View Full Version : Blood in the Streets Campaign Outline [PEACH]

2007-03-25, 01:47 AM
I've recently been asked to DM a newly-formed gaming group, and this is my first time creating a world (and first time DMing in nearly a decade). Feedback/ideas/critiques appreciated.

Short history of the region for setup: 200 years ago, the region was fairly technologically developed (say, Early Medieval) with a network of city-states, each with its own cultural identity, including demi-human cities. The only surviving city (“City” for now) is isolated from the others by a mountain range with only one heavily fortified pass large enough for an army, and City is the only port in this region and served primarily as a trade conduit. The people of City never really developed their own seafaring capabilities, relying primarily on traders from other nations coming to them.

200 years ago, the region on the other side of the mountain (“Overmountain”, for now) was overrun by an Orcish horde. As far as anyone knows, no civilized settlements staged a successful defense. A few refugees (of all races) made it over the passes to City, but most were slaughtered by the Orcs. The Citizen Army (the Bluecloaks) eventually made a stand at the pass and broke the will of the orcs, but the Bluecloaks lack the numbers to take the fight back over the pass. The orcs now remain on the far side of the pass, divided and lacking the strength to force the passes.

Because the city fathers feared losing control of their lands, being outnumbered by the Refugees, they passed various laws making the Refugees second class citizens (at best). These included a prohibition on refugees owning weapons, no voice in government, and a ban on literacy. Most Refugees today work as small farmers or laborers, though some serve as craftsmen, artists, or even small businessmen. Citizens largely remain separate and have maintained their own traditions, while the small groups of Refugees have merged to form a polyglot underclass. They live in separate quarters of the city. Citizens only form about a third of the population, and serve primarily in the Bluecloaks and government.

Citizens are generally olive-skinned with dark hair. Refugees vary greatly in appearance, but the humans are all light-skinned and easily distinguishable from Citizens. Refugees have generally not been overtly abused, but they are constantly reminded that their ancestors would have been wiped out if not for the protection of the Citizens, and that the Orcs still froth on the other side of the Pass, held back only by the Bluecloaks. Citizens vary in their treatment, ranging from treating them as near-equals (rare) to low-expectations (typical) to outright contempt (unusual).

Since City primarily served as a trade thoroughfare, the destruction of the cities of Overmountain crippled their economy. Since there are no goods to trade, ships no longer make the long journey to City, and contact with the outside world has largely been lost. Nothing larger than a fishing boat has been seen in City in over a century. They have fallen to a Iron Age technology level as knowledge was forgotten in the years after the Orc War in favor of survival. Old architecture still stands, including aqueducts and a functioning sewer system, but newer construction is much simpler.

Okay, enough background, on to the course of the campaign. The PC’s are all Refugees, and have one or two adventures (maybe an urban murder mystery or sewer crawl) to introduce them to the setting. Early on, the Old King (who is generally beneficent toward Refugees) dies and is replaced by Son. Son is not overtly evil, but is generally racist and has no sense of humor. Son spent several years commanding the Bluecloaks in the Pass, and thinks that Citizens are owed deference, if not awe, from Refugees. Conditions become tense in the Refugee Quarter as the Watch (Citizens all) becomes less respectful of Refugee rights, and new taxes are levied to support the Bluecloaks. The PCs interrupt what looks like a mugging, but turns out to be a Refugee being roughed up by a few drunk off-duty Watchmen. This is a serious offense, but their identity isn’t known. Unfortunately, a budding resistance takes the "unknown rescuers" up as a symbol (willing or not). If they are willing, they may become masked champions of the people (think Daredevil or Zorro), or public agitators for reform (MLK Jr or Ghandi). If they want no part of it, an unscrupulous Resistance leader will leak their identity and they’ll be hounded until they have no choice but to join the resistance. The plot goes rather freeform at this point, as I let the PCs decide what course the Resistance takes. They may decide to completely overthrow the Citizens (even the most enlightened of whom have little interest in sharing power), eliminate Son and try to put a more friendly Citizen on the throne, or settle for some measure of self-government (Various NPC comrades will try to persuade the PCs in each of these directions). Methods may range from the peaceful up through guerilla insurgency, depending on the tastes and abilities of the PCs.

Once the Revolution is approaching resolution, the Orcs will attack the pass, having noticed that Son was forced to pull most of the Bluecloaks out of the Pass in order to deal with the Resistance. Whatever government is in place will be unable to stop them, and City will eventually fall. If the PCs overthrew the Citizens, this will be largely their fault. Once it becomes clear the city cannot be saved, a massive shipbuilding project commences to evacuate as many people as possible. At this point, I expect the PCs to lead their new nation off in search of a new homeland, and after a number of exploring adventures, they get to set up a new nation-state from scratch.

Obvious inspirations abound, ranging from the Aeneid to the Spartan/Helot relationship to Marvel’s Civil War. I'll discuss race and class options in a later post, it's late and I'm going to bed.

2007-03-25, 02:18 PM
I really like it, but i think you need to open up the options a bit more. The PCs might feel like they are being railroaded.

1. They could have some way to work for Son, in exchange for better treatment. Often happened during rebellians
2. They could try to start their own factions
3. They could stop the orc invasion.

You should not have it so clear cut, where the orcs will auto win ect.

Apart from that, i like it as it is very well thought out.

2007-03-25, 02:24 PM
It is very nicely built, but I agree with EvilElitest that it should be opened up a bit more. If your players are anything like mine, they will no doubt do things that have an impact on the story. Have an evil plan, and play it out from the baddies' point of view, but be prepared to get creative if need be.

2007-04-02, 12:33 AM
I discussed this with my brother, and he had some great ideas. I'm posting some of his e-mail, along with my answers if I have any.

1. The Citizen/Refugee divide is 200 years old. How have the citizens (who are outnumbered) prevented a rebellion up until now? ~Answer 1: Social means (aka the carrot, a la ancient Roman slavery). ~Answer 2: Physical means, (aka the stick, a la American slavery).

A little of both, mostly the former. My answer is that, generally, the best of the Refugees are dead: they either fought rearguard actions or fell with their cities. The ones who escaped generally didn't have the chutzpah to argue with a culture that took them in (the Heinline Starship Troopers theory). Plus, when there is no Red Cross handing out food, being a refugee is even more perilous than it is in the modern age: The Citizens allowed them to farm the land and earn a living, but didn't have the resources to be handing out free food or shelter. When you have both the means and the imperative to struggle for subsistence, worrying about the right to bear arms or teach your kids to read seems ridiculously frivolous. Overall, the refugees haven't had it all that bad. The economy (what's left of it) would collapse without them, and pretty much any line of work is open to them except military service or government. It's almost like nobles and commoners before the rise of the middle class. In fact, the limited middle class coming into existance may be what's stirring the revolutionary fires.

I'm also debating having a group of citizens that "purge" Refugees who appear to be becoming too prominent, a la the Spartans with their Helots. People who are too popular & mouthy occassionally just dissappear in the middle of the night. Very rare, not sure if I want to include it, this changes the "LN-Citizens-supporting-the-social-order as adversaries" vibe I was shooting for.

2. How much mobility is there between the classes?

None. All Citizens are Human, and that's why I included that all Citizens are olive complected while human Refugees are all fair-skinned (thought about having one group be really dark, but I don't want this to look like a race war (even if it turns out that way)). Bluecloak nobles may have a Refugee squire who accompanies them to help get their armor on and maintain their gear. These men are the only exception to the "no martial weapons" rule for Refugees. However, even these guys don't take their place in the line, but serve as auxillary troops (archers or javelineers, mostly). Successful and valiant squires can rise to a certain degree of prominence, though granting one citizenship would never occur to them. Uppity squires would probably be the only time the above-mentioned "disappearances" would be required.

I'm thinking the Citizens have a monolithic religion, much like a LN Hieronious (valor, justice, glory defending the tribe), who is a god only of their people. Refugees brought a number of religions over the passes with them, but membership in each faith is exclusive of the others, so religion is not a unifying force for them. It's never occurred to the clerics of Hieronious to convert the Refugees, they have no evangelical tradition.

3. How exactly does the military function?~Answer 2: Much like Sparta, the citizens have evolved as a military caste. The situation is not that only a third of the city is eligible for enlistment, the situation is that an entire third of the city IS the enlistment. With this many soldiers trained from their youths to serve, the Bluecloaks are all that is needed to protest the city from all dangers, internal and external. It also explains why the refugees are so hesitant to mount a rebellion.

Got this one on the nose. I was actually thinking of the Spartans/Helots when I designed it. Pretty much the entire male Citizenry was drafted to stop the Orcs, and their ranks were so decimated they more or less stayed on active duty afterwards. The Refugees took over most other functions of the economy, and, somewhat by design, somewhat by accident, the two have become caste-like over time. I'm thinking that the terrain is rocky enough to be totally unsuitable for horses, and there may not even be horses on this continent (donkeys only?). With the level of technology available, the phalanx is the best military formation available, especially for holding a mountain pass. Every male Citizen takes his place in line when the call comes.

4. Why is the Orcish Horde advancing?

No one ever found out. The answer, if the PCs ever find out, is that they were pushed out of their own territory by something bigger (TBD), but they are also just ornery and destructive in general. I'm thinking maybe a language barrier: nobody speaks Orc, and no Orcs speak Common. They are more or less settled in Overmountain, but have undergone a population explosion that will soon force them to expand into new territory, hence the upcoming attack on the Pass.

5. Why didn't you mention any magic in your summary?

I'm thinking of the entire campaign world as being pretty low-level. The orcs have no arcane casters, maybe a few clerics. Citizens have all kinds of magic available, but casters above 5th level are few to non-existent. Also, Citizens are raised from birth in a warrior mindset, a life of study doesn't appeal to most of them. Before the invasion, magic was much more common, but knowledge of advanced magic was lost along with the higher technology level. No resurrections, haven't decided whether this is due to lack of casters or simply a fact of life in this world. Since this is a game of conspiracies and mob insurrection, most evocation and divination spells were lost. Necromancy doesn't really fit the vibe I'm trying for. Know what? Until further notice, all spells of these three schools needs my approval, and no currently active wizards have them in their spellbook.

For PCs, what I'm currently planning on is: no wizards at 1st level, since all Refugees are requried by law to be illiterate. The less flashy magic of bards is suitable for the setting. I'm thinking sorcerors exist, but are rare and need to keep their identies a secret. GOT IT! Sorcerors are viewed with suspicion because they are the only ones that can pull out the three schools mentioned above, and are hence viewed as dangerous. Divine magic is available, but there are very few clerics or druids, and almsot all are low-level. Once they make contacts with teachers, all spellcasting classes open up.

5. What about demihumans?

Demihumans are included among the refugees, and are not treated any better or worse than the humans. I'm not sure about half-orcs, they may be banned, or I may just make sure that the player understands he will face LOTS of discrimination. Since all Refugees are recognizable as such on sight, the difference between human and demihuman Refugees is relatively unimportant.

6. What if the PCs don't want to leave on ships? It's always dangerous to try to plan how the game will end. This is, after all, an RPG and not a rail shooter. Ending 1: The PCs do, in fact, build a navy and go off to settle a new land, eager to subjugate the natives just as they themselves have been subjugated. Ending 2: The PCs do something magical which never occurred to you, such as escaping with a handful of settlers to another dimensional plane or collapsing the only remaining mountain pass.

Sure, I realize that the PCs may hate the idea of going all Aeneid, and that's the risk I take trying to plot things out 30 sessions in advance. Since I said no communication with the Orcs, a peace treaty is unlikely. I don't see the PCs being powerful enough to stop the horde, I expect them to be around level 8-12 during this part of the campaign: enough to have a serious impact, but not enough to stop it completely. City is Byzantium, the Orcs are the Mongol hordes. If the PCs hate the evacuation idea, some other faction will still be building ships while they fight. The longer the PCs hold off the Orcs, the more ships get built, the more people get saved. I'm also thinking that if Son is still alive (still on the throne or not) he leads the defense of the pass (his whole life has been preparation for this moment). When it becomes clear the City will fall, he tells the PCs to get on the boat, saying something like, "My people are here [dead] in the Pass, you should go with yours. Your people owe us their lives once again, be worthy of our sacrifice." Basically, I'm hoping the PCs will have a moment where they say, "Wow, all this time I just thought of him as an arrogant racist a-hole, but he turned out to be a hero. Well, a racist a-hole hero, but maybe we can just call him 'flawed' from now on without going into details." Of course, the plot may go haywire much earlier in the campaign. Frankly, if my PCs just want to sit in a tavern drinking beer while the Revolution erupts around them, that's up to them (though I'll probably quit wasting my time DMing if this is the case). Or, if they want to go all "Blaze of Glory", I'll let them go down in flames (glorious flames that make a difference, granted, but everybody still dies). Maybe the next campaign starts with the new PCs being part of the crew on one of the escaping boats, and the old PCs are now part of tribal lore.