It’s been a couple weeks since we first set foot in this original campaign world I’m building, so hopefully I haven’t lost anyone along the way. If you’re just hearing about this new realm for the first time today, you can catch up by checking out the first two posts in this series:
If you’ve been following my lead through the woods, then you know that we’ve found our way here by asking some very specific questions. Hopefully our answers will shine a light into the darkness of this primeval place.
First, let’s sit by the fire and remember what’s brought us to this place. All along the path, the direction has been pointed by the following questions and answers.
- What in the world compels the characters to act? Their need for survival, both collective and individual
- What kind of responses are most encouraged by this world? Physical, chancy, risk-taking action- the gutsier the better- in response to that crucial “fight or flight” moment
- What exists in your world that would inhibit or prevent a character from action? Big, scary, hungry monsters that freely roam all but the most populated regions
- What sets your world apart from others? Inspired more by western Europe and even colonial America, in the tradition of Grimm’s fairy tales and legends of the ‘forest primeval’, treating monsters more as organic threats and natural horrors
- What kind of adventurers are found here? The hunters and protectors of a frightened populace, without whom the monsters would prevail
- What do the characters/adventurers actually do? Uses their chosen path to defend society against the things that go bump in the night
NATURAL (CHARACTER) SELECTION
In fleshing out the society of this world, and settling the landscape a bit more, my original plans for the setting have actually morphed into what you’ve read in this series. Likewise, my original answers from those posts have evolved into a more sophisticated version of their original form.
Specifically, the answer to my very first question has transformed from ‘survival’ to ‘survival of the fittest‘. The human community of this world is making significant efforts to tame it, in the hopes that they can preserve their society and their lives. To do this, they must challenge the natural order. What they call monsters have ruled this land for many years, and the mere presence of new civilizations has tipped the scales from their careful balance. The majority of the newest human settlers want to put themselves at the top of the food chain, and hopefully thus out of harm’s way. They are not the first population to battle these creatures however.
A CAREFUL BALANCE
The eternal struggle in which the adventurers of this setting find themselves is the result of an age-old tension between two higher powers, who are responsible for the creation of the material world. These powers originally existed in balance, each serving a purpose in its time.
- Golgomane rules darkness, sleep, and death. His icon is the Moon.
- Akiva rules daylight, energy, and life. His icon is the Sun.
Both have the power of physical creation; Golgomane created all nocturnal creatures, and Akiva created all diurnal creatures. Some were predators, and some were prey. Many were both, including humans. In order to help their species survive, despite competing with larger, more powerful predators, their physical forms were augmented with a spiritual energy. As humans would possess both a physical and spiritual existence, they were created together by the two powers. Akiva would rule the physical life, and Golgomane everything after it.
CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE
As their creations adapted and evolved, new creatures became necessary to keep the others in check. If any particular species became too powerful and threatened the natural order, a more powerful predator was introduced to hunt the hunters, as it were. These new creatures were meant to tip the scales back toward a balanced world, but the strength and ferocity of these new creatures escalated quickly as Akiva and Golgomane did not want the other to become too powerful.
Sooner or later, humans became an issue where balance was concerned because they banded together into more complex social groups, becoming exponentially more powerful and more driven by their social relationships. These societies became integral to the survival of the human race. However, in their zeal to survive the harsh world around them they started slaying creatures they saw as potential threats to their way of life. Their ambition to get to the top of the food chain meant that they were hunting down species to keep them from becoming dangers later on. To meet this zeal, larger and meaner predators were necessary to keep the balance going. Eventually, humans started to call these fearsome predators ‘monsters.’
THE TRIPLE THREAT
So the current state of the campaign world, as described by the answers to the six questions above, is another cycle of this conflict. Much like the seasons see daylight and darkness ebb and flow as they run their course, the power of human societies has risen and fallen in this land over time. This allows for many different timelines to be visited by players and game masters, while maintaining a consistent tone. There will always be man’s struggle against the ‘monsters’ that hunt them, the struggle of the creatures of the night against the creatures of the day, and the struggle of those creatures to keep mankind in his place.
Running parallel to these three conflicts would be the three philosophies of humans, as they relate to the creatures that hunt them.
- Mankind must destroy all of the monsters, no matter who created them, to keep its society safe.
- Mankind must seek the favor of one of the powers, in order to defeat the other’s monsters.
- Mankind must accept its place in the natural order, and only destroy those ‘monsters’ if there is no other choice for survival.
While all of this cosmology might provide a richer narrative for many campaigns, it wouldn’t be necessary for the characters to be aware of any or all of it to evoke the same tone. This background should definitely assist a game master, however, in establishing the right tone for their adventures. In this campaign setting, one is either the hunter or the hunted.
So now I’ve camped out in my new campaign world, and started taking stock of how its civilization has come to be. I’ve defined how this world will function, and I’ve explored what form the setting will take. Now for the next task: establishing some unique ‘landmarks’ that will distinguish this place, and give them some depth and breadth. This may take a couple weeks… but stay tuned to find out how my new realm gets built, and if any characters will actually survive a week in it. Given our group’s gaming attention span, that may not be as bad as it sounds.