My Harkenwold - Stealin', the DM advantage
by , 11-06-2011 at 02:02 PM (7127 Views)
The well runs dry
There are days when the creative juices are just not flowing. As a DM there are simply days when you run out of ideas. Like spice* the ideas must flow, if you are to have a fulfilling game. Thankfully, unless you are publishing your works, you always have a backup - steal from any available sources, profusely.
Not so long ago I was going through one of those creative slumps. I had a new campaign starting and didn't know where to go with it, specially as the last campaign had ended with a great Epic conclusion. Now the players are starting a new game in a world which their previous characters helped save. This was a daunting task, as some of the information I might have given them earlier is now clashing with my new ideas. So I decided to "move" the campaign to an area none of the players had ever explored. The problem was that I had no such area.
Larceny to the rescue
You see, I've been running this home brewed world for a very long time. Baledar started as the world for my Basic D&D game in late 1979. This was way before I'd ever heard anything about "world-building." The world started as a small village near a river and a swamp. In that swamp was an unnamed city lost in time. That was the extent of my writeup for the first few games. Adventures for the first campaign happened all around this small village of Hoch, as I pulled ideas from any possible source. A lot of the first few adventures where gonzo affairs with all kinds of creatures pulled directly from the monster manual, simply because they looked cool.
The Keep on the Borderlands and Caves of Chaos were just a few days travel away. As new adventures started to take form, they were always placed in relation to that initial village. The entire campaign saw the players find out about the cult that was building at the "Caves of Chaos", the players fought the slavers, visited Averoigne and met the Ambervilles, found the Temple of Elemental Evil, and even challenged the giants.
Over time our "brand" of D&D was a hodge-podge of rules from both the Basic/Expert game and AD&D. We had a psionicist monk (AD&D), played in the same group as a halfling (rogue - D&D), and an elf (fighter/magic user - D&D), a dwarf fighter (AD&D), a human ranger(AD&D), a human fighter(AD&D), and a Human Wizard (AD&D). We didn't care about rules, we just cared about how much fun we were having. We didn't care about being exclusive either, at one time I had 14 players playing at one table, ranging in age from 10 years old to mid 30's. All this with a 16 year old DM.
Those were very fun times for me, I didn't have to tortuously abide by the rules in a book. If I thought it was cool, and the players were having fun, who cared whether the halfling was now a race, and was supposed to get a class from another book. We played to have fun, not to slave over the details of the rules.
This taught me one crucial "truth" about this game, if the idea is cool go with it. It really doesn't matter if the idea is your original creation. Plots from Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Conan the Barbarian, Dune, Star Wars, The Six Million Dollar Man, Marvel Comics, etc., they all found their way into some part of my adventures.
That original group of players disbanded shortly after I left for college, as there was no longer any time to meet. After having played two days a week for almost 5 years it was very sad to part, but eventually all things must come to an end.
Decades later, when 3.x rolled around, and I'd found a new group of players I decided to dust off some of those old adventures. Man were they crappy, but for that "old" group they were gold. Comedy gold, but gold nonetheless. To this day we still laugh about some of the adventures, and mishaps of those "original" heroes.
What I did find of use were some notes about Baledar, the game world. Those were the spark for a new campaign that lasted for almost 9 years. The adventures started with that same small village of Hoch. Near it was the lost city of Tendarra. The Keep on the Borderlands was still about a days travel. The world now had a growing empire, enemies at its borders, and mercantile houses. From these sparse notes grew the new campaign, and at the end the heroes had defeated the usurper god king, opened a gateway to the gods again, and ascended to a form of epic reward themselves.
What was old is new again
Now I'm starting a new campaign, and I'm going back to that world. The players for this campaign are mostly the same as for the 3.x campaign so I'm not going to thread on the same ground as before. But for this campaign, the previous campaign is "historical". I get to "steal" from myself. I will find it interesting when they reach Paragon Level and meet their "old" characters. To keep it fresh, my campaign has to "move" to a different area than before. Though they will eventually visit some of the "old haunts". I want this campaign to "feel" different. So I'm once again on the prowl for "new ideas".
I've always loved maps, and there is a huge swath of maps out there. My campaign needed a new beginning, and I found it in the village of Tharbensford. But Tharbensford is not a "published" setting, and there is no map of the village, or its surrounding area. No problem, take another map and modify it to taste. So was born the village of Tharbensford, the westernmost village in the community known as Harkenwold. This time I'm using resources I didn't have 30 years ago. So with a little bit of "work" in Campaign Cartographer 3, here's the community of Harkenwold, and the village of Tharbensford on it's western border. The original map of Harkenwold is from the 4e Dungeon Master's Kit.
It took me a bit of time to "convert" the map, but in 20 minutes I came up with a short writeup of notable NPCs, and a short list of adventures in the Harken Forest are just around the corner.
Find inspiration wherever
If as a DM, you ever feel the pressure to come up with original ideas, that is simply self imposed stress. Your players will most likely not know the difference when you file off the serial numbers of last week's episode of CSI, and use it as the basis for your game.
A month ago, the player characters all perished in the initial adventure of the campaign. So much for the myth that there are few, if ever any, deaths in 4e. This past month, the new characters were sent on an adventure to find a lost paladin. They arrived at the location. Fought the creatures, and recovered the paladin who was about to die at a sacrificial altar. As they were fighting the opposition they mentioned that this was familiar in a weird sort of way. When they finally recovered the paladin they were surprised to find one of the PCs from the first expedition (the TPK). It finally hit them that they had been fighting the exact same creatures as on the first adventure. The locale was the same, the setup was the same, the travel to the place was pretty similar, and they never knew.
So much for the myth that gamers are of above average intelligence.