Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gygaxian Experiment Week One - Campaign Kickoff

My D&D game has a scoreboard!
I kicked off the new D&D campaign this weekend.  The elevator pitch for the campaign is simple - it's Mythic Greece.    In the far reaches of southern Greece, beyond Sparta, is the legendary entrance to the Underworld - the dungeon Taenarum.  The god of the Underworld, Hades, the mad god, dares you to come plunder the vast wealth of the Underworld.  He's got a special place in the kingdom of the dead for those who fail.

It's a pretty simple premise.  I'll be running two regular groups through it - a family game and one for my regular crew (with some new faces).  This is an unknown frontier for me - multiple groups operating in the same local setting.   You see glimpses of this style of play in 1970's anecdotes about Castle Greyhawk, and odd bits from the 1E AD&D DMG.  I'll be getting some ideas on the blog as I work through the logistics of keeping it straight.  For now, let's move on to the home base.

Both groups started in Psammathous Bay, a small fishing village on the southern peninsula, a few miles from the dungeon.  Psammathous Bay is a picturesque cove on the Laconian Gulf, down the coast from the port of Gytheio.  It has a 'gold rush atmosphere' because of the number of adventurers that congregate in the small village, supporting services like an adventurer's guild hall, traders, weapon smith, and so on.  Each set of players started off in the Adventurer's Hall, introducing their characters, picking up some rumors about the nearby dungeon, and getting an orientation on town from the tavern owner, Lykourgos.

One of the sillier things I've added is "The Scoreboard".  D&D is very much a score-driven game.  I know there are plenty folks out there with their touchie-feely alternative XP ideas (hippies!), but that kind of misses the point.  The XP system (and specifically XP for treasure) is the driving factor in the "game" aspect of old school D&D.  You don't win the game, but it sure feels good when you've earned your way towards leveling up.

There's a tradition in the town of Psammathous Bay of dumping out your loot back at the adventurer's hall for a public reckoning.  Total wealth earned is tracked on a scoreboard.  Lord Yiorgos, the local ruler, mandates a 10% tax on wealth from the dungeon, so his agents enforce the accounting.  It was a natural step to announce the size of the haul publicly, and the scoreboard evolved from there.  There's enough wealth coming into Psammathous Bay from the dungeon that a thieves' guild offers "protection services" for adventurer gold.  The Greeks admire strength of arms and cunning, and escaping the Underworld with the stolen wealth of the death god demonstrates the classic virtues.

The main thing about The Scoreboard is that it creates rivalry between different adventuring parties, and news of the exploits of different groups spreads back to the mainland.  In Gytheio, leaders on the scoreboard are veritable celebrities, and the scoreboard is an avenue to fame and infamy across all the City States.  I'm in the process of populating the Scoreboard with the names of other adventuring groups and mercenary parties, past and present, active and defunct, so the groups of players can measure themselves and watch their climb up the leader board.  Folks that remember my Black City campaign will see some similar themes; I love how the frontier dungeon creates a gold rush atmosphere and aspects of the Wild West; I like the dungeon to involve competing adventuring groups and rivalries that spill outside the dungeon; with Taenarum, I've taken it a step further in tying dungeon activities with country-wide fame and fortune.

Wow - just looked at the clock, I've got to shower and hit the road for work.  Meeting the two adventuring parties and hearing about their first week exploits waits until tomorrow.  I think it was worthwhile to take a moment and introduce some of this stuff - you can see how it will drive an interesting dungeon campaign and play to the strengths of old school style D&D.  Having a literal scoreboard in the campaign is going to be hilarious.


  1. Interesting setting--and interesting idea about competitive play. It will be fun to see how it comes out.

  2. I should clarify - my campaigns are a non-PVP zone. Whatever competition arises between the two player groups will also have to stay as a 'friendly rivalry'. I have too many kids sit in on the games - maturity is a factor. Given free reign, they'd all make assassin characters and spend the session killing each other. D&D would be more like Lord of the Flies.

    NPCs, on the other hand, can take care of themselves. I'll be emphasizing the competition with the NPCs, in and out of the dungeon.

  3. Ah, that new campaign smell! There's nothing like it! Good luck with the new endeavor!

  4. Yeah good luck! Certainly is an interesting and well thought out campaign structure! Reminds me of The West Marches campaign too, and - of course- as you mention, harken back to the beginnings of old school D&D and Gary's Greyhawk campaign etc.
    I might try something like this myself in the future.
    I also like how well - imo - a classic/ancient fantasy Greece setting goes hand in hand with ACKS.

  5. I'll be following this with interest and see if I can borrow some ideas regarding logistics for my Earthdawn game. The scoreboard seems like something they'd have on the Map Wall in Haven.