Lets Build A Campaign Setting – Part 2: Inspiration



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A campaign world is a complex thing. There are a lot of ins and outs, and its sometimes hard to hammer down exactly what the look and feel of it ought to be. Themes play heavily into a setting, becoming synonymous with the identity of the world. But how does one decide how or what that identity is? That is when we need to look for inspiration.

It is easy to find inspiration around you, you just need to know where to look. It's not hard to see that immortal Castle Ravenloft was inspired by the works of Bram Stoker and Marry Shelley. Dark Sun looks to draw some inspiration from Frank Herbert's Dune and Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars. Even the granddaddy of RPGs, Gary Gygax, drew inspiration from tales of King Arthur, and J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (and mostly everything else in Middle-Earth).



"So... What's on the other side of Mordor?"

A big Tolkien fan myself, I want to a feel similar to that. The only problem is that it has been done so much that it is a cliche'. Still, cliche's wouldn't be cliche's if they weren't oh so good. But we want this campaign setting to stick out a bit more. There needs to be something different. I got to pondering this notion when a thought popped into my head.

What if the roles in the Lord of the Rings were reversed? What if Sauron was a good guy, the Council of Elrond were a collection of the most evil folk in the land, what if the ring in question purified a person instead of corrupting them, and what if in the great battle of the age saw the villains as the victors?

"Change you can believe in."

As I mentioned in Part 1, the great catastrophe that changed out campaign world was the ultimate victory of the villains. That idea of a “Good Sauron” was the seed for the whole campaign world, so those events will remain at the core of the setting.

That, however, is just a small portion of our world. A truly fleshed out setting has more moving parts than an H.P. Lovecraft monstrosity, and as such, there are several fonts of inspiration to draw upon. Books, television, movies, web comics, even historical events can be wellsprings if you tap into them. 

 "Someone say Lovecraft?"

If evil flourishes in this world, then is there a government? Is it pure crazy chaos like The Purge, only everyday? That doesn't seem entirely sustainable. Everyone would have killed each other off long ago. No, we need find ourselves an evil empire that has not only remained stable, but has flourished. We want out bad guys staying in power for a long time (or at least for now).

A good example of this is is the Roman Empire, not to be confused with the Roman Republic. Julius Ceaser subverted political power, helped cause a civil war, and assumed control of the government. The man was unrivaled, and a bit of a badass. That kind of manipulation and subversion sound like to sort of thing an intelligent villain would do. But Ceaser did more than that. He made the people of Rome feel safe. He introduced new reforms that made their lives easier. He made the people love him.



 "You know you are a military genius when they name a salad after you."

It really makes you look at the essence of what evil means. Is it the automatic opposition of any good thought, or is it more complex than that. I would like to think that in this case, evil is doing anything it takes to maintain your seat of power, without concern for morality.

For personal freedoms, the common folk of this empire are protected from nefarious elements, both outside its boarders, and within. Crime is almost non existent, and any offense could mean a life of incarceration or execution. The military is strong and keeps invading forces like orcs or goblins from encroaching too far into the empire's interior (and pretty much leaving the lawless borderlands to fend for themselves). For this level of protection, the people are at the mercy of the agents of the empire. If a child is needed for sacrifice to some infernal force in exchange for ending a drought, you best be giving that kiddo up. It's your patriotic duty.

To summarize, what we have is:
  • A world where the bad guys rule in a lawful, militarized government that reduces the personal freedoms of its citizens in exchange for protection from crime and foreign invaders.
  • Technology sits around the 1700's, with guns a rare, but available commodity, likely in the hands of the evil empire.
  • Magic and science are one in the same.
  • There are corners of the world still unexplored.

Next time we dive into the Gods of the world, and how they fit in.

Its a whole new world,

+Ed The Bard 

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