Wednesday, March 30, 2011

[D&D] The Candlemir Campaign

I've run a handful of campaigns as a Dungeon Master, and a few games that were really just single adventures. I can clearly remember running four campaigns in particular. My first real one was EPIC - high-powered characters battling to save the world. There was a "winged folk" fighter/mage (sort of like an elf with huge angel wings, a centaur who charged into battle with a lance, a paladin with artifact-level armor, and, I kid you not, a faerie dragon druid. It ran for a couple of years and was truly world-spanning in scope.

My third campaign was short-lived - a group of humanoids like goblins, orcs, etc., all trying to make their way in the world as adventurers. I don't remember why it fizzled out, it just did. My last campaign was also based around a group of evil player-characters, but it was an entirely new group of players who just didn't mesh. It fell apart within a handful of sessions (which sucks, because I had some really amazing stuff planned for that group).

In looking through my old word documents recently, I realized just how incredible my second campaign was. It was called the Candlemir campaign, because it was centered in the city of Candlemir (which I had drawn on a poster-sized sheet of paper in exacting detail). Candlemir was, unbeknownst to the players, lorded over by a silver dragon disguised as a human.  As they rose in power they became trusted agents of his and, when he disappeared, it became their duty to find him. Two of the players became local lords, the third was a powerful servant of his god, highly respected within his church and by all who knew him. The players loved that campaign, and with good reason - I can say with no false modesty that I did a hell of a job on that game.

One of my goals with the Candlemir campaign was to give the players as much useful knowledge as possible so that THEY, not a random roll of the dice, could be responsible for figuring out puzzles and bringing key information to bear when needed. The challenge is often that when it comes to the right time, a player simply makes a roll against a non-weapon proficiency or a skill (like intelligence) and, if they're successful, the DM tells them precisely what they need to know. I kind of hate that. The player always knows the information is relevant and correct and they know they need to use it right then and there.

With the Candlemir campaign, I instead pre-positioned information with the PCs right at the beginning of the campaign. Huge, huge volumes of information, all based on what their character could actually know about. Some of it I knew would be useful, because I'd already mapped out a fair number of adventures (mostly from Dungeon Magazine) that I knew I was going to use sooner or later. The rest was a combination of deliberately useless data and details that I could work off of if I ever needed an adventure hook, or which might never come into play. Either way, it served to conceal the really important, useful information, hiding it in plain sight, if you will.

At the start of the game, each player received a binder containing their character sheet, any information about their special abilities, info about the world's deities and other common knowledge, and then as many as a dozen printed pages of "stuff you know." It was up to them to read, digest, and remember that "stuff," because weeks or months later, it would suddenly become relevant in the middle of a dungeon or other adventure. Then the player would suddenly shout, "Wait! I've got something about this in my notes!" followed by frantic flipping through their binder of character history and knowledge.

Sometimes I'd get really clever and split the information across two players, so they had to put their heads together. That was pretty cool. The combination of real data pulled from upcoming adventures, plus character histories (some of which contained even more useful knowledge), plus data interwoven between players, plus ersatz information wrapped like choking vines around those bits of key knowledge, all resulted in an enormous body of work. Hell, I could probably publish it if I ever put the effort into putting it together (and updated it from AD&D Second Edition to D20 or some other, modern ruleset). It was an impressive body of work if I say so myself. And I'd nearly forgotten about it until I stumbled upon it all this week.

But wait, there's more! You see, I still needed a way to add in new details when the players got to higher levels or started traveling down paths I hadn't predicted. I rectified this with the "Magic Missive" - the newsletter of the Academy of Wizardry at Utrecht, where the party's mage, Sarkhan Killoumanges, had trained. I would periodically send him this newsletter (it magically arrived in his study), and it would contain information about world events (culled from alumni of the university all over the continent), interviews, articles, and sometimes even new spells. I crafted three or four of these, and each was a significant amount of work, but hidden within them was fresh information to help my players in their adventures.

So I tip my DM hat to Candlemir - to the Reaper of Tempus, Lord Sarkhan Killoumanges, The Blue Bard, Chariah Solinahr, and Oculos the Cyclops. The campaign is fifteen years in the past, but its legacy lives on. I'll always remember it as my DM masterpiece. Perhaps someday I'll try to craft its equal for my children to play. Perhaps someday my kids will do the same, we'll see. For now, it holds a hallowed place in my heart.

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