Trying to get a new campaign up and running. I’ve got a gonzo sci-fantasy jungle / desert setting where a baroque and decadent empress rules a decayed land studded with bits of ancient and fabulous magical technology, and her emperor is exiled to a sunless dungeonland of weird fungi and toad-cults under the capitol. This Crescent of Civilization setting is in the works, but its flavor is becoming bitter from having tasted it too much over the past few months. It rocks but I am disillusioned at the moment.
What I want is a more tightly focused game, maybe straight Undermountain or something. I want crazy stuff to happen in town: random encounters with street weirdos or stumbling upon a battle between two funeral processions, a beer-cart robbery turning into a fight with a mimic, a bad harlot subtable roll resulting in being bitten by a poet (which turns you into a poet). I also want crazy stuff in the dungeon: factions that can be played off each other, puzzle rooms hiding excellent treasure, cutting a thankful explorer out of the belly of a giant snake. I really want the city to be dungeon-adjacent both to reduce travel and enhance interconnections between the areas. Phlan would work too. Or a region I had run for a campaign called Dweller in the Pool.
As for rules, I’m seriously considering d20 E6, which is a pretty simple rules hack for 3rd edition: leveling stops at 6th and after that you get a feat every 5000 XP. But of course you have to qualify for the feat, and feats won’t give you access to 4th level spells, and while the “build” premise doesn’t entirely evaporate it’s much easier to stomach. Or I could do 1st edition, which I’m comfortable with. Or 5E – although the art style still leaves me cold and the rules are no better than the homebrew stuff floating around. There’s a point where you’re just done with “all the dwarves are a little different now so spend $150 on new books, we swear we aren’t selling you a shit sandwich this time guys”. When I write a rule set, I have the booklets printed up at Kinkos for $3 each and just hand them out – then again, I’m not running a business here. So maybe I’ll dig up Ruins & Ruffians, do an errata pass, and use that. Or the 0E translation I just did.
I’m happy as long as people are running out of torches, your sword breaks over the orc king’s collarbone and the wizard has to throw you a spare dagger, and the bodyguards rush in only to clog up those bear traps you thoughtfully laid out ahead of time. His secret stash in his lavish boudoir. The sun shines at a hole far above, you climb out on creaking ropes, and spend your treasure on carousing and equipping the next expedition. But that’s what I’m comfortable with – I don’t have a whole lot of politics and intrigue in my campaigns. But if I have rules for that stuff that turns it into a game and not a loosey-goosey talkfest, maybe I’ll be more likely to use it. SO in addition to a boatload of event and encounter tables that define the setting, and dungeon and city maps and keys, and lots of stuff that can turn into plot depending on whatever the players do with it, I need some kind of social rules framework and social events and encounters.
I wants players to consider it worthwhile to set up housekeeping in a fortified dwelling in or near town. Inns have to be unsatisfactory for security reasons and a lack of legit banks means you have to hide any treasure you don’t carry. What other benefits of having a residence? Maybe Fighters get buff because they have a gym to work out in, M-Us and Clerics can study spells and magic items sporadically during their off time or produce potions and scrolls, Thieves fence hot loot and gather adventure hooks and treasure maps. So I need some simple guidelines for what you get with a dwelling. Everyone’s established by Name Level so followers naturally appear hoping to march under the PC’s banner.
I work on the plot between sessions: I look over what happened and consider whether there are any ramifications in the future. I find that this stuff generates threads that naturally result in interesting background and can be pulled together for something that looks an awful lot like I planned a story arc all along.
I also want to use the classes and races to create social structures in the city. If there are Barbarians, they’re from somewhere and when you encounter an NPC Barbarian he might be from your tribe or a rival tribe. Because there are Clerics there will be temples and weird little deities. Because there are Thieves there will be gangs of thugs and burglary rings and extortioners and cutpurses. Dwarves are rumored to be rich in gold and gems – I love that! But I want to shy away from monolithic guilds, for the same reasons I don’t want one deity and one temple.
More thought and work is required.