Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is the Monty on the Run theme, by Ron Hubbard. 🎵
I've written about the tabletop games I play, and a few friends from California are visiting NYC to play a one-shot adventure. I offered to DM, and am currently building it out.
I provided details about the setting to aid in character creation, here are the emails I sent them a few weeks ago to get the juices flowing. I'll publish some discarded concepts for the adventure itself (a bit like this post), and after the game, maybe publish the runbook for it. 🙂
I look forward to some ADVENTURING! I'll be sending out some other timetables and things in the coming weeks, but here are some things I'll mention up-front:
We'll be playing 5th Edition D&D (the current latest)! If there's a strong preference for 3.5 or 4E, voice it now! Alternatively, if there are mechanics/settings/elements of previous editions you like, or house rules you're attached to, we can probably port it over 🙂
I'm thinking our party starts their adventure at level 6.
Send me your favorite adventuring music! Reply-all if you're feeling share-ey, or just to me if you're feeling sheepish. Fight scenes, puzzles, ambient—you name it! I'll be incorporating music into the adventuring, and I'm always looking for new ones. Here's some puzzle music, here's some battle music.
Setting is Western High Fantasy as a baseline: so swords, armor, wizards in robes. But we're mad flexible; if you want a gunslinger, we can make pistols. If you liked Princess Mononoke, we can give you some giant boar gods. If you want to play as a cyborg, we can take the automaton aesthetic from steampunk and make you cute and rusty.
On that note: PC races don't have to strictly be from the Player's Handbook. Humans and Elves are welcome, but so are Aarakocra or Lizardfolk. Whatever inspires you!
That said, for mechanics, lets stick to the character classes in the PH. This doesn't mean you can't put a spin on it if you have a specific concept (e.g. a "vampire hunter" can be a Rogue or a Fighter or a Druid, skilled and equipped appropriately).
I've written up a few of my old tabletop characters if you want some inspiration; and if you want to collaborate on character backstories (2, or 3, or 6 of you decide that your characters knew each other prior to adventuring, or are siblings, or…) that can be fun and helpful!
I'll get a setting out in a week or two, and feel free to wait until then if you'd like it to be part of your backstory. And feel no hesitation to reach out with any questions, or if you just want to chat 😄
The world: Eidamesh
(this was also an email, but I won't <blockquote> it lol)
Greetings! Time to introduce our little world!
Our adventurers live in Eidamesh, a few little landmasses surrounded by water and "there be dragons here" at the edges of the map. While the world is pretty ancient, it's also still full of secrets: the presence of magic and so many sentient races mean that history and technology's path through progress isn't as straightforward as ours. A bit of a Jeremy Bearimy, if you're familiar with it.
I'll start with some prevalent towns and cities, which might serve to place your character's background and/or situate their history. Beyond that is the details on the world more generally.
On the delta of many rivers and near enough the coast for access, Loda's got an odd mix of "beach town" and "port town" vibes: a lot of mercantile activity with pretty heavy stakes, many fortunes being made and broken, and a ton of spycraft. As much of this comes from outsiders from other cities protecting their interests and hoping to expand their empire as it is native Lodans who grew up with strong networks and worked their way up.
The beach town vibe is there too, though! Winters run very cold in Eidamesh, and many creatures near Loda (land and sea) become radically different in winter than they are in temperate or warm months (think of the fauna in The Fifth Season adapting to a new Season, or the hostile fauna of City in the Middle of the Night). This has a few consequences for the city and its operation:
Mercantile activity goes dramatically down in the Winter because it's much higher-risk to operate with more aggressive fauna and weather patterns.
Winter increases the bargaining power of locals, who understand the flora/fauna and have a longer history adapting to the changes.
Much more celebration and uplifted attitudes during the temperate/warmer seasons: "enjoy the sun while it's out."
A few other things make Loda interesting: there's a pretty large pet and animal culture in play. Its history of invasions looks a bit like Ethiopia, or Russia: resistant to attempts at colonialism due to natural advantage, and how hard it is to get it to be anything other than what it already is. Local culture extends this curtesy to the nature that preceded the sentient beings there, and view it as a tacit partnership: "we'll value you, keep us safe." Native Lodan wizards have the happiest familiars, and every other town's ambassadors and diplomats take on an animal when they settle down there.
- Cultural reference points:
- Coasts of Australia / Great Barrier Reef.
- Carribbean nations.
- Nasty fauna from wherever you like.
- Loda produces a lot of:
- Fisherman, divers, swimmers, smugglers, fences, spies, spelunkers, translators.
To live in Clohelm is to live close to God. Well, one of them, anyway.
Clohelm is believed to be the fountain of life's origin on Eidamesh. A ton of magic and breaking research on the frontiers of clerical and divine knowledge has been a part of their history for over a thousand years. It exports clerics, paladins, and (very quietly…) warlocks at a much higher rate than the other cities, and almost all visible elements of a culture (the dress, the customs, interior decoration) stem from service to a deity.
Amazingly, there hasn't been a "winner:" there are 3 main religious institutions that split up about 60% of the population (each heavily splintered and with "Reformed" variants), the next 35% or so hold about 12 religious orders, and the last 5 account for the next 30. There are dominant players for sure, but enough miracles (and blood spilled over whose was the "true" miracle, my God…) mean that they mostly co-exist in a stable state. There are, naturally, political disputes and squabbles and skirmishes (both inter and intra-religion) but nothing too elevated. Conflict is often centered around scarcity, and there's no scarcity of belief or divine power in Clohelm.
To use the language of a few cultural scholars, Clohelm is full of many "tight" cultures ("tight" and "loose" described here). It's not so important that you conform to one specific religion's norms, but you whichever you pick, you conform strongly. As much as anything unites the various people of Clohelm, it's that you don't fuck around with religion (religions that don't take themselves too seriously like Discordianism, even when held sincerely, get stamped out pretty quickly).
Arcane (as opposed to divine) magic presents a bit of a problem for Clohelm, many believe it to be the aspartame of magic: an inferior substitute for assholes. Some people make their academic careers hypothesizing that wizards and sorcerers are accidentally, unconsciously worshipping a deity who never reveals themselves, and speculate on the provider of that magic. It's a bit like becoming a scholar in the exact properties of the invisible clothes the Emperor is wearing.
Fear, strictness, respect, and ceremony are prized in Clohelm. They have the best hospitals and healers, and their black market serves the most potent and excruciating poisons and curses.
- Cultural reference points:
- The Vatican
- West Bank (religious affiliations, not the broader political situation).
- Clohelm produces a lot of:
"We'll do it without you."
Only the bravest (or stupidest) diplomats of the more dominant races (Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, or Halflings) become ambassadors to Kralkukh, the monster race town that is a walled, defended encampment to the Northwest of Eidamesh's larger continent. Smooth skin, upright posture on two legs, and a steady gait: pick two.
Founded by The Strong Four, it was a town meant to do things "their way" for the distressed, hurt, exploited, or underestimated of other cities. Idealogically, think post-revolution Animal Farm, or Jonestown before, uh…
It's a younger city than most, and like many intentional communities based around ideas of justice and inclusion for the downtrodden, it had a fair amount of pain and struggle to get to a steady state, having to do more with less. It eventually reached relative stability in the last 15 years or so.
Most other governments underestimate it, and Kralkukhians use this to their advantage. Think Wakanda at the UN: "What can a nation of goat farmers teach us?" While they're not overpowered to level of Adamantium, they do have a number of sophisticated inventions: material (stonecraft, light machinery, access to the underwater world with Triton scientists), cultural (things like fair voting systems, cryptography, zero-knowledge proofs), and arcane (new branches of magic, experimentation with portals to other realms).
With that in mind, it's not a utopia: a lot of work is required to keep order, and it suffers greatly for lack of capital that the other races have hoarded over centuries. There's also a lot of uncertainty on how its power structures will be maintained after the final living member of the Strong Four eventually perishes; a bit like aging Fidel in Cuba, people just don't know what'll happen to the state for which their force of personality mattered so much.
- Cultural reference points:
- Animal Farm, before the pigs went corrupt.
- Chicano Nationalism, the US Black Separatist movement
- Kralkukh produces a lot of:
- Stunning orators and diplomats.
- Creatures with skills of community organizers, social workers, and activists.
- Turncoats and scabs who internalize the inferiority narratives and work against it (Cipher from The Matrix), frauds and opportunists using the language of justice.
- Spies, activists in other cities.
Sestia / Glory
"A unified people" / "Tomorrow will be better"
Sestia is one of the oldest and most established cities in Eidamesh, with many old families having long lineages, and many early fortunes in mining, lumber, livestock, and agriculture. It often calls itself the bread basket of the continent, and many of history's best athletes for the continent-wide games (think Olympics) come from Sestia. While many believe Clohelm is sitting on some kind of cosmic divinity fountain, the narrative in many people's minds is that Sestia's farms produce plumper tomatoes, creamier milk, and sheep with softer wool.
Many of Loda's "foreign empire" presences originated from Sestia, and the families with established power have slowly tweaked and engineered systems to be rigged in their favor. As much as "financial engineering" and sophisticated financial instruments are a thing, they were invented in Sestia. Important positions were given away nepotistically, leaving a large chunk of the population in sharecropper-like debt situations.
Many went along with and lived with these pursuits (though it drove many monsters to Kralkukh in its founding days), until a separatist movement drove the region in conflict. The Silkworms (so-called to reclaim the "parasite"/"insect" language the aristocrats assigned them, while highlighting that they do, in fact, produce what matters) slowly participated in civil disobedience, followed by uncivil disobedience, followed by violent uprising. They now consider themselves a micro-nation seeking recognition, calling it "Glory."
A bit like Taiwan/China, or the Basques in Spain, Sestia refuses to recognize them, and considers Glory territories as "Sestia with a gang problem." The conflict is ongoing. Glory is led by a leader named Ladhia, but Dread Pirate Roberts-style, Sestian authorities have trouble pinning down who or what Ladhia is, or if they're even exactly one entity.
- Cultural reference points:
- Monaco, Switzerland.
- Granada, Spain, when it was a big deal.
- Sestia produces a lot of:
- Entrepreneurs and laborers.
- The high western fantasy-equivalent of soil and agriculture scientists.
- Star athletes.
- "Prestige factory" establishments (higher education, fancy dog shows).
- Aristocrats and plucky underdogs; "change from the inside"—types and desperate scabs.
- Cops and folks with a cop-minded mentality.
- Con artists, art dealers (legitimate and not).
"She was the greatest there ever was, then… she vanished. She's either dead, or in Rhodica"
Nobody really remembers how Rhodica became such a population hotbed: the most plausible theory is that a major magical event (a long, slow flood? an ice age?) must have occurred a few thousand years ago, driving all sentient and adaptable populations to cluster in one area, and confining them there for several generations. After the event, whoever remained was stationed in what we now call Rhodica, and all the other towns were founded by frontiering parties from that remaining survivor settlement. The spark of all life began in Clohelm, but modern civilizations came from the survivors of that event.
That's just the leading theory, there are others. Regardless, for as long as anyone remembers, they were born into an Eidamesh where just too many fucking people lives in this sprawling, clustered metropolis. Organized crime thrives, political backbiting thrives, pestilence and disease thrive; so too does cultural pluralism and ridiculous inventions to handle the sheer scale of the place. Resource preservation and distribution tech is worlds above everyone else's, and while no government runs smoothly, here it really does provide services that almost everyone supports and appreciates.
Things happen fast in Rhodica: stores open and close, buildings set up and get torn down, criminal empires are started and toppled. It's where you have no privacy but total anonymity.
As a result, if you need something, really, anything, it probably exists in Rhodica. Good luck finding it, however, especially since many people go there to not be found in the crowd. Fraud and scams are commonplace.
- Cultural reference points:
- Hong Kong
- New York, but, like, twice as dense.
- Rhodica produces a lot of:
- SENTIENT BEINGS, MY GOD.
- Cultural mix-and-match. A cafe where you can get milk from a nursing Dragonborn? A necklace stringing the adorned bones of halflings? A secret society of cannibal elves? You'll find it in Rhodica!
"The most common wish of our patients is to spend their last moments in Landra"
—Elvira, Sestia hospice worker
Landra is a land of arts, aesthetics, and liveliness. In our world, it's the city Dionysus built. It's both a pilgrimage for bards to visit Landra, and an occupational hazard, since many of them never leave. Most beings in life want good health and full bellies; if you can have less of those but demand more of everything else, you'll feel at home in Landra.
If Sestia is your luxury shopping mall, Rhodica is your
(everything, of dubious quality), then Landra is your Etsy: regarding trade, the
level of craft and uniqueness of what's being traded is more valuable than the
scarcity of its materials. You can find a +4 broadsword for sale in many cities
for a lot of GP, but in Landra you can find one that makes a screaming ribbit
sound when you strike with it, and to acquire you must trade a contract for
the summoning and labor rights of your non-dominant hand for 3 years.
Landrans are more cooperative than competitive, more collective and individual, more affective than neutral, and less respectful to authority structures. They produce way more sorcerers than wizards, more barbarians than fighters.
- Cultural reference points:
- Argelo from City in the Middle of the Night.
- The gritty artist-friendly New York from the 70's from people's imaginations that probably never really existed.
- Black Rock City, but a whole lot less libertarian.
- Landra produces a lot of:
- Bards, singers, painters, sculptors, adepts, diviners.
- Geniuses and muses of every form and discipline; shams and hacks of every discipline.
- A lot of gaunt, skinny people.
While the level of technology is standard fare for Western High Fantasy, most of these cities are full of surprises around their populations: Sestia, for example, has effectively learned how to dope their athletes with chemistry, Kralkukh is extremely advanced in abstract math and political science and have pulled some pretty amazing materials from the deep with their work with Triton scientists; and Loda's sailors have been frontiering the oceans and its rumored they have settlements on lesser-known islands. Rhodica is probably the closest to outright machinery and what we'd call industrialization, mostly spurred by the needs of its giant population and the fortunes made servicing it.
Between many of these towns are plenty of nomads, wandering bands, minstrel troupes, diplomats and diplomatic activity, spies and assassins (both state-backed and private), collectors of rare materials and specialist knowledge, traveling salespeople, monasteries and shrines. There are forgotten Gods, archaeologists, and hunters of legendary creatures, refugees, and social cast-outs. Feel free to pick between these spaces as well as in them 😊
Global narratives of Eidamesh
There are a few global threads to pull on:
As mentioned in Rhodica's origin story, there was an entire other history before these towns formed and histories happened, before some giant event clustered everyone together. What happened? What lies beneath these cities? Is there something there underneath Clohelm, for instance?
What lies beyond the oceans? Maybe nothing. Or maybe something that found us first?
Psionics aren't really present in this world in any native, established way, however, a few arcane experiments have hinted the existence of other planes, and a number of scholars are wondering if that's where these "psions" seem to come from, beings who can use their mind much like a wizard or a cleric uses magic.
Every town has organized crime. Every town has a secret undead. Every town has corrupt leadership, and people who look the other way.
That was the email! I then asked the players to roll a d6, and the mode would determine where our adventure started. I eventually landed on a few ideas for the adventure, but I might publish some drafts from the cutting room floor.
I reference a lot of other material here.
I wrote about City in the Middle of the Night here; it's really delightful sci-fi.
I reference The Fifth Season, the whole Broken Earth trilogy is excellent, wrote a few paragraphs about it here.
Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to join my mailing list, drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄