When you’re gearing up to start a new campaign, how do you do it? Do you come up with a new world, fleshing out the details? Or do you only develop a few details of the characters’ starting area, letting them participate in the creation of the world and the campaign? Do you have a broad, sweeping story arc in mind, or does that evolve naturally as a result of the characters’ actions?
Usually, I start thinking about a campaign long before I put any words on paper. It starts with an idea—something I read that gets lodged in my brain. In my last game, it was two ideas: bad guys searching for the Raven Queen’s true name, and the possible escape of Tharizdun from the Far Realm. These nascent campaign ideas might stew in my head for weeks or even months. Eventually, though, I find that I can no longer contain them, and I start jotting down some specific details and objectives. They begin as notes scribbled onto a pad on my bedstand that no sane person could decipher. When the notes reach a critical mass, I start to organize them.
Over the course of my last campaign, I evolved my approach to outlining adventures and campaigns. My outlines were initially just a series of game session notes: things I wanted to remember. Here’s an example:
2 Tiefling Heretics
2 Tiefling Dark Blades
1 Whirling Blades Trap (Downstairs, DMG 88)
1 Human Hexer (Noristro)
1 Pendulum Scythe Trap (Upstairs, DMG 89)
Encounter with Noristro:
• Recognizes Gentoo. Tells about his uncle, Aban.
-Calls him a manipulator. Says before joining the Redwater Guild, he dealt with the Aldorian Family. Even though L’indelis Aldorian runs the family, Aban has the real power.
• Originally the middle man between Ackann and Vadalgo, but in recent months, Ackann has been cutting him out, instead dealing with the duergar to export his goods. Doesn’t know why.
• He made enquiries in New Yarwin and knows that the dwarven antiquities are being taken to House Lassar for Vadalgo’s review. The strange thing is, he seems to be discarding almost all of them. Even pieces that might be valuable to the right collector.
• He has heard of the White Lion. It flies under the banner of the Black Flock, a halfling fleet of merchant ships commanded by Sindal Blackraven.
• He has heard of Bartholomew Felon. It’s said he has the fastest ship in the sky. Captains a ship called The Soul Reaver. He left Thunderport just a couple weeks prior. Strange thing was, he landed outside the city. He’s heard tell that Felon buying humanoid cargo, though he can’t imagine for what purpose. He knows the man is a pirate, not a slave trader.
Encounter with the Black Forge
2 Duergar Guards
4 Duergar Miners
1 Duergar Theurge
2 Duergar Shock Troops
2 Duergar Scouts
Omas is being held in a cell below. What he can tell them:
• After the village was transported, he alone was kept by the hobgoblins.
• Emkel betrayed them. Just before the village was sucked through, Emkel brought a stranger into town. He never caught sight of the man’s face besides a glimpse of his eyes vibrant blue eyes which seemed to glow. He also wore the symbol of the ouroboros.
• He heard the hobgoblins talking about getting the other villagers to Thunderport so they could rendezvous with a person named Barthelomew Felon. Apparently they were going to make a bounty off selling them to the captain.
• He urges Thorngrim to track down the objects of Kelek, son of Nyrad. He tells Thorngrim that he is a descendant of Kelek. That his ancestor was named Kilik, and that he and Kelek were twins who divided themselves between the two continents to help seal the pathway. Among the objects lies the key to unsealing all the pathways.
• He confesses that he does not have long, so he turns himself into a totem that Thorngrim can use.
Encounter with the White Lion
1 Halfling Slinger (in rigging)
4 Halfling Stouts
2 Halfling Thiefs
3 Halfling Prowlers
1 Deathpriest of Orcus
2 Crimson Acolytes
Find documents pertaining to the Ashen Covenant. Once again, signed by the Emissary. And speaks about “Neverdusk” being imminent. These list a series of cities in Haver to visit. It provides the names of people deemed “persons of interest” and rates their magic on various scales.
Encounter in Brindol
In Brindol, they can go to the Hall of Valor, where they meet Zertania, the castellan of the Hall. She can inform them that after the events of the Festival of the Green Moon, Ackann offered to personally oversee a review of the items to make sure none had been damaged. She can give them instructions where to find his mansion.
To get to his mansion, they must undergo a skill challenge to get through a maze. Failure results in an encounter.
High success yields information about Ackann’s vineyard.
Inside the mansion, they must face (or continue) part of the skill challenge to get inside. Or they can just attack. The place is guarded by:
2 Human Knife Fighters
2 Javelin Dancers
1 Human Mage (his steward, a younger uppity gentleman with a constant frown; his name is Marcus)
Passive Perception allows them to spot the Homunculus.
He will tell them that Lord Ackann is in the north, on business in New Yarwin. When asked about the sword, he says that Ackann took it with him.
This method worked well, but it assumed a certain degree of railroading on my part as DM. As long as I could predict what the players would be doing during the next session, it was easy to make notes and plan. Eventually, I aspired for a more open-ended approach. As the characters started visiting large cities, like Gloomwrought and Sigil, I found that I needed to develop a scheme that allowed me to use a sandbox style. To that effect, I started using an outlining method similar to what a person might use for a book or a research paper. I can’t share my outline for Gloomwrought (since it includes material in the upcoming product The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond); it’s unfortunate, since that outline is the better of the two. I can share my Sigil outline, though. Some of the formatting was lost in bringing it over here, but you’ll get the idea.
Location – The location of the gate is in the seventh island of Carceri (note that it’s believed there are only six islands). Once you go into Carceri, you never get out.
The Lady of Pain is currently removed from the picture. Irinuk set a trap for her in the Shattered Temple, and trapped her in Aoskar’s Tear, an artifact that creates elaborate illusions. She doesn’t even know she is trapped.
Day 1: Irinuk has taken on the guise of Quarium. He is trying to throw the characters off his trail. Lassar, meanwhile, is out in the Shattered Temple with Inathriamkavendil searching for where to find the blood of Aoskar.
Day 2: Fighting breaks out on the festival of gates, when the PCs are framed for killing dabus. The charge results in rioting. The city, realizing that the Lady will not take retribution, breaks into chaos.
Day 3: Many of the dabus have been slaughtered, and the power holding Sigil together is weakening. The gates stop working. Vadalgo and Inathriam dis.
Plovian’s wife is Victoria. Victoria’s middle sister is Alexandra (Alex).
Garshan is in Sigil searching for the ritual component to activate the questgate. The questgate is a gate that leads to wherever the user needs to go most (but it can only be used once). The component necessary to use the questgate is the blood of Aoskar.
- Talk to Allies
- Dak – Bashamgurda has an embassy in Sigil in the Palace of the Jester.
- Gendar – The drow have long sought a portal from the Underdark into Sigil. They believed that there must be one between the Ditch and the Vault of the Drow.
- Osrik – There’s a dwarf friend of his named Traban in the Lady’s Ward. He fashioned the armor he has now.
- Mirana – Visited Sigil long ago, when the city was still new. She learned from the Raven Queen that Sigil has always existed. When the Old World was destroyed and a new one was created, Sigil still existed, though none lived there save the Lady of Pain.
- Marek – They should seek out Garshan Dean of Phantasmal Research, Red Rock School of Arcane Studies. He is an old friend and one well-apprised of events in the city. Also a skilled magic user who can aid them in their endeavors.
- They discover that Kat has stowed away on the ship. She says she wants to come with them. She confesses that she has been working with Midnight’s Own and has learned a lot. She’s quite the competent fighter and will face off with any to prove it. She has taken a shine to Surina.
- Arrival in Sigil
- Greeted by a marut dockmaster named Law. Demands the exorbitant docking fee of 20,000 gp. If unable to pay, ship is impounded with additional cost of 1000 gp/day. For money, head to job board.
- The job board contains:
- Clear the Razorvine. Go talk to a pair of trolls named Morvun and Phineas in Weary Head pub at edge of the Hive. They are responsible for keeping the vine at bay. They employ a team of trolls. Since the Lady of Pain’s disappearance, the vine has been growing at unusual rates.
- Garshan overhears the conversation and offers to pay the fee in exchange for aid. He has just arrived in Sigil as well and is looking for some adventurers to help him track down the location of the Shattered Temple. He has heard whisperings since his arrival that a person named Vadalgo Lassar is searching for it. He thinks that Lassar might be a good person to start with.
- Streetwise/conversation leads them to the Bones of Night. Wererats will take them down there. It’s said that after the death of the priests of Aoskar, all the bodies were thrown into the ditch. If they can get the skull of one of the priests, the Lord of Bones can tell them where. He can tell them to look for skulls of minotaurs.
- The wererats will lead them down, but after a certain point, they turn back.
- At the very base, they encounter a bebilith and its swarm.
- They are able to search for the skulls and can find the ones they need. However, the orb starts glowing, and they discover the black stone, which appears cracked. The orb begins to glow, summoning aberrants (one beholder eye tyrant) plus five beholder spawn.
- Getting out of the Ditch is a skill challenge.
- Getting to Zadara. Zadara is a storm giant with a pair of marut guards named Kubriel and Zog. Estavan doesn’t know why Zadara would take such overt action against the Planar Consortium. He asks the PCs to sneak in to find out. Zadara lives in the Lady’s Ward, near the Twelve Factols. He offers two ways of reaching her.
- Contact Autochon the Bellringer and have a messenger sent there. She won’t refuse Autochon’s couriers. This leads to Tzira’s background stuff.
- It’s said the Twelve Factols has an entrance to the undercity of Sigil, but many believe that is where the dabus dwell, so no one goes there for fear of the Lady.
- The twelve factols hall has a gridded room that is 8 squares by 8 squares and has 8 statues of the Lady of Pain. Script along the top of the room reads, Sigil is ruled by the Lady of Pain, her glare must be ‘voided lest the flesh be flayed, configure the her Ladyship so that none can see, her own piercing gaze and the death that it be.
- When they solve the puzzle, it opens a secret door into the tunnels below. Down below, they descend into a maze. The floor is a black, glossy stone, and they realize that the black stone is the same stuff as the gates.
- They come across some powerful magical wards in their way. Diabling them frees the wards on a pair of stone golems and a death knight. The death knight arises and the tomb. It is an ancient creature, one of the first in Sigil. It describes how it helped build Sigil in the earliest days. When he and others turned against her, they were cast into one of her mazes. He alone knew the architecture of the mazes and was able to escape, but not before he was killed. He describes how the Lady’s magic is now weak—he knows not why, and that he has awakened as a result.
- They arrive at Zadaras to find Aban Aldorian in attendance. Aban Aldorian is in the city, though he is being careful to avoid notice. He is worried by the fact that the Lady of Pain is not present in the city.
- He is alarmed when he finds out that Irinuk has both swords. He explains the truth about the swords—that they are angels of the god Tharizdun. Calinbrin was an angel of Tharizdun’s brother—a god now forgotten. The angel sacrificed himself to seal the evil angel. If Machtiel was to be freed, he would undoubtedly work to free Tharizdun—he is the only one who knows how. The only way he could be freed, though, was by destroying Calinbrin.
- He asks them about the orb.
- Aban tells Plovian and Gentoo that he is not their uncle. That his family has long held a sacred duty. They are part of a secret organization called the Order of Vigilance. He separated Plovian from his family because he needed someone free from the corrupting effects of the merchants.
- Aban Aldorian is able to provide the shield from her set.
- He cautions Surina against trying to gain the sword before be ready, for it will surely corrupt.
- The Fleetfoots are now operating in Sigil. Her mother Trils and father Chak are there. They were forced to leave Treik after the Redwater Guild with the power of House Lassar and House Lagos took over Treik and Littoria. They’ve set up an oligarchy there. Although the Fleetfoots have taken up service as couriers under Autochon. Their real hope is to gain access to Vadalgo Lassar and bring down the Redwater guild, which operates out of Sigil.
- Moonlight can unlock one of the doors that has not been opened in centuries. They discover a door covered with vines. Moonlight calls out and tells Tzira to hold him up to the door. It unlocks a path to Seldarine, the celestrial court of Avandor, where Sehanine and Corellon dwell.
- Sehanine’s message:
- Follow your goals and seek your own destiny.
- Keep to the shadows, avoiding the blazing light of zealous good and theutter darkness of evil.
- Seek new horizons and new experiences, and let nothing tie you down.
- Go to the Vault of the Drow.
- 10 Things to Remember
- No Gods Allowed
- Shrines to gods of all types.
- Everyone behaves themselves because of the Lady of Pain.
- Sons of Mercy are the only authority.
- Connected to all planes/dimensions.
- Lady’s Ward
- The Armory
- Headquarters of the Doomguard
- Custom-made weapons and armor
- The City Barracks/Court
- Operated by the Harmonium
- Fortune’s Wheel
- Rumors of the chronosphere of Illumnrium.
- Azure Iris
- Palace of the Jester
- Jeremo the Natterer (follower of Vecna)
- Efreet from Bashamgurda named Margol.
- Vadalgo Lassar, human dignitary from Keslinn. Lady Vadalgo (Alia) is there, but she says husband is out on business.
- Embrellia, eladrin dignitary from Astrazalia
- Fellwroth, shadar-kai dignitary from Gloomwrought
- Yarra, elf dignitary from Arvandor
- Challin, deva dignitary from Celestia
- Quarium, angel dignitary from Hestavar (this is Irinuk).
- Malif, cambion dignitary from the Nine Hells
- Olaf, human dignitary from Esovel
- Infested by Cranium Rats
- The Prison
- Operated by the Mercykillers
- Employ shifter’s manacles to prevent teleportation.
- Temple of the Abyss
- Operated by high priest Noshteroth (tiefling) and consort Noxana the Unwilling (human), who handles contracts.
- Priests act as tax collectors.
- Sacrifices strewn on the walls.
- Known for “getting things done.”
- Bells of Baphomet
- Temple of Hermes
- Run by Mad Moll
- Portal to Mount Olympus
- Tower of the Wyrm
- Acts as prison for mercykillers
- Wyvern is the wyrm. Poison produces potions of truth.
- Traban’s Forge
- Nonmagical armor.
- Lots of work for Harmonium and paladins of Celestia.
- Dwarf from Kyrnn.
- Sons and an ogre help in work.
- The Armory
- The Lower Ward
- Each hour spent in Lower Ward requires easy Endurance check or 10 poison damage.
- The Ditch
- The ditch is actually a deep chasm going to the very base of Sigil.
- Corrosive waters, connects to Styx.
- Cracks in black rock (recognizeable by PCs) reveals problem.
- Aberrants coming through.
- Caverns in area run by Tattershade, King of Rats. Building tunnels for defense. Knows something others don’t—aberrants coming.
- Black Sails Tavern
- Tavern full of doomguard.
- Bones of Night
- Place to speak with the dead, learn secrets.
- Operated by Lothar the Old, Master of Bones, and his wererats.
- Answers questions for a fee.
- Seeking skull from the last priest of Aoskar to learn who killed the god.
- Golden Bell
- Run by Marisha the Fox and Pincher the Exile (human)
- Allies of the Temple of the Abyss
- The Green Mill
- Tavern and safehouse for elves.
- Renown for bardic music. They have heard of the Song of Creation. Said to have been lost. A secret only Vecna would know.
- No githzerai or tieflings.
- Has only trees in Sigil.
- Hands of Time
- Run by gnomes and modrons, primarily by Aasimon from Trol.
- Have Lifeforges for creating warforged and golems.
- Harbinger House
- A mad-house ruled over by Ambar.
- Contains a portal to Pandemonium.
- Styx Oardsman
- Club for devils and tieflings.
- Run by a githzerai named Zegonz.
- Rule of Three, an ancient cambion, hangs out here. Answer any question with one truth and two lies.
- Clerk’s Ward
- Hall of Information
- Operated by a foul shifter named Bordon; hates Harmonium.
- Guarded over by mercykillers.
- Questions directed here for:
- Locate a missing relative.
- Getting directions to a Lower Ward inn.
- Recommending a shop in the Market ward.
- Mediating disputes with merchants.
- Petitioning for government employment.
- Rectifying tax mistakes.
- Resolving civil disputes with citizens.
- Difficult to get anything done. When problem presented, go through Red Tape sidebar on page 67.
- Hall of Records
- Public document library.
- Hall of Speakers
- Offers secure meeting rooms.
- Place for cagers to debate.
- Scribes for hire. Can be rented for the day.
- Jeena Ealy’s Compound
- Operated by 60-year-old human Jeena Ealy
- Writes adventure books.
- Formerly married to gem dealer Forddin Early.
- Employs personal staff of scribes.
- No longer adventures herself but now hires adventurers to explore for her.
- Lazz School of Vivid Unpleasantness
- School for art and music.
- Tensar’s Employment Service
- Posted a variety of ads for work.
- Only considers people referred by officers in Education Bureau of the Hall of Information.
- Run by human named Tensar.
- Compulsive talker on everything from githzerai poetry, to vegetarian recipes, to mathematical theory.
- Public forum.
- Overseen by human named Sura Ekness, who supervises speakers and subject of debate.
- People throw coins at feet of speakers to show approval.
- Trioptic Nic’epona
- Breathtaking monument of a horse.
- Three oval eyes, one ruby, one emerald, and one amber. Each of these has a corresponding platform beneath monument.
- Platforms act as portals to each of continents in mortal world.
- Doomguards prevent unlawful access. Only handful of dignitaries know command word.
- Hall of Information
- Guildhall and Market Ward
- The Bronze Bezants
- Run by human named Moskin Faz.
- Provides loans with letter of recommendation.
- Require equal collateral. Loan is 25% of the amount requested. Loan must be paid within a month.
- Sprawling inn for the affluent.
- Great drink and cuisine.
- Occasional brawl. Mercykillers have a presence.
- Exhibition spheres containing strange creatures.
- There is a “Skull Museum” attached to it, containing skulls of ancient Sigil citizens. Master of Bones has dispatched wererats to break in.
- Iron-wall holding room for anyone that threatens another cusomter.
- The Great Bazaar
- Head of the Free League
- Pole with names of folks who have defunked on their loans.
- Food stalls and merchant booths.
- The Great Gymnasium
- Run by a non-nonsense eladrin named Cipher.
- Public baths, heavily guarded.
- No weapons.
- Xanist’s Shop
- Egotistical human female named Xanist runs the shop.
- Designs inventions on request.
- Prefers mechanical devices to spells.
- She is working on a flying device called the Batfly harness, but she needs a real batfly, and the only one is on display in Chirper’s, and they won’t sell it.
- Einsin’s Discount Elixirs
- Human that sells cheap potions.
- See page 95 for a list.
- Zakk’s Corpse Curing
- Run by a self-taught taxidermist human named Mhasha Zakk.
- Will stuff anything, even humanoids.
- 80-years old, but she is surprisingly cheerful.
- Always pays well for interesting corpses.
- The Bronze Bezants
- The Hive
- People of the Cage
- A’kin, rakashasa that operates The Friendly Fiend magic shop.
- Kesto Brighteyes, gnomes that operates The Parted Veil book shop.
- Needle, tiefling that operates Ink tattoo shop.
- Fell, dabu exile.
- The Grixitt, a terrorist seeking to close portals to Sigil.
- Jemorille, the exile, deva who tries to keep balance in the city.
- Kylie, rival courier to Autochon. Protected by Irinuk.
- Black Marian, human prophetess of the Singing Fountain.
- Cirily, eladrin in charge of the Sigil Advisory Council
- Djekh’Nlarr, githyanki “criminal” who has maps of the Lady’s mazes
- Adamok Ebon, bladeling hunter
- Alluvius – operates Tivvum’s Antiquities gate key shop.
- Autochon the Bellringer, so called Minister of Messages. Operates couriers. Hamstrings and tears out tongue of anyone who impersonates courier. Made a deal with the Abyss to protect himself and his couriers.
- The Chant:
- The Lady of Pain has not been seen in almost 8 months. Some believe she has left Sigil. Tensions are high between the various factions.
- The razorvine has begun to find its way into the wards beyond the Hive.
- The Festival of Doors begins tomorrow. Some are worried that the festival will lead to violence.
- Kaelvar reappears with a mercenary company. Vengeance has driven him mad.
- Confrontation with Inathriamkavendil
- Explanation: The kindred were the children of Vanya, the murdered goddess of healing. When Vanya died, the kindred lost their immortality. They slowly died off until only he remained. He was only a child when Vanya died. He made a deal with a certain merchant named Aban Aldorian, who promised to help save his people. He was betrayed, though. Aban said the artifact would give his people their longevity back, but instead he selfishly took the orb for himself. Inathriamkavendil swore an oath that day and made a pact with a ravaasta. Though he reviled the creature, he would do anything for revenge upon Aban Aldorian. For year he sought him, but the half-elf was elusive. He used the orb for himself to extend his life.
- He forsakes his pact upon learning about Melody. When he does that, a brand appears upon his forehead bearing the symbol of Tharizdun. He screams in agony. He instantly begins to age and then crumbles to dust.
For my new Dark Sun campaign, I’ve evolved my campaign planning format once again. I’m trying two things. The first is that I’m formatting the adventure similar to the format we use at Wizards of the Coast. This is challenging, and a lot more work, but maybe someday I’ll try and put it in Dungeon magazine or on my blog (if I can remove all the copyrighted material). The second is that I’m trying to outline the campaign like a five act play. Each act takes in one or two city-states, and it has a specific tone and plot point. Although I’m breaking the acts down into scenes, I’m only planning the scenes for the current act. That is, I’ve summarized some scenes for act one, but I haven’t planned beyond that. “Best laid plans,” and whatnot. Also, I’ve endeavored to prevent the outline from being too linear by having alternate scenes (act I, scene 2a, act I, scene 2b), depending on the characters’ decisions. I’m sure I’ll still have to improvise; every DM does. Nonetheless, I’m happy with the way the outlining process has been going. You can see a sample here (unless you’re one of my players, in which case, shoo!). The section below is short, but each of the scenes is expanded upon in a later section of the adventure, which provides all the details relevant to a given scene.
Act I – A Company is Forged
In this act, the characters confront threats in Tyr and learn the truth of King Tithian.
The adventure begins in the Golden Inix. The characters come to the inn with different agendas and are thrown together through dire circumstances when templars come to arrest them.
The characters and Agis flee to Agis’s estate in the Noble District.
The characters take refuge in the Elven Market in the Warrens.
The party is taken to the dungeons beneath the Golden Tower.