Friday, March 09, 2007

My new D&D campaign concept

Pirates require a bit finagling to work into standard D&D. In the previous outing we had to mess around with crazy things like Defense Bonus and gunpowder weapons. Then there was the whole ship problem. How much focus does the boat get? How many skill points should PCs spend on being able-bodied hands? How much time should be wasted on crunchy boat rules? Are we really pirates if large chunks of the campaign are spent away from the ship and messing around in dungeons?

One word dispels the confusion and provides a handy answer to all these questions. And that word is vikings. I'm not talking about the historical vikings here. I'm talking about the vikings in the modern imagination, guys like Elmer Fudd in What's Opera Doc? or Marvel's Warriors Three. You know, just loud, stupid medieval dudes with horned helmets out for plundering and partying. A mythical viking can get away with wearing goofy Kirbyesque platemail. A mythical viking doesn't even need a boat. And clerics are suddenly not just playable, they're awesome.

The name of the campaign is Beyond Vinland. The basic conceit at work is that in some sort of crazy Nietzschean cyclical history of the world the Norsemen tried to explore/conquer/colonize the Americas during the Hyborian Age. They didn't find the Native American types that later expeditions encountered, because those folk hadn't yet crossed the Bering Strait land bridge. Instead, these Ur-Vikings (or whatever) discovered a continent full of shattered and dwindling prehuman and nonhuman empires. The political and cultural landscape is almost post-apocalyptic in nature, as the Americas are chock full of ruined cities abandoned by enigmatic prehuman races.

All of which is an excuse for totally retrogade D&D play. There will be unknown lands to explore, dungeons to crawl, and Norse colonies to defend. And it will go down largely outside the normal faux-European context of baseline D&D. That Tolkienesque baseline will be used to construct the PCs and their allies, but the rest of the world will be more along the lines of pulpy Lost Worlds or Sword & Planet fiction. Most of the nuts and bolts of the setting will be developed over the course of actual play. We're gonna start with a dungeon delve and the assumption that the characters are 'somewhere' in the Great Lakes region. And that they're vikings. The goal is not to build a coherent masterpiece of world construction, just a place for some people in silly helmets to have adventures.

(Doug, Pat, and I knocked this concept out over the space of an hour or two, so whatever credit or blame should be accorded these ideas must be shared.)


  1. Are you going to seek the Horn Resounding in the land of Hy-Brasil?

  2. Sounds totally awesome.

    Oddly enough, the campaign I just started running two weeks ago is set in a sort of Ur-Greek Hyborean world based on the old Bard Games/new Morrigan Press "Atlantis" setting. Breaking out of the pseudo-Tolkien/Medieval mold is a hoot and a half!

  3. The goal is not to build a coherent masterpiece of world construction, just a place for some people in silly helmets to have adventures.

    Hello. My name is Dr Rotwang!, and I approve this message so hard, it gives The Fonz a headache.

  4. Don, we already tackled Ragnarok in the last campaign but Erik the Viking is totally in the spirit of this new venture.

    Devin, I love that Atlantis setting! I ran a one shot and a prematurely doomed campaign using the Bard Games version. Sometime I ought to write up the story of how a pair of pants ended the campaign. I haven't told that one already, have I?

  5. Anonymous9:13 AM

    That's a really cool campaign idea. So what rules are you going to use to power this awesome endevour? 3.5? I know you're a big Moldvay fan, and I could see the simplicity of his D&D working well with this concept.

    Also, just for my own enlightenment what is the deal with putting "Ur" in front of different things. I've now seen Ur-vikings, Ur-Greeks, and Ur-Goblins (on another site). I know Ur is an old mesopatamian city, and I get the general feeling "urness" involves beign old and mythical. What exactly does it mean and where does it come from? Thanks and have an awesome time with the new campaign.

  6. Wulfgar, I'm using 3.5 for this game because that's what my players want to play.

    Ur- is a German prefix, meaning "old" or "prototypical" or "ancient".

  7. I have to agree with wulfgar here... this campaign concept feels ideal for OSRIC, not v3.5.

  8. Anonymous12:31 PM

    @: worldbuilding exercise: I updated the [STAR] Thread in Game Design, if you are still interested, you could give some input to solve some of the questions therein.
    @Vikings: As kewl as that idea sounds at first, I´ve never ever met a successful campaign where the characters are all from the same background. Although I know legions of gleary eyed campaign starts who go like: "Wouldn´t it be fonzarellissimo if we all were Drow/Marines/Scouts/Jedi/Goblins ?!"
    They ll panned out. So I´d advise: let the players be from whatever Hyperborean version of culture they want to be including, but not restricted to Proto-Vikings

  9. Set: You're concern is entirely valid. Here's how I am presently addressing the issue.

    1) We're not overdoing the vikings thing. The PCs are pretty much standard D&D characters with horns on their heads.

    2) A second PC option available at the beginning of play is to be a wayward member of a local culture. One player is exploring that option. The culutre will basically be built around the PC.

    3) We've already talked about adding Ur-Greeks and Ur-Chinese to the mix.

  10. Anonymous9:33 PM

    For my own part, I've both played in and GM'ed in a dozen or more utterly awesome campaigns where everyone was from the same background (all the same career, all the same culture, or both).

    I think that in D&D, in particular, it's a little more hazardous because D&D plays best to its own very particular strengths, but ... We had a totally heavy-metal all-thieves campaign that ran for two years and was only stopped by the DM getting married, having a kid and moving 900 miles away :)

  11. Neat Idea I just saw a preview for a simular movie. Conan reminisce.
    True how do you keep pirates in a GM capable game? We find a ship and raid it, Find a bigger ship raid it. Millionaires by level 6.
    Running Eberron air-ship priates, Orien hires them to "ShadowRun" shut an information leak. Current solution gain contacts not $$$.
    Ideas to sway gold hungry pirates to actually interact with a quest?