Groundwork – The Phoenix Covenant

For those who are interested, I’ve finished the preliminary wiki for The Phoenix Covenant on Obsidian Portal.

Now, I’m in an interesting position, game-prep-wise. I’ve got the world pretty much designed, but the design is not current with the game – it is 500 years out of date. This was deliberate: with the village of Covenant being sealed off from the outside world, all they have is information on what the world was like when they closed the Phoenix Gate. Nothing on how it has changed.

Of course, that means that I don’t know how it’s changed, yet, either.

That’s okay, though; I don’t need details on all the changes just yet. I don’t have to worry too much about whether the Imperial City still exists, or if there’s a smoking crater where it once was. It’s going to take some time before my two intrepid explorers make it that far south. What I need to know right now is what changes have occurred around Covenant and Stayyin Keep. In short, I need the first adventure.

Way back a long time ago, Ray Winninger wrote some brilliant articles on building a D&D campaign. They were published in Dragon Magazine as the Dungeoncraft column*. A couple of pieces of advice from those columns – things he referred to as the Rules of Dungeoncraft – have stuck with me over the years, and I’m going to try adhering to them as much as I can.

The first one is the advice to not create more than you need to. Stay focused on the things that the characters are going to interact with at this point in their adventuring careers. So, for starting out, give them simple things: a home base, some wilderness to explore, and one or two adventure sites.

Now, the fact that I have created the wiki detailing the entire Empire may seem to violate that rule. I felt I needed the high-level coverage, given the campaign premise. If you look through the wiki articles, you’ll see that most things get only a few sentences. The details are saved for the history of the Empire (i.e. “Why are we locked underground?”) and the village of Covenant (i.e. “So, what’s it like where we grew up?”). The rest is pretty sparse.

The other piece of advice I’m trying to stick to from Ray’s column is the suggestion that, whenever I create something important about the campaign – a place, an NPC, an organization, a religion – I create at least one secret about it. You write these down on index cards. When you build an adventure, pick a card from the stack, and drop a little clue to that secret into the adventure. I did this in the Broken Chains campaign to great success, even seeding some of the clues into the campaign newspaper for the characters to follow up on. It creates a great way for the players to pick and choose which things they care about, and provides direction for the game.

Which brings me to where I’m at right now.

To get the game ready to play, I need to flesh out the area around Covenant and Stayyin Keep, both detailing the region and creating the secrets deck. In doing this, there are certain design goals I need to keep in mind:

  • I’m planning on opening up the game to more people, playing successive groups leaving Covenant to help restore civilization to the world. The initial area has to be able to support multiple groups doing different things.
  • I want more of a sandbox feel to the game than in previous campaigns I’ve run, with the players free to explore where they want and set their own priorities and agendas.
  • I want different types of encounters in the game – some combat, some skill challenge, some roleplaying, some combinations.
  • I want things to be dynamic, with changes based on the characters’ actions.
  • I want meaningful choices for the players, so that their decisions determine the encounters and situations they come across, rather than just which order they fight the monsters in.
  • I want to maintain the mix of post-apocalyptic feel with the general D&D fantasy milieu.

So, given those goals, I have some basic idea about what the area is going to contain:

  • Lots of choices, with different areas and things to find.
  • Ruins, some inhabited, some not. Also, other signs of an epic magical war leaving scars on the world.
  • Different groups in the area with different agendas that the characters can interact with in different ways.
  • Some nasty-bad mutant monsters*.

And this brings me to my next steps in getting the game ready:

  1. Create a player map of the area circa IY 897. This is what the players will have to guide their initial explorations.
  2. Create a GM map of the same area showing what’s changed in 500 years, and marking out all the various sites and encounter areas.
  3. Deciding what the current situation at Stayyin Keep is.
  4. Deciding how much of a dungeon crawl I want the initial departure from Covenant to be*.
  5. Mapping out the dungeon crawl (probably in flow-chart form rather than a traditional map) and setting the encounters in it.
  6. Doing up the monster stats and treasure package distribution.

Now, steps 1 and 2 are probably going to take the longest. Really, I need to make sure that I have step 1 done, then work on steps 2 and 3 while concentrating on steps 4, 5, and 6, which are going to see the most immediate play.

And that’s what I’m working on for the game right now.



*The articles are available here. I hasten to add that I have no idea about the copyright status of the articles, or the legality of them appearing on this site. I have my own copies. Back

*Okay, so this one isn’t a product of my explicitly stated design goals. But this is a D&D game, where there should be nasty-bad monsters, and it is a post-apocalyptic game, where there should be mutants. So… Back

*I know I want it to be a bit of a dungeon crawl, for a few reasons. First, it hearkens back to the first Fallout game, where you have to make your way through a cave full of rats when you first leave the vault. Second, it gives me a chance to start showing some of the changes in the world brought on by the war. And third, it allows me to stick in another jumping-off point for other exploration of deeper caverns and maybe even the Underdark. Back

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