The Western Islands

Creating the campaign world using Microscope

Using Microscope to create a campaign setting.
I had a general idea for the campaign but I liked the idea of using Microscope to come up with some of the background and history. For a few years I had been thinking about doing a campaign setting loosely based on ancient Carthage in North Africa, using Pathfinder rules. I had written endless notes and ideas but didn’t have any players or the time to do a proper campaign. So, recently I found a few people keen on playing and it all started to happen
I decided to use a simplified version of Microscope, which is described here. Instead of role-playing scenes in full, the player who set up the scene would ask a question and one of the other players would answer it. I figured we would be doing plenty of role playing in the actual campaign, plus we would get more turns in if we shortened the scenes. In the end only one player was able to make it for the microscope session so it was a two-player game (me and him).

Big Picture
I started by outlining roughly my idea for the campaign I wanted to run, and I provided a rough terrain map of the area. We talked about this and came up with a concept: Humans explore and settle a group of large islands.

Book Ends: The beginning of our history was the first human discovery of the islands. The end was the islands were fully explored and populated by a variety of human cultures with no central power.

The palette was:
Yes to gnolls, sahuagin and lizard folk. No to native/local elves, dwarves gnomes and orcs. (This left it open for me as DM to bring some in later if I wanted to, but there were no large populations of them in the Western Islands).
Yes to sorcerers and a female sorcerer bloodline. No to wizards

Then we started playing. I had a few periods and events that I had planned to put in, as I had a rough idea of the sort of history I wanted in my campaign but no details. As it happened we went off in all sorts of directions and came up with some very odd but good stuff! We decided to set our campaign in the very end period of the history we made so I have deleted a few of the very last events which may or may not directly affect the players as we continue to campaign. J knows what these were but may not remember them right and in any case I might have changed them a bit. This is what we came up with.

The foci were (in playing order):
The first Port on Khamsaa
The Isis cult
The new gnoll culture on Khusin Island
The sahuagin

The legacies were:
Amenzu the Voyager
The Harbo family bloodline
The mutated monster man
Marissa the Isis Priestess
Gnolltown

Start Period: Islands are unknown to humans and not settled by any mammals.(Light)
Lizard folk are the only intelligent humanoids on the islands, which are arid and mountainous. Animals include giant spiders, reptiles and birds.

Stone age tribes start exploring the islands nearest the desert coast. They are related to the mainland Stone Age cattle and goat herders. (Light)

Genocide on Khamsaa, as a large human clan settles on Khamsaa, and discovers the lizard folk who are all exterminated. (Dark)

Amenzu the Voyager dies. His crypt is secret. Amenzu is legendary founder hero, first explorer of the islands. (Dark)

The Age of Chaos: gradual climate change, sea levels rise over several centuries
Old mainland kingdoms collapse. (Dark)

Storm Giants build a temple for the human goddess Isis, on one of the outer Islands, Storm Island. This is a departing gift as they leave the island; the time of the Storm Giants is over. (Light)

As sea levels rise over several generations, a coastal river valley civilisation in the southern mainland collapses due to flooding and the spread of salt marshes. Eventually the stone ruins of their cities are drowned and the Sahuagin take over and build their city on the ruins under the shallow bay. (Light – for the Sahuagin anyway!)

(Scene) The four-armed Sahuagin King moves into the flooded ruins of the human palace and discovers that the city was built around a strange group of rocks with great magical powers of mutation and change. He and his minions learn to use this power to dominate other sahuagin. (maybe sorcerer bloodline for aberrations etc)

The Age of Progress and expansion
Harbo’s fleet comes south, builds trading colonies, and introduces Iron Age technology to locals. New Amenzu cult spreads throughout islands among the old clans. (Light)

King Harbo of the northern empire of Chum Cha’aka brings a huge fleet (30 ships and thousands of soldiers and settlers) south to explore the islands. Harbo builds his fleet base/ trading post on the island of Khamsaa and enslaves the local clans. While most of the other islands are not ruled directly by Harbo, his fleet and the Chum influence greatly change island societies. (Light)

The Islanders are devastated by plagues that spread ahead of the new settlers as they explore the islands. (Dark)

Battle of the Underwater City. Harbo’s fleet sails to the centre of the Havabal sea directly above an underwater sahuagin city. (dark)

(scene) An army of sahuagin warriors attacks the ships. How does Harbo win? During the battle sorcerers on board the ships summon an earthquake which causes an underwater canyon to collapse burying the sahuagin city. The power of the Sahuagin is broken, and Harbo rules the seas.

Harbo the second inherits his father’s titles and starts conquering and subjugating the islands. He builds a fortress and the city of LiHarbo on the island of Winson. (Dark)

A war breaks out between Harbo II and the kingdoms of Ni Ani over control of the island of Schulin. This war rages for a decade and the island is devastated. (Dark)

(scene)Eventually Harbo decides to recruit a mercenary army of Gnolls from the desert mainland and he imports them to fight in Schulin. Harbo wins the war but the gnolls quickly become a problem for him as they establish a population in the mountainous interior. (Dark)

Harbo III becomes King of the islands, He lives in LiHarbo and is determined that their will not be another war. He is devoted to a pacifist philosophy, and is just and kind. (Light)

(Scene) Harbo III sends an emissary to meet the Sahuagin of the south sea. They do something terrible to the emissary and he returns a bloated mutated shell of a man with little trace of his earlier personality. Harbo is horrified and the emissary is taken to the Isis temple at Li harbo and confined out of sight while the priestesses work on finding a cure for his mutations.

A group of Gnolls in the mountains of Schulin burrow deeper than is sensible and discover an ancient underground temple.

(Scene)They explore the temple and tear a rift into another dimension. What happens? answer: An enormous flying worm creature with telepathic powers breaks through to their world and enslaves them all.

(Scene) Harbo III sends Bazru, an emissary, to negotiate peace with the Schulin mountain gnoll tribes. What happens? Bazru is enslaved and controlled by the worm. He returns to LiHarbo with a peace treaty but is now an agent of the worm.

One of the Schulin island tribal chiefs enters an alliance with the mountain gnolls. Together they take over the southern port of Schulin (now known as Gnolltown) where the chief declares himself tyrant and runs the town as a pirate base, preying on the southern shipping lanes. (dark)

(scene) Many humans from his tribe join a new cult of the worm. The Amenzu cult in Gnolltown protests and declares the worm cult to be evil. How does the tyrant react to this? The tyrant does nothing openly, but in the following weeks and months, almost all the local Amenzu cult leaders are murdered or go missing (most are fed to the tyrants gnoll bodyguards).

The tyrant seizes the now empty temple of Amenzu at Gnolltown and reconsecrates it to the cult of the worm.

End Period: Fully explored multicultural islands with no dominant central power (Dark).
The last century or so, when the islands have no central power. Current campaign set in this period. We never did figure out how the central ruling power of Harbo fell apart but in this period the Harbo family only rule the island of Winson. The main human cultures are the Mazikeen, (descended from the original tribes of the islands plus related immigrants from the mainland), the Chum (from the northern empire), and the Manada, from the southern mainland grasslands.

A band of gnolls from Schulin hijack a ship and sail to an outer island where they pillage and loot a small town.

(scene) Sahuagin come ashore at night on the eastern coast of the desert, and attack a convoy, kidnapping a noblewoman and delivering her to a lord in Schulin. Why has he kidnapped her and why is he working with the Sahuagin? He is in lust with her and slightly mad, and the sahuagin agreed to do the kidnap in return for access to metal and magic technology which they cannot produce themselves.

The warlord and the princess have a daughter (Marissa, who will grow up to be the high priestess of the Isis temple at Li Harbo, which is developing some serious problems).

Countless experiments and failed cures have done nothing for the mutated emissary still confined under the Isis Temple in Li Harbo. It is now over 150 years old and no longer recognisably human at all. It is getting bigger and starting to produce new appendages, some of which have detached themselves and escaped.

The Isis priestesses are struggling to contain the monster. They think there is still a glimmer of the original soul inside it and cannot bring themselves to destroy it. Now it is too late and they struggle to contain it in the underground chamber they have built for it. They are becoming morally compromised by what they must do to keep it contained. (Several events and scenes deleted her as I don’t want to give away what happens next and I may have changed bits slightly!).

The end for now..

That was the Microscope History we made. The following week one of the players decided to play a Tengu character, which added a whole lot of new stuff I had to add about how Tengu fitted into the world. Lots of fun, and half the islands and almost the entire mainland are unmentioned in this history so there are still lots of people and places left for me as a DM to invent.
The history we played out has given us a lot of details and quite a few unresolved issues in the campaign.

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A bar fight, a beating and a boat theft

The first session of the campaign, with just one player. Anazar is a young sailor who, now that the captain he has sailed under, has retired, finds himself jobless and looking for action.
Obviously the first thing he does is get into a bar fight. At the Murky Turtle Tavern in Liharbo. Unfortunately he loses badly in front of a large crowd and is too embarrassed to show his face there again. Later that evening he catches two idiots trying to steal his boat, he stabs and drowns on of them. He crawls off to a temple to get healed and in the process makes a very good impression on a young priestess. He then meets Hexena who is impressed by his knowledge of daggers and offers him a job described as high risk and probably illegal. Obviously this is just the sort of thing he is interested in so he agrees to meet her the next day for more details.

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Rolling dice badly and rowing boats in the dark

While Anazar is waiting to meet his new patron Hexena, he joins a group of gamblers in a back room at the Crimson Serpent, a classy Inn in LiHarbo. He loses most of his savings in a few minutes and befriends a strange bird humanoid called Inkfeather who has also lost most of his cash at the dice table. It turns out they are both waiting for Hexena. She brings them up to her room where she explains that she wants to hire them to rescue two slaves from her country, that she was on sale in the markets last week. Anazar and Inkfeather do some investigating of the slave markets in town and discover that the two men in question were sold to the city to serve as public slaves cleaning the streets et cetera. That night they ‘borrow’ a rowboat and row out into the harbour to find a way to break into the Harbo castle. They discover an old sewer entrance and get attacked by a giant slimy thing in the water. They retreat to Hexenas rooms at the Inn. After spending a day gathering more info around town, they decide that a better place to look might be the public works shed, which has two advantages over breaking into the castle. One is that the slaves are kept in the shed, the other is that the castle is full of soldiers with very sharp weapons. Inkfeather also meets with Gu Wi, a Tengu fence, and moves into his rooms. He is joined by Perex, one of Hexena’s bodyguards who has been sent along to assist and keep an eye things.

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making plans for a break in (or break out?)

Inkfeather, Anazar and Perex plan out the mission by scouting around the public works shed and finding and entering a sewer that seems to go underneath it. The city no longer has a large navy so one of the Galley sheds in the harbour has been converted into accommodation and workshops for the slaves that do city maintenance and street cleaning. The group discovers that one sewer tunnel leads to a grate opening into a guard room of some sort. They return at night to check out the streets around the shed at night. Anazar chases and stabs a pickpocket but then releases her as she was only a teenager.

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The rescue

TenguThat night, Perex approaches the shed, pretending to be drunk and thumps the door repeatedly until the guards come out and threaten to thump him. he hits them first, knocking one out by smashing a jug of wine over his head. At the same time, Inkfeather and Anazar burst out of the grate under the guardroom and attack the guards there. One of them falls down the grate instantly breaking his neck. I and A rush up the stairs and kill Vistru, the head slave. Perex manages to lock the remaining guards out of the building and the PCs all rush downstairs and release all the slaves. Everyone rushes out of side door and into the street. The slaves demand to know what the escape plan is, but the rowboat the PCs plan to escape in only has room for the party and two men they were to rescue. The other slaves decide to go and steal another boat and meet the PCs at the rendezvous with Hexena’s ship outside the harbour at dawn.

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sailing away

As the sun comes up the PCs rowboat approaches the waiting ship. As they board they see another boat coming our of the harbour full of escaped slaves. It is being followed by a boat full of soldiers. Perex orders the ships captain to hoist sail and ram the soldiers boat. The boat is rammed and the slaves are pulled on board. During this process Anazar gets into the second ‘stabbing a man to death while floundering about in the water’ fight of the week, killing the officer who led the soldiers in the chase. The ship is dangerously overloaded with 17 people on board but they manage to sail for two days reaching the Asif river mouth where they disembark and go to find Hexena who is waiting for them in a nearby village. One of the escaped slaves, a large hairy man called Juntti, impresses them with his fighting ability and he joins the party.

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into the wilderness

The Party decide to avoid the village and rest up for a few weeks in an old ruined granary they find in the hills near the river mouth. Perex goes into the village market every week to sell game animals they have hunted, and to meet with Hexena. He notices that groups of soldiers come to the markets and seem to be looking for “a bird man” and others who are wanted for ‘stealing’ a dozen slaves from the city.

FlyinghoundHexena explains that she is on the island looking for the lost treasure of a sorcerer called Binhasa Abdalharbo, who lived here 200 years ago. She wants to party to explore a nearby cave system in the hills and report to her if they find any evidence that a sorcerer has used the place.

The party trek out to the cave area that afternoon and in the evening they are attacked by a large and quite scary flying hound creature. they fight it off and decide to explore the caves immediately rather than wait until the morning. They figure they will be safer from flying hound attacks if they are under the ground…

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Into the lava tunnels

The party decide to enter the caves via a small hole they find on the area above the cliff face. They lower themselves down on a rope and start exploring the tunnels which have been formed by volcanic activity. There are several small creepy crawlies in the tunnels and a big one. The big bug throws a long sticky thread at the party but they manage to injure it and force it back into the crack it lives in. Then they discover a group of goblins living in a largish chamber and surprise them. They kill five and the rest scatter with no major injuries to our heroes. One goblin is taken prisoner and a large pottery jar full of silver coins is found. While everyone is arguing over how to deal with the gobbo prisoner, Inkfeather wanders off down a side tunnel back the way the party came and is viciously attacked by one of the large flying hounds. Perex drives it off but Inkfeather is severely hurt and bleeding badly. The party patch him up and decide to trek back to base that night. After an eight hour walk carrying Inkfeather on a stretcher made of tree branches, and more than 24 hours without sleep, they collapse back at base camp.

Hexena arrives with more supplies from the village and tells them what she knows about the flying hounds, mainly that they are supposedly immune to most weapons but vulnerable to silver. She also has a report that a stranger has been in the valley recently and had the blacksmith make him several silver tipped spear points. The rumour is that this man, called Wasik, left for a village in the North Gorge, a days walk up the river (and quite close to the caves where the party has just been).

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Lunch with Waseek

As Inkfeather is still recovering from his injuries, he stays at the basecamp for another few days while the others (Perex, Anazar, and Horatio) walk up the river to North Gorge Village. They have heard that a man called Waseek was last seen heading to the North Gorge. he had bought silver weapons and North Gorge is about an hours walk from the lava tunnels where Inkfeather was attacked by the flying hounds.

When they arrive at North Gorge, the villagers, who seem a bit , er, rural, say the party is welcome to sleep in a farm shed in the north field, outside the village.
As the party settle in, Perex who has been drinking from a jug of wine, goes outside in the evening to have a pee, and is attacked by a insect thing the size of a horse which bursts out of the ground under him. He leaps free of the things jaws and the others rush to help. The thing grabs hold of Hoaratio and starts pulling him underground. Anazar grabs Horatio’s feet and pulls, and Perex stabs a spear into the things head with both hands. The thing dies and Perex cuts its head off. Horatio is drifting in and out of consciousness so they return to the village displaying the head of the creature. The vilagers decide they like the party and invite them to join them at the outdoor bonfire and drinking session in the village. One of them is a priest of Amenzu who heals Horatio and Perex.

The party discover that the man called Waseek is staying in an old wind tower next to the south field, just outside the village. The villagers say they should go and say hello. So, the party wander up to the tower and Waseek invites them in for lunch. They sit on the roof drinking wine and eating roast goat and discuss their shared interested in adventures and the local caves, Waseek gives them some tips about fighting flying hounds, and seems interested in reports of magic in the caves. He goes to get more wine but reappears above the PCs in the top of the tower. He announces that they must surrender or he will kill them. He casts a coloured ray spell on Perex, and the PCs all leap off the roof onto the ground (fifteen feet below), some injuring themselves. They all try to get inside the building out of range of the spellcaster. Perex, weakened by the spell, opens the front door in order to retrieve his spears and backback, and his smashed to the ground by a large gnoll with an axe. Another gnoll appears from a back door and attacks Anazar. Meanwhile Horatio sneaks in the back door and manages to climb up the interior of the wind tower without being seen by Waseek of the gnoll archer above him. Horatio leaps up, Waseek sees him and instantly flings himself down the interior of the tower (40 ft drop) and Horatio throws the large gnoll out the tower window and crashing to its death far below. The two gnolls on the ground retreat into the building and Anazar throws a grappling hook up to Horatio in the tower so he can whiz down to the ground. The party, badly wounded, drag the bleeding and unconscious Perex across the field to the village. The villagers are outraged and heal Perex and organise a posse to surround the wind tower. They burst in and kill the two gnolls in the basement, but there is no sign of Waseek. Two slaves are found and they say Waseek went invisible and escaped as the villagers were surrounding the tower..

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Across the Mountains

After a day of rest and recovery, the party send Yuba (a young village man) to their base to bring Inkfeather to them. Waseeks slaves have told the party that they had travelled overland from a cove on the other side of the mountains, where Waseek and a priest of the worm cult are based, with two ships and a band of gnolls. The entire party plus Yuba and two cousins, and the two freed slaves of Waseek, march out to cross the mountains.

On the first day Perex is badly hurt by a large (8ft long) lizard which tries to eat him. At the end of the day the party had crossed the main range and started looking for a place to sleep. Anazar and Horatio got lost and ended up staying in a cave for night before finding the party the next day. Then they follow the river down the valley and enter a few local villages. They meet a priest of Amenzu who warns them that a bounty hunter named Fengu Sakeen is in the area, looking for a birdman. The party continue and reach the port village of Samak. They decide that Inkfeather and Yuba will stay on the outskirts. The rest of them go into the tavern and have food and drink. At dusk, Perex and Horatio return to the crossroads outside the village to meet Inky and Yuba, but they do not show up to the meeting.

Perex and Horatio decide to explore down the path to see if they can find Inky and Yuba. They follow the path and discover it leads to a cove with two ships in it (presumably this is the place the slaves mentioned). It is dark but they can see campfires on the beach and hear gnolls yelping and laughing, and a man screaming in pain . . .

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