Soaring castle spires, marble towers, knights clad in golden armor, flowers, festivals and wonders–these are the hallmarks of Gloriana, seat of the High Queen and fairest kingdom in the land!
And that is not where our story takes place.
Far from the light cast by that illustrious city lie the shadowed boughs of the Marchen Woods. Little towns dot the forest, filled with frightened folk who may never leave their birth places. And with good cause–between the trees, the light of day never truly struggles past the leaves, and those shadows hide beasts and monsters who hunger for flesh. Witches and fairies lure children away from their homes. Ogres and trolls lurk under bridges. And perhaps most dangerous of all are those who lived here before Isbrand’s knights drove them off–the vengeful Dusk Elves, the Huldra of the Caonach Vale.
Welcome to the other campaign we’re running here at TormentedByGnomes — Gloriana! Where Refuge is an open-ended game of exploration, combat, looting and conquest, this campaign set out from day 1 to tell stories. I settled on a Dark Fairytale theme, partially because I had some ideas for that sort of world and partially because I knew it would appeal to my target audience: a group of family and friends with great imaginations and vibrant chemistry.
With a year and a half of Refuge under my belt, I had plenty of time to consider how to make this game different. Let’s start with the player base: Our game consists of five couples, which leaves us with nine players and one DM. A bit of a strategic error there–I have a tendency to get excited about this kind of project and overextend, both from enthusiasm and as an insurance policy (after all, surely at least four of them will say no or drop out, right? Wrong). Of those nine players, one of them (NinjaManMat) is a D&D veteran — we’ve played together since 2006. With the others, maybe three of them have over a year of D&D experience. The rest are all rookies. This worked out for me, because I wanted to start at level 1, and many of my veteran players prefer to kick off campaigns around level 4. But this was going to be a story about humble beginnings and terrifying odds, and the Level 1 experience would be key to building that feel.
After doing some research, I also decided that we needed a lot of time devoted to character building before the first d20 hit the table. I cribbed heavily from FATE (particularly the Dresden Files RPG) and had each character incorporate some plot hooks and character flaws directly into the imagination phase (I’ll do a whole article on this later). Then we held a Session 0, where we got together, ate snacks, and did nothing but work out backstory connections. I wasn’t going to have any of this “We just met so I don’t trust you” or “You all get together in a tavern for the first time” stuff. This was one of the most rewarding DM experiences I’ve had–watching rookie players get excited and come up with intricate plot twists that I hadn’t imagined.
Only when all of this was said and done did I start really writing the first adventure. I want every stage of this game to be intimate and meaningful, with direct tie-ins to as many players’ backstories as possible. The results? I’ll let you know after our next game on Saturday!