: Your scenario sound very much like gang warfare, but possibly mixed with a murder mystery? The faction time-table is a difficult thing to pre-plan IMO. I think it's the difference between "I want to publish this, so I need to communicate all the branches" vs. a home brewed campaign in which you (as DM) have time between sessions to react or are fleet-footed enough to do on the fly. It's good to have a nominal mental map of how things might play out, but after each event I think it's more exciting to have random outcomes (possibly via PC actions, possibly not) that forces you-as-NPCs to re-evaluate and plot the next move.
Am I making any sense? There's no possibility of a railroad then, just factions with motives on the way to the next station. Also, it way easier to sketch out the static (current) situation than it is to construct a hypothetical timeline. Use the DM's brain and creativity to keep things dynamic (as oppose to trying to pre-programming it (if-then-else-if...).
So, because you asked for it...
I can relate this to my home campaign. There is a "big picture" of how things in the world would most likely unfold if the players never get involved. I like the general idea of humanity (the good) generally being on the defensive, fighting that Tolkien-esque slow retreat from evil. Hopefully, through the parties heroics, they can change things for the better --- or run away to fight another day on a different part of the continent! But even for the big events, my mental timeline is very crude and expected to need constant readjustment. Asimov's "Future History" and I (as DM) am the Foundation.
That's well and good for a big, vast, quasi-nebulous world, but what about a dungeon or keyed site?
In my mega-dungeon, there are the factions I already mentioned:
1) the dwarves
who drove off the local fauna and established a colony on a small island in an underground (and wickedly deadly) subterranean sea. They built a mine & bunker/fortress into near-by cliff sides, and eventually tunneled up to the surface. There a whole bunch of "sketchy" actions in their collective history, and are a mild Jim Jones/Elon Musk cult in reverence towards their (dead) founder---who can do no wrong in there eyes, but actually did a lot of wrongs (and a lot of rights).
2) the evil priest
who attacked the city a hundred years ago but was killed --- now returned as a wraith to extract his revenge and torture those who ended his natural existence. He's what we used to call "the local
dark lord"---think dark Numenorean turned Nazgul. A very traditional scary bad guy modeled off of "Mr. Dark" from Something Wicked This Way Comes
. His section of the dungeon is very Lovecraftian and his tendrils reach far and wide (include the surface).
3) the kobolds
who were emancipated from slavery and genetic experimentation in the Body Banks of the (mainly off-camera) Nazi-like Mind Slavers (Illithid). I've developed a caste-system for the kobolds (the traditional 1d4 prols, female-breeder-priestesses, stealthy warrior-males, and finally the genetically altered and god-head empress). These are the "clever little hands" used by the warring Powers of Evil. They make military-grade weapons, big and small. Not slaves per se, but "business partners" to the highest bidder. They have there own agenda and spies throughout the world. Very hive-collective. They are the Commies! The "high tech" parts comes in a few ways: the dwarves before the city fell were plundering deep ruins in the underworld for ancient tech (cities run by world-spanning AIs and their slaves that were destroyed in a 16-hour flash-war that ended the Last Age) and a stereo-typical Mad Genius (traitor dwarf who betrayed the titular Lost City and caused it's collapse) who invents gonzo things like a series of rickety proto-type war-machines that resemble Apparatus of K'walish (Mark I, Mark II, etc.) that the PCs can try to commandeer for some mass-combat smash-ups (or to use as a submarine).
4) the dragon
who now sits in the city --- mythic, inscrutable, a faction of one. A Titan that desires treasure and worship. Waits for the End of Days to fulfill it's ordained role in killing the Gods and destroying the world. Originally recruited to take the city, it settled in and refused to leave---demanding tribute.
There also a bunch of other bit-players, a few I'll get to.
So there's all this recent history, roughly in 1-2 dwarven lifetimes. Mainly it's a tale of the founding and fall of the titular city. The PC can discover some of it SLOWLY -- some is utilitarian (e.g. the Doomsday Clock, lost Dragonslayer sword, missing Iron Crown, etc.), a lot is not.
I think the hardest part though, and the only thing I've saying that even approaches a shinning "ADVENTURE DESIGN PRINCIPLE" is that I struggled mightly to invent a dungeon scenario with factions that was quasi-stable
. It permitted the dungeon to be keyed in a static-state. The PC then have an opportunity to tip the balance and de-stabilize things that sets big events in motion.
This actually back-fired. The party arrived and was locked-in. They were too reluctant to break the dead-lock. As a result, they actually left the dungeon to gather some more muscle/power before an eventually return.
Ironically, their adventures in the dungeon had sufficiently altered them so that they returned to the surface world as big-shots compared to the low-profile nobodies they had been went they left. Rinse and repeat!
The human civ on the surface has it's own history over roughly the same period, but it only occasionally intersects the dwarven one. In general the humans were weak when the dwarves were strongest, become strong after the dwarves fell, and are now in the slow process of being whittled away by some common enemies. That's the theme. Evil slowly creeps in and rots out the foundations, until one day an overt attack is launched and all is lost. This is the default trajectory because Good always fails to stay vigilant.
Ok. I think that about covers it except for the half-orcs. Orcs (in my world) are a combination of fey goblins (beings of pure chaos that grow up from the ground) mating with some other living creature in the world (e.g. an ape, wild boar, bull, etc.) They are all mules, ergo no orc babies, no females. Goblins are hermaphrodites and can combine with anything---the Jokers to the World's Batmen. Moral dilemmas avoided.
These particular "half-orcs" are notable because they are goblin/men/plants. The Local Dark Lord has a Shroom that works for him (Matt Finch creation that appears in Monsters of Myth
, Pod Caverns
). The Shroom grows orc "podmen" in organic chambers---cloning an army for the Wraith-Priest. This a a bit of the "ticking time bomb" element. When the army gets big enough, the Tower Witch will use it to attack the human vassal-outposts and eventually the Capital city. This came be short-curcuited in a number of was by the party's actions:
- The Shroom has his own section of the dungeon (plant themed, naturally) that the party can go into and wreck.
- Similarly, the party can go and wreck the kobold forges. Then the half-orc army gets no weapons.
- Finally, the party can re-united and arm the dwarves and attack the Local Dark Lord's (underground) Stronghold with a small tech-enhanced army...but first the Neymer Dragon must be dealt with or else they will get squeezed from both sides.
The party can always zig
instead of zag
. There's plent of places to wander around picking up cool magic items, fight some native underground denizens, explore ancient subterranean ruins and underwater temples, astral travel to Mars, or sail the dark waters of the Sea of Shadows to lands never before glimpsed by mortal men. Totally orthogonal, genre-shifting side-treks are essential to allow the party to catch it's breath and prevent a world from seeming one-note or contrived.
So far my players have been very willing to play protagonist in the local drama. It's partially driven by the recognition it gives them from a wealth of NPCs whom they have encountered over the years. Good-but-average folks who need their help...and now some big movers-and-shakers who (when they were lower level) would never have even granted them an audience.
See how starting out as utter and totally nobodies has a utilitarian purpose in the larger campaign game? It fuels desire for recognition. Don't hand-waive the local NPCs, and especially don't ever let your players talk you into letting them start out with awesome abilities or elaborate backgrounds---it kills the future
. You have a chance to BECOME a hero through play (and many, many, many more times must first play the FOOL). If you cheat that process, you'll find that in the end, what you tried to snatch has absolute no value
. Forget about all your lordly Paladin-Princes at roll-up...play a lowly peasant fighter and start acting
like a one! That's the only way it will ever feel legit.
I'll get to warfare set-pieces and in-dungeon sanctuaries in some later post.
Yeah, I know...TL;DR.