30 June 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 4 - Favorite Game World

OK, so this one made me think for a bit.  I have a lot of experience as a DM but have played in relatively few published game worlds.  For example, I own several Greyhawk products, but have only run games there in a coincidental fashion- some modules are set in Greyhawk so you could arguably say I've run Greyhawk games.  I've wanted to run in Kara Tur, but never been given the opportunity due to my player base being less interested in Asian-inspired game worlds.  I also loved Al Qadim, thought I've never run there for the same reason.  My Al Qadim book sits on the shelf next to my bed, and I read it from time to time just for story inspiration.  Forgotten Realms?  I own every core set for the Realms since the original gray box, but have never actually run there aside, again, from the occasional module.  Why?  Because when FR first came out, I was already running in the Known World, and then FR exploded into so much canon I really didn't have the inclination to keep up.  I was happy with the game worlds I had come to love.

  My runner-up is Dragonlance.  I love Krynn for many reasons, but I'll hit the big ones and move on.  First, Solamnic Knights.  The whole story of a once glorious but now faded knighthood that has grown inflexible and ossified- hey, wait... isn't this what happened to the Jedi?  I love the ideals of what the Solamnic Knights were supposed to have been, and the opporunity for a PC to make them uphold those ideas once more.  Something else I love about Dragonlance are the mages.  The Order of High Sorcery with the White, Black and Red-robed mages.  I really, REALLY dig that idea, as well as the idea that the phases of Krynn's three moons - Lunitari, Solonari and Nuitari - have an effect on the spellcasting abilities of the mages.  Everything about the Dragonlance world (during the War of the Lance, anyway) rocks... except, perhaps, Kender.

  So that brings me to my favorite game world.  Well, I'm going to cheat a bit.  One, it's a tie.  And two, it's a tie-in.  Hows that, you ask?  Well, there are two game worlds I invariably use for my D&D and AD&D games.  The first and oldest is Mystara, also known as The Known World.  It dates back to the Moldvay/Cook Expert Set circa 1980.  It was expanded on in modules, the 1983 BECMI sets, and the stellar Gazetteer series throughout the 80s, and became part of the AD&D line in the 90s.  Loved it.  The second setting is Ravenloft, the realm of Gothic horror inspired by the module of the same name, I6, written by Tracy and Laura Hickman in 1983.  I say it's a tie-in because in my D&D cosmology, the first of the realms in the Demiplane of Ravenloft was Barovia, which was itself an area of the Altan Tepes mountains in the Mystaran area of Traldar.  So here we go.

  My love affair with Mystara is nearly as old as my love of D&D.  The world we traveled in Daniel Varner's campaign was pretty much The Known World as presented in the Blue Book.  We started in Threshold, part of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos.  Threshold was suggested as a starting point both in the Moldvay/Cook and Mentzer Expert books.  It's a small settlement on the threshold of civilized lands, hence the name.  The Duchy of Karameikos is where a huge percentage of my D&D campaigns start.  It's just such an evocative place to adventure.  The land was known of old as Traladara, and its indigenous peoples are reminiscent of Balkan or Slavic peoples.  Then Stefan Karameikos, an young noble from the Empire of Thyatis, traded his ancestral lands for the Emperor's blessing to take over the Traladara.  You immediately get the clash of cultures as the old Traladaran nobles attempt to presever their power against the Thyatian upstart.  There's even a rebellion fought against the Duke by the Marilenev family.  This gives players a lot of options- are they Thyatian expats looking, as their Duke is, to expand their own wealth and influence by taming a barbaric land?  Are they Traladaran natives who either embrace or reject the Thyatian meddling in their affairs?

  Mystara isn't just Karameikos, though.  Within a reasonable traveling distance are many lands, the
Arabian-inspired Ylauram, the Northern Reaches with its Norse-like inhabitants, the Mageocracy of the Empire of Alphatia, the Italian merchants of Darokin and a lot more.  I love Mystara for its depth and diversity, and for the wonderful Gazetteer series inaugurated by the Karameikos book penned by the late, great Aaron Allston. 

  My tie/tie-in game world is Ravenloft.  As I mentioned, this was a spin-off of the Gothic horror module Ravenloft written for AD&D.  It was one of the first modules that wasn't a simple dungeon crawl, dripping with theme and containing some replayability, since the Tarot-like Tarokka reading given by the Vistani woman at the beginning of the module sets variables in the module that change the goal, the treasure locations, even the location of Strahd, the vampire himself.  This module was wildly successful, thus being fleshed out into an entire "Demiplane of Dread."  Castle Ravenloft became the seat of a domain, one of many, that were lifted from other AD&D worlds and deposited into a demiplane full of evil and terror.  Each lord of each domain was imprisoned there for eternity to stew in their own transgressions.  Strahd, for example, had to relive losing his Tatyana again and again, for his sin was killing his own brother to gain her hand.  There is a lot of inspiration from classic horror literature here- Adam stands in for Frankentien's monster, for example.  There's also evil from entirely different campaign settings.  Lord Soth, the fallen Solamnic Knight, appears here from Krynn.

  Ravenloft presents different ways to do horror with D&D.  The rules in the original boxed set are pretty punishing, with Clerics and Paladins getting hit particularly hard.  Communication with deities are disrupted, and some spells are perverted by the demiplane itself.  Some spells work differently, and some do not work at all.  Any evil act will potentially draw the attention of the dark powers that created the realm, who will offer power in exchange for corruption.  TONS of story fodder here.

  I tied Ravenloft into Mystara by having the people of Barovia and the Vistani gypsy-analogues be transplanted Traladarans, and I retconned the Vistani into the Duchy of Karameikos in that role.  Barovia was in the Altan Tepes mountains northwest of Korizegy Keep, and the Vampire Korizegy was a betrayed ally of Strahd's, and has a bone to pick with him.  It all worked out rather well in an epic campaign I ran about ten years ago.  Twas amazing.

  See you in the next post!

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