The Hero's Journey

Past is Prologue
Sir Gehrigan writes to an old friend

Dear Helian,

As I have no recollection of the conclusion of our last adventure, beyond our arrival at the Volcano Island, I can only conclude by my survival that we stymied, if not defeated, our enemies.

I know not how I ended up on that lonely beach in Faloria Major or why my memories are so fractured but I do know that I am not the man I once was.

Heironeous’s call, once so clear to me, is now silent and I have had to retrain my martial skills to attain any level of competency. My sword and shield work is not up to the standard it once was so I have chosen to train differently, stretch some new mental muscles, and practice at wielding two swords at once.

Steering in a different path from my Paladin training has been fruitful. Training in the new skills has gone a lot faster than retraining those that were taken from me. I must conclude that Heironeous has laid out a different path before me than being one of his holy knights.

I have struck out to the frontier again in the hope that being near the sites of our early adventures might refresh my memories.

I live with the hope that you and my other companions are still alive somewhere and that we may see each other again.

You are and always will be my friend.


Life on the frontier

In the three and a half centuries since the Qeryon Intervention, the borders of Imperial territory on Feloria Major have remained almost static. Even as late as a century after the Intervention, the frontier was repeatedly tested by the remnants of the Kadeshi Autarchate and the elves, their own lines from Qeryos overextended and the infrastructure of the Dresdan Empire in ruins, were often hard-pressed to repel these assaults. Consequently, they focused their efforts upon establishing a strong defensive cordon while pouring resources into rebuilding the West, a strategy which performed double service as it did much to erode support for anti-Qeryon elements within the former Dresdan territories over time.

By the time of the final collapse of Autarchate power in central Feloria, the Empire’s attention had largely turned south to the rich resources of Feloria Minor and west across the ocean to new colonies on Orias, and successive Imperial Governors chose to continue to build on what previous policies had established. Over the next hundred and fifty years a number of attempts were made to establish new settlements to the east of the Imperial perimeter, made without formal Imperial support and meeting with little success.

In IR951 Imperial policy shifted once more, the Ordinatus announcing substantial financial and capital incentives to any citizen or group willing to participate in a renewed eastward colonization effort. The response was tremendous, tens of thousands of eager hopefuls making their way to the frontier in anticipation of the announced date.

While at first appearing successful, the event ultimately proved a bloody disaster. More than half of the participants fell victim to bandits, hostile natives and monsters within the year, and most of the survivors were forced to retire to the protection of the Imperial border fortresses. Only the town of Marr’s Hill survives from that expansion, a lonely beacon of civilization almost two hundred miles beyond the border cordon.

In the wake of the debacle the Empire once again suspended eastward expansion for almost a decade while the Ordinatus examined the cause for its failure and established a chain of military outposts protecting the lines of communication and supply to Marr’s Hill. Noting that new settlements invariably sprung up around these outposts, it was determined that it would be the Imperial military rather than its citizenry that would take the lead in the next attempt at expansion. Seven years ago over a dozen expeditionary forces were dispatched to establish footholds in the wilds.

Four of these expeditions set out from Marr’s Hill. One had the misfortune to encounter a sizeable raiding party bound for the town, and although successful in repulsing the attack was forced to abort its mission. The remaining three were able to establish and hold their fortifications as planned.

The boldest of these expeditions established Fort Merrick some seventy miles east of Marr’s Hill. Nine years later the town of Fairloch which has sprung up under the fort’s aegis has a population of almost a thousand and is growing steadily as the productivity of the nearby mines continues to rise. Fairloch is the most isolated outpost of civilization on Feloria, and although its situation is now at least somewhat stable there is no question that it remains vulnerable.

The town of Fairloch is situated in the foothills of the mountain range called the Halls of the Mountain King, on the southern shore of a long, winding lake named the Serpent. It lies on the approach to the only major pass through the mountain range, the location of one of the most brutal military assaults of the Kadeshi Wars. The ruins of Uldheim, one of the greatest cities of the old Empire, lie only a few miles north-east across the lake. The original plan for the settlement was that it be established within those ruins, but when scouting parties found the old city infested with monsters the expedition’s commander opted for one of the secondary sites instead.

The site ultimately chosen for Fort Merrick was atop a steep, rocky hill at the southern tip of the Serpent, an easily defensible location affording excellent views of the surrounding lands. Construction of the central keep was completed ahead of schedule, but with the garrison spread increasingly thin as the town below has burgeoned progress slowed and the main curtain wall was only completed a little over a year ago.

The current garrison strength is a single Banner (company) made up of three Marks (platoons), a total of a hundred and twenty troops. One Mark is assigned to garrison the fort, the others sharing patrol and civil works duties. In the event of a major attack, it is expected of every able-bodied civilian that they serve as auxiliaries under the garrison commander’s authority.

Command of the garrison would normally be handled by a Banner Captain, but Fort Merrick’s Captain Eric Scharnvonn was severely wounded in a skirmish two months ago and his duties are currently being shared by his adjutant, Subaltern Vari Havelock, and the bailiff-commander of the town militia, Sir Eamon Malory. Popular opinion suggests that the relationship is not harmonious, but functional. The two are subordinate to the town’s Magistrate, Leopold Marr, the second son of Baron Viktor of Marr’s Hill.

Construction of the town of Fairloch began only weeks after work began on the fort with construction of a shrine to Calenard, the Qeryon god of Public Works, Civil Engineering and Siege Warfare, laid down at the foot of Garrison Hill. This was swiftly followed by the clearing of the nearby woods and construction of a wooden palisade, sewer network and plank roads thus establishing the layout of the town in accordance with pre-laid plans.

Over the past decade the town has grown beyond its original perimeter and plans have been laid for a second palisade roughly a half-mile beyond the original. Beyond even this expanded perimeter lie the farmlands which have expanded north- and westwards, and the satellite town of Three Oaks some ten miles south which serves primarily as the bunk town for miners working in the four operating iron mines which are currently the cornerstone of Fairloch’s economy.

The town’s most distinctive landmark is Hilda, the centuries-old hulk of a Kadeshi war-golem that lends its (nick)name to the main square in which it stands. The Hall of Law and the Bell and Bird Tavern – widely acknowledged as Fairloch’s most important civil facilities – front onto Hilda’s Court. The Bell was the first private building completed in Fairloch and has served as the town’s primary social hub ever since.

Building a campaign world Pt.1
The conversation about 5th ed. begins

Ivan, Dave and I discussed where we go from here. The feeling is that we start with D&D 5th edition from level 1. I personally would like to keep it a very open and generic fantasy world where any of us can try our hand at DMing an adventure, I am happy to offer my services as default DM in between such forays. I would say that the list of Greyhawk Gods in the D&D 5th ed. appendix is sufficient enough for our needs, not 100’s of liitle godlings ala the current builder.

Ivan said:
After playing a supers/manga game for so long, it would be good to get back into some medieval fantasy. Personally I think it would be good for an ongoing campaign to have one main GM with an occasional guest spot, rather than an alternating roster. That way some overarching storyline stuff can gradually evolve in the background during the campaign.

Also it would be good to agree on a few basics so that we all create characters for the same world:

1. Demihumans. With us all being first level (in a game where first level is not amazingly powerful), it makes sense for us to all come from a fairly local region. Because of that, we need to work out some of the stuff with demihumans (ie. it’s hard to imagine a completely inexperienced dwarf who has already travelled from the Dwarven Mountains halfway across the world to be in this starting town). So the options there are that the local scene is incredibly multi-racial, the demihuman lands are all fairly close by, or that the PC’s parents travelled away from their homeland to live in this human town.

2. Government. Is the starting town governed by a local independent lordling, part of a baron’s sizable fiefdom, or just a tiny piece of a huge sprawling empire? Is the town at the edge of civilisation or near the heart of it? Is it ruled by a noble, a priest, a guildmaster, or an elected mayor?

3. Culture. Generally we have assumed a European feudal medieval norm, but it would be good to confirm that. Even then, there may be some things that need to be sorted out; eg. is slavery legal? There is also the question of how the demihuman cultures vary. For example, do elves marry? Considering elves are so flighty but live for so long, it’s possible that their concepts around mating and family could be completely different to humans. That’s just one example.

4. Magic. How common is magic, and how much influence does it have on local culture? If wizards are so powerful at higher levels, what stops them from ruling the world? Or do they already? Is there an oath that is part of the wizard’s training not to take positions of government? Are wizards naturally treated with suspicion and distrust because of a history of tyrannical wizards? Is wizardry an open activity with a wizard’s shoppe in most towns; or is wizardry outlawed and practised in secret? How does all this affect other spell casters?

5. Language. One of the things that has often bugged me is the way roleplaying and mechanics get mixed up sometimes, especially when it comes to character classes. Do the words “paladin”, “cleric”, and “ranger” exist in the local language? If so, what do they mean? In the local culture, is there any difference in meaning between a “wizard”, a “sorcerer”, and a “warlock”? Does a “monk” generally serve a particular deity; or is a “monastery” something quite different to what medieval Europe would understand? What does the word “adventurer” mean? What are the local connotations behind it?

There’s a lot of details here and probably some other stuff I haven’t thought of, but I think these are worth at least considering. I’m not saying we have to build the entire world from the very beginning, but it might be nice to at least have some things sorted beforehand. I suspect that there’ll be some things that Penguin will already have in mind, but other things we can work out among us all.

Werz said:
I agree that world building details don’t need to be exhaustive up front, but some of this stuff nutted out and understood by the group is great for tone and feel and a real sense of place.

I really enjoyed the 5th Ed one off Darren ran because of the strong world elements defined: The setting was under the somewhat tyrannical rule of an Emperor – and the little people lived under a kind of police state, oppressed by a ruling class of Imperial elites who were served by wizards. Folks resisting the empire were hunted enemies of the state. The empire was human centric.

Dan said:
I like the role playing to be escapism, so I have no problems with Penguin’s points 2 and 3. Point 1, however, hits a little too close to home. Having recently paid my binding oath to the TRB (formerly WACOT), a tithe that will continue until the death of my career, the thought of labouring under the yoke of an oppressive bureaucracy sounds an awful lot like a day in the office/classroom. As long as the game is not constrained by the backdrop it should be alright, but that depends a little bit on who’s taking the reins. I think that we need to feel, even at a low level, like we are able to make a positive impact on the world, and not impotent and beholden to our “betters”. An educators out there feeling me?

Dave said:
I think all of the suggested broad settings could work, although I’d certainly agree with Dan that whatever background we end up with I’d like us to be able to make a difference in it. There is a certain appeal to throwing down the cruel Abbott Tony after all.

Also, I’d like to vote in favour of rotating DMs (not least because I’d like a chance to be one) presumably with some degree of co-ordination re tone and overall direction.

Werz said:
These are all excellent thoughts.

Totally with Dan on escaping bureaucracy. I’d rather play an outlaw freedom fighter than a tiny sprocket in a rusty machine.
A sense of hope in the game would be great.

Agree with Dave that the option to rotate DMs would be nice. This will feel smoother if the world has good definition.

Attracted to Darren’s suggestion of a “generic” fantasy setting – but think this will need more definition than choosing a list of gods – though that’s a good start. Questions of culture between and across races is particularly pertinent.

Darren said:
I actually thought it would be quite cathartic to be the fly in the ointment of the bureaucratic empire. To do more than just protest with a placard and actually show the small folk that they can aspire to more than meting out a living was appealing. :)

Dave had a setting years ago [and Dave will be better at explaining it, so get on that Dave – gauntlet hits floor] where a high-elven civilisation landed on a neighbouring continent and “civilised” the area around them. The society now has an aristocracy [mainly of high elves] that is ruled by their emperor. The common folk, made up of the conquered races, have long sice been integrated into the empire and can earn their way to any position that they aspire to. The expanding borders of the empire move through the ruins of ancient, fallen civilisations where the races have descended into barbarism [eg. the fallen orc empire] There are ancient ruins, sites of power, terrible villains and more outside the empire while within are tales of intrigue, mundane evils and secret societies etc. to tangle with.

Werz, I only suggested the pantheon of gods as I feel it should be a joint player task to define the races/cultures. The person playing that race should be allowed to set down some ideas about the race [it did attract their interest after all].

I suggest that we are new members of an adventurers guild. This way players can “swap” out characters for different adventurers depending on their mood plus explains the use of different characters when another DM is at the reins. Just a thought.

Personally I am likely to make Gehrigan – son of an aristocratic human house from the heart of civilisation, sent to an elven finishing school that specialised in the arcane arts who found that he had a love of the old stories of heroes fighting ancient evils, of rescuing maidens in distress, of stopping bandit raids on defenceless villages. He wants to be a defender of the weak, a bright light against the darkness.

Welcome to your campaign!
A blog for your campaign

Wondering how to get started? Here are a few tips:

1. Invite your players

Invite them with either their email address or their Obsidian Portal username.

2. Edit your home page

Make a few changes to the home page and give people an idea of what your campaign is about. That will let people know you’re serious and not just playing with the system.

3. Choose a theme

If you want to set a specific mood for your campaign, we have several backgrounds to choose from. Accentuate it by creating a top banner image.

4. Create some NPCs

Characters form the core of every campaign, so take a few minutes to list out the major NPCs in your campaign.

A quick tip: The “+” icon in the top right of every section is how to add a new item, whether it’s a new character or adventure log post, or anything else.

5. Write your first Adventure Log post

The adventure log is where you list the sessions and adventures your party has been on, but for now, we suggest doing a very light “story so far” post. Just give a brief overview of what the party has done up to this point. After each future session, create a new post detailing that night’s adventures.

One final tip: Don’t stress about making your Obsidian Portal campaign look perfect. Instead, just make it work for you and your group. If everyone is having fun, then you’re using Obsidian Portal exactly as it was designed, even if your adventure log isn’t always up to date or your characters don’t all have portrait pictures.

That’s it! The rest is up to your and your players.


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