THE BROKEN ROAD
So, this fall, after my now-epic-level Eberron game concludes, I'm starting up a new campaign. It's set in the Allotment, because I have had a lot of success before running games in worlds I have written about. On the one hand, the setting gets a lot of passion put into it, a lot of logistical detail that often escapes game settings, because the world-building has already been set up to support a narrative. There seems to be a kind of verisimilitude that players relate to very well. On the other hand, if there are holes in my world-building, a group of four or five dedicated, inquisitive, exploitative characters are almost sure to find them, which is a great help to the writing and to fleshing out odd details and twitches of setting.
The trick, of course, is chronology. When do you set such a game, to be certain that it doesn't interfere with the demands of your story? The two choices are after the novel or novels reach conclusion, and the story is safely finished... or far enough in the past that novel characters are unlikely to think or chat about campaign events, and the weight of history can shove any egregious hero-inspired changes back the way the author wants them.
I tend to choose the latter, both because I am then not left with the feeling that my PCs are fiddling with things just when I got them sorted out, and because it's a more concrete help to world-building to explore the past than it is to explore the future. In this case, my upcoming campaign, The Broken Road, is set two centuries before The Hellion Prince, during the long, prosperous, and decadent reign of a King whose subjects jokingly call him The King of Oats and Honey, for he is a major political force to be reckoned with, as autocratic as the Sun King, but immensely fat in his old age, and has sired children (in Antarion, all magically gifted children are automatically legitimized if their parentage is known) across the kingdom.
The party will be a patrol unit of newly-minted Royal Guardsmen. The Royal Guard is one of the few egalitarian, meritocratic institutions in the nation, permitting enrollment and advancement by both commoners and mage-lords . As the game begins, the party is about to embark on their first Long Circuit patrol, a sink-or-swim tradition that takes them out of the comfortable capital on a nine month tour of Outer Baronies, spreading the uneasy influence of central judicial authority to arbitrate legal problems and catch criminals that the local Barons and Baronesses cannot handle.
Given that The Hellion Prince is an England-analog with a roughly early-Georgian society (or if you prefer, since I always joke about it being a “regency romance,” Regence France), rolling it back 200 years gives me the England of Shakespeare and Queen Eilzabeth to work with, which pleases me to no end. One of the most important things for me in the Allotment is to have proportional world-building when it comes to my history – if the Allotment was settled 800 years before Hellion Prince by what were essentially exiled Roman rebels with sorcery, the society at time of settlement should resemble 1000 AD European cultures, and their development should have rational reasons for running along vaguely parallel lines and giving me an 18th-century Britain-doppleganger to work with. Obviously some handwaving is required, but I prefer to actually patch my history together as plausibly as I can, piece by piece, and so it will be interesting to explore the happenings of “The Elizabethan Allotment,” since that's a period of British history that interests me greatly. I'm not sure that I can get my players to declaim their dialogue in Shakespearean blank verse, but I can certainly dress them in period fashions and draw in tropes and situations from Elizabethan romance and drama, and I intend to.
Generally, though, this campaign is an attempt for me to take what I have learned about running a game, and apply it in new ways – hopefully both telling a more organic, character-driven story, and allowing me to learn something new. While I have a very vague outline, I do not yet have anything resembling a full plot for this game – nor do I want one before my four players have created their characters and back-stories, a process which we will all do together, exploring their psychology, their motivation, how and why they will mesh as a team, and making certain they have fully realized 'lives' outside the demands of plot. The Allotment setting has a lot of potential darkness and horror that I want to exploit, and to do that I want a party who values role-playing above expedient, mechanical triumphs, and who can act as a support system when other characters are dealt serious emotional wounds. I also want to know what the players most want out of a game, so that I have a better chance of delivering it to them. Politics or action? Crime-busting or creature-slaying? Faeries or Unfallen? Not that the options are binary by any means, but the more I know their goals and their kinks, the deeper I can draw them in, the more thoroughly I can satisfy them.
Originally I was also planning a lot of blather about the technical tomfoolery necessary to make third-ed D & D mechanics adapt themselves to the demands of the world, but I figured that post was more likely to bore my readership, so unless someone expresses an interest, consider it omitted.
For that matter, is this game in general, as my players create their alter egos and as the story unfolds, something people would want to hear more about?
As always, I'm eager to hear from you.