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Get This Party Started
Dungeoncraft
by James Wyatt

Last time I sketched out a campaign arc that gave me a pretty good sense of where I'm taking this campaign, from start to finish. With that big picture in place, it's time to get back down to details -- the details that are immediately relevant to getting the campaign off the ground.

Home Base

First off, I'm going to put a little more thought into the village of Greenbrier. It's time to flesh it out into a lively village that can serve as a good home base for the characters, a place where they have roots, a place they care about, and a place where they can do the things that adventurers need to do between adventures. Fundamentally, it needs three things to serve as a useful home base: nonplayer characters, commerce, and story elements.

A cast of characters in town helps the village feel more real, and the characters' ties to these people help it feel like home. I'm going to sketch out the most important people in the town, starting with the authority figures, such as they are.

The Dungeon Master's Guide explains that a village the size of Greenbrier is usually ruled by a noble lord who doesn't live in the village and whose appointed agent is a reeve who resolves disputes and collects taxes. I'm going to alter that default assumption. Maybe Tower Watch, the nearby town to the south, used to be the seat of the local landholder, but with the fall of past empires that noble family is also long gone. Greenbrier is self-governing and its farmers own their land, making them prosperous by medieval standards -- if only they didn't have to deal with monsters around them.

I said in my original notes that the common house is where the villagers gather for meetings, and I'll say now that the oldest citizen in town leads those meetings. What's interesting about that is that it's a tradition begun when Greenbrier's citizens were all human. Now the Eldest is a young elf named Birel Stormwatcher, a spry person of only a hundred and thirty. Her wisdom is commensurate with her years, so most of the other town elders are happy to defer to her leadership. One human elder, a crotchety woman of seventy-nine named Marti Veran, thinks only human citizens should be allowed to hold the position and title of Eldest, but her opinion is not widely shared.

As far as the players in my campaign are concerned, these authority figures are important for two reasons. First, as leaders of the town, they have the authority to commission the characters to act on the town's behalf -- in other words, they can give quests. Second, when conflict exists among the authority figures, they can create other adventure opportunities. What happens if Marti or someone sympathetic to her ideas tries to assassinate Eldest Birel? An adventure happens, that's what. I'll make a note now that Marti has a grandson, Derek Veran, who thinks his grandmother deserves to hold the title of Eldest before she dies. It's possible he's a little unbalanced and might try something crazy someday, but it might be more likely that someone truly sinister could manipulate him.

Characters also need ways to learn things beyond the reach of their Intelligence-based skills -- knowledgeable sages, counselors, scholars, and the like. There's an interesting element of either player psychology or game-group culture that probably warrants academic study: Who do the characters go to when they can't think of anyone else to ask for help? Some players always go to the temples, others look for sages, others try to talk to the baron or other noble lord, and still others canvass the taverns for the word on the street. In past campaigns, my players have tended to hit the temples first, but I still don't know who's going to be playing in my campaign, so I'm going to cover a couple of different bases.

Getting Religion

Well, my temple needs priests anyway. The priest of Bahamut in the village is Kharavas Silverscale, an aging dragonborn who was once an adventurer. He didn't adventure for long, but he's a rarity among village priests in that he has a few levels of cleric. He has given up the adventuring life, and he sort of resents those who have more success at it than he did, making him not particularly friendly to the player characters. If the characters can find a way past that barrier, though, they'll find him knowledgeable in religion, history, and the sort of practical knowledge covered by the Dungeoneering skill.

Dragonborn in Greenbrier

At the time that the first installment of Dungeoncraft was published, the dragonborn race was one of the big secrets of 4th Edition, so I didn't talk about dragonborn when I ran through the role of each race in the village. I'm going to tie them closely to dwarves in my campaign, just because the two races seem like they'd get along well, and they have much the same role in Greenbrier. Dragonborn have a strong military bent, and they often provide protective services to dwarf caravans traveling between Greenbrier and the nearby settlements. A couple of dragonborn are settled in the village, such as the priest Kharavas, as well as a pair of bodyguards working for the dwarf merchant Thadrik Boarshelm.

Kharavas is assisted in his duties by two part-time priests. These two farmers who help him with major rites on special holy days. They don't need names yet -- it's enough to know that if the characters talk to Kharavas there might be, at most, one other priest of Bahamut around. These two aren't ritual casters, and they don't have a lot of information they could share with the characters.

The other full-time priest in the village temple is Cabra Sunblessed, a human priest of Pelor. There's a weird thing here worth watching: I mentioned in my first discussion of the village that Pelor used to be more prominent in the temple, and some people still resent the priests of Bahamut for taking over the center of the temple. But I already made a human village elder who resents the nonhuman Eldest for her position, and I made the priest of Bahamut nonhuman -- putting myself at risk of duplicating that pattern. I thought about making the priest of Pelor nonhuman, but I thought it was important to have a human character the players could relate to in the temple. So I went ahead with making Cabra human, and for that reason I'm going to note that she is not among those who resent Bahamut's place of honor in the temple. Cabra is, in fact, the most sweet-tempered person in Greenbrier, and she is virtually incapable of holding ill will or resentment toward anyone in her heart. She's a young woman full of enthusiasm and idealism. She's also educated -- she studied at the university in Silverymoon (note to self: there's a university in Silverymoon!) and is intelligent, but lacks practical experience.

So that leaves open the question of who does resent the promotion of Bahamut to the center of the temple. I could go in a couple of different directions with that. It could be another village elder, someone old enough to remember years before the encroaching darkness when Pelor still held that prominent position. I could consolidate a lot of resentment into the single figure of Marti Veran, but at this stage it's better to have too many stories than squash a bunch together and end up without enough. Maybe the resentful people are a group of young farmers -- teenagers without farms of their own yet -- who somehow got the idea in their heads that the fields are less fertile and the wilds so dangerous because Pelor is angered at the state of affairs in the village temple. That's different in an interesting way, but I don't see it tying to the themes I've already sketched out for my campaign. I'll add it to my idea file for a later campaign.

This time around, I remember that one of my adventure hooks for getting the characters into Greenbrier Chasm for the first time involves a crazy old priest of Pelor who knows the old prophecy about the solar eclipse. This is Jander, who was Cabra's predecessor as priest of Pelor. He's devout and earnest -- too earnest, in fact, for the people of the village. He used to harangue well-meaning farmers, telling them they weren't doing enough to stave off the encroaching darkness, and sometimes publicly berating those who had failed to show mercy and kindness to their neighbors. Finally the people of the village replaced him with Cabra, and he resents the new priest (who is far too soft on the evil in people's hearts, he thinks) as well as the priests of Bahamut. He lives in a hut just inside the village palisade and rarely ventures out of it.

The temple holds shrines to Moradin and Kord as well, but no priests earn their livelihood serving those gods. Characters who wish to offer prayers and sacrifices to those gods can do so at the shrines, or they can wait for holy days when part-time priests come in to perform the rites appropriate for those days. The priest of Moradin is also the village blacksmith, Orin, a brawny human man. (I'm intentionally playing against stereotype by making Moradin's priest human rather than a dwarf. I want to make sure that Moradin isn't pigeonholed into being the dwarf god in my campaign.) The priest of Kord is an old half-elf merchant named Gredda, who was a soldier in Silverymoon before she retired to a mercantile career. These priests, too, are neither ritual casters nor great resources for information, though Gredda in particular is a good source for the word on the street because of her merchant contacts.

Between all these priests and the two village elders I've sketched out, I think I've pretty well covered my needs for wise sources of knowledge in town, as well as sources for critical rituals (especially Cure Disease, Remove Affliction, Raise Dead). I might later want one or two more of the elders who speak up in village meetings, but I'm not going to worry about them just this moment.

Getting Everything Else

Characters also need places in the village to buy the gear they need. Greenbrier is not a big city, nor is it crawling with adventurers, so it's not likely to have a permanent shop that sells things such as plate armor, thieves' tools, and healing potions. Those things, when they're available, come through town in merchant caravans heading to or from Silverymoon. That doesn't mean I can't put faces to those transactions, though -- the large merchant houses that operate those caravans have permanent agents in Greenbrier.

The most important agent here is Thadrik Boarshelm, a dwarf merchant connected with the dwarf-run Moonsword Trading House based in Silverymoon. Thadrik is easily the richest resident of Greenbrier, and he is never seen in public without his two dragonborn bodyguards. He boasts that he can find anything for anyone, for the right price, and he's eager to serve adventurers (who are so often flush with ready cash). He's the most likely source for any exotic items the characters want to buy.

One agent is sufficient to meet the characters' needs, but two agents means competition and conflict, which holds the potential for adventure. I've already mentioned Gredda, the retired soldier, priest of Kord, and merchant. She's associated with a rival trading house based out of Lake Town, called Brindinford Shipping (in a nod to the town featured in The Speaker in Dreams). Brindinford Shipping is smaller than the Moonsword house, and it's harder for Gredda to get most of the kinds of items that adventurers want. I want to think more about whether there are some reasons the characters might want to deal with her instead of Thadrik -- a competitive advantage that isn't immediately obvious.

Orin the blacksmith makes mostly farm implements and horseshoes, but times being what they are, he's also pretty good at forging weapons and simpler forms of armor. I'm going to say he has an apprentice, Tarma, who specializes in armor, though characters might still want to buy plate armor from Thadrik or Gredda. And there's a dwarf smith in the village, Harak, who specializes in weapons but also does more elaborate metalwork.

I don't want characters routinely buying and selling magic items in my campaign -- that's a matter of personal taste, but fortunately the game supports that decision. Thadrik or Gredda might secure specific magic items for the characters before they can use the Enchant Magic Item ritual, or buy unwanted items from them, but I want that to be the exception rather than the rule. At any rate, there's no "magic item shop" in Greenbrier.

Greenbrier's Story

I've already made some steps toward outlining the stories that could escalate into adventures within the village -- the resentful Elder Veran (and her grandson), the crazy prophet of Pelor, the competing merchant houses. There are two things I need to add at this point: story hooks for player character backgrounds and story hooks for my campaign arc.

If I were creating Greenbrier for a published book, akin to the town of Fallcrest that Rich Baker designed for the Dungeon Master's Guide, I would put a lot of time into PC background hooks. I'd make sure that every race and every class had a selection of interesting hooks, similar to what's on pages 208–209 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. Because I'm designing Greenbrier for my own campaign, though, I don't need to do that. I just need to make sure that my players' characters have hooks in the village, and that's work that's best done with the players' cooperation. This is the first and best opportunity the players have to take some ownership in my campaign, which is something I definitely want to encourage.

When I talk about story hooks for the characters, I mean anything I can use to connect the characters to adventures in my campaign. Any connection between a player character and an NPC, a site, or an object in the world of my campaign is a potential hook, because I can lead that character into adventure by threatening or otherwise employing that connection. That doesn't have to be as heavy-handed as saying, "Goblins have kidnapped your mother!" A connection to an NPC is a tie to all the things that motivate that NPC. What if Derek Veran (Marti's grandson) is a friend and colleague of one of the PCs? If he decides to act to get his grandmother the position he thinks she deserves, the PC has an interest in that event. If something happens to Birel and Marti is implicated, Derek might come to his PC friend for help.

I have my notes from the first installment about what role the different races play in Greenbrier, and I'll keep those in mind as I'm working with players to create background hooks. But the most important thing is the players' interests and desires for their characters.

I don't have a group of players yet, so I'm not going to do this work yet. By way of example, though, say my son Carter wants to play a dragonborn warlord. Well, I suggested earlier in this article that dragonborn often work as caravan guards, particularly for the dwarves of the Moonsword Trading House. That would be fitting work for a young warlord-in-training, but what if it doesn't appeal to Carter? He wants to be a historian, scouring the countryside for ancient dragonborn ruins. Well, that's conducive to adventure, so we're going to run with it. Perhaps one of his parents (or an uncle) is one of Thadrik's bodyguards, so he calls Greenbrier home. Maybe the dungeons in Greenbrier Chasm -- or at least the upper levels -- are of dragonborn construction. Just like that, Carter's character has a new reason to explore my first dungeon.

Looking back over my notes about my campaign arc, the one last thing I think Greenbrier needs is a hint of the presence of the Topaz Order. Of all the anti-aberration organizations in Lords of Madness, that was the one I felt was most likely to have direct influence in Greenbrier. It's an order of holy knights that venerates Bahamut, Moradin, and Pelor, and it is dedicated to protecting the civilized races from aberrations.

I'm walking a bit of a fine line, here. On the one hand, I want to put this organization into the players' minds pretty early on in the campaign -- it foreshadows the campaign's biggest themes, and I hope that some characters want to formally join the Order by the time they hit the paragon tier. On the other hand, I don't want a powerful NPC in town who has every reason to do the PCs' jobs for them. If the Depravation is spreading out from Greenbrier Chasm, why would a knight of the Topaz Order sit by and watch as inexperienced adventurers delve into the chasm, messing with forces they don't understand?

What Greenbrier really needs, then, is an absent knight of the Topaz Order -- someone who disappeared into Greenbrier Chasm years ago, leaving in the possession of his or her loved ones a treasured golden holy symbol of Bahamut with a topaz eye. Best of all, those loved ones might include one of the PCs. The character might treasure the symbol as a memento of her father, not knowing its significance. It's yet another good hook into Greenbrier Chasm, and a tie to the Topaz Order down the line as well.

Extras

One thing I didn't do very well in my initial list of NPCs in Greenbrier was to make sure that all the core races were represented. Filling out the list with some halflings, shifters, and eladrin, as well as a few other characters that come to mind as I go, wraps up this first pass at adding to the cast of characters in the village.

Elder Haander Riverswell is the unofficial leader of the halfling community in Greenbrier, and he tends to speak for the halflings in village meetings.

Watchwarden Sherra is a shifter who leads patrols of the boundary between the farms and the wilderness. She's a skilled tracker and naturalist, and can serve as a resource for information about the wilderness and surrounding lands.

I left the eladrin story unfinished on my initial pass through Greenbrier using the Player's Handbook races, so it's time at last to come back to that. I've decided that the forest where the elves lived was burned to the ground when the fiery aberration imprisoned at the bottom of Greenbrier Chasm escaped. I had suggested before that the forest was a "thin place" between the worlds, and the elves of the forest and the eladrin of the Feywild mingled frequently. It seems to me that the passage of a creature as powerful as this aberration would have an impact beyond just the mortal world, so I'm going to say that the eladrin community in the Feywild was also destroyed, sending refugees in both directions -- elsewhere into the Feywild, and to Greenbrier.

With that established, I'll invent an eladrin noble-in-exile, Ramynaria. She's proud and aloof, clinging to the tatters of the noble title she carried decades ago.

The last thing Greenbrier needs right now is a "captain of the guard" figure. The village doesn't have any standing military, so it relies entirely on citizen militia for its defense, but there has to be a face to that militia with which the characters can interact. That's Thom Martais, a bear of a farmer who is responsible for calling, training, and commanding the militia when the need arises.

Here's a quick summary of the cast of characters I developed for Greenbrier:

  • Eldest Birel Stormwatcher (female elf), leads town meetings
  • Elder Marti Veran (female human), pro-human (resents Birel)
  • Elder Haander Riverswell (male halfling)
  • Derek Veran (male human), grandson of Marti
  • Kharavas Silverscale (male dragonborn), priest of Bahamut and retired cleric
  • Cabra Sunblessed (female human), priest of Pelor
  • Orin (male human), blacksmith and part-time priest of Moradin
  • Tarma (female human), blacksmith's apprentice and armorer
  • Gredda (female half-elf), merchant of Brindinford Shipping and part-time priest of Kord
  • Jander (male human), old prophet-priest of Pelor
  • Thadrik Boarshelm (male dwarf), merchant of the Moonsword Trading House
  • Harak (male dwarf), weaponsmith
  • Watchwarden Sherra (female shifter)
  • Ramynaria (female eladrin), noble-in-exile
  • Thom Martais (male human), militia leader

Next time, I'll talk about how to keep all this information organized and how to present it to the players as the campaign gets going.

About the Author

James Wyatt is the Lead Story Designer for D&D and one of the lead designers of D&D 4th Edition. In over seven years at Wizards of the Coast, he has authored or co-authored award-winning adventures and settings including the Eberron Campaign Setting, City of the Spider Queen, and Oriental Adventures. His more recent works include Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave, and The Forge of War. Most recently, he was the author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide.