View Full Version : Inspirations for BR Campaigns.

09-19-2006, 07:36 AM
I thought it might be nice to mention a couple of things that BR fans
might want to have a look at as inspiration for their campaigns. The
two shows I`m going to recommend might seem very disparate and very
odd as reference for BR, but I`ll explain how/why I think they are relevant.

First off, I would highly recommend the HBO/BBC series "Rome." For
those who haven`t heard/seen this show it`s very good. It takes
place during Julius Caesar`s rise to power, and follows loosely the
lives of characters from the Big J down to a few of his
soldiers. It`s gone one season and had 10 episodes.

Second, is the HBO series "Deadwood." This show focuses on the
lawless period of the boom mining town as it begins the transition
into US territory. Main characters range from the sheriff (or the
character who will become the sheriff) to miners, gamblers, etc. The
show has had three seasons, but apparently will not get a
fourth. Instead they`ve decided to wrap it up with two 2-hour movies.

What do they have to do with BR? Well, first off, they do an
excellent job in both series of illustrating how one might transition
between the domain level of play and the adventure level. In Rome we
get the conflict between Caesar and Pompey whose actions provide the
overall basis of adventures, context and background for adventures of
characters who exist at the adventure level. In Deadwood we see a
nascent "kingdom" being created, and the transition from a "camp" to
what will become a state capital. The political level of play at
the domain level has a definitive effect on the adventure level of
play and vice versa. Sometimes characters transition a bit between
those two levels, and at other times they remain strictly one or the other.

Second, they provide an excellent example of how regents must
think. In Deadwood characters recognize that they are going to have
to pay bribes in order to keep their land claims when their
unincorporated lands become part of the US. They begin a government
(not so big that it looks like they are declaring their independence,
but enough so that the recognized US government can justify their
inclusion more easily) and collect taxes in order to pay those bribes
that will be necessary for them to maintain their property
rights. In Rome we get an excellent example of the way regents often
justify their actions in ways that the "common people" can
understand. Caesar wants to go to war with Pompey, but Pompey meets
all of the demands Caesar had placed upon him--except one. He
refuses to meet with Caesar face-to-face. "He refuses to meet me!"
Caesar dramatically says, even though its clear he couldn`t care less.

Third, there`s an awful lot of intrigue. By and large, intrigue is
timeless. The intrigue of either series can be `ported straight into
any other environment and it`ll still work. There`ll be tweaks, of
course, but the nature of the plots and their motives will be pretty
much the same.

Good gaming (and viewing,)

09-20-2006, 01:03 AM
OK, I will netflix them.

George R. R. Martin - "A song of ice and Fire" series is a must read for BR fans. Reading this series is what got me back into Birthright after an extended hiatus with a group that didn't like the Domain level of play.

It has excellent transitions between Domain and adventure level play, complicated intrigues, and a low magic setting. Sometimes I think Mr. Martin Just writes based on his own BR games. :D

I was instantly reminded of BR when I started reading the series. If you compare it directly, it takes place at the end of the Anuirean Empire, with different rulers trying to hold the empire together, but in the end making war on each other. Of course, all the names and places are different, but the 7 kingdoms are even ruled by the Iron throne. LOL. There are Battles, abstracted as far off action, and just what happens around the main characters. There is tons of intrigue, as well as trade going on in the background, and financing a dynasty.

09-20-2006, 02:55 AM
I'm curious what other inspirations have DM's and players used in their play. I wonder if posters would also explain what about the inspiration makes it so useful. Obviously, Gary did us great service with his substantial review, and I encourage anyone to write an essay on what inspires them, but I think anything more than a line would be useful explanation for why the inspiration works for you.

I'll mention a few of mine.

Homer: While the action is generaly focused on the adventure level, there are substanial asides regarding the realm level, including the famous description of Achilles' shield. What is perhaps most useful in Homer is that he hits a lot of the random events in a very natural way. The characters are all kings and have realms, even though Agamemnon is the leader of the coallition of Acheaens.

Arthurian Legend: There is a lot here, from the general tone of the tales about knights confronting monsters, seeking magic items, and confronting evil, to the subtle way magic is portrayed, to the issues around governing and maintaining a kingdom. Arthur also includes a very nice arc which can be used in BR where a character starts on the fringes, his birthright is discovered, and he unites disparet realms to forge a kingdom.

09-20-2006, 05:00 AM
One of my biggest inspirations for Birthright (and really role-playing
in general) is Robert Jordon`s Wheel of Time series. It`s at least 10
books large so I stopped recommending it to people, though. : )

The first book starts out with a trio of young characters whisked away
from their small country town and forced by fate to become adventurers
after their town is scourged by nastiness. Throughout their travels,
we get to meet new characters and explore new lands, most notably the
honorable realm of Andor, the insidius court intrigues of Carheinen,
and the ever-vigiliant militaristic Borderlands. The characters
acquire mystical artifacts, train in various skills, and get caught up
in an epic plotline to determine the fate of the world. By the third
book, we`ve not only been involved in several court intrigues, but are
exploring the dangers of running the realm of Tear and the threachery
that surrounds a ruler. We sort of add more realms to the list as
time goes on as one of our characters tries to become this world`s
equivilent of the Anuirean Empire as dreamed by its last emperor,
though there`s a lot more to it.

09-20-2006, 05:44 AM
Another one of the other recent shows that could be used as an
inspiration is the new Battlestar Galactica. The political level of
play is apparent from the get go in that series, and just about every
BR domain action can be seen exemplified in the events of the show
ranging from assassination to agitate, and several episodes could be
interpreted as the results of random events. Oh, and it has
spaceships. Nerdy cool factor 12.


09-20-2006, 08:56 AM
For some top-notch political play and adventuring, one can also try Roger Zelazny's series on "Amber".

The first books more than the Merlin ones.

09-20-2006, 12:04 PM
My primary inspirations for the Birthright game I'm running are the Matter of Britain (Mabinogion, pre-French influenced Arthurian legend, et al.), the Matter of France (chansons de geste, Orlando Furioso, et al.), the Nibelungenlied, Beowulf, and a few modern works including Bujold's Chalion and Spirit Ring settings, Zelazny's Amber, Sci-fi's Galactica and McGuire's Wicked. Overall, it's been knightly tournaments and questing adventure, heavily cribbed from the Pendragon game and the earlier Childs Ballads, but there has been some court intrigue. The game will eventually lead to domain-level play.

09-21-2006, 07:56 PM
Big on the list of my birthright-specific inspirations:

Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott): Especially for a couple key characters: The errant king/knight (Richard), the evil monach (just about all the normans), the evil templar (Brian de Bois-Guibert who kidnaps the beautiful jeweress), the "jolly" woodsmen fighting for the land's rightfull ruler (Locksley), even Wamba the jester -- in adition there are issues with rival law holdings (between saxons, the normans, the woodsmen), and trade (the jewish bankers)

The Prince (Machiavelli): This one is truelly great for ruler settings and intrigue, as well as some good DM responses to ways that other NPC regents can/could react.

09-25-2006, 05:09 PM
Despite starring Orlando Bloom, Kingdom of Heaven was a decent movie, with lots of good scenes involving the nobility, knights, nomads, religion's role in warfare, sieges, and such.

It could spark some ideas if the Khinasi ever decided to invade Anuire, even on a province level.

09-25-2006, 05:19 PM
OK, I will netflix them.

George R. R. Martin - "A song of ice and Fire" series is a must read for BR fans. Reading this series is what got me back into Birthright after an extended hiatus with a group that didn't like the Domain level of play.

It has excellent transitions between Domain and adventure level play, complicated intrigues, and a low magic setting. Sometimes I think Mr. Martin Just writes based on his own BR games. :D

I was instantly reminded of BR when I started reading the series. If you compare it directly, it takes place at the end of the Anuirean Empire, with different rulers trying to hold the empire together, but in the end making war on each other. Of course, all the names and places are different, but the 7 kingdoms are even ruled by the Iron throne. LOL. There are Battles, abstracted as far off action, and just what happens around the main characters. There is tons of intrigue, as well as trade going on in the background, and financing a dynasty.

Quoted because Ploesch's experience almost completely mirrors my own. My old DM's user name on message boards is even King_Stannis. He Dmed our BR campaign after reading Game of Thrones, and it rocked. Very gritty, yet full of hope, with extremely complex, multi-dimensional characters.

09-26-2006, 01:42 AM
An absolute must-read and a brilliant inspiration for BR is the ancient Chinese novel "Three kingdoms".

The novel chronicles the fall of the Han dynasty and the division of the empire into (you guessed it) three feuding kingdoms. It mainly describes the exploits of Liu Bei (a paladin-like character), who rises from humble beginnings as a mat-maker to power as the ruler of one of the kingdoms, and his two friends, the mighty warrior or barbarian Zhang Fei and the master strategist and diplomat Lord Guan.

IMHO, the book is simply awesome and it has everything: Intrigue, diplomacy, betrayal, warfare, even battle magic. On a sidenote, the Chinese apparently believed that horse dung has dispel magic properties, as in one battle enemy magic is banished by catapulting cartloads of horse dung against the effect.
Anyway, when reading the book, I found myself thinking on nearly every page: Hey, I could use that IMC. Even the first sentences had my thinking about BR.

"The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been."

Well, that sums up Anuirean campaigns pretty good, doesn`t it?

I believe I can`t really do justice to the book in my meagre English by just praising it, so here are two short scenes I found memorable as an example of the contents:

1. One of the warlords feuding for supremacy suffers from a shortage of grain and can`t supply his army sufficiently. Understandably, morale drops as the soldiers begin to grumble. He manages to borrow enough grain from an ally. However, he does not distribute it outright. Instead, he publicly accuses one of his most loyal officers of setting aside the grain for his own gain and orders to behead him. (However, he promises to care for his officer`s widow and children). As a result, his soldiers believe that he cares for them so much that he`s even willing to sacrifice a close adviser and morale goes through the roof.

That`s lawful evil par excellence IMHO, and it brings Gavin Tael to mind...

2. After a failed assasination attempt on a tyrannical usurper of the Empire, Cao Cao (another main character and later on the main enemy of Liu Bei) has to flee, together with an associate. They find shelter at the farmhouse of a distant relative. After a while, their host leaves to get some wine and takes some time. The two men get suspicious, listen and hear the sound of knives being whetted and then someone say: "Let`s tie`m up an` kill`m." They burst into the neighbouring room and kill all eight people inside, only then do they notice the pig that their host ordered slaughtered for their dinner.
They flee the house only to meet their host coming back with two bottles of fine wine. So as to not leave a new enemy behind, they cut him down, too...

Well, this sound like something that could happen to my players (except for killing the host, they`re not that evil. Instead, they would probably cook up one of the most unconvincing fairy tales you ever heard..).

Hope I did not bore you with too much detail,

P.S.: For those interested I read the two volume English translation by Moss Roberts. Paperback, more than 1500 pages for about the price of a new WOTC supplement.

09-26-2006, 02:40 AM
Koei made a fine game (or a half dozen versions of the game) based on Romance of the three kingdoms. The provinces are easily understood in Birthright terms and would be an excellent setting for an oriental BR setting. One of the nice features of the game was after playing it several times you get to know who all the main heros are. It wouldn't take me long to make up d20 stats for the likes of Lu Bu, Liu Xun, or Zhang He.

09-26-2006, 03:23 AM
At 06:28 PM 9/25/2006, Christoph Tiemann wrote:

>"The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide.
>Thus it has ever been."

OK, that made my reading list.... Nice.

I just reread some Bruce Catton books (an American Civil War
historian) that`d been gathering dust on my shelves for quite a
while. I mention in this context for a couple of reasons. First,
I`d forgotten what a nice turn of phrase Mr. Catton can
muster. Where he gets his most poetical is in describing the horrors
of conflict, the edges (as in cutting surface) of character and in
summing up the tenor of the time. A quote about US Grant on the road
to Petersburg in _A Stillness at Appomattox_:

"Grant had a basilisk`s gaze. He could sit, whittling and smoking,
looking off beyond the immediate scene, and what he was looking at
was likely to come down in blood and ashes and crashing sound a little later."

The other thing he does well is portray the politics of the time in a
very real and forthright way. He`s usually (but not always) right
factually... but he`s always thematically, and that`s the strength of
his books. He also transitions nicely from strategy down to tactics
and on to individual "scenes" of conflict in a way that could
exemplify how things might go from domain to battle to adventure levels.


Green Knight
09-26-2006, 04:53 PM
1. Various books about real-life history. Ranging from medieval law, to renaissance economics, to military history, and anything else you can imagine. Not onyl is it good for giving a "historically accurate feel" to my games, but you'd be surprised by all the good plotting and infighting to be found in RL.

2. Shakespeare. Great drama. Great characters. Great humor and tragedy. This really is a must.

Green Knight
09-26-2006, 04:54 PM
3. Sleepy Hollow for a good movie with some Shadow World elements to it.

09-27-2006, 12:01 AM
My primary inspiration for the campaign I'm currently running was a thread on this list. In addition to this (as I also do a plotline for each of the characters), my other inspirations are the Amber series (both Zelazny and Betancourt), RL history and Shakespeare (who nicked half his plots from history anyway). Minor plotline stuff comes from almost every fiction book I read - including the bad stuff. Because I have the disadvantage that most of my players are much better read than I am, I mix in some of the "penny dreadfuls" I've picked up as the plot holes are usually easy to fix up and my players are unlikely to read something they consider trash.

Looking back over this, I'm going to blame my vagueness above on my cold and lack of sleep. To answer the question initially posed, my preferences for good plotlines;
Celtic and Germanic folklore and faerietales (the versions that have not been put through the Hollywood filter),
Anne McCafferey's Pern series (mostly the inter-guild politics),
Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera (more for scenario / character plot than campaign),
Any good historical discourse on the first and last of the Tudors (Henry VII and Elizabeth I)
and of course, the BR archives ;)

10-09-2006, 11:16 AM

Just my two cents:
Historical novel series like: Fortune de France by Robert Merle and The Accursed Kings by Maurice Druon. Both take place in France although in different time periods. Merle's series start in the second half of the XVIth century and continues until up to the reign of King Charles the XIIIth. If you would like to start a campaign based upon religious war, divided nation or young infants controlled by "evil" advisors and finally gaining the upper hand than these books are for you! What's more the main characters are always tinkering in the vicinity of the King's court thus there are a lots of "court adventure seeds" inside! :)
The Accoursed Kings storyline begins with the reign of King Philip the Fair and the trial of the Templars in the XIIIth century. Focuses mostly on aristocratic intrigues, betrayal, assassination etc. The main point of the second series is, IMHO, that it gives a very good insight into the minds of period aristocracy (what, how and why motivate the members of the uppermost social classes).

The third one I highly recommend for everybody who wants to DMing in a feudal-like world is A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe from Hazardous Retreat Press. This is a D20 supplement which converts the feudal system into game mechanics (economy, trade, cities, religion, jurisdiction etc.) plus highlights the HUGE role of social connections within medieval Western Europe (nobody cares about who you are but who your lord is :))!

10-16-2006, 01:10 AM
writes a beautiful double-trilogy, the two entitled Dragon Prince and Dragon Star, following 2+ generations (2 full, plus 1 on each end, from great-grandfather to great-granddaughters, focusing mostly on what are eventually the grandfather and father generations) of rule, in a continent defined by about 6 kingdoms plus one increasingly powerful Temple domain, if you think of it like BR.

Along with brilliant and beautiful writing (quite vivid descriptions of people, places, things, colors, magic), Rawn has brilliant rulers; Rohan (the 'grandfather') and his wife Sioned, particularly, engage in amazing statecraft and political manuevering; they utilize lieutenants, wage both cold and hot wars, deal with spies and other forms of treachery visited upon them -- as do all the other rulers of the countries included, though we obviously see more of Rohan and Sioned, and a bit more of their chief opponent, than the others.

http://www.melanierawn.com. Here's her website. She's written other fantasy books; I tried one, and didn't get into it as much. These six, at least, were great for me. They've been out long enough that you could find them all 2nd- or 3rd-hand.

On another note, I'm about to start George's books myself, due to recommendations from friends, so I'm glad to hear about them on this list as further support.

10-16-2006, 01:51 PM
Hmm, it might sound strange, but the Flashman books, by George Macdonald Fraser, give what I see as a marvellous look at the way politics, personality and military action come together. Although the era is very different from BR, the Flashman character sees a lot of societies as or more primitive than the standard fantasy setting. His role as jaundiced outsider gives a lovely view of how human nature allows it to make the same mistakes over and over again, but find different excuses each time.

I love the way he portrays the nobility and middle class of Britain as being entirely ignorant of the realities of life in foreign countries, while at the same time terribly eager to export their superior culture to them. Even the senior officers are generally depicted as martinets or outright imbeciles, but the British Army is shown to be so well trained that the troops usually manage the stupid or seemingly impossible tasks they are set, time after time.

He can show how a decision can be made by one personality's caprice, or how the perceptions of the commoners can force a leader to act even when they believe wholeheartedly that its the wrong decision (the War Office choosing Sebastopol as a military target because the newspapers started telling everyone that it was a good place to attack; The fact that the government records of the decision show half the cabinet were asleep when it was made, etc)

Ultimately, it is a cynical view of human affairs, but also quite a fond one. Flashman sees people's flaws, but he also appreciates them. It makes for a much rounder picture of a human being than is usual in historical writing - perhaps too rounded for the D&D alignment system.

Flashman meets a lot of the most respected "heroes" of the 19th and early 20th century, and by and large they fall into two camps - rogues who play on their public perception (as Flashman does) or earnest lunatics who actually believe they have been sent by God to accomplish some holy task. A few are also shown as people who've been swept along by the tide of history, and seem to be simply struggling with the weight of other people's expectations. Almost all the portrayals are sympathetic to some degree, though.

When it comes to society, I think Flashman shows you how people are willing to accept the most outrageous strictures in order to fit in - Flashman is several times packed off to war simply because he would lose face in society by refusing, even though he is a terrible coward by inclination. Thats something I don't see so often in BR, truly inconvenient social mores. If your hero gains a reputation as a great warrior or a great general, then every kingdom will be sending them letters begging for help when some monster or invading army appears on their doorstep, and how are you going to keep that good rep unless you go haring off to help? And who minds the kingdom while you're gone? And of course, its ungenteel to expect payment for your services - chivalry should be its own reward.

Oh, yeah - and they are very well written books. Apparently the history is spot-on, although the characterisations are obviously guesswork to a large degree.