This post is relevant to players in the D&D Heroic Fantasy campaign that I’ve started. It is also relevant to anyone who wants to follow along the actual plays that I’ll be posting here, as well as anyone interested in how I’m creating the world. This post has no spoilers.
Heading into the character generation session for the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game, I had three broad pitches to the players:
- Ravenloft Curse of Strahd Adventure (Gothic Horror)
- Conversion of the Rise of the Runelords Adventure (Epic Fantasy)
- Generic homebrew promising some fun times (Heroic Fantasy)
We settled on option 3, which, in my heart of hearts, I knew I wanted to explore simply because I have a recent history of running ‘canned’ adventures and I wanted to spread my wings a bit more.
All of the players have played D&D before; variety of ‘in my youf’ through to more recent 5e experience. However, I wouldn’t say that any of the group are dyed-in-the-wool, five sessions a week jus’ ‘cos the sixth got cancelled roleplayers.
For char gen we chatted about what types of class they might want to play; we didn’t really focus on ‘character concept’ at all. Then our char gen went in a rather deconstructed style; pretty much everything we did was pseudo-random. I’m not saying we rolled 3d6 in order and off you jog chaps, but it wasn’t massively far off.
However, I was surprised by how quickly character concepts and a pure sense of identity emerged from the players.
In particular, after we’d had the discussion about classes (Rogue, Magic-User [Scott refuses to acknowledge the new-fangled ‘Wizard’ class], Paladin) the guys rolled 4d6-drop-the-lowest. I offered re-rolls if they didn’t like them, but like the troopers they are they chugged on with their first rolls.
Ability points were assigned in line with the priorities for the classes, races were chosen partly from flavour partly from stat boosts (“What gives me intelligence, without being a ****ing gnome?”). Certainly the attraction of the flat +1 to all stats from the human class helped Scott out of his below average rolling ability.
The real magic, however, happened in the Background section. For each of the players I called out the titles and they said yay or nay. Immediately character concepts were born!
I come from a history where character concepts are carefully crafted things, and I know these guys are more about the role than they are about the roll (yeah, I know it’s a false distinction, but it is a useful stereotype to explain the emphasis in a glib way), so I was both surprised and pleased in how it all fell into place.
Then the players get to choose / roll for Personality Traits, Bonds, Flaws etc. They all rolled. They rejected a couple of the rolls, but more or less they went with what they got.
So we have:
- Scott – running a noble Lawful Good Wizard, who believes very firmly in every person has a place, and every person in their place… But let’s not talk about that horrible secret, eh?
- Phil – running the folk-hero Paladin that rose from the humble working class by leading the militia against that attack… Not quite rags to riches as (a) no riches, and (b) the Tyrant now has his number, and
- Matt – running the outsider Wood Elf rogue, visited by visions of the future and quite happy to keep the chip on his shoulder for many of your human lifetimes!
Shame I didn’t have a world to put them in!
Or did I?
Actually I didn’t.
But once I had the characters, it was actually super-quick to form some basics of the world implied by their rudimentary backstories.
- Nobles need a nobility, which therefore means that there’s a not-nobility, so there must be some form of structured human society
- There’s a militia, which means there must be a threat that would be repelled by a militia
- There’s a tyrant, implying a form of non-democratic government
- Elves exist, can join human society, and might not be massively popular
- Nobles are always basically at war with each other
It immediately brought to my mind a starting town base that would be cut in the mould of a 1300’s Italian Renaissance town, granted independence by the local ruler with some form of ruling Council cut in the mould of the Roman Senate.
Which made me think long and hard about whether I should just use one of the ‘generic fantasy’ worlds such as the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk. I have loads of materials for the Realms; pretty much everything published in the 2e world, and a similar amount for Greyhawk for 1e.
But I just didn’t want the baggage that came with those worlds.
But they had maps, and details and pantheons. Look at all that spade-work already done for me.
But… They weren’t quite ‘mine’.
Yeah my internal monologues are a bit shit in truth.
Okay, Shawley, cut to the chase. What did you do?
I took the geography of the Realms, including place-names etc, and ignored everything else.
Whoa there billio! You did what?
Okay, this is how it goes. I decided I couldn’t be jiggered with the kitchen-sink, coffee-machine, dishwasher-and-all-the-other-bloody-machinery of the Realms but I didn’t want to do the heavy lifting of creating a map and places myself.
So I lifted the Cormyr-Dales-Cormanthor-Zhentil Keep part of the map. Binned the Zhentarim in favour of a ‘Iuz’ from Greyhawk kind of evil-demon-or-is-it-devil-shit-no-ones-really-sure lingering evil, stuck the Serpent Kingdoms on the south side of the sea across from Cormyr and decided that Tilverton would be the starting place.
I’m binning off most of the Pantheon, and jiggering around with the details of the world sufficiently that the Forgotten Realms of the 2e era could be the Golden Age past that people dream of. Ish. King Azoun might still be King of Cormyr depending upon how lazy I am, but the concept of Cormyr (Arthurian-platonic-ideal-of-a-medieval-kingdom) remains in place.
I envisage the PCs having Civic Roles in Tilverton, being driven into adventures by those Civic Roles and then, based upon what they show an interest in, developing the world.
There are three threats to Tilverton that they could face:
- You’re not a protectorate any more as the kingdom seeks to bring them more into the fold
- Evil shadowy empire from the north-east that worship de(mons)/(vils) kicking off with evil summoning shite
- Insidious snake people from the south doing all that infiltration and selling of dodgy narcotics stuff
As well as being a general-base if all they want to do is to delve into ancients ruins from time past.
Yeah, okay there’s a load of detail to be formed yet, but it’s currently a land of possibiility that I’m really fuckin’ excited about.
And when I think about why I’m so excited about it, I can see my inspiration coming directly from the way in which the guys created their characters: these dice things can fall where they fall, and I’m gonna emerge from that random mess with some kinda idea that I’m then gonna refine and turn into a story…
And I’m excited about helping those guys explore and tell those stories.
(Yeah, so that had less substance and more passion than I planned! Next posts are going to focus more on the world, what’s there, what the PCs know already and all that interesting world building jazz.
BTW, we’re 1 or 2 players short of a full play group, so if you’re interested, able to be in Sheffield week-day evenings as agreed by the group 7pm to 11pm on a fortnightly basis then drop me a line to see if we can hook up).