Category Archives: World Building

Setting+Rules

I spend a lot of time brewing up house rules. I try to make whatever game that we happen to be playing fit both my own and the player’s sensibilities about what will be fun and interesting. But then I got thinking about something that I’ve been doing without really considering it too much. The rules need to match up to the setting as well. Whenever I start a campaign, I like to look at the big picture first and then drill down to the details.

With that in mind, I generally start with Gods & Magic. These are the two big things that I think really define any fantasy setting. What gods are predominant? How the different sects, orders, cults, and temples interact? What’s the relation if any to arcane magic? Are wizards hunted down and burned at the stake? Tolerated or what? What about arcane magic? What’s the source of power? Is it by bloodline? Maybe a demonic pact has to be made? Made it’s just studying book. Or combination of all of them. All good questions to ask. This sets the tone not only for the world but also what roleplaying challenges certain classes may face and what exactly the DM may want to change about a specific class.

Then I look at races. It’s perfectly OK for a DM to say, “No, there any magic hamsters in my world.” First, does the race even exist? If it does, is it for player characters? And how do those races interact with each other? It’s OK to have some rivalry or tension. Just don’t set up things so party members want to kill each other on sight. Whatever races a DM uses and their relations and origins can be linked back to Gods & Magic. Sure you may allow Tieflings but the Church hunts them down as abominations or maybe they’ve banded together and created their own kingdom? More food for thought. Can Elves be clerics? Or heck will you only do Race as Class?

Then I look at Classes. It’s more than what’s allowed and what isn’t. It time to really start doing some house ruling. When I was running The Blight with Swords & Wizardry, I completely redid Paladins. They weren’t the wholesome knight in shining armor. They were grim Witch Hunters and Slayers of Undead and Demons. Does a class even fit into the world? There’s a lot of DM’s who kick out Monks because they just don’t fit the setting.

Start of with this trinity; Gods & Magic, Races, and Classes. Look at the synergies and the points of friction. What’s crazy over powered? What just plain doesn’t make sense. What rules need to be altered in order for it to work? Heck, maybe even you’re using the wrong rules. Maybe a different game that you were intending doesn’t work as well as another game.

And here’s the most important part. Be upfront with the players. Let them know well ahead of time about what’s allowed and what isn’t. Let them read those preliminary notes and there’s a good chance they may notice something that you missed. So take their feedback. Remember, the players are stakeholders in the campaign too. If they aren’t having fun then DM isn’t going to have fun either. And it’s all about the fun.

Xoth, Not Forgotten

It’s been way too long since I wrote anything about Xoth and it’s coming back to my mind with a vengeance. In case you’ve been keeping up, I’m trying to get the old gaming group back together.

I’ll admit that I have nothing against the Standard D&D type game and I can even tolerate the Cantina Scene type parties. But then there’s times when I want to go all Swords & Sorcery. For me, that means Conan and Robert E Howard. So it’s back to Xoth as one of my pitches.

I had picked some of the stuff way back when during the days of Pathfinder 1St Edition. Sure I played Pathfinder but I never would want to run it. But I liked the writing and changes so much that it always stayed in the back of mind.

This gets me to where we are today. I was searching the Internets and lo, there’s a 5E Player’s Guide for Xoth. Now this could be interesting and it is. This takes the 5E rules and makes them perfectly friendly to a grimmer more down to earth type of campaign.

Let me break the basics down for you. First, Races & Classes. It’s all human but there’s still various “cultures” that replace the mechanics of Race. There’s the Savage, Civilized, Enlightened, Decadent, and Degenerate. Each gets a stat boost and some neat skill-boosts/tricks. But each as a disadvantage. And their pretty big disadvantages. Like the Savage. +2 Strength, +1 AC, Advantage on Perception Checks. Cool right? Oh wait. You also take disadvantage on attack rolls against aberrations, undead, and fiends. It’s a cool tweak.

Then there’s classes. Of course, all of the classes aren’t allowed because they just don’t fit the setting. So, there’s no Bards, Clerics, Paladins, Wizards, and Sorcerers. The remaining have some tweaks. No archetypes that have any magical or “super” abilities. No Eldritch Knights or Arcane Tricksters. Rangers don’t have spells but they get some other tricks. And the Druid and Warlock have some additional tweaks to them. And there’s three new classes: Conqueror (sort of the Paladin replacement), Cultist (as close as you’re going to get to a cleric), and Courtesan (Bard/Social class).

And of course there some rules tweaks on spells, magic items, healing and combat. All of it giving the campaign that Howard type feel. Oh and the best part the Players Guide to Xoth is free. Available on Xoth.net and DrivethruRPG. Note: On DrivethruRPG, you’ll have to login since it’s behind the adult filter because there be boobies.

If you want a more detailed review you can check this one out.

So back to what I might do with this. Of course, I could just use it with 5E. It’s the RPG that most of the players are familiar with. But then I’m a crazy OSR guy. So I can pull up Swords & Wizardry, Crypts & Things, or even my own Forgotten Tales of Sword & Sorcery and run with that. Sure I’ll do some tweaking and house rules and all of those rules are kissing cousins. But since I’ve got a bunch of Pathfinder and now 5E stuff, it’s really easy to convert that material into an old school game. But then Barbaric! is another of my newly found favorites. Sure it’s easy on the rules crunch and character generation but conversion will take some doing.

What’s actually going to happen? I dunno. But I’ll keep posting about it here and we’ll see what happens.

One World, Many Possibilities

So how may campaign worlds do you use? OK, sure for a specific game, setting, or genre you use something specific but as a go-to setting how many do you use?

Let me explain this a little better. My standard fantasy setting is the world of Zoong. So if I’m just getting the group together that’s the place I go to. And it doesn’t matter which system I use. I’ve ran adventures in this setting with 5E, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Swords & Wizardry, and Labyrinth Lord. And it’s been with mostly the same group of players.

They’ve always had fun. They are already used to the gods, the lay of the land, and some NPC’s. We’ve had the unwritten “rule” that players shouldn’t use player knowledge. Plus there’s no indication which chronological order these campaigns have. Not all of the campaigns have taken place in the same geographic region. Heck, these might be alternate universes. Plus I’ve made changes here and there based on what the players have done and any really interesting things that have happened like Cthulhu hating demi-humans.

It also makes things easier for me as a GM. I don’t have t reinvent the wheel each time. I’ve already got a base to start. And plenty of old notes that haven’t been used yet. I like keeping my notes generic and inspirational rather than detailed. First, I want to have easy ways of importing cool published adventures. Second, you never know when a random NPC catches the players’ attention and becomes important. And third, some times there are world changing events thanks to the PC’s or even a really crazy die roll. Keeping the options open.

Let The World Affect The Characters

I had a little extra time this week where all I could do is sit and think. Something came to mind. As GM’s, we often look at the big picture of our campaign worlds. But maybe there are times when we should focus more closely.

I know this isn’t always true but a lot of times a long and ancient history is added onto a setting. In published settings, there pages and pages dedicated to that but not so much about what has happened more recently. Sure much of the ancient does affect the ways that many things have turned out but like I said smaller and more recent things may be of more importance to the characters. Not only about what kinds of adventures or obstacles that may face but what about things that may have formed their pre-adventuring lives.

Maybe there was a plague that ravaged the area or a war with a neighboring kingdom. Maybe there was some sort religious upheaval or purge. Maybe there was a civil war, famine, or a natural disaster. Who knows maybe somebody usurped the throne? The possibilities are pretty much endless.

These major events that happen during a characters formative years could have a big impact when it’s time to adventuring. Heck, as a GM you could even assign some minor bonuses for the character.

Of course, as a GM, you don’t have to do all the leg work. Go ahead and the players come up with something interesting. Now, don’t let everybody be an exiled noble unless you want to but there’s no harm in letting the players contribute to what has happened in the world already. Heck, they might even come up with some better ideas than your own.

Part of this also comes when I’m thinking about settings and such. Forgotten Tales of Sword & Sorcery is in its final stages and there’s still a long list of projects that I want to mess with. One of which is revamping my own campaign world, Zoong.

The Cult of Mordiggian

Mordiggian is old and omnipotent as death. He was worshipped in former continents, before the lifting of Zothique from out the sea. Through him, we are saved from corruption and the worm. Even as the people of other places devote their dead to the consuming flame, so we of Zul-Bha-Sair deliver ours to the god. Awful is the fane, a place of terror and obscure shadow untrod by the sun, into which the dead are borne by his priests and are laid on a vast table of stone to await his coming from the nether vault in which he dwells. No living men, other than the priests, have ever beheld him; and the faces of the priests are hidden behind masks of silver, and even their hands are shrouded, that men may not gaze on them that have seen Mordiggian.-The Charnel God by Clark Ashton Smith

My own take on the Charnel God for my campaign world.

Mordiggian’s temples are scattered throughout Zoong. Some are tolerated like in Ularax whiles are hidden in shadow. Ghouls and other eaters of the dead view Mordiggian as the God of the Eternal Harvest. More civilized (and living folks) barely tolerate Mordiggian as a God of Funerary rites. He is not the God of the Dead nor does have anything to do with pass of the soul or spirit into the Afterlife but what happens to the mortal remains. In these areas, the Cult does have a mortal high priest who acts as the public face of the Cult.
Clerics of Mordiggian have a special rapport with low level undead. With a (D)estroy result on a Turn Undead attempt, the cleric may opt to change the attitude of undead to “Friendly”. How the GM determines what a “Friendly” reaction from a horde of zombies, well, that’s up to the GM.

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