by Mike Shea on 27 February 2012
I recently finished running a level 8 to 13 mini-campaign based on the Shadowfell, Gloomwrought and Beyond accessory and the Heroes of Shadow sourcebook. I used a few interesting house rules to keep this game feeling different from other mini-campaigns. Today we'll look at some of these house rules so you might get ideas for tailoring your own mini-campaign.
Like any of my mini-campaigns, this "Heroes of Shadow" mini-campaign had a focused set of available races and classes from the following sourcebooks: Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdom, and Heroes of Shadow. This limitation included all feats and powers as well. Item rewards all came from a random loot list built from the DM Kit and Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporioum. Later on, PCs sought out particular "rare" story-focused items tied to their characters and backgrounds. These also came from the Magnificent Emporium.
In order to give people a chance to try out different classes, I let them "shadowphase" as a daily ritual. At the beginning of a day, after an extended rest, they could choose a different class for their character. Their name, race, and items stayed the same but their class could be completely different. This let our shadow-focused cleric also switch to a hexblade and our druid sentinel could switch to a blackguard. This switch, however, didn't break the important ties the actual character had with the rest of the world. In practice, it worked well although I should have defaulted to using "inherent bonuses" so characters wouldn't have to collect two separate sets of gear just to have appropriate stats.
As an alternate form of reward, PCs could complete certain quest lines in Gloomwrought to unlock additional "classic" classes. Complete quests for the Raven's Eyrie and unlock the Avenger class. Complete quests for Dedrick Harskell and unlock the Artificer class. Complete quests for the street hag and unlock the classic Warlock. In practice, only one player bothered to use one of these classic classes. Most stuck with the original classes offered up in the beginning.
As they learned more of their origin, the PCs discovered the Fiasco-style relationships they had with each other and the city around them. Once they had reached a certain point in recovering their memories, each player rolled 1d20 on this chart to identify the relationship they had with the PC on their left. This developed a much stronger tie to the world and ended up directly affecting the overall story of the campaign. It was a much stronger bond than a typical "you're a group of adventurers that meet in a bar". Here's the list:
To further randomize the game, we used random themes to develop character backgrounds. Again, this took place as PCs recovered memories they had lost previously.
As another change to the game, the party gained possess of a dream well that let them invade the dreams of their enemies either to recover information or plant ideas in their heads. This included invading the dreams of the diva consort, Feria. There, the party wandered the wastelands of her psyche for 10 years, 8 months, and 5 days before facing her and telling her the truth of her lost soul-mate.
Since our campaign ran from level 8 to level 13, I de-leveled many of the personalities the PCs faced including, mainly, Prince Rolan and his consort Feria. Doing so was quite easy, using Chris Perkins's rules for scaling monsters.
Overall I was very happy with this campaign. I wouldn't want to run a longer campaign in a world so bleak (and the gods know my players hated the Despair Deck) but for about three months, it was a nice change of pace from the traditional adventure. I'm totally sold on mini-campaigns as the primary way I want to play D&D and as the best way to run a fun game with a clear story that most DMs can actually complete.