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Old 12-06-2023, 11:36 PM   #1
Michael Thayne
 
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Default Campaign premise: literally creating a world

A while back I stumbled across Michael Moorcock's short story "The Dream of Earl Aubec", a prequel of sorts to his Elric Saga. It involves a meeting between the titular character and Myshella the Dark Lady, who explains to him something surprising about how the world Elric would later adventure in came to be:
She laughed again and gesture towards the window which looked out upon the edge of the world and Chaos beyond. "Out there nothing exists as yet. If you venture into it, you will be confronted again by creatures of your hidden fancy, for there is nothing else to behold."

She gazed at him admiringly and he coughed in his embarrassment. "Once in awhile," she said, "there comes a man to Kaneloon who can withstand such an ordeal. Then may the frontiers of the world be extended, for when a man stands against Chaos it must recede and new lands spring into being!"
I kind of love this idea, and it give me an idea for a campaign: at the start, the entire world consists of nothing but a roughly circular valley six miles across (conveniently a popular hex size for RPG world maps). The valley is ruled by The Lady—not quite a goddess, but a demiurge of sorts, who has commissioned the heroes to go into the mists at the edge of the world to create more world. The thing I like about this is it provides ready-made answers to questions that can come up a lot in a tabletop RPG campaign: "why did we never hear of this worldbuilding element before?" "it literally didn't exist before" "wait, so the people here have been doing nothing in particular until we came along?" "see previous answer". It's also a convenient way to introduce... literally anything you want into the campaign. I might go for a high-mana world except no PCs can start with spells (The Lady's supernatural abilities don't take the form of spells, and the blessings she bestows on her champions are a plot device).

Maybe start PCs on 200 points and -50 points in disadvantages, which would include Patron (The Lady; Ultra-Powerful Individual; Special Abilities, +100%; Minimal Intervention, -50%; 15 or less) [90] and Duty (Extremely Hazardous; 15 or less) [-20], with 130/-30 left to build quite competent yet untested heroes without too many mental problems. At the start of the campaign, Wealth doesn't exist, and Rank and Status are conflated so they cost 10 points/level. The Lady is Rank 4, setting the maximum Rank for her subordinates at 3. Tech level is 3 in many key areas but technologies The Lady hasn't seen the need for won't exist at the start. Most people are human, but The Lady also has dwarves to act as her master craftsmen, using the following racial template:
Dwarf
15 Points

Secondary Characteristics: SM -1 [0]; Basic Move -1 [-5].
Advantages: Artificer 2 [20]; Extended Lifespan 2 [4]; Huge Weapons 1 [1].
Disadvantages: Workaholic [-5].
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Old 12-07-2023, 04:20 AM   #2
johndallman
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Default Re: Campaign premise: literally creating a world

What's the characters' mechanism for actually creating stuff? Imagining it in the mists beyond? Some kind of craftsmanship? Something else?
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Old 12-07-2023, 05:10 AM   #3
Anders
 
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Default Re: Campaign premise: literally creating a world

There's an RPG called "Gods and Monsters" which has this as part of the premise. You may want to look at that.
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Old 12-07-2023, 08:49 AM   #4
Varyon
 
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Default Re: Campaign premise: literally creating a world

This reminds me a bit of the video game Bastion, although in that the world is rebuilding itself as it was prior to the Calamity. Or at least as close as it can get with the Bastion (an edifice designed to serve as a "world reset button" in the case of disaster) itself largely out of commission.

If going with the way it was described in the quote, where what comes to be is largely a function of the characters' subconscious, were I to run something like this I'd encourage the players to suggest ideas for the area they are venturing into (and thus creating). That would factor into why the Lady has opted for champions with a minimum of mental Disadvantages - a lot of those would lend themselves to creating some pretty awful regions.
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Old 12-07-2023, 09:17 AM   #5
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Default Re: Campaign premise: literally creating a world

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Originally Posted by Varyon View Post
If going with the way it was described in the quote, where what comes to be is largely a function of the characters' subconscious, were I to run something like this I'd encourage the players to suggest ideas for the area they are venturing into (and thus creating). That would factor into why the Lady has opted for champions with a minimum of mental Disadvantages - a lot of those would lend themselves to creating some pretty awful regions.
Yeah, from the quote, it sounds like the act of going into the wilderness creates things, and that those things might initially be hostile.

I have a setting where the wilderness is chaos, and to get from place to place you have to will yourself to get there while traveling, rather than simply navigating. "Civilization" consists of a bunch of sites that have been stabilized using altars placed regularly.
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Old 12-07-2023, 09:25 AM   #6
Anaraxes
 
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Default Re: Campaign premise: literally creating a world

I'd had a similar idea, which I dubbed "Ordo Mundi" in my notes, where the PCs were monks (not the D&D class) from a monastery at the center of the world, trained to discipline their minds so they could venture forth and reclaim more land at the edge of the world. The center was order, the Rim dissolving into chaos, and with a gradient of the fantastic in between, with the most magical and wildest places found near the edge. These champions defeat the fantastic to tame it, making the lands more safe for humanity and expanding the borders. In this setting, the monks have both the variety of traditional FRPG abilities to defeat those monsters, as well as a sort of reality-editing, anti-magic power to compel the world into the form that they prefer and keep it there. Mage: the Ascension might be a useful influence in that respect.

(Yes, there are any number of monks that decide they like some land they reached more than their mission, and so abandon in in favor of living in the place they've fallen in love with. And yes, taming the fantasy isn't always a happy or even "good" thing to do -- particularly in the minds of fans of fantasy fiction, which may be one reason I never got enough buy-in from our group to actually run it.)

I was partly inspired by some of the stories of Lord Dunsany. You might track down some of his work. (He was writing pre-WW I, from about 1890, laying the groundwork for a lot of modern fantasy. "Fantasy" wasn't even a recognized genre back then.) There's a collection of short stories edited by Lin Carter under the title "At the Edge of the World", published back in the 70s. As that title suggests, a lot of his fantasy stories were placed in the sort of transitional region we're talking about -- notionally, at least. The individual stories aren't generally concerned with creating the lands themselves, or tied together with some sort of meta-plot, but they can be fantastic because they're at the edge of the world, rather than stuck in our normal reality.

Dunsany's style tends to be long on imagery, evocative, dreamy. Lots of imagination, less concern for a driving plotline than being in the milieu. He's got a range of stories from ones that could be the start of sword-and-sorcery, some more horror (you could say Lovecraftian, except the timing is the other way around; perhaps Lovecraft is Dunsanian), some idylls, some fairy tales. If you like that sort of thing, give him a try.
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Old 12-07-2023, 09:50 AM   #7
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Default Re: Campaign premise: literally creating a world

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
I'd had a similar idea, which I dubbed "Ordo Mundi" in my notes, where the PCs were monks (not the D&D class) from a monastery at the center of the world, trained to discipline their minds so they could venture forth and reclaim more land at the edge of the world. The center was order, the Rim dissolving into chaos, and with a gradient of the fantastic in between, with the most magical and wildest places found near the edge. These champions defeat the fantastic to tame it, making the lands more safe for humanity and expanding the borders. In this setting, the monks have both the variety of traditional FRPG abilities to defeat those monsters, as well as a sort of reality-editing, anti-magic power to compel the world into the form that they prefer and keep it there. Mage: the Ascension might be a useful influence in that respect.

(Yes, there are any number of monks that decide they like some land they reached more than their mission, and so abandon in in favor of living in the place they've fallen in love with. And yes, taming the fantasy isn't always a happy or even "good" thing to do -- particularly in the minds of fans of fantasy fiction, which may be one reason I never got enough buy-in from our group to actually run it.)

I was partly inspired by some of the stories of Lord Dunsany. You might track down some of his work. (He was writing pre-WW I, from about 1890, laying the groundwork for a lot of modern fantasy. "Fantasy" wasn't even a recognized genre back then.) There's a collection of short stories edited by Lin Carter under the title "At the Edge of the World", published back in the 70s. As that title suggests, a lot of his fantasy stories were placed in the sort of transitional region we're talking about -- notionally, at least. The individual stories aren't generally concerned with creating the lands themselves, or tied together with some sort of meta-plot, but they can be fantastic because they're at the edge of the world, rather than stuck in our normal reality.

Dunsany's style tends to be long on imagery, evocative, dreamy. Lots of imagination, less concern for a driving plotline than being in the milieu. He's got a range of stories from ones that could be the start of sword-and-sorcery, some more horror (you could say Lovecraftian, except the timing is the other way around; perhaps Lovecraft is Dunsanian), some idylls, some fairy tales. If you like that sort of thing, give him a try.
I'm reminded by this of some discussions of the cosmology of Mage: The Ascension, where for example it was suggested that things like the period table of the elements was not discovering chemical substances and interactions that already existed, but imposing a rationalized scheme on the material world. On the other hand, it might be compared to Jo Walton's novel Lifelode, where there is a one-dimensional gradient from lands of pure rational order where people have no free will, to lands where people are gods (or nuances within gods) who have power over the natural world. Though Walton's cosmology doesn't have a moving boundary, but a fixed one.

Some years back, I ran a fantasy campaign, Manse, where the player characters lived in a castle that was the center of a kind of bubble of order surrounded by magical wilderness—order that had to be renewed by quarterly ceremonies conducted by the heads of five sorcerous lineages. Toward the end of the campaign, the players (in the roles of members of the ruling council) discussed building up population and resources to found a daughter colony out in the wild lands where order would also obtain.

In one of my current campaigns, The Gate of Horn, the player characters are all lucid dreamers who are exploring a shared realm of dreams. They have some ability to shape the dream realms, but what they shape also tends to persist. And there's also a factor of their own fears shaping things in ways they might prefer to avoid.
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Old 12-07-2023, 09:54 AM   #8
Fred Brackin
 
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Default Re: Campaign premise: literally creating a world

Eh, if the "real" pt set-up for the campaign is 130 pts +30 in Disads that's probably a little low-powered because that plot device Patron is extremely unlikely to e worth 90 pts. Without "Special Access" the PCs have to go back to her location in the middle of the valley to get her help and that help might mostly boil down to "Heals PCs between Adventures".

I suppose the group could come running back saying "We found a Dragon and he's right behind us!" but that reduces the adventure to the problem of staying ahead of the dragon until you can get your Patron to wave he hand turn him into some sort of scaly wall hanging.

On the other hand the Duty Disad boils down to "Does the only thing to do that there is in the World".

Still being rather blunt I see signs of a usually forlorn hope that the PCs will drive the direction the campaign takes and I don't see it work very often. Wandering out onto blank hexes on the map and having random encounters doesn't look like the basis for a long term game. Campaigns need places to go and things to do more than they need neat underlying premises.
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Old 12-07-2023, 10:00 AM   #9
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Default Re: Campaign premise: literally creating a world

Quote:
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And there's also a factor of their own fears shaping things in ways they might prefer to avoid.
“Sometimes my thoughts of my dead wife manifest themselves as trains.”
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Old 12-07-2023, 12:05 PM   #10
Michael Cule
 
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Default Re: Campaign premise: literally creating a world

There's Robin D Laws' PANTHEON a peculiar storytelling game which might provide some inspiration for you if you can find a copy.
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