Running a Wulfwald Campaign
This is ‘a way’ to run a Wulfwald campaign, not ‘the way’ to run Wulfwald campaigns. I imagine most of you won’t need this, but for those that have looked Wulfwald over and are thinking . . . ‘well this all looks very interesting, but what do I do with it?’ . . . here are a few ideas that might be useful.
1: Setting the Tone
Wulfwald is kind of a Points of Light in reverse. In a Points of Light type of setting you have small enclaves of order and civilisation surrounded by the encroaching darkness of the chaotic wilderness. In Wulfwald it’s the opposite; most of the land has been tamed and settled, and there are only a few wild places, points of darkness if you like, where the last vestiges of chaos fight for survival. It’s only in these untamed wild places of marsh, mountain, and moor of hill, heath, and wood that dwindling numbers of monsters dwell. Little more than a hazard to the unwary traveller, and soon they will be no more than a nightmarish memory.
It’s a low magic, and low fantasy setting, and it’s certainly not an epic or high fantasy setting; but there’s still a level of granularity in feel and the tone of a Wulfwald campaign that a referee can play with.
At the lowest end of the scale you can remove the Wizard classes, dispose of any bestiary entry that isn’t for humans, and alter or remove any of the human entries that have access to magic (like the wildling witches and King Cyrnric’s enchanted arms and armour). You could also remove the Dweorgas and Ælfcynn or stick to the default position, outlined in the race write up, that they’re all human. The Dweorgas are just a clannish race of insular mountain men with great skill in metal craft, and the Ælfcynn are savage hunter gathers. This would give you an almost alt-history campaign, but with all the machinations and power plays of the noble Thegns and their ilk there’s still a lot of scope for adventure, and misadventure.
Or you could turn the dial all the way around to eleven and give the elves pointy ears, the dwarves Scottish accents, a TV show monster of the week approach to the bestiary, and every petty King has a place in his mead hall for a pet wizard or two.
My personal preference, and the kind of default setting that I’ve written Wulfwald to run in, is to have the magic elements, but to keep them as mysterious as possible, the monsters are out there, but you usually have to be wandering in the wild places to run afoul of them. When the monsters do wander into the realms of men it usually spells their doom. For the players an encounter with a monster or magic is rare rather than the norm, and PC’s are normally the only power in the game world with access to magic. Again, an encounter with a foe that can use magic should be rare rather than the norm.
In the Grimdark Grittygrey, Greygritty past . . .
Another aspect of tone in Wulfwald is down to how you handle the moral aspects of a bunch of outlaw scum who are basically a cross between a spec ops unit, a mob crew, and a terrorist cell in the employ of overly ambitious ruthless Dark Age warlords. I haven’t written Wulfwald to run ‘evil’ campaigns, and it’s certainly not meant to be a world bereft of hope, humour, or humanity. I do find a certain amount of moral greyness an interesting change from the outright black and white of Good vs. Evil that has been a mainstay of fantasy literature and mainstream drama for a long time. But I don’t see Wulfwald as an invitation to play ‘let’s burn the peasants’ (again).
A lot of the literature and media I’ve been enjoying recently has gone for a more nuanced, and dare I say it ‘gritty’ approach. Authors such as George RR Martin, Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Richard K Morgan, and Patrick Rothuss, and outside of fantasy literature Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon and Arthurian novels, as well as TV shows such as The Wire, Deadwood, The Sopranos, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, and Boardwalk Empire. Undoubtedly this has had an influence on Wulfwald and the type of games I run and play. Although, I’d like to be clear that I think that Adventure Games are their own unique ‘thing’, and that influence is what I’m interested in not genre emulation.
2: Getting Started
In Wulfwald there isn’t much choice but to start small. The map and its eight petty kingdoms are the same size as Anglo-Saxon England and its kingdoms and shires. It is relatively small by the standards of many fantasy settings, but big enough for a good campaign’s worth of adventure. So the first thing to do when setting up for a new campaign is to take a quick look at the map and kingdom write-ups and decide which kingdom your game will start in.
There are two basic ways to do this and it will depend on the group, but the Referee can pick which kingdom best suits the type of game he wants to run, or the group can decide between them. The various kingdoms have been written to favour certain types of game. For example: Eastlund Seaxe is next to the great forest and has a lot of scope for supernatural elements, Juteland, Geatland, and the Wulflingas are all about kicking ass, Middle Anglund is all about courtly intrigue, and Suthlund Seaxe has more scope for a heroic freedom fighter feel, etc.
Whoever decides I think it works best if the choice is made, or presented, during a character creation session. I prefer group character creation. Especially for games like Wulfwald where you want to tie all the characters together. What are their individual backstories? How did they end up in the the Wolfpack? What are their relationships within the group, and outside it? How did they become outlaws? These are all things that can be brainstormed and worked on at the table in an initial character creation session. It’s good to have each player give you an NPC or two from their character’s life before becoming an outlaw that can be a handy contact or an inconvenient complication.
My preference is to have humans outnumber the Elfs, and Dwarfs, and Warriors, and Skirmishers outnumber the Wizards, but of course that’s up to you and your group. I also advise having a back up character for each player, especially if it’s a small group, not only can you pick and choose characters to best suit the requirements of different adventures. Plus it’s always handy if there are casualties.
I also like to start the game with the players already in service to a Thegn, and already knowing each other, that way we can get straight to it.
In my first two games I let the players choose which kingdom we started in (Eastlund Seaxe, and Middle Seaxe) so for this example I’ll choose a kingdom and present it to the group.
3: The NPCs
This campaign will be set in Suthland Seaxe a kingdom on the edge of the map. It has two neighbours Westlund Seaxe and Wolfingas. The Wolfingas are busy fighting a six-way civil war so their power players are unlikely to figure too much. Westlund on the other hand, and its ambitious King Cynric, looms large. Cynric has already removed the rightful King of Southlund and replaced him with his puppet King Offa. Meanwhile the son of the deposed King, the young and noble Wybert, is skulking in the marshes trying to raise a rebel force.
Southland is a small kingdom so let’s say there are only two Scíra (Shires) that means there will be two Gesith’s running them for King Eomer. They’ll be relatives so his uncle Dunric can oversee Neahfenn (the shire near the fenland), and his cousin Eohwold will oversee Blæcmór (Blackmoor).
Each shire has three Hundreds and that’s gives us six Ealdorman, 60 Thegns, and 120 Frydmen. King Eomer is a new king, and relatively powerless king so only has twelve Hearthweru, and has been ‘encouraged’ by King Cynric not to waste his silver on sellswords so only has three of those (two of which are also taking coin from Cynric). As well as the members of his court Eomer has a wife, a very fierce mother, and two daughters of marrying age, (though one of them prefers to think of herself as ‘of fighting age’ and wants to take a place in the shieldwall). He also has one son who he is very protective of, much to the disgust of the headstrong princeling. There are also four or so more male relatives of fighting age; Eaomer’s Gesith’s at court. There’s also likely to be twenty or so Sperebrógan: noble youths who fight as skirmishers. And of course there’s bound to be a friendly advisor, and his servants, sent by Cynric to help the fledgling king. In other words a spy and some muscle that Eomer knows about, but dare not move against.
Then there’s other NPCs in the Kingdom the rightful king Wybert and his court in exile, a couple of outlaw bands also skulking in the marshes, a tribe of marsh dwelling Wildlings, there is even a very small tribe of Nihtgenga somewhere in the marsh.
Including all the small folk, the peasants, farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, slaves, and the Reeve and his men; that’s a lot of NPCs we can draw on for missions, complications, and conflict. And that’s just in the kingdom where we’re setting the campaign. Of course we won’t need even a tenth of those at the start of the campaign.
4: The Campaign Structure
The three levels of the player characters - Wolfshead, Hero, Wolflord – and the three levels of political power in Wulfwald – Thegn, Ealdorman, and Cynn – provide a nice natural structure to hang a Wulfwald Campaign on.
The player characters begin the campaign in the service of a Thegn who controls ten hides of land. If they’re successful and in service to an ambitious Thegn they’ll help him rise in power and become an Ealdorman who controls a Hundred. If their Thegn isn’t the ambitious, or perhaps too ambitious, an already established Ealdorman will become their lord, and they’ll either see him to a throne, or the Ealdorman’s lord will take an interest in them and they’ll find themselves in service to a King.
So a basic campaign structure would see them risk their lives to help an ambitious Thegn rise in power from Thegn, to Ealdorman, to King, or they will be the pawns of a succession of increasingly powerful patrons.
Looking at the three levels in a little more detail at the very beginning, when the party start out in service to a Thegn, they are still very much outlaws at this stage. They’ll still live outside of the lawful community, holed up in some damp cave, or forest camp. Unable to move freely or come and go as they please they’ll travel mostly at night so as to avoid confrontation with the peasantry, and Fyrdmen of other Thegns, and they’ll rely on their Thegn for all their food.
There is a good chance at this very early stage that their Thegn won’t even acknowledge his involvement with them so should they run into anyone they’ll be treated like any other outlaw. It’s also likely in the beginning that one of their Thegn’s men is their contact; delivering their food, and his lord’s orders.
As they progress getting a few successful missions under their belt, and helping their Thegn achieve his goals, things will gradually improve. Perhaps a secluded farmstead will be found for them, their food will improve, they might have more contact with the Thegn himself and more importantly, he may allow them to use his name as a form of protection. Though the latter usually as a last resort.
Finally they might even have the beginnings of acceptance from the local NPCs, peasants and freemen that don’t run at the sight of them, Fyrdmen that merely insult and threaten to kill them rather than actually trying to kill them.
By the time they’re in the service of an Ealdorman they’ll most likely be known, but still feared, hated, or mistrusted by most of the peasants and freemen of their locale. They’ll likely have been given a farmstead nearer to one of the local lords Meadhalls, be treated (at least to their faces) with something almost approaching respect by the Fyrdmen, but with resentment from the Ealdorman’s Thegns.
As they progress in the service of an Ealdorman they’ll eventually become more and more, albeit begrudgingly, accepted by the warriors of the Warband, and even into his Meadhall. Especially if they keep helping the Ealdormen and his Thegns claim victories over their enemies. By the time they’re in the service of a king they should have as many Thegns and Ealdormen they can count as allies and friends as they do Thegns and Ealdormen they can consider well earned enemies. The peasants and ceorls on the other hand will probably never be able to see through that outlaw taint no matter how many invitations to sup in the King’s Meadhall the Wolfpack receives.
5: Beyond Kings and What if it all Goes Wrong?
By the time they’re in the service of a King the party, and NPCSs are probably likely to be involved in a major conflict with a powerful enemy, most likely another king. The resolution of this conflict, whether ending in victory or defeat, is a natural place to end your Wulfwald campaign, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t carry on. After serving kings there’s no reason why the party shouldn’t try and make one of the party a king. There are the wilding tribes on the outskirts of Wulfwald and no king of Wulfwald will lose much sleep if they usurp one of their kingdoms. They’ll more likely face more opposition if they try and usurp one of the established Wulfwald kingdoms, but that should just make the attempt more fun. Really like all campaigns you should just keep running it till the groups ready to move on and play something else.
Of course players being players, and the way outlaw characters are treated in Wulfwald, there’s a very good chance that the party are going to want to kill the Thegn, Ealdorman, or King they’re supposed to serve. This shouldn’t be campaign breaking. If they’re smart they’ll set up an agreement of service with one of their current lords enemies before they ‘end their service’ with him. If they’re slightly more trigger happy than that then they’ll have to revert to being outlaws and go on the run. If they’ve killed their lord they’ll most likely have to flee to another kingdom and start again because the Fryd will be raised and they will be hunted. Of course they don’t have to; they have the freedom to choose to go completely outlaw. As long as the players understand that they only get XP for completing missions for a lord, thus won't advance while they remain outlaws, if they’re cool with that and enjoying it then it’s all good. Ideally they’ll flee to another kingdom and find another lord to serve.
6: NPC Attitudes, or why Farmer Osbert Hates you all!
This is a tricky one and it’s a fine line that a Wulfwald referee has to walk, but basically all the NPCs hate the player characters. Hate them. Society in Wulfwald, like the Anglo-Saxon culture it is based on, is very rigid, and communities tend to be insular. Everybody knows their place, and everybody knows everybody else’s place in the scheme of things. Unless they go to war, people tend to live and die in the same small communities, perhaps never leaving the few hides that make up their village or farmstead. As such any stranger is treated with suspicion, and in a culture where raids and blood feuds are common any group of strangers are treated with fear and alarm. A Coerl with a craft might leave his home and travel to another shire, or kingdom seeking work, but he’ll have his craft, his skills to prove he’s who he says he is, and more importantly if he’s an honest man he’ll be able to tell his new lord and neighbours who his people are back home, and which lord he served, and why he wanted to move. The same with a warrior whether he’s a Fyrdman looking to improve his lot, or a Thegn unhappy with his Ealdorman, they’ll have people back home who can vouch for them, families, connections that can in time be verified.
Outlaws don’t have those ties and connections. That’s what being outlawed means you lose all of that, everyone you knew has turned against you. You might retain one or two friends and family that haven’t turned their backs on you, but if they can help you they’ll have to do so secretly. No one can risk being seen to help a Wolfshead.
This is why Farmer Osbert and every other NPC knows the player characters are wrong ‘uns! You’re not from round here, nobody knows you, nobody can vouch for you, and the fact that you look like you’ve been living in a hedge row doesn’t help. This is also why Farmer Osbert and every other NPC hates the player characters. People fear and hate what they don’t know or worse what they might become themselves if things go wrong. There’s also an element of scapegoating. Farmer Osbert might hate his neighbour Farmer Oswine, but other than grumbling he can’t really do much about it for fear of angering his local Thegn, but everyone can happily express their hatred of Wolfsheads.
Playing this out at the table might take a little subtlety, and a slight paradigm shift. In my experience as a Referee players don’t tend to like NPC Kings getting snippy with their characters; let alone inbred morons like Farmer Osbert and his ilk. So there’s a good chance that a few local peasants will get accidentally dead. The players need to get into the spirit of things and accept, even revel in the fact, that everybody hates them and treats them like dirt, but the Referee has to be careful in how he plays this out, and avoid laying it on too thick, all the time, or crossing the line by having every NPCs always hating on Bobby’s character cos Bobby didn’t chip in for Pizza that one time, and borrowed your 1st Ed DMG when you were in High school and still hasn’t brought it back. Just basic don’t be a crappy GM 101 really.
Anyway, here is a quick guide to who hates who and why.
Peasants, and to a lesser extent Ceorls, hate everyone because they fear everyone (even their neighbours) but are far too servile, cowed, or fearful of a beating to do much about it. Other than be generally surly and resentful that is. If they don’t know the player characters their most likely response to seeing them is to flee, to run to their local Thegn and raise the alarm. That is unless they outnumber the PCs by about 4-1 then it’s flaming brands and pitchfork time. It’s hardly a surprise that peasants hate outlaws, after all they are the outlaws main prey.
If they know the party serve their Thegn then the reception will still be noticeably hostile, with many of them happy to let the PC’s know what they think about outlaws, and how their lord shouldn’t be working with the likes of ‘em. Not that they’d say that in his presence. In many ways the peasants are the most conservative and least accepting people in Wulfwald’s society. No matter how accepted the PCs are by warriors, nobles, and kings the ‘folk’ will never be able to get past their Wolfshead status and truly accept them.
Thegns and Ealdormen will hate the PC’s for different reasons, but there’s more chance they can be won round. They despise anyone who isn’t of the warrior caste anyway. From their point of view the Wolfsheads are little more than vermin to be hunted and hung, rooted out wherever they’re being a ‘pest’, a problem for the Fyrd and the Reeve, not even worthy of their noble swords. Wolfsheads in the service of a Thegn or Ealdorman can expect to be treated as little more than a tool to be used and abused. They’ll also be resented by their lord’s peers, the warriors of the warband, and nobles, who see their covert way of fighting as cowardly and ignoble.
However, once the PC’s have proved themselves; stood in the Shieldwall, saved the lives of some of them and perhaps snatched victory where defeat seemed certain then some of the warriors will warm to them, especially those PCs that were from Wulfwald’s warrior society before they were outlaws. Of course, in a society such as Wulfwald’s success gains you as many jealous enemies as it does helpful allies.
Looking at it class by class and race by race the Warrior and Skirmisher classes will always be more readily accepted than the Wizards. A lord might understand how much he can gain from being able to call on the power of sorcerers, but he’ll never fully trust that power, warriors in general will hate the wizard PC’s more than any others, because they know magic has the power to unman them, to make them cowards. As for the peasants they always fear the wizard PCs far too much to have any useful interactions, even if those interactions have been ordered by their King. Of all the PC classes the Wizards will be the ones most unwelcome in any home, hall, or community and the one that NPC’s are more likely to try and kill even if they know that the wizard is under the protection of their lord. The wizard classes in Wulfwald have a lot of power right from the start, and can cause a lot of mayhem, but should have the toughest time in terms of roleplaying.
In general the PC’s that are Wildlings and men of Wulfwald will be more readily accepted than those that are Elfs, and Dwarfs. With Elfs being most hated by men of Eastlund Seax which borders the great forest most of them live, and less hated the further west they go. The Dwarfs on the other hand are more accepted in Westlund Seax where folk have grown rich on trade with them, and mistrusted the further from Westlund Seaxe they go where folk only know fairytales and horror stories about them. Of course, there isn’t a smith alive in Wulfwald that wouldn’t want to talk to a Dwarf.
Although more readily accepted than the Elfs, and Dwarfs, no one in Wulfwald will ever really trust a Wildling. They have the reputation of being cattle thieves, raiders, and pillagers. Considering these are all favourite pastimes of the men of Wulfwald this is an unfair reputation, but it’s one Wildlings have been stuck with by their foes.
Without doubt the most hated of all are the Scinnlæca, the human necromancers. Even compared to the other Wizards they are the most hated and reviled people in all of Wulfwald, and probably not a good character choice for players not up for the challenge.
7: . . . Meanwhile Back in Soutlund Seaxe . . .
So we have a basic idea of how to set up a campaign, and what sort of structure that campaign might take, how many NPCs there are in our starting Kingdom, who they are, and what their basic attitude is towards the Player Characters party of Wolfsheads, but we need a little more detail at this stage.
Well even though Wulfwald campaigns are relatively small in scope there’s still a lot of possible work with all those NPC Gesiths, Reeves, Kings, Queens, Princes, Princess, and courtiers to flesh out. Then there’s all the Thegns, Ceorls, Fyrdmen, Peasants, and Thralls. Luckily there are stats for all those in the Bestiary, but it’s still a lot of work. Not to worry, because the way the campaign is structured you don’t have to do it all at once, and only need a little work to get you started.
To start with the campaign world for the players is very small. You only really need to have prep for the Hundred of the Ealdorman who your player’s Thegn serves. I go into detail for the households of the Thegn the players currently serve, another Thegn in the Hundred who might be a friend, or relative for him and then two or three Thegns who will be rivals and enemies of our Thegn, and therefore targets for the Player Characters. The other five or so Thegns only need names at this stage.
So for example in the Southlund Seaxe campaign I’m planning I decide we’ll start in the shire of Neahfenn which is run for King Eomer by his doddering Uncle Dunric who is the Gesith of the shire. He’s a good man, but disinterested; he is mostly absent preferring to stay at Eomer’s court and let his Ealdormen and High Reeve see to the day to day running of his shire. Dunric is unlikely to feature that much in our games at least not in the early stages. The Ealdorman of our Hundred is Ceolric Coldblade and he’s taking advantage of Dunric’s absence by wallowing in corruption, bullying, and sometimes murdering, his way to more power, land, and riches with the help of the shire’s equally corrupt High Reeve Leofwig the Good. Ceolric probably has enemies and allies among the other Ealdormen of the shire, and the kingdom, but we don’t really need to worry about them at this stage. All we need for them, like our five other Thegns, is a list of names.
I’ll flesh out the High Reeve though as he’ll make a good nemesis for our party straight off the bat. Ealdorman Ceolric doesn’t need to be fleshed out yet as his main job at this stage is causing lots of conflict. Something he does naturally. To keep his Thegns under his thumb he plays them off against each other, and crushes any he deems to be getting too powerful for comfort.
The most important NPC to consider is the Thegn our Wolfpack is in service to. Ours is called Godwulf and he’s a right nasty piece of work. A psychotic bully who is looking for a chance to impress the powerful king of Westlund, not only by being one of his many paid spies in the kingdom, but by making it his mission to find the rightful heir to the throne of Southlund Seaxe, and killing him and his rebellion before it even starts. He’s also looking at his Ealdorman Coelric and thinking that he’s had his turn at the trough and it’s time for a younger man to be Ealdorman. He’s ruthless, ambitious, and nasty with it. He’s going to use his Wolfpack like a weapon and when he’s done with them, or if they fail him, he’s going to dispose of them. He’s the type of Thegn that the party may end up having to kill just to survive. Should be fun.
Godwulf will have a family: a young son who’s serving in King Eomer’s Warband as a Sperebrógan (and spying at the court for his father). An older son who he’s positioning to take over the ten hides of one of the other Thegns on our list, two daughters he wants to marry into the Westlund Seaxe nobility (whether they like it or not), and a wife who’s twice as ruthless as him and impatient to be away from this marsh stinking backwater and take her rightful place in a royal court. An ambition which she sees as her right and destiny.
He has a senile old uncle who Godwulf is only keeping alive until the old dodderer remembers where he buried a horde of silver. He only has one servant his creature Sigwine, preferring to use his ten wretched slaves to work his household and farm as it’s cheaper than having peasants work his land. After all, peasants expect more than one meal a day.
He also has the priest Tidwine, and the Scop Wigred in his employ, both of whom are engaged in a propaganda campaign on his behalf. He is being very careful not to let Ceolric find out about that. Even though he is only required to raise two men for the Fyrd he has squeezed five out of his ten-hides, and is secretly training another ten Ceorls to fight in his own little Warband.
I would prep stats and flesh out motives, personality, etc for Godwulf and his household, and I’d go into similar detail for at least one of his enemy Thegn’s if not both, and perhaps a little less for his allied Thegn.
At this stage it’s probably a good idea to sketch out a rough map of the shire (and believe me all my maps are rough) then a slightly more detailed map of Ealdorman Coelric’s Hundred, and Thegn Godwulf’s Ten hides and farmstead.
So far we know who and where the power players are in Wulfwald, our kingdom, and shire, and we have details on the local power players having written up Godwulf, several other Thegns, and the High Reeve. As well as them, for this campaign, I’d want to have a map of the marsh, and stats and a write-up for the king in exile Wybert and his followers. I’d also perhaps place a couple of outlaw bands in the marshes. The stats for those are in the bestiary and I’d name them on the fly if and when the party encounters them. I would also probably place a tribe of Wildlings somewhere on the southern edge of the map if not in the marshlands and prepare a detailed write up their chieftain, let’s call him Mad MacFinn, his family, the tribe’s witch, and a other key NPCs in the tribe.
The next thing to consider, if you’re using them in your campaign, is where to place any monsters. I know the bestiary mentions a small tribe of Nihtgenga (goblins) in the marshes and I’d definitely include a marsh fiend. I might scour the bestiary and see if anything else would be a good fit, any of the dragons, or giants for instance. If I include anything like that, even though the players wouldn’t run into them at 1st level (unless they decide to go looking for them or are really unlucky) I’d seed them into the campaign with rumours and stories from frightened locals.
However, for this campaign I’m more interested in the human drama, so I’ll stick to the tribe of goblins, and a few solitary marsh fiends for monsters. I will include a powerful Scinnlæca (3rd level) skulking out in the marsh, which immediately makes me want to include reanimated Bog burials as another monster.
Finally I might want to include a few characters from outside Eadlorman Ceorlric’s Hundred so it doesn’t feel too contrived, or insular, and maybe one or two unusual characters perhaps one of Godwulf’s slaves is actually a spy for Ealdorman Coelric. Maybe a character or two who don’t have a political angle, but could provide interesting adventure hooks; like a local roving madman who is actually a witch cursed king.
One final thing you might want to do is draw up a mindmap of all the motives and relationships of your NPCs just to have a handy cheat sheet of who hates who, and who wants what. That way every time the players meet an NPC you have an instant idea of how that NPC might react to, and why and how they might want to use the party to achieve their own goals.
8: Session by Session
Okay so we have all these NPCs, and maps now, and with enough conflicting ambitions, and personalities we could just get to it and let the party bounce off the NPC’s, but what do we actually do session by session in a Wulfwald game? What does a Wulfwald Referee prep before game night? Missions. That’s what, missions.
At their heart Wulfwald games are missions based. What type of missions? Military? Certainly, but as I’ve said before a Wolfpack is kind of a cross between a special opps team, mob crew, terrorist cell, and a gang. Missions for their Thegn might include threatening, leaning on, beating up, or killing rival Thegns. Spying, stealing, cons, capers, stings, and double-crosses. Kidnapping, ransoming, bribing, and blackmailing. All the sort of things the Nobles want doing, but don’t want their reputation stained with.
The problem with missions is they can be a bit railroady. I try to get around this by presenting the party with a selection of different missions, some of which might be easily achievable in a single session, others that might require more long term effort. Some that might be ongoing throughout the campaign. For example in this campaign Godwulf wants the wolf pack to always be on the look out for anything that might help him capture the exiled king Wybert and his Rebels.
I think a good way to go is to prep for and present the party with three to five different missions that their Thegn wants them to tackle, then let the players choose what order to tackle them in.
In our Southland Seaxe campaign I would have our Wolfpack holed up in solitary longhouse on stilts in the marsh, with their only contact (to begin with) being with Godwulf’s man Sigwine who brings them food and his master’s orders (along with a good dose of disdain and scorn). To kick the campaign off I would offer them five missions such as . . .
1) Godwulf has information from a spy that the exiled King Wybert and his rebels have made contact with the Wildling Chieftain Mad MacFinn. Find out if this is true and find out what they’re up to. (It’s not true. The spy is actually one of Wybert’s rebels and is feeding Eomer’s men false information in the hopes they’ll run afoul of MacFinn and his savage Wildling warriors.)
2) Three weeks from now The High Reeve Leofwig the Good and his men will be coming to Ealdorman Ceorlric Coldblade’s Hundred to collect tribute for Gesith Dunric to take to the King. Ceolric and Leofwig have contrived to rob their own tribute and blame it on Wybert’s rebels. The Wolfpack need to find out how, when, and where this is going to happen, and when it does happen they are to rob and kill the fake robbers, and plant evidence that points to Ealdorman Ceolric being in cahoots with the rebel king.
3) Annoying peasants from some piddling little marshland fishing village keep bothering our lord with stupid tales about bog bodies rising from the marsh. Go and see what’s frightening the superstitious fools.
4) Lord Godwulf’s slaves have heard rumours that his neighbour, Thegn Whitbeorth does ungodly things to his slaves. Go find some evidence, if you can’t find it; plant it. Once that’s done convince Whitbeorth that unless he wants the whole kingdom to know of his evil he needs to swear an oath of fealty to Godwulf.
5) There are outlaw bands somewhere in the Marsh find one, join it, kill their leader and take over the band, then report back to me (Sigwine) here (at their marsh longhouse) for further orders.
This is the kind of thing I’d prep for and present to the group. There should be enough there to hook and interest the players, and each mission probably has enough fodder for one or more sessions. My style of Refereeing is improvisational by default, but I like to avoid being unfair or drifting into illusionism and railroading. I find this approach helps. You can get enough prep done so that the challenge is there down on paper, and not pulled out of thin air, but there’s still a lot of scope for the players to have freedom, and you as Referee to have fun improvising, and riffing off the players.
Once the players have decided which mission to tackle first there’s every chance that the game will simply spin off in its own direction, and that through interacting with your NPC’s and pursuing the mission, the players themselves will generate all the campaign momentum you need. The game will practically run itself, and you might find you never need come to back to your original list of missions. If you do; simply prep and add more missions as the party work their way through the original list. And if the campaign starts to slow down or lose direction your Thegn (and all his enemies and ambitions) are always there to jumpstart things when you need them.
Basically, at its heart, a Wulfwald campaign should grow organically out of the game’s core premise or conceit – Outlaw Scum serving ambitious Warlords – and be further informed by the kingdom you set the campaign in, the NPCs who would logically be there, their motives, and the conflict those personalities and motives create when they collide with each other and the Wolfpack. There you are that’s ‘a way’ to run a Wulfwald campaign, specifically that’s my way of running one, I hope you enjoy finding your own way!