Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month July 2019 – Birthright: Cities of the Sun

You look lost. First time in Suiriene? Perhaps I can be of some assistance? You won’t want to be blindly casting about too much around here. The Sultan’s men may not take kindly to it. They may think you an agent of The Serpent. I hear whispers of an impending purge, and you definitely don’t want to get caught up in that. Some think it cruel, but what can be done? He is the Sultan, it is his Birthright: Cities of the Sun – July’s Campaign of the Month! If you have a lust for adventure, then ready yourself, for we prepare to speak with Joedylan2000, GM of this gem.


First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do both aside from gaming? Any alter egos? Spouse and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet? Let us know if you feel so inclined!

So I live in Canterbury in the UK, I teach science, study creative writing and help run a (very) small RPG company, Canterbury Games Studio (you can also check out our Facebook Page).


How did you get into tabletop gaming? What games or systems do you play aside from this campaign?

I was exposed to the Hobbit at a young age and got my parents to buy me MERP because it had Lord of the Rings pictures on the box. It took my preteen brain a few years to figure out even Rolemaster light MERP rules. By that time I was hooked and was playing DnD (redbox) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with my school friends.


I play FATE and is derivatives a fair amount, I love the character-centric nature of it, and I am running a lot of TORG as well because its just plain fun.

Tell us about Birthright in a nutshell. How did it come to be and how long has the campaign been going on?

Its a couple of months in right now. Birthright was TSRs ‘rule your kingdom’ AD&D campaign setting back in the 90s, it’s awesome, It had an Iron throne before they were cool. It has a fond place in my heart as the first ever DnD campaign I successfully run back in my uni days. My current campaign is set in the lands of the khinasi, part of the setting inspired by a mix of the Arabian nights and the voyages of Sinbad. My PCs are the leading figures of the Island of Surienne, The newly crowned Sultana, the Court Wizard, the High priest of the largest temple and the leader of the most powerful merchant consortium, the game mixes international politics, realm building and good old fashioned fantasy adventure.

How regularly do you play, and where do you play?

We picked a Birthright Campaign because its really well set up for mix medium varied pace play. It can be run PBM style for stretches of domain management, we are setting up the forum for slower role play and politics, and we run more intense action either on Roll20 or face to face when the situation gets epic, such as the assassination attempt on the Sultan. Since we don’t even all live in the same country these days the pace varies, its been a slow June for example, but its aiming to pick up again in July.


Why did you choose Pathfinder over other systems? What are your favorite things about this RPG?

I am using a lot of realm mechanics, ported straight from the original AD&D birthright campaign. While those were designed to bolt on to AD&D, they bolt surprisingly well on to Pathfinder as well. All my Players are pathfinder veterans, three out of five of us have GMed it, so it’s a good go-to system that delivers well on its premise. I had to restrict a lot of different classes, modify races and limit feats and items in order to match the setting. But Pathfinder has so many options, there where still plenty left to give my players freedom and flexibility and give me plenty to mess around with it.

For those of us out interested in a campaign of this style, we know there are a lot of places to draw inspiration from, but where do you draw yours from?

I studied a lot of history, which helps, Kathryn Kers ‘Deryni’ books also inspire, not for the setting directly, but the sense of history turning on characters and the sense of medieval ‘realpolitic’. I think the key to this kind of campaign is staying in character, it’s easy to reduce all the interactions to bonuses on a realm sheet when a good story is made by the characters behind those numbers.


How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back? Do your players get involved on the wiki too?

I’ve been a member for several years now. I find it a great planning tool and for managing long campaigns. Sometimes not just mine. I once created a page for a campaign I was playing in so I could put the GMs 160 odd NPCs and 80+ adventure write-ups in a wiki where I could tag them and have a searchable database. I enjoy the process of writing stuff up for i as well, it helps me organize my mind and fire up creativity.


I always try and get players involved I think it builds a sense of engagement. I was lucky they were keen for Birthright and helped me post the reams of public data.

Your customization is really slick. Do you do all that work yourself? How much customization is there?

I am a cheerful magpie always on the lookout for other peoples shiny tricks. There are some great people in the community who share their knowledge and the CSS from their own campaigns, I am forever grateful to them for their help and support; everything is the result of my experimentation with others code. I have an obsidian wiki I just use for code experiments then port stuff over to live campaigns. In this one, its worked really well, in others well, they’re a little more Frankenstein, but such is the price of progress.

How much time do you usually spend prepping your sessions, and how do you go about it?

I am a seat of the pants type a lot of time. I like to do the prep work at the start of a campaign, make sure I have set of ‘tools’ to hand. When I have a strong idea that needs work I did in But I am willing to go with the flow and let the players steer a lot of the action. I am a big fan of emergent storytelling. Birthright is great for this, it has a random events system and the players never know whether something is happening is GM plot or a random event. That’s one of the reasons I like wikis so much, it’s easier to keep track of what I’ve done when I wander off on something spontaneous.


What would you say the single biggest highlight from your game has been so far?

For me it was the assassination attempt on the sultan (an NPC) because that’s the moment the players grasped that the shadow war against the Serpent was going to be a real central point of the campaign rather than it being a gentle realm building style game. It also showed they could also change the arc, since they managed to successfully save the sultan through cunning and good roleplay even though they knew I wanted to ‘retire’ him to make room for an incoming PC.


A close second was the look on Oshca’s face when his character was denounced as a heretic by members of his own church for what was a good strategic move from a pure ‘numbers on a page’ perspective. Since it was a good reminder that the realm mechanics in Birthright are an aide to roleplay not in place of it.

Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing pearls of wisdom.

Sun Tzu says Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster. I say Know your players and know yourself and you can improvise a hundred encounters without disaster.

I’m afraid the time has come for us to bid a fond farewell to the world of Birthright. Be sure to check back next month, when we bring you another featured campaign. In the meantime, keep adding your favorites to the nomination thread so they can be in the running for a feature post of their own! We thank you for reading, and wish you all the best. So long for now!

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