The Phoenix Covenant – Starting a New Campaign

So, this past weekend, my friends Penny and Clint asked if I would be interested in running a small game, just for the two of them.

In the past, I’d run a fairly long-lived Eberron game for them, but it got lost in the shuffle of some non-game things intruding on my life*. By the time my schedule had cleared sufficiently to go back to the game, we’d all lost the thread of what was going on, so we let it die. Well, in the midst of the discussions this weekend, I told them how I had envisioned the final few adventures (we were about six or eight sessions from wrapping it up), so we got a little closure on it.

So. A new game. I asked them what they wanted to play, and they really didn’t know. Penny suggested something post-apocalyptic*, and Clint suggested one of the campaign frameworks I had proposed for the Hunter: The Vigil game that is slowly moving towards start-up. I sent them an e-mail when I had had some more time to think about things, outlining the things I’d be prepared to run. These included a new 4E Eberron game, a modern fantasy game using pretty much any set of rules I had, other World of Darkness games, Star Wars, and even Star Trek*.

The other thing I suggested was something that I’d been working on for some months – strangely enough, it was a post-apocalyptic 4E campaign, based on things like the Fallout video games and the Earthdawn setting. I called The Phoenix Covenant, and here’s the opening pitch:

The Empire of Nerath faces destruction.

King Elidyr takes up arms against the Ruler of Ruin and his seemingly endless horde of rabid gnolls, calling on the old covenants with the other free folk of the world to aid in their defense.

Ancient magics are unearthed and new ones created – magics that can rend stone and split the skies to unleash fury and death.

Bargains are struck with powers from the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos, with the rulers of the Feywild and the dark mistress of the Shadowfell.

Some fear it will not be enough. And some don’t think that the Ruler of Ruin will stop with Nerath.

And some fear that the powers arrayed on both sides may sunder the world forever.

The wise folk of the world gather together on the eve of destruction, and create the Phoenix Covenant.

That the Light shall not be forever extinguished.

And here’s the Phoenix Covenant Declaration:

Whereas the free nations of the world, and the allies thereof, whom shall be called the Light, face the armies of the Ruler of Ruin, and

Whereas the armies of the Ruler of Ruin leave naught but devastation in their wake, and seek neither to claim land nor to build upon it, and

Whereas the advance of the armies of the Ruler of Ruin show fair to overwhelm the defenses of the Light, and

Whereas in the loss of the Light, many wonders of civilization, culture, and learning would fade and pass from the world, and

Whereas such a loss is deemed unacceptable by the wise of the Light:

Therefore let there be founded now the Phoenix Covenant, which members have affixed their names hereto, with the following goals:

First, to survive the coming war.

Second, to preserve from destruction those matters of value which form the core of the societies of the Light.

Third, to hold in trust for the survivors of the coming war the wherewithal to return to the heights of modern civilization.

Fourth, to provide such resources to the survivors at the conclusion of the war, in order to assist them in regaining what they have lost.

Fifth, to nurture and train such heroic members of our band as may be necessary to defend and effect our goals.

Unto these ends, we shall take a collection of wise and skilled folk, representative of all races and crafts, apart from the nations of the world into a secret place, called Covenant, where they shall be hidden safe from discovery by the most powerful magics available to us. Covenant shall be provisioned and provided with all necessary substances to allow the inhabitants thereof to survive in perpetuity without need of congress with the outer world, such arrangements created through our enchantments. All contact with Covenant, save only through the Phoenix Gate, shall be proscribed and prevented, whether from the material world or any of the adjacent planes. The remnants of our society shall open the Phoenix Gate after the scourge of the Ruler of Ruin has abated, and it is time for our society to fulfill its purpose. Should no member of our outer society survive, then the Phoenix Gate shall open after a period of five hundred years, and the heroes of Covenant will be sent forth to explore and reclaim the land.

May the gods favour our undertaking, and grant us the faith and fortitude to see it done.

Done on the 8th day of Full Spring, in the 14th Year of the Reign of Elidyr, feared to be the last Emperor.

And here’s the final sting to get the campaign rolling:

No one ever came to let you out.

So, you prepared, honing yourselves into the heroes that the world would need, learning what you could from the Masters of Covenant. You learned to fight, to lead, to work magic and deception. You learned the words of the gods and the whispers of hidden powers. You pored over maps of the Empire of Nerath, though you knew you would find everything changed.

You made ready.

Now, the day is almost upon you. In two weeks, the Phoenix Gate will open, and the heroes of Covenant will return to the world.

All you must do is prove that you are worthy to be among them.

Well, they picked this idea for the game. Part of the allure is that it is heavily influenced by the stuff we’re all playing as a video game right now. Another big part is that I already had a bunch of background, including a map*, written and ready to go.

There were a few concerns, though. First off, I had planned this for a big campaign ramp-up in the fall, inviting all my gamer friends to play, but spiltting the respondents into two groups if more than six wanted in. But that’s easily fixed; I can still do that in the fall – the story will just change slightly so that a smaller advance group went out a couple of weeks before. Everyone who wants to will still get to play the game.

Second was a bigger problem. Running 4E with two players is going to be a tough balancing act. I’m still somewhat concerned about being able to properly set the encounter strength, and the small number of players means that I’ll be running smaller numbers of monsters. Most worrisome, though, is how things will work without all the roles covered*.

I’m addressing this concern in a couple of different ways. First, I’m starting the characters at 3rd level. That gives me some breathing room on the experience point budgets for creating encounters. Second, I’m giving them some really nice things with the Bribe(TM). This time around, I’m asking for four things (one of which is mandatory), and giving them the pick from a list of four choices (each choice only once). What can they pick up with the Bribe(TM)?

  • +2 to any one attribute.
  • One extra 1st-level At-Will Attack power.
  • One extra feat for which they qualify.
  • One extra trained skill from their class skill list.

Looking at the list, I think it’s almost a recipe for munchkinism. However, given the nature of these two players, and the fact that there are only two characters in the game, I’m willing to risk it. Besides, I can always up the challenge of the encounters if it looks like the characters are just walking through them.

Anyway, we’re going to wait until after July 21 to create characters – that’s when Divine Power hits the shelves, and I want them to have the options in the book, because at least one of them is talking about multi-classing into cleric for some extra healing.

I’ve put up my background notes and the map on Obsidian Portal if you’d care to take a look. You’ll notice that a number of the names (Nerath, Arkhosia, Bael Turath, Cendriane, etc.) are lifted right from the 4E books. I thought that the folks at WotC did such a good job building a loose backstory for the world that I decided to use it in my game with only minor changes.

First game will be either early August or late August. Mid-August, I’m going to GenCon.


*Work got very busy, I ran out of time to prep. Back

*All three of us have been playing a lot of Fallout 3. Back

*What can I say? The recent movie got me so excited about the universe again, that I started to think about running a game in it. Back

*Done in Campaign Cartographer 3, using their Mercator style, from the 2008 annual. I was very pleased with how it turned out. Back

*From initial discusions, it looks like they’re leaning towards playing a sorcerer and a ranger. My players just looooooove the strikers! Back

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