Sunday, April 17, 2011

One Issue Campaign, part 3

Okay, today I'm going to try to get through three whole pages of Dragon #69, panning for campaign gold in the editorial section and letters column.

The editorial on page 2 is one of the many attempts to convince the readers that when Gary Gygax gets ornery in his Dragon articles that he is not expressing the official opinion of the magazine.  Editor Kim Mohan tries as politely as possible to get out from under the shadow of ol' EGG.

Let's use that tension.  We'll turn  Uncle Gary into Ernest the Erudite.  He's a sage by trade in his grey years, but unlike most sages he can attack as an 8th level fighter when pressed.  That's because his former profession was as Captain Ernest of the Legion of Stannus.  Nowadays the outfit is run by the younger, less well proven Mohan of the Hill People.  The core of the Stannic Legion is a couple hundred elite heavy footmen, fighting with a combination of pike and halberd.  They also field a few dozen crossbowmen and have their own armorers and such.  All in all its not a huge unit but they are sufficiently well trained and well equipped that they can turn the tide of battles involving thousands.  Will Circe Doombringer or Danlak o' the Falcon hire the Legion or some other party?  Will the PCs discover the sagely Ernest's connection to the unit and try to use his influence to get the Legion to change sides?

Page 3 includes Kim Mohan's rundown of the contents of the mag.  Since this particular Dragon was the January issue, he starts with a throwaway line about New Year's Resolutions:
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a magic item that would keep us from breaking our New Year’s resolutions? What a different place this world would be. . . . Come to think of it, C. C. Stoll did mention to us that some of the powers of Arrakhar’s Wand have yet to be discovered; maybe that’s one of them...
Arrakhar's Wand is the name of the fantasy boardgame included in the issue, which we will come to in due course. Right now I'm more interested in this idea that maybe in the campaign world there's one day a year, called simply Oath Day perhaps, when all oaths sworn and promises made become magically binding.  Basically it would be like casting geas or quest upon yourself.  You'd need only one or two well-placed Oaths to make the campaign world tricky indeed.  For example, the Elf King can't help the lands of humanity against Circe Doombringer because he made a peace treaty with her on Oath Day many years ago. Maybe the PCs figure out they need to lure one of her orc armies into the Elf Realm so that she's the one who breaks the oath.

Next up is "Out On A Limb", the section of the mag where people write in to tell the editors what they got wrong in previous issues.  Other letters get published, but basically "Out On A Limb" was the the pre-internet place where readers nitpicked the crap out of other folk's work. For example, I got nothing against Scot Fritz of Allentown, Pennsylvania.  But his idea that issue 66's article describing a fictitious Thieves Cant was a waste of time and that we should instead all use Esperanto?  I like Esperanto and I'm not even buying this line.

I think what I'll do is try to take each writer and their individual beefs and make NPCs out of them.

Pa Scoffrit - This grumpy old fisherman living near the docks of the small port of Allen is a secret lynchpin of the international criminal network, thanks largely to his knowledge of the Thieves Cant of a dozen cities. What even most of his criminal contacts don't realize is that he is also a high ranking Assassin.

Monbec the Mysticator - A magic-user of middling level who specializes in phantasmal forces and other illusory magic.  He's working on a book outlining his pet theories on a unified theory of illusions and will gladly buy scrolls and items with an such effects from the PCs.  He has no time for illusionists who use their powers for simple entertainment; illusions are serious business, dammit!

Valpar the Lion - A loudmouth viking type.  He's always looking for new adventure and will readily join the PCs.  Valpar is brave to a fault but no stealth or suprise is possible with him in the party.  Think Brian Blessed in a horned helmet.

Sir Zimmer - This knight of the realm possesses all the knightly virtues but he's a closet racist.  Dude just can't stand elves and won't even admit it to himself.  This won't be immediately obvious but if he joins a party that also includes a member of the pointy ears set he'll eventually figure out a way to get him killed, perhaps by being offended and challenging the elf to duel or maybe just 'accidentally' pushing him into a pit.

Malec the Magnificent - A magic-user who idolizes the ancient master Nystul.  He's trying to collect all of Nystul's spells.  Note that some of Nystul's work was illusionary in nature and Malec and Monbec can't stand each other.  And they both hate it when people get their names mixed up.  They kinda look alike, even.

So there's five dudes who can liven up things a bit.  The name "Out On A Limb" might be worth a little thought as well.  Perhaps at some point the PCs will need to pick a magic fruit from a giant tree and the fruit dangles from a branch jutting far over a cliff.  Flying magic will make that task a snap, so maybe some sort of avian monster lives in the tree.  We'll call the fruit the legendary last Black Apple of the God-Tree Kathrad-Gor and the bird who nests in the tree is named the Dread Eagle Krimmarek.  Maybe a Black Apple is the only thing that can cure someone who has fallen sick because they broke a promise made on Oath Day.  That's why, despite the angry bird monster, there's only one precariously-positioned one left in the world.

At the end of the last page we're looking at today are three tiny ads.  The middle one I've already used.  Stannum is Latin for tin and those guys are clearly the members of the Legion of Stannus up above.  Argonaut Games obvious provides a wealth of references for us to loot for campaign material.  The key question when doing so is whether the campaign is set ages before or after Jason's legendary voyage.  Since part 2 introduced some outer space people to the setting, we'll go with the idea that the whole campaign world is set in the Mythical Future rather than the Mythical Past.  So we can include the Golden Fleece as one of the great magic items of the campaign AND we can have it be haunted by the groaning, miserable spirit of the ancient hero Jason.  If a PC can get this eons-emo ghost out of its self-pitying funk it ought to have a lot of useful advice on how to be a first rate hero.

And then there's the Battle for the Bakery.  The citizens of the village of Paffenroth (not too far from Allen, actually) have all been turned into mindless zombies.  At first it seems like the local baker is to blame, but it's really a superintelligent interstellar yeast that's behind the plot.  Can the party stop the Rising of the Bread God?  Do they dare venture into the fiery oven/temple the zombified townsfolk have constructed for their doughy master?  Will that one trouble-making goof in your game group be dumb enough to eat a slice of the Bread God after the party defeats it?


  1. Man, Interstellar Yeast! Using it!
    wv: woophi, the name of the yeast's home sector.

  2. This is a fascinating activity. I may have to haul out my old stash of Dragon magazines and try it myself.

    Ooh, the first issue I ever bought, #10, has an article on generating random demons AND one on how to build a dungeon! KEWL!!!

  3. Man, this just keeps getting better and better. I especially like "Oath Day" and how you've tied it into the main "plot" of the campaign. And I love how you're going from page to page and not leaving anything out (also something you covered in the Alchemical Proposal). I don't own any but most of the 3rd Edition and 3.5 oriented issues of Dragon, but I'm pretty sure that I can make this work with at least one of them.

  4. See, if I'd done this, I'd have ignored those tiny ads, and completely not had "the Rising of the Bread God" in my campaign.

    This is one of the many, many reasons you RAWK! :D

    (Verification: "wangonso", which shoulda been "wangonzo" but close enough.)

  5. Love these...

    Give me more Bread god!

  6. Anonymous10:36 AM

    I would never have noticed that last advert on a read-through of the issue (and the proof is that I didn't). Have a few extra XP for discovering Kim Paffenroth's early self-publishing venture! :)

  7. Oh man, I love your ideas! I'd really like to do this with my old magazines, too, but it would feel like stealing from you right now. I guess, I better wait for a week... :D

  8. Anonymous12:01 PM

    You are nuts. In the best possible way.

  9. Anonymous12:46 PM

    I appreciate the nod to the Brugundian Wars.


  10. Wonderful! I like everything, but I especially admire the transformation of nitpickers in the letters column into NPCs. Sheer brilliance.

  11. This is such a fun idea. I wonder what riches/insanity could be gleaned by using non-gaming (but still weird) mags.
    Like, I can't decide if doing something like this with Vice magazine or Nintendo Power is a good idea or a terrible one.

  12. Tobias, I stole the idea right after Jeff posted the first part, so if I can be that shameless, then you can certainly have a go!

  13. This SOOO makes me want to pull out my Dragon Archive, load up the first issue I ever bought (the one with the painting "Bridge of Sorrows" as the cover... #83? #85?) and do this for my D&D campaign.

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  15. Jeff, I'm mulling over trying to introduce some additional games to the queue of my LGS because their offerings are pretty anemic, but I've only GMed for friends and curious people before. Is there any one piece of advice you have on how this might be a whole different animal, or not, other than "you can't choose who shows up to play so hunker down"?

  16. The Scot Fritz -> Pa Scoffrit conversion is pure genius. Proof that even the most counterproductive cantankerous negativity can be turned into something beautiful with the appropriate creativity.