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General Need help formulating a new campaign

der_kluge

Adventurer
Hey hivemind, I'm working on a new campaign and I've got a decent handle on the beginning and the end, but it's the middle part I'm trying to fill in. (this is 5e)

Summary: Cultists unleash a plague on a town by tainting the food supply. The resulting plague drains strength. Then, they start selling a potion called "the beast" which temporarily adds strength. But it's addictive, and has side-effects - and it's also diluted Tarrasque blood. The cultists then haul away plague victims. At str 0, they are catatonic, but just barely alive (although they are perceived as being dead). Posing as priests of Kelemvor, they haul away the barely alive victims into the jungles, where an imprisoned Tarrasque (impaled on giant stone spikes, and is weakened, and immobile, but not dead) feeds on them. They are trying to rebuild its strength (and also draining its blood, because it's potent AF).

Meanwhile, a powerful lich(maybe) who's orchestrating all this, is constructing a giant "Apparatus" (2nd edition book of Artifacts) which is a giant Frankenstein laboratory type machine that can transfer consciousness between creatures. His plan is to move his intellect into the Tarrasque's body using the Apparatus. He obviously needs a big enough version of the device to do it. End game sees the PCs fighting a Tarrasque, and then the lich himself (not necessarily in that order).

Beginning sees the PCs trying to survive the plague, and somehow getting involved with trying to find the source of it and following it to its logical conclusion. Still working on that bit. All the middle stuff is pretty sketchy, though. In my mind, I could get a 1st level party to maybe level 3 or 4, and then suddenly they're dealing with a Tarrasque. Presumably, finding the creature might involve tracking some very sketchy clues and trying to infiltrate the cult itself, which would take them into a jungle, and then somewhere else in order to find a facility which intends to house the Apparatus. So, perhaps trying to stifle the lich's supply chains. But that seems rather uninteresting.

Anyway, that's the overall plot. Need some help filling in the gaps!

One idea could be to just kind of introduce that plot, and then go in a completely different direction (something city-based, from like levels 4 or 5 up to like level 15 or so), and then have them come back to the original plot in order to finish that out. That's certainly an option, but would need recommendations on something to shoehorn into the middle part.
 

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Bitbrain

Black Lives Matter
How about having the lich still in early stages of the testing?

Rather that jump straight to the Tarrasque, why not have him first experiment with transferring the consciousness of one of his servants into something like a troll? The troll’s regeneration is similar to that of the Tarrasque, but the creature is much smaller and less powerful than said legendary creature.

That way, you can have a nice boss fight where the PCs end the local threat, and you can keep the lich as a recurring villain, over time improving his experiments until you are ready for the big finale.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
To my mind trying build this as a 1-20? campaign all in one is asking for trouble. This is a 10+ - 20 campaign at the most.

I would say let your players start out in this town and have some minor adventures, get them connected to the place (up to level 5) then call them away on some grand adventure that takes the to level 10/11 when they get the message that something bad is happening at home and some beloved relative/friend whatever has been carted off. Help!
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Well, when I do campaigns I don't necessarily think in plots per se. I think in terms of NPCs, organizations and motivations.

So you have great thought on an overall threat to the region. That's great! But ... he's going to be the guy behind the curtains for a long time. May not be so great. So that's where I think of allies the BBEG may have, what resources they need to gather, how are they spreading their influence.

Then I think about opposing forces. Those opposing forces could be good guys, bad guys, bad guys posing as good guys. For example there's another group that helps the PCs out interrupting supply chains, giving them hints on level appropriate things they can do to halt the long term plan. But maybe this group really just wants the secrets for themselves.

The other issue is that I agree that the main BBEG sounds like a high level (15-20) threat. If this were me, I'd leave the BBEG in the background for a while and have other threats along the way. Maybe the BBEG is paying top dollar to some orcs for them to kidnap "volunteers" or there's just some other completely unrelated plot unfolding. You need to either figure out how the PCs could thwart the plans of BBEG or have side quest challenges and mini campaigns along the way.

Another thought is that they fight and appear to stop the cult at lower levels and then go on to bigger and better things. At a later date they find out that the cult is back, bigger and stronger than ever ... and they're really POed at the PCs for slowing their progress. Lots of options!
 

ninjayeti

Adventurer
I really love campaigns like the old "Shackled City" AP where the PCs slowly learn about the the evil master plan, bit by bit, over the course of the adventures and I think this idea has great potential for that. Obviously lots of ways to run with this idea but off the top of my head it could work something like this:

Part 1 runs as you say. PC's defeat the cultists (who are just dupes who have no idea of the big picture). They rescue most of the prisoners but find that some of the prisoners have been sent elsewhere. They also have no way of killing the weakened Tarrasque. Following the trail of the missing prisoners leads them to:

Arcane laboratory where "mad scientist" wizards are experimenting on transferring consciousness between bodies. They fight crazy wizards, monsters implanted with human consciousnesses, and whatever other gonzo stuff you want to throw at them. They learn the wizards had some unknown patron for their experiments. The find (dead or alive) the missing prisoners and learn that the transference process requires special crystals which are coming from:

Mines controlled by a clan of Duegar slavers. When the PC's defeat them they learn that Duegar recently stopped sending the crystals to the arcane laboratory and instead sent a massive shipment of crystals to:

Mysterious lair where the PCs battle strange undead. They learn that this is the lair of a lich who is building "the apparatus" using the crystals. But when they get to the inner sanctum of the lair the find no sign of the lich, the apparatus, or the crystals. Where would a lich with a massive mind transference device have gone? Hopefully at this point everything falls into place for the PCs who rush back for:

The final showdown. PC's come full circle to find the lich has set up shop in the original cultist's lair where they need to defeat him and his minions before he can fuse his power with the Tarrasque and become unstoppable. Of course, the lich has already created enough of a connection with the beast that when they defeat the lich the Tarrasque absorbs his necrotic life force and breaks free of his bonds...
 

Retreater

Legend
If you're not particularly inspired for the middle section, you can just jump ahead from the intro adventures to the climax. Level them up to a higher level or have them introduce new characters to deal with the higher level threat.
My players rarely stick with a campaign that long, and many of my epic plans were never realized.
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
I really love campaigns like the old "Shackled City" AP where the PCs slowly learn about the the evil master plan, bit by bit, over the course of the adventures and I think this idea has great potential for that. Obviously lots of ways to run with this idea but off the top of my head it could work something like this:

Part 1 runs as you say. PC's defeat the cultists (who are just dupes who have no idea of the big picture). They rescue most of the prisoners but find that some of the prisoners have been sent elsewhere. They also have no way of killing the weakened Tarrasque. Following the trail of the missing prisoners leads them to:

Arcane laboratory where "mad scientist" wizards are experimenting on transferring consciousness between bodies. They fight crazy wizards, monsters implanted with human consciousnesses, and whatever other gonzo stuff you want to throw at them. They learn the wizards had some unknown patron for their experiments. The find (dead or alive) the missing prisoners and learn that the transference process requires special crystals which are coming from:

Mines controlled by a clan of Duegar slavers. When the PC's defeat them they learn that Duegar recently stopped sending the crystals to the arcane laboratory and instead sent a massive shipment of crystals to:

Mysterious lair where the PCs battle strange undead. They learn that this is the lair of a lich who is building "the apparatus" using the crystals. But when they get to the inner sanctum of the lair the find no sign of the lich, the apparatus, or the crystals. Where would a lich with a massive mind transference device have gone? Hopefully at this point everything falls into place for the PCs who rush back for:

The final showdown. PC's come full circle to find the lich has set up shop in the original cultist's lair where they need to defeat him and his minions before he can fuse his power with the Tarrasque and become unstoppable. Of course, the lich has already created enough of a connection with the beast that when they defeat the lich the Tarrasque absorbs his necrotic life force and breaks free of his bonds...
I really like some of these ideas. I think what I'm going to do is carry out some of these ideas to their logical conclusions and see where they head up.

So far, in my thinking, I've decided that the plague victims end up "dying" once their strength hits zero, but they're not actually dead (at least not yet), and are carted away on a ship to be "buried at sea", but are actually revived with an antidote, which gives them 1 point of strength, and then are promptly sold into slavery. The cult takes 10-20% of the good ones for themselves, since they need slaves for all the various construction projects, but otherwise it's an immensely profitable slave-trading venture they've created for themselves.

Also trying to work in collaborations with Talos, Talona and Malar, who will each play a small role, but who also might have somewhat competing objectives. So, plenty of bad guys to deal with here.

Also have some really crazy ideas about running two separate PbP groups in parallel - one for this, and one that I'm already running. But I'm thinking it would be immensely cool if I could time it such that group A ends up purchasing all of group B as slaves, and then also getting involved in their quest (since it will be more important, and timely than theirs).

The timing of that could be really hard to gauge, but if I could pull that off, it would be epic!
 

GlassJaw

Hero
Well, when I do campaigns I don't necessarily think in plots per se. I think in terms of NPCs, organizations and motivations.
This!

Don't create plot. The PCs are the protagonists. When they interact with the events, scenarios, and NPCs they interact with, the result is plot.

Determine what the goal of the lich/cult is and what will happen if their plan goes unchallenged. Create events/rumors/locations that the players will interact with and see how they choose to address the threat.
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
This!

Don't create plot. The PCs are the protagonists. When they interact with the events, scenarios, and NPCs they interact with, the result is plot.

Determine what the goal of the lich/cult is and what will happen if their plan goes unchallenged. Create events/rumors/locations that the players will interact with and see how they choose to address the threat.
Solid advice. I think I was already heading down that path. In my mind, I've expanded the "BBEG wizard/lich" into a whole cabal of vile religious factions, each with their own roles and agendas. That's expanding the scope quite a bit. I just have to work through all the moving parts.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Solid advice. I think I was already heading down that path. In my mind, I've expanded the "BBEG wizard/lich" into a whole cabal of vile religious factions, each with their own roles and agendas. That's expanding the scope quite a bit. I just have to work through all the moving parts.

Most of the time I don't worry too much about figuring out all the moving parts ahead of time since no plan survives the players enemy. So the high level concept sounds great, but a lot of times I don't plan out anything but that high level outline more than a few levels ahead of where we are in the campaign, if that.

Different styles are going to work for different people, but I'm averse to spending time on details until I know for sure that I'm going to need them.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I'm about to go to bed and I will have to look at this in more depth.

But someone said "the cultists are dupes". I think that's important. Their plot to find victims to feed the tarrasque is ... bush league. It's way over convoluted. Just hire slavers or something, don't bother with plagues and fake-ish potions. This is a cult that has access/partial control to a tarrasque?!? They would be selling samples to high powered wizards/alchemists for a lot of money - enough money to finance the aquisition of victims.

So the first layers should be slavers/raiders (the sub-sub contractors of the operation really), then the low-end cultists, then higher up... If this has to last a campaign, unless it's a high level campaign, you can't just start cultists - tarrasque.
 

Eltab

Hero
When the PCs have figured out that the missing people are being kidnapped by slave-takers, introduce the Pathfinder adventure Broken Chains but the hidden mastermind in the lowest level of the dungeon is forwarding 'prime' slaves to your Tarrasque plot (instead of the as-written Ultimate Villain Scheme).

Written for L6 or so (iirc) and good for a level-up at / by the end.
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
I'll look into that module.

What I've cooked up thus far...

The main villain is an alchemist (in 5th edition, that's a wizard, basically), but I'm just calling him "The Alchemist". He's affiliated with Talos, Talona, and Malar so far.

Malar priests are on board because of the tarrasque, and more so interested in transferring their own essence into that of fearsome creatures. So, they've agreed to work with him since he's offered them access to the Apparatus. (Tyrannosaurus Rex Cleric, anyone? - what Malar worshipper can pass that up?).

Talona is interested because... plague. The Alchemist has supplied them with the formula for a terrible alchemical plague that they have access to. These are likely some of the foot soldiers in this debacle.

Talos is needed because the Apparatus requires lightning to power it, which they can provide. Talos is on board because of the destruction that's ultimately going to be wrought from this thing, but ultimately they'd prefer that one of their own is in the Tarrasque and not The Alchemist. So, there definitely could be a power struggle in the end here.

So yea, they're taking the plague victims and selling them into slavery, and keeping a few for their own operations. This alone would be wildly profitable. The city is literally going to pay them to take away the "dead people". So, they're double-dipping the system.

The Alchemist has the Apparatus somewhere, and has used it a number of times, but is currently building a much, much larger version of it around the Tarrasque. Since the Tarrasque is immobile, it presents the perfect opportunity. It's a huge operation, of course, and thus requires many slaves, and lots of resources. The Tarrasque itself it deep in a canyon in the forest, protected by a large

Malar priests like the slaves because they can release them into an enclosed forest and charge wealthy clients a huge fee to go on "hunts" where they prey is literally other people. (Wasn't there a movie based on that idea?) I'm thinking of sending the PCs here first. (Yes, I am that mean)

Talontar priests might take some slaves for medical experiements.
 

fba827

Adventurer
Side effects make for side quests

before investigating the cause ( or maybe in tandem) dealing with things around the town that are caused by shortage of able bodied persons.

start of campaign: only a couple people have been getting weak, not enough for anyone to really take notice and assume just a couple people have weakness onset from the flu.

the PCs can do some side quests and in doing so keep finding more and more people that are dealing with ‘the weakness’

example...

someone has gone missing while hunting nearby woods. PCs are asked to go help find him ( for extra connection if the PCs are from the town itself maybe one of them knows or is related to the missing person).
PCs go looking for the person. Turns out he slid down a hole in the forest and due to onset of weakness has been unable to climb out. Maybe he was then also captured or dealing with drow/duegar.

But this builds up the sick population for the PCs to see as illness level increases rather than just start with ‘people are sick’


another side quest could be some ‘clerics’ that come through town to help heal and have their ‘fetch quest’ of ingredients that they need to help.
So PCs being one of the few ablest bodies not yet sick are asked to go collect the items ( venom from a Medusa, tail feather of a dodo bird, whatever) so it gives PCs a chance to go far and wide to collect these things
Once they collect them, maybe the clerics realize they can’t help (or at best they can slow it )
Or once the PCs return they find the clerics were killed/missing(because of the kelvmor’clerics’ not wanting the interference)
Or maybe once the PCs bring back the stuff, the clerics take it and disappear the next day ( they were charlatans that just wanted the ingredients for something else)

and then there is a wizard that comes to town and just starts blowing stuff up. Truth is, his divination told him if a powerful power source in this area and believes it must be someone in town so he’s blowing stuff up to draw that person out and best him in hopes of obtaining the power. He’s so obstinate that he won’t listen to reason and trusts his own magic that told him a major power was here and he must have it. The PCs being the ones still strong enough to help defend the town, the wizard might believe that the PCs are connected to the power source , giving the PCs an enemy wizard that will be back if he escape



As an aside though this is one plot line. It is a strong plot line but you’ll be forcing yourself to make 20 levels out of it. You may want to reconsider centering a whole campaign around it ( instead have a mini campaign and isolate yourself to some specific 5 levels for this).
OR
think of another 3-4 major plot lines. Start weaving different adventures out of them. Some of these plot lines might overlap, some of them might conflict. What do the power groups of each of these plot lines do (if anything) in reaction to things done in other plot


( I’m tired, apologies for the rambling response. But hope it helps in some way)
 

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