Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Monster-Themed Campaigns

Entering the planning phase of my upcoming Pirates vs. Vampires game, I am just starting to consider themes. Even though I will be world-building as I go and possibly using the Mythic Game Master Emulator to drive the game into unexpected directions, I would like to incorporate one or more recurring motifs. Themes are a great way to focus adventure design and they can really give a campaign a unique character.

[Spoiler Alert - My Players Should Turn Back]
In Pirates vs. Vampires I'd like to use a monster-based theme. Specifically, I'd like to feature the various "traditional" undead types from the D&D Monster Manual (edition is irrelevant). This is a game about vampires and vampires should be involved (directly or indirectly) in every story. But as we proceed from adventure to adventure, I'd like to successively move through the various D&D undead types as a way of marking the progress of the campaign. And by making a particular type of undead the focus of an adventure, I can incorporates all sorts of related thematic elements.

I've done this before with my sadly aborted Dragonspire campaign. Inspired by the Dragonlance modules of old, I wanted to create a campaign that walked through the various chromatic dragons in order of their deadliness. Of course, I only actually completed the white dragon adventures in both my online and face-to-face games. But those adventures were fantastic. Set during the height of winter, the characters ventured into snowy peaks and faced down many of frost-related challenges. Each adventure concluded with an exciting set-piece battle with an appropriately scaled white dragon "boss". And though the campaign was discontinued due to scheduling issues, the black dragon-themed adventure was going just as well.

To start things off, I think I'll start with the lowly skeleton. What comes to mind when one thinks of skeletons (especially as they relate to pirates)? Off the top of my head, I imagine a Ray Harryhausen Sinbad-esque adventure along the Barbary Coast.  Images of skeleton-crewed galleys and scimitar-wielding skeleton warriors practically leap into my head. No doubt there is a vampire necromancer who is using these skeletal minions to control the Mediterranean. Already, the simple choice of a skeleton motif has moved the setting out of the Caribbean and into a Arabesque North Africa.


Philo Pharynx said...

I'm not familiar with Risus, but one issue that I can see with some systems is that the players can end up getting specialized in the type of monsters. It's not a problem per se, but something to be aware of. As a GM, you should watch that as you build challenges to make sure they are appropriate to the party.

Risus Monkey said...

It's not like D&D where a cleric (or paladin or undead-hunting ranger) is going to be especially useful when fighting undead. But even so, you are correct in that a GM should tailor encounters to match the player characters. In this game, all of the PCs are going to be capable of fighting undead, though they will each have their unique strengths and weaknesses.