5acksberron: An Abomination Campaign

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Joined: 2013-06-05 15:49
5acksberron: An Abomination Campaign

I've completed graduate school! That means it's time to play RPGs again and get really serious about running a big fancy game. It also means that I'm listening to an hour of Mike Duncan every day as I power through Revolutions during my 30 minute commute. Also, it's 2018, so the only game anyone will play is D&D 5e, but I plan to cram it full of any ACKS rules and concepts that'll fit.

So, with that in mind, here's my campaign premise: A game set in Eberron's Stormreach, based around hexcrawling the jungle. Some setting info:

Stormreach is a city-state that grew out of a pirate hideout. ~200 years ago, an admiral sent to capture the city lost the initial naval battle against the United Outlaw Fleet, but subsequently managed to ally with four pirate captains to stage a coup and the newly minted Five Stormlords signed a formal treaty with the empire to become a mostly autonomous client state. 

Stormreach is on the coast of Xen'Drik, the mysterious jungle continent. Ten thousand years ago, it was the jewel of the Giant's empire, but it exploded. Xen'Drik is full of Weird Magic and Ancient Artifacts. Xen'Drik is impossible to map and extremely dangerous. 

The main continent, Khorvaire, just wrapped up a world war that saw numerous secessions and new states, and the result is a dozen little kingdoms with tense relations that aren't quite willing to go to war. Also, there are a dozen powerful guilds called the Dragonmarked Houses (because their founders have hereditary supernatural powers that manifest as birthmarks) that function sort of like megacorporations. 

As a client city that continues to rise in wealth and military power while remaining socially archaic even as its theoretical 'masters' continue to decline in power and progress socially, a Stormreach revolution is inevitable. It remains to be seen what form this will take- A Stormlord secession? A PC-lead coup? A workers' rebellion? It remains to be seen whether it's 1765, 1789, 1795, or 1848.

Some conceits:

Expedition licenses to go into Xen'Drik and bring back rare goods are tightly controlled. The PCs, collectively, have one such license, making them one of only a dozen groups allowed to explore. This means that, prior to each expedition, requests and suggestions will accumulate with their secretary, allowing me to publish and update an ongoing list of possible objectives. 

The Xen'Drik jungle is highly sensitive to lunar movements, and is actually on a 23 day cycle. For 16 of those days, the jungle is attuned to the Plane of Beasts, and repels sapiance, reducing anyone caught inside to animal intellect. This is almost universally unpleasant, and those caught will immediately make for the nearest border. Every session represents a 1 week of expedition, plus a couple days any city-business that's worth roleplaying. Parties that don't wrap up the session with a successful return to town risk abandoning their gains as their stupid bodies slough off packs and walk away from wagons. Between every session is a downtime period. (PCs are aware of the results of these rules, although they're unaware of the precise causes and mechanics, at least until someone takes up astronomy)

Common knowledge states that Xen'drik is 'unmappable.' This is for two reasons.

First, Xen'Drik appears to be a continent, but it is actually an archipelago, with each 'island' existing as a semicoterminus demiplane.  The best way to visualize it is as a vertical dungeon, where each 'floor' is a 30-60 mile radius plane, and "stairs" are ancient ruins or magic portals that connect them. Thus, a party might set out from town, go to the Fire Shrine, enter Hot Xen'Drik through the furnace, then go to the Coal Factory and access Dark Xen'Drik. Every 'island' shares its external border- Those leaving Xen'Drik always find themselves on the same shore, so the party is never more than three days travel from the relative safety of the beach, which they can then follow back to town. 

Second, every island has constantly changing terrain. Hexes move according to a system, which varies from island to island. For example, the "Hub" plane (the one players always enter when arriving from Stormreach) rotates ~60 degrees every month. Clever PCs will probably figure this out pretty quickly, and I'm going to have fun thinking of interesting patterns for the rest of them. The main challenge for me is finding patterns that are easy to automate and don't require me to redraw 100 hexes every session. 

Xen'Drik is packed with Magical Item Components Occult Substances. Magic Item Component sounds sort of sterile, and reliable, like a spring or a gear. Occult Substances seem poorly defined, and a little untrustworthy. I'd like players to look at them the way I look at batteries, which is with the utmost certainty that if I forget I have this thing I'm going to accidentally break it and it's going to be full of acid that melts my flesh. This is an important decision because it opens up a few new kinds of play: First, easy access to naturalistic problem solving ("If the venom boils at room temperature, how do we keep it cool all the way home? We can't power a refrigerator in the jungle. Unless..."). Second, it provides a good inroad into an alternative progression system: Contacts. Just knowing someone who wants Fool's Bacon instantly transforms a trap into a puzzle. Third, champions of industry tend to be well connected, so if the PCs are suppling half the ambergris for the region,  they're going to be friends with perfumers, and perfumers probably get and give away invitations to the gala. 


I'll add my current cast of major NPCs in the next post, as the art for them should be done tommorow, and then the PCs in the post after. I'm hoping to start the game in early October so it'll just be setup for a bit. 

 d100 supernatural resources
1. Ambergris
2. Snakes
3. Witchwood 
4. Growstone
5. Coral
6. Dreamnettle
7. Ballflies 
8. House Seeds
9. Jaguar's Friend
10. Orb
11. Ruins Stone
12. Riverbone 
13. Octoroot
14. Joy
15. Capricorn Venom
16. Glowvine
17. Lamia sheddings 
18. Mud corpse
19. Bad Bog Water
20. Metaterra
21. True Water
22. True Air
23. False Blood
24. Lie Resin
25. Fool's Pyrite
26. Dragonfeathers
27. Sea Masons
28. Durians 
29. Delta mud
30. Portable Soup
31. Quicksand
32. Quickersand
33. Fuckoffthatsfastsand
34. Before Rain
35. After Rain
36. Red turtles
37. Big rat tails
38. Mother's Face
39. Twisted Horses
40. Eclipse glass
41. Undermoon 
42. Starstone
43. Starmetal 
44. Jems 
45. Petrified ocean
46. Silk
47. Extract's Friend
48. Hunting Flower
49. Kind Mycon
50. Noseblossom
51. Manta's Black
52. Fool's Bacon
53. Blood amber
54. Dragonskin
55. Dragonblood
56. Dragonbone
57. Orchids thief
58. Houndsbane
59. Cobblevine
60. Goblinseed
61. Hellfire
62. EVE
63. Compass Zest
64. Veal
65. Crisp
66. Crisp Juice
67. Kobold clippings
68. Sweat
69. Teeth
70. Vortex foam
71. Whirlpool suds
72. Wedding cake
73. Old dolls
74. Mouse tears (figurative)
75. Mouse tears 
76. Goodday Pebbles
77. Shepherd's Glass
78. Night Sky
79. Knifepetal
80. Marrowroot
81. Albino violets
82. Gravedigger's bootprint 
83. Smooth bark
84. !!fire!!
85. Quicksilver
86. Butcher's Smock
87.  Kniferoot
88. Safe Nectar
89. Cloud Apple
90. Arachnoptic Grit
91. Demons, Finely Ground
92. Somnacoinage
93. Royal jelly
94. Necrogelt
95. Old Books
96. Nature's Skulls
97. Sea Silver
98. Listening Caps
99. Bitchtaint
100. Divine Residue

Patreon SupporterDomains At War ContributorSinister Stone of Sakkara ContributorLairs And Encounters ContributorBarbarian Conquerors of Kanahu ContributorACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook Contributor
Joined: 2012-07-11 23:23

i'm a fan of eberron so I'll be excited to see how you ACKsify it. if you happen to make a decent warforged, shifter, kalashtar, the artificer class, or a way to do dragonmarks, be sure to let us know!  Much like Dark Sun, every new mechanic will at some point be viewed through the "can i run Eberron with this?" lens.

Patreon SupporterLairs And Encounters Backer
Joined: 2013-06-05 15:49

Hello yes! Apologies- It isn't Sunday, but my art was delayed and then I had a date, the finale of my Dark Heresy campaign, and a work trip to throw me off. Here's some information on the city and its rulers, as well as fine art of said rulers: (they're done before the PCs because I had their descriptions written before the PCs did, so they went to the artist first)

I'm ACKSifying Eberron first and foremost merely in taking an OSR approach to campaign structure and themes. And probably in running Domains at War once the PCs amass enough influence to start a coup/revolution/secession/conquerin.'




Stormreach is best conceptualized as somewhere between a normal city with municipal districts, and a tight confederation of city-states that just happen to be directly adjacent. The Stormlords each control roughly one fifth of the city, and in fine feudal tradition are generally referred to by their domain name. 

(From east to west on the map, and from left to right in the image)

"Seaside District." Also called the Docks, Seaside is inhabited by those who scrape a living off of the sea. Dockworkers, fishermen, and sailors form the unwashed masses that are the backbone of Stormreach. This is where an adventurer goes to hire mule drivers, buy grain alcohol, get mugged, or find an urchin to convert into an apprentice.

Bort Zeestadt is Stormlord of Seaside. Stormlord Seaside and all of her heirs were killed in the short-lived 950 Omaren Rebellion (which would now be largely forgotten had it not been immortalized in popular opera Das Tauriges), leading to the importation of their Karnathi cousins. The third Seaside still approaches the administration of the docks with the plodding dedication to detail typical of Karnath, and wholly atypical of Stormreach.  Seaside is not driven.


"Stink Town" Officially but never verbally called "Rolandsburg," Stinktown sits between the harbor and the northern jungle and is the newest expansion of Stormreach. Where most of the city hides inside a single colossal megastructure, (sometimes called the Egg), Rolandsburg is built in the ruins of dozens of smaller structures (though still very large by human standards.) This is where alchemists, tanners, artificers, and wizards work with unique, unstable, or simply unpleasant materials that don't belong in the city proper. This is where an adventurer goes to hire an artificer, buy acid, get hired to retrieve fifty grams of ghost clippings, or find out what's going on with that weird growth on their arm.  

The Stormlord of Rolandsburg is one of the oldest warforged alive at almost 50 years of age. Built as one of the first 'specialist' warforged, "Old Ironass" quickly rejected servitude and began a series of aborted rebellions, kidnappings, and daring escapes that culminated with its arrival in Stormreach. Despite having no magical ability, it challenged Archmage Stormlord Rolandsburg to a duel to the death, which ended in a lasting friendship. Six years later, on her deathbed, the childless artificer declared the machine her heir. Ironass is driven by wild hubris.


"Wright's Barrow" There's no clear delineation between Seaside and Wrightsbarrow, but at some point as you move east the average citizen transitions from abject poverty to merely lower class, learns a semi-skilled trade, and fixes the holes in their house. Tailor and carpenters will accost newcomers and encourage them to leave all their possessions for repairs. This is where an adventurer comes to hire an armorer, buy a trebuchet, get sucked into the center of a bitter guild dispute, or find someone to teach them to drive a wagon.

Jebediah Coxley is Stormlord of Wrightsbarrow. The youngest stormlord, and youngest sibling, is direct descendant of the city-states (re)founder. Jebediah is mercurial, ambitituous, and has a fierce rivalry with House Cannith, whose manufacturing licensing laws are frequently violated in Wrightsbarrow. Wrightsburrow is driven by the belief that Stormreach is being robbed by the Twelve.


"Parchmill" The southern crust of the city is where great engines chew the jungle up and turn it into money and headaches. Exiled nobles, diplomats, tax collectors and prefects bustle between cafes, embassies, and printing presses. While mere salesmen to the north sell individual items, here the true merchants buy shiploads and bid for citywide contracts. This is where an adventurer comes to hire a lobbyist, buy ten thousand loaves of bread, get invited to dinner with a retired general, a philosopher, a failed explorer, and an amatuer surgeon, (and sometimes a second guest too!), or find out why it's illegal to sell fish during odd-numbered hours on certain streets.

Tristen Hel Chaste, Stormlord of Parchmill, is one of the last members of a tribe of dark elves once native to the Damned Shore. Parchmill possesses an aberrant dragonmark, and is subject to visions and prophecies. Intelligent, elegant, and reserved, Parchmill excels at her unofficial role as representative of Stormreach, and her expert diplomacy is largely responsible for preventing Stormreach's annexation during the Last War. Parchmill is driven by a sense of responsibility. 


"Towerkeep" At the easternmost edge of Parchmill, the city runs into and up the side of the superstructure. Here, encased in monstrously thick marble, each Stormlord maintains their own palace, as do the Twelve Houses and the Five Nations, forming an opulent little suburb where the truly rich and powerful can seclude themselves. This is where an adventurer comes only when summoned, at the culmination of their career.

Maria, Stormlord of Towerkeep, first appeared in the late 750s. According to legend, she was dredged up by fishermen, but commanded them to take up arms and help her seize a more appropriate vessel. One of the founding stormlords, her physical nature remains a mystery, but her personal quirks are well known: She is slow to rouse, preferring to stay isolated in Towerkeep, but when drawn out enacts brutal, quick solutions. Towerkeep is driven by unknown forces.

I have extemely high hopes for my Stormlords, but I know they have a very careful tightrope to walk: Between their morality and their competence, they should be flawed enough that players feel comfortable making enemies of them, but not so flawed as to be worthless as allies. I'm also working on a cast of "representative" NPCs that'll act as faction pieces that the PCs can interact with prior to accumulating enough status to be regularly conversing with rulers. I'll post their roles/bios when their art is done, after the PCs. 
I've been struggling to figure out how I actually want to generate the maps of Xen'Drik and maintain a shifting atlas. I think I've hit upon the answer, and hopefully this weekend I'll have time to put it into practice. It's a solution I've long dreaded, and never had to resort to before: Craft. Here's my process:
1. Get some giant hexagons, each representing one demiplane, with smaller hexes drawn to represent 1-6 miles (I still haven't locked down on a scale)
2. Sketch diagrams on the hexes, showing how terrain moves around within this particular demiplane.
3. Get some number tokens (poker chips with 1-100 glued to them?) so that each map-hex has a corresponding number-token. 
4. Between sessions, move the numbers around as per the diagrams. 
If I want to move multiple hexes in formation (IE: 6, 36, and 12 all travel in a pack as sort of a tectonic plates kind of effect) then I can cut out "plates" and put the number-tokens on them and use the plate to move all the appropriate tokens together. I think this is going to be the easiest way to manage this. I still haven't quite decided how I want interdemiplanar travel to work; one of my design goals is that it be capable of happening accidentally (it's really hard to figure out the rules when you unknowningly step into an area with different rules), but another of my design goals is that I be able to say to my players "You've figured out where the entrance to Spider Island is, now figure out how to get through it!" 
I think I'll be discarding ACKS standard advice about the frequency of various terrain features to some degree in favor of a post I saw on one of my favorite OSR blogs recently which suggested using ACKS standard dungeon advice as far as the percent that should have inanimate obstacles ("Traps" in a dungeon, canyons and quicksand in the wilderness), interesting features, treasure, and soforth. 
To really emphasize the exploration phase, I'm contemplating designing a neo-school XP system, something like "10 xp to level, 1 XP per five hexes explored, 3 XP for fulfilling a Major Contract, 2 XP for finding the biggest pile of treasure in a dungeon" kinda thing. 
I need to figure out what I want to do with hirelings and henches.  I want the players to become business owners, but I'd like to keep the actual adventuring party small and elegant, rather than bulging into what was functionally 28 PCs like my last game. I think this is going to be another tightrope- I'll inevitably have one player who wants to have eight best friends with detailed backstories who needs to be reigned in and toned down before I die from overwork, but without going so far as to make underlings as dull and mechanical as a rent check. 
Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu BackerACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook Backer
Joined: 2013-01-04 12:56

If you do change the experience point system, I reccomend keeping the thing where each new level requires twice as much experience points as the last. It provides a way for recently-replaced PCs to catch up with their party members while still being a reasonable penalty.

The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

 saw on one of my favorite OSR blogs recently which suggested using ACKS standard dungeon advice as far as the percent that should have inanimate obstacles ("Traps" in a dungeon, canyons and quicksand in the wilderness), interesting features, treasure, and soforth. 

Do you happen to know where you read this? Sounds like a cool article. We published something akin to it in Axioms.

Patreon SupporterLairs And Encounters Backer
Joined: 2013-06-05 15:49
The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

Ah the Wandering Gamist, ACKS blogger of excellence award winner! (heh)

Thank you :-)

Patreon Supporter
Joined: 2017-09-04 12:05

After trying other xp systems, including story/plot completion awards I've always come back to the original xp of ACKs and 1st edition.  It promotes emergent game play, alternatives to combat, and rewards exploration.  The system really connects with how our brains are hard wired.  

Also - a single xp advancement chart, although elegant, removes part of old school balancing between classes. Maybe add +1 for assassins/explorers, +2 for clerics, + 3 for fighters, + 4 for barbarians/mages, + 5 to elves or (warforged) multiclass like classes. Or maybe a little flatter curve ranging from +1 to + 3

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Joined: 2013-06-05 15:49

Odd, I had another worldbuilding/prep post that doesn't seem to have ever materialized. I'll have to recreate and repost it later. 


Val'Shar, Dragonborn Cultist
Zu (Grummush), Changeling Swashbuckler(preferred form: Half-orc)
Maybelline Talenta, Halfling Ranger
Urzon Rahm, Warforged Cleric. 

Events: The party arrive at their headquarters, and discover it is their headquarters. The steward introduces himself as 'scruffy' and explains that, legally, they're caretakers of a city office, and he serves the stormlords directly and is paid by such, and has limited services he can perform. He will also do pretty much anything else they ask, because he's pretty easygoing, but he wants to be clear that he doesn't have to run errands. He gives them a short list of possible objectives- A bounty on Mushroom Men, a missing book of lore from the alchemists guild, a stray cat, and some supplies the office needs. The party decided to start with the book, but unbeknownst to them, the owner is a corpse in the jungle in one of the "empty rooms with treasure" that came up when I was randomly generating it. So they broke into and searched his house, talked to his neighbors, talked to his guildmembers, and concluded, correctly, that he'd left to do some kind of experiment and hadn't returned, and his servants had taken most of his stuff. They did not take the logical next step of talking to his servants to see if they knew more, which would've gotten them the location of his body. (Or at least a clue.) Their thorough search did get a couple throwing discs off his roof, which the wizardry students next door had lost, so the party made a friend there. 

Next, they visited the poissoner's guild and inquired about the bounty on mushroom men, but the head chef made an offhand comment about warforged and the party exchanged insults, flipped a table, and stormed off, with both sides swearing to be lifelong enemies. 

The party also successfully located and rescued the countesses' cat, and then agreed to let 0th level adventuring party "Jemma's Lads" take credit for it, and then further agreed to buy them a set of chainmail in exchange for becoming very loose henchmen. I'm extremely proud of the party forf seeing their potential: Jemma's Lads are stupid and weak, but also polite and cheerful. The PCs, having just sworn vendetta against a fish shop, recognized that non-volatile is a superpower in adventuring circles. 

The party settled on "Hazard Pay Inc." for their official title and made a little sign. They resolved to set out into the jungle first thing tommorow! Given that we lost two hours to delays and technical issues, I'd say it was a pretty productive first session.