I’ve been thinking about Dungeons and Dragons lately and putting together a few ideas for a campaign setting.
My sister and her husband have a beach house in Washington. It’s on the Long Beach peninsula. The little town of Ilwaco, WA, is right on the southern tip of the peninsula and right at the mouth of the Columbia River. There’s a lighthouse there, and a small sheltered cove for a fishing fleet, and a small town. To the east and north are cranberry bogs. The peninsula shelters a little bay and there’s a little village called Oysterville; at the north end of the spur of land is a marsh and wildlife refuge. And, of course, to the west is the gigantic Pacific Ocean.
I haven’t been there for a few years, but on my many visits back in the day, I’ve pondered using Ilwaco and the surrounding areas as the geography for a fantasy setting.
The lighthouse and fishing village I’d keep, but in the center of town I’d place a large cathedral/religious school. Back on the small lake I’d put a walled lord’s manor; not big enough to be a castle, just a fortified mansion. Instead of paved streets and cars there would be carts and horses; swords and bows instead of guns. A medieval technology level, with a smattering of magic.
I imagined stories about a young man who had grown up in the area and who had rejected becoming a fisherman and had fed his curiosity with the stories of visitors to the city; the young man wasn’t much of a fighter but was very sneaky, picking pockets and stealing food when he could rather than trying to earn or catch it. The young man (I had never named him) would be fascinated by the stories of the powerful men and women (and occasional elven princes and princesses and dwarven barons and baronesses and… stranger things) that came to seek help at the religious school or seek the counsel of the lord of the town. Wizards and paladins, who were once the military might of the Empire, have fallen into decline and in some areas are even feared and hunted and thought to be the cause of the dark age that has fallen; but the boy has seen some things that make him believe that the wizards and paladins are returning and that someone is trying to put the Empire back together again. For good or evil, though, he can’t yet decide.
The town was once the farthest outpost of a kingdom or empire that, centuries ago, was the most powerful political and military force in the world. But the eternal Empress had died, and her sisters and brothers, and her few sons and daughters, had not been able to decide on an heir to take the throne, so the Empire had been splintered. Some regions were overrun with wild monsters; some areas were under control of one of the families and children of the Empress; and some had reverted to local customs or been merged with the non-human races. The tiny coastal town, that I had modeled after Ilwaco, though, was self-sufficient enough to survive in roughly the same manner for a long time, and had been blessed with a string of benevolent masters and mistresses in the lord’s manor. But it was still a wilderness; there are still monsters in the bogs and wetlands.
That setting has been sitting in the back of my mind for a long time. In the last couple of days I’ve added a bit more backstory and given some thought to what the overall story of a campaign would be, and most importantly where and how it would start. The beginning characters could be fighters, thieves, clerics, wizards, rangers, human or non-human, either locals or visiting, hired by the priests or lord for a specific purpose, to protect the lighthouse or a sailing vessel or caravan on a trip inland. And I’ve got some ideas for what the first few adventures would be; the lighthouse has fallen into disrepair and needs cleaning out and guarded; monsters from the swamps are raiding the town and need to be stopped. That sort of thing.
…and, of course, the more I think about it, the more details I come up with and need to start writing it all down. The Empress’ crown, and shield, and sword, and scepter, were all magically endowed and were lost when she died; each had special powers that aided her in ruling over such a large land. Finding those items might help bring the Empire back; likewise, keeping those items out of the wrong hands could prevent a lot of suffering.
I’ve started drawing up maps and making character sketches of some important people in my setting. I still need to get a set of the rule books, though, and I’m a little lost in which edition of D&D is the best for this kind of thing, but I’m semi-settled on Edition 3.5, even though, used, those books still go for $30 or more. But the rules themselves don’t much matter, I think.
I’ve always known that Dungeon Masters are often frustrated writers. And I’ve been a frustrated writer for a long time. Maybe it’s time for me to return to a medieval fantasy setting…