Dungeoncraft: “It all started with a map”


This article is the first part of an series of articles in which I want to talk about the development of a campaign setting. For quite some time I was thinking about what kind of world I would like to create and finally I decided to give it a try and start with some serious work. The series will be called “Dungeoncraft” as an hommage to the classic series by Ray Winninger. Today I want to talk about how the project started and about my basic design decisions.

“Hey, don’t steal our thunder!”
When I finished “Arcanum – Of Steamworks and Magicks Obscura” for the first time, I thought the world Arcanum would make an awesome campaign setting for a pen & paper game. I even contacted the developer Troika Games for their blessing and the publisher Sierra for their green light. The guys from Troika Games loved the idea, but Sierra couldn’t allow the creation of a pen & paper RPG based on their intellectual property even when it was meant to be free.

“It all started with a map”
So I decided to create my own version of Arcanum that didn’t use any intellectual property owned by Sierra. I started with a map of the continent where the majority of the action should take place. I created the map using some computer software and printed it out on 6 DIN A4 sheets of paper in color. Then I obviously stopped working on that project and the map ended up in some drawer. Years later, when I was rearranging some furniture, I started cleaning out some of my old stuff. And that’s when I stumbled upon the map. I had some faint memories of the project but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what software I used to create the map. But I decided to keep the map for future project. So now, I am going to use the map as a basis for my latest project. Having a map of the world makes things much easier to visualize. I probably will have to recreate the map in some point of the future, but it is sufficient for now. For this purpose I already bought Campaign Cartographer 3 some time ago. Although the software has a steep learning curve, you can create some impressive maps.

“Welcome to the lands of <please enter a great name here>”
Since the map is pretty big and the original file is nowhere to be found, I can’t give you an image of that map here. Hmm, perhaps later I can use my digital camera for making a photo. The yet unnamed continent/island has roughly the same shape as the British Isles and is probably of the same size, perhaps a bit larger. I plan to add a bigger continent later but for starters a place of that size should be big enough for my purposes. The climate is mostly temperate but there’s one large desert area that probably was created by unnatural means. The island is also dotted with several cities, some fortresses, towns, ruins and even some other features. I will talk about them in a later article.

“Let’s get down to the basics…”
Now I want to focus on the basic ideas of the campaign. Like in Arcanum I want to confront the players with a world where magic and technology collide. But instead of Arcanum I don’t want to have the whole magic vs. technology dichotomy. Having magic and technology interfere like it has in the computer game needs a solid set of rules that are probably easy to realize in a computer game enviroment but much harder to get to work in a p&p game. The other point is that mixing technology and magic could lead to some interesting results like enchanted guns, airships driven by magic and more wonderous contraptions.

“We don’t serve your kind here”
Arcanum uses a tolkienesque world as a premise and then introduces an industrial revolution. “Tolkienesque” means that you have a world with several intelligent races that are similar to those seen in the “Lord of the Rings” or perhaps D&D. Although my world will have several trappings that are reminiscent of a tolkinsque world, I have decided against other intelligent species than humans. Magical creatures like dragons will exists but they will be simple beasts instead of highly-intelligent beings they are in other settings.

“History 101”

Let’s talk about some history. Millenia before the campaign starts humankind was still organized in small tribes, sometimes even clans that had a more or less nomadic lifestyle. It was during these times that the first children where born that carried the “mark”. The mark looks like an elaborate tribal tatoo and normally is invisible to the naked eye. When these children were in stress or in great fear the mark starts to glow and they were able to do impossible things like hurling fireballs, creating things from thin air, heal wounds or teleport themselves. Each time they used their abilities the mark glowed in an eery blue-white light. Sometimes these children were feared and even killed, sometimes they were revered. In time they learned to control their abilities and they called it “Magic” or the “Art”. Often the “marked” grew to become great leaders of their people and so the first sorceror-kings were born. Normally the children of sorcerors inherit their parent’s abilities but it is not unheard of “normal” people bearing a “marked” child. But this was becoming less and less common.

For several millenia the most common ruling system was magocracy. But this was about to change with the advent of the first industrial revolution.
This concludes the first part of the series. I will talk about the fall of magocracy and the industrial revolution in a later episode.

UPDATE: Following an advice from The Chatty DM and the Questing GM I tried to break the article into paragraphs to make the text easier to “swallow”. Since I hadn’t thought of readabilty when I wrote down the article, it’s still very much a “wall of text” but I hope it’s a bit easier to read now. I will try to work on that in the future. And thanks to all of you for the helpful advice!

6 thoughts on “Dungeoncraft: “It all started with a map””

  1. This is a very promising series. I love Gaslight Fantasy and I assume that you are familiar with Phil Foglio's Girl Genius which touches some of the tropes I'm sure you plan on using in your campaign.

  2. @Questing GM: I've added some white space and bolded sub titles to make things easier to read.

    @Chatty DM: I am a great fan of Girl Genius and I think the "technology" side will probaby heavily influenced by that series. But I am still unsure if I want to follow the classic Gaslight route with the Victorian age flair or go a completly different route. Hmm, time will tell…

  3. This is a very neat concept, one I've attempted in the past myself. At the Campaign Builders' Guild, for awhile we published an online zine that had a Campaign Creation Diary in it as I worked through a new campaign setting. I had planned on bringing that to light on my blog as well, but I think I'll hold off now, since you've got such a great start, and I'd rather just read yours! 😉

  4. Oh, I hope I don't mess up! Everyone seems to be thrilled by my upcoming campaign! Oh, the pain, oh the pressure!

    Hehe, it's great you like it. I am already writing on the second article. When nothing unexpected happens you will learn more about the magic in my world soon.

  5. I'm interested in seeing what you come up with for the rest of it. I'm particularly curious on the more day to day ways that magic, technology, and society interact with each other.

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