Design Diary: Azell Valley Campaign 2

(Originally posted on www.dragonlairdgaming.com on June 12, 2009)

Four sessions in, the jury is still out about the 4e rule system, but we haven’t abandoned it yet. I think it will probably work out okay. Time will tell if we convert all future campaigns over to it. Momentum will probably get us there.

So I signed up for Wizards of the Coast’s D&D Insider service. It comes with a nice character creator, online encounter generation tool, all the rules online, and access to the online versions of Dragon and Dungeon magazine. We used the character builder (MUCH better than the 3e piece-o-feces) and I’ve been using the encounter tool. The encounters have ended up being very tough, usually with one PC getting knocked below zero. By the encounter tool, I was making standard encounter strengths, so we’re thinking its just inexperience with the system. We also have a little bit different mix of players so they are sort of going back to basics, tactics-wise. We’ll see how they do going forward.

I decided to weave Keep on the Shadowfell into the game so the players and I would experience a supposedly balanced module. It didn’t take me long to determine that Dar Hvrenna, the groundskeeper who fled Vells’ death, fled to Winterhaven. That’s the hook that will draw them out of Azell Valley.

I encouraged the players to start their “Plot Map”. Since we only game once every two weeks, after we get off work, remembering what is going on can be a challenge. We do have one player keeping a log but that gets kind of thick to review. The Plot Map will let them see at a glance who the key characters are, the possible clues, and their goals. With that consistent reinforcement, I think their game consistency will improve.

I’ve started a Wiki for my Esterra Campaign world (sorry, it’s private hosted so I can’t share the site, at least yet). The site covers details of all the campaigns and Ohio Games I’ve run in Esterra. It’s under construction (duh) but I’m trying to add things about the current campaign first, then relevant world details, then covering past campaigns and campaign world eras. Since we run our game with some laptops around, people can access the wiki in the game and have done so.

I created a secret GM-only page on the wiki to help me organize all my campaign details (always a struggle since I’m never happy with the tool I use). Going through all the information to put it in the main wiki has really helped my thought process, enabling me to develop my plots and adventures more completely. So here’s the breakdown.

Vells was murdered by his brother, Cyrus. Vells has some ability to see the future so he knew it was coming. He set up his own return, setting his manor house to seal after his death, covered in explosive runes but also some clues. He had a will and parts of it were given to the PCs (all former apprentices). The will sends them to five places around Esterra. Each place will help fill in the story and help them assemble the item that will open the manor house once again. If they don’t have it open within 99 days of his death, he’ll be lost forever. Vells hid all the information in cryptic clues and different places to try to prevent his brother from learning that he’ll come back.

Cyrus was one of the Gilroth brothers, sent away after the death of their father under murky circumstances. He has harbored a BIG grudge, plotting and planning for his day of revenge. He became a fearsome warrior and started a knightly order, pledged to honorable works though he uses them for his own schemes from time to time. He paid orc tribes in the region of Azell Valley to invade with 8 raiding parties to keep everyone’s attention misdirected while he killed Vells and learned what he could about the state of the valley.

Our heroes helped drive off or kill the orc raiders and they got a glimpse of Cyrus, hidden inside a suit of silver full plate armor. They have already guessed that the Silver Knight is Cyrus, which means that Cyrus has taken notice of them too.

With the orc threat gone, next they will pursue the missing groundskeeper, Dar Hvrenna, off to Winterhaven and the module will begin.

That’s it for now. I’ve got a Serenity/Horror one-day game I’m prepping for August and we’ll see how the 4e campaign fares in the next installment of the Dragonlaird Gaming Design Diaries.

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