Sidebar: Starting A New Campaign

I’ve got a question about how you handle time progression in your home games. I’m starting my second Eberron campaign and I’m planning on having it take place at the same time as my first one but in Sharn rather than Q’barra. When you start new home campaigns, do you progress time and have the events of the last game carry over? Or do you just start over in 998 YK like it says in the books and treat each campaign as it’s own separate timeline?

This is an interesting question. You’ve finally brought a long-term campaign to a close, and you’re about to start a new one. Where—and when—do you begin?

Personally, I handle starting a new campaign much like developing a TV show. I want to consider the following things…

  • What does the audience—which is to say, the players—want to see? Previously I’ve talked about my Q’barra campaign, which I’ve described here and here. The point of the Q’barra campaign is to explore something different—fantasy blended with the tropes of the Western genre. But I wouldn’t push that on a group of players who hate Westerns! Typically I’ll pitch a few different ideas to the players (Q’barra! Gritty noir in Callestan! Commandos in the Last War!) and we’ll talk things over, likely coming up with entirely new ideas in the process. When we’ve found something everyone wants to play, I’ll move forward with that.
  • I want to focus on short term stories and a long arc. What brings the adventurers together? What’s going to happen over the first 2-3 adventures, which is a critical time for developing characters and building a bond for the group?
  • With this in mind, I usually won’t try to squeeze every major power group in Eberron into a campaign. I’ll usually focus on one of the more obvious groups—the Emerald Claw, the Aurum, the Cults of the Dragon Below—as an initial antagonist; choose one of the more subtle and powerful foes—The Dreaming Dark, the Lords of Dust, the Daelkyr—as a long-term enemy; and pick another group—the Lord of Blades, Miron’s Tears, House Tarkanan—as a wild card who could become an ally or an enemy.
  • If the campaign is going to revolve around a central hub, I’ll work with the players to establish details of that hub. I talk about how I did that in Q’barra in this post.
  • Beyond this, I’ll also work with the players to develop the backstories of their characters and figure out how those backgrounds tie into the developing story. If I’ve got a Blood of Vol paladin who’s determined to bring down Erandis Vol as a long-term character arc, I’ll make sure I factor that into the story board. Ideally, I’ll look for ways that these hooks can converge—if one player wants to bring down Erandis Vol, and another wants to destroy House Cannith, well, perhaps I’ll focus on Cannith East developing a secret alliance with the Emerald Claw…
  • Related to the two previous points, I want to make sure there’s something that ties the party together—that the players don’t feel like they’d never associate with the other characters, but they have to because, well, we’re playing this game. Do they share a common background (we all served together in the Last War)? Are they all tied to a central location (We’re all looking for opportunity in this frontier town) or united by a common purpose (we’re going to work together to bring down the Boromar Clan)? Lacking that, I’ll work to make sure that the first adventure will give them a common purpose or enemy, which will build a bond moving forward.

So, coming back to the original question: When starting a new Eberron campaign, do I incorporate the events of the previous campaign or do I start fresh? This ties to that first point above: What do the players want to experience? I was involved in a campaign that went from levels 1-30, and by the time it was over, the adventurers had changed the world in many lasting ways. One of the characters was Queen of Karrnath. Jaela Daran had sacrificed herself to rebind the unleashed Bel Shalor, and the redeemed Melysse Miron had taken her place as Keeper of the Flame. When THAT group decided to start a new game, we all agreed that we wanted to continue in THAT Eberron… that we were going to advance a further ten years and continue from there. As a result, the surviving PCs from the previous campaign were now influential NPCs in the setting. Meanwhile, one of the players decided that his PC in the new campaign would be Jaela Daran: That she would have awoken in the wilds, as an 11-year woman and a 1st level cleric, with no memory of intervening time. Part of the story of the campaign was trying to figure out what her story was. WAS she the restored Jaela? Was she a daelkyr experiment, or a creation of Mordain the Fleshweaver? For my part, I began with my changeling character Max, and established that they had strange ties to the changeling Garrow, who’d ended up as one of the major villains of the previous campaign arc.

So in that case, it was a lot of fun to build on what had gone before. But when I then brought together a group of new players for my Q’barra campaign, I didn’t even think about putting THEM in Eberron 1008 YK, because it wasn’t their story. Some of them were already familiar with the default world, and even if I took the time to explain all the changes, they wouldn’t have personal resonance for them, because THEY weren’t the ones who battled Bel Shalor. For the other group it was fun to be following in the footsteps of the epic PCs because those were once their PCs. But for a new group, I wanted to reset the world and see what THEY would do with it.

So generally speaking, I’ll treat each new campaign as its own timeline. In fact, I actually have three different Q’barra campaigns active out in the world, any of which I could get back to if I ever have time. But it can definitely be fun to build on previous campaigns, as long as the players will enjoy it.

How do you start a new campaign? Share your thoughts and questions below!

19 thoughts on “Sidebar: Starting A New Campaign

  1. My main campaign started with the characters receiving cryptic letters from a mysterious figure who needed their help in Graywall. The blind minotauress benefactor was eventually revealed to be Sora Teraza- who put the characters into motion to fulfill a specific snippet of the Prophecy she had interpreted.

    By the time the characters realized what was going on, they were already invested in seeing things through and were curious to see how their actions would shape the so-called Prophecy.

  2. Starting point is always finding out what kind of campaign the players want to have. I usually try to give them two or three options to choose from. Once they come to a consensus, we’re ready to roll!

    Playing in an already known/established world where previous PCs are now influential NPCs can be super fun. It’s definitely good to advance forward in time several years though to create some separation between old and new. It helps remove the temptation for the players to start pining for those previous PCs if they happen to lose some interest in their new characters.

  3. My current campaign started like this:

    “Wanna do something tonight?”

    “Sounds good. Feel like playing D&D?”

    “Sure, but I don’t have anything ready. Ever played Hommet?”

    “No.”

    “Do you have any low level characters handy? Even if you just change the name of someone you are already running?”

    “Yup.”

    “All right, then.”

    So, Hommlet, in the eastern Eldeen Reaches. Church of Cuthbert replaced with Silver Flame, druidic faction are all Wardens, Silver Flame factions are all Aundairan. Will figure something out with the Temple of Elemental Evil, may make Zuggtmoy into Kyrzin, maybe make Iuz a Lord of Dust, Cuthbert a couatl, and the Elder Elemetal God an Overlord (although thematically the EEG is pretty Lovecraftian, so maybe something for Xoriat we haven’t seen yet).

    • As for advancing the timeline, I like my players to feel like they have an impact on the world, and a big part of that is making sure the effects of their actions are ongoing. I also have crossovers of players and characters between campaigns, so no campaign is ever really its own thing.

  4. Thank you for covering this, Keith, and an excellent topic. I was only introduced to [i]Eberron[/i] a few years ago and, boy, was I missing out!

    I’m currently only about eight volumes into the original v3.5 material but I’ve also been reading (and taking notes on) the old Dragonshard articles you wrote back then (the ones hosted by Wizards). Currently, I’ve got at least four major plot arcs that run one into the other. I haven’t decided if it’s one campaign covering all the tiers of play or if I’ll break it into separate campaigns (currently leaning towards breaking it down). By the time it’s over, Eberron won’t be recognizable (not entirely true but there will have been [i]a lot[/i] of significant changes).

    That’s not to say I dislike your vision of Eberron. Quite the opposite, actually. The world is richly detailed and sufficiently large enough to allow me to run such an epic saga. I can’t say the same for some other settings. 😀

    • Hi Jonathan
      If you break the campaign into the diferent plot arcs , would it be like campaigns parallel in time?
      As the diferent plot arcs intersect I’m quite interestes to see how do you want the plots to have an effect on each other.

  5. I’m sorry to say I’ve never been adventurous, starting my Q’Barra campaign with explaining who the characters were and having them go about their business before introducing a lost Orien mail wagon as a reason to adventure out. Otherwise the Forgotten Forge’s opening has been my introduction for three different groups of players to Eberron.

    I did run a Lycanthropic Inquisition one-shot where the party of inquisitors started out with an introductory scene on the lightning rail ride from Flamekeep to Fairhaven. Emphasizing the beginnings of a new world of magitech and how it might change the world in a few years before the team strikes out into the wilds of northern Aundair, and contrasting the love and faith of the cityfolk with the careful distrust of the townsfolk (as this was the very start of the inquisition). That one was actually one I’m pretty proud of for tone and feel of the game.

  6. My current group settled on the concept to be new Dark Lanterns. In order to get a feel for the world and characters, after session zero we did two short one-session adventures during the Last War, including them witnessing the Mourning just along the borders of Cyre.
    We did a lot of joint narrative exploration in between each real-time one-shot, covering more character background and other missions they’d done, and that brought us from level 1 through 3.
    I’ve taken notes from you, Keith, on all manner of advice/example, from ”tap”able pieces of the environment to asking questions to involve players in creating the world.
    Planning to run Phoenix Dhakaani Command later this summer as I’ve wanted to do ever since your article on it here!

  7. I’m intermittently running three different Eberron campaigns with overlap between some groups. I’ve had each group start with the same introductory adventure just to establish the, ‘feel’ of the group dynamic. From that point though, each party has gone in a different direction, and I’ve kept the adventures parallel within the same timeline. This works mainly because the actual games are irregular enough that no one group is progressing ahead of the others.

  8. My Eberron campaigns are ongoing ones.

    There have been three of them with a wild variety of pc’s and power levels. Currently we are playing in 1049YK, and I plan to continue advancing.

    It’s an ambitious plan: 3 campaigns per continent. I started in Khorvaire, next is Xen’drik, then Sarlona and finally Argonessen-Aerenal-demon wastes with one campaign each.

    What is particular about each campaign is that I present to the players a diferent point of view, so even if the timeline progresses their current characters are not profoundly shaped by the previous ones if they don’t want to.

    The first campaign was focused in Cyre refugees and magic, while the second on emerald claw agents who believed they were right to do what they did, las but not least the third one is based on Brelish rulers deciding the fate of their nation.

    But i don’t think any option is best. It depends on what you have in mind when you design your campaign.

  9. I presented a few different starting locations: in New Cyre near the Mournland, somewhere in the eastern Eldeen Reaches, or small-town Aundair. We decided on the Eldeen Reaches because they liked the idea of the druids there. Every character has minimal backstory and we’re figuring it out through the first few sessions of play. The gnome is a cast-out from the Library of Korranberg who found lost pages of one of Sora Kell’s spellbook that contain spells he wants to properly decipher so he can cast them and reestablish his family name. The warforged is his butler, with a backstory with more to come beyond just fighting for some side in the Last War. The half-elf is a pirate from the Wind Whisperer Principality, and the kalashtar is pretty fast-and-loose besides fighting against the Dreaming Dark until more comes up.

    Our campaign just started in the town of Cree in the Eldeen Reaches with the intention of having my players wander around the former stretch of “Eastern Aundair” before heading into the Towering Wood. They may head towards the Gloaming and Twilight Demesne and maybe into the Demon Wastes from there. It’s going to be a bit Wizard of Oz-esque since they really want to meet the High Druid Oalian and learn more secrets of magic, which will involve all the different factions of druids. I could see them heading towards the Lhazaar Principalities to break out Briar the Greensinger from Dreadhold or interact with the Wind Whisperers and the Gray Tide, or to Droaam and the Shadow Marches if we decide to lean more into the Dark Six or the history of the orcs which are both being established as a theme.

  10. I’m currently running my second long-term Eberron campaign. The first campaign started with the adventure in the back of the 3.5 ECS, went into the initial modules that follow that adventure, then wound up hopping all over Khorvaire. The party set in motion a major Warforged Civil Rights movement, removed Jorlanna d’Cannith as any kind of major player, wiped out most of the Emerald Claw’s top brass, and wound up in the Demon Wastes fighting a horde of demons. All this to thwart the plans of a bunch of Rakshasa. Everything up to entering the Demon Wastes was covered by the Korranberg Chronicle, at which point that party vanished from public life.

    The new campaign is primarily in Q’Barra. I started this one about a month (game time) before the last campaign ended, so the new PCs would have read all the same Chronicle articles I wrote for the last game. The current party Warforged is aware of the suffrage movement, and the changeling wears the distinctively witch-streaked hair of the last group’s arcanist (who became something of a pop-culture icon in her native Karrnath). It’s a pretty cool setup, and the world the first party created is very real in the second campaign.

    This party is already on track to help legitimize Droaam as a nation, and this campaign has the chance to reveal the secrets of the Mark of Death to the world. So I’m looking forward to what my next Eberron campaign will have to work with!

    I’m also pretty sure that one of my players has a metagoal of making the Warforged a viable, reproductive race, so that may play out over multiple campaigns and characters.

  11. Would there be any Eberron adventure paths in the future that takes player characters from level 1 all the way up to, maybe not 20, but at least 10 to 15? I always found that adventure paths are the best way to tell a story in a setting from the publisher’s side and advance the timeline of a setting without actually setting it in stone; as opposed to novels, comics, etc.

  12. “we all agreed that we wanted to continue in THAT Eberron”

    That’s what happened in our group. A group I play with finished an Eberron campaign and by the end The Silver Flame had been extinguished, Bel Shalor released, Gnomes were an endangered species, The Dhakaani Empire was partially restored, Dragons were extinct, and “The 2nd Mourning” covered half of what used to be Breland. After the campaign ended we all agreed that this universe was irrevocably doomed and in a couple of centuries every living creature would be forcibly converted into Warforged under the direct mental control of a lich (ala The Borg) with no hope of avoiding this fate because of various things that had happened during the campaign.

    When talking about what we wanted to play next we definitely wanted to have our next campaign have some connection to the one we had finished. We talked a lot about starting fresh with a new Eberron universe but have The Zergiot (the name of the mind controlled Warforged from the last campaign) show up as an extra-dimensional threat. Eventually though we agreed we wanted to play in THAT Eberron again. We created good aligned PC’s to try and fight against our old PC’s (the party of the old campaign was predominately evil which is one reason things ended so grimly) and started the new campaign at the point in the old campaign where things started to go wrong but not irrevocably so. We have yet to see if things will be different or if this new campaign turns out to be in the exact same universe as the original.

  13. I started a new group back in February. Originally, it was 9 players, but one did not like the system online system and the other had time constraints. So, I have gotten them to 4th level. Have run them through:
    – Curtain Call
    – Trust No One
    – Fallen Angel

    Now, I am branching into my story dealing with an overlord imprissioned in Zelargo. I have tried my hand at drafting a prophesy.

    Surprising, even though I had told them that they need to be pro-active in moving the story forward, I still keep having to prod them along. For most of them, this is their first encounter with Eberron. Two of them played in a prior campaign that I ran about ten years ago. I doubt that I cross the two campaigns. But the two players keep referencing their old characters quite often.

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