Friday, December 5, 2014

Building a World, the Big Ideas: The Patchwork Lands

  If you don't already know this, I have 5 sons. 4 of them are old enough to play RPGs and, for some odd reason, they love 'em.
  I know - weird.
  Anyway, for many years I talked about how much I enjoy Rolemaster so, about 4 years ago, the 5 of us started acquiring Rolemaster FRPG and we soon had, essentially, All The Books. The kids read the rules, the kids love the rules, so - time for a game or two!
  They liked actually playing, so it was time for a decision:
  Place the adventures in either Blackstone (my 8 year old AD&D 2e campaign world) or Seaward (my 35+ year old AD&D 1e campaign)?
  or
  Use an packaged campaign world made for Rolemaster?
  or
  Just sort of let a campaign world grow from the bottom up as we play?
  or
  Engage in a bit of world building?

  I chose world building!
  For those of you who don't know, Rolemaster has a lot of classes, a lot of skills (especially RMFRPG), a lot of types of magic, and a lot of races and cultures. While this means there is a great deal of flexibility in what you can put into a world it threatens analysis paralysis - so many choices you never choose. To overcome this I decided to do a high-level description of the world, pick an overall tone, throw in a "shocking" concept critical to the world and its development, and limit the classes and races a bit as first steps.

**Spoilers Follow - Players in my campaign should stop now!**

  I mean it, kids!

  So I started by limiting playable races to dwarf, halfling, elves (wood, grey, high), half-orc, half-elf, and human (common, high, and mixed) (all cultures from the core book and Character Law).

  NPC races I limited to all listed as Subterranean, the Orloc, and the Quishad. The Fey also exist. So gnomes, kobolds, orcs, etc. are out there but no lionmen, wolfmen, reptilemen, etc. as full blown races. Hidden pockets of them may lurk about, but they are going to be mythical/legendary at best.
  I'll admit: I didn't limit classes very much at all! I mainly kept the semi-spell users and hybrid magic users to the 'most common'.

  For overall tone I wanted to whipsaw around a bit. As I have mentioned before Blackstone has a 'manifest destiny' feel to it with the players in a powerful Human kingdom as it starts expanding against neighboring evil nations. Seaward is largely a 'frontier outpost' setting with the characters in a small, remote kingdom trying to defend the innocent from marauders. So I want the new campaign to not look too much like either but have plenty of room to adventure.
  I decided the PC-level setting will look like the Italian City-States - many small nations, in relatively close proximity, with intrigue, politics, and such but also a wide mix of cultures, plenty of chances to travel, and the like. As i sketched out what the local map would look like (which includes enough mountains, thick forests, etc. for plenty of monsters!) I decided on the name the Patchwork Lands for both the regional map and the campaign.
  But I also decided that the overall setting is going to be much more of a 'Lost Ages Past' world, hopefully evoking an overall aura akin to Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique Cycle. So I wanted everything to have a feeling of being very, very old and of the world being very, very big.

  To start with, I made the planet physically huge - double the Earth's diameter, as a matter of fact. Gravity will be the same (well; the creatures that live there all act normally, how's that?) because I'll-figure-that-out-as-I-go/magic. The world map clusters a few continents together and then has three more scattered about. The continental cluster will be Very Dangerous on its east and have a vast ocean (as in '20,000 miles across at its widest' vast) to its west, creating a situation where the scattered continents are 'lost in legend' distant from the campaign center.

  The 'feeling old' part is tough, so I shelved it for a few - along with the 'shocking concept' because nothing had hit me as of yet.

  So I had very rough sketches of a world map and a regional map, a gigantic world, and a desire for things to have the weight of ages upon them. Looking at the races I noted that several (elves, orlocs, quishadi, black orcs) are immortal and some (notably high men) live a very long time. There was a not in the Creatures book that orlocs 'existed in the long ages before men' and 'created the quishad' at which point I had an idea that led to the shocking concept (well - two related concepts).

  I started blocking in a long history covering more than 300 million years (most of it in very broad strokes, obviously). but throughout the history the world is marked with the appearance of new, intelligent races and with some of these races suddenly becoming immortal or (in one case) very long-lived. Each race that becomes immortal faces an inevitable decline.
  This is one of the two shocking concepts - virtually all of the intelligence races on the world are from elsewhere, mainly arriving from other worlds via space travel, some created by science or magic. The orloc, for example, came in a colony ship. The elves from a scout ship, the humans from a heavily-damaged ship that had a  jump drive malfunction (a ship that is still in orbit!). Dwarves from a parallel dimension, etc.
Halflings are the result of scientific experiments on humans, orcs the result of magic experiments gone wrong by elves.

  The other concept - this large, old, odd planet attracts these visitors, draws them in because of the powers and spells of the vastly old, almost completely forgotten natives of the world, the super-intelligent reptile-men that ruled the world for half a billion years before vanishing two full Ice Ages ago. Facing a world of no offspring they struck a foul pact for immortality, unaware that the cost was a loss of their essential racial vitality.
  The races that learn of the reptile-men are drawn to their centers of power and allowed to bargain for favors. Creating bargains similar to the very one they, themselves, made the reptile-men offer gifts, knowledge and, eventually, immortality.
  Those races that choose immortality give up some little part of their species' long-term vigor to the reptile-men. The humans that became high men were suspicious and 'just' took long lives, limiting the damage. Eventually, over eons, the reptile-men will have enough of whatever it is that they are gathering to return to their world full of the vigor they, themselves, traded for immortality all those hundreds of millions of years before.

  This 'backdrop' allows me to explain the rise and fall of races and empires, have a sort of 'hidden threat' lurking about, provides a secret history of the world, makes the world pretty creepy underneath the surface, and certainly makes it feel very old when I think and talk about it.

  Now that the Big Ideas and a framework of history was in place, time for more detail, which will be my next post.