Return to Kaendor

Y’all all don’t what real Gamer ADHD is!

Yesterday I mentioned on Mastodon that I regular keep getting new ideas every few months for what could be really cool campaigns and then losing interest in the work after a few days or weeks, but that it seems like I always keep coming back to the same Sword & Sorcery inspired setting of nature spirits and dinosaurs on an alien forest planet. People asked if there’s any place where they could read more on that world, and there really isn’t anything I could direct people to at this moment. So this post is going to be that.

Kaendor is the current incarnation of a Sword & Sorcery style campaign setting heavily inspired by the worlds of Morrowind and Dark Sun, and the visuals of classic Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian, that I’ve been tinkering and experimenting with since at least back in 2009. I’ve run three separate campaigns in that world over the years, but there have been many drastic overhauls and changes to the geography, history, cultures, and monster populations that it’s become a completely different world from its original incarnation. But looking through my old material, the jumble of ideas and fragments seems to have gained the general shape of what is now the Kaendor setting in Summer 2016 when I wrote my Project Forest Moon concept. Reading it again now, it still feels like a perfect match for what I want to accomplish with the setting.

My previous campaigns were run playing Pathfinder, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, and while I wanted to run D&D Basic/Expert last time, there just wasn’t the audience for it and we ended up playing 5th edition. I had been very seriously considering Barbarians of Lemuria, Worlds Without Number, and Forbidden Lands as systems for future campaigns. But now with the considerable popularity gained by Old-School Essentials, which is reformated reprint of the B/X rules, I think it’s now much easier to get player for it. And it really is the system that Kaendor was always meant to be for.

Inspirations and References

  • A Princess of Mars
  • Albion (DOS game, 1995)
  • Bound by Flame
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • Dark Sun
  • Fire and Ice (by Bakshi and Frazetta)
  • Kenshi (PC game, 2018)
  • Morrowind
  • Nausicaa
  • Princess Mononoke
  • Record of Lodoss War
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Severance: Blade of Darkness
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne
  • X1: The Isle of Dread
  • X6: Quagmire!

Yes, this is all very 80s/early 90s. That stuff is on fire! ;)

The Environment

Kaendor is the smaller of a pair of binary planets around an orange dwarf star, the other one being a a blue gas dwarf (a type of planet now known to be common in the universe, but with no example in our solar system). With the stars lower gravitational pull on the planets, a year is slightly longer at 381 days, but with another large planet in place of a moon, months are considerably shorter at only 16 days. (Leading to two 8-days weeks per months.) With the gas planet casting a much larger shadow than a smaller moon, solar eclipses are much more common on Kaendor, and many places see one or two every year, which are typical occasions for many magical rituals.

Kaendor with the gas dwarf and its orange dwarf sun in the background. (Simulated with true scales and perspective in Universe Sandbox 2.)

The surface of Kaendor is about half land and ocean, with almost all but the higher mountain ranges being covered in an endless expanse of trees, giant mushrooms, and swamps. The dominant animals on land are reptiles and insects, with many species growing to enormous sizes. Instead of birds, the skies are home to many kinds of feathered flying reptiles. Mammals are somewhat uncommon, mostly resembling rodents of many shapes and sizes, but there are also many types of deer and goats. (There are no dogs, cats, horses, or bears)

The Peoples

The common Kaendorians are very similar to humans in nature and appearance, but they don’t have any particular resemblance to any specific peoples from Earth. Giants, serpentmen, and fishmen exist, but their numbers are a far cry from what they were tens of thousands of years ago and most people never see even one of them in their entire lives. Insect-like goblins are more common, but they mostly keep to themselves and only occasionally make short visits to other settlements to trade.

Civilization on Kaendor is generally fairly small. While there are many large river valleys for civilizations to arise, there are few open plains, and clearing the ancient forests along the river banks is difficult and dangerous work with the massive scale of many old trees and the amounts of deadly animals and treacherous spirits. A few major cities exist near the coast, but mostly people live in small towns and surrounding villages scattered far and wide across the lands, in whatever small patches of farmable land can be found. The larger city states can establish some kind of centralized government over the surrounding towns and villages a few days’ ride out from their city walls, but most people are ruled over by local chiefs or tribal councils.

The technology level of Kaendor is mostly Bronze Age, with crudely made iron being only suitable for nails, cooking pots, arrowheads, and armor scales, but too fragile for weapons, tools, or chainmail. There are a few roads through the forests connecting the city states with nearby towns, but transportation of heavy goods is done almost entirely by boats over longer distances, or hauled by pack animals that can walk on narrow trails and step over roots or through mud. Wheels are only used for wheelbarrows or handcarts within towns and villages.

The Supernatural

This is an aspect of the setting that is still somewhat up in the air and I am currently undecided on how I want to nail down the specific rules for the future. In general term, all the natural forces in the environment are the actions of spirits. Most spirits of plants and stones are extremely simple beings that have no real consciousness, personality, or individual traits. They simply exist, maintaining the natural cycles of the environment through their passive influence. But the spirits of particularly ancient trees or large caves, and especially the spirits of whole forests, mountains, or island are very powerful entities that have a great awareness of everything that happens within their domains and the power to influence the environment directly to their will. However, the nature of these great spirits is completely different from that of mortals, and they perceive the world and understand events in drastically different terms. Their desires and choices lie well outside the comprehension of ordinary mortal minds and they generally have no concerns of any kind how their actions and changes to the environment affect individual people or even whole villages.

All settlements require a shaman who knows the local spirits and has at least a basic understanding of their goals and desires. The role of the shamans is to consult with the spirits to get permission to build new settlements or make any major changes to the environment and to plead with them for understanding about offenses or aid in times of hardship. They also perform the many rituals and sacrifices demanded by the spirits in return for their continued permission to settle, farm, hunt, and mine in their domains. The exact purpose of many rituals and what the spirits actually gain from them is a mystery even to many shamans, but they are not questioned as subservience to the spirits is an everyday part of life everywhere on Kaendor.

Magic that falls outside the domain of interactions with the spirits exists in the realm of sorcery and is closely tied to demons. Being part of the environment and regulating its natural processes, the power of the spirits is limited to guiding the many forces of nature, but it can not break its laws. It can control plants and the weather, accelerate healing or cause disease, or increase strength or cloud the minds of mortal creatures. Existing outside of nature and coming directly from the primordial chaos, demons are not bound to such limitations. Sorcery can do the impossible by rewriting the laws of nature and overturn the natural order, making it potentially extremely powerful. However, the natural world is extremely complex with everything influencing and affecting everything else, and seemingly minor changes that disrupt the natural order can have impossible to predict consequences with wide reaching scale. Sorcery is inherently corrupting, spreading decay and sickness in everything it touches. The effects of a single spell are typically very subtle, and over time the natural order will restore itself and the damage disappear. But the continuous use of demonic chaos magic has devastating effects on both sorcerers and the lairs in which they perform their spells and rituals. The transformation into ghouls is the first stage of the effects of continuous exposure to sorcerous spells or corrupted environment. At that point there is rarely any hope for victims of returning to their former selves, and the only paths ahead if the effects of sorcery persists are numerous forms of true undeath.

My Plans for Aumaril and Wilderness Exploration Rules

People who’ve been following what I write for some time might know that I often come up with plans for grand ideas but rarely have anything finished to present later. Since I don’t have any money at stake with all this elfgame stuff, that’s fine. And it’s rare that I actually abandon anything I’ve been working on completely. Much of stuff that I create is tinkering with mechanics and concepts and it’s always a learning experience that helps me increase my understanding of the material. And nearly all of it kind of just goes into a drawer where I let it sit for some months or a few years while my attention is on other things, to get pulled out again at some later point to continue tinkering with it. So while it might be pretty early to make any kind of announcement yet for what I am currently working on and nothing might come out of during the next year or so, my current plans for a rules system and campaign setting are actually just a new phase of the same things I’ve been working on for nearly 10 years now. I am constantly getting better at it and feel like I am making great progress, but with increasing experience comes a better understanding of how far away the goal has actually been all along. It’s a bit like fusion power research, I guess.

With a lot of talk, confusion, and general uncertainty about the licensing situation of D&D type games in the last month, plenty of people have come out with the opinion that this is as good a time as there’s ever been to just go through with their ideas of what a perfect game system should look like and make it happen. Though in full self-awareness of how much interest and use such systems might actually see, the old term of fantasy heartbreakers immediately made it back into circulation. It’s not going to be the next Dungeons & Dragons or the next Pathfinder, and most likely not even the next Swords & Wizardry. This is something you do just for the fun of it and maybe to use for your own campaigns, and perhaps, if you’re lucky, it becomes popular enough that some people will take bits and pieces as house rules for their own campaigns. And in this mood and environment, why the hell not? I’ve been collecting quite some house rules myself over the years which I already put together as the Yora Rules, and there’s a number of things in B/X that I would personally have done very differently.

So I’m gonna do this!

There are actually three connected but separate things that I want to make:

  1. A revision of the classes and combat rules of B/X (like attack rolls and saving throws) mostly intended for my own personal use.
  2. A set of new rules and mechanics for a streamlined wilderness exploration system that makes wilderness travel and resource management simpler and faster, and a system for maintaining a fixed home base to serve as treasure vault, supply depot, and winter camp. I think this one actually has potential to be a successful (free) product.
  3. A campaign setting for my own next campaign in which I’ll use and playtest the new rules above.

At this stage, these are really more general plans for a playtest than specific plans for a product. These are plans to develop something, which depending on how things work out, could at a later point lead to releasing something.

OSRIC and OSE already set great examples for how you could replicate the structure of AD&D and B/X even with the OGL 1.0a, and with the new Creative Commons license for the SRD 5.1, I feel that all of this is both perfectly within both the letter and spirit of the law.

The Rules Revision

I started RPGs with D&D 3rd edition just when it came out and later played some Pathfinder for a while. It was fine back then because it was what I knew, but when I became curious about this oldschool roleplaying stuff I spend a while with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, as a more accessible way to get into the AD&D mechanic, but since I discovered the Basic/Expert rules eight years ago, I’ve been a huge fan of those rules ever since. That is, at least in general terms. I’ve never been able to actually understand the TSR system for making attack rolls and the saving throw categories seem quite nonsensical for someone who was first introduced to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will. That’s why I always only actually ran Basic Fantasy and Lamentation of the Flame Princess and more recently Old-School Essentials, which all let you make attack rolls like in the d20 system. But I’m also quite a fan of some changes made to the B/X rules by Stars Without Number and its various descendants.

In the big picture, these rules will still be B/X. But with the amount of house rules I already made and some other changes I think would be big improvements to the game, it just seems convenient to do a fully new writeup for everything that I can hand to players and also share publicly. Some of these changes seem quite radical as they throw away a presumed “balance” that Gygax and Moldvay created for different classes. But it’s by now pretty well known that there was no precise fine tuning and diligent play testing for the exact values in the tables, and they just made up numbers that looked right. (If anything does break, it will show up during play tests and can be fixed later.)

  • Attack rolls and Armor Class as in d20-system games.
  • Saving throws are Physical, Mental, Evasion, and Magic.
  • All classes advance at the same XP scores as fighters.
  • Attack bonuses and saving throws increase linearly with levels.
  • No restrictions on weapons and armor.
  • Spellcasting is restricted by encumbrance instead of armor.
  • Spells are not lost after casting. (Though still limited in uses per day.)
  • Encumbrance based on number of items instead of weights.
  • Ability checks are rolled with 2d6 against a target number based on the ability score.
  • In dungeons, 1 turn covers exploration of “1 area” instead of a distance of corridor.
  • Encumbrance increases the requirement for rest turns instead of reducing exploration speed.
The Wilderness Exploration Game

While the rules for character advancement, combat, and dungeon exploration in the Basic rules are already pretty nice as a rules light version of D&D, it’s really the Exploration rules that always keep me coming back to this game. I remember when West Marches by Ben Robbins was first making its rounds and it always seemed like a really cool approach to set up a sandbox campaign. I later was greatly inspired by Joseph Manola’s The long haul: time and distance in D&D about approaching adventures as months-long expeditions into the unknown, interrupted by spending months cooped up in winter camp. More recently, I’ve read Gus L’s series on Classic Dungeon Crawls that emphasizes the survival game aspect as being essential to making the exploration of dungeons an engaging mode of play, and the whole time I was thinking “Yes, but what if we apply all of this to the outdoors?!”

I feel the wilderness has always been overshadowed by dungeons and by city adventures, but my own mental images of amazing fantasy worlds are filled with trees and mountains from horizon to horizon. And pondering on the ideas of the three wise men above, I’ve become convinced that there can be absolutely fantastic campaigns in which the wandering around in the wilderness can be the main attraction, rather than just the connecting transition space between different adventure sites. To make such a campaign work, there needs to be a clear campaign structure, as well as a set of easy to use tools for the GM to make it happen.

As campaign structure goes, the concept very much follows the West Marches and the original Basic rules: The game begins with 1st level PCs in a small frontier town that is relatively close to several ruins and caves that are home to various creatures and hiding ancient treasures. At first adventures are relatively short, with the travel to the sites being quick and probably uneventful and dungeons being fairly small, and all the PCs being back in the town after 3 to 5 hours where they get XP for all the treasures they recovered. Dungeons with more dangerous creatures and greater treasures tend to be farther away from the town and descend into greater depth, leading to increasingly longer adventures that eventually won’t be able to be played in a single go.

At this point it becomes strongly encouraged for the players to have more than a single character to deal with scheduling. If players A, B, C, and D go on a longer adventure with characters A(1), B(1), C(1), and D(1), the adventure can’t continue until all four players can come together at the same time with the GM again. If player C can only play every second week (maybe), but players A, B, and D want to play more often, they can go on another adventures with their character A(2), B(2), and D(2), and maybe also take along two other players with their characters E(1) and F(1)? If the campaign is about uncovering the secrets and mysteries of the wilderness instead of the personal stories of individual PCs, this way of playing multiple PCs is perfectly viable and it increased scheduling flexibility immensely. It also makes long healing times and characters working for weeks or months on creating magic items and similar things more viable. Just because one character is out of action for the game doesn’t mean all the other PCs have to sit around and fiddle their thumbs while they are waiting.

The Expert rules recommend that characters should start going on longer journeys deep into the wilderness and away from civilization around 4th level, which I think remains a good guideline. But I also think that this is actually the perfect time for PCs to start establishing their own stronghold. Not as barons ruling over their respective towns and villages (which isn’t really much of a group activity anyway), but to have a new forward base camp for their exploration deeper into the wilderness. It’s a place where they can stash their newly found treasures in their vault (and get XP for said treasures), have a supply depot with food reserves for months, can set up fully stocked shops for armorers and alchemists, and a garrison for the hired mercenaries who guard the vault and stay with the pack animals and supplies while they go down into dungeons to explore. It can also serve as their winter camp when the whether makes campaigning nearly impossible for several months of the year.

This new stronghold not only serves as an alternative for the starting town for launching new adventures deeper into the wilderness, it also functions as a generator for new adventures. Ben Robins recommends that the PCs should be the only adventurers exploring the West Marches, but the players don’t have to be the only people establishing a new outpost on the very edges of civilization. There can also be the keeps of aspiring new barons, mining camps, bandit camps, and of course endless hidden lairs of evil cults. Not to mention monsters like giants and dragons making their homes in the area. All of which could have a problem with the PCs setting up a new base near their own turf. Or potentially become allies to share resources and information, and aid each other in times of attacks.

The critical importance of random encounter in dungeon explorations is well enough known, but the same mechanic can also do an incredible amount of heavy lifting when it comes to the wilderness. Nearly everything that can be encountered in the wilds or on the road is either going somewhere or coming from somewhere. After the encounter has played out, there’s usually an option for the players to either follow the creatures to where they are going, or to follow their trail to where they came from. This is a fantastic opportunity to introduce new sites to the sandbox. People probably have noticed that the numbers of creatures encountered in the wilderness often goes into the dozens, and in the case of some lairs even in the hundreds. These numbers are not for a group of four PCs being suddenly ambushed by an entire army on the march. These are numbers for populating keeps, camps, and lairs. These groups are what you find when you follow the wandering groups of monsters back to their homes. And they don’t have to be hostile. The same reaction rolls for random encounters in dungeons can be used when approaching a stronghold in the wilderness. Which I think has the potential as an amazing tool to create a wilderness area that is a living space where players can discover the unexpected and the GM has fantastic opportunities for very freeform and improvisational play.

As I mentioned, a campaign like this also needs tools. The following are mechanics that I’ve already dabbled with to make running such adventures easier. Some of which overlap with the changes to the basic game mechanics mentioned in the previous section. Most of these are things that the Expert rules already cover, but I feel they are clunky and inconvenient to use. All of it can be done better without dramatically changing the outcomes.

  • Item-based encumbrance.
  • Simple rules for water and food rations.
  • Mechanical consequences for lack of food and water.
  • Rules for disease(?)
  • More robust rules for hunting and foraging.
  • Travel speeds that map exactly to 6-mile hexes with no half hexes or third hexes traveled per day.
  • Simple rules for river travel speed.
  • Rules for tracking.
  • Wilderness exploration turns analogous to Dungeon exploration turns.
  • Stronghold and lair generator tables.

The final piece for my upcoming campaign during which all these ideas for new rules and mechanics will be playtested is the setting. I like the sound of Aumaril, and I checked that it isn’t already used by something else. And it’s different enough from Arduin and Amalur to not seem like a knockoff.

Aumaril is a world dominated by severe weather and many volcanoes. Volcanic activity covers the sky in ash every few decades that can cause brutal winters and ruin harvests, but on some occasions have tipped the climate to a point of causing ice ages that can range from centuries to tens of thousands of years. The world only emerged from four thousand years of winter fairly recently, which destroyed the civilization of the fey, reduced the kingdoms of the giants to barbarism, and diminished the empires of the serpentmen to a shadow of their former greatness. As the ice retreated and forest returned to the northern lands, mortal barbarians migrated from the south to make them their home. In recent generations, these first mortal empires have fallen into chaos and decay, and many people are fleeing deeper into the wilderness to try their luck among the abandoned ruins of the fey and giants, and things much more older than even the ancients.

While civilization is centered around three old empires that have seen much better days, and could be interesting places for adventures in their own right, these are not the actual setting where the planned campaign takes place. The adventures of the PCs cover the vast wilderness of forests and mountains that still cover most of the world and remain largely unexplored, but have many ancient ruins from the previous age and civilizations that have long since disappeared. I am an unashamed fan of the 70s and 80s Sword & Sorcery style that gratuitously blends together traditional medieval fantasy elements with weird and alien environments from science fiction or prehistoric Earth. Mushroom forests, dinosaurs, and giant insects are totally my jam, as are evil sorcerers in giant black towers covered in skulls. Which I think has never been executed better (at least stylistically) than in Morrowind. I’m not leaning as much towards the camp or melodramatic, but I still think this is a really cool aesthetic that can be just as well suited for more down to earth fantasy adventures.

One thing that really excites me about this setting is that it’s being populated by various intelligent creatures that have been created for D&D pretty long times ago, but never really seen much breakout success or prominent appearances. In addition to the very human-like Aumarilians, who are greatly inspired by various cultures from the Hyborean Age and the Elder Scrolls, the other major peoples are chitines, derro, fey’ri, grimlocks, locathah, quaggoths, raptorans, and stone giants. Goliaths seem to have become quite popular in 5th edition, and of course yuan-ti have always been famous.

This part of my great creation probably won’t see any kind of proper release as some kind of book, but I guess I’m probably going to share various bits and pieces about it here as the actual campaign develops.

A short history of the world

In the ancient days, long before any mortal memories or records, the world was home to strange civilizations of mysterious inhuman elder beings. They may have ruled over the surface lands for many hundreds of thousands of years and raised great cities and empires, but nothing of them remains. Some 10,000 years ago, great glaciers moved south and buried the land to the shores of the sea under miles of ice and snow, anihilating everything in their path and grinding it into dust.

After several thousands of years, the age of ice and snow came to an end, with the glaciers retreating and the barren rubble slowly turning into new forests. As life returned to the northern lands, so expanded the reach of the serpentmen, who claimed much of them for their ascending empire. For over 2,000 years the serpentmen empire span across the lands on both sides of the sea, but even their time eventually came to an end.

Dark haired barbarians from the east settled on the borders of the empire, and as they saw the power and reach of the serpentmen decline with every generation, they eventually invaded the northernmost provinces, creating a mighty kingdom around the Great Lake. As the serpents retreated further and further south towards the coast, the power of the Lake Kingdom grew, and it became home to many great sorcerers. Though like the serpents before them, their time of greatness and power wouldn’t last forever, and their great cities and towers were abandoned and fell into ruins. The remaining people eventually mixed with other barbarians in the great Woodlands to the west and the mountains in the east, becoming the barbarian tribes of the Witchfens and the Plains.

Though the empire of the serpentmen had survived the rivals that had driven them from the northern provinces, they had lost much of the great power they onces possessed. So when new barbaric peoples appear on their borders, led by four powerful sorcerers who had united the tribes under them, the serpents stood little chance to resist them, though the wars of conquest ranged for many decades. The invaders conquered all of the great Grasslands and much of the coastal lands north of the sea, driving the empire from the north.

Greatly weakened by the decades of fighting a losing war, the serpentmen eventually suffered a great revolt by their mortal slaves in the provinces most directly affected by the fighting, which ultimately led to the creation of the new kingdom of tbe Southlands.

With the hated serpents now no longer on their borders, the sorcerer lords turned towards securing their own hold over the lands they had conquered, and soon came to be elevated to be worshiped as living god kings. They also became each others greatest enemies, competing over the most valuable farm and graze lands along the large rivers that run through the great valley of the Grasslands.

After the death of one of the god kings and the conquest of his land, and the usurpation of another by his closest lieutenant, the three remaining realms have been at war with each other every few decades. The increasing taxes, endless conscription of soldiers, and ruthless pursuit of dissenters by the templars during these wars have frequently driven farmers and deserting soldiers to flee into the densely forested hills that surround the Grasslands on the west and east. The mixing of the refugees with the local barbarian tribes has led to new unique societies that follow their own rules and customs.

Over the last ten years, the fighting between the god kings has become excessively fierce and destructive, causing peasants, merchants, and even some nobles who have fallen out of favor to flee into the wilderness in numbers rarely seen before. Instead of integrating with the people who have lived in the hills and valleys for many generations and adopting their customs, the recent newcomers outnumber the native villagers in many places or even set up entire new towns of their own.

Priests and Mystics

The gods and the Divine are mysterious forces whose influence is present everywhere in the world, but whose own presence remains always hidden from the perception of ordinary mortals. To bring together the worlds of mortals and the Divine is the role of priests and mystics. The two are widely seen as more or less the same thing by most common people, but their backgrounds and abilities are vastly different.

Priests, and their acolyte assistants, are servants of the gods who maintain their temple, teach their followers, and perform the many rites to communicate between the gods and their worshippers. Priests do not have any magical abilities or special powers that make them different from other people. They perform rituals to plead the gods of their cult for guidance and help and protection for their villages and towns. The gods will react to these pleas in whatever way they deem appropriate, or they may not, and they do not speak their will to their priests directly. Sometimes priests receive visions that they attribute to their gods, but these are always vague and require a great deal of interpretation.

Many temples are build on special holy sites that have unique divine powers of their own and are revered by the local cults as miracles send from specific gods, which are typically the chief god or even only god worshipped in the temple. Some are in possession of holy relics that possess similar powers. To manifest the powers of a holy spring, sacred tree, or divine relic usually requires a simple and short rite, which typically is known only by a small number of priests. Performing these rites is like using a magic item, but require no special abilities other than knowledge of the rite.

In contrast to that, mystics are rare and special holy men and women who have reached a form of enlightenment that has revealed to them a deep comprehension of the Divine Source and its presence and working within all things. This understanding and awareness allows them to practice a rare form of magic that draws directly on the Divine itself and grants powers that have always been impossible to achieve for even the most powerful sorcerers. Most mystics have been devout worshippers of various gods before their enlightenment, and remain faithful to the teachings and valuesf their cults. However, they have a much deeper awareness that all the gods are still only different reflections of a much greater divine truth, and the distinctions between specific gods are typically much less important to them than to the priests of the many different temples. Many mystics regard the gods and their myth as powerful symbols and examples for living in harmony with the Divine that unites all things, and so large numbers of them continue to wear the robes and symbols of their cults and spread their teachings. But mystics are typically seen as somewhat removed from the temples by priests and sometimes even outright heretical, so they rarely have close associations with major powerful temples of the greater cities. They are however typically held in high regard by common people, especially in more remote areas where people are used to numerous small temples practicing somewhat different rites in every village with no central authorities on religious matters. Mystics are much more rare than priests and many people never are wittness to their miracle powers in their whole life.

I am typically not a fan of cleric type characters, but I had briefly been thinking about what something with a similar role to psionic powers could look like in my setting. With the other supernatural stuff going on already, the simple cleric framework seems like a pretty fitting match with just the right presentation and integration into the gameworld. The idea for priests controlling the miraculous powers of holy sites is directly from the D&D Companion Rules, which introduced them as alternative sources for divine magic for elf and dwarf villages under a rules system where only human characters have access to different classes, like clerics. I always thought that was a really cool idea since I first saw it, and much more interesting for worldbuilding than having a spellcasting cleric as priest for every village chapple. By customizing the specific spells that a holy site can produce to match the god that is seen as the creator of the site, making visits to a temple for services becomes a lot more interesting. Instead of every service being available in every generic temple, customized spells mean that players have to consider whose god’s temple in the area might be most likely to be able to help them. This makes different gods actually relevant to how things could play out during the game.

Good artists borrow, great artists steal

So let my show you my loot haul.

I am never able to restrain my gushing over the worldbuilding of Morrowind. While the gameplay of that game is of somewhat dubious quality and characters and quests leave a lot to be desired, the kind of very unique world it presents always had a huge influence on my perception of fantasy world, similar to Star Wars for space settings. There is a lot of the world of Morrowind, and to a small extend also Skyrim, that I am just blatantly ripping off for the new setting. The dominant civilization are strongly bases on the Dunmer and their three living gods, Almalexia, Sotha Sil, and Vivec. Except that in my setting, they are not a tribunal ruling over one kingdom, but three bitter enemies that go to war with each other on a near regular basis. The Camonna Tong and Morag Tong are very interesting templates for criminal organizations, and I like the way the Ashlanders represent the idea of barbarians who have escaped to the edges of civilization because they oppose the changes in traditions enforced by the god-kings.

I also think that the Redguard and Orsimer are quite interesting as well, at least as they are represented in Skyrim. I think I can use them for another urbanized kingdom to the south near the lands of the naga, and for the highland barbarians.

I also really like the way the Daedra fulfill the role of demons in the setting, though I want to take that idea and make it much more actually alien and weird. More Hermaeous Mora than Sheogorath. And of course, Morrowind is where I got the idea of the wildlife consisting primarily of various dinosaur-like reptiles and insectoid monsters instead of the typical familiar dogs, horses, cows, and pigs. I’ll definitely be reviving the honey caves ideas that was based on the kwama egg mines. I used them once and it was really fun.

While I love the Dark Sun campaign setting for AD&D, the things that I see as worth stealing basically just mirror things that I’m already taking from Morrowind. The sorcerer kings are like the Tribunal, the Templars as their warrior-priest enforcerers are just like the Ordinators, and the approach to slavery is very much the same. I feel you can’t really evoke the style of a Bronze Age society that is different from a medieval one without large parts of the population and economy being slaves.

Various ideas with a similar style come from Kenshi. This weird little game is actually a lot like Dark Sun, except that before the world turned into a desert wasteland, it wasn’t a magical fantasy world but a technological sci-fi world. But in the state that it is now, life turns out to be very similar. My two favorite idea from this setting are the Shek and the Hivers. The Shek are a take on something not too different from orcs, and one of the main inspiration for the highland barbarians. The Hivers already served as the main inspiration for my take on slightly insectoid goblins. Which were one of the last things I created for Kaendor, but I think will be a much better fit here. One of the two main powers on Kenshi is the Holy Nation under their Phoenix King, who rules over a nation of slaves with the help of his elite Paladins. Yeah, basically the same points as covered by the Tribunal and Ordinators of Morrowind and the Sorcerer Kings and Templars of Dark Sun. The other one are the United Cities. Who are despotic slavers in their own right, but still come out looking much better from the Holy Nation. They gave me the idea to have a fourth nation of the dominant culture consisting of loosely allied city states in the coast that have banded together to stay out of the grasp of any of the god-kings.

In the post about my ideas on magic and demons, I already mentioned Demon’s Souls. While the design styles of the setting is completely different from what I am going for, I find the supernatural concepts of the game very inspiring. The ideas that humans can become demons if they consume their energy opens very interesting possibilities, and the idea that regions can become shrouded in permanent fog while demons rampage inside of it is also really cool. The lands of Boletaria have little in common with what I am working on now, but conceptual ideas like these are pretty big in my mind.

A very similar case is Thief. Another game I’ve been gushing about many times in the past. Again, the type of city that the series is set in looks nothing like the kind of cities that will be found in the new setting. But everything that has to do with the Pagans is just pure gold for what I have in mind. The Pagans are a reclusive cult that exists somewhere between druidism and rural demon worship. Exactly the kind of interactions I am going for with my spirit worshiping barbarians. I am actually pretty sure that this game is where I came across the idea originally. The Trickster demon-god and his leafy lieutenant are great spirits, and I totally love the witch that is the main antagonist in the third game as a villain that might work wonderfully in my campaign. I also think that the organization of the Keepers is a really cool archetype for a cabal of arcane scholars who have much more benevolent intentions than the demonic cults they oppose, but are far from being clear cut good guys either.

Something I remembered only a few days after I’ve already been tinkering with ideas for a coherent setting concept was my experiences with diving deep into the published setting material for the Unapproachable East region of the Forgotten Realms. When I decided that I want to make a new setting from scratch that better represents the ideas I am interested now than organically grown tangle that Kaendor had become after close to a decade of trial and error, I made a decision to stay away from any Dungeons & Dragons or Middle-Earth material. But as I did mention in my post about reading through the various sourcebooks, there actually is fairly little of the typical Fantasyland stereotypes in that section of the Forgotten Realms. There’s no orcs, dwarves, drow, mind flayers, or beholders to be found anywhere, or mentions of trivial teleportation or magic item shops. It is quite strongly inspired by medieval Eastern Europe, but scratch a bit away at the paint and there’s actually a lot of stuff that I think can go straight into my new setting. My final thoughts had been that the setting material that existed for the region was full of great ideas, but at such a surface level of detail that you would still basically have to create your own content that is inspired by those prompts to run a great campaign. And in that case I could just make a new world myself. And now seems like a perfect time to completely carve up that setting and scavenge it for its most interesting parts!

The barbarians and witches of Rashemen look like a great starting point for my forest barbarians. I planned for them to have a Baltic style anyway, so the weird mix of Slavic and Germanic elements should be pretty easy to switch out. The Red Wizards of Thay in their original incarnation are just what I need for one of the three god-king nations. Blend them together with House Telvanni from Morrowind and you got a great magical oligarchy. The barbarians of Narfell are more steppe nomads as presented, but I think I can still take a good amount of stuff from them for my highland barbarians. I think I also want to have something like the ancient demon summoners of the Nar Empire whose ruins are still slumbering under the ground, many still haunted by summoned demons. I’ve long been fascinated by what snippets I had read about the independent city Telflamm and its Shadowmasters thieves guild. As it turned out those snippets were really all there is about them, and this is now a great opportunity to have some fun with expanding them. And finally there’s the kingdom of Impiltur, which is really more an alliance of city states than a centralized nation. And as such the second inspiration for the alliance of city states that oppose the god-kings, together with the United Cities of Kenshi.

While outside of this specific region, the biggest disappointment for me when reading the classic Forgotten Realms material was the city Westgate and its Night Masks thieves guild. I thought these were something big like Baldur’s Gate or Silverymoon, but the actual content is severely underwhelming. I want to make the port city of crime and vampire assassins that I envisioned a reality.

Finally, another important resource that I added to my pile is Red Tide. When this resource on running sandbox campaigns came out in 2011, it made quite a splash, and when you read it for the first time without much knowledge about running sandboxes, it’s really quite amazing. The setting that is presented is quite interesting, but there’s not a lot worldbuilding ideas that I find useful to copy. Much more important are its thoughts on how you set up and expand a sandbox campaign. The tools provided in the book where later overhauled in Spears of the Dawn and then more recently in World Without Number, but I actually really like the version in this one a lot more. The most interesting to me is the system for creating courts with just a very small number of NPCs and conflicts and complications between them. With the way that I envision the new campaign to play in practice, dealing with the important leaders of other strongholds, villages, clans, cults, and gangs will probably be a primary driver of the action. The tables for creating villages with interesting local problems might also come in very handy at a later point. And while I don’t expect there to be an awful lot of dungeons in the campaign, the ruins sites tables might also turn out a quite useful tool when the antics of the players require new content to be welded together on very short notice.