View Full Version : 4e Cold War based campaign, need ideas

2010-06-18, 01:21 AM
Here's the basic idea:

After watching Apocalypse Now, I've become interested in the Cold War as a setting for a DnD campaign. Specifically, I want to have a setting as bleak and gritty as the movie (or, in fact, the novella it was based on), with an uncertain view of morality, and the same sense of terror and mystery.

That said, I wanted to make the Cold War based in DnD, invoking real life historical events, but put in distinctly DnD terms. The story I have so far is something like:

Before the events of the campaign, there was the surface world and the Underdark. The surface world was a patchwork many squabbling kingdoms ruled by humans, orcs, dwarfs, elfs, and the other such "standard" races of DnD. Too busy fighting amongst themselves, none of the surface kingdoms have discovered the Underdark yet. However, the Underdark, which had also consisted of multiple small kingdoms, had been unified recently under the leadership of a great visionary warlord. He had somehow discovered the presence of a surface world and, seeing it had ten times as much natural resources as the Underdark, deemed it fitting that his underground empire conquer it, for "living space."

Espousing a rhetoric of racial superiority and social Darwinism, the now-Emperor of the Underdark quickly and radically changed the society of the Underdark races to form a heavily militarized, unquestioning loyal alliance of races whose only goal is military expansion into the surface world and the seizure of the land of plenty. On Eruption Day (or E-Day), Underdark armies poured out of the earth and attacked key strategic locations throughout the surface kingdoms, crippling the entire surface world militarily. However, because of the sheer mass of the surface world's resources, some kingdoms were still able to mount an effective resistance against the invasion, chiefly a relatively small, isolated island kingdom inhabited almost entirely by Dragonkin - Arkhosia. At the same time, almost on the other side of the globe, the human kingdom of Turath was one of the hardest hit, yet it was able to throw off the invading forces and fight back effectively as its royal and noble houses gained access to a new kind of magic, making pacts with extraplanar entities and eventually transforming themselves into Tieflings.

What followed was one hundred years of the most brutal war imaginable, with both sides rapidly escalating their efforts. Sandwiched between Arkhosia and her allies and Bael Turath and her allies, the Underdark invasion was slowly turning back, yet it was impossible to defeat them once and for all because it was suicide for any armies from the surface to fight them in their home ground, the Underdark. The war was stalemated, though casualties were soaring higher and higher.

However, finally, the war was settled by an international association of mages and scholars containing members of most surface races (though primarily funded and staffed by Arkhosian dragonborn and Turathi tiefling nobles). These mages developed Necromancy, a never before seen superweapon. Undead armies were unleashed into the Underdark, killing indiscriminately, completely laying to waste everything under ground.

The terror of the undead finally shocked the Underdark empire, now impoverished and depopulated by the century of war to surrendering. It is currently estimated that three quarters of the Underdark were rendered hostile and uninhabitable by the propagation of the undead. "Liberated" from their militaristic, imperial regime, and shocked by the horrors of war, many refugees from the Underdark fled to the surface to begin new lives. To the vast majority of them, the ideologies of the former empire were thoroughly discredited and many have turned to pacificism, though members of the surface races still eye with them suspicion.

At the same time, the events of the war had caused two superpowers to emerge on the surface, Arkhosia and Bael Turath. On their part, the Arkhosians had an ambitious vision of the new world dominated by values of global fraternity and cooperation, where everybody belonged to a common society, which was to become prosperous under the direction of an international governing body and bureaucracy. On the other hand, the Turathi, jaded after throwing off brutal subjugation by the Underdark races, believed in a world of freedom, equality, and opportunity, where everybody was allowed to pursue their individual interests with their individual mindsets. Each side views the other's ideology with hostility and calls the other's relationship to its allies imperialism. Each side has access to potentially world-ending Necromancy. Neither Arkhosia nor Bael Turath will actually attack each other, for that is to bring about Mutually Assured Destruction.

This is the world that the players will be navigating. My plan is to make the players come from a small, multi-racial city-state that managed to overthrow the Underdark occupation in the closing days of the war. Because it was not occupied by either Arkhosian or Turathi forces, nobody is sure which side it will end up joining. There is a palpable sense of tension as each empire declares its intention of "liberating" it from the other's control, and the people themselves have split over which ideology is right.

Any (Really. Any at all) thoughts and ideas for how I would run this or how the story might progress would be appreciated.

2010-06-18, 01:32 AM
I like it. The term "zombie apocalypse" would normally cause my eyes to glaze over, but I find your take on overwhelming undead refreshing.

For actual campaign ideas... you could always go crazy with it. :smallbiggrin: First thought for whatever reason was a campagin involving a small society of underdark survivors and loyalists (the PC's and their friends) who look to finally get their pure domination over the world by questing to initiate the war nobody on the surface wants to see.

Mando Knight
2010-06-18, 01:37 AM
...Necromancy as the superweapon? When the original baseline fluff has a pair of empires run with the power of dragons and devils? Seems a little lame to me... especially since there are very few undead in the books that can really bare their teeth and maul armies as well as ancient dragons and Pit Fiends.

2010-06-18, 02:06 AM
Well, basically, the undead are the analogue for nukes in this setting. What do nukes do? They kill people in an extremely gruesome fashion (check), they render a large area of land uninhabitable over a long time, "haunting" it, if you will (check), they traumatize a civilization for generations (check: see fear of ghosts), and they escalated immediately after being developed, up to the point where people thought they would end the world (check, this is always a major theme of zombie apocalypses).

I'll be relying on homebrewing and re-fluffing monster manual monsters in order to make most of the encounters, so my players who have already flipped through the monster manual can't identify which monster is which, and so that I can tailor encounters to the story. In the same sense, I'll be trying to downplay the effectiveness of dragon stuff and devil stuff against the undead stuff. :smallwink:

As for playing as Underdark survivors... I don't know about that. Since the Underdark were basically the Axis analogue for the game, the players would basically be asked to play Neo-Nazis for that campaign. :smallfrown:

2010-06-18, 02:52 AM
Yeah, its definitely the evil option.

Alternatively, the underdark band of loyalists is the true corpreal enemy, and the PC's must not only find a way to thwart their plans, but also keep in check the two hot head powers on the surface. In the end maybe they can even help ease tensions permanent like.

Basically I am just a fan of "Us against the world" games, I guess is what I am saying. Having the PC's pick a side and having them do missions to help thwart and destroy the other sounds less heroic and impressive to me.

2010-06-18, 03:45 AM
These mages developed Necromancy, a never before seen superweapon. Undead armies were unleashed into the Underdark, killing indiscriminately, completely laying to waste everything under ground.

I must say, this bit sounds suspiciously like the Flash Frost Fell Drain Locate City Bomb (yes, I know wrong edition). Care to elaborate on how it works exactly? In 3.5, the exact mechanics of an F3 DLC Bomb has secondary implications beyond the initial blast, such that if the tide of Wights wasn't quelled, they would spread to other nearby cities, eventually ending all life on the continent. It would also have implications on secondary magics that might be developed (much like how the atomic bomb subsequently gave rise to nuclear energy).

Plot wise, it is important for both sides to have the capacity for retaliatory strikes. I.e. if a nation keeps its nukes in various ground silos, they would be obvious targets and the first thing the enemy would aim for. So they hide a many of their nukes in Nuclear Subs out at sea, to garuntee a return strike. In your campaign either side might recruit the PCs to try and spy and find the necro-nuke equivalent of the other sides "nuclear subs".

The other obvious aspect is of course political machinations. Since the 2 major powers are trying to win the various independent nations to their side, they will sometimes resort to underhanded means to achieve this. Perhaps a prince favoring Arkhosia, dies under mysterious circumstances, and his brother who favors Turathi, becomes next in line for the throne. Or perhaps his death is an obvious assasination, causing popular opinion to turn against the 2nd prince and Turathi, and the 3rd prince who also favors Arkhosia grows in power.

And there are other things of course. Even as the 2 super powers vie for supremacy, Rats will still overrun basements, Princesses will still be kidnapped, and Caravans still need Escorts. The PCs don't have to be embroiled in the political struggle all the time.

Alternatively, the underdark band of loyalists is the true corpreal enemy, and the PC's must not only find a way to thwart their plans, but also keep in check the two hot head powers on the surface. In the end maybe they can even help ease tensions permanent like.

Or you could take a page from Watchmen and have the new threat be a Phantom one, with the PCs helping it in the interest of the greater good.