Racial Backgrounds to Fit Your Campaign

cropped-chibi-brent.jpgOne of the most satisfying pieces of creating the world for my D&D campaign was selectively re-skinning the races to fit my world history. I didn’t want to change any of the mechanics, but I needed the racial descriptions to better fit my world. Besides satisfying that need, re-skinning also helped inspire some of the history I created. So there was the added benefit of additionally fleshing out my game world, simply by making essentially cosmetic changes to racial descriptions.

A bit of history. The nation the players start their adventures in is called Cotterell. A little over a thousand years ago, fleeing a losing war with the Dark Fey, the Light Fey (Elves) appeared in Cotterell’s heartland, ripping their way into the world through a massive inter-dimensional gate. Unable to close the gate after them, the Dark Fey army followed, embroiling Cotterell in a centuries long war. Despite blaming the Light Fey for the the ongoing conflict, Cotterell had no choice but to ally with the Elves. In a desperate attempt to end the conflict, the Light Fey enacted a plan to forcibly close the gate. They succeeded, but in doing so caused an explosion of mystical energy, carving an enormous caldera out of Cotterell’s heartland and ringing the world with a magical shock-wave which forever altered the face of the world. ¬†Our story picks up almost five hundred years after that Cataclysm, when the nation of Cotterell is finally strong enough to begin the arduous task of reclaiming the lands outside the cities.

I’ll talk in a bit more detail about that history in future posts. But that is the world in which my player’s characters exist. You can sort of see why I couldn’t just leave the racial descriptions as they are, especially for the Elves. But the above history bite also changed how Tieflings came about in my world, where gnomes come from, and the origin of the dragonborn. And making changes to the racial backstory of these caused changes to occur in my campaign world.

Let’s look at the Tiefling race as an example. The standard background for tieflings is that somewhere in their family’s history, someone consorted with an evil outsider. That caused a taint in the bloodline, which allowed tieflings to be born. This demonic origin made tieflings mistrusted at best and despised at worst. In post-Cataclysm Cotterell, tieflings do not come from extra-planar evil, but from the arcane shock-wave which followed the closing of the Gate. Every living thing on the planet was “infected” by the wave of runaway dark energy. This led not only to perfectly healthy parents of all races giving birth to tieflings even hundreds of years later, but was the source of many of the world’s Aberrations. As a result of this, while tieflings are an uneasy reminder of the Cataclysm, they aren’t reviled by the majority of the races, and generations later have gained tenuous acceptance.

There you go. Same race, same mechanics, but re-worked to better fit the history of my game world, where High Elves (and to a lesser extent, Wood Elves) and not Tieflings are the oppressed race. If you are creating your own world, I highly recommend looking hard at the history you’ve created to see where you can sneak in changes to both player and NPC races. It will add a unique flavour to your campaign, and might also be a welcome surprise for your more experienced players.

Have you altered racial backgrounds or re-skinned a race for your campaign? Let me know in the comments.

New Campaign Smell

cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgA week ago we started our brand-new 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Ever since I got the new books (a birthday gift from my Thursday night Pathfinder group, oddly enough) I knew I would want to run a 5th Ed game. But I also knew I wanted to do things a little differently from the Pathfinder campaigns I was running. Now, I love Pathfinder, have done since it came out. But from a GM standpoint I have gotten in a bit of an Adventure Path rut. The Adventure Paths for Pathfinder (along with the campaign world, Golarion) are an amazing tool, especially for a GM like me with a limited amount of time to spend on prep. But the APs do tend to lock you into a certain framework as a GM. Still fun, but after a bit I was missing some of the campaign creation I used to do. I could probably solve that issue by cutting back on the amount of Pathfinder I’m running/playing, but that would mean less gaming, so…no.

I also found I was playing Pathfinder with a lot of the same people with whom I tended to game on a regular basis. Nothing wrong with that per se, but I figured since I was making changes already, I might as well go all the way and drag some new players into the insanity. In talking with my various nerdy friends, I remembered the ones who had lamented not playing RPGs in a while for whatever reason. That seemed an excellent place to start. I contacted all three, hoping I might get two and expecting to wind up with just one. To my delight and surprise, all three responded enthusiastically (and within an hour or so of my sending the message) and even suggested a fourth player, giving me the table size I was looking for. With players in place and a date set for the first session, the count down to D&D goodness began.

Acquiring four new players was actually what made me decide that I would not use a pre-fab world for my D&D campaign, tempting as it was to revisit my earlier love, the Forgotten Realms. I’ll get in to the details of the world I’m creating, the Shattered Realm of Cattarell, in future posts. But that was my next step, creating the world for my players. I didn’t do much more than create a broad framework, and then fill in some details I knew we’d need for character creation. Everything I’ve written for the campaign world to this point fills just shy of 5-6 pages, including the rough hex map I’ve made of Cattarell. You can read earlier Campaign Creation posts (just search the tag) to get an idea of how I approach world building. But in general, I try not to detail much beyond where I expect the characters will go. This allows me two main benefits: I don’t waste my time over-prepping things for the players, and the players can then come up with world details of their own, which I can fit in on the fly.

Our first session was all character creation, which is a great way to see if the players are going to be a good fit together. There is a fair amount of inter-personal alchemy involved in putting together a new gaming group. However good the individuals may be (and they were all awesome), you can’t predict how they’ll get along at the table. I needn’t have worried; we had descended into what I refer to as “snarky camaraderie” in mere minutes. Character creation proceeded, fuelled by equal parts junk food and laughter, and our band of brave adventurers took shape. By evening’s end, we had:

  • a violet-coloured Tiefling Bard, daring the world not to pay attention to her;
  • a Half-elf Cleric of Knowledge, kicking ass to create her dream library;
  • an Elven Rogue, raised by the streets;
  • and a Human Fighter, ex-soldier looking for a cause.

I can work with that.

Stay tuned for future campaign reports, as I explore the Shattered Realms and talk more about our upcoming sessions.

2016: The Year of the Game

cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgAs the new year steams ahead, you are going to see much more activity around the old blogstead. 2015 was a bit rough for me on a personal level, and my posting definitely suffered as a result. Moving forward, I’m holding myself to at least two posts a week, with the option to put up more as my schedule and ideas allow. I love talking about this stuff, and I need to get back to talking about it here so my ramblings can hopefully be of use/entertainment to others.

2016 is also the year I get back to my gaming roots, as I GM…sorry, DM, my first D&D campaign in over a decade. D&D 5th has reinvigorated my love for that system, and I’m excited to start a new campaign with four new players who seem just as excited as I am about playing. Don’t worry, Pathfinder isn’t going anywhere; I still GM two campaigns for that, as well as playing in a third. But I’m going to be exploring and talking about D&D a lot over the next while, so brace yourselves for that.

This year, I plan to do a lot more gaming, period. More boardgames, other RPGs, computer games…I plan to immerse myself this year in as much gaming as I can handle. And then blog about it.

That’s it for now. Expect another post in a few days, as I talk about the start of my shiny new D&D campaign.