Campaign Creation: What’s Dead Can Never Die…

Looking back through the logs, and it has been a while since I did one of these. So let’s start with a quick recap of what I’ve done so far:

Let’s have some fun, and figure out my first layer Big Bad Guy. ‘First layer’, you ask? I like to start with a nasty antagonist the party can grow into, sort of a ‘Starter Big Bad’. Depending on the system you use, this would be a villain who remains a challenge until about low-mid level.   Since I’m designing this primarily for Pathfinder, I want a villain that threatens into level 6-8. At that point, of course, the next layer of BBG will be revealed and the new threat will bring with it new, tougher adventures.

Maybe it’s the time of year, but I’d really like the villain to be undead. Intelligent undead, in my opinion, are some of the nastiest things in gaming canon. And with the exception of vampires and the occasional lich, horribly under-utilized in most of the games I’ve played. Plus a vampire or lich would be a bit too powerful for our party to deal with off the jump.

Looking down the list of intelligent undead (and taking note of useful non-intelligent undead for later), I’m torn between a ghoul or a wight. In either case I’ll be adding character levels to the creature, making it unique and powerful enough to be a threat. Both have the ability to create versions of itself, and there are enough low-level humanoids in the area for a steady supply of ‘instant minions’.  But I think the wight wins in that respect; while its created wights are weaker, they are at least under its control. The ghoul has no control over its creations, making them less-than-ideal minions and competition for food.

Wight it is! The party will definitely still run into ghouls at some point, and I haven’t ruled out a ghoul second-in-command for my wight. A steady flow of bodies from your master and all the mayhem you can create? What ghoul wouldn’t take that job? Having both a wight and ghoul present opens up encounters with both goblin and grippli mini-wights and ghouls, which could be fun.

Now to level up my wight, so he can be a proper BBG. I mentioned earlier that many of the undead would be centred in the Ruin’s Temple District. So it makes sense that my wight be tied to that area. It might be fun to give it some cleric levels, but looking through the Advanced Player’s Guide, I think I like the oracle better. Mechanically, oracle works better with a wight’s CHA of 15 (as opposed to a WIS of only 13). And I’m already seeing a backstory where the wight was once a cleric of Norgorber, and in undeath retained some vestige of its former power in the form of oracle abilities. It could be trying to regain its earlier abilities, sending minions out into the Ruin to discover and retrieve ancient texts and tomes toward that end.

Yes, loving this idea already. Okay, the CR of a wight is 3, and I want it to be a credible threat to a level 6-8 group. So I’m going to give it 7 levels of oracle, which will make it roughly a CR 9 creature. A lot can change between now and when the characters encounter it, but this gives me a place to start. Doubling down on undeath I’m giving it the Bones mystery, and tentatively I’m going to assign the revelations death’s touch, armor of bones, and soul siphon. Those will make it less squishy if the party makes it passed the wall of minions I envision the wight maintaining. And I like the potential look of panic on a player’s face as the wight inflicts negative levels on their character from a distance.

I’ll flesh out the details later, since the character won’t confront our BBG directly for a while. When I do put it all together, I’ll post a link to a PDF so you can make use of it for your own game. For now we’ll leave it alone, brooding in its ruined temple lair, waiting for its witless minions to bring it another scrap of text or ancient artefact. Soon, soon…

What do you think of my initial BBG? Have any suggestions or ideas? Drop them in the comments below.

Campaign Creation: Here Lie Monsters!

In the previous Campaign Creation posts we established the basics of the campaign’s starting point and the NPCs surrounding the party. Today I want to look at monsters the party is likely to encounter, for at least the first few levels and beyond.

The Ruin is the remains of a vast, ancient city. Little is known about the original occupants except something either caused them to abandon the city, or killed them in such a way that it left the city intact enough to crumble over time. I’m deliberately keeping this part vague in order to fill in details later on, based at least partly on player speculation. Often players brainstorm great ideas when they are discussing possible adventure directions, and a good GM will leave room to take advantage of that.

But the characters can’t fight vague speculation, they need monsters! For my purposes there will be two main encounter areas, the ruins above ground and a series of ancient caverns deep under The Ruin. Connecting the two areas are all the cellar, crypt and basement areas of The Ruin’s buildings; these will serve as a transitional region between the surface and the depths. Today’s post will focus on The Surface.

The Surface

One of the cornerstone monster races of the Pathfinder setting is goblins. I love the direction Paizo took them, transforming them from disposable cannon fodder to the psychotic, fire-obsessed maniacs I’ve come to love. So The Ruins are going to feature a tribe of goblins, infesting crumbled buildings across the city. But to add some conflict to the situation and keep the players on their toes, I want another humanoid tribe, forever in conflict with the goblins. Kobolds would be an obvious choice, but I want something the players might not be as familiar with.

Every time I picture The Ruin, I imagine it surrounded by jungle and cloaked in vines and mosses. Given that, it makes sense to me to add something reptilian or amphibious to the mix. Because of an idea I already have for subterranean foes I’m going to avoid the obvious lizard folk. Instead, I’m going to go with a little used race, the frog-like grippli. I imagine them occupying washed-out, swampy areas on the edges of the city, coming into conflict with the goblins as the grippli push into the city scavenging for treasure, and the goblins push outwards in search of food. Each tribe believes they were the original builders of the city, and will once again rise to take their rightful place as rulers over all. Whether this is true isn’t important, but it adds an interesting dimension to the conflict between the two groups. The presence of two small-sized humanoid tribes also allows for numerous trap encounters, as each tribe uses cunning to their advantage against the other, as well as the “big-folk” constantly encroaching on “their” city.

With these two main groups in place, we can easily fill in some other monster types. Now that we’ve added elements of swampy and jungle terrain, we can easily create encounters with appropriate jungle animals: apes, snakes, spiders, scorpions, and all the larger and dire versions of said creatures. A jungle setting, especially if the jungle encroaches on The Ruin, also allows for the use of all the dangerous plant creatures that rarely see time at the table: tendriculos, hangman trees, and a variety of oozes and fungal creatures. Travelling through the jungle, or overgrown sections of The Ruins, should be fraught with potential danger. Using these plant and animal creatures will allow me to drop in a challenge when I think the party least expects it, while immersing them in the setting.

I don’t think the setting would be complete without undead, especially an ancient, dead city. The obvious place to centre undead encounters would be the city’s temple district, though of course the players might not realize that without a bit of digging (sometime literally) and research. Of course undead can be encountered anywhere in The Ruins; zombies can shamble anywhere, ghouls can range widely for food, and other types of undead might inhabit the ruins of private homes and family crypts. The undead will also serve as transitional encounters between the Surface and the Depths, as they can be found in underground crypts ranging all over The Ruins.

That gives me enough to start building encounters and generate the initial adventures. Next time we’ll look at the evils lurking deep (and not so deep) beneath The Ruins, waiting to strike against the surface.

Are there any monsters I haven’t mentioned you think would fit the setting so far? Drop your ideas in the comments!