Or, let me tell you about my campaign!
I’ve written about Utterbaum before, in a moderately abstract sense. And I am forced to pull out this one quote:
But really, honestly, I’ve been so very restrained in what I include in this. There’s no time travel, no planar portals, no interventionist gods, no flying ships (that was hard), no ancient networks of magic or ley lines or anything, no deep history (there was a huge flood 1690-ish years ago, and that’s as far as history really goes), no chunky continental map with unexplored areas, and absolutely minimal monster presence - dragons are only alluded to, and the entire panoply of aberrations, oozes, and so forth just aren’t a feature.
Some elements of this have crept in. There is still no time travel. There have been a very few planar portals, but it’s clear they’re exceptional and weird. There are still no interventionist gods, and it’s been established that they have difficulty in intervening, and aren’t all that great at being gods anyway. There is a rumour of one (1) flying ship, and a number of prominent and powerful NPCs have gone looking for it. There is no network of ancient magic, although there is a correspondence network of enthusiastic young prodigies, who may be utterly disastrous. There is slightly deeper history, most of which establishes why there isn’t deep deep history, because the world keeps going through civilisation-ending disasters every 1000-2000 years (which also kill all the gods, which in turn explains why the ones that are around now are not much good at being gods). There is still no continental map with unexplored areas, but there is an oceanic map (figuratively) which is completely blank. And there is a dragon, who is one of the oldest living things in the world, having lived through two major disasters (worldwide meteor storm and flood), and who is an impatient, enthusiastic, gung-ho troublemaker.
(The residence - in a boarding house - of Rosemary DuVaunt, cultist lich)
Let me step back a little. Utterbaum is a campaign with two players, Anna and Nina. I’ve been running games for them for about 25 years now, so things run pretty smoothly. Anna’s character is Zia, a half-elven priest of a god of cartography (whose temples for some reason often, but not always, have magical-weapon-making ghosts in them). Nina’s charater is Samar - Sam - a demon-hunter (Blood Hunter, in class terms) who used to be human, and is now best described as a tiefling. They’re both 15th level, which means they’re getting to the significant ass-kicking stages.
They work for the guardian town of Utterbaum, which sits beside a demondelve (see the link above for some more detail; short version is a constantly open hellmouth), and which sends people out into the world to deal with fiends of various kinds. And is also allied with a few carefully chosen fiends, because life is never black and white.
The game has run in approximate seasons. In the first season, they dealt with the Book of Oriax, a nasty near-artifact level tome which contains powerful demonological spells and does some unpleasant things to souls, and the villainous descendant of its warlock creator, Borean Oriax. Part of this involved visiting Ghend, the remote town where the Dark College, an organisation of necromancers and demonologists that Borean had subverted for his own purposes, more or less clings to existence. Zia hated Ghend. So much hate. So much.
In the second season, they went after a moderately powerful fiend called Xivian, a close servant of Orcus who’d like to be a lot closer to Orcus, if you know what I mean, and you probably do. Xivian’s idea of how to get closer is to present Orcus with whole undead planets. Xivian is obsessed with tasteful wealth, as well as undead. About a quarter of the way (insert waggling hand gesture here) into this season, they decided that if there were going to be hordes of undead, they needed the Dark College to be in working order, and went about untangling Borean’s legacy to restore it. So season 2.5, as it were, was set largely in Ghend, and involved some investigation of the Far Realms (the infinitely infinite space beyond the known multiverse, which warps time, space, and mortal minds, and has a lot of tentacles). Having done all that they could there (but not arriving at a final success, yet), they went back to locating Xivian, spent a while in the Isles equivalent of Monaco, and eventually found their way to its current horrific undead planet, which is on its way to the Abyss. It has been implied that the powers that be in Utterbaum are setting up to do something with that.
They’re now setting in to season three, which thus far appears to be about dealing with (remnants of) a historical villain, and a possible world-ending threat which is signalled and foretold and auguried, but about which very little is known. The historical villain is Shattergnarl, a gnoll necromancer and possible lich who ravaged the Isles a thousand years ago in the Necromantic Wars, and who some relatives of Borean Oriax, among others - for reasons incomprehensible to anyone - attempted to re-summon only about twenty years back. It’s not clear if they succeeded or failed; something turned up and ate them all.
The world-ending threat is possible, in that a bunch of people called the Sleeping Guardians - who were meant to wake up in the case of a major threat to the Isles - are now waking up. Except they didn’t wake up during the Necromantic Wars, they didn’t wake up during the Flood, they possibly didn’t wake up during the Meteor Storm, and what are they waiting for? Except it now appears that Shattergnarl nabbed their chief around the time of the Necromantic Wars, and moved him somewhere else; 3500km out into the Western Ocean, which one expedition ever has crossed (and it eventually circumnavigated the globe rather than go back across that particular stretch of water). And the Sleeping Guardians that have awoken have issues; one of them woke up as a ghost; another doesn’t have the magical equipment that he’s supposed to have to wake the rest.
So the player characters are, at the time of writing, travelling out across the aforementioned Western Ocean on the back of the campaign’s one known dragon. They’ve camped on icebergs (created by the dragon; white dragons breathe cold, and so can create their own floating campsites even in endless ocean), met some satyrs living on the back of an enormous sleeping dragon turtle, looked at a castle built on a floating rock 3km up in the sky (which contained the only two planar portals they’ve seen, to the Elemental Plane of Air, and to the inside of a cage in Carceri), and stayed briefly on a paradisiacal island with black beaches, glorious sunsets and sunrises, and a crop of weird statues throughout its forests. And then they crossed over the edge of a continental shelf (I have the plate shapes worked out), and learned why the Western Ocean is really nasty; it is absolutely thrashing with enormous tentacled sea monsters of indeterminate physiology, but at least one of which was big enough to put a geographic-sized rather than biological-sized tentacle 700m into the air. The monsters plainly can’t go into shallow water, so they took refuge northward - out of their south-westerly travel direction - and found a sandbank on which to anchor an iceberg.
Utterbaum remains a reasonably tightly plotted (for me) campaign in a very restrained world (for me), and it’s a pleasure to run. I’m dealing with the small number of player characters by having a reasonable number of NPCs in their squad (as it were), from which they can pick and choose for particular missions, and giving them control in combat of the two paladins in the unit. The other NPCs are a wizard-monk with a curse that prevents him from dealing damage by magic, a minor noble ranger-turned-druid (who seems to have an eye on becoming a socialite/spy); a blood hunter whose great-great-aunt is a cultist lich; and an elementalist battle-mage with many academic contacts. They’re also able to call, when needed, on the paladins of the Storm God, most of whom seem to start their lives as street thieves, and all of whom go for gothic black coats and lounging on the temple steps rather than any shiny plate mail. One of those, who also has a few levels of wizard, is accompanying them on this trip, along with the druid, the battlemage, and an ex-thief priestess of the Goddess of Death.
Here’s a recently created bit of the world, as an in-world document, which is apparently how I roll these days. One thing I’m actually struggling with a little bit is how to record the stuff that doesn’t make it into these documents; the secrets behind the evident things. I need some way to track the other information, and for some reason, Google Docs don’t seem to cut it. A lot of it is just in my day-to-day notebooks, for now, which is my default capture system for anything I don’t otherwise have a repository for. It’ll do until I get something else sorted, and then I will undoubtedly let you know what that is.
In a future issue, the other campaign; the real chaos of Heliomar. Currently eight players (peaked at ten). Two continents. A whole menagerie of accompanying beasts, some living, some dead, some rather indeterminate. And a self-assigned mission to bring down the millenia-old Empire of Ayuur.