Building a Campaign, D&D 5e, Dungeons & Dragons, Greyhawk

The World Ended, and Then We Got on With Our Lives

In most role-playing games there are a few core assumptions about the worlds that your groups will be exploring and in Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition (D&D 5e) there are five core assumptions: (1) gods oversee the world; (2) much of the world is untamed; (3) the world is ancient; (4) conflict shapes the world’s history; and (5) the world is magical (Crawford, 9). These five core concepts create a coherent world that a Game Master (GM) can use to build their own setting around and they allow for some unique settings to develop. There’s one part of that core concept that I would like to play with a bit today and see if I can’t have some fun.

Illustrator unknown, but it appears to be a cover from the Perry Rohdan novel series

The World is Ancient

For many of the games that I’ve read about on blogs, and played in over the years, time is a linear journey where events build upon themselves and the world is forever progressing forward. The settings move from the Stone Age, to the Bronze, and eventually settle at some point in the Middle Ages of Western European civilizations. What if, though, we view time in our worlds as cyclical?

The Social Cycle Theory of sociology postulates that humanity operates within a developmental cycle where we’re either advancing or devolving towards barbarism. Let’s build on that idea and apply it to the history of our would. At this point we could claim that it is locked into a cycle where we begin with nothing, advance to a high technological level, and then destroy ourselves only to begin once again. Each time we fall to pieces the cycle gets larger and more expansive so that our technological prowess becomes ever greater and the fall that we will eventually take more precipitous.

There several examples of this sort of world history in the literature that surrounds our hobby. In Terry Brooks’ Shannara Series the world destroyed itself in a chemical and nuclear holocaust and is currently rebuilding with magic in the ascendance as science has receded. Similarly, in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Cycle the world had once risen to an unbelievable height of magical technology only to be destroyed and the story picks up as the world is slowly rising out of the ashes yet again. Even the World of Greyhawk, one of the oldest published settings, fits this template with the Suel and Baklunish destruction of each other through the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire which significantly crippled the world only to see it rise up from the ashes yet again.

Moebius , date unknown

In this ancient world that we’re exploring there are two questions that need to be asked if we continue down this thread: (1) How high on the technological scale did the world get before the fall and rise that now finds our players exploring the world? (2) How much of an impact does the answer to the first question effect the world that the players encounter today?

Moebius, date unknown

For my games the answer to (1) is that the society got technologically powerful enough for nuclear weapons, high technological weaponry (such as laser guns) to become commonplace, teleportation a reality, interdimensional and space travel uneventful fun on a Saturday night. This means that the fall would have been incredibly steep and would have a profound impact on the world of today. The dungeons our players would explore in this world could be the remnants of subways, rotting hulls of ancient and abandoned spaceships, and the labyrinthian remains of massive libraries and military complexes; as well as, the works of intermediate societies that have grown up and died off in between the days of extraordinary technology and today. Magical wands could be the advanced weaponry of yesterday misunderstood by today’s explorers; and the more intelligent creatures who now roam the world could be stranded travelers from outer space and other dimensions who have lived here so long they no longer remember where they came from and think of this world as their own. While the monstrous creatures who appear are the mutated remnants of a world not even dreamed of by its current inhabitants.

The answer to how we got here, at this point in time, effects all that comes after it. So how do you answer that question, and how has it effected your worlds? lsdun

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