Gamemastering advice on preparing adventures for Sword & Sorcery campaigns

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...and a graphic novel: Elric and the dreaming city

The other side of S&S: Protagonists that conjure dark magic from pacts with obscure patrons risking sanity if not life, magical cursed swords with an ego, a haunting past of long gone empires, lovers and friends sacrificed on the road to vengeance and reappropriation, a gorgeous and baroque setting.

Less enphasis on rules; more on protagonists' choices, the world and its people


Being unable to find anything anywhere on how to actually set up a Sword & Sorcery campaign and all the advice available being "build on what the PCs did in the last game", I decided to attempt to make a starting adventure with the most basic and simple of goals, which is to escape alive from a dangerous situations.

Sword & Sorcery heroes need no origin stories, they simply are what they always have been. So the adventure can simply start with a gang of (1st level) badasses walking into town.
If the objective is to survive, then there has to be some kind of agressive threat that prevents them from staying but also is in their way of leaving. And since the purpose of the adventure is to set up further adventures, there need to be a good number of varied NPCs to interact with. The third goal is to introduce the players to a Sword & Sorcery environment, so sprkinkling the whole thing with a good deal of classic iconic elements is also an objective.

So here's my vague innitial idea: The PCs are traveling down a dusty road in the backcountry because they recently lost most of their gear, the reason for which the players may make up at the start of the game, and one or two of the PCs know a guy in the area who is owing them a big favor. On the road to reach the village they run into some minor trouble they can handle, but find out that there's no dice because there's not much village left.
The last people are getting ready to get the hell out of the place too, but can provide the players with some basic information what had been going on. Some thing or another went down at a nearby ancient castle and since then things have gone to hell.
There's a couple of things I can think of as hooks for the players to do something. If the players are feeling somehow overly generous, they could decide to go with the people and their heavy carts of stuff as they try to make it to the next major town safely away from the trouble. In that case they could be asked trying to get some people from a nearby farm who might also want to come along, or people could go missing during the journey. If they are feeling adventureous, they could head straight for that old castle to find and confront the source of the evil. The friend they were hoping to get new supplies from should be known to have gone missing, and the players might want to go search for him if that's how they made their characters.
Other encounters I can think of is some farmers who have decided to stay amd sit things out and think the PCs are looters, or bandits who have come to loot, or the players might decide to do some looting themselves to replace their lost gear and refill their purses while they are at it. Since only the village and the old castle need to have a fixed position, all other encounters can be put down wherever the players decide to go, though the context of the encounters can completely changed based on what's been happening in the adventure so far. So it's not like I'd be preparing 10 encounters and the players only get to see 3 of them before they make it out of the area.

The big question would be, what's the evil that destroyed the village? Ordinary bandits would be too mundane, as I'd want to start out with a strong supernatural element. But I don't think I want to start off with an undead horde right away either, since I think those work best when used sparingly. Demons are also out for 1st level characters.
I guess some kind of witch or minor sorcerer and a form of curse might work. Any ideas where I could go with this?


When I started a S&S-ish BW campaign, I began events in the bazaar in Hardby, where one of the PCs - as per a Belief the player had authored - was looking at the wares of a peddler of trinkets and souvenirs, to see if there was anything there that might be magical or useful for enchanting for the anticipated confrontation with his demon-possessed brother.

In my mind, this resembled the start of Tower of the Elephant where Conan learns about the tower.

The PC purchased an angel feather which turned out to be cursed, and this precipitated a series of events that culminated in infiltration of a wizard's tower and then following a different, bedraggled, murderous wizard - the original owner of the feather - onto a ship leaving town.


Being unable to find anything anywhere on how to actually set up a Sword & Sorcery campaign
I think this might be part of your problem: to me, S&S should be a series of unconnected adventures, not a campaign.

I also think that your ideas of helping/interacting with the locals don't scream S&S. Your PCs should be heading straight to rescue their friend (or loot his gear) from whatever the threat is. Anyway, in most S&S fiction, I think commoners who are on the run would be very leery of accepting help from strangers.

Perhaps, at 1st level, the best idea would be to make the threat seem greater than it actually is: scary enough to chase away the locals, but when actually confronted it goes down pretty quickly. For example a very minor demon has escaped from its prison, and is projecting a dark, ominous cloud over the local ruins to hide its weakness until it can gain more strength. Once the PCs make it past some traps and charmed bodyguards (including their friend), they discover that the demon is quite a piteous being.

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