Let’s Be Bad Guys

I’ve been mulling around ideas for a D&D or D&D-like campaign. I haven’t decided what system I’m going to use, or when I’ll have time to run it, but it’s something I’ve been mulling around for a while.

Part of it comes from some ideas I noodled around back when I ran a cop game in D&D. Mainly it was a thumbing of my nose at the traditional adventurer model, where the law enforcement PCs looked down on so-called “adventurers” as mere tomb raiders and troublemakers. But that was more of a background setting piece than a cornerstone of the setting.

This idea got a bit of a surge from a quote from, if I’m recollecting properly, John Wick. I think it was from his Houses posts on Livejournal, prior to him locking his posts to private. I thought it might be in Houses of the Blooded, but I can’t find it in the PDF I have of it. But the gist of it was this: Bands of armed thugs wandering the countryside are not adventurers. They are criminals.

I attribute it to Mr. Wick because I believe it came out as he was trying to distinguish the ven of his anti-D&D game from the ageless sociopaths of D&D. But I like the idea as a setup for a D&D campaign, especially since I love the thought of using a concept from Houses to do a non-standard D&D game. It’s like… thumbing my nose at so many people at the same time.

Part of this is inspired by the notion of the social contrivances you have with roleplaying games. I understand why they have them, even if I don’t like them. You get all charged up reading Lord of the Rings (or watching the movies). Or it may be that you’ve been reading Gibson’s cyberpunk stuff. Or maybe your favorite emo vampire romances. And thus charged, you think to yourself, “I want to play a roleplaying game like this.” So you bust out one of the popular games tied to the genre. You dig out D&D, or Shadowrun or Vampire, and you find that the game is not a damn thing like the inspiration.

Instead of a motley fellowship from a variety of backgrounds joining together, you get an adventuring party. Instead of an odd ensemble of personalities in a dystopian future converging on a single plot thread, you have shadowrunners. Instead of powerful and brooding tragic figures, you are a bunch of pissants at the bottom of the vampire foodchain, banded together in your coterie.

D&D especially drives me nuts because it just seems to feed on itself. Each edition seems to twist itself deeper into the dungeon-crawl mentality. When I was playing in a living setting at the Wizards of the Coast Game Center many, many years ago, they had an “adventurer’s guild” to explain how so many adventurers could switch between groups. As best I can tell their new setting, Eberron, seems to have a chunk built around the idea of evolving concepts in D&D forward.

The typical response to this is to make an indie game tailored to emulate a typical story from a genre. But, y’know, I’m the sort of guy who likes to have his cake and eat it too.

With this in mind, one of the goals I have for such a game is to break out of the D&D adventurer mold. No dungeons. No “adventurers.” (And sure as hell no “adventurer’s guild.”) A kobold tribe will have kobold men, kobold women and kobold frickin’ children.


So, back to the point.

The core idea of the game would be to have players portray “criminals” in the setting. Not in the thieves’ guild sense of the word. No, more fringe elements. Where the core trappings of your typical D&D character is illegal.

  • The Powers That Be (PTB) do not want common folk to carry swords or other military weapons. Don’t want to have peasant uprisings. So swords are illegal, as are other military type weapons. Farm and hunting implements are not technically illegal, but someone walking around town with a scythe slung over his shoulder is going to be suspected of something.
  • Wizardry is strictly regulated. All wizards must be licensed through the Wizards’ Guild. PCs cannot be part of the Wizards’ Guild.
  • There is an orthodox church. Priests who fall outside of the orthodoxy are criminals. PCs cannot be part of the Orthodoxy. They can only be fringe excommunicated priests and heretics.
  • Fringe “pagan” religions are also illegal. Similarly, pacts with otherworldly forces are illegal. Like Warlocks. (“Burn the witch!”)

The rough setting I’m mulling around involves a large and sprawling kingdom. The previous King had fallen ill, and delegated the management of his kingdom between his two sons. When the king died, the younger son didn’t want to give up his half of it to the legitimate heir. He was well liked enough by his people that they stood by him. War broke out, the younger son lost and was killed. The kingdom was unified. (Why, yes, this is blatant attempt to have a Firefly-esque Unification War in recent history.)

The kingdom is bordered by an assortment of older, mostly non-human settlements. Elves, dwarves, etc. There’s plenty of fuzzy area regarding borders, leaving plenty of space for barbarian tribes, border towns that don’t strictly fall under anyone’s jurisdiction. I’m tempted to steal from Deadwood and have deposits of Macguffinite discovered in one of these border areas, with military buildup going on while opportunists attempt to get in on the action.

I’m unsure what system I’d want to use. I’m leaning towards *wince* D&D 4e. I’ve been playing it lately. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s infected my brain. It’s also in print and is easy to grab and run. It has it’s flaws, which I’ll probably houserule the hell out of, but it’s my top choice. After that it’s either Savage Worlds or D&D 3.X.

SW seems like it’s well poised to be an alternative to D&D, but I’m sadly not as familiar with it. I’ve had bad experiences with trying to take a system I’m not familiar with and try to twist it in a particular direction. Using SW would primarily need massaging if I wanted to have some sort of distinction between wizards, druids, clerics, etc.

D&D 3.X… 3.X broke my heart. I really liked it, but between the spreadsheet-level math needed to make high level characters and the sprawling source books that introduced a half-dozen or more classes and prestige classes, I just couldn’t do it anymore. First level characters in 3.X definitely fit my image for what I wanted originally a bit more, but oh the math. It being outdated by 4e doesn’t help. The new Pathfinder rules, which I’ve heard described as “D&D 3.7″ might be an alternative.

Things I would probably house rule or consider in world building in such a game:

  • Fan Mail, natch. May have to figure out how to tie it in with the XP structure of D&D if I link them to XP. Or if I should roll it into Aspects.
  • Aspects: Though I’ve had trouble with them, I think I’m slowly getting the hang of them. I think I’ve learned a lot of important lessons with them. Also, tying them in with character creation to establish backgrounds and relations with characters is a winning combination. I don’t want wandering sociopaths banding together for loot. I want people who have known each other over the years.
  • Fluff Skills: If I use 4e rules, I’m definitely giving players one to two trained skills on top of their normal ones that have to do with a job or some other knowledge not strictly tied to “I go around and beat up monsters for a living.” “Fighter” or “rogue” are crap descriptions for where a person’s from or what they’ve done in the past.
  • If using one of the D&D incarnations, I’d probably restrictive with alignment. Most characters, whether human or kobold or whatever are essentially “neutral” or “unaligned,” depending on whether we’re talking 3.X or 4e. Truly good or evil characters are rarely encountered. Mostly it’s just normal people muddling along. The villification of orks, kobolds or whatever are a matter of politics, fear of the “other” or outright alien.
  • No dungeons. There are occasional tombs out there, but they are either long since ransacked or places of certain death. They aren’t big over-ripe piñatas waiting to be beat by an adventures. And nobody puts elaborate traps throughout their house as some twisted sense of security measure.

That’s about all I got for this right now. I may flesh this out more as I come closer to running it or have more ideas.

4 thoughts on “Let’s Be Bad Guys

  1. idemandjustice

    That sounds really awesome. Of course, you probably already know I’m a long-time hater of dungeon crawls, and although D&D is my favorite, I also only like it if I’m playing it “wrong” as in it being story-based and character driven rather than a dungeon crawl.

    I love this: The villification of orks, kobolds or whatever are a matter of politics, fear of the “other” or outright alien.

    And this: And nobody puts elaborate traps throughout their house as some twisted sense of security measure.

  2. admin Post author

    It occurs to me that I phrased the bit about orks a little weirdly, though. My reference to “outright alien” implies that the vilification of “monsters” was meant to cover the really weird shit, like aboleths and mind flayers. (Though the other phrasing is also effective.)

    They aren’t generally “evil.” They’re just so alien that their value systems don’t overlap with yours. One of my favorite NPCs in the cop game was Mr. Sq’lln’g’ch. He was a scholar, quite friendly with the law enforcement and he happened to be a mind flayer. But he did not hunt people and eat their brains. He made-due on animal brains, with the occasional supplement from executed criminals. He was probably one of my most popular NPCs from that game.

  3. idemandjustice

    A DM from when I was in high school introduced a friendly mind-flayer illithid (it was explained to me by said character that mind flayer is derogatory) NPC in his game for a while. It initially was kinda by accident. There was a tarasque, and my character had never seen mind flayers before, but I happened to see two get eaten, and I helped the third illithid escape. He then showed up and returned the favor when my character was in trouble. He ran around with our party for a while after that in the game. He didn’t eat animal brains, though, but we got attacked by pirates and various things regularly enough that he managed to stay well fed.

  4. pjack

    I’m sorely tempted to try running a D&D 4e / Primetime Adventures crossover game. Not a hybrid, but running in alternating sessions. Everyone has a D&D version of their character, and a PTA version.

    There’s a town in danger, and the PCs have come to save the day. The PTA sessions would focus on the impact the PCs have on the town: how the townsfolk push the PCs’ issues, and how the PCs leave the town changed, for good or for ill. The D&D 4e sessions would be all about the stuff that goes on outside the town: investigating the threat, fighting bad guys, and crawling in dungeons. The season ends when the module ends, and the PCs move on to the next town/adventure for the next season.

    You could do a little overlap, maybe. You could pause a PTA session to run a single D&D 4e encounter, perhaps. Or you could take the opportunity in a D&D session to run a short PTA scene, perhaps while the characters are taking a short or long rest. (A “webisode”!) That’s as far as I’d go for mixing the games, though.

    The whole idea is crazy and doomed to failure, I’m sure. Still, tempting…

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