First Cities Campaign Premise

The following was sent to my players to introduce them to the structure of the campaign:

You are a member of a small, Bronze Age nomadic tribe called the Sakas, which has been eking out a livable but brutish existence for many generations on the vast steppe land known as the Sea of Grass. Recently, your tribe has made the decision to flee your ancient homeland in the steppe. Rumors of a vast warband of savage beastmen called the Turukku have become too pressing to ignore, so the elder moot decided the Sakas would join other steppe tribes in fleeing before the Turuk Horde reached the tribe’s grazing hills.

Your destination is the land of Khamaz, a fertile and populated river valley bracketed by arid and semi-arid desert lands, tall mountains, rugged hills, and vast swamps. Considered the original seat of urban civilization, it is a land of shining riches, strange magicks, exotic peoples, and dangers innumerable, but it also seems to be the closest safe haven from the oncoming Turuks. Despite many reservations, the elder moot decided to settle there.


The initial goal of this campaign is for you as the players to keep your tribe alive and intact while finding a new homeland for settlement. Within this broad remit, you are free to take this in any direction you wish. The campaign will operate on two different tracks: 1) strategic decision making for the tribe by the elder moot, which you will run at the start of every game session; and 2) tactical operations/adventures carrying out the directives of the elder moot by your PCs. Therefore, what you need to do to prepare for the first game session is this:

1) Create a clan/family within the tribe, which will serve as the pool from which your PCs come. For your clan/family, please sketch out an elder of some sort (e.g., a family patriarch). This is not a D&D character with stats; simply flesh out personality and other details as you see fit for role-playing purposes. This character is a member of the tribe’s elder moot, the ultimate decision-making body, which operates through consensus and discussion to arrive at the tribe’s strategic goals and actions (e.g. when to move, where to settle, how to handle threats, who to threaten, division of spoils and resources, etc). This track of the game will also be concerned with managing the tribe’s Resources and Assets metrics, which I will explain more fully during the first game session.

2) Create a PC that is a member of your clan/family (or more than one if you want). This PC is part of the tribe’s rangers, a group of adventurers/scouts/warriors who carry out the tasks assigned by the elder moot. The rewards for adventures on this track will involve obtaining Resources/Assets for the tribe and individual wealth for your PC and clan/family.

*Special Snowflake Exception: You have the option to create a PC that does not originally come from the nomadic tribes of the Sea of Grass (but rather an exile of some sort from Khamaz itself). In that case, you would still create a clan/family with an elder, representing the tribal group your outsider has latched onto. I would then work with you to craft a PC with the appropriate background and class details. That said, only 1 player at the start of the campaign is allowed to use the Special Snowflake Exception. If more than one player wants to create an outsider character, you’ll either need to work out amongst yourselves who gets the exception or you’ll have to dice for it.

This is a campaign built around hexcrawl exploration, gritty adventure, and a broad but individual scope. Time between game sessions will pass as seasons (with no more than two game sessions taking place in one season), which means characters will actually age and progress in the larger scheme of things. Your initial goal is to safely settle your tribe. Once you complete that, we’ll continue exploring Khamaz in a more traditional D&D format.


Featured Image: “Peretz and His Noble Steed on the High Steppe” by Peretz Partensky, used by Creative Commons license.


5 thoughts on “First Cities Campaign Premise

  1. I like the two-level campaign with Strategic and Tactical levels. I think I’ll steal this format for my *Where Are We?* sandbox.

  2. Having never run, or played, in a campaign with this kind of strategic level, I have some questions about the structure of your tribal vs. family/clan setup. From My rather limited study of most nomadic tribes, I find that most tribes are actually one extended family bloodline with one central figure as decision maker (e.g., The Chief). This central figure often has council/advisers made up of blood related family, but the ultimate decision lies with the one central figure. With your campaign, are you adopting the extended family set up of the tribe? Or, is this several completely distinct bloodlines banding together for a mutual goal? With your elder moot, will it have a central figure (NPC, or elected player) as final decision maker? Also, will there be any DM controlled NPC’s in the elder moot to help prevent “Runaway Campaign” issues?
    I ask, as these differences can effect the DM’s ability to control the direction of campaign evolution, and the flavor of the roleplay. For instance, in the elder moot, it would be easier to trust a brother after making a bad decision, over the ‘dung-eating barbarian’ from the other side of the hill.

    • Great questions, witch1000!

      For the most part, I structured their tribe as a small-sized (starting around 160 pop.) mix between a hunter-gatherer kinship band and a more complex tribal unit. Clans represent blood-related family groups that could over time as the tribe becomes bigger morph into distinct subgroups within the larger whole (but that’s up to the players really). Following a typical model for the stages of cultural evolution (say Peter Farb’s Man’s Rise to Civilization: The Cultural Ascent of the Indians of North America), this would put the players’ tribe squarely between a Band (30-200 pop.; no distinct leader) and a Tribe (100-2,000 pop.; a council of leaders or tribal chief, usually exercising only persuasive power). Thus, in building the elder moot concept in, I decided not to have any particular leader for the tribe. Of course they could develop one over time, but that’s entirely up to them as well.

      As for who is in the elder moot, I usually have a character or two that occasionally participates, so I can try to influence what they decide to do (for instance, Jil, a tribal witch woman, has been brought in to “consult” on certain issues).

  3. Pingback: Designing a Civilizational Hexcrawl | He Who Saw The Deep

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