Tuesday, November 12, 2013

[Urbis] Building the Cold Frontier

One of the campaigns is involved in seems to be nearing its end, so I've been musing on what we could play next. Here is a pitch for a campaign idea I came up with for my Urbis setting:
The small continent of Nardhome is far to the northwest of the gleaming domains of the Flannish city-states. Settlements of native humans dot the rich coastal fishing grounds, but they refuse to go deep into the interior, believing it to be a cursed place of cold, death, hunger, and madness. The now-savage descendants of earlier Flannish settlers have no such taboos, but many of their tribes show signs of madness or inbreeding.
Yet the continent remains rich in resources - ores, furs, and strange substances found beneath its surface which the alchemists and industrialists of the Flannish Cities are willing to pay high prices for. Thus, the Dartmouth-based Far Shores Trading Company has decided to get into the action by opening a new trade depot on the southern shore, on the ruins of an old native settlement which has been abandoned for reasons unknown.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to explore the surrounding wilderness and find valuable resources to exploit - and if you impress the board of the Company, they might be willing to sponsor an entire colony in order to extract the wealth of the region in earnest. With you as the colonial administrators of this region, this Cold Frontier.
Basically, this is a variant on the sandbox-style campaigning found in Paizo's Kingmaker Adventure Path - first the PCs explore a wilderness region and deal with its dangers, and then they actually attempt to colonize this region by building towns, streets, infrastructure and military forces to deal with its dangers. While I wouldn't use Pathfinder as the base rule system (I prefer GURPS), I would adopt much of the Pathfinder Exploration Rules for the hexcrawling and the Pathfinder Kingdom Building Rules for developing the colony itself.

I'm not sure if I am actually going to run this campaign, but it's worth developing some thoughts into it nonetheless. Here are some initial ideas:

  • The Far Shores Trading Company - the sponsor of first the expedition and then the colony - is largely based on the British East India Company, and thus a rather dodgy employer. Like their counterparts they are smuggling opium into the Far East - the Tsan Empire, in this case - but their home base of Dartmouth is far weaker than the British Empire, while the Tsan Empire is far stronger than the declining Chinese Empire. At one point in the campaign, a Tsan war fleet will show up near Dartmouth and demand reparations for the opium smuggling. Thanks to their contacts, the board members of the Company have plenty of advance warning to smuggle much of their wealth elsewhere - including to the Cold Frontier colony. Thus, the PCs will notice all sorts of rich Company members to show up in their town with a lot of money while trying to assure themselves that the PCs are still loyal to the Company. Once the excrements hit the fan, the PCs must decide where their loyalties lie - with the remnants of the Company with their wealth and dubious contacts, with the city-state of Dartmouth which can ensure regular supply runs but will likely demand higher taxes so that they can pay for the reparations to the Tsan Empire, or with themselves, in which case they need figure out how to make the colony survive on its own this far away from the rest of civilization.
  • The native humans largely hug the coastline because of cultural taboos so that the PCs have much room to expand inwards instead of repeating the displacement of the native Americans in our own history. Sure, they control fertile fishing grounds, but the PCs can easily come to peaceful trade agreements if they approach their neighbors right. Their culture is based on those of the Inuit and the natives of the Pacific Northwest.
  • Conversely, the inland tribes are the savage descendants of settlers from the Flannish and Norfjell regions (think Western and Northern Europeans) who lost contact with their homelands 250 years ago when those homelands were ravaged by wars. Their cultures and ways will have some faint resemblances to the homes of the PCs, but are often twisted into something unrecognizable, and many tribes suffer from madness and inbreeding. They are a great place to use all those Lovecraftian tropes about "degenerate hill people" while avoiding certain Unfortunate Implications. Individual tribes might be friends or enemies of the PCs.
  • The terrain of the campaign area will be inspired by all those regions around our own Arctic Circle - Alaska, Northern Canada, Siberia, and Iceland (there should definitely be a volcano or two!). Rugged mountains, vast marshes, never-ending tundra, all that good stuff.
  • For aesthetic reasons, I'd rather avoid the standard Pathfinder non-human races except as colonists, and likewise most of the recognizable Pathfinder creatures derived from European or Asian folklore - those are more commonly found on the main continent, or the Known Lands. Creatures from North American legend are best, though other fairly obscure creatures will work as well. Nardholm and the Cold Frontier should feel like an alien place to players familiar with D&D canon, and the deeper into the continent they get, the more alien it should feel.
So these are my first thoughts. What are yours?

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts - including all further posts related to the Cold Frontier - can be found here.