Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Free City Campaign

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a guy on Reddit about running a city campaign with players that can come in and out of the campaign, and it got me thinking about a campaign we ran for The Northern Realm version 1.

The idea was this:

Set up at least 3 or 4 power groups, maybe even two resistance groups so there's some push and pull in the city. Players can play the groups off each other or secretly be involved with multiple groups or not so secretly, and you could add in players as they meet with each organization. The new players could be either a part of the new organization or contracted by the new organization or somehow involved with them (and the question of allegiances will lend to intrigue).

We did this with my playgroup and even though we only added players one time throughout the campaign, we did add tons of regular NPCs and it was pretty fluid. We had two government groups, one the establishment, the other seemingly 'free-er' rising power that later backstabbed us, a thief group made up of individual cells who also ended up being something other than what they seemed, and a powerful collector with tons of people working for him. Later a few more groups were introduced. I think the important thing is to give the groups a good reason to exist and clear motives. Then essentially you can introduce anyone you want because you could come from so many different angles.

Our GM set the tone within the city when we entered the city gates. The guards were turning people away. They were also rude and combative. If we hadn't name dropped a middle-ranking member of the ruling party we wouldn't have got in. So clearly right off the bat we were set up to feel resentful or at least wary of them. Then it immediately kicked off with us witnessing and stopping a theft as we entered the city. So this became our intro to the collector. We learned from him that the increased security and paranoia at the gate had more to do serial murders happening in the southern quarter by a perpetrator known only as the carver. Rumor had it that the carver was murdering people in the streets and taking one hand of his victims as a trophy. 

Then at some point wandering around the city for the collector caught the attention of the thieves guild who nabbed and interrogated us. I can't remember exactly how we ended up talking to the rival government party but I think we found some old writing and references about something that was haunting our dreams. At any rate, we were involved in a confrontation with them and the ruling party. Then shit got a little crazy as we learned to only trust individuals and not any of the parties jerking us around. I'd really have to write it out in many pages so I'll just end with we were betrayed, one of our NPC party member's mind was assimilated by his brother, who had invaded his mind and was slowly taking him over from day 1, and one of the old gods (vampires) was waking in the burial chambers of the city and attempting to subtly manipulate people within the city to uncover his remains. It got very convoluted but we had a year to go through it. Suffice to say we ended up fleeing the city with his remains.

Best campaign we ever did.

If you want to piece together what we did here's background of the city and conflict:

Free City (City, 113,700): The Free City is one of the largest cities on the continent. It is the oldest human city in Rhen. Thousands of years ago, the still young Nobles gathered the human tribes and taught them building techniques. Under their direction, the immortal Nobles and humans built their capital. This city became the capital of the Noble Dominion and it was named Gorhithe.

When the Noble Dominion fell it was renamed Freorice (which in Ancient Common is Free Realm), and Gorhithe renamed Aerden, the Free City. The peace and jubilation, however, lasted only one short year as the politics of the city again plunged the country into war. And after decades of strife, there was peace again and a king. He named the new kingdom Storgeard. But the king and the aristocracy held power only a short time, until becoming supplanted by the Optimits who then named the land the Free Realm, in honor of history and called the capital simply, the Free City. 
Quickly this ancient city grew under the Optimits, until its population burst the walls. The city expanded to the western banks of the Stor River. Towns grew within view of the city walls. It was not until the bloodless conquest of the Free Realm by United Kelet that the size of the Free City finally contracted. Since then the population of the Free City has decreased, but the towns around it expanded. This has served to enrich the Free Realm. The country prospered as trade passed between the towns. In recent years, the Free City has had a second boom, again rapidly expanding across the Stor River. But a sudden and brief war between the Free Realm and the Grey of Lwydgalon, successfully pushed the expansion to inside the city walls. As a result, the southern half of the city is now overly populated. Crime is very high in this section of the city, but tolerated, as it does not usually spread beyond the south district. The central district is the most affluent in the city, protected by the old walls of Gorhithe, and built on the foundations of its once magnificent citadel. At its center are the Free City Library and the Grand Hall, where the High Council meets. These remarkable structures are visible from all around the city. Affluent denizens of human countries come to the Free City to study the arcane arts. Even the aristocratic families of Kelet are known to send their children to the Free City. It is partly for this reason that the Free City is rich. Tuition for the arcane school in the Free City Library is staggering.

At the present the tense atmosphere within the Free City is palpable. Conflict between the Optimits and Artificers seems inevitable. Rumors of the Havren, a mysterious shadow group has reached more ears than ever before. For the first time in decades the citizens worry about the north section of the city, where a tall stone wall prevents anyone from entering. This section of the city has been off limits for as long as anyone can remember. There is very little in the history books of the Free City Library that describe the city beyond the north walls, either because the records are lost, or the High Council has made it forbidden reading.
The symbol for the Free City is a white chrysanthemum. Symbols and banners of the chrysanthemum are proudly displayed throughout the city. 

The main players:

Artificers: The Artificers are a new group in the Free City founded only fifty years ago. Members of the Free City Library researching new means of tapping into the arcane began organizing as a means of sharing research. What began as an assembly of young wizards quickly became a political movement opposite the Optimits. The Optimits’ oppressive rules restricting access to young wizards to certain wings of the Free City Library caused conflicts that sometimes turned violent. These rules required either the wizard be a staff member (whom are mostly members of the Optimits) or a sworn member of the Optimits in order to gain access to restricted material. Further, the Optimits overt prevention of non-wizards from rising through the social ranks upset the influence of the large craft guilds in the Free City, who had grown wealthy, but remained unable to lobby for favorable policies in the city. With the encroachment of the growing Merchant Guild, members of the craft guilds turned to the Artificers. An alliance of the two groups led to further advances in the Artificer’s political position in the Free City and also led to unique achievements in the study of magic. The insignia for the Artificers is a hammer suspended over an open book.

Optimits:  : The Optimits are a premiere group of wizards that formed long before they took the name Optimit. They once bore the name of Servants, in mockery of the Thegn. The Servants learned under the Nobles, the masters of the Noble Dominion. When the Noble Dominion was overthrown the Servants survived, biding their time until they could revive the organization under a new name. One thousand years later, the goals of the Optimits moved away from serving the Masters to maintaining order. With the rise of the Artificers the challenge of controlling the citizens of the Free Realm becomes increasingly difficult. With the stress of dealing with the Artificers, the increasingly powerful Merchant Guild, and the aristocracy, elements of the Optimits that have not forgotten their loyalty to the long dead Masters are growing more influential. The Optimits have direct control over the Marshals and Constables in rural areas and neighboring towns. Within the Free City the Optimits control security and most Free City Library staff members. The Optimits are constantly at odds with the Artificers; nevertheless, they maintain some amount of influence over them by way of threat of force and by closing certain wings of the Free City Library. The insignia for the Optimits is a chrysanthemum crossed with a sword suspended over a closed book. 

Havren: To hear of the Havren in the Free City is to know them as boogeymen. Stories told to children so that they do not misbehave. Only sometimes are they called crows an old story for an old name. The crow is their seal. Powerful members of the Optimits know them as so, and guard its secret. Few outside of the Optimits are aware that they truly exist, and even fewer understand their purpose. A secret society, the Havren are an ancient organization that once served under one of the Seven. The Havren exist primarily in the Free City. Seldom, when the need is great, the Havren will send agents beyond the walls of the city. One Havren cell acts as a clandestine Guild of Thieves. The Havren have strange motives and strange magic. Indeed, no books in the Free City Library teach the powers of the Havren.
The Havren have a peculiar and torrid past. They predate the Optimits by hundreds of years, when man still lived in nomadic tribes. The Havren use a mental form of magic. The unique nature of Havren magic makes it difficult to ascertain, thus lending to their secretiveness. The Havren currently act as a balancing lever to the Artificer and Optimit conflict, a role it’s played once before. The Havren’s ultimate goal is not clearly understood by outsiders, even the Optimits. It seems however, that the Havren seek to maintain status quo, but that’s only part of it. Certainly the Havren obstruct change in the Free City, but they also act to keep the old masters of the city from returning, and likewise keep their remains from being destroyed.

The main conflicts:

Plots in the background:  

1. The call of the box hidden in the forbidden north district, inside are the remains of the long dead Master, Valak.

2. The tenuous rivalry between the Artificers and the Optimits.

Plot in the foreground:

1. The One Who is Three:

Every few generations, an individual will come forth bearing the title of Mishha’Hreg. Also called The One Who is Three, it is a being that is created through the fusion of three personalities. The Havren seem contradictory in their expectation that their followers execute the will of the order while they actively recruit individuals who are divergent in their personalities. This contradiction is personified in the creation of the One Who is Three.
The goal is to foster the formation of three distinct individuals whose differences become fully formed in adulthood. These are typically described as the Right Hand of the Will, the Eyes of the Mind and the Name of the First. The Right Hand is an active and direct personality, the Eyes is a perceptive and empathic mind and the Name is obsessive and consuming. However, a mutual affinity must also be formed to facilitate the final step. Once all three reach the height of their personalities and difference, the Name will kill the others and absorb their consciousness. It is in this way that they can form an individual who has lived three different lives through three separate perspectives. The Havren believe that such an individual can lead them through a trying time or bring about a paradigm shift that great events occasionally calls for. However, it is important to note that the Mishha’Hreg would be a single personality without internal conflict. All three lose their distinctiveness and the resulting individual becomes a committed follower and acolyte of the Havren.  

The Name of the First: Éamon, an NPC party member we met mysteriously in the previous town.
The Right Hand of the Will: Jainen, a master thief you meet through the collector
The Eyes of the Mind: Silk, the head of one Havren cell whose front is the thieves' guild.

Éamon joined our party in the previous adventure. Little did we know Éamon's mind housed that of Alaric, Jainen and Silk's brother, whom they had murdered (arguably for good reason) and left for dead in the swamps around Beldonshire (the town we were in). Somehow before his death he had called Éamon a low-level Havren to him and transferred his mind to him. But Éamon resisted and Alaric could only slowly take over his mind, therefore, we the party, didn't realize what was happening until the climax of the campaign. Anyway, with a stranger's face in Éamon and the estrangement of the two brothers Silk and Jainen after the murder of Alaric, we were set up to meet them all one at a time and slowly put puzzle pieces together, leading to an exciting end that took us from the gates of the Free City, to the manor of a friend, then the Free City Library, the south district, sewers, prison cells, and finally to the northern district and the ruins of Gorhithe.

The small plots:  

1.The carver murders (a plot by the Optimits to distract the populace) 

2. The collector and his ties to Jainen the thief.

3. The Palace of Memory, a construct in all Havren's mind (and of particular interest, in Éamon's mind). A linked telepathic spell would gain us entrance into his mind.


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