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While the Not-a-Gnolls campaign idea was spun out of some pretty minimal excerpts of published setting material, I borrowed a lot in the course of running it: the “file off the serial numbers, change the names, and make it yours” school of GMing.
Here’s what I remember, from flipping through my campaign binder:
From that point, much more of the campaign became original content–I had accumulated lots of loose ends in the overarching plot to start tying up, and by this point we knew we were on track to becoming parents of twins, so I was on the clock to get the campaign into a parking space. My external source borrowing from that point became more piecemeal: an NPC here, a map of a keep there. I also had a lot of bits and pieces of material I’d prepped over time, but which the party hadn’t encountered, so was able to borrow from my six-months-or-so-ago self, tweaking to fit the party’s current power level and the current state of the plot.
In fact, my best borrow was perhaps the character I managed to work in who had been one of my own characters…nearly 20 years ago. But save that for later.
For about the two years before parenting started, my major D&D game (used in the generic sense for a game using Pathfinder, in this case) was the “Not-a-Gnolls”, a band thrown together by circumstance to restore the minor god Nobanion. The ultimate session was a somewhat rushed climax which, as a result, didn’t work terribly well and was sadly anti-climactic–but there were a lot of good parts along the way.
Where’d this campaign come from? I’d been playing D&D in the Forgotten Realms setting for over 20 years at that point, and basically just picked a spot on the map to say, “I’ve never really done anything over here. Wonder what’s going on there.” Browsing the campaign setting book (3rd Edition), I found,
Gulthmere Forest: The lion-god Nobanion ceaselessly roams the wood to protect it. All the tribes of Gulthmere venerate Nobanion and call on the deity to halt invasions by greedy northerners.
Et voila, a campaign is born: Who is Nobanion (not an actor I’d come across in my use of the setting), and what would happen if he did cease his ceaseless roamings?
Other sources suggested a feud with Malar, The Beastlord–both being gods of the hunt, but Nobanion in the way of giving thanks to a creature that gave its life so that one may eat, while Malar in the bloodsport, most-dangerous-game sense of the hunt. Nobanion, a regional power, had cast Malar and his followers out of his turf in a previous conflict, and now Malar wants back in–and wants revenge. In the Realms canon, a god’s powers are linked to the number and faith of his or her followers: having been bested in direct combat, Malar would thus take his revenge by cutting off Nobanion’s source of power.
I renamed the town of “Nathlekh”, near the aforementioned Gulthmere Forest, to “Nob’s Lake”, deciding it would be the center of Nobanion’s human worshippers–the poor souls.
The opening of the campaign was set in Nob’s Lake, in the midst of Nobanion’s high holy festival, during which the faithful from around the region would gather in town. In the midst of the festival, the town was struck by a massive earthquake, destroying much of the temple in a huge sinkhole, followed with an assault by gnolls. The PCs all managed to survive the onslaught, making their way to the woods to hide: one, catching sight of another, whispered, “Hey, over here–I’m not a gnoll!” and the group’s name was determined.
I enjoyed the start of the campaign: the somewhat in medias res opening worked well, even if via action the PCs were not able to effect, to set the stage, to push the characters together, and to provide them some clear hooks for adventure. It was also fun to flip the trope of PCs meeting via saving the town’s festival (spoilers) from danger, and instead totally demolish the town. And, while I had planned for some next steps of the party going after the hostages, and trying to determine where the gnolls came from, I had a lot I hadn’t bothered to figure out yet: what happens when a god suffers a catastrophic loss of his fanbase? What could the PCs do to repair that? What was under the town to cause / enable the sinkhole?
As a side note, it looks like the Forgotten Realms are the “default”/base setting for the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. I’ve seen a fair amount of kvetching that the Realms are “done”, that 35+ years of publishing game material and fiction set in that world has left nothing gamers to explore or experience anew or define their own role in. Hopefully it’s obvious that I disagree with this sentiment: while I have at points had 4 editions worth of the campaign setting spread across a table while coming up with ideas, at no point have I felt limited by canon–it’s a pile of ideas: take a few, leave what doesn’t fit. And even after a couple of decades of playing in the Realms, there are still a lot of good ideas on the pile to choose from.