So, after the initial brainstorming I have some ideas to go with, that is: building a fantasy mash-up over the Middle Earth hack (more about this later) and using Obsidian Portal as a campaign manager. I will also produce a new DM binder to store all the tables and stuff printed from the Wiki so not to end having to play with the computer, which is something I don't really like. But this, again, is another topic I will cover moreover. In this post, I want to discuss the last year or so of weekly campaign, analyzing the adventures, what worked and whatnot.
Adventures And The Plot
Our first adventure was about becoming part of this guild of demon-hunter monks. The campaign was set in this world with no sun, toe-to-toe with the Abyss, where demons and devils often pop-up here and there causing troubles. The "test" was about entering a dungeon, fighting some stuff, get out and begin the training. So eventually we managed to do all of these things, got a bunch of new special abilities and a couple of minor magic items. After the training, we were sent to this port to investigate some strange ritual murders (second adventure). We failed gathering enough clues (which really wasn't our fault, or so was my impression anyway) and a powerful demon was eventually raised in the city. In the meanwhile we fought some Goblins in the sewers (that ended up having nothing to do with the murders and demon rising at all), some Imps (supposedly the killers), and were contacted by this mysterious NPC that helped us and then we heard nothing about her again. At this point we joined a merchant looking for a library in a ruined city in the desert (the world apparently was mostly desert - we never saw a map of it anyway so who knows). There we confronted some powerful devils, some weird tricks and traps settled by the MU who was the original owner of the library, and finally reached our goal retrieving a huge hoard. (That was the end of our third adventure.) We went back to the port, spent our moneys in magical gear, and learned about the nearby woods. Thinking we could find some clues about what was raised in the city, we headed there, met some Rangers in trouble, and learned about this mysterious cavern. We went there, my character almost died in a battle against some really huge displacing spider (only character who really risked his life in the game - he was a Sorcerer anyway), and finally arrived to the cavern. (From hereon I think we were playing some 3.0 adventure, name it if you recognize it.) In there we found a huge tower, at the top of it was a dragon. My character came to terms with the dragon by gifting him something magic (like a useless wand or something), avoiding the battle and being allowed to enter the tower. There we fought a lot of monsters, mainly undead, and I admit it was like the most entertaining part of the campaign (I love dungeons). We kicked the boss' ass, and crawled out with some treasure we left to the Rangers to remake their stronghold. End of the fourth adventure. Then, some way I don't quite remember, we learned about this truly powerful artifact: a necklace crafted by the Gods themselves (note: the setting was so poorly detailed we knew nothing but this about the Gods, whatever). Last time it was used it really screwed up everything and eventually created the big desert in which we lived. So we decided to get over it, find it, and possibly destroy it. Then we learned we weren't the only one looking for the necklace: someone else was on it, and they owned this diary leading straight to the pyramid in which the necklace is said to be stored. We tried so steal it, but eventually someone scooped us. And here we are.
What Worked And Whatnot
I had similar issues with my previous campaign with this party of players (The Doomed Wastelands). To me, the biggest problem was our DM mixed the sandbox and railroading kind of play the wrong way - that is: we were thinking about following some path of sort while we were truly only going around, and the vice-versa. This is something that must be absolutely avoided. The more, most of the players in the party are not good on sandbox playing, and want to be railroaded. I bet that if I'd go with you go kill the Dragon of Despair as an adventure for 1st level characters, they'd go without asking a question. Also, they are not really interested in writing the story, and much prefer to be passive tools of faith in their quests. Thus, I'm not offering any kind of sandbox playing to them. Also, it's my guess they want something truly linear - so no twisting plots. Oh well, good for me - lot less work needed.
Thus, The Plot
From the above consideration, I'll go with a simple stupid idiot proof linear plot. The more, I won't even struggling writing down something original. I think I'll go with LOTR: you go find this powerful artifact (the above necklace) which is important to the Big Bad Guy (Vecna-style Lich) to regain his power and strike back subduing the Free Peoples of the world. When you find it, you destroy it. I guess half the campaign will be about finding, the other half on destroying. Or perhaps 3/5 finding 2/5 destroying. Whatever.
I will plan five adventures, from level 9 to 14 (thus, one level for each adventure). According to what happened in the last year of playing, it seems likely that this will take about 10 months to complete. Each adventure will be clearly and easily linked to the following one: I really want to give them a sense of what's going on and a strong sense of "you are winning". I don't want to turn it all in a cake walk, but I think it's important not to take things at a level of complexity they are not capable of/not interested in carrying.