Excerpts Archive | 9/11/2009
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Excerpts: DMG2 Ch. 6 Paragon Campaigns
Dungeon Master's Guide 2

In today’s final Dungeon Master's Guide 2 preview, we conclude with the sixth and final chapter, discussing paragon tier campaigns -- where the characters' powers increase, and the world takes notice of their achievements and potential!

A player character’s early career likely entails hack-and-slash adventure, descending into near-surface dungeons, and skirmishing with kobolds, orcs, and gnolls. At paragon status, bold horizons unfold before the PCs. They battle in new places and attract adulation and danger in equal measure. This chapter includes the following sections:

  • Paragon Status: Whether players reach this status level by level or the DM starts characters at the paragon tier, when a campaign reaches 11th level, the stakes change. Paragon tier campaigns might take PCs into the murky depths of the Underdark or across the scarred landscapes of cursed lands. The characters could explore the planar realities of the Astral Sea or the Elemental Chaos. At the paragon tier, PCs are becoming powerful enough to ascend thrones, command armies, and build new empires from the ruins of the old.

  • Sigil, the City of Doors: Introduce plane-hopping, paragon adventurers to the PCs’ potential new home base, Sigil. Sigil offers an infinite number of dimensional gateways to other locations. If the PCs fall into disharmony with the city and its residents, they might learn why people also call the city “The Cage.”

  • A Conspiracy of Doors: This adventure for 11th-level player characters introduces Sigil to your campaign. If it exists, the saying goes, you can find it in Sigil. But what happens when the supply lines are cut and expected imports don’t arrive on schedule? That’s when Estavan, the face of the Planar Trade Consortium, seeks out a group of adventurers to trace the supplies back to their source and discover what’s causing the holdup. What starts as a minor inconvenience could lead to panic, starvation, riots, or worse (such as the attention of the Lady of Pain) if the supply lines aren’t restored.

Paragon Status

When player characters make the leap to paragon status, their characters have stepped onto a new plateau. The challenges they face and the fruits that victory brings increase in magnitude. At the paragon tier, the characters’ powers increase, and the world takes notice of the PCs’ achievements and potential.

When your PCs reach the paragon tier, encourage them to search for new horizons. As players gain levels, their access to more potent powers, rituals, and magic gives them greater influence over the world. Push your players to seek new challenges, whether in the courts of power, within the Astral Sea, or among the eddies of time.

Reaching Paragon Tier

As the DM, you can choose the way in which the PCs attain the paragon tier. For new players, the leveling approach works best. PCs start at first level and gradually reach the paragon tier as they learn how to play their characters and get a feel for the game. Not only does this approach offer beginning players ample opportunity to become comfortable with their characters, players might also savor the accomplishment of reaching the paragon tier more if they have earned their way up.

Certain campaign concepts work best if you start characters at the paragon tier. Only heroes of paragon level or higher will have the tools to participate in a campaign built around certain subjects, such as:

  • high-level politics.
  • grand-scale military engagements.
  • sustained adventures in the Underdark or similarly hostile locations.
  • world-hopping adventure.
  • alternate realities.
  • time travel.

This is not to say that you can’t run these types of campaigns with PCs who have not yet attained the paragon tier. You can lay the groundwork for paragon tier campaign themes long before your players have reached paragon status. For instance, to set up a political game during the heroic tier, introduce rulers and other members of the elite class as impossibly distant figures of power. As the adventurers gain levels, they move closer to the heart of power through new contacts. When the PCs reach the paragon tier, the inner circle welcomes them.

You could build a growing threat of war during the heroic tier of a campaign. When the adventurers reach the paragon tier, major hostilities commence.

To foreshadow planar campaigns, add denizens of these environments into encounters that heroic-level PCs have in the natural world.

Crowns and Thrones

Players who enjoy negotiation, intrigue, and intricate storylines excel in politically based campaigns. These adventurers can use their paragon status to leverage themselves into positions of influence, either behind thrones or on them.

Gaining Influence

When the characters attain paragon status, they attract the attention of top local leaders. Successful rulers cultivate strong relations with local paragons and treat them as champions and advisors, sometimes assigning them weighty responsibilities. Rulers rely on paragon characters to vanquish enemies, gather information, provide advice, and fill the national coffers with treasure. Rulers might also ask favored paragon characters to wage war for them.

The Body Politic

Paragon characters with access to higher levels of government will discover much more about the local political situation than they were aware of at heroic tier. A baron or lord most likely controls and protects each village, town, or collection of settlements. Elders, mayors, or councils oversee the cities and towns. The PCs now wield greater influence over the local rulers at all levels, and they are more likely to find themselves in a position where they are required to mediate conflicting interests. Some nobles might treat paragon adventurers as rivals, rebels, or enemies. A town council might appeal to the heroes for help against a corrupt lord. Various factions of merchants might attempt to win the PCs to their cause against the others. In such circumstances, the characters’ skills at negotiation can be at least as important as their skills in battle.

Joining the Elite

To add an interesting complication to your campaign, create a nation in which the ruler must balance the interests of competing elites. The landholders might represent a traditional power base, and the growing merchant houses might be threatening to eclipse them. Either of these elite classes could offer the heroes membership in exchange for their support in its intrigues against the other.

Paragon adventurers could buy their way into the banking class with an investment of their treasure. A character might marry into an influential noble family after rescuing an heir. The PCs could gain shares in a merchant house by eliminating a band of outlaws threatening an important trade route. Fulfilling religious obligations through quests could earn a cleric or a paladin elite status in his or her religious hierarchy.

Factions divide every elite circle. The collective group fights to protect its interests while families, companies, sects, guilds, or other units compete to increase their own status and wealth. The adventurers might ally with one such faction and use their status and talents to help that faction undercut its rivals and rise to prominence.

Alternatively, each player character could represent a different elite faction in a society that has competing centers of power. The adventurers would then work toward a common goal of creating a coalition of these rival groups. NPC rivals oppose the PCs, perhaps while posing as allies. If the heroes choose to involve themselves in political intrigue at this level, they could learn the hard way how difficult it can be to distinguish friend from foe.

Adventurers might also act on behalf of a ruler they admire, or work against an unpopular or illegitimate ruler. Maybe the PCs undertake to install a favored NPC on the throne; players who have a taste for intrigue might even attempt to seize it for themselves.

Wielding Power

Player characters can exercise power directly. This choice involves the player characters in governing and offers them both authority and the opportunity to play a part in more intricate storylines.

Typically, one character ascends to power and the others join the ruler’s retinue. However, this approach introduces a command structure into the game that could create conflicts among the players. Make sure they operate by consensus. Watch for attendance problems: If a player who has a key role frequently misses game sessions, other players might grow frustrated.

To avoid an unequal power distribution, give each player character an equal power base. Make them allied lords who struggle together against an encroaching, overwhelming menace. Run a ruler-level political campaign only if you can comfortably include concurrent cutaway sequences in which the player characters split up to perform equally important tasks.

If you start the game in the paragon tier, you can appoint the adventurers as fixtures of government. Design the available positions as part of your world-creation process, and let the players divvy them up when they build their characters.

Building up to a paragon tier political campaign requires advance preparation in the heroic tier. Establish a path to power for the characters, possibly by designating one player character as heir to a throne. It follows that he or she would appoint companions as trusted advisors.

In a D&D world, ascending to a throne does not end an adventuring career. Slaying monsters and smiting enemies take on higher stakes when the fate of a barony or duchy hangs in the balance. Rulers also have a magical connection to the places they rule. So when plague or pestilence strikes the land, a queen’s subjects expect her to ride with her trusted heroes to destroy the source of the curse. If barbarian hordes howl at the gates, the king must challenge their chieftain to personal combat. If the drow invade from below, the ruler plunges into the Underdark, leaving trusted functionaries in charge while he or she conducts a multi-year crusade to save the land and its people.

Excerpt Schedule

Monday Friday

August 17

Ch 1. Group Storytelling

August 21

Ch.1 Companion Characters

August 24

Ch. 2 Advanced Encounters

August 28

Ch. 2 Terrain

August 31

Ch. 3 Skill Challenges

September 4

Ch. 4 Customizing Monsters

September 7

Ch. 5 Adventures and Rewards

September 11

Ch. 6 Paragon Campaigns

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