Background and Campaign Concept
In discussion, it came up that a few players wanted to have the option of a back up game incase the usual one couldn’t happen. In discussing options the idea was to have a game focused on characters who were monster-ish (not capital M, MONSTERS, just dangerous critters) living in the biggest city in my world, and being detectives. This is not a “we are evil muhahaha” campaign, rather it is a political intrigue campaign where every player has at least one secret that if revealed could get them killed just for being who and what they are.
I decided to do things a little bit different as people had a hard time grasping the concept of nobility and politics in a scenario where words can kill. Therefore, I will be making all the characters and players will pick from the ones I create which they want to play. I will make extras and any unchosen will exist as NPCs.
The game is D&D 4th edition, using Roll20 at first but I might migrate later if I can get a better system to work as reliably. Game is initially 3rd level. We will be using story-based exp, meaning characters gain levels at specific points in the campaign plot, not as direct result of actions, but as a result of story progression. There will be few fights, this is more like a mystery/detective game, but as a result those fights will be extremely lethal and expected to require ALL of your resources.
The idea that came out during the initial discussion was a detective agency with a bastard royal in charge (so everyone is safe from the oath of fealty despite being monsterish and sort of outlaws, I agreed to this idea). Thus I present, with due honor to my beloved City of Heroes *DM holds back tears* MAGI: Originally the Modern Arcane Guild of Investigations, now the Ministry of Arcanna and Guild of Investigators. For those who never played CoH, MAGI is one of the five city agencies that acts as a patron to new players, and in lore it is where all the dangerous magic items are kept. Despite having the “most secure vault in the world” something like 20% of all major story arcs revolving around magic or the end of the world start with someone stealing a cursed item from MAGI. This became a running joke among players and devs, including the following fan-created advertisement for a personal-injury lawyer set in COH.
This campaign is set in my own world of Home, in the province of Kentarre, in the city of Kentarre. Expect another post soon with more details on Kentarre. The short version is that it is most like Paris under the Romans, but on the coast, not a river. Yes, there is a massive underground necropolis. The province and city have the same name, and just like New York most people only care about the city and pretend the rest of the province either doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter. It was the seat of the Demon’s rule, the necropolis is “over 24 square miles” of tunnel entirely wallpapered in the skulls of his sacrificial victims. The wording is in air quotes because no one knows how big or deep the necropolis is, and only about 3 square miles are actually mapped. The city is the home of the divine Royal Family, the seat of power of the Empress (even when the ruler is male the title is always Empress), and a major trade nexus even with Monster-ruled lands. It is the center of power for all major churches, and is famous for the Ziggurat of the Sun (used to be the aztec-style altar where the Demon made all his sacrifices), and the Palace of Storms (a mini-death star looking sphere of wood and metal hovering menacingly in the sky over the city, constantly raining and tossing lightning around). About half of all knightly orders have their main forts within a day’s ride of Kentarre, and three are built into the city as the main gates. Surrounding it is a massive area of beautiful farmlands and woods all completely devoid of Monsters, which everyone from town benefits from but loves to ignore and beneath them.
Unlike other settings or TV Shows, Kentarre is not seedy, or corrupt, etc. It is instead more like San Francisco from Star Trek, in that it is a perfect meritocracy and near utopia. The major things keeping it from being a true utopia are that it has a steady influx of people from all over the world who bring their negativity with them, the necropolis is seriously bad news, and as the heart of all that is good in the world lots of negativity comes here to try and crush the light or feed on it. Over time the light always wins and those immigrants are uplifted the enemies defeated etc, but more negativity always comes. This campaign will focus on the players being a part of the light winning against some of this negativity. But being sort of shady themselves, the players have to be careful about how much time they spend in what part of the light.
Inspiration and Getting Into the Proper Mood
All links below are to Wikipedia first and IMDB after. These shows are where I will be pulling inspiration from and what I was thinking about as I design the campaign and setting. NOTE: will update tonight with the actual links, because I’m a lazy SOB.
Grimm (IMDB): A TV Series about supernatural “things” set in Portland where the hero is a cop so doesn’t go all Buffy and slaughter them, even though his family has done just that for so long they are called Decapitare by the supernatural community. I particularly love Monroe and Rosalie, the werewolf clockmaker and kitsune apothecary couple, and Trouble the young monster hunter. This show is extremely close to my idea of the campaign as it has investigations, most of the main characters are monsters, and everyone who finds out about Nick being a Grimm (monster hunter) panics and begs him not to kill them, but he never was going to anyway. Also has a cool thing going with the royal families from all the fairy tales from European history being the bad guys. The blaspheme character below is a combination of Trouble and Jonathan Strange from the TV show of the same name.
Being Human (IMDB): The BBC Version, because the US remake totally sucked donkey dick. Most relevant is the whole trying to pass as human thing. The actress who played the ghost haunting their apartment was my favorite but the guy who played the werewolf in the first couple seasons was great too. The Irish vampire was ok, but sort of meh. Corrupt vampire cops were a well done threat. Great parallels to the campaign in hiding in plain sight and trying to be normal.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (IMDB): BBC Show about two magicians who are prophecized to return magic to England after centuries of none. Mr Strange is a poor noble who learns magic on his own by trial and error working from intuition and Mr Norrell is a total book worm and a wealthy aristocrat, they go to London and become famous but it turns out they have secret ties to a faerie lord that may cause them some serious problems. Clear similarities to the story here. Also, I love both of the Fey Lords. The blaspheme character below is a combination of Jonathan Strange and Trouble from Grimm above.
The Magicians (IMDB): An American TV Show (because for a change the BBC show of the same name is unrelated and total crap too) based on a novel series of the same name, itself inspired by Chronicles of Narnia. Like a college-aged Harry Potter, complete with fraternity parties and lots of drunken stupidity that results in things people agree never to speak of again. But where it crosses into this campaign is what happens to the people who don’t get accepted into the school. Also, how the land of Fillory is like the Feywild and the Shadowfell both combined into one.
Life on Mars (IMDB): The BBC version mostly. The US was ok, but actually making the title true was completely a lame choice given where the original went. The idea is a cop from the modern day wakes up in the ’70s and has all his memories and knowledge of the modern world and can’t figure out how he got where he is. Things he sees start to make him think maybe he’s crazy (all his coworkers do think he’s a bit off), or maybe he’s dead, or maybe something else is going on. Where it crosses over to this campaign is again, solving crimes and keeping secrets and the supernatural side of what might be going on.
Whitechapel (IMDB): BBC show about the police station in the section of London where the Jack the Ripper murders happened, having a series of copycat killings on the anniversary of the original murders. Then it turns out that there is more going on and the place is actually literally cursed. The final episode has a creepy old lady that made me totally jealous because she’s worse than any of mine. Also, this is where I got the name for the Ministry’s estate. Pretty clear how this lines up with the campaign.
Zen (IMDB): BBC show based on a novel series about the only honest cop in Rome. Has my absolute favorite British actor Rufus Sewell in the title role. This one is to help the players get the idea how brutal politics can be. In the first episode Zen is told that if he doesn’t find person X guilty of a murder the mayor will fire him. If he doesn’t find person Y guilty of the same murder the chief inspector might have him killed. If he doesn’t solve the crime fast his boss will fire him. They all are specifically forcing him to do this because he is new to town from Venice so has no allies locally, and has a reputation for being completely honest so the people will believe anything he says. Meanwhile, he just wants to solve the crime for real and make sure no one else gets murdered, but doesn’t want to get fired or killed.
Beauty and the Beast (IMDB): The not quite as cheesy recent version, not the really old one, not either of the Disney ones either. Has cops, has a mad scientist, has genetically altered “beasts” who are the good guys. This is a great model for the campaign, just ignore the corrupt government agency plotline.
Angel (IMDB): The classic detective monster series with a reformed vampire protecting people and only occasionally going evil himself. Can’t really get any clearer a parallel than this. Yes, Buffy doesn’t work as well because she’s not a monster herself. Angel is a vampire, his partner is a demon, and his secretary is a prophet and lives in a haunted house.
These should be plenty to get the idea across.
The Ministry and Whitehall
The Ministry of Arcana and Guild of Investigations was founded way back during the days of the Demon as a vault holding any items deemed to be too powerful for the slaves (citizens) to possess. After the Werewolf killed him and the Royal family came to power, MAGI changed to be responsible for tracking down and clearing out remnants of the Demon’s power. Over time the need for MAGI’s services were reduced, especially as the bog churches and knightly orders cleaned house and maintained the peace. Supposedly, MAGI was closed down 27 generations ago. However, that was actually just the main offices which were torn down because it was the only way to deal with a particularly nasty curse. The staff had been reduced severely by then, and continued to dwindle after that. At its height, MAGI had a staff of about 120, including two champions, they had a main office in the palace (currently that office is home to the Reeve of Lyric), 4 sub offices (one in each quarter of town), a main vault below the palace in a “safe” part of the necropolis (this is now the property of the crown but still exists), and an unknown number of secondary vaults scattered around town (estimated to be approximately 27).
For the past several generations the only way anyone got to MAGI was either when the Minister heard about their need and offered services, or if someone was frustrated by enough other ministries not helping, or couldn’t manage to convince the knights that there was really a danger, they somehow (one might almost say magically) ended up at MAGI’s office by mistake and then were helped. Also the knights sometimes brought people they didn’t want to help to MAGI or just dumped cursed items on MAGI’s doorstep to be disposed of.
Most recently MAGI consisted of the Minister himself, the archivist, and one Special Investigator. The Investigator was very old and retired to a farm out in the eastern part of the province. The Minister died reading a book from the restricted area of the archive (both eyes burned out and his body exsanguinated by glyphs in the text). So for the past 4 years it has just been the archivist alone maintaining Whitehall, the MAGI office and the last vault in Whitehall’s basement.
Unfortunately, the crown decided to sell Whitehall. More accurately, the Reeve of Lyric in an act of pure malice managed to get Whitehall sold, and since the Minister is dead there was no one to stop him. The office was bought by a local noble from up north on the coast who needed a spot in town and he thought it might make a fine gentlemen’s club and smoking hall. The terms of sale were “By imperial decree the building and furnishings of Whitehall, formerly MAGI central office, are hereby sold as is, and are to be maintained as is at the expense of the purchaser in perpetuity, pending notice from the Minister.” Thus the office comes with the vault (locked, and the owner doesn’t have permission to enter because it is for MAGI personnel only, he owns the building but is not a member of the ministry), the archive, all the case files (kept confidential by the archivist except on a need-to-know basis), and the archivist (can only be fired by the Minister, also she was listed as part of the furnishings of the archive in the official bill of sale).
Across the street is a popular Elven pub (think Irish, because why not) and the owner had an understanding with the old Minister to keep Whitehall stocked and provide service to his guests as needed. The barkeep’s services are also part of the “as is” clause because the drinks were mentioned in the furnishings section of the bill of sale.
Character List, Short Version
I will give each character a long writeup and full character-build. With two exceptions all characters can be either sex (ignore the he/she used in the description, and feel free to make anyone any sex). The Hag and the Banshee have to be female, no others have any restrictions. I added a few that are going to be variations on the ones originally discussed so if people want one that is very close that option is there, and if they want to take things in a different direction there are choices. Any characters not chosen may be NPCs.
Options to be the Aristocrat who bought Whitehall:
If multiple are chosen, only one owns the building and the others are members of the “gentleman’s club” (even if not male). These are written as if the Werepanther is buying Whitehall but all can be tweaked easily if another one is preferred by the party.
- The Werepanther — Shifter Warlord (lazylord build, bastard royal): Uses rules for longtooth shifter, but flavor of razorclaw and looks fully human except when shifted. Has an estate north west of town along the coast. Family have been up and down in fortune for generations, they were once shipwrights, then merchants, then one was a champion, then they lost everything and rebuilt by being willing to do import/export between the Dwarves of Imbilot and the capital. In recognition of peacebuilding between and enemy kingdom and the crown he was granted a noble title and lands, but they don’t actually need him to do anything as the lands are peaceful and well organized. So he came to town to find something interesting to spend his time and money on and ended up buying Whitehall. The cat was chosen rather than wolf to fit a little more in theme with the class and history, so napping all day long being slothful aka Imbilot’s nature, but razorclaw racial mods suck so stuck with the longtooth’s superior bonuses.
- The Shapeshifter — Changeling Blackguard/Paladin (landed noble, not royal). Very young ex-champion, now landed knight (rewarded for killing a hunter champion and holding the line even though the victory way pyrrhic), and only survivor of a village that was exterminated by hunters. Has survivor’s guilt. Is working with a druid to work his way to redemption because he cannot face his fellow Stormlords (paladins of Thor) due to the way his rage has changed him. Since his lord’s lands are lost was rewarded with a small keep north of Kentarre. Spends time in the city because it is a place where he feels at peace and most like himself, and he doesn’t feel like he deserves a reward. He specifically is often found at the Black Bayou Bar (across the street from Whitehall) because he gets on with the owner and because he can easily be any number of different people here. Can be paladin if the player wants to emphasize the fallen protector nature or blackguard if the player wants to emphasize holding back rage and learning to forgive through the difference between claiming something is “righteous” and “justice” when it is really only revenge. As a changeling, this character is a compulsive actor, but not a liar. One critical way this comes into play is that he is a teetotaler and NEVER drinks, but is always at the bar and can get away with it, in part, because the bar owner is a part of the act.
- The Blasphemy — Vestige Pact Hexblade (champion and back water aristocrat, not royal). Master duelist, would-be mage, and champion of remote estate on the border with Jer’li in the very very far north moors. Worked all his childhood to become a wizard but never could, ended up finding what he thought was a magic item that would help him fake being a wizard, but instead ended up a warlock bound to one of the old primordials who helped create the world, and with the ability to make a magical sword at will and cast spells finally fulfilling his life-long dream. Except that the local priest of the sun is a bastard, and the local aristocrat. Now he is tasked by the vestige of a dead primordial that is the source of all his power to try and bring it back to life, and by his lord who hates primordials for no good reason to banish the vestige forever. He doesn’t understand why no one believes him that the primordial isn’t evil and none of them would be alive without it. His lord sent him to town to get rid of him, then blacklisted him among the local nobility so he couldn’t complete his quest. Ended up making friends with a member of the royal family who is fascinated with primordials but who only cares about the theatrical fictional versions of the stories not the real history (IE wants to help, but is totally incapable of helping), and who never seems to understand why no one will help the hexblade, nor why he was told to send the hexblade to Whitehall.
- The Cursed Blade — Revenant Swordmage (landed noble, not royal): Actually this is a magic sword possessing the corpse of its last owner. The owner died questing, but he was cursed and so his failure to complete the quest meant that his soul was forfeit to a devil as part of a Faustian bargain he had made. The sword captured just enough of the champion’s soul that it could keep the body functioning for a while, and has been trying to complete the quest for him in the hopes that the divine powers can use the shard he is protecting to free all of his soul. Until then, however, he has to hide the fact that his master’s body is an undead and the shard of his soul is a portable doorway to hell. Other than that he is the most loyal and trustworthy person you could hope to meet. Even if he doesn’t understand a lot of what seems obvious to other people, like eating and drinking and sex and children and families and jobs. His master was a knight from the Dawn’s Blade, an order based near the desert in the far south east, and was in Kentarre to find something. Unfortunately, until it took over the master’s body the sword was only aware while it was drawn, so it neither knows what the quest is nor why the master came to Kentarre. He does know that his master fought several times under the banner of the Werepanther traveling to Imbilot and back, and that he is currently the only member of his order in Kentarre thus he has their small manor all to himself (not counting the servants who all assume his oddities are because he’s an uncultured heathen from the desert).
- The Red-Headed Stepchild — Human (Vryloka) Witch/Barbarian: Inspired, shamelessly by the short-lived comic The Berserker’s Daughter but modified for my setting. The daughter of an aristocratic family from Thitstir, thus a noble from the Monster’s hierarchy, not the Royal hierarchy. Her parents were honored to host one of the lords of Thitstir (a vampire in service to the dragon), but he decided that when the witch came of age she would be his. Of course the parents could not decline and feigned joy at this event, but immediately upon his departure reached out to the “invader” Prince Mathionwy. who had one of his champions “kidnap” the girl and send her to Kentarre on a merchant ship. She is currently living on an Imperial stipend as a ward of the crown, but at the estate of the merchant, who is now a landed noble. While a merchant with ties to Imbilot understands what it means to be a redhead from Thitstir-and how their magic works-most people in town are squeamish about blood, and especially blood magic. She moved to the city because of rumors of strangers with a “western accent” asking questions about blood mages and red heads in the harbors along the coast. In town, she stands out much less obviously, but can still live as a wastrel on the Empire’s dime. Can emphasize the barbarian (thaneborn to emphasize her personal battle cry of “RAAAAAAAAAAGGGGE” even though she doesn’t actually rage) with multiclass witch to emphasize the physically powerful side of being a Vryloka, or Witch with all the White Lotus arcane dueling feats to emphasize the blood magic side of being a Vryloka. The dragon has both a male and a female vampire serving him, so this character works with either sex. Alternatively, could go for a bit of black comedy and have the vampire in question be The Betrayer who is actually good but nobles from Thitstir would be horrified at the thought of her marrying their son.
- The Bane Sidhe — Eladrin Invoker (aka elf of death, aka banshee): Must be female. A part of Whitehall for years and last official member of MAGI. Maintains the building, has the only key to the vault and the only key to the restricted archives, and more secrets than all of the NSA and CIA staff combined. Can only be removed from her job by an act of the Minister, but there is no Minister. Official job title is unknown as the word is not intelligible in any known language including supernal. It is not clear if she has left the building in the past 20 years, but there is only one master bedroom (for the Minister when he chooses to sleep onsite) and two guest bedrooms, and she insists she would never sleep in those because she isn’t the Minister nor a Guest. Maintains the finances for the ministry, and all the old case files. Has taken over the old Minister’s grudge with the Reeve of Lyric over the old office in the Imperial Palace “as a matter of tradition”.
Other Gentlefolk About Town
- The Unicorn — Deva Artificer/Illusionist: Locked into human form (mostly) and on the run from two very dangerous crazy people who both want to own her. Was a part of a menagerie owned by a mage in Suemonom (collected with the help of a bound Efreeti) but escaped as a young foal with the help of a psychopath/stalker who is obsessed with her beauty and insists “if I can’t have her no one can”. Has been fleeing from place to place, from kingdom to kingdom, staying one step ahead of both of them. Bears a brand of ownership in a spot that’s not immediately visible. Has been handed from noble to noble as a ward to keep her away from her hunters, rarely spending more than a year or two in one city before having to be moved again. Thus has built up a large collection of allies and connections across the kingdoms, though a few were killed and only one is local to Kentarre. Currently living with a kind old couple of nobles who own a large island but can only be there during summer because the damp is bad for their joints, and is a patron of the art gallery above the pub because she can act as a muse to various artists without risking herself becoming known (as long as she is very careful how and when she uses her beauty). DM’s Note: If this character is chosen and used male, any jokes even remotely similar to”hung like a horse” will be met with grudge monsters. You have been warned.
- The Hag — Bugbear or Eladrin Vampire (used for mechanics only, appears fully human and is not undead, bugbear if the player wants to emphasize strength eladrin for teleport): Must be female. Looks withered and old (most of the time), but is only 21. Her mother fell in love with a champion who was not freaked out by her true appearance (read King of Elfland’s Daughter for the inspiration), but the local villagers found out about her and burned both her parents because of the way she grew up too fast and drew the life out of plants near her. Her father was able to call in a favor and send her to his cousin living I Kentarre where she lived until her aunt died of pneumonia. When the locals assumed she was her aunt, she just went along with it pretending to be both herself and her aunt. She is extremely careful to never lie and never say “I’ll go get my aunt” or anything like that, knowing that a ritual of truth could reveal that she has never committed any crime and possibly save her life if the authorities find her out. Thus she is the acting lord of a large estate that acts as the main graveyard for Kentarre city, including the middle class mausoleums and pauper’s fields. She has a relationship with MAGI’s archivist that dates back to when the old Minister was alive and is unknown to the other characters.
- The Golem — Warforged Shaman: A master dancer made of porcelain but so finely painted and built that it can pass for human. Inanimate but truly alive and with a soul. Part of a set of six made in a collaboration between a true master and a would-be master. Sadly, only two remain and the other, well, is more like Frankenstein’s monster than a masterpiece. She runs an art gallery above the pub where she sponsors only unknown artists and complains when better connected patrons steal them from her. Secretly she sets this up so that the truly gifted of her artists can get the support they deserve to go on and craft more magnificent art while she can remain barely known. She never explains this is in homage to her favorite father who, except for her, always worked in temporary form crafting living golems out of air, fire, and ice that faded and died over a few days or weeks but loved the life they had while it lasted. And, she doesn’t want her sister to find her and kill her like she did their other father. Her “spirit companion” is actually variable and can be called in the form of any of her other four siblings. If this one is chosen and male, the “sister” would be a “brother” as it is setup as an evil twin scenario, meaning this character is the primary suspect in their father’s murder, but the evil twin actually did it.
- The Yakuza — Drow Assassin/Executioner or Bard: Very few people know that Schattenaelfen aren’t extinct. Even fewer know that while they are drow, they aren’t black skinned. A small tribe of Schattenaelfen live in the border between the necropolis of Kentarre City and the underdark, and have been acting as a mafia. When the matriarch died of a wasting disease, her children discovered that her signet ring, symbol of her right to rule, and half her wealth were missing. In their place she had left a note saying that the disease was her curse for betraying her one true love, and abandoning her eldest child. She had sent the ring and her wealth to that child and urged her other children to find their way to redemption before they all ended up like her. What this has to do with the nice elf who owns the Black Bayou Bar across the street from Whitehall is anyone’s guess. The bar has become somewhat famous for its Shaddar Kai chef and his shadowfell-focused cuisine. The class options are based on nature vs nurture, if his drow nature shows through no matter he never spent a single day in their culture, then assassin, if his upbringing among the townsfolk and ability to make contacts as a way to improve his lot in life is dominant then bard. Either way he will multiclass into the other one, it is just whichever the player wants to be dominant. The chef is an NPC hireling.