Last week I wrote about my personal campaign management style (you can read about it here). One of the key points of my method was to design the setting utilizing various setting elements, brief descriptors for a variety of interesting sounding things. In a nutshell, I use these bullet-point style elements as a framework for my campaign by seeing which ones catch the players’ interests and linking them together in exciting ways. The article generated quite a bit of feedback in a variety of Google+ communities as well as on our site. Many of you asked what my setting element list looks like.
So this week I thought I’d share with you my initial list of elements, by category, for my current D&D campaign, Forged by Fate. In these examples I have placed the source of the element’s inspiration in parenthesis and italicized additional notes that followed my initial concept along with player input.
- The Lich Queen, a powerful undead sorceress that rules from the Dreadwood Forest (the Lich Queen just sounds cool and one of my players always hunts undead). Several elements in the campaign suggest a heavy “fey” theme so I decided that she is obviously an elven magic-user, possibly even a former mortal queen.
- A young queen that recently ascended to the throne (my wife has been watch the series Reign on Netflix). One of my “historical events” is the recent assassination of a king, must be the father of Queen Delavahna. I wonder what happened to her mother?
- An exiled archfey of the summer court (two of the players in my group are huge Dresdin Files fans and I know they love fey intrigue). As soon as I mentioned this one of my players wanted to be a warlock with this guy as his patron. Cool, another fey element. I named him Harlequin because the player is a huge Shadowrun fan.
- The Sybil, a mysterious oracle that can “see” strands of fate and destiny (she is an element I use for games I run at conventions but I’ve never used her for a home campaign with these players). I think this character is located at the academic sanctuary, see below.
- A halfling criminal mastermind (modeled after Raymond “Red” Reddington from The Blacklist, the coolest criminal ever). One mention of this guy and two of my players selected the Criminal background with a connection to “Cobb”, another favorite TV character at our table.
- A secret group of assassins that target a specific group (mostly because I’ve always wanted to feature assassins but never have). The Pillars of Eternity (see below) gets me thinking that these assassins specifically target priests, clerics, paladins and other divinely inspire people. I’m not sure if there is any connection between the groups at this point but who knows? I decide to call the assassins the Covenant of Skulls because it brings together the idea of death and some sort of sacred pact; that should prove interesting.
- The ruling senatorial body of a powerful young nation (something akin to the Old Republic of the Star Wars universe). This element inspires a whole series of other elements including the design of a few member nations (I eventually add six). I decide that the reason for the formation of the Republic of Erath was the invasion of the Howling Scourge a century ago (see below).
- A mysterious order with a secret agenda (I’m thinking something along the lines of the Freemasons but with a fantasy twist).
- A anti-theist “religion” that denounces the gods (I specifically want an element in the campaign that forces the players to consider the relationship between mortals and deities). These guys follow more of a philosophical path than a religion but they feel that the gods have somehow denied mortals their birthright (immortality). The refer to the gods as the Tyrants and the organization is known as the Pillars of Eternity.
- A group of “rebels” that feel as though a government wronged them somehow (I want some potentially sympathetic antagonists). Thinking again of the Howling Scourge invasion (see below) I figure lots of horrible events occurred during the war. I’ve pictured a vast territory that still lies in ruin and that makes me think of the concept of “acceptable loses”. The city of Knight’s Crossing was destroyed in the invasion despite pleas for reinforcements from the south. Today the Broken Shield Brigade are the remains of those that hold Erath responsible for not aiding their families’ city.
- A frontier town built among the ruins of an old fortress on the edge of the badlands (inspired by a dream I had). Almost immediately I name the city Grimrock Hold. It was once and ancient fortress on the edge of a long dead empire. Thinking about the dry sea bed desert (see below) I decide that this must be a fortress that was once a port city.
- An ancient dwarven city lost centuries ago (inspired by Moria and the dwarf cities of Dragon Age). I mentioned Deepecho Delve in a previous comment. A lost dwarven fortress/city inspired most of the players, especially the dwarf player that claimed he descended from one of the survivors. This setting element would go on to inspire me to develop an entire history for the 13 ancient clans of the Fated Realms and their role in the campaign’s primary plot arc.
- An academic sanctuary of scholars and sages built on an isle (I know my players love to do research and consult sages). This sounds like an elven place, high elves to be exact. The player of the bard thinks it might have been the type of place he once studied at.
- A rough and tumble mining town on the frontier (something primarily accessible by ship so we can have at least one waterborne adventure). I think that this town should have a real steam-punkish, industrial feel. That makes me think of fire and molten iron, which in turn gets me thinking of diabolists and demon cults. With those in mind I create the Brimstone Mining Consortium, the iron-handed rulers of Goldport and secret adherents of an evil god.
- A major metropolitan area built on the edge of the water (I’ve always wanted to feature a city of canals). Every fantasy setting needs it’s signature city and Lakespire is mine. An independent city on the edge of a great lake known as The Dragonwater. They are now part of the Republic of Erath and fought against the Howling Scourge.
- A region of highland moors believed to be haunted (something with a good Hound of the Baskervilles vibe). This desolate land has always been overlooked, sounds like the perfect route by which the Howling Scourge descended upon the realms. In the wake of that event a keep has been built to watch for future incursions, Moorguard Keep, outpost of the Republic.
- A partially sunken city with ruins in a vast swamp (Despite being a fan of the legend of Atlantis I’ve never used the sunken city trope). The map I’ve been sketching has a crescent-shaped area along a large bay and at the base of some mountains. Add ancient volcanoes to the mountains and now the entire region is a sunken salt-marsh home to primitive lizard man tribes. Actually devolved dragonborn, the original rulers of the realm.
- A massive rift ruled by giants (there’s something I really like about these kind of large-scale geographic features). Not sure what caused the collapse but one of the players wants to play a drow character and when talking about her home she said it was destroyed. Perfect, the collapse of the drow kingdom of Xenoverra resulted in the creation of the Ravenfell Rift. Today a giant lord live their known as the Harrowed King.
- A dried up ocean turned desert playa (I don’t live far from the Black Rock Desert in Nevada and have always though it would be an interesting locale). I figure this area is off the map because I know that the frontier town of Grimrock Hold is on the edge of it. It must have been a Mediterranean-like sea, possible the cradle of civilization. I note that the edges of the desert (the former coastal regions of the great sea) are surely covered in ancient ruins.
- A mysterious, mist-shrouded redwood forest along the coast (I used to vacation along the northern California coast as a kid). Before I had the chance to add more than the name, the Twilight Forests, the drow player mentions that it sounds like the place her people would have gone after the destruction of their Underdark home. Giant redwoods and drow, sounds like a winning combination.
- A massive invasion of humanoids that caused untold destruction throughout the realms fairly recently (borrowed the idea from the 4th edition Points of Light Setting). The Howling Scourge already sounds like a savage and primal force so I decide gnolls were the primary invaders. Looking at the new Monster Manual I see that gnolls are more connected to a demonic heritage than previous editions so I decide that the Howling Scourge was a gnoll and demon invasion. Who could be behind such a thing?
- A famous battle that many local heroes fought and died in (I want something that conveys the importance of “heroes” to the campaign). As my map is beginning to come along I pick a city on the edge of the Republic and decide that there is where the war with the Howling Scourge had its first real turning point. Even today Sterngate has a militaristic feel.
- The sudden disappearance of a group of people who left behind unusual ruins (I like to feature interesting justifications for “ruins”). I already have been thinking of the ancient empire that surrounded the now dry sea. I’m thinking something like Rome with humans and elves, they would have explored the Fated Realms as a frontier region. The fallen Empire of Baxor is born. I’ll need to develop ,pre about the Baxori because their history will have strongly influenced the setting.
- The recent assassination of an important noble (I like at least one historical event that is still “in the news”). Since I already determined there is a new queen in one of the realms, it must have been her father that was killed. Could the Covenant of Skulls be responsible? If so what does that mean for the new Queen?
- The formation of a new nation still developing its identity and going through “growing pains” (I was thinking about post-revolutionary war America). Several elements have already led me to the creation of the Republic of Erath, a nation of six allied realms brought together after nearly being destroyed by the Howling Scourge a century earlier.
You’ll notice that nearly every element inspired additional elements. That’s exactly the kind of synergy you want in your campaign! All of these elements formed the foundation of my campaign and many of them directly inspired the players when they created their characters. In a future article I’ll share with you how these elements specifically impacted the players’ choices and decisions. In the meantime maybe a few of these elements might work for your campaign or at the very least inspire your creativity! Game on, roll dice, and have fun.