General Campaign Notes
These are ideas I came up with for the campaign a friend of mine is running, which are probably going to wind up not being appropriate for that world. But I think they’re fun ideas and this campaign tool is as good a way as any to explore them a little on my own, ever if nothing ever comes of it…
In any case, here are the two main ideas I’m planning to explore with this setting or world or what-have-you. Each is a fairly large departure from the standard D&D fantasy world on their own and, taken together, will probably result in a world that’s VERY different from what a lot of us imagine when we picture the D&D world that usually surrounds our characters.
Whether it’s based on Tolkien or the D&D cartoon or just adventures and DRAGON magazine articles going back to first edition AD&D, i think there are a number of unspoken assumptions at the base of most D&D campaign worlds – it’s a medieval setting of knights and peasants, with dragons and monsters and magic but no real technology to speak of. That’s settled, so now go off and adventure!
But it seems to me this breaks down pretty quickly once you start poking around the edges, even without taking into considerations like cultural relativity or the whole concept of magic as technology, with things like Continual Light-bulbs and what-have-you; even a simple idea like the rule that states female PCs are just as capable and strong as any male player character – that simple concept, one most of us would agree to take as just a matter of course in our enlightened 21st century worldview, that simple idea alone raises some pretty profound implications for the way a society would develop, ones that would certainly diverge from our own “real world” history of largely patriarchal rule. Hell, ignore rulership and just look at how far women have yet to come in the realm of equal pay, let alone historical questions like suffrage or cultural concerns like the burka or… well, it’s a simple rule with some pretty big implications and I’ll just leave it at that.
So, yeah – I’m fully aware of the dangers that lie with suggesting the adoption of two MORE ideas that diverge even greater from the simple “basic” D&D preconception. It’s entirely possible I’m opening up a whole mess of unforseen complications that’ll create nothing but headaches. Right?
Be that as it may. Here are my two ideas:
The first is that the world have a technological level a little more advanced than the traditional medieval fantasy setting of peasants and kings and whatnot, with crude huts and massive stone castles and then some wandering monsters and a couple magicians thrown in for flavor.
I’d originally thought of proposing a sort of Victorian-era level of technology, something along the lines of the whole steampunk movement that pops up every once in a while in genre fiction over the last decade or two – adventuring in a world of Sherlock Holmes and Jules Verne-level technology.
And I’d certainly be happy to do that, but I also believe, for a variety of reasons, a more appropriate metaphor might be the American western frontier of the early to mid-1800s, one where “civilized” races would be taking the role of cowboys and frontiers settlers and “monsters” would replace the indigenous, displaced peoples and and colonial empires of foriegn nations not yet displaced from the continent, groups who, for a variety of reasons, oppose the restless expansion of these new upstarts – who would by and large be made up of humans.
Now, I’d like to stress right off that I’m NOT arguing in favor of firearms, mainly because I think it would prove to be too much of a departure for the new 4E rules, which are generally set up for the small, close-quarters combat of hand-to-hand weaponry – in my case, at least, I haven’t had much time to get good at the rules as they’re written, so I’m not going to propose the addition of weapons which would just complicate them further. [Although the prevelance of first level, at-will powers like Magic Missle could argue that widespread firearm use wouldn’t be that terrible an addition to the mix… at this point, at least, I’m not making that argument.]
I think the wild west-esque setting opens up a lot of possibilities that might be plenty fun to explore. But I’d also note that a lot of the imagery that pops into the head when I use terms like “wild west” is the dusty, barren locales of tumbleweed and unshaven “Men With No Names” striding toward a gunfight with a smouldering cigarillo clenched between their teeth – and that isn’t what I’m suggesting, either… [For the record, I’ve been imagining a fairly lush, forested wilderness dotted with a few craggy mountains but it isn’t like I’ve drawn up a map yet or anything.]
Mainly what I’m proposing is a level of technology and sophistication and education and social development that would be what we all expect of a typical western, instead of the squalor and poverty and filth that are among my preconceptions of what the typical D&D medival setting represents. Were the opportunities for cleanliness and grace in medival times? Certainly, just as there was plenty of squalor and poverty and filth in the American West – I’m being perfectly subjective in what I chose to emphasis and reserve the right to further explore and play with those assumptions in the future.
I’ll leave that idea there for now, because the second idea is, in a way, even more radical a departure: no elves.
Which is to say, yes – there would be elves in the world. But NOT as player characters and not as regular inhabitants of the game world, unless some should occur as recurring villians in the game… This is because I’m suggesting the last great war the 4E rulebooks hint at was in fact a war between the fey and the rest of the intelligent races, instead of humans vs orcs or humans vs tieflings or whatever it was supposed to have been.
Tieflings and dragonborn were happy to fight alongside the humans, the halflings didn’t really want to fight anyone, and the dwarves found they had more in common with “monsters” like orcs and goblins than they previously thought, since they’d all along just really liked fighting elves.
The conflict was driven mainly by the humans. Why? Two reasons. The first is that humans began to get pissed off about the longevity of elves – if you think about it, being able to live for three to six times as long as others is a HUGE advantage in thousands of little ways. A lot of these examples are going to seem sort of superficial and facile, but bear with me… this idea first occured to me while watching, of all things, Antiques Roadshow.
Because it struck me that so much of what is considered valuable and tasteful and so on was simply stuff that no one else cared to hold on to at the time or things that went out of fashion for awhile only to be rediscovered and cherished by later generations.
Now suppose you’re an elf who is going to live maybe 250-300 years in a world where most humans will be lucky to live 50, let alone 100. I’ll grant you the fact that an antiques trade isn’t something most of us envision as part and parcel of the squallid medival fantasy setting, but if it was, any elf with even a modicum of storage space would have an unsurmountable advantage over any human who wanted to compete in the same field.
Which lead me to thinking about commodities markets and investment banking – again, I know, not things we think of in traditional fantasy! – and how the ability to live for so, so much longer would confer enormous advantages. “Well,” you say, “That crap isn’t part of a D&D world, man – you’re letting your cultural relativism show.”
And, fine, I’ll grant you that… but what about things that do, in game terms alone, have a corollary to what I’m talking about? Take craftwork skills, for example – anything from the creation of artwork to the satisfaction of simple needs like food and beverages.
You can argue that youthful races like humans have an innate drive to experiment and innovate that allows them to make up for whatever advantages longevity confers on the elves but that only takes you so far – logically, you’re left with a world in which all the best artists, craftsmen, scholars, lawyers, doctors: professionals of any sort in other words [and i’m not even considering the fuckin’ magicians, man]... they would all be elves, if only because they’d have decades more experience than anyone else. I just don’t see a way around that – there’s no good reason why these pointy-eared immortals wouldn’t be running things.
And, to the humans of such a world, that’s gotta chafe. Especially if some of those pointy-eared SOBs start looking upon the younger races as markets to be exploited or kept underfoot – “Oh, but elves are our friends, man. They wouldn’t do that – they love to have parties and are flighty and irresponsible and that’s why they don’t take over the world.”
To which I say, hooey.
Especially since my second reason is that the elves, themselves, weren’t really happy with the fuckin’ humans and their rape of the natural world. Because, think about it – even in a pre-industrial society like the traditional medieval, peasants and kings setting, you need to chop down a lot of trees just to keep all those huts and castles warm during the winter. Sooner or later, that shit is gonna encroach on the elves and neither group is going to want to just pick up stakes and move away to prevent any hard feelings.
Factor in my fast-fowarding of technology to a frontier culture and you’ve suddenly got a lot more of that natural world taking it in the ass.
So, war it is.