Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Shenandoah Valley Kingmaker

It is a little-known fact, but waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the day, I was unconstitutionally knighted by the governor of the state of West Virginia.

The state of West Virginia, you see, has this very strange tradition, dating back to 1931, wherein students in the 8th grade compete to prove their comprehensive knowledge of the history of the Virginias (theoretically this is meant to only be the history of West Virginia, but since WV spent so long conjoined to their neighbor to the east, the two are inseparable). The Golden Horseshoe Award is presented every year, and culminates in a ceremony in which "each student kneels and, with a tap of a sword on the shoulder, is dubbed either a Knight or Lady of the Society of the Golden Horseshoe."

The idea behind the Golden Horseshoe award stems from a 1716 expedition organized by Lieutenant Colonial Governor Alexander Spotswood which crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains with the intent of opening the Shenandoah Valley for settlement. The West Virginian award stems from the (false) idea that Spotswood's Transmontane expedition actually made it into what is present-day West Virginia. 

While I'm sure all West Virginian's would like to claim the fertile (and prosperous) Shenandoah Valley as part of their state, the organizers of the Golden Horseshoe Award further prove their own ignorance of the history they are testing by claiming on their website that the motto of the Transmontane expedition was "Sic jurat transcendere monte," ("Thus he swears to cross the mountains"). The actual motto is "Sic juvat transcendere montes" ("Thus it is pleasant to cross the mountains") -- in reflection of the fact that they had a massive drunken celebration when they saw the fertile valley beyond. As recorded by Lieutenant John Fontaine:
"We had a good dinner, and after it we got the men together, and loaded all their arms, and we drank the King's health in champagne, and fired a volley, the Princess's health in Burgundy, and fired a volley, and all the rest of the Royal Family in claret, and a volley. We drank the Governor's health and fired another volley. We had several sorts of liquors, viz.; Virginia red wine and. white wine, Irish usquebaugh, brandy shrub, two sorts of rum, champagne, canary, cherry punch, water, cider, etc."
All that ragging on the Golden Horseshoe Award is largely irrelevant.

What is relevant here is that I was among the 221 winners of the Golden Horseshoe Award more than 20 years ago, and got a top score on the test by doing what I do best...converting ~400 years of VA and WV history into an AD&D campaign. Sadly, I never got to run that campaign (as I only had one game going at the time and it ran very very long), and I thought all of my notes were lost when my parents moved only a few weeks after I went off to college. Lost, that is, until my mother dropped off a box of my old junk this past summer, wherein I found my old notes (from 1995).



So, armed with reams of notes, written by my 13-year-old self, and some first-hand experience of how awesome the Shenandoah Valley really is, I set out to resurrect that old campaign and finally run it. Of course, with an extra 20 years of gaming experience, I realized that I had to collapse the scope a bit, because my notes covered from the founding of Jamestown to the end of well after the American Civil War...

I settled on the expedition from which the Award took its name as having the most D&D potential, and placed the campaign in the years immediately following Governor Spotswood's expedition. Thus we have a sandbox campaign with plenty of unexplored wilderness to poke around in (the Shenandoah Valley is famous for its many, extensive cavern networks -- I mean dungeons), with the looming threat of political uprising and war with a vastly superior imperial power in the not-too-distant future.

I settled on Pathfinder as the rules-set, mostly because Pathfinder has a really solid set of rules governing wilderness exploration and settlement, as introduced in Paizo's Kingmaker Adventure Path

Then, to make the whole thing a little more fantasy-flavoured and D&D-ish, I dropped it into my alt-history world where Henry V is undead and ruling England and France 300 years longer than he should have been (which my last half-dozen Pathfinder campaigns have been based in).
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With that context, the original plan for the campaign looked something like this:
The year is 1720 CE. The place, Germanna, the first settlement in the Imperial Dominion and Colony of Prosperia to accept settlers from Germania, about a hundred miles north, north-east of the colonial capital Williamsburg. But this is not the story of Germanna, nor even of Prosperia Colony, this is a story of what lies beyond.
Four years ago, in the year 1716, then acting governor Alexander Spotswood lead an expedition from Germanna fifty leagues to cross over the Misty Blue Mountains and view the as-yet-unexplored land that the natives called “The Beautiful Daughter of the Stars” and founded the noble “Order of the Golden Horseshoe” from the fourty-six members of the initial expedition. That was then. In the intervening four years, Spotswood has ceded his governorship and become, by the grace of his lordship Emperor Prospero I, Count Spotswood, ruling Spotsylvania County from his new seat in Germanna Colony, and grown quite fat and rich off of Germanna’s iron and silver mines. Now, these four years later, Count Spotswood has commissioned a new expedition to cross the Misty Blues, not simply to view the lands beyond, but to subjugate and settle them.
This is where you come in, young heroes. Count Spotswood, old and settled as he is, is not going to make this trip himself as he did “in his youth”. No, that is your job. You young (or not-so-young) settlers of the small but bustling mining community Germanna, have been issued a charter by Count Alexander Spotwood and Imperial Governor Hugh Drysdale to cross the mountains and make the fey-haunted river-valley beyond ready for settlement.

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Of course, no D&D game is ever as simple as a DM might plan. As you'll see, my players managed to upend my Colonial-Expansionist plans in a hurry...for which I could not be more thrilled. I'll be posting adventure logs and house-rules for this campaign in the very near future, but for now, let's get to know our protagonists:

Amos Fortune: Human Barbarian. Formerly a slave belonging to George Mason III, he was taken along on the first Transmontane expedition to pitch tents and dig latrines. Near the end of the expedition he escaped and has been hiding out in the home of his friend Grond, a dwarven cook working at the local watering hole.
Tess Wilberforce: Drow Alice. The daughter of an indentured German miner, Tess is quite the firebrand. She is also an outspoken opponent of the practice of slavery — both the overt kind practiced by the plantation owners, as well as Count Spotswood’s indenturing of father and the other German miners.
LĂ­adan: Fetchling Warlock. This darkly beautiful creature from faerie arrived in town quite dramatically. Luckily, the destruction of the tornado that deposited her in the colonies was blessedly localized, with only a single fatality. Although she was initially confused by such human concepts as ‘property’, ‘currency’ and ‘personal space’, she has been willing to pitch in to help the colony time and again, from helping to tend the wounded to hunting for food to supplement poor harvests.
Sara Mashi: Human White-Haired Witch. Sara’s family hails from Japan, by way of the Netherlands after her father was deposed as head of the Koga clan following the Koga infiltration of Hara Castle during the Shimabara Rebellion. Sara was born in London, many years after her family’s exile, and later emigrated to the colonies. Now old and white-haired herself, Sara serves as Germanna colony’s midwife, while secretly honing the ancient talents of her clan passed down by her father.
Zibbler Zen-Topple: Tiefling Blue Mage. An educated, experienced, and initiated Imperial Wizard, Zibbler recently returned to Prosperia colony from gallivanting across Europe when he received news that his aging father and mother had both taken ill. He has worked for the last year managing his father's small farm on the edge of the county and trying to get his parents' affairs in order.
Thond Grubsmith: Dwarf Fighter. This surly old hill-fairy works as a cook at Zimmerman's Tavern. A nomad at heart, his house is little more than a lean-to of scrap wood and tarps, easily assembled and just as easily torn down and bundled into his pack.