One of the greatest things about the world of Warcraft is its rich and vibrant history, shaped not just by epic-scale battles but by individual soldiers in those battles. Though the Warcraft computer games focus primarily on the larger battles in its history, the Warcraft RPG gives you a chance to tell stories that focus on smaller groups yet groups that are no less important to the course of history. While war is always a possibility, heroism can occur far from the battlefield. You take on the roles of heroes whose actions will shape the future for the Horde, the Alliance, and the entire world.
Running a Warcraft Campaign
While all but torn apart by decades of brutal warfare, not everything on Azeroth revolves around combat. Still, “peace” is a word unfamiliar to many. The various nations of the world are constantly embroiled with political intrigue, betrayals and treachery. A Warcraft RPG campaign should have plenty of combat as well as complex machinations. It should convey a sense of turbulence and high drama, excitement and impending doom. Wars can, and have, begun from the slightest of slights in a king's throne room, after all!
The time following the war with the Burning Legion is a significant turning point in history. The world lies in ruins. The Alliance of Lordaeron was fragmented and Lordaeron itself has been conquered by the undead. The orcish Horde is free of its ancient bond to the demons of the Burning Legion but has lost all it once fought to conquer. The night elves sacrificed their immortality and work to heal their ravaged homeland.
Though so much has been lost, the future opens wide with possibilities.
Later sections in this chapter will address themes that you may want to touch on in specific campaigns. But first, when planning a Warcraft RPG campaign it helps to consider your campaign goals as a whole.
Every adventure in your campaign is the next chapter of a grand tale in the epic Warcraft tradition. You don’t need to know every chapter before you begin telling the story usually, it’s less interesting if you do, and doesn’t allow you to respond as well to unforeseen actions taken by the heroes in your campaign. Nor does every adventure need to be a crucial moment in the larger plot. Sometimes an adventure that can be completed in a single gaming session can give heroes a sense of accomplishment that can allow them to refocus on larger goals.
But deciding upon an overarching plot for your campaign can give it a structure that makes it consistent and memorable. It may also help inspire ideas for individual adventures while making certain that the overall course of the campaign stays on track. Most importantly, it helps you to place your heroes at the center of the action.
Following are some general campaign types that you can tailor to create your campaign:
Exploration: The Alliance and the Horde have established colonies on a new continent that they know little about. The orcs have allied themselves with the nomadic tauren, and their journeys with the tauren could take them far from their new homes in Durotar. The Alliance has established a central fortress of Theramore, which serves as a base for Ironforge dwarf expeditions looking for the secrets of their heritage. After the destruction wrought by the Burning Legion, the night elves must explore their own homelands to find what dangers might yet remain.
An exploration campaign forever points heroes toward the frontier, taking the heroes on a never-ending tour of the unknown. They may have a specific goal in mind, or they may journey into lands that have never been traveled. For Game Masters, exploration campaigns offer the exciting opportunity to fill the blanks on the map of Kalimdor with excitement and adventure.
Possible frameworks for an exploration campaign include: a search for titan ruins and artifacts; mapping a new trade route between distant cities; the journey home for a group of escaped prisoners.
Diplomacy: A tenuous peace exists between the races and factions on Kalimdor. Alliance, Horde and night elves banded together to defeat the Burning Legion, and have since spread to different parts of Kalimdor. The scars from generations of warfare aren't quick to heal, though, and it remains to be seen if orcs and humans can avoid a new war. Night elves have even older conflicts with high elves over the nature of magic philosophical differences that almost destroyed the world in the era that led to the War of the Ancients. Even the unaligned races such as furbolgs and murlocs live lives defined by the conflict between them.
What Kalimdor needs are peacemakers.
Diplomacy campaigns can take heroes across the land on missions to negotiate new treaties or enforce standing ones. With opportunities for heroes to succeed with a quick mind and a clever tongue as readily as fast reflexes and a sharp sword, diplomacy campaigns give heroes of all sorts a chance to shine. High intrigue, encounters with some of the most powerful people in the land, and a constant battle with the threat of war are the hallmarks of a diplomacy campaign.
Some ideas for a diplomacy campaign might include: arranging for night elves to accept high elven wizards who want to study the ways of “uncorrupted magic;” keeping the peace between neighboring human and orc villages; heroes of any faction trying to get an unaffiliated group (like centaur or quilboar) to join them.
In contrast, a campaign of a darker bent could focus on a group of heroes whose job is to spark a war rather than prevent one.
Settlement: Outside of a few very limited places on Kalimdor, nearly everything lies in the wilderness or in ruins. The night elves work to rebuild a homeland pillaged by the Alliance, the Horde and the Burning Legion. While the Horde travels with the tauren, the orcs will likely begin building villages along the paths of their wanderings as they spread out from Durotar. The Alliance has claimed Theramore, but it won't be long before the island isn't large enough for their growing population.
Kalimdor remains a wild and dangerous land, and a settlement campaign can be built around heroes carving out areas of safety and civilization. Elements of exploration might be included while they locate the proper area, along with elements of diplomacy if there are already local inhabitants. Finally, even after a settlement is complete, the battle remains to maintain it against everything from bandits and raiders to natural disasters. Settlement campaigns are perfect for heroes who like to play the role of jack-of-all-trades and find a sense of accomplishment in everything from battle to working with their hands.
Any number of areas on Kalimdor would be perfect settings for a settlement campaign. Among them are the Alliance and the Horde's attempts to settle Dustwallow Marsh and the incredibly difficult task the night elves face in reclaiming Felwood. Goblin trade princes might hire a group of heroes to build new trading posts in the wilderness a job that could take them anywhere on Kalimdor.
The Quest: Warcraft is full of quests, from the journey Malfurion Stormrage took to find the demigod Cenarius during the War of the Ancients, to Prince Arthas’ ill-fated search for Frostmourne. Kalimdor is a new land full of ancient mysteries and magic. The Ironforge dwarves are on a quest for titan ruins and artifacts, and the night elves search for anything that will help to cleanse their land from the taint of the Burning Legion. It’s a land with legends and artifacts that can be investigated by heroes of any affiliation for any purpose.
On a quest, the heroes are dedicated to a difficult and far-off goal. Their goal can be a person, a place, or an object, but reaching it cannot be easy. The obstacles that lie on their path should seem insurmountable and quite possibly fatal. But the reward should be worthy of the risk: a good quest will empower the heroes at its conclusion, and a great quest may allow them to save the world. Quest campaigns are good for GMs who enjoy challenging their heroes, and heroes who are determined to overcome those challenges.
Possible goals for quests on Kalimdor might be a legendary titan city that hasn’t fallen into ruins; an artifact that could heal those infected with the Scourge; a long-lost druid of the wild wandering far from the lands of the night elves.
Dungeoneering: Caves and ancient ruins dot Kalimdor’s landscape, from the Barrow Deeps beneath Mount Hyjal to the titan excavations at Bael Modan. The collapse of the Well of Eternity shattered the ancient cities of the Kaldorei, and the locations of their remains have been lost to history. Their secrets remain to be discovered by intrepid explorers and adventurers.
The discovery and exploration of ruins and dungeons is a classic staple of fantasy campaigns. Campaigns that string together a number of dungeoneering adventures might be part of a quest, or heroes may be seeking out ancient treasures to gather wealth for themselves or their faction. But when designing adventures for a dungeoneering campaign set in Warcraft, remember the world’s rich history. Plundering a tomb will almost certainly have consequences, and when an underground complex has been sealed away it is almost certainly for a reason.
In a dungeoneering campaign, the Alliance might send a group of heroes to accompany a dwarven explorer entering titan ruins. The night elves will need heroes willing to return to the Barrow Dens and make certain that demons from the Burning Legion aren’t hiding in the caves. A dungeoneering campaign might even take heroes to a number of ancient burial grounds on a quest for the tomb of a Kaldorei hero.
Espionage: The Alliance and the Horde may have a truce, but that doesn’t mean that they trust one another. Both train and employ spies to assure a constant stream of information on the opposition. The night elves remain concerned about the “demon-corrupted” magic their high elf cousins employ, and pay for information on their brethren as well as all the other newcomers to Kalimdor.
An espionage campaign can throw heroes far behind enemy lines with little support and secrets their true identities, their true masters, and their true mission that they must protect at all costs. At the same time they often work to discover highly protected information covertly. GMs who want to keep the level of tension high in their adventures and heroes who enjoy the thrill of working undercover will enjoy espionage campaigns.
A hotbed of espionage on Kalimdor is the newly founded goblin city of Ratchet, one of the few places where members of all races and factions interact freely. But espionage campaigns could involve a group of orcs sent by the Horde to spy on Theramore, Alliance scouts sent to report on the tauren homelands in Mulgore, or heroes sent by a group of high elves to watch over the activities of the druids.
Survival: When the Well of Eternity collapsed, so did elven civilization. It took the night elves and high elves alike centuries to rebuild their homes and culture on two continents… just in time for the Burning Legion to return and destroy it all anew. In the aftermath of war and cataclysm or even when simply stranded in a foreign shore, as the Alliance and the Horde were upon their arrival in Kalimdor survival takes precedence over everything else.
A survival campaign has much in common with an exploration campaign, as heroes find themselves in faraway and possibly hostile territory. But in a survival situation, heroes are cut off from any support and find themselves forced to be entirely self-reliant. GMs define the situation in a survival campaign, and the heroes must decide how they proceed. Will they attempt to build their own village and await rescue? Will they venture to travel home? How will they get the weapons, food, and shelter they need to survive? Heroes in a survival campaign must be willing to roleplay their answers to these questions, though GMs should be certain that continued survival provides the appropriate sense of accomplishment.
A shipwreck might launch a survival campaign with a group of Alliance heroes stranded in Darkshore, far from Theramore. Orcs of the Horde might hire the services of a goblin zeppelin to scout southern Kalimdor, only to have it crash in the Tanaris Desert. Members of either faction might be exploring in the Stonetalon Mountains and find themselves trapped in the passes by a furious windstorm or sudden avalanche.
Trade: As culture spreads across Kalimdor, merchants and caravans lead the way. Bringing food, cloth, wine, and other trade goods to markets from the smallest village to the grand bazaar of Ratchet, merchants can only connect distant places by traveling the distance between them. On Kalimdor, the goblin trade princes maintain a network of trading posts that gives them dominance over trade even if some of their merchants are driven crazy from the isolation while they wait for customers. But as the Alliance and the Horde become better established on Kalimdor, their merchants and traders will travel the routes pioneered by the goblins.
In a trade campaign, heroes can play the part of merchants leading a caravan, or of guards hired to protect a caravan while it travels across Kalimdor. In some ways, a trade campaign is much like an exploration campaign with higher stakesa merchant caravan carries goods that make them an almost irresistible target to bandits and thieves.
A trade campaign could be built around the efforts of the Alliance to establish trade with their allies among the night elves in Moonglade. As trade is a new concept to a race more accustomed to pillaging whatever is needed, a Horde campaign where the orcs attempt to establish trade with anyone whatsoever could be quite an adventure. Of course, as even goblin caravans fall under attack, the goblin trade princes are always looking for heroes who would defend their cargos.
Mercenaries: Though most of Kalimdor has sworn allegiance to one faction or another, there are those who are out only for themselves. Some were once part of the Horde, while others belonged to the Alliance. Sometimes they are gathered together into armies, other times they are small groups hired for unique and particularly dangerous tasks. They work for anyone with the gold to meet their price. They are mercenaries.
A mercenary campaign means that heroes leave behind all the benefits of being part of a faction, in exchange for a chance to seek their own destiny. Of course, their choice of destiny is sometimes determined by their search for someone to pay them for their skills. But those who choose the life of a mercenary do so for the constant excitement of battle and journeys to strange new places. As their employers are the sort who hire others to do difficult jobs and in turn, their companions are the type whose loyalty can be purchased trust (or the lack thereof) is often a theme in mercenary campaigns. If your heroes enjoy being buffeted by the winds of fate and are willing to trade what they believe in for a sack of gold, a mercenary campaign allows GMs to use potential employers to pull heroes into adventure.
A mercenary campaign might have heroes hired by an Alliance soldier who needs help to rescue his kidnapped family, or it may have mercenaries who are paid to journey into Felwood to recover night elven artifacts. Though the call for mercenaries to join armies has fallen silent in the current peace on Kalimdor, mercenaries who gather in Ratchet have no trouble finding work ranging from protecting wealthy nobles to joining bandit gangs.
War: The battles among the Kalodrei that brought the world to the edge of ruin, the wars between the Alliance and the Horde, the invasion of the Burning Legion the largest milestones in Warcraft history are marked by wars. The Warcraft computer games tell the story of many of these battles. Though the time of the Warcraft RPG is an era where a semblance of peace has emerged for the first time in generations, war may once again wash over the land in a bloody tide.
A war campaign can place heroes anywhere from the commander's tent to the front lines of a massive battlefield. While they can provide for more combat than any other sort of campaign, GMs should think carefully before launching a war campaign in the Warcraft world. As has been shown in the computer games, wars have the tendency to reshape the world. Without considering the political and even geographical repercussions of a war, a war campaign can simply become a series of meaningless battles rather than an epic cast in the Warcraft form.
On Kalimdor, the grudges from two generations of warfare kindle the possibility that war might once again ignite between the Alliance and the Horde. The night elves' mistrust of high elven magic could become a campaign that would pit one race against the other. Smaller, more regional war campaigns might explore the battles between tauren and centaur, or the struggle of the goblins to claim the oilfields of the Thousand Needles.
Horror: Kalimdor holds the promise of a bright future for the Alliance and the Horde, but that future is thrown in sharp relief by the darkness that lurks the land. Undead, satyrs and corrupted ancients wander the blasted forests of Felwood. Demons and their mortal minions hide in shadows, plotting revenge against the world that humbled them. Deep inside the earth, creatures that have hidden from sunlight for thousands of years wait for adventurers foolish enough to come to them.
A horror campaign takes heroes to the darkest corners of Kalimdor and pits them against the most fearsome of monsters. Survival is a possibility in a horror campaign, but never a certainty. Heroes can be stalwart champions of good sent to combat the darkness, or those of more dubious morality who run the risk of being consumed by the very evil they hope to destroy. Horror campaigns require GMs who can balance their campaign in the narrow gray shadows between hope and despair, and heroes who are as eager to confront their own mortality as they are monsters and demons.
Though Felwood is the obvious setting for a horror campaign, others might involve monster hunting in the murky depths of Dustwallow Marsh, rooting out any members of the Cult of the Damned that might be hiding among the Alliance or the Horde, or heroes captured by demons plotting to once again strike out at Kalimdor.
Combining Campaign Types
Once you've established the shape of your campaign, you likewise establish the heroes’ expectations. This can lead to a campaign lacking in surprise and wonder. Incorporating elements of another campaign type can help to reinvigorate a flagging campaign, or at the very least provide a refreshing change of pace.
A diplomacy campaign might involve some espionage adventures, or the heroes of a trade campaign might suddenly be stranded far from home and find themselves in a survival adventure. In the midst of a war, a group of soldiers might be sent on a quest to recover a crucial magical artifact, or explorers might stumble into a land of horror adventure.
Sometimes these changes are only for a few adventures, after which your campaign can rejoin its planned course. But if you find that you and your heroes are enjoying the new flavor of the campaign, you may choose to change the shape of your campaign permanently. The Warcraft RPG is a game first and foremost, and you should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that everyone continues to have fun.