Twenty Settings Questions, or alternatively: edis kitchensink fantasy
|I couldn't find the source of this image. It's pretty dope and a huge inspiration for my city campaign|
So, to bridge the time between the next dungeon post, I decided to create a post about my setting, because why not. Erika did it, and it was a nice post.
So, Jojiro from Dungeon Anthology created a post in which he outlines 20 questions that should help flesh out your setting. I already did the one Jeff Rients created on a district in the city that takes place in my campaign.
I worldbuild my setting generally from bottom to top, because I sometimes tend to focus on things that are not directly gameable and lose myself in work that steals time from prepwork.
As a brief introduction, my setting is focussed on the city of Ainstrom, your typical fantasy megacity. I run a pointcrawl in the city, the players will most likely not see any wilderness for my campaign.
Disclaimer, the setting is pretty much just a generic fantasy kitchensink, but those also can be fun.
Currently, my players are in the district of Lamark.
Well, that depends on wonder, I find the question a bit complicated. I envision wonder about being encaptured by something they don't fully understand on which their imagination runs wild. Those could be a few things. I got a boatload of factions in the city, Lamark alone has eight that fight for control of the district, that the players can interact with and influence. I wanted to flesh them out somewhat. Sure, there is a generic and boring band of thieves, called der Blaue Mohn, which translates to "Blue Poppy", which would be your standard gang/thievesguild/whatever, but also they have their own appearance, the players learned how to spot them by their tattoos, they are made up of smaller gangs that are fleshed out, and their relations to other factions are mapped out.
Also, there are dungeons, shops they can explore and most importantly, a lot of described taverns that I linked in a pointcrawl. You see I built my own carousing system in which the players have to crawl from pub to pub to spend their money to gain exp. in the meantime they run into random encounters, interact with factions, etc.
Alright. This part ist not fleshed out at all. The reason is simple. I like the standard D&D way of handling polytheism and I think the Planescape setting is very neat, so I just take generic D&D gods and populate the world with it. The gods are real, but don't interact with the material plane often. The depiction of religion this way gives a certain d&d and anime-esque feel, that I just vibe with for this setting. This might seem a little lazy, but it was a concious decision. An alternative would be to truly dive deep, like described in this blogpost, but I just feel like that it isn't appropriate for the aesthetic I wanted to achieve. That said, there are some religious factions present that have their own rites, interests and personal conflict.
3. How does one get access to goods and services in the setting? Will items always be available, will trade routes be jammed up by bandits, are their commissions for things, are magic items sold in regular stores, are hirelings available for hire or do we have to find them in the world?
Well, the city of Ainstrom is probably the largest in the Setting, so aquiring goods is always possible in one way or another, with the right finances. General goods will be available for the players to just purchase in downtime, while for magic items I created some nodes on my pointcrawl that represent magic item shops in which players can trade magic stuff. They can hire spellcasters at the Akademie der Magischen Künste Lamark or the Kathedrale St. Astrus. For hirelings, they can meet people and just ask them if they want to come along, ask around in taverns or hire some people of some of the factions.
4. What are some examples of people and creatures a commoner would be wary of in-setting? What are some examples of people and creatures a commoner could trounce without worry? What are some examples of people and creatures a commoner would trust?
Spellcasters are a mixed bunch in this regard. There are some pretty dangerous factions of spellcasters in the setting that cast a bad light on spellcasters in general, like witches are generally distrusted somewhat because a few bad actors present in the city. But also, the normal city person interacts pretty regularly with magic and technology in some way or another, so they are a little bit more comfortable with it than, say, somebody from the countryside in this setting might be.
The regular folks are also afraid of ghosts, curses, undead and critters that emerge from dungeons.
Necromancy has a difficult spot in that list. Generally they are not to be trusted, but they are some organisations in the city that are legitimized in some ways, although the practice of raising dead is pretty illegal.
There hasn't been an instance in the city where such a huge threat has been slain in the city yet. There once was a Kaiju type of creature that emerged from the ocean, wrecked shit, and has gone back into the ocean after getting annoyed by the resistance of the different organisations that were present at that time. It is likely that a threat of that level would be handled in the same way.
If you are a player in my campaign skip this here if you don't want spoilers
However, there is currently a bored black dragon in disguise as a humanoid acting as the leader of a faction in the city. I am interested in seeing how that will work out.
That depends on what adventuring is. Some people are interested in the dungeons below the city and might hire some to explore them. Most of the time if people want to explore dungeons, they do it on their own. Also, if it counts as adventuring, factions hire groups sometimes to do shady shit, but the most common way for an adventurer to gain some fame and riches is to go out on their own, which kind of aligns how people see adventurers in general. they kind of are seen as individualists and punks in a way and often carry a "self made" attitude.
There is a faction that calls itself an adventurer guild, but to be honest it is an elitist circle of old and rich boomers that haven't seen any adventure in a long time. They are a great ressource of information on creatures and magic though.
There is some sort of nobility, but the line between nobility and wealthy merchants has been blurred heavily in the city, since they mingle and form alliances through marriages. People who signal their wealth through expensive goods are often seen as the same upperclass old nobility holds, while nobles who don't own anything but their name fall into the class as regular citizens. Citizenship is required if one wants to do honest work, own property and be politically active. Adventurers fall in a weird niche system of some sorts. They are usually seen as being in the lowest social class, but they have a certain magnetism to them. People despise them for being lazy, getting rich through luck, sleeping with their wives, spinning tales of adventure to their dumb nephews who then go and die in the dungeon and being a general nuissance and trouble to social order. But on the other hand they are charismatic, brave, sometimes brilliant, socially concious and generally super stylish. Some adventurers which gain fame through daring deeds and show a little bit of awareness how they present themselves in the public eye tend to attract fans and possibly even political influence. Adventurers are basically a coked up version of modern day entertainers.
8. What privileges and prejudices exist in your world, if any do at all? For example: How does the world view LGBTQ identities, ethnic identities within each fantasy “race”, and race relations? Alright lets start with LGBTQ+. This one is a little bit nuanced. If you were a middle class citizen in the city of Ainstrom, you would be a little worse off than in our current day and age. People are focussed on traditional family structure, so parents usually expect their children to have kids of their own someday, so it's a bit more common to lose family relations if you refuse to give up your personal identity. LGBTQ+ folk are not persecuted by the state though, you can be a normal citizen, vote, own property, etc. The general public sees them as a little weird but pretty much harmless. Upperclass and Adventurers (Adventurers often don't have families anyways) seem to be facing less injustice in LGBTQ+ matters, people expect them to have strong individualistic personalities.
Kinship/race is a difficult topic, because if a fantasy race exists, you can bet your ass there is at least one of those present somewhere in the city. That said, they often will be subjected to stereotyping, awkwardness and maybe sometimes even aggression by the common folk and middle class. "Tokenization" is kind of a problem. So an adventurer might come to fame just because they are exotic, and be subjected to the other kind of racism. That said, bigoted citizen npcs are always fun for my players to fucken destroy
The Kingdom of Ainstrom was founded by an Adventurer called Ainstrom, together with his party. Years later his incompetent heir fucked everything up and a coalition of other aristocrats, guilds and free traders seized the city from them and founded the Free City of Ainstrom, which slowly merged with the other growing urban centers in the region, forming the large districts that could be seen as cities on their own. The city council of Ainstrom rules the council in a federation type of system, with city districts being managed by local councils, nobles or factions/guilds/coorperations. Ainstrom-Süd is the historic part of the city that still is governed by the city council of Ainstrom.
10. What is a more proximal view of the political system? Who are local nobles or leaders that should be known about, and what are their reputations?
Well, I am currently focussed on Ainstrom-Lamark, so I talk about some people from there.
Ainstrom-Lamark is ruled by a regional council made up of local nobles, land owners, prospectors, the historic smithing guild of Lamark, representative farmers and the Corps Lamarkia.
The Corps Lamarkia is an old fraternity of the local magician school. It is fairly difficult to get inside the council of Lamark nowadays as a faction, and with their newfound political power they plan to monopolize magic trade. The factions that kind of hold power outside of the council in general are viewed with suspicion most of the time and the executive force of Lamark is kind of a corrupt and an incompetent joke, in contrast to Ainstrom-Süd, which has it's own laws and very carefully appointed guardsmen.
11. Do your players even need their rations and torches?
Hell no! Magic light is widely awailable, so it's no big deal. And rations, well they are always in The City. All they need is hard cash.
12. How do you become a ruler of many?
Thats a good question, and also a bit difficult to answer. The council of lamark is a tightknight group of people that most of the time only let in their family and friends. But the council isn't the definite way for unmeasurable power. You always could climb the rank of a faction, get citizenship and buy land and mercenaries, marry a noble, create faction of your own, gain the public support of the citizens, manipulate key figures with magic and so on. There are lots of ways to achieve the same thing. Might makes Right.
Well. There are some well known groups of necromants in Lamark-Süd that run schools and churches and keep their actual magic secret from the public, although everybody knows that they are practizing their necromancy in secret. The church is butt-mad about them, but can't do a lot, because they are very wealthy and influencial. Otherwise, not a lot of magic is forbidden. The most problems a person can get for practising magic is trying to sell their wares without local permission or being a citizen. So you can imagine a lot of adventurers actually run into problems with the local law, trying to peddle some magic-shit in secret.
14. What is the common man’s capability to distinguish the following things: a werewolf’s tracks vs. wolf tracks, a manticore attack vs. a lion attack, a demon attack vs. a gargoyle attack?
Most of the time the common folk isn't accurate in these matters at all. There are some special units that train in investigating paranormal activities though. So if an adventurer hears something about dragons, gargoyles, demons they always have to take it with a grain of salt. Or even better prepare for the worst.
Well, these classes come in different kind of flavours. People of this type can be charming swashbucklers and duelists, simply despised thiefs and pickpockets, acrobats, specialists, and all kinds of stuff. There are no thieves guilds, just some local decentralized pickpockets and one large criminal faction in Ainstrom-Lamark. People who identify themselves as rogues and thieves are viewed as scum, criminals and enemies of the city. That said, der Blaue Mohn is pretty successful and influencial and has a wide net of contacts and specialists.
Zelda-like puzzle dungeons that are more a player challenge than something that makes sense in-world, or something else entirely?
Dungeons are where the dreams of the sleeping folk above trickle down the cracks between the stones of the city to die. They are generally a "almost" natural occuring phenomenon. They tend to form around gold, magic and sometimes old ruins that inexplicably expand. The City of Ainstrom has a huge underground catacomb that is subjected to centuries of wild dungeonification. City guards often observe the known entrances, so normal citizens don't stumble into them by accident. Nobody to this day knows how deep they go, or if they are even part of the same plane as the rest of the world and may even be infinite. Some Wizards think there is a plane of dungeons that exist as a bubble on the hypersurface of the material plane and each dungeon is a gradual portal to that plane.
17. How common are dungeons, how deep or large are they, and how much treasure might be expected within their depths?
Dungeon entrances in the city are not uncommon, they seem to be infinite, are super dangerous but hold incredible riches, but also immense danger. People love to hear the whacky story of Adventurers, but often take them with a grain of salt, because they seem very fabricated at times. People exploring dungeons are often seen as fools and needlessly lucky when they survive.
If people dedicate their lives to it, they can learn magic, without the need for magical aptitude. These are, as you surely have guessed it, are called Wizards. There also are Alchemists and others wo operate in the same way, but are more interested in tinktures, materials, medicine and so on. Then there are People who are born with magical talents. Those are usually sorcerers, mages, magical thieves and so on. These are not definite classes but a gradient between learned magic and born talent. Witches don't differ in the magic they use, they just often are a subculture of female spellcasters that group together to explore arcane secrets and scare insecure male wizards shitless.
Then there are the divine spellcasters that just get their miracles straight from their gods. Nothing special. There are most of the time no pacts with beings from other planes, because you usually need some heavy magic already to contact them in the first place. they usually are too busy with their own crap to gift magic to people from the material plane.
19. What are two examples of food culture in the world? Even if food isn’t a part of play, what dishes are people consuming in the world around the players, and what messages can be conveyed through food and drink?
The biggest focus for the players themselves will probably be alcohol, fatty foods and decadent and lavish feasts. People around the city often just eat the local variant of "meat in a fried bun" or "rotating grilled meat that is cut up and served in a bread bun" and other varieties of fried foods if out on the street and drinking.The drinks the people enjoy are all kinds of pils, dunkelbier, weizen, schnapps, any kind of berry wine, mead, brandy, cocktails and many more. Meals of the normal population are usually all kinds of central european traditional dishes, noodles, potatoes, red meats, sauces and lots of bread.
20. What is the internal logic of the game world you are running, as far as players are concerned? When the players act and the world reacts, what principles do you hold to?
At this point the players are pretty much nobodies, that try to make a living by looting dungeons and maybe find work from factions. But my goal is for my group to interact with a consistent world in which they act as rockstars and controversial figures. The world currently exist in a state that does need very little input from the players because they currently don't hold a lot of political influence, power or wealth. But with time they will make friends or foes with factions, find a shit ton of money, invest in the city, get a broad group of fans and followers, will buy property and have to deal with politics, controversies and not being murdered by their enemies. I as a dm will try to react consistently to their reactions, everything they do will matter. As a matter of fact I already wrote down the first impressions they made to the factions that will play a role how they will interact with them in the future.
fuck, answering these questions took longer than I anticipated.