I ran this game both at home and for the first time, I ran a second game at the store simultaneously. That's right, in 15 years, I had never run a long term D&D game in my own store. This was my best work, I think. It was highly involved, had enough miniatures that I needed help getting them to and from my Jeep, and it had an enormous list of NPCs in play, which meant tracking them in both campaigns simultaneously. It was a world builders dream and the players in both groups were highly engaged. However, it became clear during COVID that neither of these games would resume.
After a very long break of what's now nearly two years, I realized I couldn't go back to this game. I just didn't have the inertia or interest to continue and I certainly had lost all that short term knowledge. I dreaded the whole idea of it. In fact, motivation to play at all was lacking, with most of my personal plans revolving around real world adventuring in Mexico. There's a lot of psychological drama here, having nearly lost my business, a mostly new staff, learning I could work and live remotely, and understanding nothing held me back from my dreams but my attitude. Another D&D game was not high on my priority list.
Re-starting Second Sons was too big of a task to resume without momentum. It was also well into the campaign where my extensive early level notes, over 300 pages, were just an outline now. That's how these things get written, a lot of high level detail early on, with sparse notes for later. It makes no sense to build the lich's lair when the characters are first level. You need to know where the lair is, and that's about it. It might be a year of real time before the players get there. So without a lot of detailed content prepared, it meant I had a lot of work to do. I also felt my objectives in writing and running the campaign had been met. We were going out on top. I already knew we were hitting a plateau before lockdown, so I was writing the next thing as the world fell apart.
As I saw my enthusiasm wane in early 2019, I started work on a new D&D campaign, based on fantasy Venice called City of Masks. It's centered in the Venice-like city of Laguna. I'm using the fantasy map of Braavos on Jonathan Roberts website. It's from Game of Thrones, and is about as blatant a Venice rip off as you can imagine. I thought about having a thinly veiled Venice map commissioned, but Braavos fit the bill, and who really knows the ins and outs of Braavos? None of my players. File off the serial numbers, rename most things, and if I ever run it again, maybe make a different map. I finished writing an elaborate world guide in lockdown, March of 2019, and promptly sat on it, forgot most of it, and realized what a bloated impossible disaster it was for nearly two years.
In the summer of 2021 I dithered about running Village of Hommlet, decided against it, and dusted off my fantasy Venice, Laguna in my world. Now that giant world guide looked like a book I vaguely remembered reading, but written well enough to where I could pick it up and run a game like it was any other world book. The premise of the new campaign is borrowed from Matthew Colville. They're basically a mercenary company. To prepare, I read the Condottiere 1300-1500 book by Osprey, Machievelli's The Prince, and several books on Venice, including a couple Venetian fantasy novels (terrible). I also read Black Company and the new 5E book of Italian adventuring, Brancalonia, which I backed for my store.
I decided late in development I really disliked the grimdark of Black Company and the farcical nonsense of Brancalonia, so some elements remained, but it's essentially standard D&D with a Brancalonia style Den for our mercenary company that has leveling benefits with things like troops and followers from Colville's Strongholds & Followers. The comparisons end here as the mercenaries save the world from an unexpected threat. Below is the "Central Tension" as Colville calls it:
More D&D nonsense:
Central Tension: You are condottieri, captains of The Crimson Company. Condottiero means contractor, and you sold your services to the highest bidder during the War of Unification. You reputation and livelihood are based on these contracts.
You fought in the recent wars and took heavy losses, your leaders killed. You stepped in recently as condottieri captains and showed yourselves to be leaders with unique skills. Now your troops are "on the beach," as they say, in Laguna: City of Masks. They are restless and await your instruction.
The Crimson Company is tired. Their gear is junk. They need a resupply and a job. Their morale is stable, but low, and you will need to provide them gold for equipment before they can effectively fight again.
Your staff sergeant is Frigo Vanini (Frig), a loyal soldier who understands you're in over your heads. Frig is from Laguna, and has been adept at keeping the troops entertained and out of trouble. You have about 100 troops. Your full fighting force with your current officer structure is 200. You disband below 50. You could lead thousands, under the right circumstances.
After Staff Sergeant Frig, the most important person to The Company is your lawyer. He negotiates and enforces your contracts.
Fabio Pesce is your attorney, or more affectionately referred to as "Fish Face," (faccia di pesce), due to his features and mixed feelings about the man. Fabio screwed you out of a great deal of money on a legal technicality with a contract when he represented the Kingdom of Parma. Both you and Fabio ended up enemies of the state, and Fabio agreed to negotiate your next contract for free, if you safely delivered him to Laguna.
The war is over, but the fighting never stops. And now Fish Face has a job for you.