Tuesday, August 26, 2014

WdH1: The Fire-Breathing Elephant Expedition (Introduction)

On Sunday, I put up stats for a creature of my daughter’s design, the Fire-Breathing Elephant.  I speculated in the write-up that one could design an entire campaign around the idea of hunting fire-breathing elephants, and as I thought more about it, a entire story concept came to mind.  Since I already need a mid-tier filler piece for my home game, I decided to start writing it up, and you can make of it what you will.  I’d love feedback, so if you’ve got some, let me have it!

My family and I have been through about half of the “Lost Mine of Phandelver”, which is included in the D&D Starter Set, and we’ve enjoyed it thoroughly.  However, we’ve not played since we got back from vacation, and with my kids starting school this week, playing time going forward will be at a premium.  This means that no one in my family will want to start over with a new Level 1 Player-Character (PC) at the end of the “Phandelver”--when we eventually finish.  But Wizards of the Coast’s (WotC) next published campaign, Horde of the Dragon Queen, requires exactly that.  This is not a problem if you play a lot and/or have a group that wants to experiment with lots of different PC archetypes, but if you’re lucky to play once a month and have at least one Player who’s deeply invested in her specific character, it’s much less helpful.
I’ve seen and heard nothing but good things about Horde of the Dragon Queen, but I personally need something to take our family PCs from the end of “Phandelver” (Level 5) to the start of The Rise of Tiamat (Level 7).  
That something is going to be this campaign, tentatively titled “The Fire-Breathing Elephant Expedition”.
Wanderhaven is the capital city and primary port of the Kingdom of the Western Isles, which is itself a sub-continental archipelago northeast of the continent of Sentralia.  The city was founded in ancient days by continental traders seeking a safe port from storms on their way to what were once far-flung destinations around the rest of the continent.  Wanderhaven has a large natural harbor called Great Island Bay, and in time what was once a way-station became a trading metropolis.  
Legend has it that life in the city was once lawless, brutal, and deadly.  Before the founding of the city proper, pirates operated freely in the hinterlands of the Isles, plaguing honest merchants and making travel along the future Kingdom’s best trade routes dangerous in the extreme.  The ten Honest Houses put a stop to that by banding together to incorporate the city, establish the rule of law, and--eventually--found the Kingdom of the Western Isles.  Peace and prosperity have reigned ever since.
There are many noble patrician Houses in the Kingdom today, but the ten Honest Houses remain supreme.  House Royal is the greatest of the ten, but the other nine jockey constantly for position and influence--with each other and with the Crown itself--though even of these, only House Foghorn can truly be said to be almost equal to House Royal.  House Foghorn holds title over Wanderhaven’s Docks District and over Great Island Bay itself, and as such it commands all tax revenues entering the city.  This makes Foghorn the richest House in the city and gives its duke control over the trade that is the capital’s very lifeblood.
Duke Wallace Foghorn IV takes his rivalry with Crown Prince Joachim Royal seriously.  The two men are fast friends but also fierce competitors, and both have a reputation for being successful big-game hunters.  However, when Crown Prince Joachim returned from an expedition to the heart of the Southern Continent last year with a half-dozen were-tiger pelts and the fangs of a venomous Giant Cobra, it left Duke Foghorn struggling to respond.  The duke has been contemplating a hunt for the famed Fire-Breathing Elephants of the Fire Islands since almost the very day Joachim returned, but even for a man of Foghorn’s means, finding the proper support personnel has been problematic.
The duke envisions taking a small group of highly trained adventurers into the heart of the Fire Islands for his hunt.  The group will have to not only track the elephants, it will also have to elude detection by the Fire Elves, a warlike race reputed to sacrifice outsiders to their dread volcano god Hephaestus at the slightest provocation.  Such a hunt will be extremely dangerous, but given the risks run by Joachim the year prior on the Southern Continent, only this kind of mad-capped hunting caper will maintain the duke’s reputation as Joachim’s equal in the manly arts.
Wallace cares about nothing so much as his reputation and the reputation of his House.
Unfortunately, few captains are willing to risk their ships on the voyage to the Fire Islands, and fewer guides and bodyguards will agree to accompany the duke into the rainforest jungles of the Fire Islands.  Those who’ve been willing to consider the mission have so far proven unacceptable, and the Duke is beginning to despair.
Adventure Hooks
Wallace is going to hire the PCs to accompany him on his hunt.  There are several reasons why the PCs might agree to accompany him.
- Reputation.  As the richest man in Wanderhaven, Wallace has a great deal of influence and access to many sources of information.  The government, the City Watch, various militant religious orders, and even some crime syndicates will know of the Duke’s desire to undertake this expedition.  Any of these might recommend the PCs as adventuring companions.  Perhaps the PCs undertake the quest because they think it would be good to have a friend with the Crown Prince’s ear.  Perhaps they do it to impress a mentor or rise within their own organizations.  Perhaps they feel that they have little choice.
- Money.  Duke Foghorn is rich and more than willing to pay for the chance to show up House Royal.  He will start any negotiation by offering 5,000 gold crowns, but if pressed, he will go as high as 8,000.  He will also offer a full share of any treasure taken during the hunt to each member of the party.  Fire elves are notorious pirates, and combat appears inevitable, so if the party survives, their share of the bounty may well be considerable.
- Status.  Even if one of the PCs has the “Noble” background, he or she will still be well below Duke Foghorn in social standing unless it is specifically noted in the PC’s background that he or she is a direct descendant of the ruling king or queen.  As far as Foghorn himself is concerned, there are exactly two people in the entire Kingdom who have rank on him--the King and his eldest son Joachim.  The whole point of this expedition is for Wallace to prove himself to be Joachim’s equal.
The lesser ranks of the Kingdom’s nobility are just as competitive and grasping as the upper ranks, so perhaps the PCs choose to join the expedition for the same reasons that the Duke wants to undertake it.  If the expedition succeeds, it will be the social coup of the year and bring glory without measure.  Being a part of such a feat can only bode well for the futures of those with both means and ambition.

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