In the last article we dealt with the Next Steps in campaign design, today we’ll discuss various campaign settings, historical periods, novels and talk about the themes that exist within the fantasy genre. This is my favourite part of design as it’s where you get to really dream about the different possibilities. Make sure you have your notebook handy and any of the Resources that you’ve collected to help you along the way. You’re bound to have more than a few flash insights at moments that you aren’t actively working on your campaign world and you’ll want to jot them down for future use.
We’ll start things off with a look at different historical periods and how you could incorporate them into your game.
This period in history saw the rapid expansion of civilization. There was a huge emphasis on learning as evidenced by the writings of Socrates and Plato. Arena battles were a common occurrence and served as regular entertainment. Slavery was a common and accepted practice of society. If a world spanning empire is a theme that you’d like to draw upon then this time period should provide plenty of information for you.
Perhaps a tribe of Hobgoblins have been expanding their territory aggressively. The conquered towns are offered slavery or death. The PCs may be slaves who rebel against their masters. Alternately, perhaps human civilization is just establishing itself and the PCs are the heroes fighting for survival and dominance.
Movies of note:
- Ben Hur
The Dark Ages
This period in history gets a bad rap. It has the misfortune of following the Roman Empire and it is generally thought that much learning was lost. While this is generally true there was still some advancement. This period is where we get much of traditional Dungeons & Dragons culture from. It was the time when the legend of King Arthur was born and the epic poem Beowulf was written. This period also led up the Crusades when many of the knightly orders were created.
The PCs may be part of an army that is on a greater crusade. Perhaps there is a continent-wide war raging and the party finds itself caught in the middle of the events. Vikings are raiding costal villages and have recently become bolder. The PCs are sent to investigate and discover a more sinister threat.
Movies of note:
- King Arthur
- Kingdom of Heaven
The Renaissance was a period of learning and advancement. This is a period that favours the Bard in the D&D sense of the class. The ideals of chivalry were advanced and the Church had a prominent position in society.
The PCs belong to a Holy Order that has recently returned from a successful crusade, however the true evil has been at home all along. New and wonderous magical discoveries have been made by a wizard of great renown. The PCs are hired to investigate or steal the discoveries, but to what end?
Movies of note:
- Elizabeth: The Golden Age
- A Knight’s Tale
- Shakespeare in Love
I’m not going to profess to be an expert in this setting and it isn’t one that I’m fond of playing in. However, the concept of Samurai, Ninja’s and Ronin warriors is one that can be fun to play in.
Perhaps a Samurai Lord was murdered. Upon investigating further a mad priest has raised up a host of mummy monks and plans to overthrow the emperor.
Movies of note:
- Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
- The Forbidden Kingdom
Official D&D Settings
The Forgotten Realms
The flagship game world for D&D, the Forgotten Realms are a mish-mash of many different ideas. What you will find are Kingdoms like Cormyr, Magocracies like Thay, City States like Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate, and Asian influenced cultures. In short you can find a little bit of everything in the realms and this isn’t a bad thing. The overall feel for the game is fantasy, not high fantasy but a typical fantasy setting.
I think of Eberron as the dark horse of campaign settings. It’s not the primary D&D setting, which is evident by the fact that we are still waiting for the 4e source books. Also, it’s a darker setting. While the world is large, it’s also much more cohesive than the Forgotten Realms. Eberron is described as being a dark noir setting that focuses on action, placing the PCs in a post war period. The setting is also very magic rich. Many of the elements of modern society are incorporated and explained with magic. Such examples include the Lightning Rail, Airships, and House Sivis sending stones.
If you are looking for horror in D&D, look no further. Ravenloft dishes up the dead and the demonic for you in spades. A read through the old campaign books or Expedition to Castle Ravenloft can provide plenty of inspiration.
A look through your local bookstore will reveal plenty of fantasy novels to pick from. I’ll highlight a few below that are well worth reading.
The Black Company by Glen Cook
The Black Company is a mercenary army. The setting of the novel is bleak and war torn. I often think of this novel as being the grunge element to the fantasy setting as I felt gritty and dirty as I read it.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
A Song of Ice and Fire is a great look at a decade or two of a severely dysfunctional kingdom. If you want court politics to play a large part in your campaign I highly recommend reading this series.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
Of course we have Tolkien, the standard in fantasy literature. The Lord of the Rings pitches good versus evil in an epic battle. Jealousy, greed, fear, rage, love and laughter are all relevant as Tolkien presents his epic story. If you’ve only seen the movies, which are good, I recommend you pick up the books. The language is rich and serves to inspire.
Where do you draw your inspiration from when thinking about adventure or campaign design? Are there any movies or novels that have inspired your gaming sessions? Share them with us as we’re always looking for a new idea, book or movie.