The Hero's Journey

Building a campaign world Pt.1

The conversation about 5th ed. begins

Ivan, Dave and I discussed where we go from here. The feeling is that we start with D&D 5th edition from level 1. I personally would like to keep it a very open and generic fantasy world where any of us can try our hand at DMing an adventure, I am happy to offer my services as default DM in between such forays. I would say that the list of Greyhawk Gods in the D&D 5th ed. appendix is sufficient enough for our needs, not 100’s of liitle godlings ala the current builder.

Ivan said:
After playing a supers/manga game for so long, it would be good to get back into some medieval fantasy. Personally I think it would be good for an ongoing campaign to have one main GM with an occasional guest spot, rather than an alternating roster. That way some overarching storyline stuff can gradually evolve in the background during the campaign.

Also it would be good to agree on a few basics so that we all create characters for the same world:

1. Demihumans. With us all being first level (in a game where first level is not amazingly powerful), it makes sense for us to all come from a fairly local region. Because of that, we need to work out some of the stuff with demihumans (ie. it’s hard to imagine a completely inexperienced dwarf who has already travelled from the Dwarven Mountains halfway across the world to be in this starting town). So the options there are that the local scene is incredibly multi-racial, the demihuman lands are all fairly close by, or that the PC’s parents travelled away from their homeland to live in this human town.

2. Government. Is the starting town governed by a local independent lordling, part of a baron’s sizable fiefdom, or just a tiny piece of a huge sprawling empire? Is the town at the edge of civilisation or near the heart of it? Is it ruled by a noble, a priest, a guildmaster, or an elected mayor?

3. Culture. Generally we have assumed a European feudal medieval norm, but it would be good to confirm that. Even then, there may be some things that need to be sorted out; eg. is slavery legal? There is also the question of how the demihuman cultures vary. For example, do elves marry? Considering elves are so flighty but live for so long, it’s possible that their concepts around mating and family could be completely different to humans. That’s just one example.

4. Magic. How common is magic, and how much influence does it have on local culture? If wizards are so powerful at higher levels, what stops them from ruling the world? Or do they already? Is there an oath that is part of the wizard’s training not to take positions of government? Are wizards naturally treated with suspicion and distrust because of a history of tyrannical wizards? Is wizardry an open activity with a wizard’s shoppe in most towns; or is wizardry outlawed and practised in secret? How does all this affect other spell casters?

5. Language. One of the things that has often bugged me is the way roleplaying and mechanics get mixed up sometimes, especially when it comes to character classes. Do the words “paladin”, “cleric”, and “ranger” exist in the local language? If so, what do they mean? In the local culture, is there any difference in meaning between a “wizard”, a “sorcerer”, and a “warlock”? Does a “monk” generally serve a particular deity; or is a “monastery” something quite different to what medieval Europe would understand? What does the word “adventurer” mean? What are the local connotations behind it?

There’s a lot of details here and probably some other stuff I haven’t thought of, but I think these are worth at least considering. I’m not saying we have to build the entire world from the very beginning, but it might be nice to at least have some things sorted beforehand. I suspect that there’ll be some things that Penguin will already have in mind, but other things we can work out among us all.

Werz said:
I agree that world building details don’t need to be exhaustive up front, but some of this stuff nutted out and understood by the group is great for tone and feel and a real sense of place.

I really enjoyed the 5th Ed one off Darren ran because of the strong world elements defined: The setting was under the somewhat tyrannical rule of an Emperor – and the little people lived under a kind of police state, oppressed by a ruling class of Imperial elites who were served by wizards. Folks resisting the empire were hunted enemies of the state. The empire was human centric.

Dan said:
I like the role playing to be escapism, so I have no problems with Penguin’s points 2 and 3. Point 1, however, hits a little too close to home. Having recently paid my binding oath to the TRB (formerly WACOT), a tithe that will continue until the death of my career, the thought of labouring under the yoke of an oppressive bureaucracy sounds an awful lot like a day in the office/classroom. As long as the game is not constrained by the backdrop it should be alright, but that depends a little bit on who’s taking the reins. I think that we need to feel, even at a low level, like we are able to make a positive impact on the world, and not impotent and beholden to our “betters”. An educators out there feeling me?

Dave said:
I think all of the suggested broad settings could work, although I’d certainly agree with Dan that whatever background we end up with I’d like us to be able to make a difference in it. There is a certain appeal to throwing down the cruel Abbott Tony after all.

Also, I’d like to vote in favour of rotating DMs (not least because I’d like a chance to be one) presumably with some degree of co-ordination re tone and overall direction.

Werz said:
These are all excellent thoughts.

Totally with Dan on escaping bureaucracy. I’d rather play an outlaw freedom fighter than a tiny sprocket in a rusty machine.
A sense of hope in the game would be great.

Agree with Dave that the option to rotate DMs would be nice. This will feel smoother if the world has good definition.

Attracted to Darren’s suggestion of a “generic” fantasy setting – but think this will need more definition than choosing a list of gods – though that’s a good start. Questions of culture between and across races is particularly pertinent.

Darren said:
I actually thought it would be quite cathartic to be the fly in the ointment of the bureaucratic empire. To do more than just protest with a placard and actually show the small folk that they can aspire to more than meting out a living was appealing. :)

Dave had a setting years ago [and Dave will be better at explaining it, so get on that Dave – gauntlet hits floor] where a high-elven civilisation landed on a neighbouring continent and “civilised” the area around them. The society now has an aristocracy [mainly of high elves] that is ruled by their emperor. The common folk, made up of the conquered races, have long sice been integrated into the empire and can earn their way to any position that they aspire to. The expanding borders of the empire move through the ruins of ancient, fallen civilisations where the races have descended into barbarism [eg. the fallen orc empire] There are ancient ruins, sites of power, terrible villains and more outside the empire while within are tales of intrigue, mundane evils and secret societies etc. to tangle with.

Werz, I only suggested the pantheon of gods as I feel it should be a joint player task to define the races/cultures. The person playing that race should be allowed to set down some ideas about the race [it did attract their interest after all].

I suggest that we are new members of an adventurers guild. This way players can “swap” out characters for different adventurers depending on their mood plus explains the use of different characters when another DM is at the reins. Just a thought.

Personally I am likely to make Gehrigan – son of an aristocratic human house from the heart of civilisation, sent to an elven finishing school that specialised in the arcane arts who found that he had a love of the old stories of heroes fighting ancient evils, of rescuing maidens in distress, of stopping bandit raids on defenceless villages. He wants to be a defender of the weak, a bright light against the darkness.


valensonek Gehrigan

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