Your bog standard podunk fantasy barony is menaced by monsters. The goblins are stealing the chickens, the werewolves are eyeing the chicks, you can’t go visit Uncle Rufus in the graveyard over the hill without him repaying the visit, orcs are plundering the merchant caravans, and there are rumours of a doom of wyverns nesting in the Raewynskill (the big dark forest to the north, a ways away). Heroes are needed to save the day! Unfortunately, the heroes are all busy saving the day for more important people, or they are just doing their stuff somewhere else. What you get instead are mercenary monster hunters. So the villagers/townsfolk grit their teeth, pool their money, and establish a common fund to finance monster hunting. Good luck, the campaign is on.
This is a low level campaign framework inspired by a discussion on LFG.HU (link in Hungarian), David Pignedoli’s Black Dogs fanzine (also about a monster hunting company, but more gritty and mediaeval), the DCC funnel, my old domain management campaigns, and of course the wilderness clearing concepts from various versions of D&D. It is basically low-level D&D where you grow a character pool instead of one or two main PCs. Here is how it works.
The GM creates a small wilderness sandbox, and seeds it very liberally with monsters and small adventure sites. Go over the top with low-level monsters, they should be lurking behind every tree. You could use any generic fantasy setting to run the campaign. Perhaps it even needs to be utterly generic, you just need a home base village (or small town), and a bunch of interesting terrain and landmarks around it. Something like 4e’s Nentir Vale would do – why not? (Or you can use The Stoneheart Valley, the classic Necromancer Games wilderness romp. Or you can easily make your own.) Then, monster lairs – the kind of not terribly ambitious mini-dungeons you can find on the net by the dozens, or just make up on your own. Be generous. Keep it deadly for low-level groups.
|The Nentir Vale
The big limitation is on the character side. This is a low-scale campaign. Not even E6-style. You will each be playing low-level fighters rolled with the 3d6 in order method, or more like a growing roster of them. Every player starts with one 1st level guy (or gal – the villagers don’t really care) down on his luck, and these guys can band together to go on expeditions to claim bounties posted on the tavern wall, or announced by the town crier. Your first character – and replacements – are free. You must hire the rest out of the gp budget you raise by killing monsters, and you must also pay to train up your guys to higher levels. It is a bit like a pyramid scheme for adventurers. Adventures take place on a weekly basis, the rest being spent carousing, wooing lasses, making a fool of yourself and getting into local trouble.
For example: Claude, Jehan and Karl go on an expedition against the orcs. They plunder a small tower which is an advance orc outpost, but they are beset by giant spiders in the cellar, and Karl goes down, stone cold dead. However, the other two survive, and now they have enough money to pay for a month’s upkeep and hire a few more first-level guys to go out with. Next week, Player A keeps Claude, and hires Sarah and Fred. Player B makes Jehan stay at home (he has good stats, and he’d rather not lose them) while he hires Lefty, Hank and Little Tim. Player C is stuck with a new entry-level guy he names Bullfrog Bill. They head out for the orcish keep.
|Finally, a use for all those maps
Remember, it is the bounties that matter. If you just kill something randomly, the villagers may or may not care (you could give it a 1:6 probability of a halved “pity fee”). Everyone is interested in The Orc Problem, and The Giant Rats Down the Cellar (you thought you would be rid of them by now? Think again!), while the Raewynskill wyverns and Sir Otto’s Undead Keep are probably distant concerns, for now (as long as the wyverns only carry off the odd cow, and not the mayor’s niece).
You are not running real adventurers, more like a growing band of disposable miscreants. Beyond the funds for training, you need to keep up a number of troops to support higher-level characters. You first have to raise a stable of ten mercenaries before you can promote one to second level status, and at least 50 to raise an elite leader (4th level, this could be a party-based limit). Perhaps you can only have one of those guys. Perhaps special classes (in this case, non-fighters) are also available, but proportionally more expensive. You need twice as much for a ranger or a thief, and three times as much for a cleric (magic-users are all NPCs in this campaign… although you could persuade one to join your team on a special errand). You need to keep the mercenary ecosystem going or your guys will just pack up and look for trouble elsewhere in the kingdom, or marry the innkeeper’s daughter and settle down.
|Another fine map by Mike Schley
Gradually, you work your way up to try larger targets with a whole bunch of disposable mercenaries led by your precious few 2nd and 3rd level guys (who are almost heroes by now). There can be all kinds of complications: a bunch of do-gooders show up to ruin your business by killing monsters for free. A sinister merchant offers to rent some monsters which are trained to run away for you and let you triumph easily… for a small price. There is a fair and you can use those jousting rules from Chainmail. Some of the monsters finally have enough and band together to protect themselves from The Mercenary Problem. The local landlord decides that what the villagers do with their money is their business, but treasures found in his lands should be subject to proper taxation. And so on.
You could actually also use this structure to play out a peasant uprising, except with
the bourgeoisie corrupt
landlords and evil barons instead of the monsters, Robin Hood and company