JP On Gaming

Friday, August 14, 2009

Putting it together: The Historical Campaign

Enough theory, let’s try to put together a mini-campaign. My goal here is to run a short campaign set in the Holy Lands at the start of the Crusades (say 1100AD). At the start of the campaign, I want to set the basic tone. The King of Jerusalem, Godfrey de Bouillon was crowned last year, is 42 years of age and is currently mounting an army to attack Damascus (he will die on his way back from the expedition).

Looking at the background, I could see King Godfrey, known to be a very pious man, calls upon a group of servants to perform some task for him. Say… Find a lost scroll believed to have been written by St Stephen, the first bishop of Jerusalem.

So the main elements for my campaign are: The Crusades, The Saracens, and Other Crusaders. Let’s see how we can use those.

Option #1: Good Christians vs. Evil Muslims

A common stereotype is the fact that people in the middle-ages were “stuck” in their life stations, a serf was a serf forever and a knight lived in luxury all his life. In my campaign, I will showcase that the Crusades served as a springboard into nobility for many courageous or resourceful individuals.

I plan on portraying the Saracens as evil, devious and twisted individuals who seek to kill every Christian they encounter. In contrast, the Christians crusaders will be depicted as highly devout and humble believers in Christ. Those depictions are *FAR* from realistic, but they should serve the campaign well by creating an “us versus them” conflict.

There you go, I have a theme, a basic idea and immediate conflicts for the PCs to navigate. I also have a basic concept for the players to create characters by.

Option #2: Shades of Grey

As another option, using the same premise (King Godfrey sends the PCs to find the scroll of St Stephen), I could decide to display the Saracens and Christians as “the two faces of a coin” where both sides are gripped by zealotry and a number of people manage to find common ground and accommodate each other.

One of the theme I would like to explore would be the impact such a text would have upon the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Some will want to make it disappear, other want to use it to promote warmongering and yet others will try to doubt the PCs and their claims about the text.

Here the PCs could be pretty much anyone. They could be Saracen or Frankish peasants, warriors, merchants or pilgrims. This type of “shades of grey” campaign does allow for greater versatility. Like all shades of grey campaigns, be careful that the PCs’ motivation for staying together is greater than the dissention. More on that in a later article…

Option #3: Inner Politics

Instead of breaking the stereotype of the serfs being stuck as serfs, I wanted to have the PCs involved in the Byzantine politics (yes, the pun is intended) of the Crusader states. On the one hand, the Pope and the West, the Byzantine emperor (Alexios Komnenos) and the Crusader States themselves. Show that all those influences’ common goal, the taking of Jerusalem, had been accomplished and they now squabbled together.

Here, the Saracens would serve as a looming threat ready to pounce at any signs of weakness, but the day-to-day enemies are over-ambitious Crusaders.

Noble PCs, such as knights and ladies would serve the story better.


There you go… using the simple goal of finding a lost book I came up with 3 options on how to build the campaign. All three campaigns are based in a deep historical feel but showcase different things and themes. By working with those themes, you can expand the campaign more and more.

Why I could even see someone start with option 1 where the PCs try to find the scroll then shift to option 2 once they have it and finally shift to option 3 to conclude. The possibilities are endless. Since my goal was a short mini-campaign, however I would stick to just one option. Sticking to one theme allows exploring the theme better. In a sequel mini-campaign, different theme can be touched. It makes each such campaign have its own flair. If you read my many postings about adventure writing, you know by now that I am definitely into those “begin-middle-end” campaigns and again I will advocate this here.

I’m sure by now you are thinking. “That’s all good but what rule system should I use!?” A good question indeed, but something I’ll expand upon next time!

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