Witness3's Guide to writing Birthright-esque adventures




DM Tips












This is not an official guide and everything I write can be taken as a personal opinion. You can also use one of the cues and forget about the other, do as you want. I don't pretend to teach people how to play birthright, I just want to share the tools I designed for this game so that Birthright can be kept alive.
Some small creative liberty: in this adventure I use the Caerbhaighlien, the spontaneous sources, as anti-magic fields. House ruled! Also, I will refer to "the king of Aerenwe" because the idea is that one of the characters is the son of Queen Liliene Swordwraith.

[top]Let's start

Case 1: You are a king, a pope, a guilder, a wizard who has inherited a name that has been going on for centuries. What are you going to do? Travel from village to village asking if there are goblins to hunt? Tavern brawls? Why get your hands dirty for 100 gold if your guild makes 12,000 a month?

Case 2: You’re playing a fighter, and, since you are a modern player and, you spent 2 sleepless nights building an optimized 90 HP damage single attack. The first mass battle arrives, you can’t use any of your skills, because the DM will not risk having a single character killing the whole army by himself because it would break the game. Or maybe you're a thief, who has done the group a favor by putting all your skill points in searching for traps and hiding, only to discover that the most dangerous traps may be a province threatening a rebellion because you raised too much taxes.

Case 3: You are a DM. You have just realized that 90% of your quests start from the king or a wizard who assigns dangerous missions to adventurers. Except now your players play the king or the wizard, not the adventurers. What to do?

These three cases to me are the two souls of birthright. Giving up on either one basically means giving up on birthright. If the regent is a normal adventurer, you are playing D&D with a different setting, but you are not really playing birhtright. On the other hand, if you had characters made, sooner or later your players must use them, otherwise it would not be birthright, but a hybrid between Risk, Grayhawk Wars and Game of Thrones.
I will give you some ideas to overcome this dilemma and propose a game experience that is both Birthright-esque and not just "D&D with blood feats". We will build a small railroad adventure, then we will see how thanks to domain mechanics these adventures are not as linear as they seem.

[top]A small railroad adventure

What we are going to do is:
  • Extend common d&d props using birthright's look & feel
  • Show alternative interactions with NPCs
  • Mix D&D and domain actions

[top]Extending props

I will try to write a little railroad adventure, using some typical d&d props. I use the term Prop to identify clichés that help us build an adventure. The dungeon is a prop, the tavern is a prop, as is the brawl in the tavern or "the sinister figure approaching you in an alley".
You need to take these elements into consideration when changing props:
  1. Think big - where would you put a village, put a province, where would you put a province, put a kingdom.
  2. Birthright is a role-playing wargame, try to give a military touch to situations. Reject the siege on a city? Good. Assault on a castle? Better. Cleaning up a sewer? No thanks. Remember: the temple of elemental evil is not explored, it is besieged.

[top]Extending motivations

The motivations of an adventurer are obvious: to become stronger, to become richer, to survive, to solve a personal quest linked to his background.
On Birthright the reasons for a domain to move his assets, or for a king to go on a quest, may be duty, politics, manifest destiny, or culture. The duty is the responsibility towards the people, politics is to perform actions that benefit from more than one domain; manifest destiny may be the will of a god or the simple desire of the Anuirean Throne / the title of Lord of the Vos / reform the Brecht League / become the new king of the Khinasi. Culture is the most interesting part, it means going to see what expectations the dynasty of a regent has on him, or what themes are considered national aspirations, such as Diemed's reconquest of Medoere, or defeating Rhuobhe for Boeruine. That’s why we love to fill the birthright wiki with history!

Let’s use motivations to create an adventure:

Normal adventure: a local forest is invaded by mysterious creatures. A local druid will pay well whoever helps him get rid of it.

Birthright adventure: the Erebannien forest (4 provinces!) Is invaded by mysterious creatures. Erebannien is Aerenwe's national treasure: it is the duty of the king to protect villages near the forest.

[top]Extending Prizes

In terms of game mechanics, rewards usually mean: experience points, magic items, money, plus some items such as assets or just fame.
On Birthright you can also add, from a mechanical point of view, regency points, assets, holding levels, military units, land, blood, reputation and why not, even a noble title. Being a the Count of Binder gives you the right to aspire to the imperial throne, this makes the Duchess Eriene Mierelen of Brosengae, the current title owner, an interesting target for a wedding or a vassalage.

Normal adventure: experience points up for grabs! and why not, maybe a magic item or two!

Birthright adventure: the security of the Erebannien's villages (province level) and the king's reputation (loyalty of the provinces) are at stake. A few regency points to reward good management will be welcome.

[top]Questgivers

"You have just arrived in a village." How many times have you heard it? On birthright, your court is the village: it will be one of the courtiers to inform you of important news, or they will come to ask for nobles and dignitaries. The king does not ask, the king replies: the quests seek him. A wizard can suddenly appear during a banquet, a god appearing to the regent in a dream: So it was with Roele and that was the beginning of the anuirean empire!
I love using random events to start a quest: an astral coincidence, a festival, or a wedding, or why not, the coronation of the new regent. Something could go wrong, which may be a good reason to investigate...

Let’s have our players find the quest:

Normal adventure: a group of adventurers has arrived in the village. At the local tavern, they discover that a druid is looking for adventurers. They then proceed to talk to him and are sent to investigate the local grove: it seems that dangerous creatures frighten the animals.

Birthright adventure: while going on a hunt, the king is lost chasing a deer. At a certain point a mystical figure appears to him in front of a waterfall: does he almost look like a god, or is he perhaps the mysterious wizard of Erebannien? He introduces himself as a friend, and warns him: sinister shadows move in the forest, with evil intent. If the forest is lost, Aerenwe will burn, and with it all the lands of the south! With this, the figure disappears.

[top]Extending actions

A king does not have a party, he has a realm at his service. Domain actions can be seen as real skills, with which the regent may act on a vast territory such as provinces. Use actions as narrative generators and not only for domain sheet stats, let the players with their courtiers develop a strategy and make the best use of their assets. Just like in normal adventures, it won't be a single action that dictates the story.

Normal adventure: the party arrives at the grove. The ranger searches for tracks, fails several cheks, and after a couple hours of searching he finds a cave, patrolled by a group of goblins. Experience points!

Birthright adventure: Returning to his palace, the king summons his general and the seneschal. The players make a strategy: they move troops inside a couple of Erbannien provinces (move troops), and send a chosen body of 30 rangers to investigate the forest (espionage). After a couple of months of research, the rangers find a goblin patrol that moves from one part of the forest to the other: the army surrounds them and barricades them near a cave. Regency points!

[top]Skirmishes!

A Birthright-esque fight must be prepared and organized following extra criteria compared to a normal fight:
  • Players will rarely go around alone
  • Any player can always use domain assets (army, spells) to completely skip the fight

To balance encounters, try to keep these key points in mind:
  1. Soldiers or followers of players should be of the first, second or third level max;
  2. You can block domain actions: anti-magic camps, lookouts for which the enemies run away when the army arrives, enemies too strong for which the price in human lives can be very high.
  3. About 80% of a modern editions character's abilities are combat; it may be time for players to showcase their builds and may, on the contrary, wish to show off.

Either way, you need a skirmish system. Your fights will average 20 elements vs 30 or so, you can't expect to handle them individually. I do not recommend the war card/3e mass battle system, unless you find a way to integrate classic combat (see point n.3 of the list above). It is important that your system allows you to manage clashes between large groups of people, as well as clashes between individuals and groups of people: the players, after giving orders to their soldiers, will want to fight openly.

Normal adventure: The characters decide to face the goblins, enter the dungeon, immediately fight with 20 goblins and an ogre. Inside there is a source of spontaneous magic (Caerbhaighlien, or Kaervalen), which prevents magic. There follows a long battle in which the characters have the upper hand.

Birthright adventure: the king, informed by his rangers, arrives in front of the cave. “Majesty, we sent one of ours to advance but has never returned. We have decided to await your orders." The king sends the rangers to the assault, leading the charge, at one point an Ogre comes out-many would have died if the king had not taken the situation in his hand. The court wizard attempted spells but a spontaneous magic source (Caerbhaighlien) prevented them.

[top]Reduce Dungeons, Extend Time

In classical game geography there usually is a village with one or more dungeons to explore next to it. Inside the dungeon, the characters will find treasures and reasons to continue the adventure.
This can also be applied on Birthright, but considerations must be made:
  • You have already spent much more time than normal in domain roleplay and management. At some point you will have to decide: either go to the dungeon or play birthright.
  • How big is a dungeon? Is it important to get there immediately? What do others do? If you are playing the "to each his own throne" mode, other players may be forced to wait their turn for sessions. If the other players don't have quests at stake, they could easily get bored.
  • Domain actions should allow you to bypass the adventure or the dungeon.

First, a simple and effective solution: makes sure that players have a secondary character to play in the court of any regent, or find a way to engage the other kings in the affair.
Here is another solution: make situations less long but more intense, and reskin them with birthright elements, such as diplomacy or military actions. Make a 3 rooms dungeon with a skirmish in and a boss, maybe a room with a small treasure but a death trap.
You can then sow the adventure moments - dungeon rooms - between various realms. After all, the characters have time and means to move. This has two benefits: you can create new political situations and use travel to make time go by and activate the next domain turn without blocking the adventure.

Normal adventure: back at the village, the adventurers tell the Druid what they saw. It is a dangerous source, because it creates contact with the shadow world. They are then sent near the ruins where, after two levels of fighting and traps, will face a mini bosses to retrieve a gem that can replicate the source in the bowels of the earth.

Birthright Adventure: the mysterious person of the waterfall reappears, and it's the High Mage Aelies! He tells the king how the source is a dangerous bridge to the shadow world. To close it, they will have to retrieve a gem in the catacombs of a crypt in Danaroene, a province in southern Ghoere. How to do? They decide to get in touch with in secret with Aeric Gwynaard, count of Danarone, to avoid engaging Gavin Tael, the evil baron of Ghoere (diplomacy, maybe an espionage check to ensure secrecy). Gwynaard will only help them if they solve his problem with a fort of mercenaries who have become gnolls. The king will then face two small missions, divided into two different moments.

[top]Divine intervention

Remember that as a DM you don't have to compete with adventurers to get the iron throne, but you’ve got to present them with difficulties and perils. You are not obliged to respect domain levels, points or actions, even if doing so gives a sense of justice and suggests that the opponent can be truly beatable.
Two tools are available to you: random events, which you can make happen without actions and dice rolls, and
realm magic. Birthright wizards should be powerful. You can use realm spells as a narrative ploy without having to get tangled up with ley lines and source holding levels, as long as it doesn't give players an excessive disadvantage.

Normal adventure: The adventurers leave the dungeon with the gem but it's too late! An army of undead has escaped from the caerbhaighlien source, and threatens the forest. The heroes will have to make their way somehow by avoiding the army, to return to the source, defeat a super-skeleton boss and close the portal, which will deactivate the skeletons.

Birthright adventure: The king returns from Ghoere with the gem, but it's too late! An army of undead has escaped from the caerbhaighlien source, and threatens the forest. It is time to make steel sing: the army will have to break through the line of the undead, so that someone (the king? His followers? Let your players decide) will bring the gem and close the source. With this mass battle in between, boss battle is no longer necessary, but you may make it happen during the mass battle itself.

[top]The world is bigger than your story

So far we have seen a small linear D&D adventure: the heroes investigate, fight, explore, twist, fight again. We have transformed this adventure into a birhtright adventure: the king gives orders, moves armies, makes decisions that can cost the lives of many people, finds himself having to involve nobles and realms that are anything but willing to help him, plot twist, leads his men in a mass battle.
What if the heroes in the classic adventure don't investigate? What if they don't go to the dungeon? Will the world burn? What happens if everyone dies? Game over? Adventure over?
Birthright has more possibilities than normal D&D stories:
  1. There will always be a king (or a queen!) , a leader, a kingdom. To break the game you should make a deeismar-style continent disappear. Nothing prevents players from taking on the role of their successors.
  2. Not dealing with problems has consequences, but they should never be big enough to break the game. The consequences of the adventure is the invasion of a province, nothing that cannot be resolved in a domain season.
  3. Domain can solve things so as to avoid the whole story: the king could ally with the High Mage and destroy the source, or increase the level of civilization in the province so that the source sinks on its own, or request his state religion to find a domain spell that contains negative energy. All in 30 minutes of play.

[top]Bottom line (TL;DR)

  • Wanderlust is cool, but there are many other reasons to leave the throne room: glory, responsibility, thirst for power, prophecies, economic opportunities, the rules of your noble household...
  • Reward players with RP, GB, domain spells, blood points, or just plain glory. They are worth as much as experience points and magic items;
  • Use random events and key characters from the setting to provide ideas for action - quests seek the king, not vice versa;
  • Domain actions must allow to solve big situations that cannot be solved otherwise, to simplify small activities or to solve parts of the adventure without playing them directly. Use them as if they were skills, and allow players to use them flexibly to solve problems;
  • Buy, steal or create a skirmish system! A good skirmish has at least 30 or 40 participants;
  • Make sure there is room in the skirmish for individual character skills;
  • Do not create single megalithic dungeons, but small situations of few rooms, scattered on the continent; you will allow more time to flow and you will not block the game;
  • Do not be afraid to change or break domain actions or the rules if it serves to give an important blow to the story. Just don't create problems with unlimited resources;
  • Do not force specific solutions or actions, let the players create alternative strategies to solve the adventure;
  • Don't worry about how it will end, unless you blow up the planet your adventure is just one event in a thousand-year history. Other kings, other adventurers will come, and the peoples will recover.
  • Make consequences of the adventure change the game's status quo.

[top]Analyzing official adventures (SPOILERS!)

These are some official Birthright adventures that I played as DM. If you are playing them as a player, do not read them further! I added them to futher exemplify the difference between birthright adventures and normal adventures.

[top]Family matters (from Ruins of Empire)


Analysis: The Ruins of empire adventure begins with a random event (marriage), followed by another random event (assassination), followed by a pitched battle, then a skirmish with Dalien Claw, then an adventure / skirmish with a reduced dungeon (a small fort). In the middle there is a subquest with noble matters (whether or not to make a wizard Count of a province) and the possibility of having to manage a feud.

Summary: the adventure features common props of a birthright adventure - random events, battles, "military dungeons". It is divided into many small events, which makes their distribution easier over time. It is very dependent on random events, however it is also heavily railroaded by removing political options (why can't the enemy be invaded? Why reward not going to war?). The stakes are articulated: the king has the duty to manage a betrayal, to defend his people, to quell a revolt but also to give a show of strength by taking the field personally.

[top]Sword and crown


Analysis: This module is presented as a "random" event. The first few days you can do a lot of diplomacy, then there is a skirmish, then there is a small dungeon, then another dungeon, then an underground city (optional), then a castle (which counts as a dungeon). Eventually we go back to politics, having to make difficult decisions about Anurie's superpowers.
Summary: It is a hybrid adventure, unbalanced on traditional exploration. The moment you go hunting for the princess, you have to block everything until the quest resolves - the game makes it clear that you have to run after the kidnappers. When we played this, domain game stopped for several sessions – the stake is so high that players felt it wouldn’t be fair to delegate the hunt to their knights.

[top]Seeking bloodsilver (from Dragon Magazine)


Analysis: The adventure is presented in the form of a character hearing. Then there is a trip to Mhoried, with a blood challenge (random event) followed by a traditional dungeon.
Summary: it is a classic d&d adventure played with the Birthright setting, no more, no less. It has a good feel but there is absolutely no space for domain game.

[top]Kings of the Giantdowns


Analysis: it's a set of mini adventures, which allow you to conquer the provinces by carrying out some quests for community leaders. there is a final mini adventure where players can face the "current king" of the Giantdowns and defeat him once and for all.
Summary: it is a very nice premise, because it allows you to distribute the quests, explore different provinces, create a functional sandbox. However, it starts from the assumption that the adventure should replace the domain game, and some quests could be developed in a more interesting way (killing Leucrottas around the countryside? That's it?)

Tags for this Page

Similar Pages

  1. Creating magic items
    By Sorontar in forum Main
    Comments: 0
    Last Post: 08-07-2008, 06:46 AM
  2. Creating magic items using RP
    By Sorontar in forum Main
    Comments: 0
    Last Post: 08-07-2008, 06:44 AM

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

Posting Permissions
  • You may not create new articles
  • You may not edit articles
  • You may not protect articles
  • You may not post comments
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your comments
BIRTHRIGHT, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, D&D, the BIRTHRIGHT logo, and the D&D logo are trademarks owned by Wizards of the Coast, Inc., a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc., and are used by permission. ©2002-2010 Wizards of the Coast, Inc.