Patchwork Campaign Settings
For some reason, I’ve always felt I needed to be apologetic about using content from modules or similar in my home campaign. I guess I was worried this somehow indicated I wasn’t creative enough to come up with my own material or something. After playing for almost nine months now though, I can say that while the world map and the large scale themes playing out in our game are all my own invention, all the details come from existing material, be it old D&D modules from back in the day or new OSR printed stuff.
I came to terms with it today when I made a decision to move a major element’s location radically in the world. OK, I want go into specifics here, I guess I’ll just have to warn my players off. Players, don’t read beyond this cut. Suffice it to say, I don’t think using bits from other locations isn’t such a big deal. My analogy is that it’s a bit like making a quilt. Everyone can appreciate a truly beautiful quilt and the craftsmanship that went into it. But the quilt-maker didn’t weave the fabrics, he just found pieces that fit together in interesting ways and stitched them together. The end result though can definitely be a work of art. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
On with the details…
As some of you may know, I started my campaign with L1: Secret of Bone Hill. This is a lovely sandbox setting with a small town to be the player’s safe haven (Restenford), a few things going on in town for them to get involved with, and a few dungeons out in the wilderness for them to explore. Most notable amongst these is the titular Bone Hill, which holds the ruin of an old castle now occupied by a wizard, some bugbears, and some undead. Interestingly, while the wizard is clearly the bugbears’ leader, they are antagonistic with the undead. The bugbears and wizard are apparently in control during the day, and the power balance switches to the undead by night.
I’ve really struggled with trying to figure out this wizard’s motivations. Especially as the players completely ignored this area and moved on to explore other pursuits. As their world view expanded, it became more and more ridiculous that this wizards was idly sitting up on the hill right next to town waiting for the players to stumble into him. Then when my players were far off in the “Dead Hills” on a whim I decided to whisk the ruin and all its inhabitants off to a hill they were passing by.
This actually led to some really fun play. The players tried to use the castle as refuge for the night. They explored a little, got beat up, and then tried to barricade themselves into the front two rooms for the night. I was left trying to figure out what a powerful wizard would do about a bunch of pesky adventurers camped out in his foyer. Ultimately this led to a confrontation the wizard was well prepared for and all but one player fleeing for their lives. The remaining player decided to grovel at the wizard’s feet, which led to the wizard interrogating him about world affairs.
Suddenly this wizard has become a very interesting guy. He’s off in his own corner of the world, dealing with an undead problem, when along come the players to inform him of world events that could be very much to his advantage. This NPC has gone from being a thorn in my side to being chock full of potential. Even better, the players hate him. I mean seriously hate him. Probably because he so effectively whupped their asses. They’re already plotting their revenge.
Sure, I’ll have to find a replacement for the haunted Bone Hill that now is completely empty, should the players ever decide to visit it. Actually, I’m thinking U1: Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh might be a very good fit. It was when I started warping the contents of that module to fit our campaign world that it hit me. Who cares where the locations and NPCs come from? The fact is that I’m creating quite a lot by giving them the context in which they co-exist. I’m making interesting choices for them which change the landscape of the game. I’m playing.
Anyway, I will try from now on not to be down on myself for not making more of the dungeons that exist in our campaign. An individual dungeon, while fun to play, ultimately isn’t the most interesting thing to invent. It’s much better that I spend my time thinking about things like how Tevlar the Magnificent is going to ruin the players’ day next.