In which ol’ Greywulf talks about his plans for the first scenario of his shiny new city-based Sandbox campaign.
But first, it’s probably worth going over my own goals and the tropes we’ll be working with – if only so that I’ve got them written down somewhere for reference.
Here’s the one-second pitch: This is Grand Theft Auto transplanted into the world of D&D.
The longer version is that the “heroes” are low-level scum out to make a fresh start in the city of Ptolus. They all have a past which has been left far behind (they hope), and in the first scenario have just disembarked from The Liberty Tale and are in search of their new contact and only ally in the Docks: Big Vinnie.
This is urban D&D. It’s gritty and visceral where the evil is evil and the good guys don’t like you much neither. Life is all about the payoff at the end and the one small step up the ladder of success. The people you hurt along the way to get there? Well, they just fell off the ladder.
The PCs begin at 1st level and can be of any race or class including those not normally found in or around Ptolus. Choose a Background Option to represent the character’s past. Instead of Alignment we’re going to use Alliances, and all of the characters begin Unaligned. At any point in the campaign they can declare their Alliance to one (or more) groups, gangs, guilds or syndicates and gain Favours from them – at the price of Disfavour from one or more opposing gangs.
While it might seem that this is a setting tailor-made for the Rogue, it’s more than that. Criminality is a career choice not a Class, and there are plenty of opportunities in the big city for dirty Fighters, unscrupulous Wizards, scheming Bards and amoral Paladins. That said, a spot of multi-classing into Rogue won’t hurt if you want to be good at the stabby-stabby.
For the first few levels (up to 3rd, roughly) the PCs are limited to only the Docks area of Ptolus. There have been a series of gruesome murders and folks have gone missing in the dead of night. Until recently it was contained to the Docks so the authorities didn’t care enough to investigate but they’ve recently begun to spread inland. The decision has been made to close Wharf Gate until the danger passes. What happens in the Docks is meant to stay in the Docks.
This has caused a fair degree of panic as merchants and travellers are all trying to find ways to enter Ptolus proper, And where there is panic, there is opportunity.
But first, the players have to……..
At that is the problem. Big Vinnie, minor Goblin crime boss in these parts, has gone missing. Some of his gang say he’s run off with the profits. Some say that the Dock Horror has got him. Others are too busy planning to take over to say anything at all. One thing is for sure – the PCs have to find him if they’re going to have a chance in this city, and do it before anyone else does.
He was last seen heading over to the Shrine of Dreams, a tavern on Wharf Road. He never made it, and neither did his Hobgoblin bodyguards.
One of my goals for this Sandbox campaign is that I want to do the bare minimum of prepwork; where possible I’ll be using creatures straight from the Monster Manual(s) and altering the levels & descriptions on the fly as needed. For example, Big Vinnie is a Goblin Underboss with ideas way above his station. He was lured into the Saltspray Gang’s turf where he and his bodyguards are caught in a particularly nasty trap – their bodies have been pulled into a Living Wall while their spirits roam as ghosts (“Ghoblins”, perhaps) and try to draw others into the Wall to join them. Nice, eh?
The Living Wall is a remnant of an old Wizard’s Tower that the Gang have managed to acquire and crudely add to the outside of their HQ. It appears to be coated in a bas-relief of twisted and contorted limbs. if anyone comes within 5’ of it the arms writhe out and try to pull the victim inside (+5 vs. Fort, Immobilized (save ends, 3 failed saves and you’re a part of the Wall)). The spirit is “spat out” by the Wall to become a free-roaming ghost-like apparition which is geas’d to draw further victims into the Wall. Killing the spirit snaps it back into the Wall, and the body is released, injured (count as Bloodied) but alive.
This is a simple two-stage scenario: 1) a Skill Challenge to track down Vinnie’s whereabouts, and 2) Defeat the Ghoblins and release Vinnie from the trap. As I said, the first scenario in any campaign should always be a simple one. If things go too quickly, I’ll add another Encounter where the PCs confront some members of the Saltspray Gang who want to put big Vinnie back in their Wall of Doom.
Can the PCs find Vinnie and rescue him from a life as masonry? Will they join him in the Wall as well? What plans has Big Vinnie for his new “friends”? And what about the Dock Horror? Is it a myth? Or a mythtery to be solved?
Stay tuned and find out!