Planning our first TB mini-campaign: Heirloom of the mad king

Hi, I am quite excited to be running in a few days the first session of a short campaign set in the Sudmark, where I intend players to explore the lost story of the Sakki, and particularly the fall of their leader Ukho, and want to limit the story to 10-12 sessions, so that players can get a taste of the system and decide if they want to embark something longer. So I come to the council of the elders to see if you have any advice ;).

We ran a session zero and came up with a nice group consisting of a Bjorning Mage looking for something lost in Jernkloster, a Runung Skald with a promising Vafrudnir Fylgja and apparently a big ego, a Ranger with an unexpected slave background, a Burglar from Rimholm with friends in low places, and a Gott Paladin effectively raised as a Bjorning and serving in Innsjoborg and unhappy about Jernkloster’s leadership.

My idea is to use some created scenarios and then add one or two of my own, as I am quite new to the whole dungeon thing. What motivates me is to get characters to discover these forgotten pages of the Middarmark history a bit accidentally as they come up with treasures and leads to something bigger. It could also be nice to get a closing involving some political or bellic scenario, even though I have read all TB games should focus on the dungeon part, so not so sure about that part, but it sure feels compelling.

We’ll start with a modified version of the Tower of Stars, where the wizard therein discovered the Sakki leader never died, but rather retreated to the Ironwold to plan a come back. While I don’t know still the details, my idea is the wizard wakes from some sort of fatal stasis to deliver only a convenient part of his visions to the characters, who are then given an interesting lead for a nice plunder in the actual tomb of Ukho, which is not at the Sakki Downs as tradition says, but further up North, conveniently bordering the Jotnarsbru area. In his nonsensical speech, the dying mage pushes them to promise “to destroy the heirloom of the mad king”, keeping anything else they find, but not that. Perhaps the players can research the tower and get visions of ancient battles between the Sakki and the Bjornings at the Downs and a glimpse of Ukho’s Tyrfing or one of his witches doing witchy stuff on him. I expect this scenario to takes us 1 session.

For the second scenario, I would like to play the Bridge of the Damned, to allow players to experience the current state of affairs in the area, seed some important Sakki bit of knowledge that becomes relevant later on, and, for the rest, and try to present them with conflicts of interests to make them decide where they stand in the current political jigsaw. I am guessing this will take us 2-3 sessions.

For the third scenario, I was thinking of the Dread Crypt of Skogenby, which I ran once in the past and felt it was perhaps a bit chunkier than expected for my players as a first session. Here, I was planning to change a bit the background to have the nasty antagonist in that scenario (can’t remember her name now, sorry) actually be Ukho’s right hand. After all is said and done, the point here would be for characters to discover that 1) Ukho’s effectively not buried here, which contradicts common folklore 2) that these guys were serious about vengeance, going as far as to try to curse their souls to accomplish their objectives and 3) that after this effort failed, Ukho made a final vow and ran to the hills to seek from the Ironwold the help the Lords wouldn’t give him. For this version of Skogenby, I’d expect players to need 2-3 sessions again. Depending on how it turns out, this could have interesting consequences and stir the area with wights preying on the living after being awakened by the party.

For the final piece of this campaign, I am thinking of a trip to the Ironwold, somewhere like a cave complex players could locate with the help of some clue or artifact from the previous scenario. The place should be chosen carefully, as there should be a very relevant military force gathered here, but in a way our still low level characters stood a chance to sneak into the tomb undetected or similar. Perhaps a way to do that would be to have the antagonists to be mostly gone elsewhere off to form a war-host for an impending assault on the Saxalings and Runungs. That would give the characters a chance to break into the temple/caves or whatever and steal the Heirloom, which would weaken the newly-reborn Ukho and his faction and ultimately give the region a chance to resist, particularly if characters could return in time with the relevant information. For this, I am guessing 3-4 sessions would be necessary.

All is quite in bare-bones, but I would appreciate any feedback or ideas. Thanks a million!

3 Likes

10-12 sessions is probably 2-3 adventures for new players. You have to account for camping and town phases, which may take new players the majority of a whole session.

My approach is never to prepare more than the current adventure ahead of time. It is good to have a few dungeons in your back pocket as the adventure design chapter talks about (locations on the map). And there is the saying of ‘draw a map and leave blanks’, which you seem familiar with.

Moreso than anything, I strongly believe the players should pick adventure hooks that connect to those beliefs and motivations. And, that they should work for those hooks through story items or town actions. You set the first adventure, but from there, no one knows where it will go. In my experience, one of the greatest joys of GMing TB is that I never ever know what will happen.

In these first couple of adventures, I think it is important to hook the players with the stuff they have told you about: lost stuff in Jernkloster, Vafrudnir’s designs, friends from Rimholm, or inter-tribal tensions between the Bjornings and Gotts. Then, it just becomes a matter of ensuring that the dungeon has things to test their beliefs and see how far they want to go to get these answers.

some created scenarios and then add one or two of my own

I would make these twists so that you can drop them in as needed without railroading or summoning quantum ogres. This is tricky because the twist should seem natural and a consequence of whatever obstacle was complicating them.

start with a modified version of the Tower of Stars

A solid idea. As they approach the tower, invite the players to backfill some of the lore in regards to the above motivations. These things can just be rumors that they have heard which may or may not be true, but you are always fishing for what motivates the player and how that can come out in play vis-à-vis BIGs. For example, what clue can the mage find that gives information about the thing that was lost in Jernkloster? Is there an instinct that drives this character to find out? Is this character working toward some Creed, like joining the Dragon Slayer’s Cult or some other hero cult?

For the final piece of this campaign, I am thinking of a trip to the Ironwold

This seems like you are getting ahead too far. I think you can foreshadow the Ironwold, and perhaps it is the ultimate destination, but that sounds like a much longer campaign goal. The adventurers would need to prepare, gain equipment, probably level up to have access to more abilities, pack for a Journey, and be ready to face a hostile forest of trolls where sunlight provides little solace.

Some other ideas:

  • Use the seasons. The environment is also a character. Good weather can be rare. Weather often provides bonuses and penalities that you can work into the adventure. There is a small window during the summer when the weather results are most clear or calm, which is why everyone is out raiding or getting something done in the villages.

  • Time climatic things during a blót or a seasonal festival, which provides a way to introduce adventure hooks for the players in exciting ways. See if they are interested in taking the bait or how they react. Often people will travel from abroad so you can move NPCs around during these times. Enemies make for good town twists that add to the adventure hooks.

  • Runes. The Sakki language has largely been forgotten (except perhaps by the alfar). This gives you a lot of freedom to have strange runes and sigils that can intrigue the players.

  • Skalds also provide a way to tease rumors or adventure hooks about past times and Sakki folk tales.

2 Likes

Hi Koch, thanks so much for your feedback!
Those were some solid tips you gave me. I suspected my proposal would take longer than intended, but your premise that it is best to just prepare the next game thinking about the actual characters and then let them choose what comes next is probably just the best advise I could get here. I guess my concern was to give these dozen sessions a meaningful closure so players want more, but what better way to do that than let them develop their character’s motivations and build up together an interesting path to unknown fortunes.
I was also about overlooking lengths of non-adventure phases, just as I did with our session zero, which took us very long, (and I thought we’d be starting the first scenario after an hour and a bit, ha!).
Last but not least, the bullets were quite inspiring and I will sure bear those in mind as I prepare the first session and the next ones.
Much appreciated!
-lesser_evil

1 Like

Cool, yeah it sounds like you have a good group that already has an idea of where they might like to explore. That’s definitely the strength of these BW games in that they are built around emergent stories unfolding naturally. A lot of the personal motivation acts as the glue for a longer campaign. And since Creed doesn’t come into play until 3rd level, that could really be the focus of this group: finding some higher calling as it relates to these cycles of tribal violence or the Sakki backstory.

All that said, it certainly can work to do a Temple of Elemental Evil-style campaign. And, I’ve had players say they just want to do all the adventures in the Compendium, but they’re already invested in that premise, so we had a good time regardless of what we were doing. It can work just fine with the right group.

However, I’ve seen it too many times where a GM intends well by trying to jump ahead to the “next adventure” and hand wave over town phase, but that is really where a lot of the character development occurs—having to face some hard times and try to recover from all of your conditions while also trying to do the things that matter to them.

1 Like

I think you are right! I decided to keep the general idea behind my previous post as something that will be possible to explore if players want, but to drop all the structure and just go with what comes up. Also, I have contacted players to ask them to create solid motivations and provided them with something unique for each one, using the rich background of Middarmark and The Bridge of the Damned and hopefully work out together the rest. I will keep you posted thanks!

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 90 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.