Saturday, July 25, 2020

Through the Saw-Grass, a randomly-generated campaign

Today I'll be rolling up a random campaign, full of opportunities for adventure, intrigue, and exploration.  That's the plan, anyhow.  We'll see how far my random tables take me.

Here's the final result (pdf).

The rest of this post is about the process of getting there.  Follow along with me as I roll up random adventury stuff and piece it all together.

By the way, I'm going to try using the term cazandi for the imperial elves.  If you're not familiar, they're the city-building people from the empire destroyed in the apocalypse.  Imagine the Spanish and British empires, with influences from India and China.

Building the Campaign


We'll start with some opportunities, big things going on where there's a fortune to be made, fame to be earned, or folks to be helped.  Rolling thrice on the opportunity table:

Gold Rush

The first question about the Rush is what people are actually rushing for, since it doesn't have to be gold.  In this case, it's an odd result: gems (diamonds, rubies, jade) combined with fuel (coal, whale oil).  Fire diamonds, you could say.  I guess you use them somehow and they produce light and flame, and eventually get consumed in the process, but they're also beautiful gemstones.  Sounds like a real marvel for the 1600s.

It turns out that fire diamonds are hard to transport.  Maybe they're prone to ignite things on their own, or you can't have too many of them together without them all catching fire.

The local people are selling supplies/services to the newcomers, trying to get rich off the fire diamond rush.  I assume you need the usual digging/mining/sluicing tools, as well as whatever safety precautions are needed to keep these things from igniting when they're not supposed to.

There are two different powerful figures here, both claiming that you need their permission to stake a claim.  Off the top of my head, I'd say one is probably a trade company of the cazandi (the city elves) while the other...might be the local rulers in this country?

Shining City

This opportunity is about trying to establish a new community.  In this case, they're cazandi, veterans of the losing side of the recent war.  Their ideal is Isolation: they seek a place for quiet contemplation and righteous living, a place where they can live out their lives in peace.

They all remember their commander, a good and inspiring leader who was killed and is now held in great reverence by these veterans.  They have come to believe in a prophecy that speaks of a shining city in the wilderness, believing that they are to build that city in a harsh and barren country.

When they arrive at their destination, they will find a powerful fortress that must be defeated, one last battle in fulfillment of prophecy.  They must obtain something for the foundation of their city — of the examples listed, I'll go with needing an official Charter.

Someone important will unexpectedly join this community.

Through their hardships, the community will become more singleminded and fundamentalist in following the prophecy, leading many to fall away.

Lost Treasure

The treasure itself is an artifact of a lost civilization.  It is said to have magical or healing powers, and it is holy to someone, meant to be kept hidden.

The protagonists' first clue about the treasure: the words of a dying traveler.

It is pursued by agents of the Authorities who want their share, and also by its Defenders who will do anything to protect it.

It was originally lost when those who protected it all died (maybe at the fall of their civilization?) then later it was rediscovered by someone who paid people to guard it, but the money stopped coming and the guards abandoned their posts.

Developments while pursuing it: the defenders of the treasure emerge; you escape from danger to an unknown place.

The treasure is far from where you'd expect it, and it's in a rough country: rugged mountains or harsh desert.

Combining Opportunities

So far we have three separate campaign prompts — at this point we're supposed to combine them together to form one big jumble of trouble adventure.  I've got a little list of ideas if you get stuck on this step, but let's see what we can do first.
  • The lost treasure and the site for the shining city are both in a harsh, barren country.  Obviously they're in the same country.
  • Official authorities are involved in all three: you have to get their permission to mine fire diamonds, the veterans need their charter to build a city, and the authorities are pursuing the lost treasure.  With their fingers in so many pies, I assume the Viceroy is behind all this.
The goal is to have connections between all three opportunities.  So far we've got:
  • Treasure–City: in the same country, viceroy cares about both.
Let's see if we can build the other two legs of the triangle:
  • Treasure–Rush: the defenders of the treasure are from the local authority that wants a cut of the diamond rush.
  • City–Rush: the founders of the city fought in the recent war, so let's say they were on the opposite side from someone involved in the diamond rush.

Major Players

Here are the major powers in the story so far:
  • Viceroy: in charge of mining claims, pursuing the treasure, in charge of city charters.
  • Defenders: trying to protect the treasure, also in charge of mining claims.
  • Veterans: wanting to build their city, then be left alone.
  • Fortress: stopping the veterans from building their city.  Don't know much else.
My first instinct is to say the Defenders are the ones in charge of the Fortress.  This would put the veterans and the defenders directly at odds with each other.  But it also might be good to have another group in the mix.  Let's leave this undecided for now.

Artifact of a Lost Civilization

Rolling up the ancient civilization yields some interesting results: Giants, not humans, were the first to till the land, carving rivers from the mountains (or maybe just irrigation).  A remnant of their empire still survives, having retreated deep into the interior of the continent, sending out agents.

This could change everything.  I'm picturing a secret order of giants manipulating events behind the scenes, like frontier Bene Gesserit.  So the fortress that the veterans want to defeat?  Probably a giantish house.

The ancient empire left behind great stone statues of animals (probably the star-gods) and stone watchtowers on high hilltops.  Their symbol is a mountain lion holding a head in its mouth.

So what does the treasure look like?  The only artifacts so far are the statues, which sounds like a terribly impractical thing to have to carry home.  Let's go with that.

The treasure is a great stone statue believed to have healing powers.  It was lost ages ago when the giantish kingdom retreated.  It was rediscovered by someone who couldn't move it, so they paid people to guard it, but they never came back.

Let's say the dying stranger we rolled up that provides the first clue is part of the rediscovery, either the discoverer or one of their hired hands.  They give just enough information to whet our appetites, but not enough to find the statue (yet).

The War

There was a war recently.  On the winning side were the people who want to protect the statue (and are trying to control access to the fire diamonds).  On the losing side were the cazandi veterans who want to found a new city.  Let's roll up the rest.
  • On one side: a new religious movement and wealthy landowners.
  • On the other side: the viceroy, frontiersmen and new settlers.
The war was caused by a demand for taxes/tribute.  I think the viceroy raised taxes on the wealthy landowners to pay for something on the frontier; the landowners refused.

Many settlements were burned and a valuable treasure was lost (so the war is what stopped the crew watching the statue from being paid).  A martyr was made (the commander of the regiment), their relics are revered.

The war ended in a treaty with three key provisions:
  • No one may cross a line on the map.  This is being enforced, angering many.
The viceroy was forced to concede some amount of autonomy to the rebel landowners.  As long as the landowners pay their taxes, the viceroy isn't allowed to send soldiers into their country, and the landowners are not allowed to send soldiers into the viceroy's regions.
  • A great treasure shall be returned.  This has been blatantly ignored.
The viceroy heard about the statue being discovered, but they never figured out where it was.  They demanded the rebels turn it over in the settlement, but the rebels don't know where it is.
  • People shall be resettled elsewhere.  One side claims to have done their part; the other claims it was not properly fulfilled.

The reason they're arguing about whether the resettlement was done right is that they disagree on where the line is.  Let's say the people who were forced to resettle were humans who allied with the rebellion; they were forced onto the other side of the line, where they discovered the fire diamonds.  They're the Defenders from earlier: trying to control access to the diamonds, trying to find and protect their sacred statue that was lost.


We'll need a few regions here, plus whatever else comes up while rolling:
  • Harsh, barren land of the lost statue, the giantish fortress, and the eventual site of the city.
  • Land of the fire diamonds, where the humans were banished after the war.
  • Colonies of the cazandi, some on the rebel side of the line, one on the viceroy's side.  (Probably a coastal region.)
(See how I generate my random maps here.)

Coastal Colonies

Most of the coastal region is under the control of the Commonwealth, the semi-autonomous cazandi colonies that lost the war and now have to pay taxes to the Viceroy.  Rolling for terrain:
  • Harder to travel through: floodplain where grasslands turn to shallows.
  • Waves beat against rocky cliffs, difficult to find a safe landing.  Streams end in waterfalls at the coast.  Mountains are likely.  The sea is to the south.
  • Thin barrier islands of sand dunes run along the coast, enclosing an inner sound or bay.  Mainland side has shallow mudflats and marshes, hard to say where the water begins and the land ends.  The sea lies to the east.
Most of the country is marshy and muddy, with rivers that drain lazily to the east.  There's a range of hills along the southern border that ends with an abrupt drop down to the sea.  Let's see who lives here (starting with cazandi as a given):
  • Cazandi have one of the chief surviving colonies with many outlying settlements, forts, etc.
  • Tree goblins inhabit two nestings that compete for hunting grounds.
This country is the home of a new religious movement (which we know allied with the Commonwealth during the war).  I'm guessing this movement is the source of the prophecy, and thereby tied to the veterans and their city.

Some kind of magic fails in this country, which is always a fun result.  So far we've had the fire diamonds that could be magic, and the healing statue that is magic if it works.  Let's say the statue doesn't work if you bring it here.  Maybe the other statues left behind by the giants would also be magic if you brought them to the right place...

Ongoing warfare forces you to take a side.  There's fighting between two tree goblin groups.  There are also frontiersmen who sided with the viceroy in the war.  I'm thinking these are fishermen up in the marshes: they don't like the tree goblins and they don't like the colonies on the southern coast.  They never really accepted that the war was over, so the colonists don't wander up this way except in sufficient numbers.  (Are the fishermen humans?)

There's a good trail or road connecting two points.  Let's say all the colonies here are well connected.

I think this country needs two names: one for the hills and steep coast in the south, and another for the marshy lowlands in the north.  The first roll is for the color of the scenery: the Black Hills.  The second is for common vegetation: Sawgrass Marsh.

The treaty line runs north and south.  Everything west of the line along the coast belongs to the Commonwealth.  East of the line is controlled by the Viceroy and the remnant of the Imperial navy; the human tribe that controls the fire diamonds was expelled from here.  Up north, people aren't as clear where the line goes.

Where the Fire Diamonds Are

Somewhere to the north of the Sawgrass Marsh is the inland country where the banished humans resettled.  (One of the rolls was coastal, so I ignored it.)
  • One may walk with ease along the tops of mostly-parallel ridges running northeast/southwest.
  • A great river flows down to the south.  (Into the marsh.)
  • Waterways cut deep ravines, nearly impossible to walk in.  (These flow to the northeast, but I like the idea of steep-sided ravines for the country overall.)
Now for the inhabitants:
  • Giants: one strong house rules a wide region.
  • Humans: strife with newly arrived tribe.
I'll say the strife is between the humans expelled from the south and the giants who have long lived in this country.

There are signs here of the kingdom long ago, so this is where you can find some of their old watchtowers.  The giants here probably consider them sacred places built by their ancestors.

This country has locusts, mice, or birds that devour food.  There's a rope bridge that's maintained every year, probably by the giants, allowing an easy crossing of the river at a place they control.

It's named for a strange local encounter — I'll go with the food devourers, calling this Cornworm Country.  Maybe cornworms are the reason giants don't subsist on farming anymore.

Harsh and Barren Land

Farther beyond is a harsh and barren land.  This is where the prophecy says the shining city must be built.  It's where the giants have a fortress, and it's where the lost statue can be found.  (I'll be rerolling any results that don't fit what we already know.)
  • Ravines run to the southwest, nearly impossible to walk in.  (Need to think about how these interact with the Cornworm region.)
  • Bog/muskeg or frozen tundra.  (A highland plateau might work well.)
  • A cliff/escarpment/range divides this country from another.  (That's the steep drop off the plateau, carved into ravines.)
We already know there are giants living in this land, occupying the fortress that the new city intends to defeat.  I'm not sure we need anyone else here, so I'm not going to roll.  There are more signs of the ancient kingdom here, maybe part of a broken statue or another watchtower.  The people of the new city might occupy an old watchtower as a defensive point while invading the country.

You can't get food or water in this country without special knowledge: how to lure prey, how to boil toxins, where to dig, how to remove spines.  Once I figure out what the giants here eat, I'll figure out what special technique is needed.

There's an obstacle on the border.  Let's say the streams flowing south down the ravines from the high country meet up with the streams flowing north down the ravines from the Cornworm mountains, meeting up to form a river in a deep canyon between them.  The river flows...(rolling a die) the west, so however it eventually gets to the sea is not important for this map.

The canyon needs a name as well as the highland country beyond.  Using my (unfinished) names table, there's Disappointment Canyon and then the Bitterroot Highlands.

People and Settlements

We've got a few people groups that need to be fleshed out a bit:

Stone Harbor

The main Commonwealth colony is called Stone Harbor and has its own gunsmithing industry, which helped them have any chance in the war.  They grow wheat and conduct wilderness trade (with the folks of the Marsh, I suppose).  Giants work the fields for meager pay.

The Commonwealth flag is white with a ship's wheel on it under the motto "Liberty and Revenge".

The viceroy requires anyone who wants to trade with the commonwealth to stop at the loyalist port first to pay a tax.  The commonwealth is ruled by a Governor elected by the people, but they cannot entirely ignore the Advisor forced upon them by the viceroy after the war.

There's one of the ancient statues nearby at a mission where the local giants are Educated (whether they like it or not).  There are several abandoned settlements, burned during the war.

Rolling for things at the city I got some interesting results:
  • a strange new invention that's under threat
  • furtive agents of the viceroy
  • a shipyard with secretly-gathered cargo
I assume the invention is something that the fire diamonds could power.  The viceroy's agents need to lay low as they're not supposed to be here, according to the treaty.  They're the ones who are after the treasure.

As for the invention, it turns out to be some kind of optical semaphore device that you can carry on your back, though it's cumbersome and clanking.  They're trying to use quartz crystals in it to produce/focus light, but the effects are weak, making it a rather short-range device.  If it had a fire diamond though, it would be able to function over an extremely long distance.

I'm liking the idea of Stone Harbor being the starting point for the campaign.  It's a place where you could reasonably find three of the four species of people and it's in the middle of some of the conflict going on.

Other Commonwealth Settlements

  • Ten Dollar Camp: sheep ranch, trading post.  Sickness going on.  Short on weapons, afraid of creatures in the woods.
  • Birch Pass: wheat farm up at a pass over the Black Hills.  Smells like tar from waterproofing rooves.  Afraid of attack, no defensive wall, hoping for military aid.
  • Harmony: resupply port for the occasional ship to pick up bread and fresh water.  Their leader is missing.  No inn/tavern.

Veterans and Prophecy

These are the cazandi war veterans looking to build a city way up north.  They're part of some religious movement that has a prophecy, and they believe their new haven is required for the fulfillment of that prophecy.  We know this movement originated in the Black Hills and sided with the Commonwealth during the war.

It turns out they believe in a second apocalyptic event to come, and that they intend to establish a sanctuary for true believers to weather the storm.

At some point I'll have the prophetic warning table finished, but until then I can say that these people preach about fire and judgement and an evil king that rises in the wilderness.

Again, picking from unfinished tables and notes: these are the Harmonious Brethren, they avoid tobacco and strong drink, and they wear something yellow.  They make use of the printing press to spread their message, so the Brethren probably value literacy.

Prosperity City

The colony loyal to the viceroy is smaller, a little city called Prosperity, surrounded by artichokes and thorny incense trees.  The settlement itself is on an islet just offshore.  Prosperity suffered badly during the war, but is now rebuilding.  Refugees came here from some of the destroyed settlements.

It's a rough town for travelers: street fights, brawling in the taverns, extortion by petty officials.  There's a Lord Mayor, loyal to the far-off Viceroy.  There are grumblings at the tavern that the captain of the militia should be in charge of the city instead.

Prosperity flies the flag of the empire, which is red with a white saltire.

Nearby there's a fort that was burned down in the war.  They're rebuilding it, but many of the workers have just gotten word of the fire diamonds and are thinking of heading up north, dreaming of getting rich.

There's also a dangerous shipwreck; not part of the major story, but it should be good for some clambering around and a bit of treasure.

A trade company has an office here and in Stone Harbor.  They operate a trading post or two up north.

Other Loyalist Settlements

  • Arrowhead Diggins: coal mine at a river crossing.  Robbed recently.  Meeting-house burned down.  Afraid of ghosts.
  • Carefree: sheep and wheat.  Sickness.  Smoke on the horizon.

Tree-goblins of the Marsh

And here's where I hit a significant gap in my tables.  I've got a list of things that are worth knowing about a goblin settlement, but I haven't actually written up most of the tables.

So far we know there are two tree goblin nestings that fight with each other for hunting grounds.  Their settlements are called Mad Forks and Squirrel Lodge.  They're both high up in the trees in some of the thickets of the marsh.

For their secret knowledge, I'll guess that the folks of Squirrel Lodge know a hidden way across the marsh and they know the schedule of when the trading post gets resupplied.  At Mad Forks they know how to track a fearsome giant crocodile that stalks the fishermen in the muddy waters, and they know how to cure the disease that's a problem around here.  (Presumably the same disease that's afflicting Carefree and Ten Dollar Camp.)

Fisher-folk of the Marsh

This is a human tribe called the Anayata.  They wear muskrat-fur hats and beaded sashes.  They fish from dugout canoes with outriggers and sails.  (Sometimes they sail out to the barrier islands and further into the sea.)  Their homes are built on stilts over the water.

Women are in charge of fishing and boats while men are in charge of house building and gardening.  The men used to have a folk magic, but that was lost during the Starving Time.

The Anayata villages elect a leader for the entire tribe.  They follow a secret religion known only to their people.  Captives are adopted into the tribe to replace warriors who fell in battle.

Their main enemy is the human tribe that was expelled from the Black Hills, as they fought on opposite sides of the war, then they fought as the southerners migrated through the marsh to their new home.

They are very favorable towards the Viceroy who sends them gifts and food in time of need.

Their principal town is called Kahanok "Dry Hill" on a bit of a hill rising out of the marsh, surrounded by a wooden palisade and a ditch full of wooden spikes.  At the center of Kahanok is a stone statue from the ancient giants.

The Northern Company

This is a cazandi trading company that handles much of the wilderness trade.  They have offices in Stone Harbor and Prosperity, as well as several trading posts up north.  Their posts are short on guns/powder for their own defense.  They're not supposed to sell muskets to the locals anywhere, but it's lucrative enough business that it happens anyway.

Their symbol is a bugle.

The Northern Company has taken on a large debt of some kind.  I'll say they struggled to stay afloat during the war, depleting their funds.  Now they've borrowed a lot of money to try to get into the fire diamond rush, selling mining equipment.  This hasn't worked out well yet as the humans who live in that area are taking a large cut of the profits.

The Northern Company is trying to drum up the rush so their investment can pay off.

Resettled Humans

These people are the Nalansi, expelled from the Black Hills by the viceroy at the end of the war.  They were originally hunter-gatherers who collected ferns and caught jackrabbits.  Nalansi keep their hair in a long braid.  They're known for having pale eyes, which are rare among humans.

As allies of the Commonwealth, they acquired muskets, sheep, and wheat farming.  The Nalansi used to make dugouts to travel along the southern coast, but they had to leave them behind when they went up north.  They used to live in grass huts, but probably had to do something different in their new environment.

Most of the men have turned to a new religion (the Harmonious Brethren, I assume) while most women have kept to their ancestral ways.  The Nalansi are known for taking captives in battle and demanding a ransom for their return.  The tribe is governed by a council made of the most important families.

Fire Diamonds and the Nalansi

The Nalansi have been struggling in the Cornworm Country.  They arrived with supplies from the south, but they haven't been able to grow much wheat (the worms have been eating it).  They took over a portion of the country, driving the giants back across the river.

So far they've discovered the fire diamonds and have been selling them to the Northern Company outpost down in the Sawgrass.  Word has gotten out and a few prospectors have begun to show up.  The Nalansi council has decided to charge for land claims.

This leads to a Northern Company trading post that's being established somewhere up by the mining area, trying to sell supplies.  The Nalansi would rather trade at a distance; I'd say they're demanding a fee (probably in food) to allow the trading post to be built there.  Agents of the viceroy are going to end up trying to assert authority over the mining area, believing it to be on their side of the treaty line.

Checking the remote outpost random tables:

  • The first table we already know: established by the trading company, opposed by the local people, the viceroy is getting involved against the owner's wishes.
  • This isn't their first time trying to build an outpost in this country; their first one failed.  I'll say they came in without getting permission from the Nalansi, who then burned down the outpost.
  • The company is operating nearly blind here, knowing very little about the region.
  • The weather turns worse: hot, cold, mud, dust storms.

Giants of the Cornworm Country

We know the giants are a powerful house ruling over most of the Cornworm Country, they resent the Nalansi invaders, and they maintain a rope bridge over a river.

Thinking about it now, these giants should probably be the ones who want to reoccupy the ancient fortress in the Bitterroot to keep the Harmonious Brethren from establishing a foothold.

The house is called Walking Snake, so their sign is a curlicue with two little feet.  They build fish weirs and gather mushrooms, make baskets and do flint-knapping.  They have common ground with the Anayata of the marsh to oppose the Nalansi invaders.  They've only just met the Northern Company.

The house-site itself is a roofed pavilion on a raised earthen mound riddled with secret ancient passageways.  Around the mound are hidden triplines and pit traps.  The pavilion is decorated with embossed copper ornaments.

The people of Walking Snake are debating about the strangers in their lands (a convenient result), and about vengeance for a very old crime.  (I'll have to think about what that means here.)


At this point we have three treasures that people will be contending for: the healing statue, the ancient fortress, and the fire diamonds.  Let's define these a bit more and tie them together a bit.

(This part isn't using any of the random tables, I'm just thinking through what we have so far.)

Why do people want fire diamonds?  They're valuable as gemstones (and soon to be popular in the viceroy's court).  They're also valuable for their fire aspect: if you get them started, they give off light and heat of their own.  Starting one up takes some amount of fire to begin with, maybe an especially hot fire.  Low-quality diamonds crack and shatter in the flames, but good ones activate, staying lit for a long time.

At the start of the adventure, no one knows the diamonds can be activated.  The humans who control the region are newcomers who hadn't seen these before.  The giants in the area don't do metalworking or pottery, so they have no reason to make very hot fires.  The ancient giantish kingdom probably knew, but they're long gone.  How to use fire diamonds could be something you learn from their ruins.

Why do people want to occupy the fortress up north?  Why haven't they occupied it so far?  It's in a cold and desolate country where you can't get food/water without knowing some technique.  On the face of it, you'd think the cazandi veterans would arrive there and all die off in the winter.

But the fortress turns out to have a few benefits.  First, the statue is there.  It has healing powers, as some explorer discovered.  There are some limits on it, or some complications, but it is truly powerful.  Second, the fortress is at a source of safe water, a clean spring in a land where you usually can't drink the water.  Third, the fortress is very defensible, or at least will be once it's fixed up a bit.

And that's the reason the cornworms haven't spread across the canyon into the Bitterroot Country: the undrinkable bitter water kills them.  You could actually grow corn in the Bitterroot.

The fortress itself is meant to be heated by fire diamonds, as the giants who built it knew how to use them.  Some kind of shafts for hot air, maybe a sort of furnace chamber where the diamonds are supposed to go.  Burnt out diamonds that finally were used up.  Polished obsidian mirrors to reflect light from the diamond chamber.

Next Steps

There are still some loose ends, but I think that's enough for now.  Overall, I'm quite pleased with how much story came out of the tables.  There were a few dead ends where the tables weren't finished, but not too many at this level.

For these adventures, I could imagine a party being called up by many different patrons: the Northern Company, the Nalansi Council, the Commonwealth, etc.

Next, I'm going to gather up all this material, keep the good parts and toss the rest.  I've been drawing a map as I'm going along.  For each country I'll roll up a random encounter table.

I think a few local maps/diagrams would be helpful, at least the ancient fortress in the north.

Anything else this campaign needs?

No comments:

Post a Comment