Gygax 75 Challenge, World Building

The Gygax ’75 Challenge: The Setting of the Campaign

The first step in Gary Gygax’s plan for creating a campaign for Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is to decide upon the overall setting of your campaign. For me this is typically the hardest part of the whole process because I tend to struggle with self-imposed limitations on what can, and cannot, go into a fantasy game which I’ve been slowly working through on the blog. Gary, though, has some advice for all of us. He wrote:

. . . [The setting] is something you do in your head. Now fantasy/swords & sorcery games need not have any fixed basis for the assumptions made by its referee (my own doesn’t) except those which embrace the whole of fantasy. This sort of campaign can mix any and all of the various bases which will be mentioned below – and then some. Regardless for what setting you opt, keep it secret from your players, or else they can study your sources and become immediately too knowledgeable, thus removing the charm of uncertainty. Settings based upon the limits (if one can speak of fantasy limits) can be very interesting in themselves providing the scope of the setting will allow the players relative free-reign to their imaginations. Typical settings are: Teutonic/Norse Mythology; Medieval European Folklore (including King Arthur, Holger the Dane, and so on); the “Hyborean Age” created by R E Howard; Fritz Leiber’s “Nehwon” with Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser; Indian Mythology; and Lost Continents such as Atlantis and Mu. Regardless of the setting you can have it all taking place on an ‘alternative earth’ or a parallel world. In this way minor variations can easily be explained/justified. When the setting is decided upon some good books dealing with it should always be kept handy.  The time has come to begin working on the campaign . . .”

Gygax, 18

Without question one of the things that I want most in my games is to have modern, and quasi-futuristic, technology to mix with Medieval weaponry and magic. It is something that I’ve struggled with doing since I first started running D&D years ago because I have a lot of internal barriers that I’ve imposed on myself. I’ve told myself that magic and technology cannot mix; that for one to work the other has to fail.

Robots and lasers don’t mix with dragons and fireballs.

The thing is, though, Gary has just reminded me that I can use the whole of fantasy for my playground when it comes to running D&D and that means that I can absolutely mix in technology and magic to create a delicious smorgasbord of fantasy goodness. So that’s going to be something that I’m going to be doing – even if the internal barriers in my head make it hard from time to time.

So, what sort of world am I wanting to explore with my players?

I’m a big enthusiast for post-apocalyptic settings where a society has risen to a great technological height, and then destroyed itself, only to slowly begin dragging itself back from the brink of complete annihilation (for a longer discussion on this see The World Ended, and Then We Got on With Our Lives). Books like Walter M. Miller Jr’s Canticle for Leibowitz, M. John Harrison’s Viriconium, Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure Stories, Jack L. Chalker’s Midnight at the Well of Souls, and Terry Brooks The Sword of Shannara Trilogy rank among my favorites. I’m going to bring that sort of element into this setting I’m making.

I’m also a fan of the sort of futuristic science-fiction books (which would have still been considered “fantasy” at the time Gary wrote this article) where we see robots and aliens interacting with people – and not in an antagonistic mode but rather as equals with some being good, some bad, and more than a few who are just regular people trying to make it one more day. Books like William Shatner’s Tek Series, Robert Silverberg’s Lord  Valentine’s Castle, John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem’s Dangerous Dames series, and Walter Jon Williams Ten Points for Style are all good examples of this sort of dynamic and are going to further the touchstones for the sort of setting I want.

I’m also going to mix in a few elements from Sam Sykes Seven Blades in Black, William King’s Gotrek and Felix, Glen Cook’s Black Company Series, and David Ferring’s The Konrad’s Saga. These three books have really changed the way I thought about fantasy stories in the last decade and you’ll often see hallmarks of King and Ferring in my games. Sykes’ Seven Blades in Black is a near perfect fantasy book and mixes all the elements I love (except robots) into an amazing blend.

What kind of setting are we building then? Where are we going to be exploring?

This is the sort of world where robots man vender stalls and interstellar travel is possible – if you can find just enough salvage to make it work. It’s the sort of world where a good axe is more dependable than a thousand-year-old laser gun and where your best friend can be a stranded alien just looking for a way home. It’s where digging through the ruins of ancient civilizations can bring you riches beyond your dreams or a fate worse than death. This is the world of the Proud Tower, of Black Mountain, the Seven Ladies, and of Frozen Head. It’s where the people of Jericho hide behind obsidian walls and pray that the barbarians of Ur never find a way in. It’s where the Wizards of Sawran watch over the Rift of the Thirteen Hells while the priests in Holy City of Meroe bow their heads before the old gods and listen to the whispers from beyond. This is where the City of the Wolf nestles against the mighty Flamesong River; and where its people watch brave adventurers disappear into the Ruins of the Wolf, perhaps never to come back again. This is where the dead of Grizzard’s Barrows haunt the land still.

This is the Valley of the Three Forks, where nothing is lost forever.

Works Cited


The Gygax ’75 Quick Links

The Setting of the Campaign
The Map Around the Dungeon
How to Build the Gygax 75 Dungeon
The Dungeon Level 1
The Dungeon Level 2
The Dungeon Level 3
The Local Town and All the Trouble
The World Plan
Conclusion & Links to Other Challengers!

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