Last month, we began fleshing out our AD&D world by beginning with the "hook" or single characteristic that distinguishes our campaign world from most others. We also explored the first two Rules of Dungeoncraft:
1. Never force yourself to create more than you must; and
2. Whenever you fill in a major piece of the campaign world, always devise at least one secret related to that piece.
This month, we'll continue sketching out the basic overview of the campaign world by looking at home bases, politics, and government.
The Government You Deserve
Obviously, the sort of government in the campaign locale is likely to have a profound impact upon the PCs and their adventures. Many of the published AD&D game settings devote a lot of pages to this topic, detailing noble hierarchies, laws, and taxation systems. While such information will eventually prove useful, for now you should follow the First Rule and create only the information you need to get started. Just to recap, this approach gives you two important advantages: it gets you up and playing as fast as possible, and it keeps your options open so you can add more later.
What sort of information do you need to know about local politics to begin the campaign? The quick answer is, "just enough to give the players some idea of the world in which they live." For now, you want to provide a rough sketch that will help the players' imaginations fill in their surroundings. You won't need NPC write-ups for important government officials, specific crime and punishment systems, or detailed military chains-of-command.
Two different levels of politics are of interest, and you should consider them separately. You must know something about politics on the broad "national" level and something about politics on the focused "local" level. Although none of this information will have a direct impact upon a play session for quite some time, it's likely to help you create other details that are more directly relevant. Deciding a few things about political matters also provides a few more "secrets" (from the Second Rule of Dungeoncraft) that you can use to shape your world.
Since it has the greatest potential impact upon your first several game sessions, start by considering local politics. Think, at first, in terms of geography. Your goal here is to decide upon a "home base" for the PCs, somewhere relatively safe and secure where they can rest and count their treasure between adventures. This base might serve as the locale in which all the player characters came of age. It should almost certainly serve as the site of their first meeting. You shouldn't agonize over this decision for too long-your PCs aren't going to stay in this location forever. (By the time they reach 4th or 5th level, you'll probably move them along to bigger and better things.) Once you've decided upon a suitable base, you should think about who rules this base (if anyone), where the nearest uncivilized or wilderness areas are located, how the home base interacts with those areas, and whether there are any local rules of interest. There are a number of basic home-base templates:
You might choose to base your campaign in a large fantasy city with thousands of inhabitants. Such a locale has several advantages-a wide variety of shops and services at the players' disposal, constant traffic flowing through the city, and a huge number of interesting NPCs with whom the PCs might interact. On the other hand, using a city as your base of operations probably has even more disadvantages. Cities are large and time consuming to create and map. Also, large cities are so rare and important to most fantasy worlds that they are bound to have lots of contact with the outside world. In the early going, this might be a problem, since you don't know all that much about your world yet. Basing your campaign in a city will almost certainly keep you scrambling to create new details about the game world. While some DMs prefer such a challenge, most are be best served by trying to find a nice, semi-isolated locale to use as the setting for the early adventures.
Cities are generally overseen by an important political official who sits atop a large bureaucracy, usually an appropriately high-ranking noble (a duke) or a civil servant (a Lord Mayor). (Of course, nothing says you must use the standard medieval European titles; feel free to use or invent any titles you wish.) Since cities normally serve as centers of trade and knowledge, some of the bureaucrats who govern the city are inevitably dedicated to these functions-perhaps a Master of the Docks who authorizes all cargo that comes in and out of the city (and makes sure the appropriate tax is collected) or a Dean of Colleges who grants visiting scholars permission to use the city's archives. Because a city is bound to be of strategic importance to the kingdom or empire that controls it, it's likely to be heavily defended and thus home to one or more large military formations (and more bureaucrats, who oversee these formations). Cities are also likely to have their own highly organized constabulary serving as a sort of medieval police force (with still more bureaucrats to head them).
A stronghold is a keep or fortress built on the fringe of an important border. Because the stronghold usually sits at an important crossroads or waypoint, it often becomes a stopover on various trading routes and a gathering point for local loners (hunters, trappers, prospectors, and adventurers). Strongholds have an important characteristic that makes them ideal home bases-the fact that they are defensive constructs suggests a close proximity to some sort of perilous region (perhaps an enemy nation, a dangerous wilderness, or the territory of a threatening humanoid tribe). Such a conveniently located "area of mystery and danger" is an obvious and accessible setting for adventures (exploring ruins out in the perilous wilderness, protecting the inhabitants of the stronghold from the marauding humanoid tribe, unmasking enemy spies, etc.). Most strongholds are also appropriately isolated from the rest of civilization, cutting down on the amount of game world detail you'll need to create before beginning play.
Because strongholds are usually the only outposts of civilization in their vicinity, small towns or villages often spring up around them, offering various services to the stronghold's steady stream of visitors. Sometimes these towns are encompassed by the walls of the hold, sometimes they spring up immediately outside the hold, and sometimes they are founded a short distance away from the hold next to another convenient geographical feature (such as a pond or river). Since the towns that grow up around strongholds are usually small and in a constant state of flux, with new businesses frequently opening and closing, they're easily manageable for a DM. When gaming in such a town, you can start with just a few shops and key inhabitants and expand as you're ready.
Typically, strongholds are under the command of an important military official, such as a marshal or warden, though they are sometimes overseen by a minor noble (such as a baron). Most often, the stronghold commander ultimately answers to a powerful noble or prince who is responsible for the defense of the entire region. Because strongholds are usually located far away from more civilized areas, their commanders are usually given wide latitude when it comes to enforcing justice. When combined with the considerable military forces at their disposal, this power can make a despotic commander particularly fearsome.
Feudal towns are mid-sized settlements constructed in the shadow of an important noble's castle or fortress. Generally, such towns are founded upon a pact between the noble and the townspeople. In return for overseeing his lands, the noble offers the townspeople protection from perils ranging from rampaging monsters to famines and other calamities. (In these cases, the noble is expected to dip into his personal stores to provide for his people.) Although the pact between the noble and the townspeople is rarely spelled out, it's usually well understood by both parties. A noble who fails to live up to his end of the bargain may expect little sympathy from neighboring nobles should the townspeople decide to revolt against him. For their part, the townspeople are typically obligated to hunt, farm, or mine the land, while ceding the lion's share of the spoils to the landowner. Usually, no one questions the noble's right to discipline any townsperson who abuses this trust.
The exact stature of the noble responsible for a feudal town generally varies with the size of the kingdom in question. In some small kingdoms, a full prince might be responsible for his own feudal town, though the post is customarily held by a duke or baron. While the noble who oversees a feudal town (or his appointed underlings) has the last word in justice, taxation, and privileges for the town's residents, the typical proximity to other, larger feudal towns generally prevents him from exercising the sort of total control commonly displayed in strongholds. Typically, the noble is a vassal of a nearby, more powerful noble who'd like to avoid a peasant revolt that can easily spread to other nearby towns. All but the most evil or corrupt feudal masters are usually willing to intercede and gently correct the behavior of a vassal who violates the understood trust of the townspeople.
While both the stronghold and feudal village are largely defensive constructs, some small villages are more valuable economically. Typically, these villages lie deep within the borders of a kingdom, where defense is not as great a concern. Most "farming villages" are actually devoted to one of four commercial ventures: farming, mining, hunting, or fishing. The village exists solely to allow its inhabitants to practice their craft efficiently. Because of the steady stream of commodities they produce, most of these villages are important stops on various trade routes.
When viewed as a prospective base of operations, a farming village has both advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, they are usually rustic and idyllic, providing the PCs with a nice safe base of operations where they can relax between adventures. Usually, even long-term activities (such as spell research or convalescence) can be carried out in a farming village without fear of calamity or interruption. On the other hand, the fact that such villages are so neatly tucked out of the way suggests that the PCs might be forced to travel long distances to reach adventure sites, which are typically situated in "dangerous" or "mysterious" areas. It's likely that basing the PCs in a farming village will have the added effect of forcing you to create a largish section of your campaign world rather quickly. Sometimes, you can offset this drawback by employing a bit of geography. Suppose, for instance, that your mining village lies along a stream and a trail, high in the mountains and isolated from the rest of the campaign world. The trail is a major route for trading caravans and leads to the larger kingdom. The stream winds through 15 or 20 miles of some extremely inhospitable terrain and down into a perilous valley. Although the village is located far from the valley and has nothing to fear from its inhabitants, the PCs can quickly and easily travel down into the valley by boat. More importantly, since the intervening rocky terrain is so inhospitable, there's no reason for you to make up any details about it, so you can skip directly to detailing the smallish valley.
Normally, farming villages are governed by a civil servant (perhaps a mayor or burgermeister) who is appointed by a distant noble. Nobles rarely reside in or around such villages and as a consequence, their residents tend to greet the occasional visiting knight or minor peer with a combination of awe and fear. Farming villages rarely boast any sort of organized constabulary, instead relying upon volunteers from among the townsfolk to protect the village from interlopers.
Wandering Tribal Camp
No one says your base of operations must be confined to a single geographic location. Another perfectly acceptable option is to base your campaign around a roving locale, like a nomadic tribal camp or a large merchant caravan. In fact, this approach has several advantages. The base's mobility gives you an excellent opportunity to move the PCs to new parts of the campaign world at your own pace; whenever you have a new area ready to go, it's time for the camp to pull up stakes and move along. Since most roving camps aren't too big, it shouldn't be too difficult to detail the camp and its major NPCs. Also, the basic premise of the wandering base might lead to some pretty entertaining adventures. Once it's ready to move, perhaps the camp encounters an unusual obstacle en route to its next destination. Or perhaps the PCs are dispatched to scout ahead to find a suitable location for the camp to establish itself.
If you select this option, you should spend some time figuring out exactly why the camp moves. Real-world nomads tend to migrate in order to follow game, resources, clement weather or some combination of the three. For instance, the camp might migrate down into a lush valley every spring to plant crops. Just after harvest, the tribe wanders back up into the mountains to winter among amid a collection of natural hotsprings. Of course, you needn't confine yourself to such a mundane explanation. Perhaps instead the camp is really a train of pilgrims that aims to visit every sacred site on the planet in the course of their lifetimes to atone for some egregious sin. Or perhaps the wandering camp is actually a circus, and the PC characters begin the campaign as performers or part of its crew!
Befitting their migratory nature, wandering camps usually have loose laws and social structures. Sovereignty over the camp is usually decided according to the doctrine of "ascension of the fittest." In other words, anyone who can outfight or outsmart the current leader has the opportunity to become the new leader. Although such groups must generally rely upon volunteer mobs to keep the peace, they usually deal with criminals and sociopaths swiftly and severely. Since resources are often scarce in such camps and survival a challenge, anything that threatens that survival is ruthlessly dispatched.
It's the Economy
After you've decided upon an appropriate base, there are two important steps you should take to breathe a bit of life into your selection.
First, you should think about the local economy. Basically, this translates into "how do the inhabitants of this area manage to get food and other necessities?" Common models include the following situations:
The residents hunt or grow their own food and trade for other necessities.
The residents produce some important commodity (such as mined ores) or offer some important service (such as expert blacksmithing) and trade for food.
The base is actually "funded" by a wealthy noble responsible for providing all food and necessities. (Strongholds often fall into this category.)
The residents earn their keep through some unusual or "fantastic" means. For example, the base might stretch across a strategic mountain pass, and its residents might impose a large "toll" that travelers pay to traverse the pass. Or, the local gods may have placed the base under their aegis and required their followers to make a pilgrimage to the base to provide its inhabitants with food and necessities.
Some might be tempted to start working up detailed economic models and complex trade schemes. For now, you should remember the First Rule and resist this urge. There will be plenty of time to add such details later; for now, you have more important things to worry about.
The second step to breathing life into your base is to invent at least one interesting custom or cultural characteristic that sets it apart from anywhere else on the campaign world. Some examples from history and legend include the following situations:
The inhabitants of ancient Sparta were highly-trained warriors who would rather
die than surrender.
Ancient Alexandria housed a library that contained a good portion of all the world's knowledge.
King Arthur's legendary court of Camelot was home to the Knights of the Round Table, an order of noble warriors sworn to protect the land and its people.
These are all good examples of the sort of thing you're looking for. Just one simple unique fact goes a long way toward making the area seem alive in the minds of the PCs. Other possibilities include: a region internationally known for the games it throws annually, a town that houses a holy oracle, or a city in which any violent act is punishable by death.
At this time, it's also a good idea to choose an alignment for the society that dominates your base of operations (see the Dungeon Master Guide). Since this area is supposed to serve as a place of relative peace and comfort for the PCs, it's recommended that you select one of the "good" alignments, though a base of operations corrupted by "evil" might make an interesting change of pace and challenge.
The Body Politic
Once you've fleshed out your base of operations and local structure, it's time to think about politics and government on the "national level." Since this information isn't likely to directly affect an adventure for some time, you needn't spend much time thinking about this decision, and your choices are quite simple. Your real goal here is to provide the PCs with a single paragraph or so that paints the "big picture" of the world in which they live. Don't worry about the details-you'll fill those in later. For now, you just want to give the PCs the rough idea that they're inhabiting a "big world" comprised of mighty nations. The simplest way to do this is to decide something about the form of government employed by the nation the PCs inhabit and to roughly sketch out a sentence or two describing any of that government's major enemies or allies.
Basically, there are four forms of government likely to dominate most AD&D game worlds.
A single "dictator" (perhaps benevolent) makes all decisions for the nation. Because so much of the society is invested in the dictator, the national character is inclined to change suddenly between regimes, and the nation tends to plunge into temporary chaos. Most humanoid tribes are essentially despotic nations.
Like despotism, a single leader makes all decisions for the society. In this case, however, leadership is determined on a hereditary basis, providing continuity and stability to the society between regimes. Typically, monarchies are based upon complex social hierarchies (such as the feudal system of medieval Europe) that help determine the order of succession to the throne. The citizens of some monarchies believe that their royal families are descended from the gods themselves (and since this is a fantasy world, they might just be right).
One noteworthy variation on the monarchy is the city-state. City-states are essentially a collection of tiny independent monarchies (usually based in individual cities) that band together to stand united against larger, foreign nations. Typically, the united entity is governed by some sort of ruling council agreed upon by all the kings.
Republics invest their power in a large ruling body that theoretically represents the people, such as a senate or a parliament. Usually, the members of this ruling body are elected by a noble class and serve for a set term of office. The ruling body selects a group of executives from among its own ranks to preside over meetings and oversee special governmental functions.
No national government at all is an interesting option. Such an area is usually a collection of tiny, squabbling local powers and warlords. Anarchies don't often last long since they're ripe picking for any larger, more organized nation that is looking to expand.
Once you've chosen an appropriate government type for the PCs' home nation, round things out by inventing one interesting fact about that nation. Possibilities include: something unusual about the nation's ruler, something unusual about the nation's history, a unique custom, or an unusual commodity that can be found in the nation. Then, invent a few other nations (each with its own form of government and interesting fact) to serve as enemies and allies.
Because they are easy to master and develop, I'll choose a stronghold as my base of operations. I imagine that this stronghold sits on the border between a mighty nation and a dark cluster of woods dominated by three rival orc tribes that might threaten that nation if they were ever united. This gives me a good area in which to set my first several adventures.
Befitting the hook I selected for the campaign world last month, the stronghold is actually a collection of fortified towers and platforms built high into the treetops. The only major pathway that leads out of the dark woods and into the great nation actually passes directly beneath the stronghold, giving archers and engineers an excellent field of fire upon an enemy army attempting to overrun the structure. Commanding the garrison of troops that defends the stronghold is an ex-adventurer who now holds the title of Warden of the Black Wood. The Warden was appointed by the nearest noble, a Duke who runs the equivalent of a feudal town about 45 miles away from the stronghold. Though Neutral Good, the Warden is a grim, determined man who is tough on his troops and the residents of the small settlement that shares the treetops. He is worried about the threat posed by the orcs and feels that only by enforcing the strictest discipline can he prepare the area for their inevitable assault.
Economically, the stronghold is divided into two classes that each receive their food and necessities from a different source. The soldiers who make up the garrison receive their food and wages via supply caravans dispatched weekly by the nearby Duke. The townsfolk, on the other hand, survive mainly by offering goods and services to the many drifters who stop at the stronghold on their way out to the black woods and beyond. Most of these drifters are adventurers or trappers who collect pelts from the exotic wildlife that lives in the murky woods.
As for a unique characteristic that distinguishes the stronghold, I've decided that it's known for the eerie wailing noise that can be heard echoing through its surrounding forests at night. The noise is a complete mystery (even to myself, at present); no one knows what produces it or where it comes from.
Now that I've created some important details about the campaign world, the Second Rule compels me to invent an appropriate secret based on these details. Looking back over last month's column gives me an interesting idea. Suppose that a fairly sizable cluster of the woods surrounding the stronghold is actually comprised of an army of elderly treants whom the plant goddess has ordered to take root and guard a sacred spot located near the hold. From time to time, some of these treants wander a bit, shifting the course of several of the minor paths that crisscross the area. Of course, only the most skilled foresters understand that the paths actually move; most people who try to negotiate the area simply believe the paths are unbelievably confusing. Let's further suppose that according to local legends, several decades ago, a great general was somehow able to bypass the stronghold (which was once originally held by one of the orc tribes) to launch a surprise attack into the black woods. No one knows how he could have accomplished this feat, so most people don't believe in the legend. But the legend is true. The general skirted the stronghold by discovering the secret of the treants and convincing enough of them to move aside to form a second path through the forest large enough to accommodate an army. This secret has several interesting opportunities for future adventures: the PCs can discover the secret of the treants, they can discover exactly what the goddess has deployed the treants to protect, and-if the stronghold is ever temporarily captured by the orcs-they might duplicate the general's legendary feat to reclaim it.
Finally, turning my attention to politics on the national level, I've decided the nation that maintains the stronghold is a feudal monarchy. Its interesting fact is that its kings, on their fortieth birthday, have always been known to bid their friends and family farewell and venture into the black woods alone, never to return. No one knows why they observe this ritual. Obviously, a future adventure might give the PCs an opportunity to get to the bottom of this mystery. In accordance with the Second Rule, I've decided that the ritual has something to do with a price the royal family agreed to pay to forestall some terrible calamity, though I'm not going to develop it any further at this point.
In addition to the large, uncivilized black wood, I've decided that three nations border my feudal kingdom. One is an enemy under the despotic rule of an evil Wizard. Its interesting fact is that the Wizard's palace is set amid a clump of woods that continuously rages with fire. The second is a republic of elves that sometimes serves as an uneasy ally to the feudal king. These elves are believed to be the first inhabitants of the planet and know a great many secrets. The third nation is second feudal monarchy dominated by isolationists. Its rulers have gained an impressive knowledge of genetics which they use to selectively breed the members of the nation's noble houses. As a result, most of the nation's nobles are are almost superhumanly strong and intelligent.
Join me in thirty days for "World Building, Part III," where we'll tackle religion and finish everything we need to do before drawing our first maps.