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The Planeswalker Journal

Campaign Setting: Beginnings

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Those of you familiar with Order of the Stick may recognize this line of blogs. In the same vein as Rich Burlew, I am going to use a series of blogs here on TTW as a semi-stream of consciousness as I create a campaign setting. I may at times refer to Burlew's original guide, so for reference you can find it at Giant In the Playground Games.

To start with, we need to determine purpose. Well I have DMed numerous little homebrewed campaigns, but they never looked at things from a top-down approach. They were very localized and only expanded as needed to meet the needs of the party. I want to try the opposite--design a whole world that others here on TTW could use in their campaigns, maybe even submit the finished product for publishing. Using this kind of top-down approach also allows me to reference existing published campaign settings (Pathfinder Chronicles, Forgotten Realms, Eberron) for the kinds of fluff I need in my finished product if I should expect anyone else to want to play it.

In Rich Burlew's first article on world building, he listed the eleven assumptions that all players have and suggested removing or changing one or more of them to make your campaign setting stand out. This is his list:

Quote Originally Posted by Rich Burlew
  1. Humans dominate the world.
  2. Gods are real and active.
  3. Magic is real and can be used by anyone who learns it.
  4. Opposite alignments fight each other.
  5. Arcane and divine magic are inherently separate.
  6. The wilderness is separate enough from cities to justify 3 wilderness-oriented classes.
  7. There are hundreds of intelligent species of creatures, but 99% of them are considered "monsters".
  8. Arcane magic is personal and requires no "deal" with a supernatural being.
  9. Beings from other planes of existence try to influence the mortal world, usually on behalf of gods/alignments.
  10. Magic items are assumed to be available, and game balance proceeds from that assumption.
  11. Magic is consequence-free.
I never really liked the concept of #4, so I know that is one that we can change right away. Just the thought of players tossing out the conventional notions of the Law/Chaos and Good/Evil alignment system seems exciting. I'll have to think of some other natural or imposed conflict if I remove that element entirely though. Hmm... I could probably just slightly re-define how they work essentially and deal with spells like Protection from Chaos/Evil/Good/Law afterwards. That will be something for later, but I know I want to change that assumption.

I also think it could be fun to change #7; what if traditional "monsters" have their own cities? Or even better, what if they mingled in ports and other large cities? I really like that idea--goblinoids, kobolds, gnolls... essentially monstrous humanoids as minorities within society than outside of it as static monsters for the players to beat up for loot. I'm partial to dragons too, and they always seem to get the shaft as BBEGs or powerful NPCs whose only purpose is to provide a plot hook. Maybe dragons are more commonplace and even involved in local politics? Or a continent where dragons are the real rulers and other races are subservient, with dragons in the roles of feudal lords? I'll have to think some more on this one.

Another consideration is technology level and cosmology. Cosmology I think I will hold off on until I further define how exactly these different races will intermingle. Relgion and faith do tend to stem out of necessity, so we might as well wait and see what kind of spiritual needs people have first. Probably a separate blog post for religion down the road.

The standard tech level for D&D and Pathfinder (the two systems I am most familiar with) is high-fantasy. With the inter-mingling species it might suggest a leaning towards a higher technological impact ala steampunk. Then again, if it was steampunk the technology might seem to make magic irrelevant, and I don't know if I want to eliminate those classes right away. Still, some kind of diminished magic... I'm thinking technology is just emerging into its own public image. Available, but still pricy for most common folk (probably not as much so for adventurers). Maybe it is even being actively discouraged by some religions and arcane magic users for replacing some of the things magic is more traditionally used for! That's an intriguing conflict that sounds like fun.

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World Building


  1. Ao's Avatar
    This one will be interesting to follow. I recall reading the world building guide from Rich Burlew a while back.