Published on January 11th, 2017 | by Luke Turpeinen0
Warcraft Tabletop RPG Campaign Ideas
As a follow up to my last article, which talks about how to run a Warcraft game using Dungeons & Dragons, I have brainstormed some story seeds to use for a Warcraft tabletop RPG campaign that I will pitch to my players. The players I’ll be gaming with are already familiar with the setting, but for those that aren’t- here is a little bit about Azeroth, also known as the World of Warcraft.
Like any high-fantasy setting, Warcraft has a huge timeline and several continents worth of world fleshed out. Warcraft stands out mostly for its particular range of fantasy species, its use of firearms and its special brand of fantasy engineering (both goblin and gnomish varieties). Also notable is the divide between the two main factions: RED and BLUE… or Horde and Alliance.
The scope of a Warcraft game could range from that of low-powered people protecting a small area to that of near demi-gods battling against a demonic planetary invasion force. Taking note of that, I’ve come up with different tabletop-ready scenarios that exist at various power levels and throughout the timeline of the Warcraft universe. Here are my top 3!
Explorers’ Guild Adventures
Some backstory may be in order. According to Warcraft lore, in ancient times the Old Gods (ie: Lovecraftian entities) ruled much of the world along with their Elemental Lord lieutenants. The Titans were beings who traveled from world to world, ordering and organizing them, and were drawn to Azeroth because of the magic they sensed at its core.
The Titans decided to combat the Old Gods and their Elementals so as to bring order to the earth. To do so they created servants made from the bones of Azeroth herself: earth, stone and metal. After the winning the war against the Old Gods and Elementals (and sealing them away in prisons beneath the earth) the Titans departed, leaving their creations to continue their tasks.
Later events (namely The Sundering) caused the creations to retreat to various strongholds over the world and lock themselves away in stasis for the next several thousand years. When they awoke, many found that their bodies had changed from elemental earth to that of flesh and much of their history was lost to them. Thus were the races of giants, vrykul, troggs, dwarves and gnomes born.
TL;DR- dwarves and gnomes were created by Titans out of rocks.
Inside the setting this knowledge is known by very few (though some of it exists in dwarven legends), and letting your players be the ones to discover this for the first time would be a lot of fun. The quests and instances from the MMO are great fodder for an RPG campaign where players will get to explore one subject more and more.
You start off in the Hall of Explorers, within the great Dwarven capital city of Ironforge. There you meet with Historian Kamik, an administrator for the budding Explorer’s Guild. There is an archaeological dig just uncovered by the Guild (ruins of the Titan stronghold Uldaman), but already agents of another Dwarven clan are trying to take it over. The guild has lost contact with their initial crew of three lost
The characters must sneak or fight their way past the Dark Iron clan to get to the site, just to find out that the whole place is crawling with troggs. If the players are able to sneak and fight their way past all of the other dwarves, troggs and ancient Titan defenses then they win the treasure at the back of the dungeon: data disks.
The Uldaman data disks are magi-tech records that explain/prove the origins of Warcraft’s dwarves, troggs and giants- which inspires the League to search for more clues to their past. This opens up all the rest of the Titan ruins for your player characters to adventure around in.
So far Blizzard has graced us with seven areas in the MMO (Uldaman, Ulduar, Uldum, Un’Goro, Sholazar, Mogu’Shan, Geyser Fields) that heavily feature or expand on the Titan related content of the game. Each of these zones is about uncovering the ancient Titan ruins and the mysteries they hold. One could easily string many of these stories together into a large campaign featuring the rise of the Explorer’s League.
I feel that this is the best option for those wanting a classic D&D experience, or who are using a system like Dungeon World to play in. This also keeps the focus off the main world-shaking plot events enough that metaplot elements from the MMO that make less sense will be less disruptive.
This set up also allows for dungeon delving, puzzle solving, lethal traps, henchmen characters and a heavier focus on dwarves and gnomes (without excluding other Alliance characters) which is a bit different. The Explorer’s League lets you bring back a lot of the Pulp action that early role-playing had in spades and which is more niche now-a-days, though its influence is still felt.
The War of the Ancients
Several thousand years after the imprisonment of the Old Gods, long after the fall of the Gurubashi and the Amani empires, there were the Kaldorei. Originally a tribe of Dark Trolls, living near the Well of Eternity had given them an affinity for arcane magics. The magical exposure changed their bodies and they became known as the first elves, now known as Night Elves.
Using their arcane powers, they built up a grand empire for themselves and eventually controlled much of the super-continent. The kaldorei’s magic was incredibly well understood, and they thought of it in terms analogous to complex sciences in our world. Disease, aging, even death itself were stalled and the elves entered into a golden age.
But with gold comes decadence, and as the immortal scientist elves continued to tap the magic of the world they did not do so un-noticed. The elves’ magic systems were increasingly power hungry, as were those greedy elves who sought to empower themselves directly through infusions of arcane energy. This energy siphoning attracted the attention of none other than the corrupted Titan, Sargeras.
The aristocrats who fed on magic more than most, led by none other than Queen Azshara herself, became known as the Highborne and held themselves apart from other elves. Eventually they became addicted to mainlining arcane dust, but after a thousand years of the same old thing that just doesn’t quite cut it anymore.
This is when Sargeras knew to make his move and offered something even edgier than arcane magic: demon magic. There was only one catch- to continue the supply he’d need to be summoned into their plane of existence using the energy of the Well of Eternity. At that point Queen Azshara was more than happy to oblige for more fel energy, which started a conflict that would become known as the War of the Ancients.
The campaign I imagine for this part of the timeline involves the characters being citizens in this highly-advanced, seemingly benevolent, but corrupt empire who discover plans by the Queen to summon the demon-Titan Sargeras into being. Who do they go to? Malfurion Stormrage is the head druid and, along with the priestess Tryande Whisperwind, he has been preaching against the evils of arcane magic abuse for centuries. Who knows- maybe Malfurion’s brother Illidan will help too?
The setting at this point is a magi-punk dystopia writ large. Everyone is living in a highly advanced world were most people are not happy because the way society is structured encourages behavior that leads to arcane energy addiction. Even if you’re not overly interested in the Well of Eternity plot line, there are several story threads you could follow. For example, trying to counter the machinations of Queen Azshara’s Highborne cohorts (like Xavius, the first satyr).
The setting here actually reminds me of D&D 4th Edition’s default setting, which had the ancient empire of Bael Turath. In that world, over-use of arcane magic led to people making demonic pacts for more power, which corrupted their society and eventually led to their ruin (and the creation of tieflings). Similar to running a story set in the decline of the Roman Empire, it can be interesting to play in a world that is burning around you.
This is especially true when the culmination of the events per the formal lore end with most of the world sinking into the ocean to the point where the map begins to look like this:
The Second Human – Orc War
If you’ve seen the Warcraft movie, you’re pretty well set up for this scenario- though there are some differences between the lore of the games and the plot of the movie. The Warcraft movie basically describes the plot of the First War between Orcs and Humans (ie: the first Warcraft RTS game), with the main difference being that in the game, the Orcs destroy the human kingdom of Azeroth and it’s capital, Stormwind, and take over that territory.
In the games, Lothar and his followers leave the southern part of the continent- they’re refugees who have just been displaced from their homes. They come to the human kingdom of Lordaeron (led by King Terenus Menethil II, aka Arthus’ dad from Warcraft III), who takes them in and agrees to try to end the Orcish Threat.
This is the official start of the Alliance- when the human kingdoms of Lordaeron, Alterac, Dalaran, Kul Tiras, Gilneas and Stromgarde came together with the refugees of Stormwind, the dwarven Wildhammer and Bronzebeard clans, the Gnomes and later the High Elves to drive the Orcs back into the Dark Portal. It’s also known as the plot of Warcraft II.
For the Horde’s part, the warlock Gul’dan goes into a coma, which allows Orgrim Doomhammer to purge a lot of the Orcish leadership of Fel influence, as well as pull more support from the other side of the Portal. Orgrim makes allies with troll tribes in the area, contacts goblin mercenaries and begins advancing combat engineering. When Gul’dan awakes, he realizes he has no Shadow Council allies left and grudgingly works with the new Warchief.
The campaign I see forming here revolves around players having two sets of characters: Alliance and Horde. In the official Alliance story line, the kingdom of Alterac betrays the Alliance in a bid for more power over the northern kingdoms and tensions between the kingdoms abound. The Horde story is also full of betrayals and double-crossing between the leaders and is ripe for player character involvement.
I would use the plot of Warcraft II as a guide, and I’d interlace the sessions between Horde and Alliance. In both cases, the players would control characters that have an inside look at the integral plot points of the game, from both sides of the conflict. The actions of one group of heroes will directly affect the lives of the other group of heroes, though they may never actually meet each other.
This is also a great idea if you want to run two different groups simultaneously and let their actions affect each other. When you finally get those groups together it’s amazing the kind of stories they’ll be able to share together though they never once gamed together. I was a player in a Neverwinter campaign that used that concept and it was extremely fun!