Belluna Serenissima: Solo 4e Campaign Plans

by jachilli

Several years ago, I ran what I still regard as my best D&D campaign. Set in a fictitious version of Venice, it had a world that I really liked and a group of players who really challenged me as a gamemaster. The first session of the campaign, I remember having the entire plot worked out — which then ran completely off the rails as the PCs proceeded to get drunk and lead a good-time mob of revelers to the docks where they were supposed to (heh… supposed to) sneak or fight their way on board a ship with a sinister artifact in the cargo hold. Instead, the impromptu roving street festival proceeded to get the dockmaster loaded, and they obtained the information they needed anyway, in addition to taking a humbling swim in the canals.


I loved that game, and I want to revisit it. I don’t have the time to undertake another campaign right now, given the schedule my wife and I work and the other games I’m already playing. But I still want to get back into Belluna, that imaginary city for which I have so many fond memories. 

So I’m going to run it for myself. With a little prep work, I can put together some encounters using the D&D 4e ruleset and play out all sides of the conflicts into which I dump my hardscrabble hero. 

I have many things I want to do in this solo game.

Use the world: Worldbuilding is fine and good, but it’s just a tableau if you don’t do anything with it. Ask any number of tabletop gamers how many ideas for games they’ve had that they’ve never run, and you’re bound to see a pretty high number. I’m combining a loose storyline with several of the established principles of the world that I hope will result in a compelling narrative using the “stock first” sandbox playstyle. 

Fill in the blanks: After completing a session, I want to afford myself the luxury of turning the conflict’s events into written logs, imparting a sense of importance and consistency that unconnected encounters don’t have. It’s a writing exercise and a gaming exercise all in one. 

Have fun with the maps: One of the things I really enjoy about 4e is that it makes good use of movement. Shifting, pushing, pulling, and moving allies and enemies about makes sure the characters end up all over the map. This broad movement, combined with cool locales and interesting environmental effects makes for compelling combat that’s more than just two entities standing next to each other and pounding on each other until someone runs out of hit points. To that end, I’ve built a character who moves a lot as his MO, so I plan to see some spiffy combats as a result.

Use skill challenges: This is an aspect of 4e that I haven’t experimented enough with in actual play. I plan to use the skill challenges as a tool to connect some of the combat encounters, which should likewise provide more fodder for interesting session synopses. 

Let the dice fall where they may: When writing fiction, the writer determines all outcomes. In this exercise in adding supportive fiction to summaries of events that are influenced by chance, I’ll be writing in a different way. Someone else — fate — will have as much or more impact on the outcomes of the story than I would in the traditional writer’s role. This is, of course, obvious to anyone who’s ever played a game with randomizing elements, and it’s also the whole point of playing a game as opposed to telling a story, but it’s a refreshing change from my daily design work and the normal process of writing.

I’m not sure how frequently I’ll have the updates posted, but I do plan to log the whole thing. I’m using Obsidian Portal to host the guts of the thing, which you should consider for your own games if you aren’t already using it. Tell them I sent you. I’ll also be posting some of the design notes here, explaining why I chose the enemies or storylines I did, or why I made all the gods powerful fae instead of keeping them as deities and that sort of thing. The campaign journal is here. I hope you dig it!

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