Thursday, May 7, 2009

My "Settings": Otherworld

Extra-long(ish) update for my fans (both of you) who I am sure were waiting anxiously for one!

For the record, that was a late (unless you don't like stupid rules) and lame (unless you don't like stupid things, oh snap) April Fool's. I even like Pratchett!

At first I was going to leave it up for two weeks, because though I don't link this thing much other people do and I got to see some people go "oh my god is he serious D:<" two weeks later. Then I just couldn't think of anything to write. See, I wanted to finish with my 'main' homebrew setting, Otherworld. (In case you're wondering, it's a placeholder name which has lasted for years and become the name by virtue of my being unable to think of anything else.) Why this was hard will become apparent in a few paragraphs when I stop babbling.

It was (is) my first setting, and so I constructed it in the manner which I assume (pending the ability to assert) most other DMs did, by following these ten simple steps:

  1. Start with an idea which was probably shit anyway
  2. "Borrow" or "pay homage to" things from other settings you like (read: steal blatantly)
  3. Toss a few more ideas you had on the way in there
  4. Do #2 again
  5. Complain liberally about the things about other settings you don't like, contemplate how these things could be better, put them in
  6. Have an original idea
  7. Make up something you can actually use as the plot of a campaign
  8. Watch your players ignore most of it
  9. Retcon things like there's no tomorrow
  10. Repeat steps 2, 4 and honestly pretty much every step including this one.
So, I did. Step ten was particularly difficult. There were only a few short bumps in the road caused by players being a little too liberal in making up character backstories; one of my players once presented to me a new character, her homebrew race of gorgons, complete with a backstory that involved a war between the races to see who was the coolest every thousand years which her race naturally won a lot until the elves (who had apparently had a massive cultural alignment shift in my own setting when I wasn't looking) beat them up unfairly, or something, and committed genocide or whatever and now her character was the last of her kind and being hunted or something because their tears were very valuable and aaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuggggghhhhh.

What was I talking about...

Oh, yeah. So that is what I did for my setting. But, every time I look at it now - and it's still incomplete, because I've left large sections of the setting blank out of laziness or lack of ideas I feel are worthy enough - I can't help but think "man, most of these ideas are probably terrible or not original enough." Sometimes I even just loathe that humans, dwarves, elves etc. are there and not original races. But since the things I occasionally hate are a core part of the setting, and I am not Metzen, I do not feel like performing major surgery just yet.

That doesn't mean I think the setting is bad, or I am fishing for praise, though. On the whole I like it, it's just that for some reason describing my work in glowing terms feels almost as pretentious as using phrases like "dear reader".

I'll skim the basics, though. If you do not want to read all this shit, please scroll down to the red line of text marking the ending and I will talk about the strip!

Otherworld is my standard setting for 3.5 D&D, and as such contains a lot of the trappings you'd expect (i.e. ornamental coverings for a horse). I have heard it described as a "pastiche" or a "satire" by players whom I trust because they tell me how great a DM I am a lot. I won't bother covering much history, because it is mostly an excuse for swords-and-sorcery action, but here are the Cliff Notes:
  • In the beginning, the world was created. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
  • Stuff happened.
  • The various ancient civilisations that predated everyone else popped up, and then promptly collapsed out of historical etiquette.
  • The major races of the world today got their act together and sorted out most of their nations.
  • About five thousand years ago, powerful demons decided to establish themselves as the primary antagonists of the setting (what can I say, I love demons) by appearing to major leaders and whispering in their ears, corrupting people, etc. This made a lot of people very angry, created some interesting new races and caused interesting things to happen to many of the existing ones.
  • Demon problem was solved via careful application of extreme violence and hostility.
  • Gods decide to intervene in the protection of the world, and create the Titans, four powerful elemental quasi-divine beings charged with making sure everything is hunky-dory.
  • The Titans get bored and decide to use their divine powers to create life. They also decide to ignore anyone who points out they're a little late.
  • The Titans create dragons.
  • The Titans decide to make this race a king, and create the very first Hydra, a being which quite resembles Tiamat.
  • The Hydra goes completely off the deep end with power, to the surprise of nobody.
  • Chromatic dragons are rallied to its cause. Metallic dragons ally with the Titans. A colour-coded dragon war begins.
  • Eventually the Titans destroy the Hydra (and most of a continent in the process) by combining like Voltron and then exploding, neatly avoiding "what the hell were you doing" interrogations from the gods afterwards.
  • The gods wisely decide to back away from the world slowly and stop mucking about.
  • And so on, until whatever the present time is.
Current races include:

Humans, who are to mundanity what the modrons are to perfect law - adaptable and relatable;

, who follow a philosophy of the harmony of opposites which influences them to live on mountain peaks and underground, worship elementals and a small pantheon of gods, and have very few women which are allowed to take multiple husbands and tend to be wizards;

, which come in two flavours with cultural differences; the "main" elves, which live in a jungle on the eastern continent and ride dinosaurs, and the "vanilla" elves who live near the humans in pretty woods (with giant mushrooms for housing, though) for people who are boring;

Gnomes, swamp-dwellers with a thirst for knowledge and a drive for creativity (in music and magitech, mostly) who also happen to think secrets exist for a reason and free press is weird. Gnomes who go around saying "I just LOVE to tinker!" and making stupid things like mechanical chickens are like their version of senile people and usually put in "special homes";

Faeri, who are actually elemental humanoids kind of like genasi that just look like fey (hence the name) spawned from the remains of the Titans, who still haven't been perfected because I need a name that's actually good and their racial stats are still a little all over the place...

There are a few minor races like naga (elves which sided with the mariliths that showed up to corrupt people in the bad old days and have more in common than Warcraft naga, cough), sthein (stolen from Bastards & Bloodlines with an only-slightly-edited backstory), drow (you can be a chaotic good rebel or a chaotic good non-rebel from the chaotic good surface city of Drizzimatizz!), orcs (read: pirates), goblins (little demon-worshipping bastards), asian people, etc.

Sadly, there are still no black people in this setting.

There's also some nations! Made with
geography! Real geography!

Short version:

There are four continents known: Lerioth ('primary' one, humans and dwarves etc. mostly), Nhaudan (exotic eastern jungle land, humans and elves), Abudhamos (shattered by the Titans and a mysterious wasteland, but you can bet there are humans in it!) and Taishiria (for Oriental Adventures games).

I can't be bothered listing every nation and their nuances, and most of the map is still... unmapped (you won't believe how handy a continent-spanning mountain range is for avoiding having to flesh out chunks of your setting), but I can run through the basics again. Lerioth has (in alphabetical order):

  • Aldanath, fairly standard medieval fantasy kingdom which is recovering from two wars (one of them covered in that campaign I mentioned once!) with a lich and developing some pretty sweet magitech to get back on their feet;
  • Brellan, swampy and partially mountainous gnome homeland with the occasional gnome-built floating city (and I hope you liek oozes!);
  • Czeras, vanilla elf land built in the forests of Linde'taure nobody else wanted because the giant mushrooms smelled weird;
  • Dall, the mysterious homeland of the dwarves in that huge mountain range I mentioned;
  • Drizzimatizz, a hidden surface drow city dedicated to Eilistraee ecause all those chaotic good drow rebels had to go somewhere;
  • A land of Druids and nature which I have fleshed out so little it doesn't have a name;
  • Epinoza, which would be a bit like the toga version of Greece if I bothered fleshing it out more as well;
  • Genera, a floating island city-state of wizards in pointy hats and beards;
  • Glaswegia, a little-known snowy country in the mountains which is reportedly very cold;
  • Jai-Kaldor, the obligatory powerful city-state in the middle of things that is not Waterdeep or Ankh-Morpork in any way;
  • and Rayaleigh, an extremely mountainous place inhabited by peery Germans, or at least peery what-I-think-Central/Eastern-Europeans-are-like-having-done-little-to-no-research.... s.
That covers about half the map. The rest just has "STUFF" and "UM" written on it. My players suggest that these are actually plains, travelled by the dreaded Um Horde of barbarians which prevent anyone crossing the mountains from returning alive.

The Iriscian Islands, are an island chain which links Lerioth to Nhaudan, and has a lot of ruins and pirate action between Rune (a good(ish) city-state which used to be part of Kaldor before that stopped being a kingdom) and Skull City (the obligatory evil(ish) "monster city" which is where most orcs probably come from). Nhaudan itself has:
  • Cabelaba, the first human nation on Nhaudan which happens to be the most boring by far;
  • Gnoll Country, an unimaginatively-named lawless stretch of badlands which seperates the human places on the western side of the eastern continent from the elves on the eastern side;
  • Jhaka-Szark, neutral evil wizard peninsula which is in no way Thay;
  • Khanjo, jungle land of jungle elves living in cities high on mesas;
  • Merchant City, the port city to the west where time is money, money is everything and assassins are legal, a polite way of conducting business and a government body;
  • and Paladinia, a lawful good theocracy which just happens to be north of Jhaka. Actually, Paladinia is the name of the capital city, but I forgot the name I came up with for the whole thing (a sure sign that I didn't like it anyway) and I can't bring myself to use a player's suggestion of "Aclerica". Then again, I was planning to name the True Neutral outer plane Switzerland.
That is pretty much it. I'd include cosmology but this is way too long already (at least new players can read it later and get aquainted) and, as any of my players will tell you, it changes every two weeks when I get a new idea. So, that is it for now.

And now, in red text as promised for those tl;drs among us, the comic!

It was actually intended to be filler, but I couldn't think of something that applies to my setting (note to players preparing incriminating comments about things I left out: shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh)
. It is true, though. God, I wish it wasn't.

Sometimes my players read this thing. Most of them don't - I'm sure if most of the people involved actually read Natural 21 they would have had a conniption fit - but a lot of them (at least, those I met in /tg/-related rooms) do read those comics I post here and to that board under the This Just Happened title (the oldies would make good filler, actually...) and, sometimes, they get the wrong idea.

Specifically, that I am in the business of drawing awesome things my players did.

I have a few problems with "awesome" D&D stories, one of them being that most of the "awesome" D&D stories people tell are awesome or fake. (For more on that, see the post I promise to make in the next couple days.) The main one, though, is "terrible" D&D stories are funnier.

Admit it, hearing about someone doing cool things, while fun, is not as fun as hearing about just how bad a player is. There's a perverse pleasure in swapping tales of (and heckling) things that are bad. That's why I still have Ctrl+Alt+Del and Dominic Deegan bookmarked. Not that my players are that bad - most of them are quite lovely, and I will dedicate a post to them one day, I promise - but that don't make for good reading, and the silly things they do on occasion are more fun to vent about anyway. It's cathartic.

Sometimes they don't get the message, though. Back when this was just a few comics posted on /tg/ every once in a while, I ran a game where one player got a lucky critical hit and I decided his frenzied brokenserker removed the arm of an ultroloth bad guy. He decided this was awesome.

He demanded I draw a comic of it for months.

The answer was no. At the time I'd just drawn players doing silly things, and "my player critted and cut a yugoloth's arm off, and he begged me to draw it" seemed to break the flow.

Besides, trying to get a discount fiendish arm graft from it in Paladinia and declaring he would kill anyone, PC or NPC, who objected was a much better subject.

Well, you know what? I guess it is a little harsh. I have drawn something for a player last week - partly because it was a good opener to a post I've had in mind for a while now - so I suppose I can draw things my friends did that are awesome for them.

Just don't expect me to write this many words on how great you are.


Ettin said...

Good lord, I have written essays on the Scientific Revolution that weren't as long as that.

Someone stop me before it is too late.

Fluffums said...

If you won't do a comic about how awesome my characters are, at least do one about how much the dice seem to hate me.


Blastcage said...

Dinosaur-riding elves? Oh Ettin, you are a card!

Have you considered a Battletoads-esque race, slaad ignored?

oh god I was thinking about pratchett and it just occured to me that the central character in small gods was actually jesus why did I not get this oh god

Ettin said...

Have you considered a Battletoads-esque race, slaad ignored?...


oh god I was thinking about pratchett and it just occured to me that the central character in small gods was actually jesusWHAT

SgtSnips said...

As a guy throwing together a homebrew campaign, I really enjoyed the steps of the "creative" process you put down. Scarily accurate.

Good post mate.