“Lord Level” Campaigns – Alpha

I have been playing D&D of one sort or another for nearly 40 years.  And in all that time there is a type of campaign that I have always wanted to play, but was never able to.

In 1e, the classes had different names for each level of character.  So a first level fighter was a “veteran”, and a second level fighter was a “warrior”, for example.  At higher levels, usually around 9th or 10th, the level name would be something that indicated a measure of power or nobility, and names would stop changing so fast.  So a high level cleric was an “archpriest”, a high level fighter was a “lord”, high level paladin was a “paladin”, a high level High level ranger was a “ranger lord”, a high level thief was a “master thief”, etc.  We usually referred to this as “lord level” or “name level”.

Around that time, most of the classes gained the ability to construct strongholds (and possibly obtain income from the surrounding lands) and/or attract a body of followers.  So for instance, an 8th level cleric (“matriarch”) could construct a place of worship, in which case she attracted a body of 20-200 fanatically loyal followers, plus some men-at-arms.  And at 9th level (“high priest”) she could build a fortified religious stronghold, and if she cleared the surrounding lands of monsters, she would gain an income from the population that would settle in the area.

Similarly, a 9th level fighter (“lord”) could construct a stronghold and clear the surrounding area, and thereby attract a body of followers and collect an income from the settlers.  A 10th level ranger (“ranger lord”) attracted a body of various sorts of demihuman or monstrous followers (including the possibility of a copper dragon!) without having to construct anything.  A 12th level magic-user (“wizard”) could construct a tower and clear the area, and obtain an income but no followers.  And a 10th level thief (“master thief”) could set up a thieves’ guild in or near an urban centre and attract thief followers.

In addition, there were lengthy rules on the hiring of henchmen and mercenaries, as well as other hirelings necessary to run a stronghold.  High level contemplated players commanding armies and defending or expanding their territory.

And I really want to play and run that sort of campaign.  Or at least have the option of doing so.  High level D&D is a bit wonky in every edition, and needs a workable alternative.  And the older I get, the more I feel like powerful adventurers who have paid their dues aren’t likely to be interested in spending their middle age slogging through dungeons for treasure; they are now in a position to have people for that.  They are rich as lords, maybe they should live like them.

But other than rules for obtaining followers and hiring armies, in 1e there were no procedures for how to run that sort of campaign.  So I am trying to make them. Continue reading ““Lord Level” Campaigns – Alpha”


Dungeon Exploration Procedures

As The Alexandrian pointed out recently, the 4e DM Guides express no procedures for handling exploration. This is perhaps not surprising from a team whose focus in published adventures was on small, easily navigated lair-assault style dungeons and used skill challenges to represent overland travel. But it means that new DMs and players were given no tools for dealing with exploration of large and/or complex underground environments or actual exploration of the wilderness.

Thumbing through the 5e core books, I can see that the situation hasn’t improved very much.

If you want a experience that treats dungeon exploration as more than finding the transition to the next combat encounter, there are mechanical procedures which were developed at the dawn of D&D, and have evolved and improved in the intervening decades, which are available to help you. Continue reading “Dungeon Exploration Procedures”

Keep on the Borderlands, Fourth Edition

Courtney Campbell over at Hack & Slash appears to be starting a series comparing the original B/X module, Keep on the Borderlands, by Gary Gygax, to the 2e adventure, Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, by John D. Rateliff.  His thesis appears to be that, even when closely following the source material (which Return does), later adventure writers largely missed the point, and created adventures that were missing the magic of the early “Golden Age” period modules.

Well, if he thinks Return misses the mark, he really wouldn’t like the Encounters adventure, Keep on the Borderlands:  A Season of Serpents.  So in keeping with my work on this blog, I thought I riff off of what Courtney is doing and do my own comparison.

The first post in the series covers the introduction and DM advice sections of each module, so I am going to do the same here.  You should probably read Courtney’s blog post for context, because otherwise some of these comparisons won’t make sense.

Continue reading “Keep on the Borderlands, Fourth Edition”

Encouraging Social Interaction

This started as a comment in a blog post by DM David which went a bit long. David was discussing how to encourage “role-playing”, by which he means social interactions with NPCs. I personally think you’re role-playing any time you’re making in-character decisions, but here is my advice if you want to encourage social interactions.

Basically, if you want players to talk to your NPCs, give them interesting NPCs to talk to. That does not mean caricatures or over the top personalities. It means making NPCs who are like real people with real wants and needs and fears. Continue reading “Encouraging Social Interaction”

Deconstruction: Khyber’s Harvest

khyber's harvest image
By Keith Baker
Level 2

A trek across the Shadow Marches leads weary travelers to Blackroot, a quiet village of ramshackle huts nestled among the darkwood trees. Here, orcs and humans live in peace. However, all is not well. Something evil has crawled up from below, threatening to devour the village and its denizens. Only a party of brave heroes stands in its way.

I’ve pretty much given up on reviewing the 4e issues Dungeon Magazine.  It is just too painful to read, and every review would have been the same, because the issues are nearly always the same.

Instead, I wanted to review something that was accessible and free, for anyone who wants to pick it up to see what I am talking about.  Drivethru.rpg carries two free 4e modules.  One is Keep on the Shadowfell, the other is Khyber’s Harvest.

Continue reading “Deconstruction: Khyber’s Harvest”