundry crimes allegedly committed over an indeterminate span of time. Silverhart the elf was not as recent an exile; instead, he had been sent to Shade Isle some months earlier, a convicted thief and poacher.
This small party in short order decided to rustle up some muscle, and so they added to their number two other exiles from Sægen, a gnomish pickpocket by the name of Tommy Twofinger (N Exp1, portrayed by yours truly with a delightful Brooklyn accent), and a veteran ogress named Werterrix the Bold (L Ftr1) who had already done a bit of exploring around the southern parts of the isle and liked to collect scraps of maps and notes to aid in her treasure-hunting endeavors.
The first real order of business, of course, was to get to know Sægen, since this would be their home base for the foreseeable future. Both Tommy and Werterrix had been met and hired whilst in the village's one tavern and hostel, Doyle's Flophouse, an establishment run by a portly and good-humored hostler, Derrigan Doyle, and his wife Molly, both of Rûnish extraction. They were quick to meet the local trader, a somewhat sleazy chap named Bertram Lakko; and also the town blacksmith, a gruff dwarf by the name of Grashka, whose shop is minded by his quiet human wife, Lyra. These two shops were their only source of arms at the outset.
Asking around Sægen provided several avenues of interest: there were bandits occasionally raiding out of the Lornwood, the old forest east of the village. To the west sat the Merkbog, a wild and dangerous place, barely explored. Most curious of all, a fortnight prior to the arrival of Henrik and Viktor on the isle, a group of strange men in black cloaks passed through the village and stayed the night at Doyle's Flophouse. The cloaked men didn't say much about their business, but they did ask a few questions about an old Connaian (think, Ancient Roman) fortress which stands on the cliffs above the sea, about a day's hike east of Sægen, skirting south around the Lornwood. The villagers gave the robed men a wide berth, assuming them to be dangerous folk indeed: priests from an evil church which stands many leagues upriver, north of Sægen, known as Shade Abbey. Shade Abbey has developed an ill reputation over the years for snatching folks off the road or trafficking in slaves; and all those who go into that foul place are never heard from again.
The First Adventure
I'll conclude this catch-up post with a quick run-down of the campaign's first adventure. The party decided to go after the bandits first, since they were causing the town immediate trouble, and it seemed like an easy job. By all accounts, there weren't very many of them, and their camp couldn't be all that far off. At the behest of a local merchant who had lost his caravan goods, they struck out into the Lornwood until they found the camp, engaged the bandits, and slew all of them; but not without cost. Werterrix the ogress fell in that battle, leaving the party short on muscle already.
Once they got back to town, they collected a reward from the local law (such as it is: a kingsman in the service of Prince Svartsen who styles himself Sheriff Vinter of Sægen, and his thuggish constables, the Goon Squad) and put out a call for more fighters. Instead of a veteran, though, they were only able to rustle up a couple of 0-level men-at-arms, a pair of local toughs by the name of Naeyl and Sven. They also decided that a porter and groom, someone to carry their things and watch their camp, might be a good thing to have around, so they hired another ogre, this one a gentle soul called Partrix, to push a wheelbarrow and tend to their gear.
It was also after the fight with the bandits that the party's surviving members, in desperate need of healing, sought out Father Onnus Eagan, a weird old man who tends the Starshrine to Nereus Oceanus, a holy site about an hour's walk south from Sægen Village. The shrine is nothing more than a smallish stone structure, not much bigger than a cottage, with an altar and a holy symbol inside. Father Onnus claims that when he was first sent to Shade Isle, twenty-seven years ago, the shrine was already there. Caring only to find shelter for the night, he slept in the shrine; and while he slept, he received a vision from the god Nereus, who told Onnus that he was to be a priest, and that he should devote his life to tending the shrine. Ever since then, Father Onnus has dwelt within the shrine, and although he is not a druid and has no class levels or ability to cast spells, he does have a mysterious talent (in his mind, a god-given talent) to create potions of healing through prayer and ritual. It is by means of these potions that he can heal penitents who visit him in the shrine.
Once healed, the party, now seven strong---Henrik (Art1), Viktor (Bra1), Silverhart (Exp1), Tommy (Exp1), Naeyl (NM0), Sven (NM0), and Partrix* (NO0)---turned their attention to the old Connaian fortress. They were soon to learn that it wasn't just a ruin of an abandoned military outpost. Indeed, a famous Connaian general still rested there (for a certain, loose definition of "rest"). The old fortress was actually the Tomb (and haunting-grounds for the restless spirit) of General Tullius Maximus Diro...
(Yes, "NO0" stands for "Normal Ogre, Level Zero".)