I have had my old Northern Marches campaign on my mind recently. Earlier today I saw the 9-minute Campaign Design on the Mule Abides and I decided that for fun I would take a fresh look at the Northern Marches through this framework.
1. What is the Look & Feel of your campaign?
The idea of the Northern Marches was based on the similarly titled West Marches campaign. It would focus on exploring the unknown, ancient dangers, vast treasures, mythic underworld, forbidding wilderness, and harsh environments. It is an open campaign which features drawing from a loose group of players.
2. What’s the high concept of your campaign?
The elevator pitch. Exploring the dangerous frontier that was abandoned many generations ago - haunted ruins, valleys containing Lost Worlds, and mythic underworlds containing cosmic horrors and amphibious frog demons.
3. What’s the core story? (or: “Loveable misfits who…”)
The game is an exploration-focused sandbox game set in a dangerous frontier region away from civilization. There’s a convenient fortified town, New Hareth, that is an outpost of civilization and law, but beyond that is the haunted ruins of Old Hareth and dangerous wilderness. All the PCs are all loveable misfit adventurers based in this town seeking fame and fortune beyond the safety of the town's walls. Between sorties into the wilds PCs rest up, trade info and plan their next foray in the rowdy taproom of the Dancing Dragon Tavern.
4. What rules will you be using in your campaign?
B/X baby! As if there was any doubt. However, this is not just because I love B/X but also because I feel it is a great ruleset to give the appropriate feel for the campaign. The fragile nature of the characters, the roster of monsters, the clear rules regarding exploring the wilderness... it fits like a glove.
5. What are the big-scale social institutions or groups in the campaign?
New Hareth is a relatively self-sufficent centre of civilization. It would contain all of the major institutions required.
- Churches/Shrines for the Lawful and Neutral religions. In the Northern Marches these include the Church of the Great Dragon (Lawful, faux fantasy stand in for the catholic church) and the Dodekatheon or "The Twelve" (the old pantheon religion - mainly the 12 olympians).
- A small wizards guild.
- Town guard and courts that efficiently keep the law inside the town walls.
- Baron Hareth - authorized by the kingdom to award other baronies to those able to establish a stronghold in the wilderness.
- Blind seers, learned sages, mystic oracles, covens of witches, etc.
- Armourers, blacksmiths, merchants.
- The Dancing Dragon Tavern which serves as the meeting place for the informal group of adventurers.
- The Bounty Post for posting wanted posters.
- A small thieves guild.
6. Who are the major supporting cast?
The Striped Mage
The Lama of the Great Dragon
The Bishop of the Twelve
Captain of the Guard
The Hood (head of the thieves guild)
A small number of NPC adventurers that have already established strongholds in the wilderness
7. What are the major threats in the campaign?
The Wilderness - getting lost, rugged snow covered mountains, hoarfrost crusted swamps, cold weather, hunger, monsters, rolling on the Triple Secret Random Horrific Fate Table of Very Probable Doom if you don't get back to civilization before the end of the session.
Castle Hareth - the ruined castle (megadungeon) of the abandoned settlement rumoured to be haunted and built on the ruins of a very ancient fortress.
Dungeons & Lairs - out in the wilderness
Barbarians, bandits, ancient ruins, cosmic horrors, huge dinosaurs, marauding orcs, blood-thirsty amazons, etc.
8. Draw a map of the campaign setting.
9. Draft up your first adventure.
While it is a sandbox and the players can do anything they want, if they are new players I usually say one of the party members inherited, stole or otherwise procured a treasure map leading the party to somewhere out in the wilderness.