Monday, 22 August 2016

The Oenophile Campaign

When I was writing my epic thread on rpg.net about the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual (which you can download here), a recurrent topic was the idea of an "egg thief" game. There are so many monsters in that book for whose eggs the authors went into great depth about the number, prices and uses, that it seemed you could easily create an entire campaign in which the PCs were freelance or privateer monster egg collectors. All you would need is a big map containing lots of monster lairs and other locations of interest, places to make inquiries, and lists of potential buyers in far flung locations (the Sultan of Mandalaram, who collects hippogriff eggs; the Shogun of distant Yamato, who will pay 5,000 gp for a hook horror egg, etc.). And hey presto, you are up and running; there would obviously be more to it than just hunting eggs, but it's quite a powerful "high concept" for a campaign.

What the "egg thief" conceit basically is, is an excuse for the PCs to explore a sandbox beyond just "getting cash through adventure" - which is almost always reason enough, but a little bit thin. Egg thieving is a close cousin of "getting cash through adventure", of course (it ultimately amounts to the same thing in a more specialised way), but you can easily think of other purposes for messing around in a sandbox.

Because I am a lover of whisky, beer, rum, wine, and indeed anything else which has alcohol in it, and because I fancy myself to have something of an educated palate for the finer things in life (red wine goes with fish, right?) I have sometimes thought about something which I call The Oenophile Campaign,

What this involves is a map of an exotic fantasy world with all of the potential wine-producing (or whisky-producing, or rum-producing, or anything-else-producing) regions highlighted. The PCs are either themselves collectors, or agents working on the behalf of rich collectors, and their job is to sail the oceans, going from place to place in search of different drinks. Naturally, all these places are incredibly dangerous and full of weird and wonderful monsters and whatnot, and getting to the vineyards - guarded by ankhegs or blue dragons or on the back of a zaratan - is very difficult. But rather than being explicitly about killing things and taking their stuff, the aim is really about derring-do in the name of collection (while still implicitly being about killing things and taking their stuff, of course).

Such a campaign would probably be more like a game of Traveller than D&D in its spirit (pun intended). I'm picturing a huge archipelago of islands, a bit like in those Ursula Le Guin books, each with different varieties of wine or other specialist liquors (Creme de Urine des Ettercaps, anyone?), with the PCs sailing between them. A sort of D&D version of Hairy Bikers, I suppose.

11 comments:

  1. This is a cracking concept for a campaign.

    I'm reminded of the time that I threw a side-quest to one of the characters in my game: he was the most-hipster of all the dwarven brewing brothers, and was given a tip as to the whereabouts of a particularly rare hop.

    Since subsequently setting up a supply chain (and ways around the enormous bronzeback apes that nest in the same place) and taking on the landlording of a pub, he's happily retired into powerful NPC territory now: the exact perfect place to set out further booze-quests!

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  2. Our first Fomalhaut campaign had an element like this, in the exotic drugs and high-concept cuisine the characters would get to sample during their travels. It was somewhere between a send-up of foodie snobbery and a convenient excuse to convert large amounts of money into experience points through sybaritic hedonism.

    The memories of "geometric cuisine" (a gastronomic movement concentrating not so much on taste but superficial form) and "Blue-22" (synthesised by the Monks of Mung for the ultimate narcotic experience, and served in round glass tubes) still stay with us years later.

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  3. I do this in real life. Genuine (true) cinnamon from Mexico, real Wasabi from Japan, Sturgeon spinal cord from Russia (was served in soup form in Titanic's first class dining room in 1912, was a cheap stock for seafood stock in USSR in 1950's, waste product in Russ these days, got me some, though). Genuine plant-based marshmallows that you have to roast over fire, and of course, the original Fanta beverage. Germany liked Coke. Nazis came. Coke was part of the American embargo. Goebbels tasked the captains of German industry to produce a truly Germanic beverage to replace the American Cola. Six tries were not to Nazi committee's liking. Number seven was a smash! What they did was put protein rich whey water from dairy production and let it ferment with pressings from the apple cider production. Put it in a sealed vat until early fermentation carbonizes it. It was a smash hit. All natural, sorta sweet, fizzy, and good for you! They called it Fantasy #7 or Fanta, for short. After the war, Fanta manufacturer sold Fanta #11 or so, Citron, to the Coca Cola company. They renamed the beverage Sprite, for the American market, and a few years down the road, early sixties to be precise, they got the same flavor from an industrial syrup that we know and love today. That process is too tricky, just mix pureed Fuji Apple with milk or light cream of your choice, and try it. The mixture creates an ambrosial new flavor not present in milk or the apples.

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    1. Interesting, I've noticed over the years some sodas mix with milk some do not (instantly curdels).

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  4. My current WFRP campaign is all about the players tracking down the source of a sinister vintage, actually.
    Trailing illicit goods through a network of smugglers and black markets is a good way to get your players moving around and sticking their noses into places they don't belong.

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    1. A sinister vintage which contains the essence of a chaos god?

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  5. I like it! It's always nice to get away from the "kill things and take their stuff" cycle for a bit, and making "collection" the goal - especially if what they're collecting is a bit fragile, like eggs or wine bottles - can encourage strategy, negotiation, stealth, and other non-combat solutions to problems.

    I'm musing about backing the theme up mechanically, too. Perhaps (if the party agrees), simply give XP for collectibles instead of for combat or even for gold. The more obstacles stand in the way of retreiving and delivering a given item, the more XP it's worth... if you're okay with a meta-play layer, just give the XP-rewards list to the players up front and encourage them to do in-world research to try and figure out why a given item would give high XP and lay their plans accordingly.

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    1. Yep, that's what I was thinking.

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  6. I love this. Funny as a fellow aficionado of fine liquors, I have never thought of this. Consider it stolen.

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  7. If you can get your hands on the Al Quadim supplement to the Monstrous Manual from 2nd. Ed. there's a very fanciful "tasked" genie (i.e. a genie shaped through ages of service to perform a specific task) whose task is a winemaker.

    Here he is no the Forgotten Realms wiki: http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Winemaker_genie

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