Adventuring in Atlantis

Spent a fair amount of time this weekend working on Ruins of Atlantis. Now that I’ve finally come to a decision, I’ve been plowing into this project with a bit of gusto. I think the key is to reach a state where actual play can begin as quickly as possible, before my enthusiasm wanes or I become enamored with another idea, such as turning Dragonlance into a huge sandbox setting. (Not a joke…that’s something I’ve given some thought to and would like to tackle at some point.)

Anyway, one of the things that’s got me fired up right now is that my son seems pretty excited about the idea. He had been lukewarm to the Forbidden Jungle idea but is already impatient to set foot on the lost continent.

As I noted in the comments of an earlier post, this setting is going to use the legend of Atlantis as a hook and as stage dressing while at heart remaining a fairly standard D&D world. There will definitely be a generous amount of Greekishness to the place, all the classic mythological monsters will certainly be present, and there will be no shortage of wrecked Greek architecture littering the land. And, of course, lots of statues (he said with an evil grin). What I’m not going to do, though, is make this some sort of quasi-Greek campaign or even a quasi-Greek civilization visited by regular PCs. The full-blown Greek treatment Atlantis campaign sounds very cool, but is not what I’m going for here.

The Basic Premise is that an outpost has been established on a distant island to support prospectors and fur trappers. A duke has attempted to start a colony, and some pioneers have set down roots, but the place is wild and dangerous and littered with ruins that many believe to be haunted or cursed. Some sages have speculated that the place may be the lost kingdom of Atlantis. Though these facts have kept the colony from flourishing, the tales of the wealth of Atlantis have attracted bold adventurers. The PCs will arrive by ship and discover a fortified town and small settled area not unlike the early New World or the Gold Rush days. Beyond this semi-secure colony area, the wild calls the PC with siren songs of adventure and treasure.

Here are some of my current plans:

  • The play is going to be player-initiated. New PCs will be given a few rumors, and more rumors (and maybe even a fact or two) will be discovered during play. Players will have to tell me beforehand which rumor they want to investigate or where they want to go. If they say “We want to go try to find that ruined temple to the war goddess in the woods north of town,” I’ll have it prepared. Or they could decide “We’ll rent a boat and cross over to the swamp to search for the tribe of lizardfolk the fishermen have been complaining about,” and I’ll prepare that instead.
  • I will “rough in” encounter areas and only flesh them out if/when players plan to go there. For instance, I will make a note that a ruined temple is in hex 1234, and I may even know that a particular monster or band of brigands or a certain treasure item is present. These details may be part of rumors that the PCs pick up. But I won’t spend time or effort on detailing the place unless players indicate that they’re going to head that way. This is why players need to tell me ahead of time where they want to adventure in the upcoming session. Of course, if it’s a place someone has previously visited, the work required will be significantly lessened.
  • The encounters will not be scaled to match PC levels. This is going to be a true sandbox, and there’s nothing to stop low-level PCs from wandering into a den of medusae. However, an effort will be made to allow PCs to collect clues about what they’re getting themselves into. For instance, there would be rumors of snake-haired women in that area and they would probably run into a few petrified adventures near the entrance to their cave. If they insist on going on? Well, rolling up new PCs doesn’t take too long in Labyrinth Lord.
  • The danger will increase the farther PCs go into the wilds. Related to the above point, a general rule will be that the lands closer to the outpost city are less dangerous than those beyond. Just as dungeons generally become tough the lower you go, the wilderness will become tougher the deeper you travel into it. This only makes sense, as the area around the town is patrolled by the local militia and the Duke’s cavalry. New PCs will be smart to stick near the settled areas, while higher-level adventures may decide to venture out where the risks and rewards are greater. Nowhere is exactly safe, mind you, but players will generally be able to make informed decisions if they pay attention.
  • Each region will have its own flavor. Starting with customized encounter tables, I hope to give each area a distinct feel, which should add to the overall vibe of the setting and help players make intelligent decisions about where to go and what to do. Yes, that huge statue on the coast is intriguing. But locals avoid it for a reason. There will be overlap to prevent predictability, but PCs should be able to gather where the orcs are common and where the goblins hold sway. And where they both shy away from.
  • It will be a “living” setting. My intention is that things done by the PCs will permanently change the setting. The lizardfolk tribe in the swamp has been wiped out? Well, I’ll remove lizardfolk from the random encounter tables for that area and substitute something else. A dungeon has been half-cleared but the PCs were then wiped out? Well, it can be visited again later by someone else and I’ll alter it to reflect the changes wrought by the first group. Of course, emptied dungeons won’t stay empty for long…
  • There will be relatively few hirelings available and virtually no NPC adventurers. A few men-at-arms may be hired here and there, but the pool of people willing to leave the safety of the settled areas will be very limited. It will not be impossible to find a henchman, but such an NPC will be a great treasure. PCs will be mostly on their own. Parties of NPC adventurers will probably not exist at all except in special circumstances. The players will determine what happens in the world.
  • PCs will be encouraged to end the game session back in town. This will facilitate scheduling future sessions where the players present may or may not be available. Other “safe points” may be made available, but PCs there will be “stuck” until the players play again or can get them back to town. I will cook up a system to determine the fate of PCs who insist on ending the session in the dungeon. My expectation is that players who try this will not try it again.
  • A game calendar will be used to track PCs. I’ve wanted to run an open campaign with calendar tracking since reading about it in the 1e DMG way back in the day. My hope is that eventually this campaign will have a number of players who will mix and match into parties as scheduling allows. Maybe a pipedream on my part, but I want to be ready if it happens. I haven’t worked out the exact details of how we’ll implement this yet.
  • It should be clear that all of these points are pretty standard “sandbox” ideas and have been influenced by the West Marches write-ups by Ben Robbins. As I progress, I’ll have more write-ups on the blog.

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    6 Responses to Adventuring in Atlantis

    1. JB says:

      It all sounds excellent, though I wouldn’t be so quick to close the lid on hirelings…having a steady (if infrequent) stream of adventurers to the island ensures plenty o warm bodies when a new PC needs to be rolled up. Plus, the deaths of these other adventurers in other parts of the island’s interior gives rise to all sorts of rumors and adventure hooks for the PCs’ party.

      Just have the henchman types be an independent sort that are rarely (if ever) interested in joining the PCs. If you want the PCs to be the main influence on the events of the island then make sure (as DM) that the actions of independent adventures never amount to much!

      : )

      • Kilgore says:

        having a steady (if infrequent) stream of adventurers to the island ensures plenty o warm bodies when a new PC needs to be rolled up

        Actually, that is EXACTLY what I have in mind. I didn’t mean that NPC adventurers don’t exist anywhere, just that they aren’t doing much in the campaign and that PCs won’t ever (or at least only very rarely) meet them.

        Plus, the deaths of these other adventurers in other parts of the island’s interior gives rise to all sorts of rumors and adventure hooks for the PCs’ party.

        Yes, this too, though for the most part these “they never came back” NPC adventurers will have gone before the PCs arrived in-world.

      • Kilgore says:

        Thanks! I realize that there’s nothing ground-breaking going on here. But I’ve never run a campaign like this, though a lot of it is stuff I’ve “always wanted to do.”

    2. bat says:

      The old Bard Games Atlantean World is priceless for this. The setting coupled Atlantis and the pre-flood world with traditional D&D ideas and races (elves, dwarfs and more!)The Atlantean Bestiary is absolutely a MUST for your game.

    3. Paolo Greco says:

      I’d actually avoid using Greek architecture for Atlantis proper, but go for, well, you can imagine.
      I’d like to elaborate but I don’t know if your players are reading 😉

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