So when I reread Arnold K's posts about the Moon Castle, I decided it was a great concept. You should probably read that post first for full context, but if you don't, here's what you can expect. I'm writing a simple setting/campaign about overthrowing an evil King. The players will wander around the map, gathering power, magic and allies until they feel strong enough to face the final boss, the Lich King. They can challenge the Lich King at any time in the campaign, and enter his dungeon whenever they see fit. Their will be eight main dungeons in the game. Each one will relate to the story of the Kingdom of Averia and the Lich King, either directly or indirectly a result of his actions.
The dungeons will have trails of breadcrumbs that lead you to them, or their existence will be widely known. Some of the dungeons will move as well, so the players might find they're sharing a hex with the dungeon, even if they had no intention of doing so. The whole game will be a sandbox, though I will lock off some areas until the players either do the sidequest required to unlock it, or try some novel solution. Finally, I think I'll use Basic Red's Dungeons as XP as the primary way players can level up. That obviously incentivizes clearing all the Dungeons, but it doesn't make it mandatory. Because even if the players clear all the main dungeons, they will still need to do other stuff, like preparing for the fall of the Kingdom, recruiting allies, and maybe taking steps to prevent/cause vicil war because in case you forgot, Regicide tends to cause lots of other problems.
An Extremely Abbreviated History of AveriaIn the Eleg region, their was a small, homogenous human kingdom called Averia. Averia was not particularly wealthy or powerful, being landlocked and largely a backwater. The other powers of Eleg were mostly content to ingnore her, and this was a favor the Kings of Averia extended to them.
But then, one day, the Necromancer came to town. He spoke to the then King of Averia in secret, and promised him the ultimate boon: eternal life. We know not what the King thought about this, but surely he must have struggled. Such power, such a gift, it was unimaginable! But if he accepted it, what would happen? Would his wife still love him after he was transformed into an undying monster? What would be the response of the Church? For a mortal to become immortal is a clear violation of the Authority's Laws, and their retribution would be severe. And what would his vassals do? Would they consent to be ruled by an undead abomination? But in the end, the King was perhaps no stronger or greater than any mortal man. He gave one final instruction to his servants, and then told the Necromancer to begin his work.
But the Necromancer was clever. You see, he did not feel he had the power to properly ascend to lichdom. His spells, they were too unruly. So he needed to test it. He had no love for the King, and if he could get paid for the trouble, why wouldn't he lose the King as his guinea pig?
But to the surprise of everyone involved, the process worked. The Lich King emerged, vibrant, explosive, full of life. He privately praised the Necromancer and he offered him a seat at the high table, then promised the Necromancer wealth beyond imagination. The Necromancer was overjoyed. He was immensely surprised when he was attacked that night in his bed, and killed.
The Lich King then set about consolidating his power. He began to prepare for the inevitable civil war that was sure to come. He began hiring assassins, sending spies into the homes of his followers, and investigating weaknesses in the Church's infrastructure. Then, as one final measure, he sent adventurers all across Eleg, to find powerful undead and bring them back to him, secretly. He used these powerful undead as rewards, bringing them onto his side, in exchange for their gifts. Most agreed, and the rest were killed. Then using the gifts of the undead who were secretly living in his castle, the Lich King began slowly but surely poisoning his court, promising them immortality in exchange for loyalty. Anyone too religious or scrupulous was quietly removed and their lands given over to those more loyal. But inevitably, the secret got out and it led to civil war. But the Lich King had been preparing, and after several years of fighting, he managed to win.
Then, his base secured, the Lich King began expanding his empire. His modest kingdom quickly grew into a mammoth empire, swallowing up almost all of Averia's rivals. A King with no fear of death has no fear of loss. A battle may be lost, but The War is eternal. That, along with some other advantages Averia had lead to victory after victory, until all of Eleg knelt before him.
But that's ancient history, having occurred almost 150 years ago.
But while Averia has enjoyed a golden age of peace and prosperity, it is one that is slowly coming to an end. The rot that began when the Lich King first ascended has finally spread far enough that the whole kingdom is now suffering. The Averians are a people wealthier than any generation before them, but they are choking on their own success, materially rich but spiritually suffering, either completely abandoned all morality, or having been consumed by the Lich King's noxious villainy.
The Eight DungeonsThese will be the primary places of conflict for the players. Each Dungeon is a place of rot and pollution, where the Lich King's rule has clearly worsened the situation. They are the symptoms of the the disease that is the Lich King. He must be stopped, whatever the cost. But even if he is, the Dungeons will not go away on their own.
1. The Marsh DungeonOne of the Lich King's first conquests was of the Nagorno Swamps. This small area was dominated by peat bogs, cold swamps, and lots of rain. Most would generally regard the area as a miserable place to live, too cold, too rainy, and just too dreary overall. But Nagorno did have one thing the Lich King wanted, access to the sea. The conquerors clear-cut a section of the cold swamp and built a sea port there, named Istrilla. Istrilla is a great sea port, the primary passage way for foreign goods entering the country. You will also find foreigners, dispossessed people, revolutionaries and firebrands living here.
But Istrilla has a shadow. A dark reflection, a hub of criminal activity, bringing smugglers, thieves and pirates from across Nagorno and Averia, all come to sell their stolen goods. This is the Marsh Dungeon.
The primary Obstacle of the Marsh Dungeon is two-fold. For starters, it is a secret. Not everyone knows its location, though a few bandit chiefs, pirate captains and some corrupt officials in Istrilla probably do. Secondly, the way to Istrilla is guarded by vicious plant monsters who were bribed with meat, and instructed not to kill anyone with a token of the Pirate King.
The Boss of the Marsh Dungeon is the Pirate King, a man named Osmund Slash, who is fond of riding around on his giant, albino crocodile. When people displease him, he has them fed to it.
Your Local Ally is the Brass Butterflies, a street gang from Istrilla who were screwed one to many times by the Pirate King's servants. They want their revenge, and if it getting it requires teaming up with a bunch of weirdo adventurers, so be it. The Butterflies know all of the above, and while they don't have a token of the Pirate King themselves, they know where you could find one.
2. The Circus DungeonAfter the Averian civil war, the victorious Lich King expelled the Church from his lands, as well as any people who were too pious or stubborn to accept his new immortal state. And when the Church left, they took their Gods with them, and excommunicated the King, along with all those who had sided with him. And so, the Lich King invited other religions in to fill the void, and foreign faiths came from the sea and from out of the shadows, elevating long forgotten Gods to the centerpiece of local religion. And as people would later discover, some things are forgotten for a reason.
And while all of these Gods are not evil, many of them are unsavory. And among these new Gods, none are more feared then the Mirthful Messiahs.
They come when no one is looking, one morning you will find them erecting a massive tent outside your town or city. Fliers will be distributed through the town, a grand carnival, featuring dancers, trained animals, amazing feats of athleticism and more. Many will attend, but few will leave. When the Carnival comes to town, they bring fear and suffering to all nearby. The giant tent is a portable temple, the three ring performance a sacred right, dedicated to their laughing Gods, the Mirthful Messiahs.
The Obstacle of the Circus Dungeon is simple. The Circus moves. It rarely spends more than one night in a single hex, and will always disappear before the night is up. It never visits the same place twice as well, though their are some ways to predict where it is going. All of these ways are unsavory, but it is possible.
The Boss of the Circus Dungeon is the Ringmaster, a Gengrigar in bright red and purple. He is named Caziel [Cay-zee-El], and is a psycho, an opportunist, and a madman. He is the only one capable of leading the Circus, and if he is killed, the group will fracture into a dozen marauding bands, who will proceed to burn the countryside to the ground, but eventually be killed.
Your Local Ally is a group of madmen and conspiracy theorists alike called the Legalists. They are those who have been broken and twisted by the Dark Carnival that the Circus Dungeon brought into their lives, and are following it, trying to track its movements and discern what it's ultimate goal is, if it even has one. They are basically useless in a fight, but they know more about the Circus Dungeon than anyone else.
Other DungeonsThe Counterfeit Castle: Stolen from Here. An preview of the Lich King's dungeon, cobbled together by an ambitious subordinate, who wants to get into the Lich King's good graces.
The Queen's Castle: Stolen from here. The Queen ran away during the Civil War, and this is where she has been. She achieved her own form of immortality, and is using it to hide from her husband. A flesh dungeon.
The Casino Dungeon: A giant, frightening casino. Demons of Fortune, Tricksters, leprechauns. Here you can sell your soul, or bet it on a hand of cards.
The Flavor Town Dungeon: A gonzo dungeon about a bunch of evil cooks trying to assassinate each other, while concealing their crimes from the Head Chef, an enormous monster. Has: Magic Food, Monsters that want to be eaten, Giant Cannibal Cooks, Guy Fieri, etc.
The Cloud Dungeon: The imported Gods that answered the Lich King's call to fill in the space left by the fleeing church tried to build their own heaven for their faithful, but competing visions and outside interference left it in ruins. Now it is inhabited by cloud monsters, fallen (or uplifted) Angels, sunburned Cancer Elves, etc.
The Darkest Dungeon: The Lich King's rule is absolute. Even as his empire rots and decays around him, he maintains his aura of invincibility. And for every incompetent general or corrupt public servant, their is as competent as they are ruthless. So when a failed revolution was surrounded in the mountains, it was assumed that they would be crushed. But the Lich King's armies returned with only a few prisoners. They said the prisoners were those who had chosen to surrender and trust the Lich King's feeble mercies. The rest of the revolutionaries, they had ventured down into a series of caves, then even further down. Maybe they went down far enough to reach the Veins of the Earth? Maybe they haven't stopped running since?