Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 04, 2017
Looking for adventure plot ideas

About two years ago I played with my home D&D group the first adventure of the Zeitgeist Adventure Path, Island at the Axis of the World. This month EN Publishing released the first part of that adventure converted into 5th edition D&D. As I am now also playing with new players at a local role-playing club, I am thinking of playing the first two adventures of Zeitgeist again. It is always interesting to see how a very different group (and in a different system) approaches the same adventure, it is going to be faster in 5E, and I already have the battle maps printed out in poster format.

But this plan requires a bit of work on my part. While the 4E version of Island at the Axis of the World was for 1st level characters, the 5E version is for 3rd level characters. And I don't like to start a campaign other than at level 1. I'd rather use an introductory adventure to get players from level 1 to 3, and at the same time introduce them to the world of Zeitgeist. Island at the Axis of the World starts with the players being constables in the Royal Homeland Constabulary in Risur, 7 years after Risur lost a war against Danor. So I was thinking that a good way to explain how the characters became constables and introduce them to the background would be to play a short adventure that gets the players from level 1 to 3 in that war. More specifically I would have the adventure play on Axis Island, at the end of the war where Risur loses the island to Danor, so that their later adventures on that island would be a return, 7 years later, and thus be more interesting.

So the basic scenario is the players as a squad of soldiers on the losing side of a war. I was thinking of something like the group having to first act as scouts for the army, with a mission to infiltrate an enemy camp or find something in some dungeon before the enemy does. Then in a second part the war is lost, and the group needs to flee with whatever item they were sent out to get and reach the evacuation point before being captured.

Now 5th edition D&D goes from level 1 to level 3 rather quickly. Basically two "adventuring days" with 6 to 8 medium to hard encounters will do the trick. But I would like to have a bit more variety than staging a dozen encounters against Danoran soldiers. And I'm still a bit fuzzy about the details of the plot. So I am looking for ideas. I've been looking for war-themed published adventures, but beyond the War of the Burning Sky campaign I couldn't find much. I'd be interested if you know of a good adventure that has the group play as a squad of soldiers in a war. Or if you have ideas that could fit into the plot I outlined above. Feel free to submit your ideas here in the comment section, my new players don't read my blog.


I'd use the setting you already have. I'm not familiar with it, but a quick bit of Googling revealed things like Risor tilting more towards druidic and shamanic magic, while Danor is some sort of technological giant. There's beach archipelagos, a tropical environment and this interesting writeup of a Faraday Shaw NPC who defended Axis Island and led some kind of bold nighttime assault against a pier, sinking several frigates and a ship of the line.

The first question I'd want to know is: Why did Risor lose the war? Specifically. Yes, they are technologically poorer than Danor, no doubt a lot of people on their side died, but there is usually some major inciting/defining incident that will force a signed surrender. Did some really important generals die? Was there the introduction of some completely overwhelming could-not-be-fought against weapon on the scale of a nuclear bomb or dragonfire, etc.? Did Risor lose some major means of communication/coordination with each island, or some important supply line for their soldiers?

Preferably after you've decided on the incident, let your players witness or even play a part in it unwittingly. Anything they bungle, take note of it as something that will come back to haunt them when the war is lost.

Maybe this Faraday Shaw comes up with a grand plan to steal or move weapons/bombs from the enemy or move soldiers from a bunch of islands and bring them together on Axis Island. His goal, to sink the ship of the line and blow up a whole bunch of stuff on a daring nighttime commando raid. With the help of the players, he succeeds...

...but Danor absorbs the hit and takes advantage of the weakened forces on the other islands to counterattack in some sort of defining battle that forces a surrender. Maybe King Aodhan is cornered on some other island and to save his skin, he goes, "OK, you win."

Possible encounters:
Tropical island = tropical pests/diseases, foraging for supplies, not getting lost in a jungle. Are there any native druidic/shamanistic tribe inhabitants to encounter? You've got a beach setting, a tropical jungle, a tropical stream/river, the ocean between islands, even a volcano if you want to be dramatic.

(Maybe instead of using bombs, Faraday Shaw pulls together a bunch of druids/shamans in some kind of great earth magic ritual that wakes the volcano and fries the Danor ships... except an exploding volcano is not exactly specific in its devastation and Risor ends up the poorer for it ultimately.)

Basically, let the players fight the environment they are in, conducting some kind of plan that they think will help their side win. Climax in the anticipated big battle against Danor and let them enjoy some kind of victory there. End off with a bittersweet twist that while they may have won this battle here (possibly at significant cost) the enemy won a lot of other battles elsewhere, and their king yielded and gave ground.
I seem to recall that the intro adventure to the 3.5E Eberron Campaign Guide had an adventure set before the Mourning that involved a group of soldiers of Cyre. I don't see why that couldn't be adapted to Zeitgeist. Change the groups to match Zeitgeist groups.

Both involve more advanced technology/magic than standard high fantasy settings.
One possible set of encounters would be to have the PCs escort an officer, dignitary, or essential information across the wilderness to avoid enemy soldiers. This would allow you to use wild animals, dangerous terrain, or bumping into some bandits. If the setting allows for it, perhaps something like a malfunctioning war machine or magical creation wandering the woods.

If you want to have roleplaying involved, let the PCs know they are being pursued, but have a certain amount of lead on the enemy. The PCs encounter people in trouble. Do they stop and help the innocents and risk their lead on the pursuers, or do they leave the innocents and keep moving?
Or they could simply be dungeon-delving on their own account when they meet up with one or more Risor soldiers who escaped from a rout and are hiding out trying to evade the enemy. They could fight together against some monsters in the dungeon and/or find a way to friendly territory. One Risor soldier has a high position of some sort (or is just a nobleman), giving them contacts later.
You might want to check out the level 2-3 part of the 5E Hoard of the Dragon Queen publication. The adventure as a whole would probably give you fits, but after the initial crazy battle, the group of soldiers is instructed to scout out an enemy camp and potentially rescue captives. They then return to the camp the following day and investigate a cave that is there. While there are many parts of that adventure that I cannot stand, the level 2 camp/scout mission is well done in my opinion with a lot of options for the players.
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