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A World Without Heroes: A 1st to 20th level Campaign Outline

by Mike on 3 January 2022

What if no heroes had come to save the Sword Coast?

What if all of the events from Tyranny of Dragons, Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss, Tomb of Annihilation, Descent into Avernus, and Rime of the Frostmaiden took place but no heroes were around to stop them?

What if Tiamat's rise wasn't stopped and the queen of dragons now ruled over the Sword Coast from a golden ziggurat floating over Waterdeep?

What if none thwarted the demon princes summoned to the underdark and now Demogorgon rules Menzoberranzan against Orcus's undead illithids?

What if the Cult of Eternal Flame defeated the three other cults of elemental evil and now Imix sits upon a throne of molten iron in the center of the scorched remains of the Dessarin Valley?

What if Acererak's atropal devoured the souls of millions and became a new dark god nestled in the island of Chult?

What if Elturel was never saved, leaving a bleeding wound in the earth leading down to the hellscape of Avernus while the corruption of devils devours neighboring Baldur's Gate?

What if Auril turned everything north of the Spine of the World into a lifeless glacier slowly making its way south?

What if all of these things happened at once?

That is the seed for this campaign outline I call "A World Without Heroes". This is one of a number of campaign outlines I've written including the following:

The Truths of the World Without Heroes.

Starting Locations

This campaign could start in a number of adventure-filled locations. Choosing a location to start may be an important consideration in your session zero. Each starting location brings a very different theme to the campaign, particularly in the lower tiers.

These locations include:

Secrets of the Land

These hidden secrets help fuel the GM's imgination when running a campaign in this grim setting:

Unlikely Allies

Part of the fun of running a twisted campaign like this is bringing in unlikely allies and quest NPCs. Here are a few we might consider:

As you can see, many of the once former villains in the Sword Coast could become fun allies as the titans walk the land.

Quests and Adventures from 1st to 20th Level

Rather than list out individual quests for each tier, considering that a group could start in numerous areas, I'll describe instead the types of quests characters might go on at each tier.

One great advantage of a campaign like this is that we can use a lot of material from existing published adventures including Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss, Tyranny of Dragons, Tomb of Annihilation, Descent into Avernus, and Rime of the Frostmaiden. We can pilfer a great deal of locations, maps, artwork, and NPCs from these adventures for use in our own dreadful campaign. Players who have played these adventures can enjoy returning to these people and places with this new spin.

1st through 4th Level: Facing Local Problems

At the first tier of play the characters likely face problems local to their starting location. They may battle invading forces from one or two of the titans now ruling over the Sword Coast but at this level, they cannot hope to face one of the beings. Instead, their goal is to help those who remain survive under the iron grip of the beings who now rule the land.

Quests in this tier might include rescue missions, reconnaissance missions against enemy strongholds, defeating local tyrants, defending local strongholds, and saving those who cannot withstand the terror of the titans now ruling the Sword Coast.

5th through 10th Level: Breaking Regional Barriers

At the second tier of play, the characters will begin to break into new areas, seeing the effects of more than one of the titans ruling over the Sword Coast. They may begin small revolutions against local lords allying with these mighty rulers. The initial stages of plans to push back, maybe even defeat, the lords might begin to take place.

Quests in this tier might include aiding refugees leaving one area for another, bringing important messages to new lands, bringing together networks of resistance across the lands, disrupting the plans of mid-level leaders of the arch-villains, seeking forgotten secrets of the Sword Coast, and finding lost artifacts that can aid in the war against the titans.

11th through 16th Level: Dethroning the Elder Evils

Once the characters hit tier three they're ready to begin taking on some of the less powerful elder evils such as Imix or the demon princes in the Underdark. They might pit one elder evil against another, perhaps even allying with one to defeat another before betraying the first. This whole part of the campaign may play out like Fistful of Dollars, with the characters pitting one great evil against another. In the latter part of this tier, they should be powerful enough to fight and even defeat a number of the titans. Doing so, however, creates a vacuum other titans soon fill, making it that much harder.

Quests in this tier might involve retrieving the weapons needed to defeat the titans in long-forgotten vaults, secret missions to pit one arch villain against another, infiltration into the lairs of the lower titans, and the assassination of generals.

17th through 20th level: Godslayers

Finally the characters reach the level of power to face the gods who have taken over the Sword Coast including Auril, Acererak's atropal, and, of course, Tiamat.

Many of the quests and adventures in this tier involve infiltrations of the lairs of the gods, defeating their last lieutenants, and facing off against the gods themselves.

A Dark "What If"

Campaigns like this are a fun way to take the common understandings of the published adventures within the Sword Coast and turn it on its head. It makes those who know the Realms open their eyes and mouths wide as their head spins with the implications of so many elder evils ruling over the Sword Coast at once. It likewise shakes up our own imaginations, opening up tremendous possibilities for powerful campaigns.

Use the ideas in this article to fuel your own "what if" scenarios and let your imagination run wild!

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