Campaign Guide

The Nature of the Campaign

Unlike many campaigns, this one has a beginning, a middle, and an end, much like a book. Each adventure fits into the larger scope of the overall story. It tells of the fulfillment of The Prophesy of the Phoenix that will free Arcallis from an ancient evil. This saga is told in the adventure logs called The Once and Reborn King. As with a novel, there are the main characters, the supporting characters (both of which are always PCs), and then there are all the rest, both the faceless (minor characters) and the briefly illuminated (allies, enemies, and other NPCs who have a purpose).

Arcallis suffered a great Scourge a thousand years ago which lasted some 400 years. During the Scourge, extra-dimensional creatures, known as Horrors, ravaged the land and polluted astral space. To survive against the Horrors, most of the Races had to hide inside the living earth and stone, huddled in the darkness. Of those that did not hide, most were driven mad and killed. The few that did survive, such as the Therans and the Elves of the Blood Wood, had great magicks to aid them or made terrible pacts to sustain themselves.

In the 600 plus years since the Scourge was declared over, the races have pushed back the darkness and rebuilt the world. Arcallis still suffers from dimensional instability, and often great storms sweep across the land, changing its face and depositing new races and creatures. Fae creatures abound, as well as small enclaves of races from other worlds and times.

Over time, and after losing many of the original players due to their moving, I have had to run other campaigns in Arcallis. Some I have tried to tie to main storyline, while others have just been adventurous romps around the world. Arcallis holds a lot of adventure and most of the growth of the world is due to these pick-up campaigns. Each campaign is part of the history of the world and what happens in them influences all the other campaigns I have or will run in the world. However, it is always the story of The Once and Reborn King that is central to my world view of Arcallis.

The Nature of the World

Way back in high school I had my own world (damned if I can remember the name though, sadly) which I used on and off with modifications from 1980 to sometime in '85 or '86. We started playing GURPS in 1984 or so and soon after I was introduced to The World of Harn — mmm, Harn. Well, like the commercial, it was two great tastes that taste great together. For a solid 8+ years I ran Harn in GURPS and it was good. But, after awhile the characters began to push at the edges of the game system's ability to provide the experience we wanted and the campaign made a radical switch to a Dark Sun inspired world and the HERO game system. Then one little TPK and gaming ended for a year or two.

When I started running again it was an attempt to make my own system. It was weak and didn't get far but I had an awesome experience with TORG at a game convention and decided to give Masterbook a try. Combined with some ideas from TORG and Earthdawn/Shadowrun, and the desire to tell an epic tale, Arcallis was born. Since then I have taken inspiration from Exalted, D&D, Powers & Perils, and other games and supplements.

The world has developed so much since its initial conception, and I wish I had all the ideas, maps, and inspirations I have now back then, but I have retconned what I must and glossed over the rest. Part of the development process of the world has been the sheer luck at finding other game worlds that really fit what I am trying to do with minimal redrawing of the world geographically, historically or culturally. I own so many game supplements, games, and game worlds that being able to use some of them gives my collection real meaning (my wife says it still isn't enough though). The whole western hemisphere of the world is that of a good friend of mine which fits beautifully, though lacks any current detail (Marty call me!).

It is a work in progress and still has so many stories to tell.

History of the Arcallis Campaign

The Once and Reborn King Arcallis campaign started back in 1995 with an attempt at a homebrew system, QUEST. This initial attempt failed quickly and we started up for real with Masterbook, a great game made by West End Games (who seem to be out of business), which was inspired by the game, TORG.

The campaign ran for almost a year then I tried to switch it to Rolemaster, a game made by Iron Crown Enterprises. This attempt failed immediately and miserably, killing the campaign.

In 1998 I finished another draft of QUEST and picked up the campaign with Journies Afar close to where we had left off. This was suprisingly successful and we had alot of fun. The campaign ran for a year or so, died, then started with The Land of Fate in 2000. We had just enough time to finish the story arc when two characters dropped out and moved away.

Cue D&D3e. I started a different campaign, Redemption, using D&D3e as a test for using the game to play out the main campaign of The Once and Reborn King. It went well, though ended badly, and in 2001, with the return of one of the lost players we began the tale of Eleven Baneful Gates. We played for a bit and the system grew on us. But, alas, the campaign again ground to a halt with players moving on with real life.

I almost immediatly met another group of players and started up the Dark Legacy campaign. This campaign lasted two years before ending. And what an ending! Characters dying, swearing allegiance to dark and hungry powers from The Far Realm, or fleeing home and retiring. It was ugly but final.

Cue 2004 and Redemption Redeemed, a continuation of the first, failed, D&D3e campaign that my own GMing had killed with a simple mistake. I wish I had taken a do-over and just redone it, but the players are long gone now. On another note to aspiring GM’s: never let a player play a remade version of a “glory days” character from another campaign in your campaign, especially if you don’t know either the character or the campaign it came from. It will never live up to the memories and causes both player and GM frustration.

In 2005, after another player exodus from the area, I connected with a couple friends and started exploring GURPS 4e, made by SJG. We played a bit, but never really finished the adventure Caravan to Ein Arris and the campaign died again. We started playing again in the The Tower of the Dead campaign in 2006 when we remade Ruin and Viggo into 3rd edition characters and added another character, Simeon.

We played for a year or so until I got the itch to try Rolemaster again. It went better this time, and we had some fun with it, but ultimately it killed the campaign once again.

In 2008, with the release of D&D4e we remade the characters once again back into D&D. The Silent City campaign played 31 sessions, at one a week or so, and went to a fine conclusion. But I needed a break from GMing for six players so another GM’s started running for us.

In April 2009, I started two campaigns at the same time: ruins-of-empire, a continuation of Ruin and Viggo's story as they journey south seeking adventure; and The Harbinger of Night, my fourth attempt at inserting the Age of Worms adventure path into Arcallis. Viggo, Simeon, and Ruin, while they enjoyed the Silent City campaign for what it was, missed the intimate nature of a three player campaign which their's used to be. Ruin's player also wanted his girlfriend to join us, since all the games she had played in switched games/campaigns on an almost weekly basis, so I started the Harbinger campaign for the nights she could make it.

Jan 2010: The other GM never did run anything and our group that had gone so long and so well fell apart. Viggo and Ruin got put on hold as the Harbinger campaign became our major focus for a few months, then I just got tired of D&D4e and converting the D&D3e stuff for it. So, there was no gaming until January of 2010 when, in frustration with the other GM who still claims his campaign is "in the works", I started running Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. As always, the roleplaying is excellent and the game isn't too bad — very free form and rules-lite. It has many glaring weaknesses and I am already chaffing at the system, so I imagine a switch is coming soon. The best thing is the world of Warhammer — it is an excellent fit (the Empire at least).

Sept 2010: Summer came and put an end to gaming (as it has the last decade). The Warhammer campaign seems to be dead int he water. I fell out of love with the game (just to many tokens and cards and dice and bits). I found a new game Fantasy Craft, which is a d20 based game. It has a lot to commend it as far as reading it, will it be all it seems once we sit and play? I sure don't know, but, as always willing to try, we have begun a new campaign, From the Shadow of Karavakos, telling of the rebuilding of Ista now that the curse on it has been lifted. Still no one else running (bleh).

Feb 2011: The other GM did finally get off his ass and start running for us with his Kings of Kings campaign. His prep work was well worth it, but almost totally mechanical (i.e., props). I was one session short of finishing the first chapter in the Karavakos campaign which has been put on hold since Oct. I have the itch to run again though so I am looking to get a group together on the King of Kings off days.

Dec 2012: The King of Kings campaign ground to a close with little resolution. The GM claims he might run again come D&D5e, but I am not holding my breath :( That same GM (who also gave me the Fantasycraft game) showed me Savage Worlds. Wow. I had known about the game for years, but I had played Deadlands years ago and equated the two in my mind. What a disservice I had done that game all these years. Savage Worlds is fast, furious, and fun! It has tactical depth and flexibility as well as a solid resolution system and character advancement system.

I started another campaign, based on the Pathfinder 6 part series Kingmaker (which the King of Kings campaign was loosely based on) using SW called Dominion. It went well until I was exposed to Mutants & Masterminds, another game I had given short-shrift over the years, and I got caught up in that system and the thoughts of conversion such that Dominion was put on hold. M&M never really caught on with the whole group so gaming died out over the summer as it often does. In the fall my players contacted me about runniung and I agreed to run SW and Dominion for them, but they had lost their old characters so we started up A Shining Beacon, tales of adventure in the kingdom of Kanday.

A forum goer on the GURPS site had contacted me years ago about playing in Arcallis, setting his adventure in Kanday as well. I wonder how they would compare? Neat to think about and flattering that anyone would enjoy Arcallis enought to want to run in it.

Well, the lost characters got found and the decision was made to return to Dominion bringing one of the characters from A Shining Beacon. Sadly, though I had been told this had been discussed and agreed on, Heather was suprised at the switch, but has soldiered on making the best of it, since she hated her original Dominion character anyways.

Nov 2013: I fell out of love with Savage Worlds as characters started to look the same over time. Still a lot to commend it, but it just failed the long-haul and multiple campaign test. So, we looked at Pathfinder (a D&D3e re-make), and we were impressed.

Nov 2016: I really like D&D 5e and we picked up the The Harbinger of Night campaign at the battle of Blackwall Fort where we had left off. The thing I like about 5e is that, though a level based game, it has bounded accuracy, allowing interaction through all levels of play. This is something I had modeled in Masterfinder using the Value Chart to compress the ridiculous numbers Pathfinder characters and opponents reach.

The campaign went well, though we lost a player dear to my heart (just his participation, not the actual person from this world). The players made level 9 and were about to embark on the finale but the conversion work, mapping, and missing players (oh, and the brutal death of a character, perhaps due to GM excess) shut the campaign down for the nonce.

Apr 2020: While 5e addresses some of the weirdness of level-based systems' escalation of opponents, it still has a very "gamey" feel. PCs just don't compare the same scale as creatures, so can never truly strike out on their own and succeed because the game enforces a window of acceptable fights….gamey. Pathfinder and 3e used the same system to build characters and opponents, which is why I think they are superior systems over things like 4e and 5e, and the new Pathfinder 2e which build to the combat "experience", a balanced exchange skewed to the adventuring day. Still, both 3e and Pathfinder fail to deliver an experience where opponents scale in any meaningful way, just the opposite in fact.

I had given great consideration to returning to 5e when I found Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKs for short). The economic detail and intertwining of the leveling and treasure are just amazing. The game makes no bones about balanced fights, in the old-school style of gaming. We played a bit, but the game just has that old school feel of system-less systems, putting the onus on the GM and players to make rulings on skills and non-adventuring activities. Many seem to hate codified skill systems with reasonable chance of success, but not me. One of the reasons I had thought 3e was so good was the skills and feats systems.

I guess my roots in DragonQuest and GURPS, the two games I played the most after my introduction to AD&D back in the '70's, makes me enjoy skill-based systems more. But GURPS is too crunchy and I am over point-based buy games, including a long stint with HERO. I hate narrative play-based games, and loathe diceless systems (though my Nexus campaign grew out of the Amber Diceless System).

June 2020: I gave Pathfinder 2e another look when I heard about the Gamemastery Guide and the optional rule for no level to proficiency. This seems to allow for a much more "5e" style game, where level is not the be-all-end-all of every numerical value on your sheet. It has some oddities, and seems rather haphazardly play-tested, but, we shall see. A new campaign Dreams of a Dying Mind begins online using a VTT.

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