There two schools of thought on creating your own setting for a campaign:
- Start off small with only the immediate adventure area
- Develop the entire world in great detail
I find the best approach for me is to find a middle ground in which you develop the regional history and mythos as well as basic information about other areas in the world and flesh out the starting area in greater detail. This middle ground allows your world to have a rich history for Role Playing in as well as lived in feel, while at the same time letting the players help create the world’s story by their role playing choices and particular character’s personalities. Also I like working with co-DM. It allows us to work together on the world, NPCs, campaign threads and adventure hooks. Also having a co-DM greatly assist me in running gaming sessions by having another person to help run major NPC allies, missing player’s characters (believe me it happens a lot that one or more player has to miss a session for various real world reasons).
Here is the current campaign setting we developed (some of information was added as the campaign developed but this is basically what we started with).
Overview of world
Campaign starts in an island nation that was once part of a larger advanced society that had a cataclysm of some sort. At that point island nation lost contact with their patron society (200 years ago). The north was abandoned to barbarian tribes including the three smaller islands off the northern coast. These islands became home to barbarian tribes that have a loose confederation (though often war with each other) and raid the southern island.
The southern island (mainly in the southern portion of the island) there are 7 villages that are separate entities but have a mutual protection pact with each other and leaders of each village/town meet 4 times a year in the city of Krossa to discuss trade/politics/bandit or monster incursions, etc. . There have been unsuccessful attempts at unifying the villages into a “nation” under one banner. Most of them are fishing/trapping villages.
In the northern islands – Much harsher. Storms more frequent and snow stays on ground from October – March. Summers are short but ground is fertile (due to volcanic activity).
Celtic Deities (See PHB)
Southern Island (Larger main island) – Lonland
Weather – Wet winters with a lot of fog in the fall/spring. Summer is warm but not too warm. Average temp in the 80’s in summer. It does snow in the winter time but the snow doesn’t usually stick around long in the south. Average winter temp is between 40-60 but it can drop into the teens and 20’s for a few weeks a year.
7 villages/towns. All but Brenna walled due to frequent barbarian/monster raids that occurred when they weren’t.
The council of 7 (or whatever we want it named) meet in Krossa 4 times yearly to set tax revenue sharing, discuss any barbarian/monster incursions that need to be dealt with and any other political/economic/other issues that need to be dealt with. They are the mayors of the 7 towns. We can name the title whatever we wish.
Horga – PC starting point. Large fishing/trapping village, really a town at this point, on the south eastern edge of the southern island. Saltwater marshes ring it to the north and tall cliffs ring it to the south giving it a natural protective barrier from large scale attacks, though it does deal with lizardmen and bandits who make their home in the large northern marsh. The Cliffs of Holl jut out into the ocean and create a bay making the waters immediately out from the village much more calm and an ideal fishing area. There is a large sea wall that was built when this town was controlled by the “advanced society” that must be opened to allow access to the idyllic bay waters. These walls are still in decent shape and the sea doors have stood against barbarian incursions throughout the last hundred years. One large statue was carved out of the cliff walls and is (to be determined). Horga has a “fleet” of 10 war boats and a standing militia of 200 (? larger ?). Population of 4000 (? larger?). The sea wall has ballista that can be used to shoot at oncoming ships if needed. There is also the town wizard who is also the town engineer. He has been known to fling lightning bolts at oncoming ships if pressed. Horgan swamps are also home to a large rat known as the Chorgi that is known for it’s fine, thick and durable fur used in winter clothing. It has the unique property of also being naturally water resistant so it is highly sought after. The Chorgi are pack creatures that move as well in the water as they do on land. They have poison bites and sharp claws and grow about 5-6 feet in length. Hunting and trapping them is usually done only by the most seasoned hunters but can be very lucrative as the fur is exported to all the other towns and is traded with more peaceful barbarian tribes as well. Their venom can also be sold as it is used in a local drink called Chorgath, a hard liquor that “warms the belly and numbs the mind”, as the venom loses its poisonous attributes after 5 years of aging and actually helps with the alcohol content. At 5 years it still numbs the tongue and burns the belly and throat and at 10 it becomes an excellent drink but also has some hallucinogenic properties. Barbarian tribes use it during a right of passage ritual for young men. Legend has it that a great den mother Chorgi exists in the deepest darkest part of the marshes. Her lair has been searched for but never found, or at least those that have found it have never returned. The route to Horga runs right next to the marsh and through a pass through the cliffs. The pass is not especially high in elevation but is narrow. You can also go through the marsh if you choose but most do not as it is not nearly as safe. The occasional bandit group sets up near the pass and attack travelers/caravans but they are usually dealt with fairly quickly.
Krossa – A mere 20 miles away from Horga is the next town (city), which sits right at the base of the pass as it descends on the other side. It is a much larger town as it is the trading hub of the other 7 villages, as well as barbarian nomads. In the spring and summer trading months the town can have upwards of 15-20k people in it. It has strong walls and a large central marketplace. Strong trade guild presence here. This is where the council of 7 meets to discuss topics four times a year. Krossa also has very large lumber and mining operations as it is surrounded by dense woods to the west and north and to the south, at the foot of the cliffs, are large ore and rock deposits. Most of the other villages buy wood and rock from here and have it shipped. The wood can be shipped down the large river that cuts through Krossa and winds to the south to two of the other towns, the last of which is the largest port on the island that can ship lumber by boat if needed. That river also allows merchants to use its currents for fulling, grinding etc. It has roads to the west to Horga, to the south following the mighty Garoar river, named after the tallest mountain on the southern island and from its depths the origin of the river, to the farming village of Brenna and, further south, to the port town of Ormsa, and to the west to the scholarly town of Hita. Krossa is the home to the areas tradesman and merchant guilds (and thieves/bard guild).
Brenna – Brenna is the smallest of the 7 towns but is one of the most important as it is here that the majority of the areas grains/vegetables and meat (mostly sheep) is grown and raised. Brenna is the only town that is not walled as it is nestled up against the Cliffs of Holl to the west and has the large towns (cities) of Krossa to the north and Ormsa to the south. Both of these towns are a buffer against any monster incursions. It does have a well-trained militia of it’s own as well. Brenna sprawls out as it’s residents are mostly farmers and have larger tracts of lands they tend to. The sheepherders roam the areas around the cliffs and most of the grain fields fan out to the south. There are cattle that graze the hills to the north as well. Halflings are one of the majority races here as they almost exclusively tend to the sheep in the fields below the Cliffs of Holl.
Ormsa – Ormsa is the second largest town (city) and is the largest port on the island.
Hita – Hita used to be the home to the area’s largest Cathedral and winery when the area was ruled over by *advanced society* but, after their disappearance, the monks of the Cathedral insulated themselves and turned the Cathedral town into a large Monastary with some supporting civilians. The monks spend their time studying, making wine, tending to their grapes and perfecting fighting. It is a walled town that is nestled in the mountainous region of the north. It is surrounded on three sides by mountains so it is very defensible. If you include the fighting prowess of the monks here it is considered not only foolhardy but suicidal to attempt any kind of attack. The town is also considered the areas school, rich merchant kids come here to learn at the areas only “university”. The road that branches off to wind up the mountains to Hita also continues on to the last two towns on the island. The fishing community on the west coast of Gilsa and the great walled militaristic town on the northern frontier named Nykomi.
Gilsa – A small city home to nature based religion with paladin guard of Green Knight (Order of the Ancients)
Nykomi – The northern most city and marshal society. The city is a mixture of native blood and barbarians, all population of the city is considered members of the city guard. The mayor is large Barbarian Goliath. A large mercenary guild called the Red Foxes is headquartered in Nykomi.
Dwarven Kingdom- The Dwarven Kingdom is located in central mountain range that divides Lonland Island. It is sacred to both the human’s that call it “Lugh’s Staircase” and the Dwarves. The Dwarven Kingdom of “Stoneheart” is located depth below the surface where the Dwarves mine the rich veins of Mithral or “Goibhniu’s Blood.” The Dwarves believe that Goibhnui cut his wrist at creation and spilled his own blood into the mountains to create the Mirthal.
Special Notes (these items are found as the party explores the ruins of Aileach Castle)
Mitral Breast Plate of MacGuiness. It is non-magical but is worth double the value of regular breast plate, half the weight, and grants the wearer full DEX modifier to AC (verses only +2 maximum or normal breast plate.
“Goibhnui Fist” is sacred weapon of the Dwarves. It is a “Dwarven Thrower” Warhammer (see DMG) and craft of the finest mithral and inlaid with moon gems.
Three Northern Islands
Hagi (west Island) – The largest of the three northern islands by quite a bit (double the landmass of Dranar, the second largest). This island is home to three separate Barbarian tribes that are currently at peace with one another.
Drangar (northern island) – The island is named after it’s quite large, and now recently active, volcano Drang, which is located on the southern tip.
Eyrr (eastern island) – When the cataclysm occurred on the mainland a group of gnomes escaped and ended up on this mountainous island. At the time a tribe of Giants roamed the island and called it their home. These Giants were not the brightest but had also lived on the island for quite some time and were not aggressive. The island itself was not very habitable to the sentient races that occupied the larger island to the south so these Giants were mostly left alone. Over the past 100 years the Giants and Gnomes have developed an almost symbiotic relationship with each other. The gnomes are masters of working with stone so they have developed sprawling communities inside the mountains of this island where Giant and Gnome live together in harmony. The Giants supply the Gnomes with mountain goats and mountain berries to eat and are able to do massive excavation with minimal effort and the Gnomes supply the Giants with comfortable living arrangements. The Gnomes have also developed harnesses that allow them to ride Giants into battle. The barbarian tribes that inhabit the western islands now steer clear of this island as they have dealt first hand with Giants whose wounds magically heal when their riders call upon the powers of their gods to close wounds and exploding boulders hurled at their boats.
Celtic flavor (based on Irish mythology):
Beltaine (new years, May 1st) “the fires of Bel” clearing the fields for planting”
Lughnasadh (mid-summer, August 1st) start of harvest season, typically celebrated on mountain peaks
Samhain (November 1st, end of harvest) Festival of the Dead start of winter
Beltaine (February 1st, start of spring) festival of the return of light
Tuathe De Danaan (the old race, people of Daghna, legend says they live underground now (barrows, mounds)
Milesians (invaders) the Advance Society that conquered the Tuathe De Danaan
Formorii (people under the sea) followers of Manannan mac Lir
Gruacach (orcs or orges)
Red Branch (ancient knighthood of the Tuathe De Danaan) Served the the High King before the invasion of Milesians. The Milesians allowed the Branch to fall into disuse but there are still some that wear the coat of arms (a red branch on white field) and long for the return of the order and the High King who sat on the Black Opal Throne in Krossa.
Mannin/Manx (Isle of Man)
Murias, Falias, Gorias and Finias (four great cities of the Tuathe De Danaan)
Aileach (built by the Tuatha De Danaan) ideal name for the swamp castle built on a barrow
Dun na Sciath (“fortress of Shields”)
Emain Macha (“Seat of the Kings”) traditional home of the Red Branch
Temuir (Tara) (tradition ancient capital)
Dinn Righ (“Barrow of the Formorii”)
Dun Sciath (Fortress of Shadows) associated with the Isle of Man, otherworldly and serpents
“Aileach” (built by the Tuatha De Danaan): Castle in the swamp (first adventure ideas)
Deep in the marsh land wilds to the North of town Horga, there sits the ruins of an old Castle high on a bluff with a good position to see incoming ships. The Castle was built by a local noble family (their line is long gone or polluted now) several centuries ago, before the marshland encroached. It has been abandoned for about 200 years, since the fall/retreat of the “advance society.” The Castle was not built by the advance society it predates the society. The foundation was built by Dwarf masons and is solid, while the walls and building (mostly gone now) were added later by local masons and enhanced by the “advanced society.” There are rumors that the Dwarf masons built elaborate sublevels and dungeons for some unknown purpose. Legends tell of lost treasures and magical secrets buried in these caves. But these are only childhood stories told to scare children of the town away from trying to go explore the ruins…The Castle is located in the marsh lands to the north of Horga. (at the start of the Campaign one PC receives the deed to the Castle in a Will from a distant relative). –The deed allows for PCs an opportunity to explore the town for information and lore using their skills; it also allows them to understand the home base layout notable NPCs etc…
Will of Fergus MacGuiness
The last will and testament of Fergus MacGuiness. I bequeath the deed for the Aileach Keep to my third cousin twice removed, Krom MacGuinness. The Aileach Keep is located in the marsh lands to the north of Horga, on a high bluff overlooking the Sea. The Castle was given to our family by the High King Cormac, before the Milesians invasion, for our service to the Throne as members of the Red Branch. The Keep has fallen into misuse by our family.