Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Choosing a Backdrop

To say the Realms is large place is an understatement, even if I’m confining myself to regions covered in the Gray Box and some of the supplements. Those poster-sized maps only hint at the scope of Faerûn and it’s not until you put down the transparent overlays and start counting hexes that you realize how much an area even a small section covers. Needless to say, I was going to have to zoom in on but a small part of its grandeur for the campaign.

My usual choices for campaigns are the Dalelands (Mistledale in particular; see my original campaign map of Ashabenford here), the Western Heartlands along the Trade Way, or somewhere in the Savage North. One of these years I’ll tackle Tethyr or the lands east of the Sea of Fallen Stars, but since this was an exercise in fun, I decided I’d keep to my old haunts. Having a backlog of previously-generated campaign materials for those regions doesn’t hurt, either.

Since I was coming off of Kingmaker, and as an old school DM I have a preference for such, I wanted to keep the campaign on the fringes of civilization, thus allowing me to play with some of the plot ideas I had in mind. This crossed the Dalelands off the list and I wasn’t feeling like managing the constant stream of traders and costers rolling along the Trade Way. Plus, I personally like mountains and forests. A return to the Savage North was in order.

Breaking out my copies of FR1 Waterdeep and the North and FR5 The Savage Frontier, I started re-reading them and looking over the landscape. Although a Waterdeep-based campaign would be fun, running an urban game requires a lot of work, and I discarded that idea. The same reasoning also removed Silverymoon, Neverwinter, Luskan, and other large urban sites from the list. Then my eyes fell on the Loudwater environs and the creative wheels started churning. A nearby fallen Elven empire, a large town, the biggest forest in all of the Realms, a Zhentarim-controlled village, an abandoned dwarven kingdom, and Hellgate Keep all in close proximity to one offered more potential adventure seeds than I could count. This had potential.

Following my decision to only incorporate Realms canon as interested me, I started looking for what was actually detailed about this area. None of it is covered in the Gray Box, so it was time to move on to secondary sources, namely the above-mentioned supplements. Loudwater and Llorkh garner a paragraph or two each in Waterdeep and the North, while Hellgate Keep and the High Forest each earn three. Hardly a treasure trove, but exactly the amount I felt like dealing with. The Greypeak Mountains have a paragraph in The Savage Frontier, and more detailed information for Loudwater, Llorkh, and Hellgate Keep is provided. The High Forest earns an entire chapter, but by this point, it’s become beyond the scope of my focus for the initial campaign adventures, so I can ignore that material for now.

What does catch my attention is a small entry covering “Other Woods” in FR5. It reads in its entirety, “This is not the name of a single forest, but includes the Lurkwood, Southkrypt garden, Southwood, Moonwood, and Westwood. These [sic] edges of these forests are logged by men, though their dark depths are largely a mystery.” Southwood (or South Wood depending on if you’re going by the text or the map) is located just beneath Loudwater and seems perfect what I’m thinking about: A frontier area close to a bastion of civilization but offering unplumbed mysteries.

I decided to consult a tertiary source—The North boxed set—to see if there was anything further I could use in there. As much of the material in that set is based (or copied outright) from both FR1 and FR5, it might or might not provide additional glimpses or inspiration. Luckily, there was a little more, but the entry was still sparse enough for me to monkey with. I’ll decline quoting it in case it spoils any surprises for my players.

Next, I started brainstorming and came up with the following background for the campaign:

After the transformation of Ascalhorn to Hellgate Keep, the elven kingdom of Eaerlann fell, and most of the moon elves fled down the Riving Shining to either travel to Evermeet or join the Fallen Kingdom near Ardeep Forest. A few, however, lingered in the Loudwater area, either joining the small mixed-race community or occupying the Southwood. These displaced refugees harbored dreams of resettling the ancient kingdom if the forces of Hellgate Keep were ever banished. For centuries, the elves claimed the Southwood as their own, a small domain of displaced elves dreaming of their former glory. This enclave dubbed themselves “Lanymthilhar.”

In 1235 DR, the Year of the Black Horde, a never-before seen force of orcs boiled out of the Northern mountains, rampaging as far south as Calimshan. One tribe, the Black Slashers, charged down from the Graypeak Mountains towards the River Shining. Forging a tentative alliance, the humans of Loudwater and the refugee elves of Lanymthihar battled the Black Slashers, breaking their invasion near the northern verge of the Southwood. After this defeat, an accord was reached between the Lanymithihar elves and the residents of Loudwater. The agreement opened the outer edges of the Southwood to human logging and settlement, but the forest interior would remain sacrosanct and protected by the elves. So long as this compact was obeyed and the loggers didn’t become greedy in their yearly felling of timber, the two cultures would pursue their own agendas separately and in peace.

The PCs would begin the campaign in one of the few forest edge communities, caught between civilization to the north and forbidden mystery to the south. A decision to play up the mystery of elven culture and the phenomenon known as “The Retreat,” led me to prohibit elves as a starting race for the PCs as mentioned previously. While not actual enemies, I wanted to explore the “alien” factor of elves, rather than making them pointy-eared humans. I hope to have fun with this aspect of the campaign.

After a quick trip of the maps through my scanner and importing the scans into Photoshop, I made minor changes and additions to the canonical landscape of the region. I also took a look through Volo’s Guide to the North to see if I could use anything in that book, and decided I’d incorporate one of roadside inns mentioned therein. Situated to the east of Loudwater, “The Nighthunt Inn” might come in handy should the PCs ever decide to travel toward Llorkh. I now had my regional campaign map.

Loudwater and Environs as Ed never imaged.
The next step would be zooming in even more to detail the PCs’ home base of Elf Water and the adventuring opportunities in their own backyard.


Al said...

I'll be following your progress closely. I've been pondering running a "return to the realms" campaign myself, with Grey Box, FR1 (what a great supplement) and some of the MD. Its been a while!

Michael Curtis said...

No time like the present, Al!

Unknown said...

Awesome post (along with the two previous to it). Makes me hunger for the Realms of old! Incidentally, I have a campaign I need to re-start, moving it to PbP. I'll enjoy following along with you here, and maybe that will help motivate me to get to work!

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

I would love to see that map. Curse you, Mediafire!