In Redwald there isn’t much choice but to start small. The map and its eight petty kingdoms are about the same size as Anglo-Saxon England and its kingdoms and shires. It is relatively small by the standards of many fantasy settings, but big enough for a good campaign’s worth of adventure.
The first thing to do when setting up for a new campaign is to take a quick look at the map and kingdom write-ups and decide which kingdom your game will start in. There are two basic ways to do this, and it will depend on the group, the Referee can pick which kingdom best suits the type of game he wants to run, or the group can decide between them.
The various kingdoms have been written to favour certain types of game. For example: Eastlund Seaxe is next to the great forest and has a lot of scope for supernatural elements, Juteland, Geatland, and the Wulflingas are all about kicking ass, Middle Anglund is all about courtly intrigue, and Suthlund Seaxe has more scope for a heroic freedom fighter feel.
Whoever decides I think it works best if the choice is made, or presented, during a character creation session. I prefer group character creation. Especially for games like Redwald where you want to tie all the characters together. What are their individual backstories? How did they end up in the the Wolfpack? What are their relationships within the group, and outside it? How did they become outlaws? These are all things that can be brainstormed and worked on at the table in an initial character creation session. It’s good to have each player give you an NPC or two from their character’s life before becoming an outlaw that can be a handy contact or an inconvenient complication.
My preference is to have humans outnumber the Elfs, and Dwarfs, and Warriors, and Skirmishers outnumber the Wizards, but of course that’s up to you and your group. I also advise having a back up character for each player, especially if it’s a small group, not only can you pick and choose characters to best suit the requirements of different adventures, it’s always handy if there are casualties. I also like to start the game with the players already in service to a Thegn, and already knowing each other, that way we can get straight to it.
In my first two games I let the players choose which kingdom we started in (Eastlund Seaxe, and Middle Seaxe) so for this example I’ll choose a kingdom and present it to the group.
3: The NPCs
This campaign will be set in Suthland Seaxe a kingdom on the edge of the map. It has two neighbours: Westlund Seaxe and Wolfingas. The Wolfingas are busy fighting a six-way civil war so their power players are unlikely to figure too much. Westlund on the other hand, and its ambitious King Cynric, looms large.
Cynric has already removed the rightful King of Southlund and replaced him with his puppet King Eomer. Meanwhile the son of the deposed King, the young and noble Wybert, is skulking in the marshes trying to raise a rebel force.
Southland is a small kingdom so let’s say there are only two Scíra (Shires) that means there will be two Gesith’s running them for King Eomer. They’ll be relatives so his uncle Dunric can oversee Neahfenn (the shire near the fenland), and his cousin Eohwold will oversee Blæcmór (Blackmoor). Each shire has three Hundreds and that’s gives us six Ealdorman, 60 Thegns, and 120 Frydmen. King Eomer is a new king, and relatively powerless king so only has twelve Hearthweru, and has been ‘encouraged’ by King Cynric not to waste his silver on sellswords so only has three of those (two of which are also taking coin from Cynric).
As well as the members of his court Eomer has a wife, a very fierce mother, and two daughters of marrying age, (though one of them prefers to think of herself as ‘of fighting age’ and wants to take a place in the shieldwall). He also has one son who he is very protective of; much to the disgust of the headstrong princeling. There are also four or so more male relatives of fighting age; Eaomer’s Gesith’s at court. There’s also likely to be twenty or so Sperebrógan: noble youths who fight as skirmishers. And of course there’s bound to be a friendly advisor, and his servants, sent by Cynric to help the fledgling king. In other words a spy and some muscle that Eomer knows about, but dare not move against.
Then there’s other NPCs in the Kingdom the rightful king Wybert and his court in exile, a couple of outlaw bands also skulking in the marshes, a tribe of marsh dwelling Wildlings, there is even a very small tribe of Nihtgenga somewhere in the marsh. Including all the small folk, the peasants, farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, slaves, and the Reeve and his men; that’s a lot of NPCs we can draw on for missions, complications, and conflict. And that’s just in the kingdom where we’re setting the campaign. Of course, we won’t need even a tenth of those at the start of the campaign.
4: The Campaign Structure
The three levels of the player characters - Wulfshead, Herowulf, Wulflord – and the three levels of political power in Redwald – Thegn, Ealdorman, and Cynn – provide a nice natural structure to hang a Redwald Campaign on.
The player characters begin the campaign in the service of a Thegn who controls ten hides of land. If they’re successful and in service to an ambitious Thegn they’ll help him rise in power and become an Ealdorman who controls a Hundred. If their Thegn isn’t the ambitious type , or perhaps too ambitious, an already established Ealdorman will become their lord, and they’ll either see him to a throne, or the Ealdorman’s lord will take an interest in them and they’ll find themselves in service to a King.
A basic campaign structure would see them risk their lives to help an ambitious Thegn rise in power from Thegn, to Ealdorman, to King, or they will be the pawns of a succession of increasingly powerful patrons.
Looking at the three levels in a little more detail at the very beginning, when the party start out in service to a Thegn, they are still very much outlaws at this stage. They’ll still live outside of the lawful community, holed up in some damp cave, or forest camp. Unable to move freely or come and go as they please they’ll travel mostly at night so as to avoid confrontation with the peasantry, and Fyrdmen of other Thegns, and they’ll rely on their Thegn for all their food.
There is good chance at this very early stage that their Thegn won’t even acknowledge his involvement with them; so should they run into anyone they’ll be treated like any other outlaw. It’s also likely in the beginning that one of their Thegn’s men is their contact; delivering their food, and his lord’s orders.
As they progress getting a few successful missions under their belt, and helping their Thegn achieve his goals, things will gradually improve. Perhaps a secluded farmstead will be found for them, their food will improve, they might have more contact with the Thegn himself and more importantly, he may allow them to use his name as a form of protection. Though the latter usually as a last resort.
Finally they might even have the beginnings of acceptance from the local NPCs: peasants and freemen that don’t run at the sight of them, Fyrdmen that merely insult and threaten to kill them rather than actually trying to kill them.
By the time they’re in the service of an Ealdorman they’ll most likely be known, but still feared, hated, or mistrusted by most of the peasants and freemen of their locale. They’ll likely have been given a farmstead nearer to one of the local lord's Meadhalls, be treated (at least to their faces) with something almost approaching respect by the Fyrdmen, but with resentment from the Ealdorman’s Thegns.
As they progress in the service of an Ealdorman they’ll eventually become more and more, albeit begrudgingly, accepted by the warriors of the Warband, and even into his Meadhall. Especially if they keep helping the Ealdormen and his Thegns claim victories over their enemies. By the time they’re in the service of a king they should have as many Thegns and Ealdormen they can count as allies and friends as they do Thegns and Ealdormen they can consider well earned enemies. The peasants and ceorls on the other hand will probably never be able to see through that outlaw taint no matter how many invitations to sup in the King’s Meadhall the Wolfpack receives.