People have been way less interested my dark and dismal City of Brass
setting since the election, so I started building a new social sandbox setting, Towerlands
for D&D 5e. It's a fantasy version of Brandenburg, Nordmark, Germany in 1150 AD
(Below, the fantasy names come first, and the real-world equivalents are in [brackets].)
With some trepidation, I ran it last night for four players. Two had never played any RPG before. The other two were experienced with D&D 5e.
It went all right. Just all right. We played for about 3.5 hours.Characters
The pre-gens are based on real people alive in 1150, who might have had a stake in [Brandenburg]. Everyone was of the noble class.
One of the pre-gens was a Sedwig [Hedwig], a 10-year-old noble girl (human rogue 1) who fancies herself a guild merchant, and she is the daughter of Alverus the Dragon [Albert the Bear], who used to be Duke of Hexony [Saxony] and who has been crusading against the elves for years.
Another pre-gen was a dwarven [Danish] wizard-monk named Absalam [Absalon of Zealand].
The last pre-gen was Valelf VII (Welf VII), a young Hexon crusader who had seen too much
The fourth player brought his own character, Varis de Cognac, a tiefling rogue. I broke the bad news that there weren't tieflings in the setting, except when they were being burned at the stake as the evil devils that they are, and he agreed to make his character a half-elf (noble Polabian Slavs did intermarry with Saxons and Swabians). Scenario
The scenario was that they're all minor nobles in Magicburn [Magdeburg], when everyone in town hears rumors of the death of Queen Pribazelf-Kenra [King Pribaslav-Henry], who rules in Branniburn [Brandenburg / Brenna]. That city has been traded back and forth between humans [Germans] and elves [Slavic Wends] a dozen times over the centuries, but the elves have held it for the past 170 years while the Hexons [Saxons] dealt with other problems.
Lots of nobles were racing to Branniburn to stake a claim on the city.
Before I told them about the rumor, I did a quick round of scenes to set up daily life. Why are you in the bustling new city of Magicburn? What are you doing? Where might we find you? That went pretty well.
Then I dropped the rumor, and they scrambled to find boat passage. There were only two "ships" in the city, both longships that can navigate the rivers. We role-played a bit as they found the (noble) owners of the ships and secured passage to Branniburn.
I asked the players if they wanted a "random" combat encounter for the boat trip, and they did. So two elven scouts saw them and moved to intercept their boats. Absalam used his Message
spell to put spooky words into the mind of one of the scouts, making them believe their pagan gods were telling them to leave these people alone. He managed to frighten them away and avoid the combat encounter.
The last half of play was concerned with what happened when they got to the fort at Branniburn. Sedwig, being the young daughter of Alverus the Dragon (who has been brutally crusading against these elves for years), was seen by the elves as hostage material. But they talked their way into a temporary diplomatic situation and were taken to a hall inside the fort where they could talk to the city Magnate and be watched.
Everyone in town was acting as if the queen were not dead, so they wanted to get to the bottom of what was really going on. Varis wooed the Magnate, rolled a natural 20, and got her to all-but-admit that the queen was actually dead but that people weren't talking about it.
They got the queen's husband (king in title but without all the power) to come down and talk to them, and he just said the queen had been ill but she was not dead, but the PCs knew he was lying. There was a lot of trying to force him to admit it, but that was never going to happen through skill checks.
A History skill check let Absalam know that the king was probably waiting for the queen's nephew, Jasza [Jaxa of Köpenick
, I swear, you can't make this shit up], to arrive with reinforcements. Branniburn is a huge power grab for everyone in the area.
They hatched a plan to sneak into the queen's chambers at night. There was a banquet in the hall to welcome the growing number of nobles showing up in Branniburn, and the two rogues slipped out and sneaked around the dark fort [gord
]. They found two guards with pole-axes positioned in front of the queen's building. Varis got their attention while the viciously psychopathic 10-year-old Sedwig leaped onto one of the guard's back and slit his throat.
I let the other two PCs notice the commotion and join in. Valelf joined the combat. The two guards were downed quickly, but not before one of them shouted a warning. Archers from the ramparts started firing upon the group, to no avail. (Chain shirt and a decent Dex bonus gave Valelf a 16 AC.)
They ran into the queen's building, safe from arrows, and found the queen's body moldering in her bed. Only Absalam succeeded at his Constitution save completely, fending off the smell, but after some wretching, Valelf joined, too. Varis could not even make it up the stairs.
They decided to carry the queen's body out to the city once they determined that the corpse was enough-long-dead that the citizens would not accuse them of regicide.
We stopped there. I summed up that Alverus the Dragon (Sedwig's dad) arrived the next day, and that Jasza arrived a few hours later, both with small forces, but that Branneburn transferred to Hexon rule again--at least for now--after a long 170 years of elven occupation.