7: . . . Meanwhile Back in Southlund Seaxe . . .
So we have a basic idea of how to set up a campaign, and what sort of structure that campaign might take, how many NPCs there are in our starting Kingdom, who they are, and what their basic attitude is towards the Player Characters' party of Wolfsheads, but we need a little more detail at this stage.
Well even though Redwald campaigns are relatively small in scope there’s still a lot of possible work with all those NPC Gesiths, Reeves, Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses , and courtiers to flesh out. Then there’s all the Thegns, Ceorls, Fyrdmen, Peasants, and Thralls. Luckily there are stats for all those in the Bestiary, but it’s still a lot of work. Not to worry, because the way the campaign is structured you don’t have to do it all at once, and only need a little work to get you started.
To start with the campaign world for the players is very small. You only really need to have prep for the Hundred of the Ealdorman who your player’s Thegn serves. I go into detail for the households of the Thegn the players currently serve, another Thegn in the Hundred who might be a friend, or relative of him and then two or three Thegns who will be rivals and enemies of our Thegn, and therefore targets for the Player Characters. The other five or so Thegns only need names at this stage.
So for example in the Southlund Seaxe campaign I’m planning I decide we’ll start in the shire of Neahfenn which is run for King Eomer by his doddering Uncle Dunric who is the Gesith of the shire. He’s a good man, but disinterested; he is mostly absent preferring to stay at Eomer’s court and let his Ealdormen and High Reeve see to the day to day running of his shire.
Dunric is unlikely to feature that much in our games at least not in the early stages. The Ealdorman of our Hundred is Ceolric Coldblade and he’s taking advantage of Dunric’s absence by wallowing in corruption, bullying, and sometimes murdering, his way to more power, land, and riches with the help of the shire’s equally corrupt High Reeve Leofwig the Good. Ceolric probably has enemies and allies among the other Ealdormen of the shire, and the kingdom, but we don’t really need to worry about them at this stage. All we need for them, like our five other Thegns, is a list of names.
I’ll flesh out the High Reeve though as he’ll make a good nemesis for our party straight off the bat. Ealdorman Ceolric doesn’t need to be fleshed out yet as his main job at this stage is causing lots of conflict. Something he does naturally. To keep his Thegns under his thumb he plays them off against each other, and crushes any he deems to be getting too powerful for comfort.
The most important NPC to consider is the Thegn our Wolfpack is in service to. Ours is called Godwulf and he’s a right nasty piece of work. A psychotic bully who is looking for a chance to impress the powerful king of Westlund, not only by being one of his many paid spies in the kingdom, but by making it his mission to find the rightful heir to the throne of Southlund Seaxe, and killing him and his rebellion before it even starts. He’s also looking at his Ealdorman Coelric and thinking that he’s had his turn at the trough and it’s time for a younger man to be Ealdorman. He’s ruthless, ambitious, and nasty with it. He’s going to use his Wolfpack like a weapon and when he’s done with them, or if they fail him, he’s going to dispose of them. He’s the type of Thegn that the party may end up having to kill just to survive. Should be fun.
Godwulf will have a family: a young son who’s serving in King Eomer’s Warband as a Sperebrógan (and spying at the court for his father). An older son who he’s positioning to take over the ten hides of one of the other Thegns on our list, two daughters he wants to marry into the Westlund Seaxe nobility (whether they like it or not), and a wife who’s twice as ruthless as him and impatient to be away from this marsh stinking backwater and take her rightful place in a royal court. An ambition which she sees as her right and destiny.
He has a senile old uncle who Godwulf is only keeping alive until the old dodderer remembers where he buried a horde of silver. He only has one servant his creature Sigwine, preferring to use his ten wretched slaves to work his household and farm as it’s cheaper than having peasants work his land. After all, peasants expect more than one meal a day.
He also has the priest Tidwine, and the Scop Wigred in his employ, both of whom are engaged in a propaganda campaign on his behalf. He is being very careful not to let Ceolric find out about that. Even though he is only required to raise two men for the Fyrd he has squeezed five out of his ten-hides, and is secretly training another ten Ceorls to fight in his own little Warband.
I would prep stats and flesh out motives, personality, etc for Godwulf and his household, and I’d go into similar detail for at least one of his enemy Thegn’s if not both, and perhaps a little less for his allied Thegn.
At this stage it’s probably a good idea to sketch out a rough map of the shire (and believe me all my maps are rough) then a slightly more detailed map of Ealdorman Coelric’s Hundred, and Thegn Godwulf’s Ten hides and farmstead.
So far we know who and where the power players are in Redwald, our kingdom, and shire, and we have details on the local power players having written up Godwulf, several other Thegns, and the High Reeve.
As well as those maps, for this campaign, I’d want to have a map of the marsh, and stats and a write-up for the king in exile Wybert and his followers. I’d also perhaps place a couple of outlaw bands in the marshes. The stats for those are in the bestiary and I’d name them on the fly if and when the party encounters them. I would also probably place a tribe of Wildlings somewhere on the southern edge of the map if not in the marshlands and prepare a detailed write up their chieftain, let’s call him Mad MacFinn, his family, the tribes witch, and any other key NPCs in the tribe.
The next thing to consider, if you’re using them in your campaign, is where to place any monsters. I know the bestiary mentions a small tribe of Nihtgenga (goblins) in the marshes and I’d definitely include a marsh fiend. I might scour the bestiary and see if anything else would be a good fit, any of the dragons, or giants for instance. If I include anything like that, even though the players wouldn’t run into them at 1st level (unless they decide to go looking for them or are really unlucky) I’d seed them into the campaign with rumours and stories from frightened locals.
However, for this campaign I’m more interested in the human drama, so I’ll stick to the tribe of goblins, and a few solitary marsh fiends for monsters. I will include a powerful Scinnlæca (3rd level) skulking out in the marsh, which immediately makes me want to include reanimated Bog burials as another monster.
Finally I might want to include a few characters from outside Eadlorman Ceorlric’s Hundred so it doesn’t feel too contrived, or insular, and maybe one or two unusual characters perhaps one of Godwulf’s slaves is actually a spy for Ealdorman Coelric. Maybe a character or two who don’t have a political angle, but could provide interesting adventure hooks; like a local roving madman who is actually a witch cursed king.
One final thing you might want to do is draw up a mindmap of all the motives and relationships of your NPCs just to have a handy cheat sheet of who hates who, and who wants what. That way every time the players meet an NPC you have an instant idea of how that NPC might react to, and why and how they might want to use the party to achieve their own goals.
8: Session by Session
Okay so we have all these NPCs, and maps now, and with enough conflicting ambitions, and personalities we could just get to it and let the party bounce off the NPC’s, but what do we actually do session by session in a Redwald game? What does a Redwald Referee prep before game night? Missions. That’s what, missions.
At their heart Redwald games are missions based. What type of missions? Military? Certainly, but as I’ve said before a Wolfpack is kind of a cross between a special opps team, mob crew, terrorist cell, and a gang. Missions for their Thegn might include threatening, leaning on, beating up, or killing rival Thegns. Spying, stealing, cons, capers, stings, and double-crosses. Kidnapping, ransoming, bribing, and blackmailing. All the sort of things the Nobles want doing, but don’t want their reputation stained with.
The problem with missions is they can be a bit railroady. I try to get around this by presenting the party with a selection of different missions, some of which might be easily achievable in a single session, others that might require more long term effort. Some that might be ongoing throughout the campaign.
For example; in this Campaign Godwulf wants the wolf pack to always be searching for anything that might help him capture the exiled king Wybert and his Rebels.
I think a good way to go is to prep for and present the party with three to five different missions that their Thegn wants them to tackle, then let the players choose what order to tackle them in.
In our Southland Seaxe campaign I would have our Wolfpack holed up in solitary longhouse on stilts in the marsh. Their only contact (to begin with) would be Godwulf’s man Sigwine who regularly who brings them food and his master's orders (along with a good dose of disdain and scorn). To kick the campaign off I would offer them five missions such as . . .
1) Godwulf has information from a spy that the exiled King Wybert and his rebels have made contact with the Wildling Chieftain Mad MacFinn. Find out if this is true and find out what they’re up to. (It’s not true. The spy is actually one of Wybert’s rebels and is feeding Eomer’s men false information in the hopes they’ll run afoul of MacFinn and his savage Wildling warriors.)
2) Three weeks from now The High Reeve Leofwig the Good and his men will be coming to Ealdorman Ceorlric Coldblade’s Hundred to collect tribute for Gesith Dunric to take to the King. Ceolric and Leofwig have contrived to rob their own tribute and blame it on Wybert’s rebels. The Wolfpack need to find out how, when, and where this is going to happen, and when it does happen they are to rob and kill the fake robbers, and plant evidence that points to Ealdorman Ceolric being in cahoots with the rebel king.
3) Annoying peasants from some piddling little marshland fishing village keep bothering our lord with stupid tales about bog bodies rising from the marsh. Go and see what’s frightening the superstitious fools.
4) Lord Godwulf’s slaves have heard rumours that his neighbour, Thegn Whitbeorth does ungodly things to his slaves. Go find some evidence, if you can’t find it; plant it. Once that’s done convince Whitbeorth that unless he wants the whole kingdom to know of his evil he needs to swear an oath of fealty to Godwulf.
5) There are outlaw bands somewhere in the Marsh find one, join it, kill their leader and take over the band, then report back to me (Sigwine) here (at their marsh longhouse) for further orders.
This is the kind of thing I’d prep for and present to the group. There should be enough there to hook and interest the players, and each mission probably has enough fodder for one or more sessions. My style of Refereeing is improvisational by default, but I like to avoid being unfair or drifting into illusionism and railroading. I find this approach helps. You can get enough prep done so that the challenge is there down on paper, and not pulled out of thin air, but there’s still a lot of scope for the players to have freedom, and you as Referee to have fun improvising, and riffing off the players.
Once the players have decided which mission to tackle first; there’s every chance that the game will simply spin off in its own direction, and that through interacting with your NPC’s and pursuing the mission, the players themselves will generate all the campaign momentum you need. The game will practically run itself, and you might find you never need come to back to your original list of missions.
If you do; simply prep and add more missions as the party work their way through the original list. And if the campaign starts to slow down or lose direction your Thegn (and all his enemies and ambitions) are always there to jumpstart things when you need them.
Basically, at its heart, a Redwald campaign should grow organically out of the game’s core premise or conceit – Outlaw Scum serving ambitious Warlords – and be further informed by the kingdom you set the campaign in, the NPCs who would logically be there, their motives, and the conflict those personalities and motives create when they collide with each other and the Wolfpack. There you are that’s ‘a way’ to run a Redwald campaign, specifically that’s my way of running one, I hope you enjoy finding your own way!