As part of the Year of Dragons celebration, the RPGA is launching its newest installment to the Dungeons & Dragons Campaign program—Xen’drik Expeditions. Starting the weekend of June 29 (and just in times for the Origins International Games Expo!) you’ll be able to join a faction and explore Eberron’s Lost Continent in a quest to manipulate a powerful thread of the draconic Prophecy called the Caldyn Fragments.
To help prepare you for the coming campaign, I’ve cornered RPGA Content Manager Stephen Radney-MacFarland and forced him to answer questions about the campaign. In this, the first of our three-part interview, I’ll interrogate the elusive MacFarland to find out more about the faction hubbub we’ve read of various message boards.
Web Gnome: Well now that we have you hogtied over the raging fires of our web gnome artificer pits, spill your guts SRM!
Stephen: Um, cozy. I feel right at home [laughs].
Web Gnome: Gnomes are not to be trifled with, good sir. You’re here to tell us everything. We know that earlier this year the RPGA started its search for four Xen’drik Expeditions Factionmasters, so we’ve figured out there will be four factions. We saw the summer schedule go up, and the large number of adventures being released at launch. And of course we know it’s set in Xen’drik, but we don’t know much more.
Stephen: There’s more to know? [laughs] Don’t worry I’m just kidding. I guess I can start with the factions and the Factionmasters.
This entire thing started just before the launch of the Mark of Heroes campaign in February 2005. We received some rumblings from the D&D brand team that summer 2006 would be a big year, and we knew that we were going to launch the third offering of the D&D Campaigns program, that it would be Eberron, and that it would be set in Xen’drik (to tie in with the release of the Secret of Xen’drik hardcover, and the fact that Xen’drik is just frigging cool).
One of the limitations of D&D Campaigns is the lack of story diversity. It’s one of the things that contributed the success of Living Greyhawk. This lack is the reason why we created the DM’s Marks, but I wanted to go further with the next campaign. But I had to do it within the realistic confines the RPGA designs under.
As the guy who’s also in charge of the Living Greyhawk juggernaut, I also knew the regional system was a lumbering beast, ravenous for it chief fuel—dedicated fans. Burn out in a region could cause some serious drops in play of that region. In other words, I wanted the benefits of a regional system without the drawbacks of the regional system. And the factional system was born.
At Gen Con 2006 I talked with Eberron creator, Keith Baker, about designing the factions, and gave him some very loose design guidelines to work with. I am a big fan of Keith’s creativity, and knew that he would come up with something fun and exciting, and I was not disappointed by his turnover. The next step was to find four willing and talented people to breathe life into Keith’s factions.
Web Gnome: And those are the Factionmasters?
Stephen: Yep. In January we put out a call for four campaign Factionmasters and received dozens of applications from some very exciting candidates. Among them were long-time members of the RPGA, computer game developers, RPG designers, and a number of fresh faces excited about the new project. It was hard to whittle all these great folks down to a dozen “short listers”. But we did, and sent those folks a design test. It was even harder to decide on the final four from those tests.
Web Gnome: But they’ve been picked?
Stephen: Yeah, a while ago. August Hahn, Brian Mackey, Greg Marks, and Shawn Merwin are the four Factionmasters. Right now each of them is working on the first adventure for their faction…the ones that see release Origins weekend. We haven’t released the list until now not out of any need for secrecy, we’ve just been busy since day one.
Web Gnome: Wow. That’s quite a list. For those who may not know these guys, could you give us some background?
Stephen: Sure. If you’ve played Living Force in the last couple of years, you know August Hahn—he and his wife Cynthia served as the campaign directors during the last part of that campaign’s life. August was also a Living Greyhawk triad member in the Yeomanry in the early years of LG, and he has done design work for Mongoose, Bastion Press, and Sword and Sorcery Studios. All in all he is one great designer with a real sense of heroics, action, and a fantastic gist of what makes good guys (and bad guys) tick. That’s why I’ve put him in charge of the Covenant of Light, a faction filled with the zealous, righteous, and pure of all of Eberron’s religions, faiths, and philosophies. I guess you could say they’re the white hats of the campaign.
Brian Mackey may be best known for winning the 2004 D&D Miniatures Championship the being the husband of “Rikka” from the Underdark set of D&D Miniatures (he got to design mini for winning, and based Rikka on his wife) but he is also one fantastic designer with a keen sense of what makes the Eberron setting fun. Because of that I’ve tapped him to lead the Blackwheel Company, a faction created to serve all thirteen dragonmarked houses’ interests in Xen’drik. Smart, mercenary, and out for sometimes competing “corporate” interests, Blackwheel is the campaign’s organized force to be reckoned with.
Greg Marks comes from the legendary Living Greyhawk Highfolk triad. He’s done design work for Fantasy Flight, and written a number of articles for Dragon magazine. He also has been the most prolific of D&D Campaigns writers, supplying many adventures for both the Legacy of the Green Regent and Mark of Heroes campaign. What I’ve always respected about Greg is his sense of evil. Don’t get me wrong he is a nice guy…a real nice guy, but play any of his adventures, and you realize that he has a mean streak in him. The kind of mean streak you want in a DM or adventure writer. It’s his thorough knowledge of the dark and dangerous that convinced me to give him the reins of the edgiest faction in the campaign—the Cabal of Shadows. The members of the Cabal are dark, mysterious, and often misunderstood. And this faction is really something new in an RPGA campaign. In the Cabal, alignment is not an issue…if you know what I mean.
Last, but not least, is Shawn Merwin. Shawn is just an RPGA madman. One member of a team that’s created three specials, one for the Living Greyhawk and two for Mark of Heroes, Shawn has written numerous Living Greyhawk and Living Kingdoms of Kalamar adventures. Shawn writes fantastic adventures that mix high action with great mystery, story, and roleplaying. He challenges both the player and the character in a way few other do. For this reason Shawn takes the helm of the Crimson Codex. The Codex is the most philosophical of the factions. They have their goals, like any faction, but where Blackwheel favors action, the Codex is contemplative and a steady hand. While the Covenant believes their goals are right, the Codex wants to know they’re correct. And while the Cabal is secretive, those of the Crimson Codex are true masters of the esoteric.
Web Gnome: Now we know who helms these factions, and a little bit of what they’re about, how do the factions work? Do I have to pick a faction and only play it?
Stephen: Well as I said before factions are not regional. No matter where you live in the world, you can make a character of any of the campaign’s factions. In fact, you can have a character in each faction, if you’d like. We created the factions to let the casual player have a full campaign to play, while those who wanted to immerse themselves in the campaign even deeper, would have a ton of adventures opportunities.
Web Gnome: So the campaign is actually four different interlocking mini-campaigns, and every player can participate in each campaign?
Stephen: In some ways, yes. There’re three types of adventures in Xen’drik Expeditions. The first are the faction adventures. In these adventures members of the factions adventure together to achieve faction goals, or to try to unlocks mysteries involving the Caldyn Fragments—a group of draconic Prophecies they are trying to discover the meaning to, manipulate, or both.
The second type of adventure is the popular DM’s Mark, where individual DMs get to flex their creative muscle and make fun and unique game experiences geared toward their group or their local audience. Each DM’s Mark packet is geared toward a faction, and will be available for sanctioning longer than their Mark of Heroes predecessor, so folks who get in on the campaign later have a better chance to play the earlier DM’s Marks.
These adventures lead up to the third type of adventure—the expedition adventure. These are large sprawling epics that place in strange locations in Xen’drik, as the PCs explore and race to affect the Caldyn Fragments’ prophecy in some way. These adventures are big—typically three standard RPGA rounds of play, and more in some cases—and allow the factions to mix on the gaming table. Not that that is a good idea some times, as different factions have different and often competing goals. But hey, that can be fun too with the right group of players. The first expedition adventure, Well of Woe, launches at Gen Con Indianapolis, and signifies the official launch of the campaign.
Web Gnome: So how may adventures can I play in this new campaign?
Stephen: By Winter Fantasy 2007, you’ll have the opportunity to play 14 round of adventure, and that’s only playing one faction. For each additional faction you want to play, add 8 rounds, so if you really wanted to, you could pay up to 38 rounds (152 hours) of adventures before Winter Fantasy. And then Winter Fantasy sees the release of 11 more rounds!
Web Gnome: That’s a lot of adventure.
Stephen: Well the one overwhelming feedback that we received back from the other two D&D Campaigns is that people just wanted more to play. We put our head’s together and found a way to deliver that.
I just realized that I forgot about another type of adventure—the Xen’drik Expeditions delve, Spellspitter’s Abaddon. I guess that’ll have to wait for later.
In the next part of the interview, Stephen talks about character building, the campaign’s new campaign cards, and the use of Mark of Heroes cards in the Xen’drik Expeditions.