View Full Version : DM Help Epic (?) Hyborian campaign needs help

2015-08-08, 01:38 PM
There are some great minds buzzing this forum and since I'm gearing-up for a PbP campaign, I could use some help.

Elevator Pitch: a group of fledgling adventurers come together to defend the Aquilonian capitol of Tarantia (ruled by an older King Conan) from supernatural evil!

Stuff: I want to do this with 5th Ed., but Pathfinder has more options, which can be fun. The feel of the game will be along the lines of the Hyborian Age stories of Conan (kind of a pulpy, supernatural horror, sword 'n sorcery vibe). The PCs enter the adventure as travelers on the Road of Kings heading into Tarantia to restock on provisions and explore this ancient metropolis. The PCs will all know each other, being they are from the same region and their first (off-screen) adventure was uniting to defend their homelands from an massive Flind invasion. In the aftermath of their first campaign, the party decides to travel together and "seek treasures".

I'm establishing with the players "there will be blood" so there's no mistaking the risk of PC perishment. No magic items to start, but PCs will run into plenty of them as the adventure progresses. Weather, Aquilonian intrigue, and hopefully bits from PC backstories will feed various encounters.


Thoughts on Pathfinder: is it good for a gritty, Conan-esque type campaign? Things to watch out for (I've only ran part of a PF AP with an offline group)? What does PF do well? What doesn't it do well? I know D&D very well, but I'm not a complete master of 3.75/PF: thoughts on co-GMs (some one to help with the fiddly bits)?
Setting: I tend to infer too much. "This is the Hyborian Age of Conan --- GO!" It's easy for me to assume players will know what the setting means when I mention Conan, but that's incorrect. How much of a setting needs to be established? Do players need to know how everything works (magic is this, combat is that, technology is this other thing)? Does anyone have a handy list of key points to hit when establishing a setting? Anytime I try that, it turns into a complete session and I'm not sure this setting needs that. Help?
Prep: I have my plot-skeleton for what goes on around the PCs, but there's no real "Point A-to-Point Z" map here. I want it 75% sandbox, with 25% "Hey there's something going on & the PCs are needed". Thoughts on Sandbox in a huge kingdom setting? How much Railroad is bad? Any thoughts on "High-Concept" adventures, in this case, "The Hyborian Age of Conan"? It's a Play-by-Post game I'm running on this site, so I have tons of pics for visual aids, sound effects and music (YouTube) for mood .... I improv so much though I forget the other stuff. When I was a younger DM, I kept notebooks packed with story stuff: full-stat NPCs, weather details, city stats (population, trade, rulership, economy, ect.), plus all kinds of stuff that I didn't need since the players do only what we never prep for:smalltongue: What do you tend to prep? I don't stat most NPCs, but thoughts? Tips on remembering that the PCs were fighting drunken half-orc barbarians in a burning tavern, because I always seem to forget the tavern is on fire .... how do you manage the scene and all the prep? I use minimal notes for important stuff, but tips please?
Low-level PCs: there will be threats from mercenaries, minor monsters, thieves, political strife (social stuff). Will low-level be okay as long as the threat isn't ridiculous? How available should healing (Clerics, potions, ect.) be? Max Hit Points or rolled? Max Gold or rolled? Freebies (horses, clothing, ect.)? Henchmen? Homebrew: do you allow it? What should I watch for with PF "splat" & homebrew?
Party composition: I thought to suggest having the classic "fighter-mage-cleric-thief" quartet as a must. Just to have all the bases covered. Should players be "guided" towards certain classes or just let them play what they want? My thinking was each PC having their "niche" would help players have their "spotlight time" but with the nature of PF classes, there's plenty of overlap. With this setting, there will be uses for any kind of character class, but what are your thoughts on "ideal" party composition? (Figure the key setting being an ancient metropolis of millions, an epic war vs. demi-humans mid-game, and a final quest across dangerous wilderness terrain ending in a climactic battle vs. the bad guys)
Combat: planning at least one combat per day (in-game) to keep the players/PCs on their toes. Too much? Some of the fights can be avoided with clever social interaction. As the adventure progresses, the number of combatants and the level of intrigue escalates, but killing the PCs would be secondary to public humiliation and/or capture. Thoughts? The "15-minute" day? For a setting that is gritty and menacing, how often should physical confrontation be presented? PC death? Thoughts on ""Okay, your PC is dead so you can intro a new PC who meets the party at fill-in-the-blank scene"? Good or bad idea? Experiences avoiding and/or handling PC death? What are you're experiences with lasting injuries (wounds) and PF? My NPCs and monsters tend to be dirty fighters that wound foes tending to gain tactical advantages. Good idea or no?
Social Interaction: once within Tarantia, the PCs will be literally overwhelmed by the mobs of people. Merchants, prostitutes, thieves, politicians, city guard, fellow tourists, guild members, ect. While I want to avoid PC-vs.-PC social conflict (Deception, Intimidation, ect.), Tarantia's many factions will be using any and all social tricks to persuade, harass, and corrupt the PCs. Where's the line? I wanted pickpockets trying to steal their stuff - yeah or nay? Local guilds (political & professional) try to feel the PCs out, wherever the PCs go. I'll use NPCs to toss rumors of the greater "plot" at the players/PCs. What about red-herrings? Good for this kind of setting? I wanted NPCs to draw the PCs into the culture of Aquilonia and give the players chances to truly impact what goes on around the city sandbox-style. Tarantia is a city of millions with heavy intrigue & multiple factions constantly flipping sides like "Game of Thrones". Tips on turning the intrigue level up to 11?
Shopping! Players, ime, love buying gear and Tarantia will provide ample opportunity for this. Anything is available for purchase. Thoughts on PCs using social skills to negotiate prices? How important has encumbrance been in your games? I considered barter as well, where NPCs offer product/services for items the PCs own, as a flipside to shopping. Thoughts? Also considered NPCs agreeing to get things for PCs, but instead of money, the NPC would require a favor of some kind. Thoughts? I want to portray the kingdom as a huge, mobile marketplace where characters can get just about anything for a price. Any other "shopping" ideas?
Magic items: none to start, but there will be a few encountered as things progress (usually items owned by opponents). I want to restrict PCs from having them to start. Thoughts? What's your opinion on PCs buying magic items? I'm not a fan of it, but PF allows it. How do you manage it? Has anyone ever flat banned buying magic? Since healing potions are a player favorite, I was thinking of having them exclusively controlled by the local clergy, which would require PCs visit one of the many temples of Tarantia to get potions. Thoughts? Tips on "the Mighty Magic Store"?
PvP: How has Player-vs. Player conflict worked for you in the past? I've had some real meltdowns so I want to pretty much prohibit it, but I'm looking for input here. What about keeping the party "Good alignments only'? Some of you know how I feel about evil PCs :smallmad: and while I've never seen it work at my table, can it? How (as in, what do I need to establish with the players on evil PCs)?
Tropes: D&D/PF have all the usual tropic elements and cliches. I wont even try to list them, but rather, what are some ideas on "flipping" tropes to present players with something old in a new suit? I'm avoiding the "you meet in a tavern" start with an off-screen meet, so there's that. The "main event" behind the campaign is also a flip on the traditional quest, but I can't reveal it unfortunately. Tavern ideas? Faction/Guild ideas? Marketplace ideas? I love Mind Screws (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MindScrew) and I have a few planned which depend on where the PCs find themselves. If you don't mind, could you give one or two examples of fun trope-flips that you've done or seen done? What tropes are tired and better avoided? If I establish a darker setting, do sudden humorous or zany events risk breaking player immersion? If you're familiar with the world of Conan, trope tips?
Encounters: How random should random be in terms of what occurs around the PCs? Thoughts on random events vs. events that link to the greater adventure? By random, I mean odd stuff that happen "because setting", rather than rolling dice for encounters. I'm not big on rolling for encounters much, but thoughts on doing it? I wanted the wilderness around the kingdom to be dangerous, but not so lethal that PCs get 86ed fighting something that has no bearing on the overall campaign. Tips on PF CR encounter mechanics?

I am missing things and have more questions, so I'm hoping forum members can help me answer those without my asking. All posts are appreciated and thank you in advance :smallsmile:

2015-08-08, 04:34 PM
There are two games you should check out for ideas about running in that setting. You may decide one of them is better or more appropriate than PF or 5e.

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerors of Hyperborea

Barbarians of Lemuria

To a lesser extent, there is also Dungeon Crawl Classics, which was designed with replicating that type of swords and sorcery setting as well.

2015-08-08, 09:35 PM
There are two games you should check out for ideas about running in that setting. You may decide one of them is better or more appropriate than PF or 5e.

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerors of Hyperborea

Barbarians of Lemuria

To a lesser extent, there is also Dungeon Crawl Classics, which was designed with replicating that type of swords and sorcery setting as well.
Hm. Forgot about BoL, one of my favorites. Simon hasn't designed a game yet that I don't like. I like the Careers instead of classes and the overall mechanic is easy-peasy.

Thanks, Thrudd!

2015-08-09, 12:40 AM
Also check out Blades of the Iron Throne. It's a spiritual successor to Riddle of Steel, whose whole point was doing Conan adventures.

Beyond that, don't go Pathfinder. It was designed for far higher powered adventure than anything Conan touched. The system you choose must emphasize combat as a deadly/swift last resort, that one cannot rely upon the gods, and that magic is always a bad idea, even if it helps.

So, 5E but only Warlocks for spellcasters, and no one gets past level 8-10 or so.

2015-08-09, 01:09 AM
Also, there was a Conan d20 game, but I don't know how well it holds up.

2015-08-10, 02:20 PM
One thing to consider for the sandbox campaign: you want to have incentives for your players to seek out the type of adventures you plan on running. The sandbox depends on the players being proactive and having clear motives. If you intend them to be "seeking treasures", as you said, then you should tie their character advancement/XP to the recovering of treasures. At least, the treasure should give as much or more xp than the defeating of monsters. This is how you will excite them to seek out rumors of valuable treasures on their own. Some games do this by default, pathfinder does not, so you may want to adjust how xp is awarded.

For random encounters, if you really want to simulate a living world full of random stuff, roll for them. The key is that you choose what things are on the encounter table, and you decide how often to roll on it. Generally, assign different tables to each region and location to give the world its flavor. If you are worried about difficulty, don't put anything too difficult on the table, or add/replace things on the tables as the characters go up in level. Of course, it should be emphasized that just because something is encountered does not mean the players should try to kill it, and you should make sure they know this. If a large band of bandits is encountered, they don't need to be bloodthirsty and the players don't need to fight them. Maybe they bribe them, maybe they get robbed, maybe they make friends with them, maybe they hide and avoid them. Common sense should be encouraged in the players, vs feeling like they must be invincible super heroes, if you intend the flavor you indicated and the chance for death.

In regards to death, there are a couple ways to deal. It is most likely to happen at low level. If it happens at level 1, usually I'd say just roll up a new one and introduce them quickly, since not much will have been gained or lost.

"Adventurer, Conqueror, King" has a system I like for handling death and defeat. First off, hitting 0hp is not automatic death, but a roll on the mortal wounds table, which might be death, some permanent injury which gives mechanical penalty of some kind, or may even let you recover after some rest. The roll is modified by how much below 0 you were dropped, if someone with healing skill is able to treat you and how long after you are injured that you are treated, and your constitution. If you want to be even more friendly, let them drop to some negative amount of hp before they even need to roll on the table, that would reduce chances of death greatly.

When actual death occurs, or a character is mained and decides to retire rather than dealing with the injury, they can give their possessions to another character if they had a will in place prior, so the player's new character might be a relative or friend that inherits the cash and magic items of the deceased. In addition, players can put aside a reserve of XP that can be applied to a second character, which they do by having their first character spend cash on things which bring them no mechanical or game benefit, such as carousing and drinking or donating to charity or the church. The reserve XP is applied and the new character is higher level automatically.
I do not recommend giving characters "plot armor" in a sandbox game, it defeats the whole point.