Rethinking the Tiers
It would appear that 4E is playable all the way through to 30th-level and, unlike 3.xE, a DM's job in terms of creating monster and NPC statblocks for such high levels is not difficult. That said, I'm not sure if I will ever again run a group that could last that long. Furthermore, after mid-Paragon or so I think the story potentially makes less sense in the context of the campaign setting. Of course, these points are debatable but I'm thinking of designing future campaigns to last until 10th or maybe 15th-level.
Rather than design around Heroic, Paragon and Epic tiers, I'm going to break the story of the campaign down into three chapters of five levels each, thus 1st to 6th, 6th to 11th and 11th to 15th (or 16th). I'm also going to try and design one adventure per level and I'm giving some though to the level increase only coming after the adventure is satisfactorily concluded, rather than basing it on the awarding of XP. I will need to think about this particularly in the context of player expectations.
For the Black Age of Bane campaign I'm going to base these three tiers around particular regions.
- Chapter One: This will be set in and around Loudwater and the Grey Vale or Fallen Lands.
- Chapter Two: This will be set in and around Elturgard.
- Chapter Three: This will be set in and around Elturgard also but will likely conclude in the Zhent fortress of Darkhold in the Sunset Mountains.
Here's a rough synopsis of the chapters:
Chapter One: Hidden Destinies
(It seems appropriate that a campaign that is based off a single sentence in the DDi mini-adventure Hidden Destinies should have a chapter named after it. That, and the basic premise of a Bane-touched child is going to be a key part of this campaign.)
The campaign begins in Loudwater. The party rescues a tiefling child with green eyes named Caom from slavers and agrees with his guardian, a noble cleric of Amaunator, to take him to the Sceptre Tower of Spellgard to learn his destiny. The rest of the chapter involves a plagiarised and shortened version of the published adventure Sceptre Tower of Spellgard and the revelation of a Banite plot as well as some hints about Caom's destiny (specifically that he is linked to Elturgard's second sun).
Chapter Two: Justice & Judgement
As a consequence of what was learned at the Sceptre Tower, the party agree to escort Caom to Elturgard where he will study under the clerics of Torm and they will try and find out what his link to the Companion is.
This chapter will also include skirmishes with Zhents, an attack on a gnoll temple in the Reaching Woods where a minor aspect of Yeenoghu will be summoned and the discovery of the Amaunatori and Tormite heresies (the Three-Faced Sun and Eye of Justice heresies, respectively) that afflict Elturgard. After cleansing Fort Morninglord, the party participate in a great war involving the Zhents attacking in sight of the Companion.
The conclusion of this tier occurs when the Companion is corrupted by the touch of Caom. As he does this, either he or a follower of Bane standing nearby splits open and a lesser aspect of Bane is revealed. When the aspect is bloodied, the original follower of Bane is revealed and the battle continues until the death.
Ultimately, the Zhent armies are defeated but the Companion is now a thing of darkness.
Chapter Three: Against Darkness
The Companion has been darkened and the Black Age of Bane has begun. The Cyricists are expelled from Darkhold by the resurgent Banites and Elturgard is now a place of eternal night.
There is hope. The Black Age of Bane can be brought to a premature end. (Perhaps this was the message that the party received in the Sceptre Tower?) It seems that there is an Amaunatori artefact known as the Cup of Amaunator (cf 3.5E's Anauroch: The Empire of Shade) or the Sliver of the Sun ([homebrew]a spear that is a relic of the Netherese-era church of Amaunator) that might be able to cause the Companion to shine once more.
This chapter thus is about:
- determining the location of the macguffin (perhaps by sneaking into Darkhold to steal information from the Banites);
- travelling to the location of the macguffin and acquiring it (this might even be into the Empire of Shade in a plot inspired by 3.5E's Anauroch: The Empire of Shade); and
- returning to the benighted lands of Elturgard and then searching out the corrupted Companion before transforming it into a bringer of light once more.
With that, the Black Age of Bane is ended but perhaps it is something that is supposed to occur in the future....
One of things I really want to do with this campaign is ensure that each chapter ends on a strong note. I particularly like the ending of chapter two: the Companion is darkened and the power provided by this corruption allows for an aspect of Bane to be summoned. It's a strong visual, particularly as I have the right miniature for it, and should ideally cause the players to think that chapter three is really important as their characters have a chance to put this right.
Chapter three also finishes strongly: the Companion is a thing of light once more, vampires and other undead that had moved to the benighted lands of Elturgard are destroyed in an instant and hope is reborn (particularly if the land was cleansed of heresies and heretics in chapter two).
But I need something strong for chapter one. Returning from the Sceptre Tower just doesn't cut it. Perhaps I could have a Banite army of hobgoblins marching on Loudwater as I had originally planned? Perhaps the party's role in this could be to fight the blue dragon warlord (Arharzel Morueme) who leads this army? Would that be a strong enough finish? I think so, which makes me also think that I really need to work to compress Sceptre Tower of Spellgard into a much smaller adventure.