A Duet Campaign for 5e
In this post, we set up the world history and background of Steymhorod alongside hooks for PCs and backstory considerations.
Spoiler alert! If you are going to be the player and not the GM for this campaign, please stop reading here! What follows is For GM Eyes Only!
Several thousand years ago, the land of Steymhorod disappeared from the surface of Eldura. What had once been a mountainous region with fragrant springs, moderate summers, and colorful falls descended into the Shadowlands, its borders separated from the rest of the plane by impenetrable mist. At all times, Steymhorod remains under gray clouds, lit only by weak sunlight even at the brightest times of day. The forests teeter on the cusp between autumn and winter, a state of living death. And over the land, a dark vampire lord, Drogo, rules.
This post gives an overview of the history of Steymhorod which will help you as you set up your campaign. There are also a few ideas for adventure hooks and PC backstory hooks to enhance the character’s investment in the campaign.
A Campaign in Serial?
Our plan is to release this campaign, and its setup materials, in serial, so that you can play along as we create the series of adventures! The adventures will coincide with the monthly one-shot adventures on our patreon, where we’ll also be sharing PDFs of the adventures, setting details, character backstories, etc.
After we’ve finished creating the campaign, we’ll compile everything and share it with our patrons as well as offer it for sale here on our site! We’re hoping this will streamline playtesting while also giving you plenty of exciting adventures to play at home this summer!
Even if you don’t want to play along as we go, we hope that these posts will help with your campaign creation, either by inspiring settings, NPCs, villains, or arcs, or by giving you different examples and ideas for scaling encounters or collaborative worldbuilding.
Acquainting Your Player with Steymhorod
Those who live on the prime plane—several thousand years later in Azuria—are unfamiliar with what happened to the land of Steymhorod. Over the millennia since the region descended into the Shadowlands, few have ventured across its borders. For non-vampires, such a visit is impossible save through the use of a portal.
The muddled history of the years before the great flood obscured the history of Steymhorod further still, and characters are unlikely to have heard of the region at all—its very memory has left the prime plane. When your party arrives, they do not know where they are, and this will be one of their chief initial concerns as they grow acquainted with the region.
Personalizing the Campaign
This is a campaign designed to be played one-on-one, which creates lots of flexibility for the GM and the player to make the adventure arc work for them. Before your campaign begins, we suggest having a conversation with the player about the Gothic nature of the campaign and its setting to ensure that they feel comfortable immersing themselves and their PC in the world. (The link above leads to questions for running Curse of Strahd, but the questions about vampires and horror should transfer.)
In what follows, there are a few specific points where we note alterations you may wish to make to the worldbuilding and setting setup. Please feel free to make these and other changes to personalize the game to your unique party.
While Steymhorod was still a fine and prosperous land in the northwestern reaches of Eldura, major and minor nobles from across the realms arrived, hoping to win the fancy and hand of the young Lord Drogo, the noble ruler of all of Steymhorod. To everyone’s surprise, a minor noblewoman, Marena of Palais, captured the lord’s attention. The captivating Marena left Palais behind, and she remained with Lord Drogo and became his wife.
Unfortunately, the couple’s happiness would be short-lived. While pregnant with their first-born child, Marena became ill and needed a blood transfusion. One of her trusted servants agreed and offered her lifeblood for her mistress—but the blood was cursed. Marena’s condition worsened. Large, seeping pustules covered her skin, keeping her in a constant state of agony. She could often be heard screaming late into the night of the fire licking her skin and rushing through her blood.
Drogo became obsessed with the blood curse. He waged an all-out war against surrounding kingdoms, thinking that by collecting blood he might find a cure for his ailing wife. It was said that in the Killing Fields of Steymhorod, the earth and the grasses drank more blood than water and developed a taste for wet red death. But despite all of this loss of life as Drogo expanded the reach of his kingdom, no cure could be found.
Lord Drogo was desperate. He called upon his allies, the Four Sister Fanes, ancient Fae beings tied to the land and with whom he shared influence, love, and control over all of Steymhorod. Though he begged, they refused to help him save Marena or the child. Drogo attacked as they turned their back on him, destroying those who had been his allies for so long. The Sisters died alongside Marena, and the land fell into the Shadowlands, cursed.
A small flicker of light remained. The child lived, delivered as his mother passed on to the realm of Astralei. The distraught father did his best to raise his son and rule his land, but further tragedy awaited Drogo. A few months into his young life, the healers discovered that Cadogan also had the blood disorder that had killed his mother.
The Sisters having failed him, Drogo turned to a new set of powers, crying out for aid from any who would listen. Xarmev, god of undeath, answered him. The god promised to heal the boy and vowed that he and Drogo would live forever. Drogo agreed, and the first vampire came into being.
Known vs Unknown
Most people in Steymhorod are unaware of the fact that they live in the Shadowlands. Similarly, the common understanding of what transpired with the fall or the Darkening is that the Four Sisters left—very few know of Drogo’s connection to their disappearance.
Possible Adventure Hooks
We will go into greater detail for this first hook as we set up the campaign, but you might consider the second or other variations to add on to their search through Steymhorod.
Vampire Hunting. Rumors of missing children swarm through all levels of society in the kingdom of Linolynn. It is discovered that the culprit is a vampire masquerading as a noble, Lord Nassarq. King Arontis offers a reward for anyone brave enough to travel to his estate, Nocturne, and rid the kingdom of this beast forever. If the party is willing to pursue the dark creature, they fight their way through the castle to find the vampire’s body in his coffin. Stabbing him in the chest, it seems as though their revenge is complete…until they hear a thick liquid dripping in the far corner. Blood pools beneath the vampire’s casket, swirling into a funnel, and a portal appears…Leaping through it, they land in Steymhorod.
A note on this adventure hook: In this story version, Lord Nassarq is a particularly twisted vampire, his taste for blood having led to further corruption and perversion with an appetite for children. Depending on your own personal preferences, this may not be a desirable villainous predilection, and above all, ttRPGs should be fun and not triggering. This preference on Nassarq’s part is not a necessity for the adventure, though there may be a few plot points for you to tweak down the line. Ideally, he will maintain a certain signature-type of victim that he pursues, but this can be as benign as you wish (and as is possible for beings who eat fellow creatures).
A Missing Friend. Either before the adventure begins or during transportation through the blood portal, the PC might lose a close friend of party member. Maybe their mentor disappeared without a trace on a vampire hunt several years prior. Or, if they are traveling with a larger group, they might become separated from all save one of their party members as they travel through the portal.
If possible, the PC should have some sort of connection to vampires in their backstory. Perhaps they’ve lost family members to vampires, or they’ve trained as a vampire hunter. This does not need to be an all-out hatred of vampires, but connecting their backstory to the adventure will help with character buy-in.
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