Threshold: Session Zero

In November I’m going to start running an online Eberron campaign set in Threshold, a border town that lies on the edge of Breland and Droaam. Between then and now, I’m going to go through the same process I would in running any campaign: working with the players to establish the cast of characters and important elements of the story and campaign setting. The players are my Patreon supporters, and it’s on Patreon that I’ll hold the polls that determine the ANSWERS to the questions I’m raising. But I thought I’d post this first piece here, for anyone who’s interested in my process.

As we begin this story, we know one thing about it: it’s set in Threshold, a newly founded town in the western edge of Breland. We’re in the shadow of Droaam, and there’s the ever-present threat of raids. But there’s byeshk and Dhakaani ruins in the mountains. There’s merchants and diplomats happy to have a final mug of Brelish ale before crossing into the land of monsters. Dragonmarked houses are considering investments; House Orien is here, working on the western rail. It’s rough, it’s dangerous, but it’s a fountain of opportunities.

The question is: what are we doing here? We know where this story is set, but what kind of story is it? Are our adventurers here to protect the town? Are we dreaming of the treasures that could be hidden in forgotten ruins? Are we soldiers in the service of the Brelish crown, or are we reporters here to cover the story of western expansion? In practical terms, what I’m looking for here is a group patron. I want the adventurers in this story to know one another and to have a reason to be here—to identify if this is a war story, a tale of exploration and adventure, or something else entirely. Choosing a group patron will help me plan my initial adventures, and it also helps to provide basic guidelines for the characters. If the adventurers are a squad of the Westwind Raiders, they need to feel like a unit of soldiers; while if they’re a team of reporters for the Sharn Inquisitive, they’ll want a very different set of skills and abilities.

So here’s the patrons I’m putting on the table.

  • Threshold Itself. The adventurers are all people who have a stake in the town. The cleric is the town preacher. The paladin or fighter is the sheriff. The artificer or wizard is here to study the ruins, but may also be doubling as the local schoolteacher. As a party working for Threshold itself, the adventurers don’t have a boss—but they are united by their shared investment in the town and its future, and will be working together to protect it from threats—whether those threats are minotaur raiders or the overreaching greed of House Orien.
  • The Westwind Riders. Before Droaam, the Westwind Riders were an elite unit that patrolled western Breland, protecting settlers from the dangerous creatures that dwelt in the Barrens. The last of the Westwind Riders were slain by the Daughters of Sora Kell in the battle that established Droaam. Now Count ir’Blis, Shield of the Graywall, has appointed a new corps of Westwind Riders to protect the people of his domain. As Westwind Riders, the adventurers are an elite military unit sworn to protect Brelish citizens from any dangers they may face. A Westwind campaign will be focused on action, as the adventurers are constantly responding to new threats; but it may be that there are dangers that are best dealt with diplomatically, rather than with spells or steel.
  • Professional Adventurers. There are many wonders hidden in the Graywall mountains. Dhakaani ruins are merely the beginning; stories hint at portals to demiplanes and relics dating back to the Age of Demons. There’s a fortune waiting for those prepared to venture into the depths and wrest it from ghosts and monsters. With this story, the adventurers are adventurers—professional dungeon-delvers. Should this path be chosen, the next question will be if the adventurers are associated with the virtuous Clifftop Adventurer’s Guild, or the more infamous Deathsgate Guild.
  • The Sharn Inquisitive. There’s something in Threshold more valuable than gold, and that’s the story. In Threshold itself you have the saga of Brelish settlers seeking their fortune in a dangerous land and of dragonmarked ambition. But it also stands on the edge of Droaam, and that’s a realm with many unanswered questions. How secure is the rule of the Daughters of Sora Kell? Is Droaam on the verge of collapse, or is it stronger than ever? Is the border stable, or could war break out at any time? With this patron, the adventurers are a team of reporters working for the Sharn Inquisitive, and they’re here to find the truth. This campaign would have a strong focus on social interaction and intrigue, with characters needing to have skills that help to get to the truth. But uncovering that truth will be a dangerous job…
  • Mysterious Visions. Strange visions have drawn a diverse group of people to Threshold. These people have nothing in common, save for these cryptic revelations and the knowledge that there is something they have to do. What is the force that has brought them together, and what is the task that only they can complete? The adventurers in this scenario would be very diverse in their backgrounds; part of the campaign would be trying to figure out why they were chosen and who their immortal patron actually is.

These are just a few of the possible themes for a campaign in Threshold. Adventurers could be working for the Boromar Clan of Sharn, establishing an outpost for this criminal syndicate and seeking to punish Droaam for the actions of Daask. They could be agents of the Twelve, sent to represent the interests of the Dragonmarked Houses. They could be spies seeking to infiltrate Droaam. But the five campaign ideas I’ve mentioned are ones that I feel comfortable running… so these are the five that I’m presenting to my players.

if you want to help make this decision and help as I continue to develop the campaign and the characters, join the Threshold tier on my Patreon. If not, hopefully this was an interesting peek at my process as a DM!

13 thoughts on “Threshold: Session Zero

  1. I’m favoring Threshold or Professional Adventurers because it seems like these might have more Droaam peoples sympathetic potential for party members.

  2. I’d suppose someone there for their own reasons who be a hard fit in a group patron game (either running from something or in search of something in Threshold)?

    • It’s not really what I’m looking for as the core of the group. The idea is to have a core group of characters that have a clear reason to work together and that patrons will get to know well over time. I don’t want to have to work too hard to explain why a character is going to participate in an adventure; I want a group of characters who feel like they belong together. However, both the Mysterious Visions and Threshold Itself patrons allow for characters who do have their own diverse backgrounds; with Threshold Itself, a character could be someone who came to Threshold on the run from something, but they point is that they are here now and have an investment in the town. I don’t want a core character who has no actual reason to stick around and no common goal with the rest of the group. That’s certainly an option for some campaigns, it’s just not what I want here.

      With that said, if “Threshold Itself” is chosen, there’s an excellent chance that many adventures will have a “Stranger Passing Through” character — essentially exactly what you’re talking about, the stranger who’s here for their own reasons and has no connection, but whose problems could drive the story of that session. The main point is that such a character doesn’t HAVE to stick around or to form a strong connection to the rest of the group; if they’ve come to Threshold searching for something, they could find it and leave at the end of the session… but they’ll need the help of the core characters to do it. In such a scenario, the players would be given the option to play the stranger or a core character; if no one wanted to play the stranger, they’d be an NPC.

  3. Do you have a sense yet of what level this group will be? Or do you have aa plan for them to grow over the campaign? Some of the five options sound a little too challlenging for a group of 1st levels, but then i”m not a genius DM!

    • It’s a D&D campaign; the characters will definitely grow stronger as it goes. Beyond that, starting level will depend on the group patron. I’d expect to start somewhere between 1st-3rd level. On the one hand, starting at 3rd level allows for more unique character concepts because subclass is in place; on the other hand, starting at lower level allows the patrons to help choose how the characters evolve when they get their subclasses. Probably I’ll put it to a vote and let the patrons decide.

    • I’m not sure yet. I’ll definitely want to keep a campaign diary and/or wiki, but I don’t know if I’ll post that here or if it will be on the Patreon.

  4. The first campaign pitch – PCs as relevant figures in a fledgling frontier town, with a common vested interest in protecting the settlement – is very much reminiscent of the Q’barra Western Keith talked about in earlier posts.

    For anyone interested in running that type of campaign, there’s a promising Dungeon World hack called Stonetop :
    https://spoutinglore.blogspot.com/2018/07/stonetop.html
    Even though it hasn’t been kickstarted yet, the mechanical part of the game is mostly complete.

    I suggest you have a look at the “moves and gear” and “steading playbook” even if using D&D. They present interesting ideas for “powering forward” game fiction in such a sandboxy campaign style, like rules for handling seasons, town development, interacting with the population as a whole, or moves lists to give players ideas when they don’t know what to do.

    • The first campaign pitch – PCs as relevant figures in a fledgling frontier town, with a common vested interest in protecting the settlement – is very much reminiscent of the Q’barra Western Keith talked about in earlier posts.
      Absolutely! Only this western story is actually in the west of Khorvaire instead of the east.

  5. I have a question kind of related to this. Part of Phiarlan history is that they moved throughout the elf settlements sharing news and cultural developments, and that they took this duty (along with their self imposed Shadow duties) with them to Khorvaire; Phiarlan troupes still travel the continent, though focused more on entertainment and art. In your Eberron, does Phiarlan include other races or dragonmark houses in these traveling troupes? Is there a Master of Ceremonies introducing an act that’s the result of collaboration between Lorghali music and Phiarlan visual effects? Would the House of Shadow be inclined to show off the artistic talents of a Cannith sculptor? If you were to cast an adventuring party as something like retainers onsite for the performers or an exotic act that’s being shown off, would you feel compelled to include the espionage part of Phiarlan? I suppose that’s similar to asking whether you would feel compelled to include the Trust if the patron for the adventuring party is Zilargo, so maybe you’ve already answered that.

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