Saturday, May 30, 2020

Running the First Session with Only One Dungeon

Yesterday, I waxed poetic about how I run the first session of a sandbox campaign. In it I posited several site-based adventures in order to facilitate player choice; however, this is not always possible. Sometimes I have only had the opportunity to work on one dungeon, or there is a serious desire to run a particular module. Player choice and the use of rumors seems to be severely limited, but it doesn’t have to be.

If I really only have one adventure that I can/want to use, I will approach player choice from the “why are we going” rather than the “where are we going” perspective. To give this meat, I will map out at least five factions that have interest in what goes on at the adventure site. I plug these factions into the Wu XIng diagram:

Each faction is given a goal and a reason why they like to work with the faction they like and why they are working against the faction that is their enemy. This quick and dirty system easily sets up a complex web of relationships that enrich the campaign.

Once this diagram is set up and understood, I make rumors to connect the players to each of the factions. Since each faction has a specific goal when it comes to the site based adventure and those goals are at odds with other factions, it gives real weight to player choice when it comes to why they are going on the adventure.

So, as an example, let’s pretend that I have to run the first session of a campaign in short order and I won’t have time to create anything elaborate in terms of adventure sites. Let’s also pretend that the one adventure I do have prepared is the one I produced in the post How I Homebrew a Dungeon.

Since I am in a pinch, I will fall back on familiar territory when it comes to my starting village: I’ll pull out my copy of T1:The Village of Hommlet and extrapolate from there. First, I will leaf through and find five significant NPCs that represent larger powers or ideas:

  1. Elmo the 4th level ranger is an agent of the Viscount of Verbobonc
  2. The Canon Terjon the 6th level cleric is the priest of the Church of St. Cuthbert
  3. Jaroo Ashstaff the 7th level druid is an agent of the Druids of Gnarley Wood and a follower of the Old Ways
  4. Burne the 8th level magic-user and Rufus the 6th level fighter the semi-retired adventurers
  5. Rannos Davi the 10th level thief and his partner Grmag the 7th level assassin are agents of the Temple of Elemental Evil

Now to translate these concepts into my campaign:

  • Elmo represents the political aspect of a Christian/pseudo-Christian power that is vying for influence in the area.
  • Terjon represents the religious aspect of the same Christian/pseudo-Christian power that is vying for influence in the area.
  • Jaroo represents the religious and possibly political aspect of the native population of the area the Christian/pseudo- Christian power is trying to influence
  • Burne and Rufus represent the local interests of the village
  • Rannos and Grmag represent a secret society that is interested in re-awakening an ancient power

For purposes of keeping things simple I’ll label the five with the following monikers:
The Kingdom
The Church
The Old Way
The Village
The Cult
Now to plug these into a Wu Xing Diagram to see the relationships these factions have with each other:

  • The Kingdom likes to work with The Old Way in order to secure political stability, but are opposed to the Cult because it is a destabilizing force.
  • The Church likes to work with the Kingdom because they share the same religious values, but opposes the Old Way because their values and religious views clash.
  • The Old Way likes to work with the Cult because the enemy of my enemy is a friend, but opposes the stability of the Village because it represents the encroaching power and influence of both the Kingdom and the Church.
  • The Cult likes to work with the Village because the desire for safety is easily manipulated to their cause and they oppose the Church because it is the direct antithesis of the Cult.
  • The Village likes to work with the Church because of how it cares for the sick and needy (especially in a crisis), but opposes the Kingdom because it challenges the autonomy the Village has earned through years of hard work and sacrifice.

See what I mean about interesting relationships?

So what could these five factions want from the dungeon? The dungeon offers three basic motivators:
  1. The Kobolds
  2. The Medusa
  3. Treasure
Plugging these into the five factions could look like this:

  • The Kingdom wants to investigate any rumors of ancient political powers in order to destroy them (Medusa)
  • The Church has been taking in a number of refugees from various raids by the kobolds. They need supplies to help them and seek an end to the trouble (Kobolds/Treasure)
  • The Old Way knows the story of the Medusa because it is part of their mythology. They want to find her but are reluctant to free her. Thus, they would want to find the keys to the prison, just in case (Medusa/Treasure)
  • The Cult wants to investigate the rumors of ancient political powers to see if they can awaken them (Medusa)
  • The Village wants the kobolds taken care of because they have been raiding in the area (Kobolds)

All of these goals point in exactly the same direction (the dungeon), but have varying reasons why the players would choose to go adventuring there. I would introduce each of the five factions through the NPCs found in T1:Village of Hommlet and reveal everyone's goal in terms of the dungeon. It would then be up to the players to determine the “why.” Which faction(s) will they support?

Of course, this choice is consequential due to the fact that various factions will now see the PCs as allies or enemies. Due to the larger goals of each faction, this will feed into further adventures.

As a final thought, this whole exercise in creating factions is certainly not limited to sessions that only have one adventure site. I tend to use them in most, if not all, of my campaigns; however, when it comes to empowering players when I only have one adventure site on offer, the Wu Xing diagram is one of my favorite tools.


David B. said...

Father this is great. The diagram makes it easy to force the Referee to think of something and have it impact actions and zone of influence. I really like it!

Dennis Laffey said...

Definitely stealing this. I've usually ended up with more complicated webs of association/opposition. This makes it simple and easy.

Stephen said...

I have literally spent weeks trying to figure out how to visualize the relationships between factions in my nascent campaign setting. Thank you for sharing this!

A.F.W Junior said...

Thanks for this Father!

FrDave said...

My pleasure! Ever since I discovered this diagram, it has made running factions so much easier.

vilecult said...

Question: how do you go about quickly establishing so many NPCs and their complex web of desires? I could see such a session turning into four hours of roleplaying and never actually getting to the dungeon.

FrDave said...

At the beginning of the session, I will try to introduce a patron/guild/relationship that each PC has to one of the factions. Generally, it is a small task that is easily accomplished but then allows the PCs to meaningfully interact with an NPC who then offers an adventure opportunity. For example, the Cleric has been sent by his bishop to relay a message to the local priest and to offer any support that might be needed. This task oriented approach generally allows me to quickly communicate the lay of the land, adventure possibilities, and potential employers/patrons/guilds they can support. Since these tasks are simple, they don't take a lot of time but are information heavy. It also allows players to become emotionally invested in whatever choice they make next. They aren't just going on an adventure because this is an RPG. They are going on an adventure because they've made a choice as to why they are going on that adventure.