We Must Not Remind Them Giants Walk the Earth

Dark Knight Returns remains one of my favorite comics of all time for a variety of reasons. While it doesn’t tend to stand up in most people’s minds against its contemporary, Watchmen, it ends up tackling some of the same themes but with characters we know inside and out. It’s also, to me, the pinnacle of the “gritty” Batman before it goes off the deep-end. (Batman: Year One is of course also great for its depiction of Batman, but I feel like that version is a lot more hopeful.)

However, buried in the backstory is an idea that I’ve thought could apply to a D&D campaign, and I used it as the germ of an idea for an entire campaign setting. In DKR, superheroes have left, retired, or (in one notable case) become employed in secret for the government. We’re told that there was a backlash against the superheroes that caused the people to no longer accept them. In one internal monologue by Superman, he says that with the Batman returning, the people will come after them again, and that “we must not remind them giants walk the Earth.”

So what if we imagine a D&D setting where monsters are pretty much under control, the world has been saved enough, and ordinary people just want to get on with their lives? In short, it’s the “future” of D&D where adventuring has been banned.

I’ve always wanted to do a deconstructionist take on the implied D&D worldview. My supposition has long been that in any realistic economy, adventurers pretty much destroy any economy they come into contact with. They bring with them huge amounts of long lost wealth back from any dungeon which infuses anyone who deals in goods and services they need. Any town would thrive on the money the adventurer’s bring. The wealth disparity between a commoner and even a low level adventurer would be huge. It would be more important than the tourist trade. Additionally, the promise of wealth would drive more and more people to take up the life of an adventurer. Yes, the risk is high, but the rewards would make even a few jaunts enough to support a poor family for a long time, somewhat analogous to how many societies sent a family member to join a Church to get the money to survive.

(You can feel free to disagree with any of these assertions, but they’re true for the purpose of this idea.)

So, adventurers become more and more common. Dungeons get cleared faster and faster. More and more people learn to depend on the wealth they bring. Larger and larger parties are formed. Escalation happens everywhere.

Eventually, there are no more unexplored dungeons, and entire species of monsters have been wiped out. All the cities and people who had been depending on new influxes of magic and gold pieces find that their currency has been made almost worthless, and now there’s no more of it to be found. It’s a fantasy world depression.

Different kingdoms deal with the issue differently, but it boils down to there being no more adventurers. Life becomes just plain more ordinary, even with magic being around, it is focused away from fireballs and more towards heating homes. High level warriors take town guard desk jobs. The few that thrive on combat go… somewhere else.

Time passes, and the history becomes murkier, with people forgetting what the old days were like. But then of course… the creatures begin to return. Danger starts to creep its way back in. Perhaps mentored by a hero long thought gone, a group of adventurers take up arms to protect what they care about, and adventure into a world that forgets their kind, and those in power have an interest in making sure that the age of heroes doesn’t come back.

That, of course, would be the party, and could play off the ideas in Dark Knight Returns. Then when they get to higher levels, they could be the catalysts for a new age of heroism, like what happens in (the underrated) Dark Knight Strikes Again. Sounds like an epic campaign to me.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, the Geek's Dream Girl.

Comments

  1. Sounds like a brilliant idea and a great premise to work on with lots of potential. Thanks for the inspiration, Dave!

    Questing GM´s last post: Menacing the Icy Spires

  2. ooOOoo…f-fun!…

    Reverend Mike´s last post: The World Must Be Destroyed…BUT HOW?!

  3. Glad you liked it!

  4. A few points:

    Additionally, the promise of wealth would drive more and more people to take up the life of an adventurer. Yes, the risk is high, but the rewards would make even a few jaunts enough to support a poor family for a long time…

    It has always been my thoughts that adventurers stand out not because of the willpower to go out and adventure, but because of the ability to do so. I mean, me personally, I think I would have the willpower to take on the crime in my city, but I certainly don’t have the resources, 12-year ninja training, or personal revenge-style motivations of Batman to accomplish the goals. The commoners in standard RPGs are those people who have not the means – either physical, spiritual, arcane, or whatever – to go out, hunt down the orks and goblins, and bring back the loot. You can look at it a bit like in Plato’s “Republic,” with the Philosopher King, and the inspired monarchy of it – every person has a purpose, and that purpose drives them to fulfill themselves. At least, that’s the way I look at adventurers – not as commoners who got lucky in the dungeon, but people whose will, motivation, power, and mastery of a craft have led them to a specific point.

    …and entire species of monsters have been wiped out…

    In some settings/worlds, this is considered genocide! ;) The way I play in my campaign, if the “monsters” have a language, a society (even a tyrannical one), and a culture, then it is never considered acceptable for adventurers just to wander into their homes (dungeons) and start slaying them, no matter the ideological differences.

    Time passes, and the history becomes murkier, with people forgetting what the old days were like. But then of course… the creatures begin to return. Danger starts to creep its way back in. Perhaps mentored by a hero long thought gone, a group of adventurers take up arms to protect what they care about, and adventure into a world that forgets their kind, and those in power have an interest in making sure that the age of heroes doesn’t come back.

    I think this paragraph is the crux of the issue. It seems to represent very well the very typical RPG campaign – a dark evil is arising, and it is up to heroes to save the day, because they are the only ones equipped and qualified to do so. However, perhaps because of the heroes’ “genocidal” tendencies in the past – 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, or just 10 years ago – the people are worried that to allow the heroes to come back would upset the balance of the world. Perhaps they would put restrictions on the heroes, ala “the Initiative” in the current Marvel comics universe, or perhaps, like “The Incredibles” and “Watchmen,” heroics are outright banned, and it is against all laws for people to participate in such activities. I think it could definitely lead to an extremely fascinating campaign. Great post!!

    Ishmayl´s last post: Strange Ecology – Critters, Critters Everywhere!

  5. Just an aside, the first paragraph in my previous post was supposed to be a blockquote, I guess I didn’t close the tag properly. I apologize.

    Ishmayl´s last post: Strange Ecology – Critters, Critters Everywhere!

  6. Oh wow.

    This is completely stolen, what a fantastic idea! I love oddball twists for campaign hooks, and this completely fits the bill. On top of which, I have a new group of friends that are pondering playing some D&D, so I have a perfect opportunity to try it on for size.

    Thanks for sharing!

    ~ John

  7. Ishmayl: Thanks for the comments! To specifically respond to a few points, I agree that Adventurers are special and a cut above, but in my take here, many would still look at the option if it became so economically appealing, even if they didn’t have what it takes.

    I also think exploring the idea that it was a genocide is a great one. I even envisioned (but did not write down) various monster preservation leagues, and orcs who campaign for non-discrimination.

    And I think taking the Watchman’s Keene Act is precisely what I’m going for.

    John: Thanks! If you do give it a spin, let me know!

  8. Brett Myers says:

    Wow, I’d totally play this game.

  9. I agree, this is a great idea.

  10. I’ve had the same idea with an Ebberon game, but never as a main point, just as an aside. The idea and social aspect of an adventurers has always been strange to me, yet its never spoken of in game. Here you have a group of 4 or 5 psychotic serial killers who’s only passion in life are greed or blood lust, and instead of thrown in jail for genocide, they are crowned as hero’s.

    Also you would have a backlash of those who try to go out and be adventurers themselves. Most likely 99% (maybe a bit less) would die and family’s would be destroyed. Most of those dead would have been farmers, or others who had important jobs in the world and are now no longer there so you would get both a group of people who hate adventures for the lost of their loved ones, and a government trying to keep a world together with trade and comer’s saying they will have no part in it.

    Over all though I quite like it, glad someone else thought of this as well.

  11. Brett Myers says:

    AndrewK – I don’t think a medieval setting, even a fantasy one, would have the same sociological aspects of a modern society. The concept of genocide just wouldn’t exist. Likewise, thinking of the heroes as “psychotic serial killers” is anachronistic.

    The medieval world is a world of brutality and death. Peasants were conscripted to fight in their lords’ wars. Any lord with enough resources had a retinue of professional soldiers and knights. Powerful warlords led bands of mercenaries and fought for anyone with the gold to pay them. Serfs were the property of a lord, and therefore fair game for raiding armies. “Psychotic serial killers” just doesn’t apply in a society where death is a way of life.

  12. I love the idea and the specific outlaw attitude. Whether in the “Dark Knight”, or “Kingdom Come”, or the “Watchmen”, the basic dichotomy of heroes vs the unpowered populace, or in the gaming world, Adventurers vs. Commoners, is an underexplored dynamic.

    I also find it to be a black vs. white, simplistic one, as well, and that normally needs to be avoided. One of the reason “Watchmen” works so well is the ambiguous morality that they explore, whereas most Paladin-enriched settings and systems aren’t built for ambiguity.

    Further, to take your opening quote, “We must not remind them that Giants walk the earth”, a little further, most FRP’s won’t work with this, as the situation you describe and ISH deconstructs is a byproduct of gaming systems that promote too many giants and too much of a community of superheroes and too many high-level adventurers. Don’t forget one of the things that makes the books you mentioned work is the paucity of those ‘Giants’.

    LordVreeg´s last post: Taking Damage

  13. OK…. now I do still think DKR it tops, and I really like the idea of applying this as a campaign setting- and having your campaign pretty much playing an eqivelent to Robin? off to a good start, but wouldn’t the monsteres be on the comback, to trigger the comeback of the epic level hero(s)?

    you know I wrote a high school paper comparing DKR to Beowulf…

    Lord Vreeg hit it on the head- it’s the interaction of the party with the populace- the secret identity aspect that is left out of any campaign that I know of, at least as an integral element beyond ‘populace has problem’ fix it. problem solved, get reward.

    what will be the eqivelent..? ‘magic is a tool for the weak. we do not use them.’ and the vigilantes-cum-heroes, as a side group….

    ryon´s last post: Commissioned Characatures

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