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Darkest Dungeon-like campaign.

Uller

Adventurer
If you haven't played it, check it out: http://www.darkestdungeon.com

When my current canpaign ends I'd like to start a new one that is a bit more grim and where the players play the role of quest givers as well as adventurers.

The idea being that adventurers come cheap (especially low level ones) and die or are disabled often.

A few thoughts to achieve this:

1) my players' former PCs will be the quest givers. They will be building/occupying a stronghold of sorts and the burden of governing will prevent them from adventuring.

2) The setting will be a static local around the retured PCs' stronghold. Adventures will become available and the PCs will rarely have to travel (far).

3) Available races, classes and gear will be severely limited at first. Successful adventuring can "unlock" those portions of the game. For example...for Mountain Dwarves to become available as a PC race, the players must complete some quest(s) that open up trade routes to an isolated dwarven kingdom. For cetain armor to become available, the PCs must complete a quest that attracts an armor smith to the stronghold or fork over loot to attract one.

4) institute insanity and permanent injury rules so that adventurers become broken. Wealth, down time and other resources are required to allow recovery.

5) Some PCs will become so broken (mentally or physically) that they are no longer viable...so ways to attract new PCs to the stronghold will have to be available. Using aqcuired wealth and influence will allow replacement PCs to be advanced enough to keep up with the other PCs

6) Unlike Darkest Dungeon, I wouldn't wany to spend a lot of time retracing lower level adventures.

7) different sources of quests will develop and sometimes those sources will surpass the skill of available adventurers, forcing the quest givers to develop other avenues and bide their time.

Right now it's just an idea that needs a lot more fleshing out...it would require players to be a lot less attached to individual PCs.
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Two campaigns ago, I ran something I called "The Delve." It was on the heels of me playing many hours of Darkest Dungeon and wanting to take the simple dungeon experience the game provides and make a D&D equivalent. I ended up abandoning the insanity part. I didn't really like the existing rules and didn't want to come up with my own system. I didn't use lingering injuries either, but I did use the rules for 8 hours short-rests and 24-hour long rests. But here's what I came up with and executed into a very solid campaign:

There was a town, Grimdark. Each session would be a self-contained foray into a dungeon called locally "The Delve." Each delve could only take place in a 24-hour period (in-game) when the dungeon would appear in the world from this netherworld called The Shade. There was a player pool of 8 to 10 players who each had a primary character and a backup character. Four characters could participate in any given session, first come first served.

The play loop was:

(1) Resolve downtime activities in Grimdark, basically, "What have the PCs being doing while resting for the last week?" I had set tasks with specific rolls, costs, results that offered benefits for the upcoming delve.
(2) Travel to the Delve via the dark forest whose name escapes me at the moment. Pace, travel tasks, and weather would determine time to get to the dungeon which impacted how much time they had to explore and short rest. Potential random encounter along the way.
(3) Delve the Delve. Get as much done as you can before the dungeon shifts back to The Shade - and don't get caught inside when it does or you go insane and your PC becomes an NPC villain.
(4) Return to Grimdark. Basically the same as #2.
(5) End of Session Review. Get any XP that wasn't already assigned, plus answer some questions as a group for bonus XP.

During the delve, the PCs might short rest. In order to do so, they had to leave the dungeon and make a camp in the forest for 8 hours. There was another potential random encounter here, the chance of which was mitigated by how well the PCs set up their camp.

That same loop played out every session for 20 sessions with different players, characters, and goals each time. The Delve itself was about 12 different levels with a shadow dragon as the ultimate villain at the end. It was a very successful campaign and we had a lot of fun with it. The simple procedure I set up initially worked perfectly and produced good play experiences each time. And only about 10% of the characters died ultimately. I'll try harder in my next dungeon-delving campaign.
[MENTION=6801813]Valmarius[/MENTION] and [MENTION=6801219]Lanliss[/MENTION] both played in this and might have more to share.
 

Valmarius

First Post
[MENTION=6801813]Valmarius[/MENTION] and [MENTION=6801219]Lanliss[/MENTION] both played in this and might have more to share.
One thing not mentioned already. Towards the end of the campaign Iserith revealed that each level of the Delve was a roughly equal to the CR of encounters found there. Each level also had at least one higher CR encounter tucked away, tempting great reward but with its danger telegraphed VERY clearly.

I had two characters run through. The first, Kelthael the ranger, died when he got his foot stuck to a Chest Mimic that was sitting atop a trapped altar. Two inescapable lightning bolts later, he was ash.
The second, Valgus the Tempest Cleric, perished on the 9th (?) floor to a necrotic breath weapon. He was later turned into a revenant by the rest of the party who had the bright idea to throw him on a flesh-golem animation machine.

The Town -> Travel -> Dungeon(rest) -> Travel -> Wrap up framing worked really well and was fit into the narrative. An hour before our scheduled end of session, Iserith would trigger a sound effect for the "Thrice-Damned Horn" and we would know it was time to escape, or lose that character. Because of this, the group of players got VERY good at playing and making decisions quickly and towards the end of the campaign we could get through 4-5 encounters in 4 hours (as well as covering downtime, two instances of travel, and a short rest).
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
One thing not mentioned already. Towards the end of the campaign Iserith revealed that each level of the Delve was a roughly equal to the CR of encounters found there. Each level also had at least one higher CR encounter tucked away, tempting great reward but with its danger telegraphed VERY clearly.

I had two characters run through. The first, Kelthael the ranger, died when he got his foot stuck to a Chest Mimic that was sitting atop a trapped altar. Two inescapable lightning bolts later, he was ash.
The second, Valgus the Tempest Cleric, perished on the 9th (?) floor to a necrotic breath weapon. He was later turned into a revenant by the rest of the party who had the bright idea to throw him on a flesh-golem animation machine.

The Town -> Travel -> Dungeon(rest) -> Travel -> Wrap up framing worked really well and was fit into the narrative. An hour before our scheduled end of session, Iserith would trigger a sound effect for the "Thrice-Damned Horn" and we would know it was time to escape, or lose that character. Because of this, the group of players got VERY good at playing and making decisions quickly and towards the end of the campaign we could get through 4-5 encounters in 4 hours (as well as covering downtime, two instances of travel, and a short rest).
My favorite was Ssssteve, the yuan-ti snake cult recruiter, who you guys murdered when he was giving some new supplicants a tour of their lair during an onsite interview.
 



iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I thought the same thing. I was wondering who in the world would try to turn that into a game, and how they would do it.
You know what... I haven't done a short-form scenario on enworld in a while.

*cue iserith design montage*
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
A question for those who tried it: do you think this would be a good fit for group of players that dont care much about setting lore and character development? I have some players who have a hard time investing themselves in fantasy scenarios without trying to murder every NPC after 5 minutes, and maybe those kind of basic scenario ala Darkest Dungeon or Diablo 1 where you delve an ever evolving perilous dungeon could be great for them, just testing their skills against enemies, looting, level-upping rince and repeat. I just started to use Donjon.bin dungeon randomizer; I could create the ''dungeon level of the week'' in minutes instead of investing large amount of time for nothing in scenarios they wont care about.
 

Two campaigns ago, I ran something I called "The Delve." It was on the heels of me playing many hours of Darkest Dungeon and wanting to take the simple dungeon experience the game provides and make a D&D equivalent.
I was planning to do a "simple dungeon experience" for my first 5E campaign. Slightly different setup: ruined but partially inhabited old imperial city a la medieval Rome, can't pick up a stone without finding a dungeon underneath. But the party ran afoul of the wrong NPCs and decided to skip town roundabout the fourth or fifth session, and haven't been back in the four years since. :/
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I was planning to do a "simple dungeon experience" for my first 5E campaign. Slightly different setup: ruined but partially inhabited old imperial city a la medieval Rome, can't pick up a stone without finding a dungeon underneath. But the party ran afoul of the wrong NPCs and decided to skip town roundabout the fourth or fifth session, and haven't been back in the four years since. :/
True to the West Marches style, I made sure the players were aware that the adventure was in the dungeon and nowhere else - that was the conceit into which they were buying. "Town adventure" was a dirty word, so there was no real option to get into the shenanigans your players might have. We did have a story that developed on its own in the town via the downtime activities, but we spent very little time per session on it. But over 20 sessions, it made for a nice little tale on top of the delve itself.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
A question for those who tried it: do you think this would be a good fit for group of players that dont care much about setting lore and character development? I have some players who have a hard time investing themselves in fantasy scenarios without trying to murder every NPC after 5 minutes, and maybe those kind of basic scenario ala Darkest Dungeon or Diablo 1 where you delve an ever evolving perilous dungeon could be great for them, just testing their skills against enemies, looting, level-upping rince and repeat. I just started to use Donjon.bin dungeon randomizer; I could create the ''dungeon level of the week'' in minutes instead of investing large amount of time for nothing in scenarios they wont care about.
The way I set it up is that I had the barest framework for setting lore and we added to it as we played. By the time the campaign was finished, it was a pretty realized (regional) setting. I'm not sure how you define "character development," but I would say that the characters were well-fleshed out over time. Valgus who worshipped the Storm Unending and himself became unending in his undead state. Elron Huckabee who founded the Church of the Illuminated Coin, a front for the Trickster god. Gil Brightwood, the archer folk hero who eventually stood against the powerful mayor who the PCs believed was colluding with the dark forces in the Delve. Even their hirelings were interesting like their elf horse-tender Petal who was really into feet so they paid him in the elf sorcerer Melendir's dirty socks. And on and on for 20 or so characters plus their hirelings.

In general, I find players who get stabby are essentially saying the game is lacking in dramatic conflict. A dungeon is basically filled with dramatic conflict, so if your players crave that sort of thing rather than spending two hours shopping or ordering breakfast in a tavern (like I've seen in certain popular vodcasts), you could do worse than putting together some dungeon delves.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
In general, I find players who get stabby are essentially saying the game is lacking in dramatic conflict. A dungeon is basically filled with dramatic conflict, so if your players crave that sort of thing rather than spending two hours shopping or ordering breakfast in a tavern (like I've seen in certain popular vodcasts), you could do worse than putting together some dungeon delves.
Thanks for the answer. I'll keep those ideas in mind. For now I started SKT with them and found some interesting rules for building settlements on reddit to keep them involved while they are traveling long distance. I gave them the first town of Nightstone that was destroyed at the start of the adventure to rebuild by gathering NPC artisan and other professionals in north Faerun. It seems to be going well so far. Should the campaign failed, I'll steal your idea of Delve.
 


Valmarius

First Post
Thanks for the answer. I'll keep those ideas in mind. For now I started SKT with them and found some interesting rules for building settlements on reddit to keep them involved while they are traveling long distance. I gave them the first town of Nightstone that was destroyed at the start of the adventure to rebuild by gathering NPC artisan and other professionals in north Faerun. It seems to be going well so far. Should the campaign failed, I'll steal your idea of Delve.
Take a leaf out of Pillars of Eternity. As they fix up their village, the craftsmen discover the entrance to a long forgotten ruin lying just beneath the surface.
 

Uller

Adventurer
The way I set it up is that I had the barest framework for setting lore and we added to it as we played. By the time the campaign was finished, it was a pretty realized (regional) setting. I'm not sure how you define "character development," but I would say that the characters were well-fleshed out over time. Valgus who worshipped the Storm Unending and himself became unending in his undead state. Elron Huckabee who founded the Church of the Illuminated Coin, a front for the Trickster god. Gil Brightwood, the archer folk hero who eventually stood against the powerful mayor who the PCs believed was colluding with the dark forces in the Delve. Even their hirelings were interesting like their elf horse-tender Petal who was really into feet so they paid him in the elf sorcerer Melendir's dirty socks. And on and on for 20 or so characters plus their hirelings.
This would be what I'd be going for...A very loosely defined "base camp" setting where the PCs do their character development during down time and in their choice of what hooks they follow.

In general, I find players who get stabby are essentially saying the game is lacking in dramatic conflict. A dungeon is basically filled with dramatic conflict, so if your players crave that sort of thing rather than spending two hours shopping or ordering breakfast in a tavern (like I've seen in certain popular vodcasts), you could do worse than putting together some dungeon delves.
I think sometimes table time spent socializing toward some party goals like gathering information or supplies is well spent. But most groups have that one or two players that want to kill stuff to get XP and treasure.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This would be what I'd be going for...A very loosely defined "base camp" setting where the PCs do their character development during down time and in their choice of what hooks they follow.

I think sometimes table time spent socializing toward some party goals like gathering information or supplies is well spent. But most groups have that one or two players that want to kill stuff to get XP and treasure.
The best course of action in my view is to get this stuff dispensed with as quickly as possible so that most of the session time is spent on adventuring rather than talking about adventuring. I have a system of "town tasks" I started to use in The Delve, refined in the subsequent campaign, and now in my current campaign it's a whole subsystem for doing stuff in a major city (Sigil). In the latest incarnation it's almost its own mini-game, but the crux of it is to resolve these "town tasks" fast, create trade-offs on a time limit, provide some variability to results via a check plus the potential (in some cases) for complications, create something that costs gold, and give the PCs resources they can use on the adventure.

No time to dilly dally! There are deadly perils that need bold adventures to confront them! :)
 

Uller

Adventurer
A question for those who tried it: do you think this would be a good fit for group of players that dont care much about setting lore and character development? I have some players who have a hard time investing themselves in fantasy scenarios without trying to murder every NPC after 5 minutes, and maybe those kind of basic scenario ala Darkest Dungeon or Diablo 1 where you delve an ever evolving perilous dungeon could be great for them, just testing their skills against enemies, looting, level-upping rince and repeat. I just started to use Donjon.bin dungeon randomizer; I could create the ''dungeon level of the week'' in minutes instead of investing large amount of time for nothing in scenarios they wont care about.
Donjon and some random encounter/treasure generators is along the lines of what I'm thinking...Generate some encounters to fill in the daily XP budget for adventures of appropriate level (some a little tougher, some a little easy and some significantly tougher or even a full tier above party level) and then retroactively build an adventure around it and place hooks as appropriate among the quest givers.
 

Uller

Adventurer
I threw together a draft intro to a campaign bible to this sort of campaign.

---------------------------------------

Blackthorn Keep - Destroyed 30 years ago along with the small town outside of it under mysterious circumstances. For months afterwords, no contact was able to be made with the keep. No one came from it, no patrols sent to find what happened ever returned.

A few months later, a single templar (identified only by his tatoo) appeared, babbling and mostly incoherent. He did say somethings about "the horde" and undead, the shadow and thralls. But nothing useful was gotten out of him and he was taken into the care of some monks and locked away for his own protection.

But within weeks of his appearance the monastery, the town where he first appeared and the surrounding countryside were all swept away by the very threat Blackthorne keep had been built to defend against. Orcs, ogres, trolls and giants crashed upon civilization like surging waves. Cities that stood for centuries burned to the ground. Kingdoms fell into chaos. Ancient noble blood lines were ended.

Eventually the horde dissipated. Thee raw hatred and greed that held it together caused it to turn on itself and it was torn apart. The remaining monsters retreated back to the north, past the ruins of Blackthorne but the exhausted remnants of the armies of humanity dared not pursue.

It is 30 years later. You find yourself on the road (or what remains of it...which is very little) to Blackthorne. You are part of an expedition, the largest attempted so far, to reclaim the keep and the town that used to support it. The expedition is lead by a man named Lord William Talmor, but is known to most of his underlings as "The Governor". Your understanding is that Talmor has the support of several very wealthy backers with an interest reclaiming the keep and discovering what happened there (or what happened to its people and treasures).

The expedition is a few hundred strong: Soldiers, landless knights, clerics, sellswords, scouts, porters, laborers, cooks, wood cutters, blacksmiths...everything a small army needs. It's first task is to clear a way to the town (Highvale...or "the Vale") that used to sit below the keep at the bottom of the pass, discover what has become of it and establish a base camp there.

How you came to be in the employ of Talmor is up to you. You can be a sellsword, a ranger to forage and scout, a cleric or templar sent to bless the undertaking or ensure that holy relics are reclaimed and lost family members of noble houses put to rest. Or you could be a scholar sent to record the history of the expedition or provide knowledge of lore surrounding the keep the town. Or maybe you are a spy hired by some other interest to keep an eye on things for some interested party. It is up you. Your salary is 5 gp per week. Your position for now is lowly...equivalent to private or apprentice or laborer. But you expect opportunities to rise as you prove yourself.

The vast majority of the expedition is human. There are a few half-elves. Halflings make up some of the laborers (often basically slaves) and camp followers who serve as entertainers. A few dwarves who have been isolated from their clans serve as laborers of various sorts and are also fairly common among the sell-swords.

Common knowledge of Blackthorne Keep and Highvale: Blackthorne existed for centuries. It was originally built out of necessity to defend against the threat of monster and barbaric human invasions. It was small at first but grew overtime into a mighty fortress. Templar Knights servered there to protect its priests and holy chapel. Landless knights (mostly second and third sons) were its leadership. Masters of Lore maintain its library. Nearby the town of Highvale grew to support it as wealth was sent from all corners of the human kingdoms to support it and its mission. The noble family charged with building and maintaining the keep (and from where it got its name) grew in prestige and wealth.

Blackthorne did its job too well. The threats it defended against slowly faded from memory. The lords of men found that sending favored sons to man its walls no longer seemed such a priority...and sending wealth that could be used to grow one's own prestige and power no longer made much sense. The keep began to fall into disrepair. Morale sunk as second sons were replaces with bastards. Lore masters began to focus on their own studies. Templars hid away their treasures to keep them safe and priests began to find it harder to commune with their patrons gods. The schemes and intrigues of rogues and spies seemed to grow to be a greater threat than monsters beyond the pass.

Then...darkness and death. The slow decay percipitated a collapse that was so fast and so complete that as far as anyone knows there was only one survivor and all its riches and arms were lost.

You are returning to find what became of it all.
---------------------------------------

I would divide it into the a prologue and 3 chapters (maybe 4).

Prologue: The Road to Blackthorne
Survive the road to the keep
Levels 1-3

Mainquest is just to survive to the keep. Side quests might be to scout potential threats, out a spy, find rare components


Chapter 1: Highvale
Establish a basecamp in the town, secure important buildings and scout the entry to the keep
Levels 3-5

Quests would be to scout the ruins of the town. Defeat two rival monster groups (I'm thinking in homage to Return to Brookmere Endless Quest book, make the main villain a wererat). Follow leads to potential allies in the area. Find clues to what happened in the keep. Clear important sites in the town. Retrieve lost treasures or relics in the town

Chapter 2 and 3 would not be planned until well into Chapter 1. Chapter 2 would introduce the interior of the keep and some outside threats and help and cover levels 6-9.

Chapter 3 would be introduced by some radical change to the campaign (a new threat, a sudden attack that kills beloved NPCs, something) that forces the party to choose between pressing on into the dungeons below the camp or shifting focus to something else or allying with a former enemy...who knows. It would cover levels 10-12 or so.

In the end, the plan would be that the party would have established the keep or something else as their own stronghold.

What destroyed the keep and the town? I dunno...thinking it was an act of betrayal, though...because it would be boring if it was just overwhelmed by enemies.
 

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