Category Archives: Campaign Setting

Countless Worlds – The Shadow Traders

Okay, and now for my inaugural Countless Worlds post. This is big for me. I’ve been working on this campaign for years. It’s the only campaign setting I run. Every campaign I run is run in this universe, regardless of genre. This was the entire reason I created this campaign setting – so that I would have one volume, one world to keep track of. It was tough at first, but it has paid off. Now, I’ve got hundreds of organizations, hundreds of ships, pushing a hundred spells, and more NPCs than you can shake a fist at.

However, the purpose of this blog is not to go on and on about my awesome campaign. Alas. No, this blog is about good DMing. Ostensibly. So, while I will be showing off my campaign from time to time, but each time it will be to make a point about being a good Dungeon Master.

Now, it occurred to me that my post last night about pulling the trigger might not have come across correctly. So, rather than explain a little more of what I meant in abstracts, I wanted to show one of the aspects of my campaign that allow me to pull the trigger so easily.

Allow me to introduce the Shadow Traders.

If a loved one dies an untimely death, the Shadow Traders will bring them back. For a price. And that price is rarely money. The Shadow Traders are a guild surrounded by rumors, by worship and hatred. The price that they exact is not always immediately apparent, and many people have traded away more than they bargained for. Others are fanatically grateful to them for bringing back family and friends from the worlds of death. The worst stories told about the Shadow Traders are the ones about the people who try to back out on their deals. Worst of all, the Shadow Traders take more than you agreed to give when you try to cheat their price.

All Shadow Traders belong to one of nine Arti, divisions within the Traders. Members of the main seven Arti where all gray, and carry a blackwood staff adorned with the symbol of their Arti. Initiates belong to the first of the Arti, the Unarti, and wear white. The Exarti, the shunned, wear black and have no staves.

The Shadow Traders travel and live in famous black astral ships known as the Panora. About the size of a heavy cruiser, the Panora are not meant for combat. They mount minimal armament and defenses, since firing at the Shadow Traders is a death sentence. These black ships, constructed to look like grim visages of cities. Other than small and large shuttles, the Shadow Traders only travel in the Panora. These ships are the face of the Shadow Traders, and bring apprehension with them wherever they go.

I built the Shadow Traders as an outlet for resurrection. I don’t like putting resurrection in the Player’s hands. I don’t care if it’s a seventh level spell or a ninth level spell or a twentieth level spell. I don’t care if the material components are a bajillion gold pieces and a small baby in blue socks. I feel putting resurrection in the hands of the Players spoils a lot of drama. But! I still think it should be there. Something I learned a long time ago, irrespective of role playing, but especially in role playing, is that everything has a price. When you kill someone off, or take something away, sometimes you’d be surprised how far players would go to get it back.

I hate hypocrisy, as well. It felt wrong to me that Players could stab the villain with silver, chop him up into little tiny pieces, burn the pieces, feed them to a demon, burn the demon, and scatter those ashes across nine dimensions in three different temporal possibilities, and whadaya know, he came back. And yet, they drag their best friend to the local clergy, and “I’m sorry, he’s too far gone to revive.”

Thus, resurrection in my campaigns is an option, but I like to keep it in my hands. It works like this.

If you’ve got a fresh corpse, a simple cause of death and a good supply of magical power, there are plenty of magical options if you’ve got this skills and the dinero. But, if it’s been more than a few hours, or the body’s been decimated or poisoned with something potent or diseased with something treacherous, well, you’ve got to bring in the experts. The experts are the Shadow Traders.

Each of the seven main Arti have a different group of people they cater to, and a different cost. Thus, depending on the mood I’m in when Players want to bring back a PC or NPC, I could charge gold or weird quests or simply the valiant sacrifice of the life of another. Plus, with the exception of gold (and sometimes even then!) you can phrase it vaguely enough, in an oracle/riddle fashion, and let the players assume one meaning and then make up another one as a plot hook down the road.

By building this option of resurrection in, I suddenly found myself with a huge organization with a myriad of uses. Obviously, they can bring back characters, but they can offer quests to hunt down people who’ve reneged on their bargains, or the PCs can be hired to help fulfill bargains to raise others, or perhaps a Panora shifts in from the Astral Plane above a small town unexpectedly, hanging in the sky for days with nary a movement, and it’s up to the PCs to figure out what’s going on before the entire village riots.

The ultimate point? Build options into your campaign. Assume that everything is possible. If you can lay the foundation for everything, for every possible option, you’ll find yourself in a much better position than if you have to create the solution ten months down the line when one of the players confronts you with an expected quandary. One of the things the HERO System has taught me is never deal in absolutes.