Campaign Design and Goals
The Hero-Cities is a fantasy role-playing
featuring traditionally heroic characters,
but in a society where they are valued and useful
members of the community, not loners.
Often in role-playing games,
especially in those influenced by D&D, the characters
start as wandering outcasts, down on their luck and with
few special abilities. But before long they acquire
wealth and power placing them in the upper echelons
of society. However, they are still treated as dangerous
maverics, and usually not trusted by the authorities
or assigned any responsibilities by the society.
By the end of the game, they have martial and magical
abilities that make them equivalent in power to
armies, but still no place in society, unless they
remake it to their liking.
This traditional fantasy game world both
assumes that maveric heroes are common, and that
the social order ignores their existence.
In the Hero-Cities setting,
we consider how a society might
adapt to the presence of this type of fantasy heroes.
It seems wildly improbable that
such rags to rulership stories would go unnoticed or have
little effect on a society. Instead, a society that had
repeated infusions of adventuring heroes would evolve
institutions whereby such heroes would have a major say
in the social order, be given responsibilities in line
with their abilities, and, to some extent, be prevented
from going rogue and becoming menaces. These institutions
would be both carrot and stick, offering prestige and
advancement in power to those who handled their current
power levels in a way that preserved the status quo;
and keeping tabs and cutting off from advancement those who
use their abilities recklessly or perversely.
My thinking on this subject grew out of conversations
with John Kim and Josh Macy.
Coincidently, Josh and I both came to the conclusion that
one form such an institution could take would
be a hero-cult, a quasi-religious organization devoted to the
emulation of a legendary hero. In the ancient world,
such cults often were major religious forces in a city,
usually dedicated to a hero associated with the city's
founding or defense. They frequently offered initiation
rites, that bound the initiates together in a mystical
way, but also into a fraternal and social network. Hero
cults would also sponsor festivals and public works
in the city-state.
In the Hero-Cities, we take this one
step further. The heroes of legend are still alive,
although dormant, and the initiation ceremonies allow
the initiates to literally share in their legendary might.
In return, the initiates are expected to use their
new abilities to emulate the heroic actions of the cult
figure. If they succeed, they can undergo further
rituals to become ever more closely attuned to the
hero. The cults are charged with both the leadership
and the defense of the realm. Each city-state is
ruled by a council consisting of the
furthest advanced members of each cult.
The council is presided over by the representative
of the city-state's founding hero. The cults are
social organizations that provide resources, training,
and even life insurance for heroes.
have their roles and responsibilities in the life
of the state, The cults are also responsible for
maintaining discipline within their ranks; some
are much more regimented than others, but all will
punish a rogue member.
An example adventure plot
The intention in this campaign is to feature
heroes that steadily rise in power, but who become
ever more integrated into the campaign world as they
do so. They will continue to adventure together, but
individual player characters will also have
responsibilities based on their stations. Adventures
will often arise out of these responsibilities.
For example, Joan is a mid-level paladin of
the cult of Raq. As she stops in the Questing Room
of the cult headquarters in Isthar, a messenger arrives.
One of the patrols that the cult maintains on the
border of the Haunted Land has gone missing.
Joan accepts the quest to investigate their
disappearance, and rescue the patrol if possible.
Since a patrol of paladins could not cope with
the danger, she decides a mixed force might do better.
She asks a few low-level (NPC) cult members to
accompany her, and requisitions some holy water
and other undead-fighting instruments from the cult.
Then she goes to find a few of her comrades from previous
adventures: Ethaliel, a bard of the cult of Ellander;
Kruger, wizard of the cult of Durin; and
Samson, ranger of the cult of Enkidu.
Before leaving, Ethaliel asks the elders of his
cult for advice. They
tell him of a hero, Caris, who fell nearby in
battle with a demon. Kruger remembers that Caris
weilded the magic axe Corrumsbane. He
convinces his cult's head to lend the party
magical weapons, on the condition that they
turn Corrumsbane over to Durin's cult if
they recover it. Meanwhile, Samson's mentor
tells him that the cult of Enkidu has a
pact with a band of winter wolves in the
area, and gives him a protocol to contact
Thus prepared, the group goes to investigate.
Samson contacts the winter wolves, who tell
him of a sinister structure that the pack always
avoids, in exchange for a favor to be named
later. Exploring this structure, the group
finds that the leader of the patrol has
emprisoned his followers and is holding them
captive in a wicker cage outside the structure.
After defeating him in combat, the group
learns that he has succombed to dark voices
emerging from the cave. Intuiting that this
is the legendary demon, the group frees the
captives and retreats.
Reporting back to their respective cults,
each of the party members is congratulated,
and some are ready for the next initiation ceremony.
After her promotion, Joan is sent back
to replace the traitor as the head of the
patrol. The others accompany her.
Kruger and Ethaniel want to further investigate
the demon's lair, and possibly recover the axe.
Samson needs to fulfil his promise to the
In this example, the cults were both
a resource for the characters and a motivating
Each success raises their status within
their cults, but also brings them more
responsibilities. I'm hoping that this
will also happen in the campaign.