New campaign starting, would like feedback for Empty World idea

19 posts / 0 new
Last post
Starting a new campaign in a few weeks. I've got a few long-term ones under my belt. I've been toying with an idea, I'd like your feedback on the premise in general, and any ideas for encounters. Trying to find out if this is viable.

Basically, all the people, critters, and monsters have been removed from the world. Perhaps the party awakes with no memory of the events leading up to the event, or perhaps they arrive just after, but they soon explore empty countryside, goblin camps, towns and/or cities. No birds singing, no combat. The first portion (a session or two?) is challenges to find food, gather clues, procure equipment. The first act ends with a hopefully suspenseful yet mundane moment - "guys, which of you took by bag?" Or some other clue that there is something menacing that is aware of them and is threatening.

The hows and whys - I'm hoping for emergent answers based on the kind of exploring and investigating the party does.

Thoughts? 
My immediate thought? ...pray none of the characters are attached to eating meat... xD

Sounds like an interesting premise, heavy on the roleplaying. I like it. Might I recommend however that instead of all creatures removed from the world, perhaps just the PCs have been moved to an empty world created by whatever is aware of them?

If you still go with the planned route, what kind of creature did you have in mind? It could heavily determine the kinds of clues available to be found by the PCs. Footprints, destroyed buildings, dead bodies, spirits, half-eaten fruit (which may or may not be diseased/poisoned from the consumer's bite), bags of gold, journals, personal belongings, etc. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
Depends on where the campaign is leading. Is this going to be a "Lost" campaign, a "Walking Dead" campaign, or is this just an event that will lead to other things?   

"Ah, the age-old conundrum. Defenders of a game are too blind to see it's broken, and critics are too idiotic to see that it isn't." - Brian McCormick

The main thing is that the PC's will face boredom if there is nothing outside themselves, and frustration if everything they do has no effect on their situation.

Having it start off that way is fine, but give some vague hints during exploration, "the village is empty, however the fields to the northwest seem to have been trampled as if a large number of people walked over the crops".

You could also have them find journal entries in languages that only one PC can read, or even better yet, art on crushed ceramic jars that give them clues to what is going on.
Sounds like the background premise from Legend of Mana.

Basically, when the mana tree, the source of the world's magic and life, was destroyed by greed and war, sections of the world were turned into artifacts and scattered.  As you explore the world and complete quest, you come across these artifacts and recreate the world, region by region, placing them as you choose.  The culmination of your efforts results in reviving the mana tree and purging it the the mana goddess's darker half.  Or something.  A shame this concept wasn't focused more in the game's story, but I digress.  I always felt that would make an awesome premise for a campaign.
Thinking about creating a race for 4e? Make things a lil' easier on yourself by reading my Race Mechanic Creation Guide first.
Depends on where the campaign is leading. Is this going to be a "Lost" campaign, a "Walking Dead" campaign, or is this just an event that will lead to other things?   



I thought of LOST too when I read the premise.  I could just see Charlie at the end of the pilot episode saying  "Guys... where are we?"

I also agree that you'll probably have to introduce the worlds inhabitants sooner rather than later or the players will get bored.  (Unless you are really going for something different here and they first investigate the world and must deal with environmental hazards/leftover traps/defensive magic or technology still enabled,etc...)  That could even build great suspense as they explore this world for a while... they here a noise that sounds like footsteps... they search, but nobody's there.  Is there still a fire in the hearth?  Food on the table?  Did this event just happen or did they wake with long fingernails and cobwebs across them?

A LOST-type mystery to solve could be engaging if your players would enjoy figuring out the clues and pieces left behind.  But even then, you would need to know ahead of time who's behind it all so the clues would be meaningful to them later.  For mysterys, you have to reverse-engineer a little. 
I've found when PCs don't have an external threat, they will turn on each other. Shows like Lost and Walking Dead are all about people being ****es to one another, and in game play that usually isn't fun (didn't say always, but usually).

Also, describing empty can be really tough. You quickly run out of ways to point out everyone is gone. Nothing is worse than describing yet another abandoned building and having a player hand waving and saying "Right, right, no one there, got it."
And yet, this is a really cool idea for a story start. Something other than empty world survival just needs to happen very early. Like, as soon as the players show signs of getting bored at the latest. Also, if the players take some initiative (no pun intended) and launch an investigation to try to find out what happened, whatever line of inquiry they choose needs to turn up some kind of clue, even if it's just something that will lead to a better line of inquiry. Usually I'm not against making them work harder than that, but in a situation where you're taking away almost everything they normally interact with, any attempt to still play the game in a meaningful way needs to be rewarded.
Thanks for the feedback!

I think I'm interested in a mystery, more like Lost than Walking Dead (although I haven't seen much of either show). Some really good ideas flying around here. I hadn't even thought of stuff like half-eaten food or journal entries.

I'm leaning towards an event that looks like it could have been either a magical experiment gone catastrophically wrong or a sneak attack/weapons test (I'm thinking of what it must have been like to first hear about Hiroshima). Also thinking of confining this to a city and surrounding area.

I'd like the first chunk of the campaign to be about this, but to eventually expand, see some NPCs, perhaps try to keep this from happening again to other cities. Maybe a race against the clock vibe, a la 24.

The challenge/fun for me is trying to describe the scene well, and think out the kinds of weird details to include (like the half-eaten food). A few wrecked carts, with no more horses. Maybe a fire in the hearth in slums has got out of control, and that district is now on fire?

I like the idea of magical traps - if this was an experiment in the mage tower, that fits nicely.

What other details could I add? As a player, what are your first objectives if you wander into a freshly emptied city? Thoughts on how to keep them from just leaving ("Clearly something bad happened here, let's not stick around to find out what")? Same question once it's clearly there's something/someone in the city watching them - how do you keep them from just leaving?
As a player, what are your first objectives if you wander into a freshly emptied city?



It would depend on my character. I've only played two for any length of time in D&D.

My Human Ranger would be doing forensics of the type he knows; e.g. looking for tracks, droppings, any sign of animal or human life, with the hope of figuring out how long everyone's been gone for. He'd also be very jumpy, as he hates cities and is rather paranoid.

My Kalashtar Bard would be making Arcana checks, trying to find residual magic, or anything with which he could make psychic contact. Failing that, he'd sit back and wait for the rest of the group to do their thing.

Thoughts on how to keep them from just leaving ("Clearly something bad happened here, let's not stick around to find out what")? Same question once it's clearly there's something/someone in the city watching them - how do you keep them from just leaving?



The simplest thing would be if the city is still a source of food/water/shelter (some of which the players might be able to provide with Everlasting Provisions and the like), and the wilderness outside it is barren and inhospitable in the extreme, perhaps as a byproduct of the weapon that was used.
What other details could I add? As a player, what are your first objectives if you wander into a freshly emptied city? Thoughts on how to keep them from just leaving ("Clearly something bad happened here, let's not stick around to find out what")? Same question once it's clearly there's something/someone in the city watching them - how do you keep them from just leaving?



These are great questions to ask your players directly.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Again, a lot of the details will simply depend on what you know to have happened.

The players won't know (not right off anyway).  So you first need to decide, ok... a magical experiment gone wrong by the mages guild/eccentric wizard or whoever has...(A) vaporized every living creature within so many miles (B) transported them to another (parallel?) plane  (C) transported the heroes to a parallel plane (D) any crazy thing that you can think of.

Once you decide what happened, (yes I know, DM fiat... but for the purposes of starting the mystery off, he has to know what caused all of this and keep it from the players for a while because of the mystery genre) then the world will start to fill itself out organically.

If you have an idea about what caused the "event", then it will make it very easy for folks on here to chime in with ideas about how to flesh it out. 
Once you decide what happened, (yes I know, DM fiat... but for the purposes of starting the mystery off, he 
has to know what caused all of this and keep it from the players for a while because of the mystery genre) then the world will start to fill itself out organically.


It might not be absolutely necessary for the DM to decide in advance. Maybe the group could uncover clues that were being made up as you went along, but then periodically brainstorm something big, with the express requirement of tying together, say, 80% of known data. I don't know how difficult this would be to pull off, but it seems at least plausible. On the other hand, if you aren't absolutely committed to not having the DM invent plot details, this seems like the type of story where it would really help maintain coherence.
I like the idea of players turning to information gathering rituals to try and glean information. What happens when you Gather Rumors in a city where everyone is gone? Can you Talk With the Dead if you can't find a corpse? If you try to contact a god and get a dial tone, what does that mean???

Simply saying "It doesn't work" means you let go of a lot of cool opportunities to deepen the mystery and keep the players moving forward. I would use that as an opportunity to drop some really interesting clues.
Once you decide what happened, (yes I know, DM fiat... but for the purposes of starting the mystery off, he 
has to know what caused all of this and keep it from the players for a while because of the mystery genre) then the world will start to fill itself out organically.



It might not be absolutely necessary for the DM to decide in advance. Maybe the group could uncover clues that were being made up as you went along, but then periodically brainstorm something big, with the express requirement of tying together, say, 80% of known data. I don't know how difficult this would be to pull off, but it seems at least plausible. On the other hand, if you aren't absolutely committed to not having the DM invent plot details, this seems like the type of story where it would really help maintain coherence.


I can agree with that.  It will depend for sure on what kind of game the DM and players decide they want together.  If they want to create a world together, then the mystery aspect will be rendered moot as everybody will know what's going on at all times because they are making it up as they go along.  If they agree to a mystery "who-dunnit", then the DM will neccessarily have to keep some things hidden from the players until the right time.
I'm much more interested in whether the players were the only ones to wind up in this realm, or if they are the only survivors.  They might not progress much level-wise if there's literally nothing to fight.

I'm warming up to the premise here.  I started my most recent game with a survival situation, too, and had the players get shipwrecked and wash up on a jungle island.  The entire premise of the story for Level One was 'Get Off The Island'.  Your premise, for as many levels as you want, even, might be 'Where the Heck are we, and how do we get home?'
If they want to create a world together, then the mystery aspect will be rendered moot as everybody will know what's going on at all times because they are making it up as they go along.



Not sure this is 100% true. If you haven't made up a detail yet, then it's still a mystery. If you can make them up at-will,  it does seem to remove some suspense, but if being able to do so was contingent on die rolls or other factors, it might still be workable. My main concern with doing this genre in this way would be the possibility of getting a plot so convoluted that you couldn't resolve things at the end.
I've been rolling around some possible causes, and I'm leaning towards one. 


Essentially, one wizard in a position of power (affiliated with the Mage Tower, king's advisor, etc) caused the catastrophe. He cast a spell that worked its way out from the center of the city and absorbed everyone whole into himself. I don't know if he was a power hungry, vile man trying to gain information in relation to the hand and/or eye of Vecna, or for his own evil ends, or if he was a senior mage trying using a last ditch effort as the city was falling to vicious brute to preserve them all (the process is reversible in this scenario) while previously sent-for help tries to get there. Maybe he was only trying to absorb the bad guys, or one powerful bad guy, but it went wrong.

The result, however, is that a city's worth of consciousnesses are currently active in his mind. His will and personality are on the surface, but he has to deal with the sheer volume of the voices in his head, all the time, plus the powerful instinct of the animals he abosrbed. Some of the more powerful wills he absorbed are fighting him - if he was a good guy stopping an invading army that were burning the city, he is being influenced by their malice. If he was a power hungry villian, the goodness of the people he consumed make him unstable.

Regardless, there are clues throughout the city - diaries may mention turmoil surrounding the up-and-comer at the Mage Tower or the dread of the advancing army. If there was an invasion, signs of battle are evident in some sections of the city, and fires are smoldering. 

Meanwhile, there's a psychopath loose in the city. I'm presuming human for now. I expect he is dangerous, but unable to concentrate enough to cast some of the powerful spells he knows.

I lean towards the "he's really a good guy who saved everyone" explanation because the evidence (and the man's psychotic behavior) can make him look like an achvillian, setting up a later reveal. 


 
If they want to create a world together, then the mystery aspect will be rendered moot as everybody will know what's going on at all times because they are making it up as they go along.



Not sure this is 100% true. If you haven't made up a detail yet, then it's still a mystery. If you can make them up at-will,  it does seem to remove some suspense, but if being able to do so was contingent on die rolls or other factors, it might still be workable. My main concern with doing this genre in this way would be the possibility of getting a plot so convoluted that you couldn't resolve things at the end.


Just confirming that allowing the players to help create the solution in no way diminishes the mystery.  You can, of course, not tell them that they're crafting the answer if the illusion of knowing the answer is important to you.

Just a single round of Microscope will completely abolish the notion that players cannot be surprised (nay, blindsided) by collaborative storytelling.