My last roommate was a huge fan of HBO’s Deadwood, and she got me into it as the second season was wrapping up. If you’ve never seen it, it was a stark, brutal, unromanticized vision of the Wild West, yet it was almost Shakespearean in its scope. She loved it. I fell in love with it.
I knew I wanted to start an Arcana Unearthed campaign, but I wasn’t sure where to set it. I didn’t want to start off in a place close to a metropolis like De-Shamod (the capital city) or Ka-Rone (a major port), because that would be way too much of an info bomb for me and my players. I wanted a way to slowly filter in information as we needed it, and at the time I was still very much into the standard RPG frontier setting. Deadwood provided the inspiration I needed. I didn’t really need all the swearing, but I liked the idea of a town that was far enough away from the seat of power that it could make its own rules, yet it still felt the long grasp of civilization reaching out to control it from time to time.
I named it Junrath and set it in the south, quite a distance from the gleaming cities of the North, not terribly far from the desert of Zalavat where I wanted to steer the campaign eventually, and got to work. It was going to be Deadwood in the lands of the Diamond Throne! That is not what happened at all, of course. But here are a few things I did…
The Cerulean Circlet
In the Diamond Throne setting, giants ruled much of the civilized lands and made the laws. I decided Junrath, like Deadwood, was far enough away that they weren’t too concerned with what the Powers-That-Be thought of their doings. However, much like Deadwood, they did need to police their own in some fashion. Specifically, there were monsters out there, and there needed to be some kind of organized force to deal with them from time to time. Enter the Cerulean Circlet, a band of mostly decent mercenaries who were paid by the town to fend off the darker threats, and keep their noses out of the private lives of the inhabitants.
Dinella the Restless was their leader, a no-nonsense sibeccai (jackal-person) who along with her first-in-command Hathegor the Forthright were the main contacts the PCs had with the Circlet. I tend to go right for the heart of things, and the Circlet wasn’t a huge organization or anything. I figured it had around seven members at the most.
I’ll be damned if I can remember his name. Deadwood had a character named Mr. Wu, and Mr. Wu owned pigs. Well, whenever a body needed to be disposed of, they’d generally feed it to the pigs. I wanted something equally seedy but a bit more fantastical. So I had a sculptor who kept a basilisk in his basement. Not a lot of people knew about this, and I don’t think the PCs ever actually figured it out.
Actually this had nothing to do with Deadwood. Back when Dragon Magazine was still a magazine and still good, Ray Winninger had a regular article called Dungeoncraft, of which I was a religious follower. Rule #2 of Dungeoncraft: “Whenever you design a major piece of the campaign world, always devise at least one secret related to that piece.”
Arcana Unearthed’s world had already been largely created, but I knew I wanted to eventually head to Zalavat and wanted to drop crumbs in that direction. So I created a small ruin on the edge of town with a strange sealed doorway, which had been recently uncovered during an earthquake (those not being uncommon in the area). Rule #1 of Dungeoncraft is “Never force yourself to create more than you must,” so I didn’t know what would be in the gate beyond some level-appropriate swag and clues that would set the party on a journey westward into the desert. In the meantime they could mull over it and search for the key.
Anyway, these were a few of the things that Junrath began with. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to provide the players with a sense of stuff going on. I actually intended the sculptor to feature more heavily, but as I will explain at a later date, things didn’t go as I’d planned and I was forced to follow my players in a direction I hadn’t expected.