Campaigns I'd Like To Run: In The Shadow of the Black Giant

When I say this month's RPG Blog Carnival topic, I knew I'd have something to write. I needed to spend some time with the thought before writing anything, though, so I took my time milling over just what I thought needed to be said about some of the different campaign ideas I've kicked around here that I haven't said already. The result is this, In The Shadow of the Black Giant. Originally, I called it (jokingly) BLAUHEIM, since it draws heavily from what I (apparently correctly) supposed to be the implied setting of Blueholme. Blend in a little LotFP flavor (since so much of Mr. Raggi's product seems to link to the time period I'd like to represent) and just a touch of Call of Cthulhu (really just more Mythos-inspired ideas and stuff like Dreams in the Witch House than any of the huge CoC Mythos players) and let simmer over a low flame. 

On a crisp September morning, fog fills the distant Alpine valley, still cushioning and silencing the world like a damp and cool but comforting blanket. The forest and field yet dream lazily in the mist, nestling up to either bank of the narrow river that flows down from its source high in the mountains. As the thin veil of fog fades over the water, over tops of the trees and from the fields where sheep and cattle already graze, the great golden flow of autumn's full might cascades over you, the early morning blue heavens stretching out without end past the valley, past the mountains, marred only by that one thing, that one blot, that colossal, dark mountain known only as the Black Giant.*

For an age, the people of the valley -- your people -- have lived in the shadow of the Black Giant, safe from the constant warring and conflict of the Elector States. Burdened only by the woes of crops and cattle, the superstitious yet pious folk of the valley kept close to the old ways, practicing those few mild rites to appease the restless dead and folk of the wild places, be they real or imaginary. With no roads leading beyond the valley, only the river (a tributary of a tributary) links the valley with the Elector States beyond, slowing trade, technology and news to an erratic snail's pace, insulating the valley from the political, social and scientific upheaval of the world beyond.

But then the Black Giant began to smolder.

Since he had slept for ages, none suspected that the Black Giant would wake or that the volcano was anything but extinct. But when the first cloud of ash fell on the valley, the small villages of Blauheim and Talsruhe, it was as a harbinger of Chaos. Within a year, elves had returned to the forests, dwarves (and the far fouler gnomes) had returned to the mountains and there were murmurs that the beastmen which haunt the dark places of the Elector States had been spotted about the edges of the valley. Stranger and more savage beasts than the valley has seen this past age poach cattle from pastures as farmers go missing from their homes in the night. Men whisper that some of their kind have even turned to witchcraft, so poisoned were their hearts by the slow advance of Chaos. Suddenly, the valley knew uncertainty, knew fear, and knew that it had a root in the heart of the Black Giant.


The game would be played using the BLUEHOLME retro-clone rule set. I was initially tempted to go with LotFP's Weird Fantasy rules (and may borrow an idea or two from them for the thief class), but I very much enjoy the pre-genre feeling of the Holmes rules and think that BLUEHOLME preserves the pre-genre OD&D feeling of Holmes. Some other bits (particularly spells and probably adventures) would get lifted from Weird Fantasy whole cloth, and still more might require some modification. Firearms, for example, while not present in Holmes (or BLUEHOLME) would be present here, using the existing Holmes "d6 for everything" damage schema, much like I've spoken about for my proposed White Box hack for the Colonial Gothic Hexcrawl campaign & rules set.


The heroes of the campaign will tend to be folk of the valley itself, rather than outsiders or demihumans. They may be folk heroes, trying to preserve their people from the new horrors at their door or ne'erdowell opportunists looking to make a profit from tomb robbery and violence, and both may even be welcome within the same party. Player characters would tend toward the Lawful and Neutral alignments (I'd use a Law-Neutrality-Chaos alignment scheme as opposed to the five-point scheme of Holmes, mostly because I hate telling people what good means).


The obvious dungeon-crawly stuff is here due to the Black Giant itself. Interpreting the Black Giant's waxing Chaotic influence as attracting greater and more powerful servants of Chaos (or merely those warped by and called to it), the campaign becomes scalable while retaining a consistent backdrop and never (really) needing to move beyond the valley's boundaries (well, into the mountains probably, but not much further than that). Aside from the traditional dungeoncrawls, the setting is ripe for urban adventures, wilderness adventures and even mysteries. Should the players be so inclined, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in politics, religious life and even academic life in the valley, furthering whatever aims and agendas the players invent. Fill in some folk tale logic, sprinkle on some human ambition, and adventures abound in the valley.


The obvious "big bad" of the campaign is the mountain itself: sooner or later, its influence is going to need to be stopped (whatever that entails). Until then, it will continue to attract beastmen of various stripes, the undead and more monstrous foes as makes sense. Further, there are plenty of opportunities for opponents beyond the normal array of "irredeemable evils." Elves, particularly as interpreted by Goethe in his der Erlkonig, and the fae realm should never be enduring allies of the PCs, but rather as occasional foes, their whims guided by the seasons, aesthetics and variables unknowable to Man (for reference, see just about everything else I've ever written about elves). Dwarves may seek the aid of men against the gnomes of the mountains, impish elemental beings of living rock, who covet the gems and valuable metals the dwarves work hard to wrest from the ground. Trolls, degenerate cousins to gnomes, trouble the dwarves, but their insatiable hunger also runs them afoul of every other group in the valley. Add to this mix whatever sort of awfulness mortals might manage to summon up through magic or misadventure and you've got plenty to keep your players busy.

Final Word

I'd have a good time running this campaign because it hits on several of my literary and artistic influences pretty heavily (I can feel an "Appendix N" post for this setting coming on) and would allow me to explore some themes -- literary, artistic and historical -- that I really enjoy in comfortable and familiar game space. Since I'd be aiming for the Reformation era here, the political aspect of the game could get nice and complex if the players wanted (for reference, think about the plot of the Tudors; yes, all of it), while still retaining a mythic and folkloric quality. I think it would fit an episodic style of play particularly well, especially supporting "monster of the week"-style stories like many of the one-hour dramas on TV; the X-Files model might work exceptionally well in the Shadow of the Black Giant. This setting satisfies the desire for a simple, straightforward setting that allows for (but doesn't require) lighthearted play alongside super-serious grimness without all the filthy namby-pambiness of the more Anglocentric settings like Middle Earth or the Forgotten Realms.

*This introduction is very loosely based on the poem "Septembermorgen" ("September Morning") by Eduard Moerike. I don't think a really solid translation exists, so good luck trying to find one. The name of the Black Giant comes from the pub I used to hang out at in Aschaffenburg, Germany: der Schwarzer Riese. I always thought that was a cool name, and now I get to use it for something cool. 

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