Monday, August 29, 2016

Building a Kingdom from the Ground Up

And we're off!

One of the favorite things I love about 2nd Edition AD&D is that it IS the system for world building. It doesn't matter if you're looking to create a simple setting to build around an adventure, or you are going for a full multiverse that puts Brandon Sanderson to shame - you can do it in 2nd Edition. Especially with the release of the Player Options series. Let's stop for a second.

A Minor Note: Player's Option, Optional Rules, and Kits

Many people do NOT like the Player's Options series. They'll tell you about their dislike, at length, for long periods of time. And that's totally fair. Most times, if you dig into their dislike, what they hated was that the system - when player's just showed up with everything and the kitchen sink pulled into their character - could do a lot of min/maxing. This is a royal pain to adjust for, and it is very difficult on the DM to adjust a game for that kind of player. Especially in the 2nd Edition days when computer tools were limited and you couldn't just have a tablet on the table that let you manage your game.

However, when you use the optional rules to build your campaign setting - you can do pretty much anything. I feel a lot of people discounted the Player Options series due to the explosion within the player base that was brought out by the material in Skills & Powers - yet, I hope this blog helps people revisit the material.

How big should your setting be? Big enough.

A lot of people make one very big mistake with campaign settings: they try to build everything at once. They will draw/find a map that represents a planet the size of Earth or larger, and try to make sure that they know every NPC and organization on every square inch. They'll want to be able to tell you that on the Island of Froz, the butcher's cousins wifes uncles great niece twice removed was born on the night when the second and fifth moon were both full, and what this means in terms of the full cosmology of religions as well as the ancient space fairing race that monitors all life from their hidden base on the third moon.

Okay - I might be slightly exaggerating. However, if you see yourself in that description above, don't worry! I used to be that person, too! In fact, my first attempt at building a world did JUST that. Except I hand drew AND colored the map on a three by three map of 8.5" by 11" graph paper (so 25.5" by 33"). And one day I might even have enough courage to tell you just how badly it flopped. For now, let's use the short cut version!

After getting a good sized group together, I went into detail about the setting to "help" with character creation. If you can't figure out why this was the only sentence I can really write that is positive about that night, I can't help you - but let's just say no matter how bad of a DM you think you are, I am 100% sure I can beat you!

The following month, I sat down with two friends - and we had an on the fly session. I created a town named Highfall, and the adventure was based around a group of rock gnomes who had a small, but profitable life, pulling jewels out of the water at the base of the falls that gave the town it's name (in my defense I grew up in a town named Milford.. because the Mill was on the river ford, so don't judge). Suddenly, without realizing it, I had a setting - sure it consisted of one town, only a few NPCs, and a cave system (and yes, I'll post this adventure at some point - I have the notes, but will have to recreate the maps). I needed a setting and created one, and it was good enough.

Building out the Options -Work with the Players

So I started off with a quick town, and one player said they wanted to play a Fighter, the other wanted to play a Cleric. So I quickly throw together a local Baron who has a guard organization and the Fighter character comes from here. The Cleric comes from a local monastery that also has a vineyard as the player wanted to know how to make wine. So now the setting is growing. We started with a town, and we added a local keep with a Baron, and a religious presence. We haven't done anything to figure out religion yet, nor anything really complicated with the government, but our setting is growing.

As we added other players, we continued to add and grow the campaign world. We had a player who wanted to play a halfling, so that required building out that option. Now, where the river ended in a lake, a small halfling community was formed. Why a lake? Because the character took the fishing Nonweapon Proficiency. One of the benefits of this approach was that the halfling town was detailed by the player - he built out the NPCs and everything else associated with it, and even came up with what roll they played in the local environment. They traded cheese, wood, and wool north to the Highfalls folk in exchange for gemstones and metalworks. They also built a large barn where the humans and gnomes could store their trade goods for when barges would come. Now where are those barges going?

Think about Magic - But only when you need too!

Of all the early decisions you can make about your setting, the most important is the level of magic. This is a big point of debate in almost any forum for any edition. And I'll be frank on where I stand: I prefer low magic settings. At the same time, I like the setting to be low magic - not the party. As a result, when I had a player express interest in a wizard, I worked with the character on developing a back story where the character was instructed by an isolated recluse.

I quickly decided on a low magic setting as I wanted to avoid the single largest error that the Forgotten Realms setting makes: that it is nearly impossible for any true danger to exist due to the sheer number of apparently omnipotent magical characters that exist. If the players screw up, Elminster or someone else will float down from the sky and solve the problem in a classic dues ex machina. This isn't necessarily bad if you like it - and if you want a high powered/high magic campaign, go for it. FR I feel fits the bill nicely, and so homebrew allows for low power/low magic games which I feel are more fun.

Summing it up:

  • Build a setting when you need a setting, and only what you need at the moment in time you need it.
  • Work with your players, make them a part of the setting and they'll take ownership for making the game work.
  • Think about magic early - but remember to focus on the setting. Your players are unique in your world - they are brave enough to go adventuring!

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