This article was originally found on the Grinning Rat Publications Medium account. It has been brought over and made free for viewers. Note: Some ideas and considerations may be out of date.
On one hand, “Opulent” is a reaction to the tone-deaf responses Wizards of the Coast has given to criticisms of their own shortcomings. On the other hand, it serves mainly as a desire to get away from the compacting issues of DND 5E and other modern TTRPGs.
Either way, “Opulent” is the working title of a new campaign I plan on running. The goal of which is to get at what I feel is the ‘foundation’ of tabletop role-playing games, covered well by Ben Milton and Steven Lumpkin in their “Principia Apocrypha”.
The main objectives consist of the following:
- High lethality
- An open world
- No pre-written plot
- An emphasis on creative problem-solving
- An exploration-based reward system
- A healthy disregard for encounter balance and a focus more on collaborative worldbuilding
These (along with the Principia Apocrypha) touch on what is known as the OSR, or the old-school renaissance — a method of play that relates closer to, eponymously, gameplay from older editions of DND and other tabletop role-playing games.
So, in regards to these ideas, what specifically do I have planned for “Opulent”?
A Wide, Open World
The world of “Opulent” is one that attempts to capture the fairytale / storybook aesthetic. Heavy inspiration is taken from an amalgamation of traditional folktales spanning the globe, from the Americas to West Asia and everything in between.
The world is not one that is heavily based on our own in regards to weather, geography, or physics. Regions of the world in “Opulent” are covered in snow — only to suddenly make way for a warm, forest glade or a lake of lava surrounded by craggy rocks. Spires exist beneath the waves where individuals practice dark magic, just as the clouds are home to ancient gods who often walk the earth for their own esoteric purposes.
Traveling this world is nothing short of an adventure, as all manner of obstacles will stand in the party’s way. Resource management in the form of torches, water, food, and other supplies is a necessity. Each interesting landmark serves as either an open door to glory and fame — or a one-way trip to a quick death.
A Dangerous World
With all of the different regions and fantastic creatures of “Opulent”, there comes a certain danger as well. Ancient ruins befouled by monsters and unspeakable horrors dot the landscape. Even in the ordinary world of humans and demihumans exist those who have no care for their fellows — they are eager to make their coin and gain their power at other’s expense.
As mentioned above, simply traveling the world is a danger in and of itself. The roads of “Opulent” are littered with good intentions, just as they are littered with broken carts, forgotten bones, and frightening omens. The party will be required to keep their head on a swivel, watching every long shadow with hands on hilts of swords. In some occasions, the party may find threats from within — wizards and other magic-users themselves a risk for parleying with unknown and wicked powers in exchange for their spells.
A World Unwritten
With the ability to go anywhere, there exists a strong desire to pre-plan each destination with connecting plots and narratives. Not so in “Opulent”; each area instead serves as a collection of situations the party can involve themselves in or walk away from. Rather than heeding my words, the players are in control of their own destinies and determine which objectives hold the highest interest.
Heavy use of random tables facilitates a world such as this. When the party travels to a new destination, rolling on these tables can determine what they find there — a surprise not just for the party, but me as well. This ensures that I’m not trying to lead the party in any one direction. I am merely following their natural interest and building around it.
One Problem, Many Solutions
Rather than staring down at their character sheets looking for that one ability that specifically relates to a situation, the players at the table will be required to think outside the box. A character could start a small brush fire to distract the guards of an overgrown tomb, or perhaps they could find a buried entrance to the tomb elsewhere — spending the night on shifts of digging it out.
There are no ability checks in the game; no skills to reference in regards to how well one can perceive things or sneak around. These are solutions that the players must adequately explain for themselves. How one investigates a crime scene will need to be purposefully explained, rather than hand-waving it away with a simple die roll.
Rather than wait for the game to offer up solutions in the form of skills and abilities, I’ll be waiting for the players to discuss what they think may work in a given situation. The more creative these solutions, the more creative problems will appear. And so it goes throughout the entirety of the campaign.
Treasure Equals Experience
In delving into these dangerous places, the party will uncover treasures beyond their wildest dreams. These treasures will be guarded, of course, but if the party manages to make it back to civilization with these jewels and baubles intact they will advance in level. Each single unit of value (measured in gold pieces) is equal to a single experience point.
This will result in more creative problem solving when it comes to exploration and getting into fights. If a dragon sits atop a hoard of treasure that could level each individual in the party twice over, how is that treasure won? Rather than fighting needlessly, the party may elect to simply steal the treasure — racing against time as the dragon begins to stir. The party may not even be an appropriate level to face the dragon, adding even more tension to the endeavor.
This also more accurately places the party as individuals that are a part of the world. They are thrill-seekers, mercenaries, or otherwise insane individuals who dredge up the lost treasures of antiquity — bringing both history and wealth to those who are sold them.
This campaign will be unlike anything I’ve run before, which both excites and terrifies me. It is my sincere hope that in writing these blog posts, I’ll be forced to evaluate some of the potential pitfalls ahead of time — but I’m sure I’ll be writing things that end up being scrapped or otherwise changed when finalized. Either way, look forward to these developments as they arrive.
Next time on the Opulent series, I will be discussing some of the more interesting aspects of the game — namely, the “mythic dungeon” concept of the OSR. That post will go live next Wednesday, August 19.