Of Prequels and Legacies

February’s RPG Blog Carnival topic is “Time Marches On”. Hosted by Daemons & Deathrays, the topic looks at the role of time in role-playing campaigns.

Time’s very much at the heart of our two ongoing D&D 5th Edition campaigns. The campaigns were created as bookends for our 10+ year Blackrazor Guild campaign. The campaign took place in the World of Greyhawk campaign setting in our homegrown city of Obsidian Bay. In game, it occurred just after the Greyhawk Wars, running from CY 585 through CY 592; in the real world it ran from 1998 to 2008.

Obsidian Frontier takes place 70 years before the original campaign details the founding of Obsidian Bay on the monster-infested Pomarj peninsula. Heart of Darkness is a legacy campaign taking place 50 years after the original campaign. Both began as short-run playtest campaigns, but two years later they’re still going strong.

The Frontier Era

The prequel campaign began a year after the founding of “Griffins Landing”. Established by the powerful Griffins Guild, an adventuring group originally based out of the Free City of Irongate, the settlement was meant to be a staging area for counterattacks against the orcs, goblins, and other humanoids who had overrun the “Poor March”. The Griffins sought to be a light in the wilderness and — with luck and skill — re-establish civilization in a fallen land.

Then they found the Obsidian Maze, a megadungeon in the Drachensgrab Mountains. Tales of the dangers, wonders, and riches to be had in the Maze led to an influx of adventurers, which in turn caused Griffins Landing to turn into a boom town. Taking its name from the black sandy beaches, the fledgling city of Obsidian Bay was born.

The campaign started as a sandbox-style adventure, with our heroes venturing out into the wilderness to deal with a variety of threats: rampaging hill giants, a band of gnolls led by bloodthirsty hags, and aquatic hobgoblins. Along the way they dealt with a surprise blizzard on the subtropical peninsula, got lost in a fey-tainted landscape, and spawned an enemy of their own making in the form of General Kor, a former adventuring companion corrupted by evil artifacts.

As Obsidian Frontier evolved it became more about re-creating classic movements in campaign. As Griffins Guild members or freelancers associated with it, the heroes played a part in the political maneuvering leading up to the Founding of the City.

We played through the founding of Irontown — the dwarven district of the city in the Blackrazor Guild era — and retconned it into being its own self-contained city-within-a-city. More recently a new set of heroes are helping to establish the Library of Obsidian Bay, an organization that would come to be a key institution in the decades to come.

As one of two game masters for the campaign, I’ve enjoyed being able to make these connections with what’s come before. The downside is that the game isn’t as rich for those who weren’t part of the original Blackrazor Guild campaign, but I think we’ve injected enough frontier-specific content to keep things compelling for everyone.

The Legacy Era

The Legacy Era campaign’s got a very different feel to it. We cast the campaign decades into the future as a deliberate nod to the inclusiveness of D&D 5th Edition. In the Blackrazor Guild Era, we avoided such non-traditional fantasy constructs as dwarven wizards and elven paladins. In the Legacy Era, we embraced all the possibilities that 5e had to offer, which gave rise to my own character, the dwarven battle-mage Brigga Foehammer.

The campaign began in the northern town of Farweld, not too distant from the old Theocracy of Pale. The legacy aspect of the campaign tends to show up as easter eggs and other quick nods to our earlier campaign, though occasionally we’ve had some of our old characters show up as guest stars. The campaign is about the nature of identity and as such is focused more on the characters themselves than the larger world. We’re much more likely to be tripping through the extraplanar ruins of one of our characters former strongholds than to be exploring what the Free City of Greyhawk looks like 50 years down the line.

That’s fine, and it’s certainly been a lot of fun. If we do another legacy campaign, I’d like to venture into that larger world and see what the introduction of magic-wielding dwarves and dragonborn has done to Gary Gygax’s original playground.

Feature Image Meta

Two boxed sets and two RPG books from my World of Greyhawk collection. Sadly, there is no Greyhawk book for D&D 5th Edition. Credit: Ken Newquist.

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