I have reached a point where I have to figure out how to transform all my notes into a more useful and detailed description, which is a lengthy process, and one that requires a lot of thought and consideration as things are now being finalized, so posts will be more infrequent. In addition I am attempting to revive my Zaidan-Tai campaign, an oriental flavoured Birthright PBEM – there are lots of positions available if anybody is interested (hint, hint), and that will take up a lot of my time for the next little bit as well.
So, I thought I would talk a bit about designing a Birthright campaign, since that is, in effect, what I have been doing all along.
For those who don’t know what I mean by a Birthright campaign, Birthright was the setting TSR developed in which players took the role of kings and rulers of realms rather than just being adventurers. Scans of the rule books have been offered for sale/download on the dndclassics website
Now a few basic resources…
Birthright.net is an invaluable resource for all things Brithright. They have a ton of downloads, and have developed a d20 version of the rules, and rules for 4th edition, and are currently plugging away at updating the rules and setting to the new 5th edition rules.
Personally, I use a slight modification of the Ruins of Empire variant rules by Bjørn Sørgjerd. A copy of the latest complete iteration of these rules (he is working on an update) is available here in the original docx format, and here in pdf format. More information and discussion on the rule set can be found on the Ruins of Empire website.
Besides having the players be the rulers, the rules open up the possibility of a confrontational, rather than cooperative campaign. In most standard D&D settings, the players are allies, working together as a group to defeat the opponents the DM throws in their path. The Birthright setting opens up the possibility of having your players contend with each other, each controlling a rival duchy or kingdom. On top of that, the DM can introduce an encompassing storyline or plot arc that will push the players to want or need cooperate at least to some degree, or perhaps to urge them into rival camps rather than just a free-for-all.
The conflict between the centripetal pull of the story line and the centrifugal pull of national interests makes for some very interesting and entertaining campaigns, with subtle diplomacy, devious plots, glorious crusades, and dastardly betrayals.
This sort of campaign is not easy to create. The inter-player rivalry for supremacy part is easy to achieve, just leave the players go to and it will happen. But the plot line that draws them together is trickier. Clearly there must be some threat or lure that draws the disparate lords and bishops together, but it can’t be so overwhelming or obvious as to overrule the player’s national self-interest entirely (i.e. the “stave-off-the-end-of-the-world” sort of scenario so often found in standard campaigns won’t work).
Ideally, several such overarching plot lines would be built right into the setting, which I have tried to do in Tòlanar.
There are the obvious religious ones, ranging from a Muslim expansion/Crusades sort of thing between the Triadic sects and the Ìasite sect, or a Reformation era war of religion type of campaign between the various Triadic sects. There are also several racial or political situations that could be used. For example, a campaign could be centered on the dwarven realms, with each realm vieing to reunify the dwarves under their control, all the while having to work together to stave off the encroachments of the surrounding states. Or maybe the various primitive arctic/antarctic tribes facing the invasions of the more advanced Tòlan peoples.
The next project I have for Tòlanar, is to finalize the history of the continent (at least in terms of the rise and fall of the various states). That will open up several more such potential meta plots as well.
Well that’s it for now, this post has become far longer than I had first intended, thanks for reading it all through.