Friday, November 10, 2017

NaCaCreMo #1: Setting the Game

Since I've dubbed this post "#1", I guess that retroactively makes my previous post on National Campaign Creation Month into "#0".  The last essay was all about spitballing for an idea; this one is about situating the idea within a setting.

Before I can go any further, I have to select a world in which to set the campaign.  For this one fleeting, joyous moment, the possibilities are truly endless: shall I fall back onto one of my already established settings?  Or do I invent an entirely new one?  When I was a kid, it wouldn't have even been a question: world-building for the sake of a new campaign was just something you did.  (My friends and I were too heavily influenced by JRPGs back then to ever consider carrying on multiple campaigns within the same setting!)  But now, the pendulum has swung in the other direction, and constraints on my time dictate that I have to use a setting that I've already created.  I can take the opportunity to flesh out some small part of one of my pre-existing campaign worlds—but which one?

There are three campaign worlds in my stable that I regularly return to: Færith, Gaia, and Ordwyrd.  The salient characteristics of each setting are as follows:
• Færith is the campaign world that dates back to my earliest days of gaming.  It's a loose Earth-analogue (the land-masses and nation-borders are vaguely inspired by the real world), with the overall tone being "pulpy, noir kitchen-sink" (imagine Thief: The Dark Project or a Raymond Chandler novel set in Mystara and you've pretty much got the idea).
• Gaia is a setting that I made up for a fantasy novel, around the same time that the OSR was just starting to become a thing; and when it did become a thing, and I resolved to publish the old version of Engines & Empires, I turned Gaia into a steampunk setting where it hadn't been one before.  But it retained two key elements: lots and lots of unusual demi-human races, and the geography of a close Earth-analogue (like Conan's Hyborian Age, 7th Sea's Théah, or the Warhammer Fantasy setting; in fact, Gaia is semi-explicitly an alternate Earth).  Gaia's tone is perhaps the most appropriately Victorian out of all these choices, and in my last post I did say that that was something I wanted to aim for.
• Ordwyrd is my most recently-developed setting.  I created it off the cuff one day when I decided that I wanted not an Earth-analogue, but a Middle-Earth-analogue to work with.  In other words, it's just like a hundred other "fantasy-novel knockoff" settings, but with all the human kingdoms in the main campaign region perhaps even more heavily influenced by Anglo-Saxon lore and language than Tolkien's exemplar.

I'm going to go ahead and remove Færith from the running right now.  Two of my last three campaigns ("Loro Muerto" and "Shade Isle") were set in Færith, and the gonzo tone is at odds with the kind of campaign I want to create here.  And if I'm going to do that, I suppose that Ordwyrd has to go for pretty much the exact same reason: I ran "The Heathlands Campaign" there not too very long ago, and its tone ("elegiac fantasy novel") is also a rather poor match for what I have in mind.

I want my next campaign to be full-on, gears and goggles, canes and top-hats, "Pip-pip, cheerio!" steampunk.  Gaia feels Napoleonic in some places, Victorian in others, and even a little bit fin de siècle, Art Nouveau-y in still others—and that does strike just the tone that I want.  So: Gaia it is.

* * *

Now I have to select a region within Gaia in which to place the campaign.  Two possibilities present themselves:
1) I could set the game in the far north of the Lemurian continent, which would be Gaia's Yukon/Klondike analogue.
2) I could set the game in Tuonela, which doesn't precisely have a real-world counterpart.  It's Gaia's Mordor, basically "monstrous humanoid" country.  It occupies the same geographical location as real-world Russia, and its name is derived from the underworld of Finnish mythology.

Neither region has been mapped yet, so no matter what, I'd be starting with a blank slate.  Both locations are sufficiently remote.  Each offers story-based advantages: Lemuria is a region with a buried ancient fay civilization (which would explain where the dungeon came from), while Tuonela is a proper borderlands between Law and Chaos, potentially teeming with monstrous humanoids.

That makes Tuonela sound more dangerous and frankly more exciting.  Also, if I set the game in Lemuria, well, I know what the dungeon is already—it's an Ancient Sidhe techno-magical something-or-other.  Been there, done that.  But if I set the game in Tuonela, at this point I have no freaking clue where the dungeon came from or what it's for—and that opens up a lot of possibilities.  I think I'll have more fun trying to figure out what to do with Tuonela, so that option wins.

We have a setting.  The next step is mapping and brainstorming.  The two go very much hand-in-hand, listing off as many possible locations and features as you can think of, and then figuring out how to squeeze as many of the good ones as you can onto an over-world map.  But before I get into that, I think my next post will have cover what I previously skipped: I'll be writing an overview of what kinds of maps will be needed.

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