Design Diary: Atalban 1

(Originally posted on www.dragonlairdgaming.com on Oct 7, 2007)

So where have I been for months? Well, various projects have kept me away from DLG but here is one of several new postings. I just completed a campaign started two and a half years ago (Jan 2005). It all started with a few particular concepts that I’ll outline, and then my post-campaign thoughts. Perhaps this will be helpful for other gamemasters considering a similar campaign.

The Record

I started creating the campaign by brainstorming ways to make the typical fantasy races a little more interesting. I found real-world inspirations for each race, changed their names, and determined how I would present them. I guessed that at some point in the campaign, the players would figure it out but, in fact, they never really tried to. They just treated the races as I presented them.

The second concept that I folded in was to start the characters in a remote, isolated village, cut off from the rest of the world. To achieve this, I told them that the old human kingdom had been destroyed and that they were the only survivors, the last of humanity. To support this, I decided that I would restrict the opening classes somewhat, since the village only had a representative sample of original races.

The third twist of the campaign (that’s three major twists, remember that) was a change of rules system. I picked up Monte Cooke’s Arcana Unearthed. I’d always chafed a little at d20’s magic system and I liked the things Monte did in that regard. I didn’t use the other races, but took the classes as required to support the system.

The campaign lasted two and half years and 34 individual sessions. The characters began at 1st level and ended the game at 11th (earning enough in the final battle to level to 12th). Feedback on the campaign was rough early, but the players persevered and I think earned one of the best campaign ends I’ve done.

The Analysis

Overall the campaign was a success. The players eventually fell in love with their characters (or at least “in like” with them). We adventured up more levels in a single contiguous campaign than I’ve done in a long time. We got a climactic ending with the option to adventure more with them some day.

I’d say that the number of twists I put in the campaign, made it harder than it needed to be. If I’d dropped the switch to a different version of d20, it would have gone better. I don’t think I’ll be running anything in Arcana Unearthed in the future.

I learned a lot from the experience (or hope I did), and after the campaign wrapped I let someone else take the GM’s chair for awhile. I’m getting a chance to be a player for an extended time, something I’ve not done in a long time, so that’s a nice change of pace. When I start putting together the next campaign, I’ll start a new diary.

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