I'm working on a HackMaster campaign, and I have decided that it should take place on an archipelago. For those of you not familiar with the term, an archipelago is a chain of islands. The idea is for the players to explore each island one by one until finally reaching the endgame at the final, hard-to-reach island. Ideally, a player character can go from level one to level twenty over the course of the campaign. I could probably do this with any location, but an archipelago gives me some unique advantages and story-telling ideas. Here are a few of them.
Not tied to a given campaign setting
HackMaster is based in the Kingdoms of Kalamar campaign setting. Now I do own the setting book as well as the atlas. But I must admit that I am not as familiar as I would like. Therefore, a "deserted" island with the occasional incursions from the various nations of Tellene provides me with a location of my own design, while allowing me to slowly incorporate the rest of the campaign world into it.
Exploration over Combat
Early D&D was as much about exploring new locations as it was about killing monsters and taking all their stuff. In some cases, even more so. By dropping the PCs into a wild, untamed wilderness, I can point the game back in that direction. One of the main goals of the campaign will be to map the archipelago in its entirety. When I played Isle of Dread last year, I was more than happy to explore the island and get all the hexes in our map filled in. It was the feeling of discovery that drove me in that session. I want that to also drive my campaign.
Controlling the Supply Chain
In most settings when the party needs to resupply they go back into town. The players then crack open the player's handbook and buy whatever equipment they can afford. In reality, supplies at even the most well-stocked store are limited. When you are on a mission of exploration, supplies can become very scarce as the boats that bring them are subject to weather and pirate attack. How will the players deal with these delays? That remains to be seen.
Man versus Nature
Without the benefit of a friendly inn to eat at and a warm bed to sleep in, it will be the players against whatever the weather throws at them. Tropical islands are often the target of tropical storms. Dehydration becomes a threat when the sun beats down on you while the only water around you is the ocean. Poisonous insects and reptiles crawl over every rock and tree. It will be a challenge to find shelter, food, drinkable water and warmth every day of game time.
So far I have a basic map of the first island worked out. I'm now in the process of getting the first few encounters and the adventure hook set. This will likely be an online game, probably play-by-post, so the pace will be different than other games I have ran. But it looks like it should be a lot of fun.