July’s RPG Blog Carnival is hosted by In My Campaign, and we’re talking about the movers and shakers in your campaign world. Maybe they’re good people, maybe they’re villains, but they are the Game Master Characters who kick ass, take names, and get more done before breakfast than other GMCs get done all day.
I’m currently running two D&D campaigns set in the same homebrew campaign world. And while one campaign didn’t feature any real movers and shakers, the other definitely had one. The party in that campaign started out as prisoners of The Ghast Queen, ruler of the city of Graveport. For one reason or another each character had fallen afoul of Her Majesty’s “justice”, forced to toil until their sentence was complete. But when they were selected to take part in a grisly contest of survival, they fought through to victory and became Knights Esquire to Her Majesty, winning their freedom and a few additional benefits, should they ever choose to claim them.
Of course, the Ghast Queen wasn’t always ghastly. Or was she? History is a bit fuzzy, but in any surviving records Queen Euphasia is a caring, benevolent monarch who, in the aftermath of the Cataclysm which tore apart the capital (and led to its current name of Graveport) made a heroic decision. Yes, it would allow her to rule indefinitely, but in those dark times didn’t her surviving subjects deserve the peace of mind which comes from stable rule? Was depending on necromancy such a high price to pay if it meant she could always care for her vassals? Queen Euphasia certainly didn’t think so, and certainly few care to argue with her.
Almost five hundred years later the benefits of her rule are plain to see. The Grand Reclamation, her ambitious rebuilding project to restore Graveport to its former glory, proceeds apace. She has provided amply for the living subjects of the city, and her bold program of (mostly) voluntary undeath has meant a virtually unending labour force upon which to draw. Other nations seem to have overcome their squeamishness at dealing with zombie stevedores at dockside, and trade is returning to the city as well. Order is maintained by the Royal Guard (which sniffs out treason) and the City Guard (which deal with everything else). Graveport is a power once again on the rise! Three cheers for Queen Euphasia!
The Ghast Queen is probably one of my favourite GMCs in my campaign so far, and although there is certainly a sinister bent to her at first glance, I haven’t decided which way I’m going to go with her. On the one hand, I could certainly lean heavily into the “Everything I do is for your own good! Love me!” villain, and really chew the scenery with her. And I have both a paladin and a cleric in the party, so this would certainly make for a very satisfying high-tier campaign climax for them. At the same time, though, I enjoy giving her more complicated and sincere motivations. Maybe she did embrace undeath out of a tragic desire to watch over her subjects for as long as possible, with the obvious result being the current state of things. Maybe she retains enough self-awareness to know that she has become a monster, but surely she is still better than the anarchy and chaos which would surely follow her demise?
Either way I have been careful not to define more about this character than I need in order to keep the story ticking along. And this actually fits within the story of the campaign, as the history surrounding Queen Euphasia has been heavily redacted and edited. This allows me to spread rumours in the campaign with gleeful abandon; some true, some just trueish, and some outright lies. Which is which is which is, of course, the crux of the matter. But I enjoy keeping the flexibility at this early stage of the campaign to keep The Ghast Queen as an enigmatic figure, for all that she is obviously dangerous on many levels.
I’ve also enjoyed tying the characters to her, even tangentially. As I mentioned earlier, the reward for surviving the Queen’s contest was to made Knights Esquire, essentially an honourary title that allows them access to the very lowest echelons of the Court. Even though most of the party has chosen not to avail themselves of all the benefits of this position, it still affects how the people of Graveport relate to them. Like all police states, there is a certain background radiation of paranoia, and can anyone with links to The Ghast Queen, however tenuous, be trusted? Could their connection be of some use? Perhaps befriending the party would bring favour from Court, or perhaps it would be best to remove their threat now before they grow in influence. It’s a delicious position for a DM to be in, and I have been largely letting the players show me how much they want to go down that path for now.
So that’s an example of a pretty big mover and shaker in one of my campaigns. Next article I’ll talk about some general ideas about how to choose your campaign M&S, and whether you want them obvious or working behind the scenes.