Posts Tagged ‘Eberron’

First up, my real world timeline. I wanted to give you all a quick update on the Exploration Age Campaign Guide. Most of the history, description, and fluff has been written. That’s all being looked over by a group of close friends, pretty much all of the guys who play in my campaign. I’m taking the comments left on the blog into account as I revise and edit as well, so please keep them coming!

Right now all mechanics are still being tweaked. Obviously, I’m waiting for the release of the fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons core rule books before I lock it all down. I won’t be able to release anything for sale until the Open Gaming License is revealed in 2015. That’s good, because it gives me more time. I’m only one person and I can only do so much, especially when I want any modules and supplemental rules to be fair and balanced.

All that being said I know I can start finalizing some of the mechanics I’m creating starting July 3rd when the first set of D&D Basic rules drop and my local friendly gaming store will put out the D&D Starter Set. Wow that is close!!!

A Special Sneak Peek?

I also know that a lot of folks out there are eager to start a campaign around August 19th when the Player’s Handbook drops. Maybe, if I’ve done my job right, there are a few of you eager to play in the world of Exploration Age? Maybe with a less complete campaign guide lacking art and layout, but for free? A manuscript version of the Exploration Age Campaign Guide, if you will. If you are interested in that sort of thing, keep checking back here and follow me on Twitter for updates. It’s going to happen, but I won’t be giving it away for free for long so keep your eyes and Twitter feeds open.

And now a bit about my own process of creating Exploration Age and some excerpts…

Starting Point

When I first began getting into the details of Exploration Age, I wasn’t sure where to begin. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you how I determined the ideas and themes of the world as well as the major events inspiring Exploration Age. But what led to all of these events and got Canus into its current state? I needed some help and inspiration.

I looked at the timelines of my favorite campaign worlds like Dark Sun , Forgotten Realms, and Eberron. In looking at these timelines I realized something huge. Timelines are outlines. They give readers and authors the significant events in a world’s history. These events are deemed significant by the fact that their impact is still being felt in some way in the present. I didn’t just need to write a history, I needed to start with a timeline to help me mold the rest of the world.

All of these timelines begin with big, broad strokes which paint the settings’ most important beginning events with hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years in-between events. Heck, Eberron’s first event in its Age of Demons is 9.5 million years away from the next.

That's a big jump.

That’s a big jump.

This is to say, only the really big events of the far past still matter today (for the most part). In general, when we look back in Earth’s history, it’s the real game changers that matter and for which we can still find evidence. Your ice ages, your rise and fall of the dinosaurs, and your big bangs fall into these broad strokes categories. Here’s what the beginning would look like for Exploration Age. (Note: BF stands for Before Findalay – since the formation of the countries and continent of Findalay are the defining moment in Canus’ history according to the people making the calendar. More on that below.)

  • ??? Aberrant beings rule Canus. The first dragons hatch from eggs buried deep within Canus’ core and the tunnels they dig to climb out become The Underdark. The Chromatic Dragons bleed from the effort, lacking the hard scales of their metallic brethren, and their blood turns into the drow. Somewhere in the present day Damned Lands, a psionic race of peaceful humanoids has shielded their lands from the aberrant influence.
  • 500,000 BF In present day Findalay and Parian, Chromatic Dragons, coveting power for themselves, war with the huge population of aberrants, but become locked in a bloody struggle in which no side ever has the clear advantage. Metallic Dragons in Verda form a less straight-forward plan to beat the abberrants and begin experimenting with planar magic.
  • 300,000 BF Chromatic Dragons create the shardminds who, enslaved by the dragons, destroy the aberrants in Findalay and Parian. The remaining abberants flee underground. The Damned Lands earn their name as an unknown tragedy envelopes the land. For hundreds of millennia its skies and lands glow hot with psionic energy, changing the land and destroying all civilization within its borders. Metallic Dragons open a portal to The Nine Hells, releasing legions of devils upon Verda to battle the aberrants. While many devils are subservient to the dragons who summoned them, others are able to break free of their bond and form alliances with the aberrants. The devils and the aberrants mate, creating the morchia.
  • 100,000 BF The shardminds rise against the Chromatic Dragons in a surprise attack, releasing two races of their own creation – the dwarves and the gnomes. Canus is completely devastated by the attack. The shardminds are spread far and wide as are the dragons, with most of their civilization in ruins, few of either ancient race remain after the war. Some gnomes and dwarves are driven deep underground and welcomed by the drow, while others begin to build new lives on the surface once the war settles down. The Metallic Dragons of Verda create a race to uphold their ideals of learning from the devils still loyal to them known as the tieflings.

Then, People Showed Up

Eventually people show up in the world and that’s when the timeline becomes less broad. As people, our personal history is more important to us and has more of an impact on our present. Still, the far past of human history is painted in broader strokes with more time between events than the more recent past. The rise of Christianity, the fall of the Roman Empire, and the Norman Invasion are events in our own distant events which shaped our world today. The period of time between events could be hundreds of years, decades, or less.

These medium-broad stroked events are also part of the history of fictional campaign worlds. Again, I’ll use the Eberron example.

These are still pretty big jumps, but smaller than before.

These are still pretty big jumps, but smaller than above.

Exploration Age has some similar jumps in its timeline as it comes closer to the present year – 403 FF.

  • 4,000 BF A sect of devout humans on Parian, now an established, powerful nation, face religious persecution from their emperor. The remaining gnomes face racial persecution. Together they board a boat in search of safer lands and come to present day Aeranore. The dwarves welcome the humans and gnomes, who, in exchange for land of their own, promise to aid the Bragonians in a renewed fight against Taliana and Marrial. Tieflings, fearing their own destruction at the hands of the morchia, begin to research a way to seal the morchia in The Underdark.
  • 3,500 BF Parian declares war on Aeranore, seeking to punish those who left. Bragonay turns to the powerful Parian, offering to help destroy the inhabitants of Aeranore in exchange for help against Marrial and Taliana. Aeranore joins forces with Marrial and Taliana against Bragonay in return for aid against Parian. The First Great War begins. On Verda, the tieflings use The Reckoning Spell to bind the morchia back beneath the ground. The ritual is so powerful, they break it into many pieces and hide it.
  • 1,000 BF Parian declares a truce with Aeranore, Marrial, and Taliana in exchange for trade rights. Bragonay now faces a war against the other three Findalayan nations alone, but is aided when Taliana’s capital city is swallowed by a massive earthquake.
  • 500 BF Desperate, Bragonay makes an exclusive treaty and trade agreement with Marrial to remove them from the war. Taliana’s capital is rebuilt on the site of the old.

It is usually during this time that many histories have their defining moment of the current age. In the real world for many cultures this defining moment was the rise of Christianity. BC standing for Before Christ and AD standing for the Latin phrase Anno Domini meaning “in the year of the Lord,” are good examples of that. All other events in many of Earth’s cultures are defined by their temporal relation to the birth of Christ. Regardless of your beliefs, that’s some lasting influence right there!

In Exploration Age the defining moment for the calendar is the founding of the continent and nation of Findalay. For tens of thousands of years the various nations of Findalay were at war with one another. When the leaders signed a (temporary) peace and officially created their borders, that moment was huge for the people of Exploration Age. It has helped define the current age in a major way. Thus everything in the Exploration Age timeline is either BF (Before Findalay) or FF (after Findalay’s Founding).

Details of the Recent Past

When one thinks of the recent past, he or she can name numerous defining moments of the world’s history. In the United States we still feel the effects of slavery, World War II, the moon landing, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and more. I could name a bunch of events in the past few years we’re still feeling. That’s how it goes when you’re looking at the recent past. Even smaller events have an impact if they’ve happened recently. Again, let’s look at Eberron, who’s starting campaign year is 998 YK. Not only is the distance between events much shorter, some years have multiple significant events.

Less than 10 years between jumps here.

Less than 10 years between jumps here.

So for Exploration Age the trend follows. When I got to this point in the time I began with broad strokes. There were major events I knew I wanted to have happen – like the cooling of The Damned Lands, the creation of the Explorers’ Guild and The Society of Seekers, and of course, the discovery of Verda. Then I put random placeholder entries between the years of major events I knew I wanted. In those placeholders, I began placing minor events. These were usually events that I wanted to happen that would create interesting organizations, adversaries, conflicts, and adventure sites for PCs in Exploration Age. Some of these events were ideas I had in my head for years and some were things I thought of on the spot as I was filling in the spaces I had created for myself.

As I’ve used the timeline as an outline to flesh out the actual Exploration Age Campaign Guide, events have been added, subtracted, and modified. I love coming up with another cool idea and then finding a place within Exploration Age’s history for it. Take a look at some of Canus’ recent history.

  • 377 FF The Plague of Twenty Cycles comes to Verda and decimates the tribal population for twenty years.
  • 384 FF Parian discovers Marrial’s involvement in the freeing of slaves and joins Bragonay in battle due to Marrial’s breaking of the Pardalay Treaty.
  • 387 FF Desperate to remove the pressing grip of Parian and Bragonay, Aeranore makes a deal with Parian and provides them with slaves to replace those lost to Marrial. Parian agrees to the terms and leaves the Fourth Great War.
  • 392 FF End of the Fourth Great War as the warforged rise up against the dwarves.
  • 393 FF The Explorers’ Guild discovers Verda. Findalayan countries and Parian rush to establish colonies.
  • 397 FF The Damned Lands finally cool and exploration begins… and most end badly.
  • 401 FF Ragorn Zhul Prison has a massive riot and the guards stay on the walls. The prisoners stay inside and run the prison city.
  • 403 FF The campaign begins…

So that’s the Exploration Age timeline! Take a look and let me know in the comments below if you’re toying with the idea of playing a few sessions in Canus.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Advertisements

So I’m taking a little diversion this post from Exploration Age to talk about the theme of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. That theme? GM binders.

Way, way, way back in the day when I was ten and playing The Fantasy Trip I used a marble composition notebook in which I wrote every whack campaign idea I had (many of which we’re never played). This included an entire campaign based off the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. The Man with the Golden Hand Crossbow (I was ten) was a rollicking tale and one of the first stories I ever ripped off completely. Here’s to you marble composition notebooks! May you hold young children’s campaigns, MASH games, dot-man wars, and secret crushes forever.

Behold! The secret-keeper and math-homework-tracker!

Google Drive

My gaming notes today are organized, but usually only in a way that would make sense to me. I’ll use my last campaign as an example. I ran a group of six PCs through a Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons Eberron game that lasted from levels one to thirty. The ideas for this campaign began where many today probably do – Google Drive.

A peak into my Google Drive folder for my Eberron campaign.

Why Google Drive? Well there’s a few reasons. First I work on my game in a lot of different places. At home on my laptop, on my phone in the train headed to work, and on my work computer during my lunch hour. With Drive being a cloud I can work on my home laptop, my phone, and my work computer without having to lug too much back and forth. I can easily output word docs, tables, PDFs, etc. to share with my players or print stuff out and bring it to games. Plus, 15GB is plenty of space for campaign notes.

In Google Drive I kept a bunch of different documents related to the Eberron game, but they mostly fit into these categories.

  1. Campaign Outline – A brief outline of where I think the campaign is going. This is so I can see how things are playing out, what the endgame might be, and what’s happening in the world beyond the scope of the party. I usually update thisdocument every few sessions. Here’s a look at my outline during ourepic tier of play (forgive any typos, remember, this was just for me).
    • Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.57.18 PM

      Eberron is badass!

  2. Open Threads – Then I also have a list of open threads (and believe me there were PLENTY in this campaign). Here’s where I list all of the unresolved issues in the campaign. Stories from side quests, character backgrounds, secret dealings, and consequences reverberating from the party’s actions all go here. I leave this open while we play and jot down notes quickly. Anything that gets resolved I highlight in red.
    • Seriously, this is just a PIECE.

      Seriously, this is just a PIECE.

  3. Weekly Quest – This is where I kept detailed information about what would (might) happen during our weekly session. Monster stats, read aloud text, traps, NPC statistics, and general adventure information would go here. Here’s another taste.
    • Again, please forgive typos.

      Again, please forgive typos.

  4. Treasure – If you’ve ever played 4th edition, you know that there’s many a magic item to give out. If a player doesn’t have the right magic items the math for attacks and defense won’t work out. In this case I awarded over 150 magic items (not counting consumables like potions). It’s a lot to track along with gold and monetary rewards so I had a separate document for that.
    • I'll assume this only makes sense to 4e DMs, but here it is.

      I’ll assume this only makes sense to 4e DMs, but here it is.

So those documents help me track what the campaign is doing and where it’s going, and a tiny bit what’s in the past. However most of the past of this campaign was tracked if a different way – via gmail.

Gmail

I’ve tried using Obsidian Portal before, but unfortunately for as much as I loved it, getting my players to use it made taking a dog to the vet seem easy. Obsidian Portal and services like it are awesome, but they’re a ton of work as well and if my players aren’t into it then it’s not worth the effort.

My players do read emails. Going to a website and navigating for the answers you want requires more effort than opening and reading an email. Likewise typing an email is a lot less work than managing an Obsidian Portal account. So after each session I’d send an email with the following information – a list of the known quests and tasks they had committed to completing, a brief summary of what happened during the previous session, a list of who was wounded or diseased, a list of rewards gained during the previous session, and an updated quest wiki.

A sample of a recap email minus the wiki.

A sample of a recap email minus the wiki.

Our wiki was simple and tacked onto each email. It was divided into three categories – people, places, and organizations. Each was organized with alphabetical entries that had no more than two lines of description. I’d simply copy and paste the wiki from the previous recap email then add to it for the current email. It started small and was enormous by the end, but it was a helpful reference for the players and myself. They didn’t have to read it each week, but they knew it was there for them when they needed it. Plus, it was super easy for me.

And here's a very small piece of the wiki, but you get the idea.

And here’s a very small piece of the wiki, but you get the idea.

Roll20

I’ve already sung the praises of roll20.net, but this is where I kept all my maps for battle, which is super important in a Fourth Edition D&D game. I could archive maps I really loved and might use several times throughout the campaign (like the deck of the party’s airship or the temple which served as their home base).

If roll20 doesn’t turn you on, there’s a lot of other services like it. Recently I did a soon to be released podcast interview with Doug Davison of Fantasy Grounds. This product is badass and I highly recommend checking that out as well. The podcast will be released in two weeks, but until then check out their video.

The Future

Again, through my podcast, The Round Table, I recently learned about a new product for worldbuilding and campaign tracking called Realmworks. Right now this product is only available on PC, which stinks for us Mac users like me. However thanks to the podcast interview with Liz Theis (coming next week) I’ve learned Realmworks will one day be available through the web. When that day comes, I’ll be super excited to keep my GM notebook with that product. It’s full of tons of ways to make prep, worldbuilding, story-tracking, and on-the-fly note taking easy. Check out the video below to get more information about what Realmworks can do.

Until then, I’m working on outlining Exploration Age with, you guessed it, Google Drive!

A Postscript – Eberron Fiasco

Also, as a bonus in this blog post, I was going through my old notes and I found a Fiasco playset I created for Eberron. It was supposed to be used in the event I couldn’t make a session, but the players still wanted to play something. That never actually happened, but I think it a group could use this playset in a bunch of different ways. Maybe a way to kickoff a campaign or to create a story that somehow ties into an overall Eberron campaign. If you’re familiar with Eberron, the playset is meant to be set before The Mourning in the city of Making in the country of Cyre. Anyway, it’s super niche, but I thought I’d share since I never got to use it. So on the off-chance you love Eberron AND Fiasco, check it out in the link below. Let me know if you actually use it and how it goes! I’d love to know.

Eberron Fiasco – Making

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

All right, it’s time to talk about a piece of real estate on Findalay that is near and dear to my heart – The Damned Lands. That brilliant little piece of world that is unexplored on the map. We can tell from its name, The Damned Lands, that things are… well, pretty bad. But what exactly is going on over there?

Keep the Mystery Alive

So there’s a few problems with writing about The Damned Lands, namely they’re supposed to be unexplored and mysterious so I want to leave a majority of their description to the imagination. Why do this? Well for one thing, Exploration Age needs some areas to be explored. I like the idea of having Verda be the habitable, resource rich area that has new life. It’s wondrous and beautiful as well as dangerous and exciting. The Damned Lands are a different kind of exploration – grueling, horrific, and alien. The rewards here need to be potentially even greater than in Verda to get adventurers to consider entering The Damned Lands. Mystery is a big part of the atmosphere and legend of The Damned Lands. It will help keep the frightful anticipation levels up while traveling there and keep players on their toes while adventuring in its depths.

However, enticement is also a big part of mystery. You need to have some information in order to make an area feel intriguing. For instance, many of us have played the popular childhood game Bloody Mary just to see what would happen. We played this game even though the best case scenario was nothing happened and the worst case scenario was an evil, psychopathic ghost of Queen Mary appeared and devoured your soul. Someone really should have done a cost benefit analysis there, but because rumor had it other kids had successfully invoked Mary, you went and tried it just to see what would happen. The danger of The Damned Lands will be enough to entice some.

When it comes to experimentation and risk-taking, I find many players are more cautious with the lives of their characters than they were with their own real lives when they were kids. This actually makes sense. Most PCs are adults and as adults, most of us don’t play Bloody Mary because we’re aware that at best and definitely-most-likely,  it will yield no result and waste our precious time while at worst and probably not-going-to-happen we lose our soul. So we need to give just a little more information about The Damned Lands and that is – there’s some pretty cool treasures down there… and some people who spend a lot of time in The Damned Lands develop special powers.

The Other Guys

So there’s another issue with The Damned Lands. The idea of crazy, dangerous wastelands is not breaking new ground in D&D campaign settings. Eberron has The Mournland and Forgotten Realms has the Dread Ring. Heck, all of Dark Sun’s Athas is a horrific wasteland. I’m trying to be somewhat original here, but I must admit that the idea for The Damned Lands is stolen from these places.

So what makes this place different? Well, a few things as you’ll see in the description below, however I’ll point out a big one here. The Damned Lands have always been a mystery and yet the people of Findalay have always known they were there. Constantly drawing curious and fearful eyes, these lands have never had another name. They were always The Damned Lands and have forever been a mystery.

Another thing that makes The Damned Lands different is the crushing madness that can grip anyone who stays within its borders for too long. Known simply as The Madness, there is a real, palpable, nigh incurable insanity that can grip all but the strongest minds who choose to venture there. The Madness usually takes hold before any sign of developing a special power occurs, so often these powers come to an individual at the price of their sanity. Thus The Damned Lands have a few residents who once desired powers and are now broken and full of dangerous psionic energy waiting to be unleashed.

What Do We Know

More than half a million years before the start of the campaign, it is believe that within The Damned Lands there existed a peaceful race of advanced psionic beings. This mysterious race of people was able to erect a psionic shield around their entire nation which kept out the aberrants. The aberrants and dragons were so busy with their own war, that they paid the isolationist race very little attention as they tried to kill one another.

Then in roughly 300,000 BF the psionic shield was dropped and the entire country glowed hot with energy for hundreds of thousands of years. Even at night The Damned Lands could be seen glowing in the distance beyond The Deep Orc Mountains. Any who tried to make their way beyond The Damned Lands’ borders quickly became violently ill and died, their bodies cooked in harsh burns from the strangely irradiated landscape. The Damned Lands earned their name and the people of Findalay learned to respect that and steer clear.

Slowly, overtime, the glow of The Damned Lands began to soften and cool. Strange creatures, unlike any ever seen with weird psionic abilities began to appear in The Deep Orc Mountains. Then as the lands began to lose their glow altogether, animals and creatures resembling those from Canus’ modern day Material Plane began appearing with strange mutations and psionic powers. They were often crazed and violent.

Once The Damned Lands cooled, Findalayans began to explore the region cautiously. That’s when they began to discover ancient ruins of this once great civilization and its many unique treasures. Powerful magic items, certainly, but also rare bioorganic items that meld with an individual’s mind and body to grant him or her unique powers. They seemed to do everything from help with mundane chores and hobbies (such as a wrist implant which can make ones hands resistant to heat while cooking or an ocular implant that allows one to better appreciate the details of sculpting) to rarer more powerful implants (granting abilities such as growing detachable, projectile spikes out of one’s arm or a prehensile tail to aid in climbing).

Stranger still, when an extended period of time was spent in The Damned Lands, the folk of Canus seemed to unlock strange, psionic abilities within themselves. These abilities included mind-reading, telekinetic powers, flight, enhanced speed, enhanced strength, mind-control, regenerative properties, the list goes on and on. The more time spent in The Damned Lands, the more powerful these abilities seemed to become. However, the more time spent in The Damned Lands, the harder The Madness becomes to resist.

And that’s the big problem with exploring The Damned Lands. The Madness grips an individual like a vice, squeezing slowly and constantly until he or she cannot get free of its grasp. Not to mention the strange monsters that roam The Damned Lands infected with The Madness and the freakish weather effects that are harsher than anything one might experience anywhere else in Canus. The treasures above are difficult to come by – even those most seasoned adventurer is far more likely to find death or insanity than wealth and power. And considering the time it takes to develop a special psionic ability within The Damned Lands borders, it’s nearly impossible to gain a power without first meeting one’s doom.

Still, isn’t it tempting…

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

There’s a question I’ve been asking myself quite a bit lately. Not only do I need to come up with a name for this campaign setting, I need to name all of the locations, characters, buildings, deities, customs, landmarks, items… the list goes on and is quite daunting.

Right now my big problem is I need a name for this campaign setting so I can easily distinguish it from others when I’m talking about it in these blog posts. It’d probably also help to have a name for the material world or planet where this all takes place. Perhaps those are one in the same. Perhaps not. More on that later.

When it comes to writing, nothing makes me more self-conscious than making-up names. And on the fly? Forget it. Of course, you know this comes up all the time at the table. My players head into a tavern and want to chat up the bartender or know the name of a random governess sitting with the duke at a ball. It’s up to me to come up with something. I used to always end up with something outlandishly generic like Guinness the barkeep or something outlandishly made up like Princess Buttercake.

Chris Perkins, DM to the stars, has a genius fix for this. He pre-generates a list of names and then puts clips them on the back of his DM screen, so they’re right there whenever he needs them. If you play online through roll20.net or another service like I do you can have a Google Doc open or have one of hundreds of online name generators handy (many of them will ask for a race and a sex of a character as well which is helpful in creating an authentic name. Gorax, Eater of Worlds isn’t an awesome name for halfling jester).

Also, keep track of your names! This will be helpful not only during your current campaign, but for campaigns in the future. I keep a running list of NPCs, places, and organizations that I include in a short, weekly summary email to my PCs. These names often just have a one line description next to them, to help my players and I remember who the person is. For example:

  • Moses Gomer – middle-aged, male, Cyran human who hates The Church of the Silver Flame.

By keeping track of your names, you’ll know what you’ve used in the past so you won’t re-use in the future. My mind often goes back to the same places. I love names that begin with A and end in -ar for some reason. Once you’ve gone through Andar, Alkar, Avar, etc. your mind will want to start back at the beginning. Keeping records helps you avoid the mistake of repeating a name you’ve already used. Believe me, you don’t want to have your players begin referring to NPCs as Andar I, the half-orc paladin and Andar II, the gnome necromancer.

Proper Name Creation

Lists and records are all well and good, but really don’t tell you how to come up with names. Certainly going to online name generators is one way to go. But you’ll find those names quickly repeat themselves (if anyone knows of a really good one, let us know in the comments) and you’ll be searching for a new generator and then another and then another. There’s no one great way to come up with an awesome name for a character or country or secret guild of assassins. Here’s some tricks I use to come up with cool names.

  • Google translate. Often, I will take a word and translate it into another language to help me get name or inspiration. For instance, Axe is a painfully obvious name for a dwarf fighter wielding his namesake. However, according to Google Translate, axe in German is achse. Achse is a pretty cool name on its own, but if you like your translations cut with a little bit of fiction, add a nice hard consinent sound to the front and end, since dwarves are a hardy people. Pachset, Rachser, etc. are all pretty cool dwarf names. I like to use Latin for secret societies and important guilds, Romance languages for Fey races, and Germanic languages for hardy warriors, but you can use whatever you like!
  • Modify existing proper names. Honestly, there’s a lot of proper names out there in fantasy already. Let’s take one that’s common – Bilbo Baggins. We have a halfling, inspired somewhat by our famed hobbit, but we don’t want to steal his name outright. Play with the name. First, let’s change one of the vowels in each to make him Bolbo Buggins. Nice, but still too close. We have a lot of Bs here, let’s replace them with an entirely different letter, like K. Kolko Kuggins. That might be far enough, but I say we take it another step and replace the Gs in his last name with Ss. So now he’s Kolko Kussins. If that’s still to close for you, add a syllable to the end of the name for good measure. Something that you see in a lot of words, like -us, -ar, -son, etc. Kolko Kussinson is unrecognizable from Bilbo Baggins.
  • Fantasy names have objects and actions in their names. Solo. Skywalker. Proudfoot. Took. Give those to your character as a last name. Kixaras Firethorn is just as badass as he sounds, people! What about my old monk, Brother Feldwyr Sigma? Or the simpleton Tummas Roll? It’s simple and easy. To add a special touch of exaggeration to your names, throw a “the” in the middle of a name, like Gandalf the Grey. Tummas the Roll becomes someone else all together, don’t you think?
  • Make a note and save. Sometimes a name will hit you at the strangest time. If you’ve got a mobile phone, open up that note pad app or write yourself a text or whatever and save it. I guarantee you’ll thank yourself later when you’re adding it to your master list of names. Notes on the fly are your friend. So are lists.

I’ve applied the first technique to name the world in which my campaign takes place. Since the morality of the world’s people isn’t perfectly black and white, I’ve decided the name of the world should reflect that. I’m going straight, uncut Latin on this one and calling the world Canus, which means gray in that wonderful dead language.

Title Creation

Titles are almost something else entirely. Many campaign settings have a title that describe them, which helps make them marketable. Forgotten Realms takes place on the planet of Toril. Dark Sun takes place on Athas. I want to do the same thing for Canus.

In my day job, I write a lot of marketing copy and often attend brainstorms to help think up the titles of television shows. I think the name of a world should follow a lot of copywriting rules. Keep it short, memorable, and have it reflect your central idea. You don’t want a whole phrase to be the title of your campaign setting, unless you’re getting very experimental. Good lord, the internet needs to abbreviate Forgotten Realms to FR, what would they to do A Gilded Era of Discovery and Diplomacy?

Looking back over the world, exploration and the times seem to drive a lot of what’s taking place on Canus. The time period is just as important as the place in this (or really any) setting. I want to open up the feel of adventure and excitement. Who knows what you might uncover as you delve deep in Verda or some ruins? How might you handle diplomacy in a time when everyone is both competing and dependent?

I’ve decided to call my setting Exploration Age. It evokes the Age of Discovery in our time, but exploration is a more adventurous word to me. Discovery can happen by accident. Exploration is work and adventure – it’s something one chooses to do. This is a time where folks are out there making their own names and fortunes. Let me know what you think!

Straight-up theft. I confess. That’s what I did, people. I stole an idea right out of the Scales of War adventure, “The Last Breath of Tiamat,” in Dungeon Magazine #175 by David Noonan.

You see, since 2008, I’ve DMed two Fourth Edition parties from level 1 to level 30. That’s huge. We did it twice in six years. You know how many things you could accomplish if you did them for three hours once a week for six years? You could learn a new craft or musical instrument. Bake a whole bunch of pies. Take your significant other out on many fun dates. Watch many different TV series on Netflix. Play through all of Skyrim. Get buff at the gym. You get the idea.

Anyway, that’s not to say you should do something other than create a totally unique story with your friends. That’s the best way to spend time, in my opinion. However, at the end of all things, when Orcus the Demon Lord of the Undead’s corpse lies crispy and headless upon the ground or when you’ve saved all of Eberron from rakshasa princes planning the return of Bel Shalor, you want to feel like your character’s actions and story are lasting. You want a legacy.

So I stole. And I have no bad feelings about it. Never feel bad about stealing a great idea, folks. It saves you time and it’s a form of flattery. Game designers have been stealing from each other since chess and checkers. I assume you’re reading this blog because you want to steal from me. Do it. Please. It would honestly make my day.

Anyway, for my purposes, I stole a cool idea that happened at the end of the Scales of War adventure path, which was a series of Fourth Edition adventures designed to take PCs from level 1 to 30. The final adventure’s last words were options for the impact Scales of War could have on your next campaign world. Here’s the option I stole.

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 11.56.06 AM

So I had an other-worldly entity invite my players to throw objects into the Well of Heroes. I did it twice, actually, once for each campaign. Both times, stuff got chucked and fun was had. It was a great way to make the PCs legacy feel like they had an impact that wasn’t going to fade away once the campaign was done. Or so I thought…

Crap!

Some of you are already shaking your heads. I know, I know. David Noonan even says, “This option breaks the fourth wall a bit.” Now I have a 12 items, some from the Nentir Vale campaign setting and others from an Eberron game, that I need to work into a story and I don’t want it to feel forced or cheesy. Will it cheapen the world I’m building to have the players find objects that tie into other heroes from worlds unknown? How would their new characters know the history of the old characters in-game? Will their new characters even need the same kind of equipment? What about the avenger who dropped her holy symbol of The Silver Flame down the Well, how can I justify that in a world without The Silver Flame? Oh yeah, and one player who was in both campaigns went abstract with it. In the Nentir Vale campaign he played a star pact warlock and whispered the true name of his star down the Well. In the Eberron game, he cried a single tear into the Well for his lost love. Really cool at the time, but… what am I supposed to do with that now?

I was in a rough spot. If I didn’t have the objects show up, it would cheapen our previous games and those PCs would lose a piece of their legacy. If I did include them in the new world, they run the risk of cheapening that game. Also, to make matters worse, I recently recorded a podcast with a few of my players. We were talking about connecting the material plane cosmologies of different D&D worlds. For instance, Forgotten Realms’ material plane would have a portal to Eberron’s material plane and visa versa. For the most part they all thought that material planes should stay away from each other. They didn’t want to travel from Eberron to Forgotten Realms to the Nentir Vale or anywhere else. They thought that approached hurt the integrity of both worlds. It’s a safe bet that seeing pieces of their old PCs’ gear show up in my new homebrew world would be equally off-putting.

Thanks, buddy!

During my recent brainstorm with Andrew, he threw another idea out there. What if the objects from the Well of Heroes landed in this new world when it was just beginning to form? Rather than remain objects, they were absorbed into and morphed the world around them. Andrew, like David Noonan, had his idea straight-up thieved by me. Well, he offered it. I just took him up on that.

To me, this seemed more acceptable, and frankly, way cooler. The items didn’t land in a pile at the end of a Well of Heroes. They traveled through the Well into the place where worlds are made and influenced what happened there. The old items aren’t shoehorned into the new world. They’re a living, breathing part of the world that have been there from the start.

For instance, a lightning staff thrown down the Well of Heroes by a dragon magic sorcerer becomes a perpetual storm of arcane lightning that defends a nest blue dragons. Here’s a list of what my players threw down the Well of Heroes and a musings on what each might be.

  1. Staff of Ruinous Lightning – a perpetual storm of arcane lightning that defends a nest blue dragons.
  2. Ritual scroll of Raise Dead – an altar within a cavern that can restore life to any remains placed on it as per the true resurrection spell. Once it is used the altar disappears and reforms somewhere deeper in the dangerous cavern.
  3. Healer’s Brooch – a special hot spring where a character may bathe once per day and receive the effects of the heal spell.
  4. Staff of Time – a tree with purple fruit, when consumed, gives the creature an extra action once per turn for a minute. During the duration of this effect, the character is also considered intoxicated.
  5. Shield of Barrier Sentinels – becomes a grove of oak trees that prevents creatures from attacking each other unless they make a DC 20 wisdom saving throw. Once one creature saves it can attack others and others may attack it.
  6. Holy Symbol of The Silver Flame – a small mountain from which a precious silver can be mined that is particularly devastating to lycanthropes.
  7. Magic twin bastard swords – enormous, twin cacti that grow needles which can be turned into magic arrows.
  8. Armor of The Silver Flame – a swamp under a perpetual Protection from Evil effect.
  9. Dawn Warrior Dagger – a canyon where fire, lightning, cold, and acid have no effect.
  10. A portal gun – An Underdark cavern with a portal that may teleport six creatures anywhere they’ve been with a DC 20 Intelligence check. An unsuccessful check results in random teleportation.
  11. A single tear, shed for lost love – a waterfall that when gazed into will reveal an individual’s romantic future.
  12. The true name of a star – thousands of diamonds line a canyon deep within the ocean floor. When thrown these diamonds explode with starlight on impact, doing radiant damage.

Just some thoughts, but I’d love to hear what you think these things could be. Leave me a comment. And hey, if you’re liking the blog, please share it, follow me on Twitter, or check out my podcast on The Tome Show.

All right, I have a neat, little list of things my players want in this campaign world.

  • They like a world with high magic.
  • They like a world with non-interventional gods.
  • They prefer more than one religion or pantheon.
  • They like a world with blank spots on the map.
  • They prefer shades of grey in their morality.
  • They want cultures with a rich history and tension between nations because of that history.
  • They want complex relationships between cultures.
  • They want to see competition amongst nations not just on the battlefield, but in commerce, diplomacy, land grabbing, resources, and other areas where real world countries could get into it.
  • They want all races and classes to be playable

I should mention these are all things I am happy to include. If they weren’t that might be a conversation I’d have to have with the players, but that’s another blog post.

Where to begin?

Let’s talk inspiration. I need to create a world that organically has all of these items in it and I still need a good place to start. Ripping off your favorite campaign setting (mine is Eberron) may seem like a good place to go, but why put in all that work if the thing you want already exists? Trust me, it’s worth the money for the campaign guide.

Your favorite movies and books can also seem a great place to start, but for me, I want something more original. If I have a magical order of  knights running around with colored swords, my players immediately think Star Wars. And knowing these guys, they’re going to call it out immediately. I can’t blame them, it’s what I would do to them.

Oh, believe me, I’ll borrow a concept from time to time from another work of fiction. Stealing is where creativity begins. But for my world’s inspirational idea, its central theme or event if you will, I wanted to go beyond genre tropes. It was a challenge. I find it helpful to write all that stuff down if you can so that you can save it for later. It may seem weird, but jotting down a list can also help get an idea you don’t want to use out of your head. Ideas that are somewhere safe make your brain feel ok to let it go, freeing you up to think new things. I keep a google doc of D&D inspirations. Just a big list of things like “super strength minions” and “villain like the Joker” and “mine cart chases are awesome.” When I’m stumped for an adventure idea or the players go somewhere unexpected, it’s a great way to grab some ideas. Sorry, I digress again, but I wanted to drop that advice on you.

So I looked back at what my players wanted – complex relationship between many cultures, rich history and tension between countries, non-interventional gods of more than one religion, competition on and off the battlefield amongst nations, morality that isn’t black and white… this is sounding very familiar. It’s actually a lot like the real world. Our world that we actually live in. Maybe I can find something within the real world.

Of course, two bullet points were a problem for me. #1 – blank spots on the map, of which our world has none. Problem #2 – all races and classes available. Last time I checked, the real world didn’t have warforged (yet… looking at you, Apple) and no one is actually a professional necromancer (looking at you, Pfizer), but I’m willing to let that slide. The real problem with #2 – Wizards is going to continue to put out new material beyond this Summer. Those supplements are sure to include new races and at least a few new classes (I’m pretty sure we’re going to see psions at some point or the nerd rage will explode the internet). How can I introduce those newer races and classes post-campaign launch? If we get a new player or someone builds a new character and wants to be a minotaur soulknife, story-wise, how can I justify that? I’m not going to say no after promising all races and classes are available, especially if they’re creating a new character because my monster or trap is the reason their old one perished.

Duh, James. The two go hand in hand. If I have uncharted territory on my map, then I can easily introduce new races and classes. They were living in this jungle or undiscovered continent the whole time. They have their own culture and world to explore. That sounds pretty awesome to me. While it may sound far-fetched, think about when Columbus sailed across the Atlantic and ran into Native Americans. He didn’t know there was this whole other race of people and they didn’t know about him and his culture. Say, that gives me an idea…

Eureka!

Real world. Uncharted spots on the map. Deep/complex relationships and cultures. Ability to discover new races. Technological boom to provide fun high magical devices. Competition. I CAN draw from the real world, it just needs to be a time period different from our own. There is a time period in our history known as The Age of Discovery. There were a lot of uncharted places that were just beginning to be explored. Trade routes were being forged to Asia. Russia began to seriously explore Siberia. Australia was discovered by Europeans. And, oh yeah, that was the time when the Western Hemisphere and Eastern Hemisphere learned that the other existed. Image if you were living in Europe at the time and you thought the world looked something like this…

Map of the world from before the discovery of the Americas.

But then later you found out the world actually looks like this…

Map of the world now.

That’s a lot more world. Twice as much. Could you imagine if that happened today? Your head would explode.

This hits all my points. New technology brought forth by the Renaissance is equivalent to the neat high magic discoveries that will exist in my world. European countries were trying to make trade routes and relationships with Asian countries while grabbing up all the land they could in the Americas. They had conflicts with Native Americans, a new culture and people. There was uncharted, undiscovered lands galore. Relationships amongst nations were complicated. People demanded religious freedoms. Colonies fought starvation and disease. Artists created everlasting pieces. Wars were fought. The list goes on.

So my world will have many established nations with their own relationships and history, who have just discovered new lands and are doing everything they can to grab land and find resources. Meanwhile these established nations are trying to make trade routes and get the goods and resources flowing in and out of their respective countries. This all sounds like a recipe for adventure to me. There’s already so many places a party could go to carry out twenty levels of awesome.

Take the ball and run… and turn the ball into something else

It will be important for me to remember that this idea is meant only to inspire the events and background of my campaign world. It’s not going to be a copy of our world, but I can pull ideas, tweak them, combine them with others, and sprinkle in entirely new ones. What if one of my undiscovered  lands was crawling with dinosaurs, or a band of marauding sky pirate dragonborn ran havoc on the airways? What if the king of one of the established nations was actually a five-year old girl shapeshifter? What if one of the countries biggest exports was adamantine? What if one of the colonies decided to rebel against its father nation (sound familiar? Looking at you, Thomas Jefferson).

So now that I have my inspiration my goal is to use the central idea (new lands discovered) and turn it into a land my players and I will love. People, we have a starting point!

Next up… it’s time to meet the nations….

Daunting. That’s what the beginning of this process is. Where does one start? History? Geography? Religion? Science? Culture? There’s so many ways to go it could drive a person insane and make him wonder why he’d ever want to do this in the first place. I want to create so many things, but I have no idea where to begin.

But then I remembered, this world is not just for me. This world is for my players. Sure, I’m building the sandbox and turning some of the sand into cities or monsters or gods, but they’re the ones who jump into the sand and play with the stuff I create. So I figured, before beginning anything in-depth, I would ask them what they love and hate about the D&D campaigns they’ve played and what they want to explore in the future. That way, I wouldn’t spend too much time creating a rich world history full of political intrigue and scandal if they would rather play in a world full where anarchy reigns supreme.

The Questionnaire

Well, I couldn’t rightly just put my players on the spot and ask them what kind of campaign world in which they wanted to play. Some of them may have never thought about it beyond, “One with my friends in it.” So I thought up some big, general questions that I could ask my players about the world I’m building. I decided the questions should be short in words. Bullet-pointing things makes it easier for folks to answer all your questions. My advice in getting anyone (D&D players or otherwise) to respond to your emails is to keep the questions short, clear, and bullet-pointed. Do that and you’ll have everything answered in a timely manner.

In the case of the questionnaire below, I used Eberron, Dark Sun, and Forgotten Realms to define some of the questions. I picked those three because my players have quested in all of those worlds. You could use anything for an example though, and it can come from outside the world of tabletop RPGs. Video games, movies, books, comics, television, and any other medium that you share with your friends will work. I find people understand better what you’re saying when you ask, “Do you want to play in a world like Lord of the Rings?” as opposed to “Do you want to play in a game with a medium amount of magical technology?” Check out the questions I asked below.

  • High magic (like Eberron)? Mid Magic (Forgotten Realms)? Low magic (Dark Sun)?
  • Do you like your gods interventional (Forgotten Realms)? Non-interventional (Eberron)? Or Dead (Dark Sun)? Or maybe just on God (Christianity)?
  • Do you want a world where most people are basically good?
  • What about a world where evil rules (like Ravenloft)?
  • What movies should it be like?
  • What books should it be like?
  • What genre is should this world be?
  • If you were to give it a place and time period in history what would it be?
  • What is the one thing you must see in the world?
  • The one thing you’d hate to see?
  • What interests you in a game?

Then I threw out some ideas to get their creative juices flowing. I didn’t throw out every idea I had, just a few – some normal and some weird. This was a two-fold strategy, first to inspire creativity and second to let the players know no idea is lame or stupid. I wanted to hear anything and everything they had to say. Here’s what I threw out to them, letting them know these were hypotheticals that didn’t actually need a response from them since they were so specific. Though if they wanted to comment on any of them it would give me some excellent insights.

  • Do you want war to ravage the land?
  • Sea-faring?
  • A world stuck in perpetual night?
  • Hoth? Tatooine? Naboo?
  • Are shardminds a playable race? Are they existent?
  • Should there be dinosaur riders?
  • Should there be volcanoes that spew blood?

The last thing I did was NOT BCC everyone, but rather put them in the TO line of the email. This was also a two-fold in purpose. One, it could inspire some great “reply all” discussions and have my players building ideas off each other. Two, it would remind the players who were straggling to answer that they should do so, as they saw multiple emails of the same subject line fill up their inbox. Any player who didn’t want to reply all had the option of responding to me directly, of course, and I made that clear as well so anyone with any reservations about their ideas had the option of sharing privately.

The Response

What followed the sending of the questionnaire email was another 61 emails amongst ten people. I was in world builder heaven. Many of the emails were short, just someone saying, “Oh I like that thing too and didn’t say it in my initial response,” so it wasn’t overwhelming to read. I also found that the players who initially responded only to me, after reading the reply all messages felt comfortable enough to bring their ideas to everyone. So the reply all thing really paid off.

Here’s what I found out about my players.

  • They like a world with high magic.
  • They like a world with non-interventional gods.
  • They prefer more than one religion or pantheon.
  • They like a world with blank spots on the map.
  • They prefer shades of grey in their morality.
  • They want cultures with a rich history and tension between nations because of that history.
  • They want complex relationships between cultures.
  • They want to see competition amongst nations not just on the battlefield, but in commerce, diplomacy, land grabbing, resources, and other areas where real world countries could get into it.
  • They want all races and classes to be playable

Essentially, my players like a world of high magic that feels real in its history and culture, but is still young and uncharted. That’s great direction for me to have and now I’m looking to get inspired…

That’s how all worlds start right? Well, I guess some begin with two dragons fighting and getting covered by a third, or by a retconned piece of history that splits a large world in two. What I’m trying to say is, hey, this is the beginning.

Last week I took a Fourth Edition group that I’ve been playing with online via roll20.net from level 1 to 30. Meanwhile I was running a Forgotten Realms game using the D&D Next playtest rules with another group. As of right now, we have until the Summer of this year before those playtest rules grow into official D&D Fifth Edition rules during this limbo space is when I’ll be homebrewing the next campaign world in which both of these groups will play.

Now, that 5ish months is going to fly by, but in 19 years of playing table top RPGs, I’ve never had this much time to work on building a world. I’ve spent a lot of time dreaming and thinking, but now it’s time to really put those things into action and create a rich campaign setting where I will want to spend hours of time with my friends.

So that’s it for now. Just a short post to get me started, but there is going to be much more to come in the days ahead.

Please let me know what you think as you read and if I’m creating a world you think you’d enjoy.