When I was in middle school, back in the mid ‘80s, I discovered the BECMI edition of D&D (Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, and Immortals Dungeons & Dragons). In particular, the Companion Set, the C in BECMI, captured my imagination for it had rules for managing dominions, mass combat, and tournaments – who doesn’t want to rule kingdoms, command armies, and compete in tournaments? This to me has always been fantasy roleplaying, not the slaying of monsters and taking their stuff.
Thus when we decided to publish Duet Sagas, with each book containing all the material a GM would need to run a duet campaign, it was this style of campaign that I wanted to do first. Michelle took some convincing, but in the end we decided that Duet Saga 1 would be The Barony of Calagard.
The concept is simple enough: the PC begins by inheriting a small dominion in the Barony of Calagard and is thrown into the world of lordship, politics, and grand adventure. We are using the Pathfinder system for our rules and the book will include some mechanical crunch, some flavor, but is focused on tools for running this sort of duet campaign. Every duet campaign is different as every GM and player is different, but one constant I have seen is that a lot of GMs struggle with these sorts of campaigns. Our focus is not to give you a script to follow, but to give you the means to quickly and easily create scenarios and challenges for the PC to grapple with. Our biggest assumptions are that anyone can be an effective GM with a little help and that an effective GM is superior to any book, computer game, or other interactive media in challenging and engaging a player. That is why roleplaying is so damn fun.
A few weeks ago, I bought the Kingmaker Adventure Path published by Paizo. I was aware of it when we started writing Calagard and the more I wrote, the more I started worrying that it had already done what we were trying to do. So all six installments arrive from Amazon.com and I begin reading. The first foreword describes how this series would be an open-ended campaign where the PCs can build nations, fight wars, and tame a wild land. I flipped through the six issues and saw they had governance rules, mass combat, a tournament, and lots of NPCs, monsters, and flavor text on some religions and kingdoms. For a moment, I was honestly dismayed as it did seem like a lot of overlap with what we were trying to do. Then I read through it more closely.
Kingmaker is really a remake of the classic Keep on the Borderlands where the PCs claim a keep and then explore the surrounding region facing various challenges hidden at various locations around the area. This part of the adventure path is solid and the villains of the week should entertain a group of PCs as they advance up levels, but when you leave the traditional hack-and-slash realm and move into governance, politics, and the like – Kingmaker fails. Let me rephrase that, Kingmaker works for a group of PCs tackling these issues at a very shallow level, which covers more gaming groups. Like most RPGs, Kingmaker approaches governance abstractly, so it loses any semblance of drama or excitement. Our approach is completely different – we create situations where PCs have to make real decisions with real consequences. Furthermore, we leap off the beaten path and tackle romance, duty, family, faith, and other issues that drive these sorts of decisions. Any situation where a decision or crisis is simply resolved by a few rolls as opposed to a PC actually making a decision utterly fails in our opinion.
We’ve run these sorts of campaigns for over two decades. I have run group and duet campaigns involving governance many, many times. I know all the mistakes and I also know some tricks that really work. The Barony of Calagard shares all of this valuable information with a GM so that the GM can run a campaign that is simply incredible. Sure there will be monsters and combat, but that’s not what drives a duet campaign – what drives a duet campaign is the sense of empowerment a PC has that comes from making real decisions that shape the campaign.
No doubt about it, we have ambitious plans for these Duet Sagas. Our goal is quite simply to lift the bar on what a campaign sourcebook should be.
Thanks for reading,