For well over a year now I’ve kept an eye on the material that our friend Dennis has been producing over at his blog The Spirits of Eden for his RPG setting, the World of Adel. I’ve talked to him a few times about his worldbuilding and the setting that he’s created, and every time we talk I marvel more and more at what he is creating. Today he has started a series of posts he is calling a Worldbuilding Diary and I was instantly impressed and inspired by it.
If you haven’t seen his blog or read anything about the World of Adel, I highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for a setting unlike any of the published settings I’ve seen. It has a very personal feel to it and has Dennis’ fingerprints all over it, but the various elements he has combined and the amount of raw passion that goes into his efforts really make it stand out for me. I remember talking to him over a year ago and being very interested in his dislike of the proliferation of humanoids in standard D&D and his desire for more alien and insect-like allies and adversaries. The world has evolved since then, and to start this post out I’d like to share some of the aspects of it that interest me the most.
The World of Adel
Dennis may comment on here that I’ve gotten it all wrong or that I’m focusing on the wrong things, but here’s why I think you should care about his setting. Dennis has started categorizing the World of Adel as “Sci-Fantasy” and managed to get beyond my initial cringing at any kind of cliche combining of concepts by comparing it to some of the earliest Science Fiction stories that most people would barely put into the category. This sentence alone would hook me into a non-standard fantasy setting to start with:
Adel has many accoutrements of science-fantasy: there are robots you can accidentally wake up that will kill you, high-tech artifacts lying around, and a few people can find and carry around laser guns, often to the alarm of everyone around them.
For many of us this most likely conjures images of a setting like Eberron or something very steampunk that meshes fantasy ideas with the low-end of the science fiction spectrum. However, Dennis goes on subvert these ideas by explaining that much of the setting is still very rural and set in a world that can literally speak to the inhabitants through active spirits. This quote is the next part of his diary that really hooks me in:
They have towns and cities of course, but most of it is still farming villages where people live in simple homes embedded within the wilderness. This is because the Adelians have a tight relationship with their world. Their world has literally erased an entire civilization beforehand. It has a very dangerous defense against the kind of strangulation that its previous inhabitants performed on it. Adelians respect and revere nature, while at the same time, knowing that they have to challenge it in certain spaces to advance.
The concept of a world that was dominated by a previous civilization resonates very well with what I like to see in RPG worlds, as I’ve written about before in using the fall of the Roman empire and its ruins as inspiration in worldbuilding. The idea that a world purposefully destroyed a civilization and has built up its own defenses takes familiar ideas in an unexpected direction that I really enjoy. While I was already quite familiar with the world that Dennis has built, his Worldbuilding Diary post introduced some new aspects of the world and gave me a much better look behind the scenes of his thoughts and processes while developing the material. I hope to see a handful of other Worldbuilding Diary posts pop up so that we can all share some of the things we set out to accomplish when we start our own RPG worlds.
My Worldbuilding Diary: Beginning at the End
Perhaps the most defining element of the worldbuilding process for my current 4th Edition D&D campaign was that my campaign was taking place after Dave’s campaign, which meant that I had to allow for Dave’s campaign to change and evolve my game world before my game had even started. Some of the evolution was predetermined and Dave simply built towards it as his campaign progressed, but many things that came about in his campaign were different or completely new to game world. Even with the changes we had decided on from the beginning the way the changes came about in his game were often quite different from what we had anticipated and I often found I could easily work those differences into my ongoing campaign as they arose.
Let’s think about a very specific example for clarity. My old game world featured a large lake in the center of the map, which I handed to Dave to do with as he pleased. However, we both knew that by the time my campaign started the lake would be drained to become a large gorge or canyon. Dave was perfectly free to keep it as a lake for as long as he liked, even through his whole campaign, or he could have started his campaign out with some drastic event that caused it to be drained. No matter what happened, I could begin my campaign with the empty gorge by showing the players a map and letting them know what it represented because we’d both agreed on it beforehand. The nice thing about RPGs is that the details and history of that gorge are not necessarily important at the beginning of a campaign, and so I could introduce a drastic change in the game world but let the details be worked out in Dave’s campaign and introduce them into my game later on. This was our process for many different aspects of the game world and several important plot points as both of our campaigns progressed, and it was some of the most fun campaign planning I’ve ever done.
The Age of Awakening
I feel like my worldbuilding is a bit disappointing after talking about Dennis’ World of Adel because my game was firmly tied to the concepts of running a high fantasy D&D style game in 4th Edition. With that and the idea of playing the “Points of Light” concept fairly literally through the introduction of a crystal called Etherium that could repel monsters and was used to keep most towns and cities safe I had a good base for both Dave’s and my campaign worlds. On top of that base, I went with the safe assumption that Dave’s campaign would more than likely end with the world in turmoil if not completely in ruins and began planning a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting. At some point early on I named my campaign “The Age of Awakening” because I felt it worked with the idea of a world rebuilding but also because the campaign centered around the Chained God as the main adversary, and I really liked the possible contrary interpretations for the title.
The very first events of my campaign involved the introduction of a cult dedicated to the Chained God, and though there have been various adversaries and sidetracked adventures I have tried to keep that cult and the Chained God itself as the main focus of the game. One of the ways I decided to do this may have been too subtle in hindsight, but I tried to hint at the Far Realm as this dangerous space between the various planes of existence that is always trying to force its way into the planes. Several times through the game the party has experienced portals being taken over or almost infected by the Far Realm and witnessed the creatures and monstrosities that pour out of them. However, as I said, I feel like I may have been too subtle as a DM and this one overarching theme has probably been lost by my players over the last three years of playing.
What I Would Change
My campaign isn’t quite finished yet, but I think that if I could go back and change one thing I would get the Player Character’s more integrated into the main events of the plot. I may just be an over critical DM, but I feel like over the course of the campaign most of the characters have simply been going through the events and haven’t really been an integral part of them and haven’t really been changed much by the events. As I move forward and work on my future RPG worlds and campaigns, I am going to try and mix things up more and integrate the characters (forcefully if necessary) into the events as best I can. My prediction as a more experienced DM is that this approach may also result in a higher death rate amongst the characters of the game, so it may just be a different style of play I’m leaning towards as a DM.
If you have thoughts on the World of Adel, my campaign world, advice for me that relates to my worldbuilding diary sharing efforts, or if you write your own worldbuilding diary please share in the comments!
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