Spoiler alert: If you are a player of the upcoming campaign discussed here, please do not read any further. This will completely spoil the fun of the game for you. You have been warned.
After I’ve discussed the basic premises of the campaign with the potential players, I usually need to let this all mature and work itself out. I wouldn’t write about it, wouldn’t really try to structure anything just yet, but would rather write down ideas, bits and pieces of inspirations that would allow me later to have a clear idea of where I’d want to go with the campaign.
In this instance, I already had a clear idea of the setting. I knew the game would be run with the vicinity of Greyhawk and Yggsburgh in my own Oerth. I knew I wanted to use elements of DungeonADay and my own designs through the Black Abbey of St. Yessid.
Since Nerissa created an Oriental character, and since she was disappointed that I wouldn’t use Oriental Adventures straight out of the box, I knew I would have to bring a strong Oriental flavour into a very medieval version of the Flanaess. I knew I couldn’t just blend the two. The result would just have weakened both components of the campaign by fusing them into an unrecognizable whole, which was completely at odds with my original goals to experience a vintage gaming experience (1).
I needed a way to actually make both settings coexist into a single campaign. The fact that I had thought of using Oriental components into my layout of the Black Abbey through an old, evil mandarin raised from the dead in the depths of the earth after being smuggled there by pirates a long, long time ago provided me with the seed I needed.
Somehow, the actual overarching quest of the game would be linked with that original lost mandarin buried within the dungeons of the Black Abbey. Rather than a simple goal, however, I wanted the Oriental flavour to carry the campaign in the medieval setting of the Flanaess.
This is when I thought of the Jade Lantern, an artefact that would allow the user to be transported to an alternate plane of existence, some sort of Oriental pocket or demi-plane, to be more precise. There, the spirit of the mandarin would be trapped out of existence. He would seek whoever entered the demi-plane and try to use the visitors as vehicles through the material plane to make the conditions of his literal reincarnation happen.
How would it happen? Who was this lost mandarin I kept writing about?
I would read through game materials of Oriental Adventures, look through Asian myths and legends and would never quite find what I was looking for. This is then, when it seemed like I had to come up with a completely made-up character on my own, that I thought about Lo Pan.
I suppose many of you have seen John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China. The adventures of Jack Burton in Chinatown would ultimately pit him against an undying, incorporeal noble who would have been cursed by Qin Shi Huang, the First Sovereign Emperor of China, to live between worlds until he could marry a woman with green eyes.
Though I didn’t have to stick in any way with the movie’s plot, this provided me with enough material to decide to use Lo Pan straight away. He would make a great bad guy, certainly could be shaped into whatever I wanted him to be in a D&D Oerth context. Both Swords & Wizardry's Ruins & Ronins and the original Oriental Adventures would provide me with all the mechanical support I would need. I am covered in that regard.
I’m still not sure what exact components will be needed to allow Lo Pan to come back to the material plane, but whatever they are, the players will need to travel to all the locations I originally wanted to use in the campaign.
I intend to use the Jade Lantern, or rather to let it be used by the players, as a gateway to a neutral ground where they can get advice, side-quests and other experiences in an Oriental setting. This means, of course, that if this is indeed Lo Pan’s prison, and if the players meet him from the get-go, the mandarin will first try to look like an ally and manipulate the characters into helping him.
Maybe the discovery of each of the actual components necessary to Lo Pan’s reincarnation could trigger some other, yet similar access to other realms of existence and other side-quests associated to them. The main reason to spawn such side-effects and side-quests would be to not have the Jade Lantern itself constitute some sort of deus ex machina of the campaign, or a bottleneck of the adventures' design. I don't want the PCs to ever "have to" use the Jade Lantern but to instead feel compelled to do so by the very allure of the Lantern itself.
I’m still debating what these quest components necessary for Lo Pan's resurrection would be. As you can see, the actual brainstorming is still going on. If you have any idea, or input to share with me, by all means do so by commenting on this entry! Who knows what we could come up together?
In the meantime, I’ll keep writing down all the ideas that come to mind and shape them into an actual workable campaign frame.
(1) - Interestingly enough, working with Oriental components in a campaign attempting to reach back the roots of gaming actually is very much in tune with the evolution of the game, as far as Oriental Adventures are concerned, especially from a French perspective. One of the prime individuals who would make OA happen would be François Marcela Froideval, who would later create the French magazine Jeux & Stratégie which itself would later morph into Casus Belli, a landmark on the French gaming scene by all accounts.