Bruce and the DMG, Part 5: Chapter 1, Third Part

Today I shift into higher gear to take a quick…stop laughing, out there…okay, quicker look at more topics in the “A World of Your Own” chapter.

Mapping Your Campaign

A single page, starting with an explanation of what sorts of features show on scales from 1 mile per hex to 60 miles per hex. It's got good advice on things like natural routes for rivers and what density of settlement goes with what general vibe of civilization versus wasteland.

Settlements

Most of six pages here. It starts with a discussion of placing and developing settlements, and I am so happy to see it continuing with the awareness of what this is all for:

A settlement exists primarily to facilitate the story and fun of your campaign. Other than that, the settlement's purpose determines the amount of detail you put into it. Create only the features of a settlement that you'll know you'll need, along with notes on general features. Then allow the place to grow organically as the adventurers interact with more and more of it, keeping notes on new places you invent.

Like a lot of DMs of my vintage, I spent a lot of time early on in basically fruitless and misplaced efforts at simulation. These all had loads of unexamined assumptions about what was being simulated, and did very little to ever enhance fun in play. Here, on the other hand, is a discussion of settlement purposes that includes local color, home base, and adventure site. This is very much better for the kind of fantasy adventuring I wanted then and still like now.

The remarks on settlements at various scales of size are heavy on practicality: who's in charge overall, who collects the taxes, who provides defense, how and where does commerce take place, and so on. This is the kind of thing I could look at when improvising a village, or town, or city, and feel confident I wasn't overlooking any relevant fundamentals.

Likewise with atmosphere, something that's near and dear to my heart. It's about the senses, something which early RPGs often attended to only patchily. But characters exist in an environment, with stuff coming in on all sensory channels. It's good to think about, and as this discussion emphasizes, can set a lot of tone with very little direct exposition.

Government gets a page and a half. It's less engaging to me, but then that's me not being especially enthusiastic about feudal social arrangements. I know they're traditional for D&D and it's perfectly sensible to focus on them; I just would rather have seen more on both classical and late medieval/early Renaissance models, particularly where there are wildly different forms of government existing cheek by jowl.

Commerce and currency get brief but useful coverage, and currency includes really nice artwork of coins and explicit discussion of how to use varying regional currencies for color without bogging down in endless exchange rate tables and such. As throughout this book, existing D&D settings – in this particular case, the Forgotten Realms – provide handy examples. I'm impressed at the sustained juggling act involved here, never suggesting that by golly everyone's gotta do it this way while promoting an awareness of neat stuff you could also buy and use from Wizards.

Languages and Dialects

It's short, but it's to the point, and offers up nice options, including some I tend not to think of when thinking about D&D. So…it works.

Factions and Organizations

Two and a half pages here, and one of the places where the legacy of game design from the late '80s through '90s shows to best effect – this is not something you'd see, I think, without the benefit of seeing what's worked with template systems like West End's Star Wars and Shadowrun and splat systems like White Wolf's:

Temples, guilds, orders, secret societies, and colleges are important forces in the social order of any civilization. Their influence might stretch across multiple towns and cities, with or without a similarly wide-ranging political authority. Organizations can play an important part in the lives of player characters, becoming their patrons, allies, or enemies just like individual nonplayer characters. When characters join these organizations, they become part of something larger than themselves, which can give their adventures a context in the wider world.

We get the Harpers and Zhentarim as handy worked examples, and really nice concise guidelines on creating new organizations. Symbols, names, and slogans get attention here, with a good discussion of how important such compact expressions of a faction's nature (as it is, or as it might wish to be, or as it once was) are in play.

There's an optional system for renown within a faction, with five tiers of status (illustrated with ranks for the Harpers, the Zhentarim, and three other Realms groups). It's straightforward, and it doesn't seem like it would make all groups feel structured too much the same given the variety in what those ranks can mean and do. There's also an interesting riff on those rules to track piety in game worlds with active gods. And given that example, I can see how it could adapt to other kinds of status within allegiance, too.

Magic in Your World

I'm just going to say again how much I like the “you” and “yours” in this book.

This is a page and change covering things you'd want to consider in building your setting, including various riffs for schools of magic and resurrection, and the role of teleportation circles.

That's it for this time. Next post, Creating a Campaign and Campaign Events, which I shall enthuse about at length.

 

Bruce and the DMG, Part 5: Chapter 1, Third Part