Roleplaying a Noble house game


I have always been a fan of historic roleplaying and gritty down to earth campaigns with low magic, so I decided to run one again. This was the background of that campaign, set in George R.R. Martin's world of Westeros.

Campaign History: War of the Ironmen

This campaign takes place roughly 50 years before The Conquest of the Targaryens. Just after the wars of Conquest. Harren the Black of House Hoare, King of the Isles rules the IronBorn and the riverlands and are at constant war with everyone. Cutting a red border of blood through the center of the continent. Harren had desired the highest hall and the most colossal towers in the Seven Kingdoms. The construction of his dream took forty years. Thousands of captives from the other realms died in the quarries chained to sledges or laboring on the five huge towers. Weirwoods were cut down to provide rafters and beams . Harwyn Hardhand, took the Trident from Arrec the Storm King whose ancestors had won lands up to the Neck 300 years earlier by killing the last River King. House Martel and Tyrell are at best neutral, having numerous border wars and are implacable rivals.

The West is ruled by The Black Lion, King Willem Lannister . He is allied with the House Arryn of the vale and House Tyrell of the Reach against the Ironborn. Dorne is neutral having been hard pressed to keep his men from raiding north into Tyrell Lands. The vale has had raids from the mountain tribes of the Mountains of the moon as well.

The North is in a state of alert after numerous raids by both Wildlings from the north and Ironborn from the west. Rumor has it a new threat has shown its wrath in the North, an exiled Ironborn called “The Rape King” has made an alliance with a group of Mercenaries from Ghis, The sons of the Harpy and a shadowbinder from Assahi. The Raider has amassed a small fleet and made his base north of the wall somewhere, raiding south onto Bear Island and even against the coast. Some wildlings have come to his service, greedy for the spoils.

Dragonstone is currently the last bastion of Valyeria left, ruled by the Targaryens who are trying in vain to search for lost treasures of the fallen continent they abandoned two centuries before.

Born to the second son of House Umber, Harrod was destined for knighthood. His father, Torvald, was highly respected as a warrior and as a friend to the smallfolk. Torvald’s older brother Naal resented Torvald’s popularity and feared him. When their father Lord Lugh passed away, Naal secretly gave Torvald the choice of death or the Wall. Torvald chose the wall and arranged for his Harrod and his wife to return to her family, the Harclays, a mountain clan north of Winterfell near the wolfswood.

Character backgrounds

Harrod Umber

Harrod grew up strong and free in the mountains. Hunting bears and boars and fighting wildlings and Ironmen made him a fierce fighter. Harrod had inherited the giant blood that ran strong in both his parents’ families as well as the ability to fly into a berserker rage on command. These abilities combined to make him a very feared fighter. Full grown, he was 7’ 2”, and covered in thick, coarse black shaggy hair like his giant ancestors.

Unfortunately, growing up in the mountains did not lend itself to a gentile education. Harrod never learned how to interact in a very pleasant way and did not suffer fools or respect laws or morays he found foolish. It didn’t matter much in the mountains, surrounded by his rough relatives, but it would hinder him later in life.

At 15, went to Winterfell to be page to Ser Holland Stark, a young son of the Winter King. Once, Holland and Harrod were sent with a few others to rid the wood of a group called the Dispossessed, turn cloak black brothers escaped from the wall. They found the band camping near some ancient barrows on a hillock deep in the wood. In that battle Ser Holland broke his leg when struck from his horse. His enormous page picked him up on one shoulder and proceeded to kill five of the bandits with the greatsword in his other hand. The threat seemingly gone, Harrod left Holland to be cared for by the others and in a furious rage, entered the barrows to find any skulking in those tunnels.

In this rage, he did not notice that the barrows were trapped. He tripped a falling block trap which he barely avoided, but which snapped his sword in two. He was then jumped in the near darkness by four bandits. He punched and thrashed as well as he could but was quickly succumbing to their attacks. He dropped to the ground to try and escape them and his hand closed over cold steel. He picked it up and slashed away at his attackers and was amazed at the sword’s sharpness and balance. His enemies dead, he grinned and named the sword Blood-Dream. After they got back to Winterfell, the Winter King made Harrod a knight for saving the life of his son.

Three years later, shortly after Harrod’s 21st birthday, Holland and Harrod made a journey to White Harbor for the spring fair, looking to participate in the tournament and make contacts with fellow knights and men of power. Harrod participated in the melee and there defeated opponent after opponent until it was just him against a pair of Bolton twins. They were fast and deadly, with pale eyes. Harrod barely managed to defeat them, and won the purse.

He became fast friends with the twins who were called Ser Garmon and Ser Gervase. They were actually friendly, open men, despite the fearsome reputation of the Dreadfort. Later he met up with his two cousins, who he liked despite their father, who hadn’t joined them in coming to White Harbor. There was a great feast that evening. At it, Jorren, a son of House Magnar, from the Isle of Skagos insulted House Umber, saying “Men of House Magnar like to travel beyond the wall to kill giants, since there are no giants south of the wall, we will have to settle for Umbers.” Harrod had defeated the man in the melee and the Magnar could not let it sit. Although ill-treated by his Uncle, Harrod still felt himself an Umber through and through and never tolerated men flapping their lips. He challenged Jorren. Both had drank flagon after flagon, but few could hold their mead as well as Harrod and when Jorren charged the giant man, Harrod simply lashed out with a low kick and snapped Jorren’s right shin like a dry twig. The Bolton twins and the men of Umber interceded and separated the two. Jorren swore he’d have his revenge. And the Magnar’s men left the castle. Harrod yawned at the man’s predictable response and went back to his mead.

Umber met Dalt Hightower, who had recently lost his wife and children to the red fever. He desired to end his days at the wall for a glorious death, and a new purpose. With Him was Auric “Bloodhawk” Arryn, A legitimized bastard from the vale. The two have since found their lives entwined and have become battle companions.

Auric "Bloodhawk" Arryn

The Arryns are the descendants of the Kings of Mountain and Vale, one of the oldest and purest lines of Andal nobility. They are the Wardens of the East, a title they have held for three hundred years. Before that they were the Kings of the eastern kingdom of Westeros.

The Eyrie is built high in the mountains of the East, made of seven slender white towers so high that one can look down upon the clouds from their parapets. Though small by the Great Houses' standards, the Eyrie, because of the height at which it is built, is the most difficult of castles to storm, as like to defeat troops by causing them to suffer vertigo if naught else. The sigil of the Arryns is the moon-and-falcon, white, upon a sky blue field. The Arryn words are As High As Honor.

King Talon Arryn Lord of the Eyrie had a bastard with his Steward's Daughter, Alane Royce of House Royce, she died during childbirth. Your father was married at the time and had two sons and two daughters, as well as numerous bastards from common women in the vale. House Royce raised you and to ease tensions with his Steward, he acknowledged you as his son. Although you were fostered in house Royce to keep you from court. You grew up strong and swift, an expert swordsman and rider. At 13 you squired for Sir Erol Corbray, and were knighted by 15 in the Battle of Gryphon Mire, where you defended your wounded lord until the host of Ronald Corbray could flank the warriors of the Burned men. You were wounded with four arrows, and had killed ten mountain raiders.

You won fame when your house attended the grand dance of Spears in Dorne, a Grand Tournament at Sunspear, where you won the gold chest for excellent archery. And shocked everyone when you championed Samara Sand, bastard daughter of Damon Martel against a proposed marriage she was unwilling to concede to. You killed her suitor Sandamos of Myr, a Merchant lord of Bravos in single combat. After defeating Sandamos in a close heated battle, and killing him in single combat you took his Valerian blade named Deathkiss. Lord Royce surprised at your success against such a great foe named you Auric Bloodhawk, Giving you the moniker and notoriety.

You also won the enmity of Damon Martel that day, as his daughters marriage was conceived so Sandamos would pay off his debits to the Iron Bank of Bravos that ended on the end of your sword. He banished his daughter from Dorne, and you escorted her to Kings Landing, where you parted.

At the Dance of Spears, you met Dalt Hightower, an old veteran, from house Hightower. He expressed interest in joining the Nights Watch at the wall, and you became good friends visiting his family in Kings landing. He has asked that you accompany him to the wall to visit an old friend and help escort some neer do wells with him. You agreed.

Since you left Kings Landing, You’ve heard rumors of Samara Sand .You hear tale she left with some Bravosi merchants, rumor has it that she fancied women and she left with merchants to Valyria.

Right now you are going north with Dalt Hightower. And you have a baggage wagon full of criminals and exiles for the wall.

Alain Karstark

Alain Karstark was born 18 years ago, a younger cousin to Lord Roland Karstark. At the age of four he was taken to Deepwood Motte to foster at House Glover. His sister was promised to the heir to House Glover, Riathan Glover. On the eve of their wedding, the Ironborn of House Hoare and Wyk raided Deepwood Motte, sacking the town and taking captives. It was wholesale slaughter, the town was in the middle of festivities and were taken by total surprise. Alain’s brother and sister were both murdered in the attack, and he was taken back to Pike by House Hoare.

The boy was scarred and bereft, having seen the rape and murder of his sister before his eyes. An Ironborn warrior left him with a jagged facial scar across his left cheek, almost taking his left eye. The eye itself healed, but the iris turned red; a permanent reminder of his capture and imprisonment. The first two years were hard, as hard as the Island of Pyke. As a ward awaiting ransom, the sons of House Hoare abused the lad and forced disgusting menial tasks to him and he was physically abused constantly by the other Ironborn boys, who viewed the Greenlander as a weakling.

After a serious beating, Maester Levitas cured the lad and demanded to his Lord that he take in the lad as a steward, before he was killed. Lord Harren Hoare agreed, after all a dead boy would bring no ransom. Levitas made a wager with Harren, if the boy could best Harren’s own son in arms by twelve he was to be accepted into the ranks as a ward, just as any other nobles son had the right to. Harren agreed, thinking the maester needed a new pet.

Alain listened carefully to the maester, who taught him deception was the way to survival. The young captive Karstark learned much from his tutor, and he became hardened by the maester, learning the keys of influence by aggression and power through force. He had the local smith teach him swordplay and crafting weapons. Soon the young lad was all sinew and lean muscle. He learned to focus his anger on survival and cunning and waited for the day he could have his revenge.. The maester also taught him of leechcraft and reading.

He had grown despondent waiting for his uncle to pay his ransom, he had had no ravens from the north in response to Lord Harren’s request for gold. He feared his uncle thought him dead, and there would be no ransom paid. Alain decided he had to find his own escape, his own way in the world to survive.

Young Karstark used his knowledge of the body in his swordplay, striking deadly accurate at vulnerable points in ones armor and flesh. By twelve Alain was an impressive youth, well schooled in the arts of swordplay and the ways of the ironborn. He even had himself drowned, falsely giving his captors the idea he had converted to the drowned god. His ruse worked well, and the day came for Harren’s son to challenge his upstart captive.

Harren and his son’s were anxious to humiliate the lad. And they were stunned at his ability at the warriors moot, where Ironborn children proved their fighting skills and were accepted into the ranks of the wards, young boys pledged to a warrior. Alain was challenged by Harren’s son, and asked his father for the use of edged weapons instead of practice weapons. He said Alain’s uncle would not pay his ransom because he was worthless, and if he was truly a man, he would have to become an Ironborn, forgetting his past and family. The battle would be to first blood.
Alain agreed.

Alain defeated Harren’s son and broke his arm in the fight, and immediately demanded his right to warriors ward. Harren agreed, impressed with the lad. One warrior stood and said he would take the young man as ward, Tyrin Seareaver of of Wyk, Captain of the Blue Hag.

Alain became a reaver, striking the lands south of Wyk, and became the bane of the Lannisters and Tyrell’s. For eight years he raided with the crew of the Blue Hag. The ironborn no longer watched him as carefully as they had, and let him go on sorties with them inland. One day while raiding deep into Lannister lands, he left a bottle with a note at the place of the battle, telling the Lannister forces of his identity and where the location of the next raid would be. Finally, his moment or revenge had come. The crew came into conflict with House Lannister and Tyrell, who had set an ambush up on the western shores. The battle was thick and bloody, and The Lannister and Tyrell forces were victorious.

For some reason his heart wasn’t feeling the pride he thought he should for his victory. Betraying this crew was something different, dishonorable even. Karstark had grown fond of Tyrin Seareaver, and many of the crew. They were Ironborn, nothing but thieves and murderers. But what did that make him? What had he become? He watched in silence as the captives were hung and their bodies put to the torch. He was then taken prisoner by The White Lion of Lannister, until his father sent his ransom and men from the North to escort him home. Six months later he was back in Karstark lands.

His Uncle welcomed him but was distant, embarrassed by the inability to come up with the ransom sooner. Feeling Betrayed Alain went to the Godswood to ask the old gods for forgiveness, and to reaffirm his oath to them.

He was knighted by his uncle the next day, and offered to make marriage arrangements. Alain was put off. Once again his Uncle was trying to be rid of him, and force some unwanted marriage upon him. Knighthood was no consolidation either. He felt out of place among the lords and their polite ways, and many of his family members did not know him. It was not the homecoming he had expected.

His cousin Artos heard word of Lord Bolton’s castle being besieged by Ironborn. Alain did not hesitate, he donned his armor and sword and made off toward Bolton’s castle.

Alleras of Oldtown NPC The DM's character

Alleras was born to a noble house in the reach that had been dispossessed after conspiring with Dornish agents. Alleras siblings lost their lives fighting as mercenaries in Myr and Tyrosh. He attended the citadel and received three links before leaving and exploring the free cities and travelling with spice traders as a leech. Struck with wanderlust he went north with Dalt Hightower seeking service in the black as a member of the nights watch. He met Auric Arryn at the dance of spears and went north with him. After seeing the wall he lost all desire to volunteer as a member of the nights watch and decided to pledge his friendship to his companions, sharing in their adventures.

Now that the characters have backgrounds, I let them do what they want, and they were very good at winging it. Its so hard to find players that want to play in a game like this. I just find that ridiculous. Most tabletop gamers are in it for the WOW experience. How much damage do I do and how much treasure do I get? But they have no depth and they have no goals. One boring dungeon crawl after the next. Retarded. I'm in a game for the roleplaying aspect and I like worldbuilding. I also want my character to improve his status in the world. Win friends and influence people, make enemies and develop a campaign. So being that most RP tabletop games don't do this should I run an online game? Are online games detailed like this? I've never run one, but it seems like it would be a pain waiting for people to post.


I've been meaning to respond to this for a while now. Sadly, time has not been my friend as of late.

I have a question; maybe I didn't read closely enough...but are these pregenerated characters? It sounds like you don't have players yet by the comments at the end of your post. They have fairly detailed backgrounds, and that is indeed to make them fit the setting as well as they clearly do; but I've always had better luck with pregen characters that aren't as fleshed out. That way players can take them and do what they will with them. For what it's worth, I probably wouldn't want to play any of those characters for the simple fact that it seems like they're already fleshed out and I would feel I didn't get to make the character "mine". I would be apprehensive that I wouldn't play them well or to the GMs preconceived notion. You may want to provide some healthy detail for the setting, but let player's make their own PCs.

Or maybe those were the characters from your previous campaign. Sorry if that's the case.

I disagree that most players want the schlocky damage monster dungeon campaigns. Most roleplayers I encounter aren't up for that at all, but rather are more interested in detail and characterization and storyline development. Then again, I don't generally move in circles with relatively new gamers that have their opinion colored by video and computer games as you mentioned.

I don't think running an online game will be any different than running a tabletop one. You will need to find the right group no matter what.

One thing I myself have had to constantly coach myself on is that although worldbuilding and campaign development are an enriching aspect of the hobby, a lot of times they mean more to the GM than to the players. If your campaign is more about *your* story and *your* world, then it's not going to focus on the PCs as much as they may like. If you have that great of an idea for a should write a story. Great idea for campaigns often have *less* detail, rather than more. That way the PCs get to be the main characters (and they should really get to write the detail themselves), and the story gets to be of their own design.

The OP is well-intentioned, but he has his head in the clouds. Players like to kick ass. They get bored when asses aren't being kicked. They also get a thrill out of subverting a GM's hard work.

I disagree with that though. Sometimes being immersed in the setting and having a great background, and being part of something narrative and character/story driven *does* kick ass. My players would want nothing less. They also don't try to "subvert my hard work". They appreciate it, and exist meaningfully within the world.

I suppose it's a question of playing style (as everything is). My hard work goes towards giving the players something deep and meanigful to interact with. If I provide that, then my job is done. The rest is up to them.

I do, however, love seeing players subvert *their own* hard work.

I don't think that online campaignes can really compare to live gaming at all. Too much is lost without the face to face interaction. Sure, it's MUCH easier to hit on the incredibly beautiful maiden that you've been traveling with when you're not looking at the Fat Bastard look-alike who's playing her. But you miss out on accents, jokes, facial expressions, and the other social aspects of gaming. Online gaming is cold and relatively boring.

You can also get a lot more done in a shorter amount of time playing in person rather than online.

As for your characters... I like them a lot. My question is... Did you write them, or did your players? Bloodhawk especially reads as if you wrote him for someone. Which means that the players are playing characters that you made in a pregenerated gameworld (based off of a series of books, which means that they have access to the same source material that you do). Am I right?

So what is their contribution? What do they get out of this? Do they get to make changes to these characters?

Everyone wants to have a say in the world. Everyone wants to throw in something that says "I was here". Especially during character creation.

I have created a world of my own that is far different than the normal DnD premade games. And my players (all of whome are new to me though they've been gaming for years) are having problems making characters and backgrounds for my world. They can't wrap their minds around the fact that humans in my world have different languages with no real common tongue. That they have different religions (and that almost EVERYONE is devoutly religious), laws, and cultures. Or that dwarves aren't Scottish midgets.

My world is SO different, that for my first campaign, the PCs will all be from a farming community in a remote frontier town. That way, as the characters explore the world, the players will learn it as well. When that campaign ends, the players will have a good grasp of everything that the world has to offer and can make characters that suite their desires that will fit my world.

Does this help at all?

BTW I have to give a shout out to Scott. It's been a while and I have to say that you ALWAYS make good points when you comment. While I miss the flame wars that started our conversations, I really enjoy reading what you write. I especialy like reading about the differing factions of your world. Human and non human alike. I'd love to read more.

Calamar! Where the hell ya been?!?

Interestingly enough, the story of that particular setting is told in full now. I've developed a new one that is very obviously *not* been in development for almost 20 years. It's certainly a world made by an adult for adults, not something that has grown up with me over time. We'll talk to be sure.

I went through some pretty rough times. But things have settled a bit and I get to play online at work now... So that means more time for Gamegrene.

I have written a roleplaying game system and am currently trying to playtest it. Hard to find groups in Denver though. Also have been working on creating a good fantasy game world. And I finished the rough draft of my first novel, a thriller set in Colorado.

Think that we took over this thread. Oops! My bad. I take full responsibility for the bad that just occured. ;-)

You and I have always occured that particular bad. Let's talk fantasy settings. Drop me an email and we'll exchange contact info.

Nothing wrong with a healthy thread-jacking. It's been too quiet around here, anyway.

Lack of content = too quiet.

No submissions, no updates.


OK, one article comin' up.

LOL...I'm working on one of those too! LG, stop reading over my shoulder!

Race ya.

...and I've had several articles buzzing around in my head but everytime sit down to write, they leave! It's a coming. I just need to start writing and go from there...