Kenshi

I’ve recently mentioned Kenshi a couple of times as a big inspiration for what an RPG sandbox can be and various new quirky elements I’ve added to Planet Kaendor. Kenshi is a sandbox survival city builder RPG videogame (that is: defies typical genre classifications) that was released a few years ago after 12 years of work by mostly one guy, who just wanted to make a little videogame that he thought was fun. Which is why it looks like 20 year old game.

I’ve been wanting to write a proper article about this game for a while, but really explaining what the game is and what makes it such a great and unique experience would be quite an undertaking and I don’t even know how to begin. So I’ve decided to simply link the 30 minute video that first introduced me to Kenshi and let it speak for itself. Anything I could bash on my keyboard would still fall way behind it.

Though now that I think of it, I might actually have watched this only after the hilarious SsethTzeentach video, which has a somewhat different presentation but still portrays the game accurately.

While it’s not D&D and not even fantasy, and it doesn’t have classes or XP, I think Kenshi is by far the closest thing I’ve yet seen to oldschool sandbox D&D translated into videogames.

The latest map and an updated overview of Kaendor

My old computer has been reaching the end of its life and the backup I am using now just doesn’t have the power to handle the large file sizes I usually like to work with, so for the time being I am limiting myself to basic layout sketches without trying to make them look pretty as handouts for players. I also decided to limit the scope of this map to just the part of the continent that I actually need for planning my next campaign.

30 miles per hex, 900 miles by 1800 miles.

This area actually covers a good 90% of all the content that I have already created for the setting. There’s still the far northern lands of Venlat where the white skinned and white haired Kuri live under the rule of Maiv the Witch Queen, but I am quite happy with that being a far off distant land that has no direct contact with the main civilized region shown on this map.

Senkand

On the east side of the map is a huge valley between two mountain ranges with a total size roughly on the same scale of France or Spain. I think that’s as big as I can go with the main city states (maked in red) still having meaningful regular interactions with each other. The eastern mountains and highlands are the lands of the Yao mountain people, while the great plain in the center of the valley is the lands of the Murya sorcerer kings. The woodlands north of Senkand are the home of the Fenhail tribes.

This incarnation of Senkand takes a lot of inspirations from Dark Sun, but instead of a barren desert its environment is more like Northern Spain and southern France, with the mountains being comparable to the Pyreneese and the Alps. In earlier versions of the setting it used to be more like the coasts of Greece and Southern Italy, but in the process of downscaling the city states considerably to make a more wilderness focused setting, I decided to drop the Mediterranean port city model (which is more a think of Antiquity) with the river valley structure that dominated in the Bronze Age.

I don’t have any specific plans for campaigns set in the east and I mostly want it to be background material for NPCs and factions. Though I think it would be a perfectly playable region that still works in the overall style I am pursuing with Kaendor.

Dainiva

The center of the map consists of a large region of temperate-warm woodlands that are bordered in the east by the mountains that separate it from the city states of Senkand, and in the west by a great river that marks the edge of the known world for most people. This area is what Kaendor was always meant to be about and that is most reflective of the kind of environment implied by the Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert rules. A vast wilderness full of ruins, monsters, and treasures, and only a few scattered villages and forts.

Dainiva, as well as the forests beyond the great river, were once the realm of the asura who ruled there for thousands of years. Their presence alone was what had kept the various early societies of Senkand from attempting to cross the mountains. But now the asura are almost entirely gone, and the lands of Dainiva have been abandoned for many centuries. The first people to cross the mountains where Murya shamans and witches seeking the occult secrets of the great asura kings. They brought back great amounts of esoteric knowledge about other realms and demons that became the basis of sorcery, but many of them stayed in the lands beyond the mountains to delve deeper into what the asura had discovered before them. Whatever they found, something covered the peaks of the mountains in clouds of poisonous ash and made the few passes crawl with ghouls and other undead horrors. For many generations crossing the mountains was all out impossible, but over time clouds of ash become more rare and the undead only rarely seen. Slowly Murya from Senkand resumed making the crossing into the lands beyond the mountains, while further north some Fenhail and the occasional Yao made the journey through the forest. Most of the people who came to Dainiva and settled down had fled from Senkand for one reason or another, which greately affected the kind of society that developed in the west.

The woods of Dainiva are home to scattered villages of rarely more than a few hundred people, often surrounded by wooden palisades or build on top of defensible hills and cliffs. Hunting is just as much a part of daily life as farming and great amounts of tools and weapons found by local traders have been imported from the East. The woods are also filled with ancient asura ruins, as well as the lairs and tombs of the first sorcerers.

Beyond the Great River

While the woodlands of Dainiva are a barely explored frontier, the lands on the western bank of the great river are a completely unknown wilderness. Rumors are that those distant forests are still ruled by asura kings, the mountains swarming with dragons, and that ancient gods are walking among the trees. But in truth almost nobdy ever returned to the taverns and trade posts of Dainiva with any proof that they actually had made it to the other side.

The Yellow Crystals Fields

There is something about areas that have been corrupted the demonic powers of sorcery that occadionally leads to the growth of formations of pale yellow crystals that can grow to enormous size. The crystals are extremely hard and almost impossible to remove once they have started to appear.

Instead of feeding on the sorcerous power lingering at the sites of demonic rituals, the destruction of powerful demons, or the lairs of ancient sorcerers, the growth of the crystals appears to actually increase the corruption of the surrounding area. While the initial spread of the crystals can happen quite rapidly over the span of just months, the growth seems to slow down and stop eventually. If this were not the case, some sages think the crystals could eventually take over the entire world, and would likely have done so long ago.

But even if they don’t pose a serious threat to the world as a whole, the areas covered by the hard yellow formations are left as otherwise barren wastelands. In many places corrupted by sorcery, the demonic influence seems to slowly ebb away over the course of man centuries and eventually become barely detectable. But as far as everyone’s been able to tell so far, the crystaline formations are eternal.

The crystals have some limited uses in a number of sorcerous rituals, but their incredible hardness makes it very difficult to remove large chunks of it. The corruption around them also makes them dangerous to carry, so there is little trade with these crystals among alchemists.

The Golems of Dainiva

Throughout the vast reaches of the Dainiva Forest rest the ancient and overgrown remains of massive stone giants. Sometimes found slumped against a hillside, sitting slouched among the trees, or lying face down in a river, these silent golems offer scarce insights into how they got to their final resting places.

Even though often heavily weathered, missing large pieces, and covered in moss and lichens, each of these golems seems to have had a unique appearance, with no two known examples being the same in size, proportions, or the stone they are made from. Some appear merely mishapen hunks of rock whose blunt arms and legs only distantly resemble a person, while others show great amount of carving and chisseling to give them simple but distinguishing faces and hands and the proportions of a roughly hewn statue.

The origins of the golems is a mystery lost to time. The clans of Dainiva and the surrounding lands have no stories of their creation, or even about them being encountered alive. As far as everyone knowns, they have always been sitting motionless under the canopy of the forest. With no way to tell their original purpose, they now only serve as landmarks for the occasional hunters making their way through the forest.

Midnight is coming back

I was thinking about some kind of pun for the title, but couldn’t come up with even a stupid one.

Back in the days of the avalance of d20 books based on the D&D 3rd edition, the Midnight campaign setting stood out well above everything else in quality. Though that didn’t seem to make it any more popular. It actually had a number of books with outstanding high production values. I think the only other thing in the same league was the second edition of the Conan d20 game, but that really was just the d20 system with a complete replacement of all content. Midnight on the other hand was still a D&D campaign setting.

And I remember anytime it was brought up in conversations, there was immediately a couple of people agreeing that it was a really cool that would be great to play in. I’m not quite sure when it became the common catchphrase for the game, but it could practically use “If Sauron had won” as its tag line. Everyone who reads about it seems to get this same impression of it.

It’s a pretty generic fantasy world, but somehow the god of evil was cast out of the realm of the gods, with the unforseen consequence that the worlds of the gods and mortals were forever separated. Leaving the god of evil with no real opposition in leading his armies of orcs to a conquest of the mortal lands. Most of the known world is now under the tyrannical occupation of the orc priests, with only the elven forest and a few other places still holding off the siege. There is no real hope that the dark gods forces could ever be driven back.

And apparently, the setting is now being relaunched. The announcement seems to have been a while back, but I only heard about it now. Talk is not about a 5th edition campaign setting but about a Midnight RPG based on 5th edition. I remember the original setting not having any clerics and paladins, since there are no gods, and a special cleric variant for priests of the dark god. Druids and rangers might also have been restricted, and I remember there being a special new spellcasting class that takes their role with a more limited access to magic. So my uninformed guess would be that the new setting is getting it’s own Rulebook that will likely still be pretty much 5th edition, but with all the setting-specifc changes to classes, magic, and races, and new feats already baked in. With it being sold as a game rather than a setting, I also expect it to stick with the original races and not include for example dragonborn and tieflings. Though warlocks would fit perfectly into it. While I doubt there will be a great market for people who want Midnight but don’t have the D&D rulebooks already, having everything in one tome with all the additions and the unavailable stuff removed seemd very useful. That would be at least what I am expecting.

The sad thing about Midnight was that it didn’t really take of back in the day like a good number of people thought it deserved. I thought it looked really cool, but never had a campaign planned myself either. But I feel like this might actually have a decent chance to get some moderate success. I think the kind of product that was being made back then would be pretty popular now. Something like the success of Adventures in Middle-Earth seems quite achievable to me. I might even want to take this one out for a small scale campaign if it turns out well. Unless the press comes out very poorly for it, I will most likely at least get and read it. While 5th edition turned out not to be a suitable game for my setting, I’m not inherently supposed to using it for a campaign it’s suited for. And Midnight should fit it just fine.